Interview with Kady Sandel

1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I was 12 years old when I told my mom that I would like to “make a billboard.” At that time, she didn’t understand what I was talking about, so she asked me “Like… you want to be a construction person?” ?

So, we dug deeper into how I could create posters, flyers, and billboards. We had just gotten a computer and had about 10 hours of internet access per month, so we searched and found a guy who was an interior designer.

I reached out to him to ask what he did and if he designed billboards. He explained that graphic designers (and not interior designers) are the people who design billboards! Then we found a graphic design school that I started attending when I was 15 years old. After that, I graduated from the Academy of Arts with a degree in visual communications.

2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

Right after I finished the Academy of Arts, I got a job in Las Vegas in a signs and printing company. I realized that I didn’t enjoy working for someone else and that the job wasn’t as creative as I thought it should be – I guess I’m an entrepreneur at heart! So I started freelancing on the side, moved to Austin, Texas, and eventually opened my own design studio – Aventive Studio.

This all sounds way easier than it was. It took me about 7 years to truly say “Okay, now I have a successful and profitable design business”.

The biggest hurdle was that I didn’t know much about the business side of design. I had all this training as a graphic designer, and I knew how to design a logo, labels, boxes, even websites… but I didn’t know anything about running a design business.

I had no idea how to find design clients, how much to charge, what to put on my website, how to present my portfolio… I didn’t know what SEO was, what networking was, anything about social media…

It took me a while to embrace that I wasn’t just a designer anymore, but the owner of a design business!

I see that happening with other creatives too. You can be the best designer in the world, but if nobody sees your work or understands why they should hire you over other designers… you’re simply not going to land clients.

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

At this point, all of my branding clients come through our website or word-of-mouth.

People that find my agency online usually type our services into Google and get to our blog. From our blog posts, they find our services page, case studies, or contact page. We put a lot of effort (and money) into our blog to get it to the level where it brings us branding clients consistently.

I used to write the posts myself, and then I started outsourcing and hiring writers. Our SEO is doing really well, and our website shows up in front of our ideal target audience.

The other major way we get clients is through word-of-mouth, and that’s because I used to go to a lot of networking events and meet a lot of people. I used to go to 3-5 networking events per week — networking was like my part-time job when I first started out! I still go to networking events sometimes because I love them, but I do it way less – only one or two a month.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

We actually don’t! My ideal clients come to me for branding (brand strategy, visual identity, labels, packaging, and website) and then they are onto the next thing. My goal is NOT to keep them, and I don’t want them to stay with me.

We don’t provide ongoing services like website maintenance or social media marketing or things like that. We focus on a one-time service – branding. Once we are done with their project, I will ask them for a referral though ?

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

I think that every service provider faces this challenge at some point. When I first started out as a freelancer, I experienced this a lot.

However, the more experience you have in running a design business, the easier it is to handle late payments – especially if you outline it clearly in your contract. Now we require a 50% down payment, 25% payment at the project’s mid-point, and 25% at the end of the project. We don’t send any original and final files before we are 100% paid.

6. What does your typical workday look like?

I usually wake up around 5am. From 5am to 7am I read something, journal, have a coffee… that’s my “me time”. Sometimes I use that time to work on a task that lights me up, something that’s new or exciting and that makes me happy. It can even be just a hobby or a passion project.

7am – 9am is when the rest of the house wakes up, so I make breakfast and get ready for daycare.

My work day starts around 9am, and no two days are ever the same. I like to organize my schedule a couple of weeks ahead of time. Sometimes I go to a networking event, sometimes I talk to a client, but most of the time I work on admin tasks such as emails, checking in with my team, looking into my finances, setting goals, etc.

I created my own design business to be as flexible as possible, so some days I just work half-days, get lunch with a friend, or hang out at the pool. I also take about 2 months off every year to travel around the US or Europe.

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

If you want to be a successful design business owner, book clients, make money and all that, focus on the outcome and results your designs provide for your clients. Any designer can say “I can make a logo” or “I can make a website,” but that doesn’t help clients tell you apart from any other designer.

Show the client how you will help them attract more customers, make more money, or stand out from the crowd somehow — because at the end of the day, those are the real reasons why they want to hire a designer in the first place!

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Kady Sandel

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Kady Sandel is the CEO and Brand Strategist of Aventive Studio, and she helps businesses in the Wellness and Skincare industry launch and boost product sales.

She is also an author and speaker on brand positioning, messaging, and building a creative business. Kady teaches entrepreneurs and business owners the power of branding through in-person and online programs, or educational episodes of her podcast.

Her book “BrandFix” was the #1 New Release in the Branding & Logo Design category. BrandFix is a brand strategy guide for busy entrepreneurs.

Interview published on: Nov 8, 2022

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