October 2019 Consultant of the Month
Graphic designer and web developer Lindsey Obermeier has never worked in a corporate office or been a full time employee. She recognized in college that being a freelancer was a perfect way to run her career. She’s taken full advantage of the freelancer lifestyle by moving from Des Moines to Seattle to Austin, taking her business with her over the course of the past 12 years.
At any given time, Lindsey has a mix of projects going on, including larger scale projects through EM at Joveo, Neustar, Coursera and Direct Commerce, as well as projects for a sizeable roster of small businesses she's built up. But, there was a time when she was completely out of work and considered full time employment before finding her footing again. Here’s how she did it.
Lindsey's Keys to Success
- Know what you do and don't want
- Find clients through clients
- Build a website that expresses your personality and starts conversations
- Take ownership of your business
- Collaborate through EM
What was your path to becoming an independent consultant?
In my second year at Drake University, I became an intern at Authentic Records in Des Moines. It was a dream job. I was designing posters and album artwork, something that I had always wanted to do. They had also asked me to help design all of their materials including a website on WordPress. At the time, I had taken only one college course in HTML/CSS -- just enough to feel familiar with website coding. That pushed me into the world of web development. WordPress is open source, so there was lots of documentation. I started teaching myself and dove in head first.
A year into the internship, I realized that I didn't want to work in an office. I knew that a startup-like environment was more in line with I wanted to do. Problems were always being thrown my way and I’m a huge problem solver. This was a preview to running my freelancing business.
A year after I graduated from college, I moved to Seattle. I stayed there for a month visiting a friend, and the city stole my heart. I knew I couldn’t live in Des Moines anymore. I was still working working as a freelancer for the record label so I could take my work with me.
But, they couldn’t pay me anymore, so they offered me to become part owner. I don't know if I'd be where I am today without that experience. I learned a lot about running a business. Finally, it came to a point where bands were calling me with questions all the time. I was also trying to launch my web development business in Seattle. I realized I had to focus on my own business and amicably cut ties.
"A year into the internship, I realized that I didn't want to work in an office. I knew that a startup-like environment was more in line with I wanted to do."
When I was working with the record label, we went to Austin every year for South by Southwest. That’s how I got to know it and ultimately decided to move here. For me, it's been this perfect blend of small town and big city feel. The people here are great -- very hospitable like in the Midwest, but the culture of art and music is the city’s core.
Where do you work and what are your favorite productivity hacks?
I’ve always worked from home. My current office is a tiny, homemade desk that’s super sleek and mid-century modern. I've thought about doing coworking spaces to get out of the house on a regular basis, but it's easier for me to go to a coffee shop down the street. If I want a change of scene, I also have a small patio.
People ask, "If you're working at home, how do you not just watch TV all day? How are you not distracted by all these things?" But when your livelihood is depending on work that you're doing, you can avoid the distractions.
For years, I had a big white board above my desk. I created a column with a list of clients and another one for each to-do list. These days, I always have a notebook, so I'm constantly jotting notes. I recently signed up for monday.com, for a client. I'm trying it for my own projects to see if it’s beneficial.
Another thing that is incredibly simple to use is Gmail Tasks. When you're reading emails, you can add items as tasks. If I can’t respond to an email right away, I add it to my to-do list and prioritize the tasks. You can view a column of tasks to the right of your inbox. Then, I can just archive the email to keep my inbox in check. I keep the tasks in order, condensed, and compartmentalized and check them off once they’re done.
What has been your biggest challenge about being a consultant? How have you addressed it?
About seven years into freelancing, I had a really rough time. In the business world, they say if you’ve run your business for five years, you’ve made it. I should have had a well-oiled machine going. But I was having an awful year. I had no retainers in place, no guaranteed income. It threw me for a loop.
I ended up applying for a full-time job, but nothing really came out of it. To be perfectly honest, I did not put 100 percent into that process because there was a bigger part of me that didn't want it to happen.
I knew there were many websites out there like Fiverr, for designers to pitch work, but it sounded like a lot of work for a little pay off. I had done that kind of work already. However, I did find one service that was very interesting.
"A lot of how I work smarter, I learned through EM."
Power to Fly connects women seeking job opportunities to companies that value gender diversity. Nicole Hanusek, who runs SmackHappy Design and partners with EM Marketing, had listed an opportunity to help her business with design and development.
Ultimately, Nicole suggested we work together through EM. The irony was that when I was brought on by EM, I never worked directly with Nicole. But I will forever be grateful for her because I was at a low point and she connected me to EM. It was my saving grace.
A lot of how I work smarter, I learned through EM. It’s been like working in an office, without having to be in an office. It’s been so good to have consistent work and to have a team to collaborate with to get the job done.
What do you love about consulting?
I love the freedom. I get to call the shots. I get to take on who I want as clients. I get paid how much I want to get paid. I get to make the work big or light. There's an immense amount of freedom in that.
There's tons of responsibility behind that, too. At times, it can be a challenge and intimidating, but at the same time, I can live my life in a way that I couldn't if I were working at nine to five.
How do you market yourself?
When I was really green, working for the record label was great because musicians usually need a lot of design work. Our roster of artists became my first clients. When I branched out from the record label, I got new clients by word of mouth. At first, it was really surprising to me, but the more people I talked to, it became who you know, who they know, and it turned into a snowball effect.
Many clients have come through my relationship with Founding Moms, an organization that helps mom entrepreneurs build their businesses. I met the founder, Jill Katona, when I worked at the record label. In the beginning, we launched a simple website. Since then, I’ve met many women entrepreneurs who have needed websites and it’s become a constant flow of work. To be quite honest, I haven’t had to do much marketing for myself. My clients are great. If someone they know needs design or development, they point them to me.
I also get business through my website. I officially launched Creens.com around 2008 when I lived in Seattle. The name “Creens” has a funny story and was never supposed to stick around, but it did.
An old friend was part of an art show when she was in school. In a designated building, each student could design a room however they wanted. In one hallway, there was a craft area with Rubbermaid containers. One of them had a bunch of styrofoam letters. I picked up a handful of them. The combination of letters could have spelled the word “screen” but that was boring. So I wrote “Creens.”
That became the name of my business. I didn’t want to use my name because “Lindsey Obermeier Designs” is a mouthful and most people don't know how to pronounce my last name.
I love the fact that nobody knows what Creens means. I never wanted people to have an assumption of what I could do or what my style was. As a designer, I should be able to cater to anyone’s style, aesthetic or branding. The name has prompted people to dive deeper into the website or have a conversation with me.
What are the things you like to do when the work slows down?
I hang out with my friends. I've recently gotten into photography. I try to travel as much as I can. Last year I went to London and loved it. It was my first time ever traveling across the pond. It was very Seattle-esque. I also try to go home to Iowa as much as possible back to see my family.
The biggest thing now is that I’m looking into going back to graduate school to be a therapist. I’ll be doing an online degree through Capella University out of Minnesota. I have always been the type of person that somehow people like to open up to. My mom used to joke all the time that I missed my calling. I always thought this would be something I would do later in life, but it hit me that being a freelancer, I have the freedom to pursue this now.
What’s one tip you would give to new consultants?
Don't be too hard on yourself. You may be your own worst critic. You probably should be to a degree -- you’re your own boss. Just roll with the punches; don't take anything too personally or too heavily.