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Q&A: Real advice about running a business at 25

Meet Jess, she is 25 and owns her own graphic design agency that employs five full timers.

What’s stressful about your job?

I handle everything from client relations to PR to designing to accounting. I wear a gajillion hats a day. It’s not as glamorous as it might seem. For me, what is most stressful is the lack of structure. You can’t spend half a day on public relations, for example. It’s safe to say that when work is stressful it bleeds into my non-work life, so I always wrestle with work-life balance.

Also, and this only just occurred to me in this interview! But… I find it stressful when your friends – or friends of friends message me and say things like, “hey, just letting you know I can do some freelance work,” or “I’d love some experience, I’d love to come in and work.” This probably won’t sit well with readers, especially because I cut my teeth interning; but as a small business I don’t have the luxury of time and realistically, I can’t take interns. I also don’t need the added stress of working with friends in case it doesn’t work out.

Pipeline [future work] is always on your mind, which makes it hard to stay in your own lane. But something I have recently learnt is that there’s enough business to go around if you consistently perform.


What’s a decision you made this year that’s being a good one?

I have a great senior designer in my team and I pay her more than I pay myself.

It meant that I could move more into a business role.

People think that I do graphic design all day. No, I own a graphic design company – which means I run a business. I never really thought about this either until it kind of evolved into that.

We [my senior designer] and I both do wildly different things within the company, this has really helped me find my groove as a business owner.

What do you miss about having a boss and what do you not miss?

On the flip side, it’s nice being able to control who we work with. Life is short, we’re here to have a good time, and if it feels like a project may not be leaning in that direction I have the power to say, “You know what, this isn’t for us,” which I love.


To people who feel some kind of  urge to start their own gig, what advice do you have?

Firstly, I have realised that having your own business changes you. You become a bit harder. I don’t know if that’s the right word specifically…but you become impatient to laziness and inefficiencies. I was never that kind of person and I don’t know when it happened, but now I find myself frustrated when people complain about (in my opinion) small scale problems. But you need to internalise that. That’s how you lose friends and become a work machine rather than a person.

Secondly, I think you need to gauge your willpower. Ask yourself if you can you push through the tough times and if you can take rejection? This is important.

Thirdly, you should not blindly pursue your passions. We often celebrate the unicorns in the world that have risked everything, gone all-in and found financial success. Thousands of people fail. So make it a business decision, not a goal – otherwise you could be left aimlessly reaching for the stars.

Too, on the passion point. I am a graphic designer by trade, but my day to day is client management, business development, HR, admin and more. Being a freelance graphic designer would have been a different path. So learn about being a business owner versus a freelancer. If wellness and life balance is the goal, get a freelance gig with a flexible schedule. There’s nothing wrong with that, but starting a business from the ground-up may not fit into that particular driver.

Thank god this is anonymous, I sound like a bitter person!?


What did you study, where was your first job, and how’d you launch into your own business?

I did formally study photography for a year and will tell you that it is completely unnecessary for pursuing a career in the field. I learned more technical skills in practice during my first month assisting a fashion photographer for free. I realised that anyone can photograph with some practice so then I moved into learning the Adobe suite. I didn’t want to go to a big private college, so I just enrolled in several short courses and then taught myself a whole lot.

In the two years post high school I had completed six Adobe night courses back to back, had interned three days a week at various agencies and spent a hell of a lot of time scrolling Tumblr, Pinterest and Behance to look at other people’s work.

My parents were worried.

They saw others getting degrees and Mum would say, “a qualification is something  that you can’t buy and no one can take off you,” all. the. time.

I started picking up smaller clients. It feels like there are seven billion people trying to start a business in Australia at any one time, and they all want a brand starter kit (identity, website, social buckets). So I tapped into this. The rest is history.

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