I am so pleased to introduce Janessa today who is not only a fellow Squarespace web designer but also an Authorized Trainer! We met in one of the Facebook groups us designers tend to hang out and I quickly realized that she is someone with a lot of integrity and style, and a hard worker, too. I loved learning more about her background and I am not at all surprised that she has two design degrees! Janessa sometimes helps me on my client projects and I can confirm that she is an absolutely pleasure to work with, and she's helped me out of a pickle a couple of times, too. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!
Hi there! I’m Janessa, a Designer and Brand Experience Strategist, and I own Janessa Rae Design Creative – a boutique design studio based in Rockford, Michigan. I partner with passionate and driven entrepreneurs to create bespoke designs and brand strategies that add value, enrichment, and a stellar brand experience to their businesses.
I specialize in Branding and Launch Design and believe my unique design background allows me to take a holistic approach at projects, looking at details that others may not see, and coming up with solutions that are extremely tailored and intentional.
I value communication, trust, integrity, respect, and flexibility to pivot if new goals emerge. I am a big-picture thinker, approachable, and collaborative. I also am a Squarespace Authorized Trainer and have a passion for teaching other designers how to design and code for Squarespace.
1) What is your professional background and how did you get into Squarespace web design?
Not a lot of people know that I actually have two design degrees. My first degree was in Interior Design with a minor in Architecture from Ball State University. I worked in the Interior Design field for 6 years, mostly in the contract furniture industry. I did like Interior Design, but the industry took a big hit in the recession of 2008 and wasn’t looking to recover any time soon. I made a decision to go back to school if I were accepted into Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI, which is near my hometown of Rockford, MI. I was accepted (yay!) and even received scholarships with was helpful financially. I was fortunate that my previous degree was a design degree, so a lot of classes transferred over, including basic electives like drawing classes, which helped expedite getting my degree. I chose to major in Graphic Design and minor in Digital Media. I had an introduction to graphic design in my previous interior design career, and I grew to love it even more than working with interiors. I knew this was the right path for me. Digital Media was a minor where you could choose your electives, so I chose to take classes in website design, and motion graphics.
I think some of professors thought I was crazy because I knew I wanted to have my own business shortly after graduating. It was always my end goal. The art college I went to tends to encourage and prepare students to enter the local design agency market (or move far away for design jobs). While this approach works well for a lot of students, it isn’t for everyone (just like entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone). I did know that I wanted to gain some more design skills and experience working at design agencies before branching off on my own though, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I think there’s not only a lot you can learn from others, but about yourself when you work in teams, both under direction of an Art Director, or leading a team yourself. You learn not only valuable design experience, but learn what you like and don’t like, and gave me time think about how I might want to run my own business someday. I started as a Graphic Designer (junior level), and through my agency experience moved up through positions like Creative Design Lead and Senior Designer. I loved the people at my last place of employment before starting my own business, and I liked the work itself, but the hours killed me. I didn’t enjoy not being able to control the pace of the projects, the design process, or the hours I felt I needed to commit in order to get the projects completed at a high standard. I was burning myself out very quickly.
The turning point for me came when my husband and I wanted to think about starting a family. I knew in order to have the best chances at conceiving, I would need to bring my stress levels down to normal. I couldn’t work from 9am-midnight anymore. It just wasn’t healthy and it was mentally exhausting too. I put in my notice at work, and then took an entire month off to de-stress and make my business plans. In January of 2015 I started my own business, Janessa Rae Design Creative. That spring I got pregnant with our son Liam and haven’t looked back.
When I started my business I only had experience designing for Wordpress. This worked for about a year, as I partnered with a few strategic web developers on my client projects, but it wasn’t a super sustainable route for my business. I wanted to have faster project timelines, wanted to be able to have control over the whole project from start to finish, and be able to implement the designs myself. That’s when Squarespace came into the picture. I decided to redesign my own website on the Squarespace platform so that I could learn how to create Squarespace websites for my clients as well. I picked it up very quickly because it’s such an intuitive platform and love every second of working with Squarespace. I took a few online courses learning more about how to custom code for Squarespace in particular, and now I do all of my custom coding myself! I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in the past few years. It feels really empowering, and niching to use solely the Squarespace platform has been perfect for me and my business
2) What was your safety net (e.g. a partner, another job, savings etc.) when you first started out and how did that help you?
It’s funny how things work out because when I started my business I actually didn’t have a great safety net. My husband did have a full-time job, however he is Belgian and was here on a work visa. The visa expired before his first green-card (permanent resident card) had been approved so that January we actually had 3 months where he was on a legal suspension from working in the U.S. and I brought in the sole income. We did have some money in our savings from both of us working full-time before that, but we tried not to dip into that. I worked very hard those first three months so that I could provide for us and I actually had one of my biggest months revenue in March of 2015. I found designers to partner with to bring in additional income during that time, helping them with overflow work in their businesses, on top of the new client projects I was receiving as well. I wasn’t afraid to take a chance and find unique ways to just make it work. I’m so glad for that financial push my first year, and thankful for the work ethic that I have created for myself over the years.
3) How many websites did you design during your first year and how did your clients find you? Please share three sites you designed during that time.
During my first year of business I was designing for Wordpress (and a one-off Drupal site actually), so in my first year I didn’t do any Squarespace design at all! When I branched out into Squarespace I was still working with Wordpress for quite a while, but I worked on a few amazing Squarespace websites that are some of my favorites! I help entrepreneurs with a service I have called The Launch Experience, where we launch their e-course, online summit, monthly membership, or workshop. I have a few launch clients’ work that I’d love to share (with more in the works!):
4) Do you have a niche market, or a speciality, or are you more of a generalist?
I no longer do any work with Wordpress, so I use Squarespace for all of my projects now. My speciality is in Branding and The Launch Experience design, but those clients also need a main Squarespace website as well, so each aspect of their business supports the other. I consider myself not only a Designer, but a Brand Experience Strategist, meaning I take a more holistic and intentional look at my client’s brand and the experience that their clients have with it. I incorporate brand strategy into all of my client’s projects so they start off with a strategic foundation that can help drive their business toward success with clarity and confidence, designing a brand experience for every touchpoint in their business. My designs tend to have strong organization, clean typography, and hierarchy. Also, with my background in Interior Design, I also consider my use of color to be one of my specialties!
I am Squarespace Authorized Trainer, and I also teach 1:1 Squarespace Design to other designers. I love teaching and being a mentor, and it’s a really rewarding aspect of my business.
5) What are your five top tips for starting your own business?
- Never Stop Learning – Design is an industry that is constantly changing and evolving. Whether you have design school training or are self-taught, you need to continually be learning. Learn from designers you aspire to be like. Take e-courses or online classes. Learn new skills the improve your service offerings. Practice makes perfect, so never stop learning, reading, practicing, growing. Learning inspires passion, and when you have your own business you have to be passionate about what you do!
- Connect with Other Designers – This is so important. Get active online or in-person and meet other designers who are doing what you do. Facebook groups and masterminds have been priceless for me to connect with other designers, and has given me immense support and feedback in my business. It gets lonely running your own business, and sometimes you need a design critique, a virtual shoulder to cry on, a team of friends to cheer you on, and a group of close-knit designers to learn from and bounce ideas off of. Find your business BFF’s!
- Experiment – If your client’s projects aren’t lighting you up, experiment with personal design projects and share them online! I use Dribbble and Instagram for this, but I also do other creative things that I love and don’t share them as often either, such calligraphy, and a lot of typography experiments (I’m obsessed with typography!).
- Stop Comparing – Comparisonitis and The Imposter Complex are very real things. It’s not fair to yourself to compare yourself to others success or talent. There literally is nothing beneficial from doing so. You can only keep working on yourself and invest in your own mental wellbeing. I highly recommend Tanya Geisler’s Starring Role Playbook for those letting doubt stand between you and your dreams.
- Set a Schedule – Show up, do the work. When you have your own business, it’s important to wake up, do the work, and follow a schedule. This could look different for everyone, but part of the perks of having your own business is finding a schedule that works well for you and your lifestyle, and sticking to it. I am a busy mom, so I work around my son’s schedule and I’ve created a business that allows me to do that.
Janessa has a special offer!
1:1 Squarespace Training for Designers
Are you a Wordpress or Showit designer and have been wanting to learn the Squarespace platform so that you can start offering Squarespace website design packages in your biz?
I'll give you 1:1 training within 3 sessions together where we will go over the entire Squarespace Platform, plus we will take a home page comp that you've previously designed and recreate it in Squarespace so you can see exactly how the platform may differ from what you're used to, and how to implement custom CSS to achieve the design accuracy.
You will be able to make special functionality requests for things you want to learn, custom CSS included, and will be on the right foot for being able to create your own Squarespace website design offerings for your clients.
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You can literally ask me anything about Squarespace, your website, SEO, e-courses, or your own design business.