By Candy Phelps, as told to Violet Jinqi Wang
I started freelancing out of desperation in 2008. I had a job I didn’t like, and I couldn’t find a better one.
I named the business iCandy Graphics and Printing, and my first investment was a gigantic industrial standard printer. I firmly believed people would only hire me as a graphic designer if I also offered printing. While I was printing and hand-folding hundreds of copies of brochures in my living room, it became clear that this was a dumb business model.
Despite a few rookie mistakes, I quickly realized that I am a natural entrepreneur. I have good instincts. I was optimizing SEO before I even knew that was a thing, investing in content marketing before I knew that was a word.
I thought success meant getting incessant work and clients. I would do anything to make a customer happy — expanding my services to website maintenance, data analytics, content marketing, graphic design and social media — anything the clients needed. This excellent customer care led to more referrals and more clients.
I became a client hoarder.
That might sound great. But it soon backfired.
I would be swamped with a client for one week, then not hear back from them for six months. Then on a Friday afternoon, they would have an emergency. It was feast or famine, minus the famine. We were either going nuts and working nights and weekends, or doing a good amount of work that was under control. But there was no way to control the amount of work coming in.
That was how I worked for eight years — reacting to everything that came in and dealing with it. It was very difficult to plan around. I had no work-life balance.
I didn’t really mind at the time. I’m kind of a workaholic. But when we got our puppy Crouton — a super hyper border collie mix — I realized I didn’t even have time to take her to the dog park.
I had been working on a new business model for a couple of years, involving a new service line of working in-person with our clients building websites and developing brands in a single business day.
We were inspired by the energy of hackathons and design meetups, but thought we could improve on the concept if the creative director, graphic designer and web developer already knew how to work well together and had a well-designed process and tools to work with.
One day might sound fast, but the four people on the team add up to 32 hours of work. That’s the same amount we would bid for an essential WordPress site over three months. We’re not cutting any corners.
The most critical ingredient of the one-day website is the work from the client. We ask our clients to put in eight hours of work on the day as well. We get to know them and what they want. All the time spent waiting for email responses is now turned into effective planning, writing and designing.
This concept was very popular, and I thought that focusing on it might be a way to make the business more sustainable, but I kept putting off any major change. I loved our clients and I didn’t want them to feel like we were abandoning them.
And it is so difficult to say no to all that money.
Then, last summer, I found out I was pregnant. “Wow, now I have an actual deadline,” I thought.
I had to redefine what success looked like for me.
Facing the overwhelmingly positive feedback about the one-day products, I decided to go all in. In October 2017, I rebranded my business from iCandy Graphics and Website Design to Bizzy Bizzy, referred most of my old clients to other freelancers, and devoted most of my time to develop and refine this new concept.
It is incredibly satisfying to see my clients walk out the door having a finished website in such a short amount of time. In addition to the shiny end product, they love being able to see the process of how a simple idea gets developed into the final website or logo. They are amazed by the quality assurance, the testing, and all of the other unseen tasks that go into the process.
I still work as much as before, but now I can put more time into writing, marketing and growing my business, instead of just client work.
It’s all the stuff I love about what I do, and none of what I don’t. Way fewer emails, and way more real communication and collaboration.
My daughter is due any day now. I can’t wait to spend more time taking care of her. But I’m not the kind of person who wants to take a real maternity leave.
Looking back on my freelance career, I realize that I’m basically unemployable at this point. I would be such a pain in the ass to an employer. I’m so used to being able to have an idea and make it happen. See a problem and fix it. Define my own success and redefine it. That feeling of being stifled in an organization — seeing a problem that you can’t do anything about— that killed me in the corporate world.
Now I’ve come to a new understanding of success. It’s not about having a lot of clients. It’s about doing your best work for the clients you have and making a sustainable business and life for yourself.