Case study: from wobbly startup to confident studio owner

Jess signed up to a 1-to-1 coaching programme with me in September 2021. She is a young graphic designer, based in Bristol, and she had just started her own freelance design studio. And although she already had a steady flow of clients and enquiries, she felt very insecure about the direction of her business. A year before, she had been sacked from her job as designer for a corporate company, and although she was OK about leaving, it had dented her self-confidence. Who was she to just start on her own? What would people think about her? What if she was going to mess up? This is her story.

Although she claimed she didn’t know what she was doing, it became clear very quickly, that she was indeed quite ambitious. She told me straight on the first call that she:

  1. Dreamed of running a creative studio or agency, leading a team of people
  2. Would want to attract bigger projects for high profile clients
  3. Would be in the position take off time without stress, creating a better work-life balance

She also had some secondary wishes, such as creating multiple (passive) income streams, and adding brand photography to her services. Her biggest wish, however, was to feel less anxious.

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Defining her niche, tweaking her message

Like most of my clients, Jess suffered from a lack of clarity in her business and marketing, which gave her that lack of confidence in herself and her future, and anxiety about whether what she was doing was the right thing.

She felt chaotic in her thinking, with too many creative ideas, and not knowing where to start. Having that clarity in terms of your niche and audience really is the most important thing in your business, and creates so much more calm in your head.

Although, as a graphic designer, Jess already had a clear offer and service, she didn’t have a clear picture of her ideal client. We therefore worked on understanding her core values and the type of clients she most enjoyed working for. She mentioned sustainable businesses, equality campaigns, and not-for-profit organisations as her favourite types of clients, but looking at her mixed portfolio on her website, her work was not reflecting that ambition. This meant that her dream clients would potentially not recognise themselves in the type of work Jess was showcasing, with the risk that they would look for a different designer. Time to get that message clear!

She had already started working on a brand new website, and together we improved the copywriting for it, making sure that her text expressed clearly what she stands for and who she wants to help. For example, we went from generic opening sentences on the home page like ‘Hi, welcome, I’m a graphic designer in Bristol’, to ‘I create purposeful graphic design that inspires, and helps you make a positive impact‘.

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Photo by Cup of Couple on

A content plan and conquering LinkedIn

To reinforce her message that she is looking for conscious clients in the not-for-profit sector, around topics like sustainability and equality, we also worked on a content plan. What type of blog posts could she write to build trust and authority with the right clients, so they could she knew her stuff? What type of social media posts could she create to help her become better visible with the right people?

We decided to focus on LinkedIn in addition to Instagram, and also made sure she updated her profile and bio, her banner and description, all to reflect her new, clear message. She made a list of key people in her target industries, and made some new connections. Jess then managed to overcome a very common fear on LinkedIn, namely that she was scared of the reaction of peers. Would they criticise her for suddenly talking about sustainability, racism or women’s rights? Some of these topics can be quite sensitive and political, and the last thing she wanted to attract was negative attention. Still, she started to carefully share and post more content that helped to position herself as a designer who cares about these topics, and guess what? Lots of likes, and no nasty comments (of course not!).

Over the months, I coached Jess through both practical aspects of her business (marketing techniques, income goals), and mindset issues. Being someone who tends to get lost in the details, I helped her put things into perspective and make it all less complicated. Working on a clear schedule with SMART goals was a great way to keep the overview and prevent Jess from spiraling into anxiety.

Simplifying business

Next on the list was her long-term ambition to scale her freelance one-woman business to an agency with more people. Jess told me she felt overwhelmed by the idea of growing her business into something bigger, as she thought it would involve a whole lot of admin and organisation. “But Jess”, I said. “Building a team around you does not mean you immediately have to put people on the payroll. You can start by simply hiring freelancers and outsourcing work that way.” She then could get used to the feeling of leading a team without the burden of being an employer.

Scaling your business can start with something as simple as hiring a virtual assistant who schedules your social media posts for you, or handles your emails. And with larger projects, hiring a junior designer to help out, will free up time too, so you can work on securing new clients and doing the more interesting work.

Tools in her back pocket

I watched Jess blossom from being a wobbly new business owner in September, saying yes to any job coming her way and not knowing whether she was going to make it all work, to a confident entrepreneur who “now knows how to reach out to the right people, has tools in her back pocket to build her empire, and feels less anxious when work dries up, because she knows how to plan ahead.”

During our work together, she:

✅ defined her niche, offer and audience
✅ got more clarity about her own values and what projects she wants to accept (and what not!)
✅ learnt how to plan her marketing content and what to post in order to resonate with her dream clients
✅ launched her brand new website that 100% reflects who she is and what she stands for as a designer (have a look, it is gorgeous!)
✅ reached out to virtual assistants and junior designers to start outsourcing work and scale her business in the next 12 months

This is what Jess thought about working with me:

“After working with Nina as my creative coach over the past few months, I am so pleased with the results. Nina has helped me gain clarity on my values and the direction of my business, and has provided me with the tools and resources to make my goals a reality. I have really enjoyed working with her, and would highly recommend her coaching services!

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Do you want to transform yourself from wobbly to powerful? Book a free 30-minute call to see if we are a good fit. Schedule a call here.

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