I first met Christina in Susannah Conway’s Inside Story class (an amazing group and course that changed the trajectory of my business when I joined it almost three years ago) and we quickly connected over our colorful backgrounds, the fact that we moved a lot and, of course, our love for Squarespace! I was in awe of how quickly she learned the platform and developed her own beautiful sense of style. Christina is another great example of not only merging a diverse professional background into a thriving design business, but doing so in a quiet heart-centered way. I love how she puts it: “All we need to build a business are lots of cozy conversations with lovely people that we actually get along with!”
Christina Paul is a web designer and copywriter, helping creatives and changemakers feel fully expressed in their words and websites. If there’s one thing she cannot bear, it’s when people overlook their own magic, and sell themselves short. Through her HeartWork coaching, she helps women get to heart of what they’re about, so that they can infuse that more potently into their words and website, and create brands that actually do them justice.
1) What is your professional background and how did you get into Squarespace web design?
I’ve lead rather a hummingbird path through life! From dance company tour manager to fashion-theatre producer to psychology teacher. In the 5 years before becoming a Squarespace web designer, I’d dedicated myself to holistic health and positive psychology coaching, and had built up a therapy practice and bespoke aromatherapy brand. I was sure this was it! That I’d live happily ever after with this wonderfully fulfilling vocation of mine.
So how on earth did I end up doing Squarespace web design?? Well, my therapy business was finally getting to a healthy place when hubby’s career took us from Hong Kong to… Hawaii! Who could say no to that?! However, the practicalities of being a stay-at-home-mum meant I had to rethink my work-life set-up. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to work from home so that I could be with my kids more, and I wanted to work online so that I wouldn’t have to start my business from scratch every time we moved countries! Which, with our wanderlust tendencies, was always a possibility… (we’re moving to Bali in a few months!)
My decision to explore Squarespace web design was initially a very practical one, which is quite unlike me! With dwindling savings, another one on the way, and an unsuccessful (9-month) stab at taking my therapy practice online, I sat down one day and literally wrote a list of all the things I could do to bring in some money, pronto. Having always moved in start-up and entrepreneurial spaces, I’d DIY’d a few websites and blogs in my time, and Squarespace was my absolute favourite site-builder. I was starting to really know my way around the platform, had been dabbling in a bit of coding, and the idea of designing sites all day honestly made me SO excited. It was the kind of ‘guilty-pleasure' work that I was’t supposed to be spending too much time on in my previous jobs, but would end up doing all night long because it was so fun and addictive!
Plus, on a more practical note, I wanted something that didn’t require too much face-time (have you seen that hilarious video where the baby and toddler walk in on their Dad’s live BBC interview?!), and was high-touch-low-volume so that I could get rolling with minimal marketing and audience-building. It was a bit of an abrupt identity shift for me (and tinged with a touch of guilt and imposter syndrome), but of all the options on my list it ticked the most boxes, so I went with it! 18 months in, it’s been the most natural and steady growth I’ve experienced of all my entrepreneurial ventures, so I’m taking that as a very good sign!
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?
My safety net was my husband’s income. Having said that, one of the main reasons for starting my Squarespace business was because that net was not feeling particularly safe anymore! Of course, having him as our main breadwinner took the pressure off, and meant that I could feel my way forwards at a pace that felt comfortable.
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.
I designed 15 sites in my first year - 12 were from scratch and three were restyled. My first client was one of my best friends, my second was someone I met via a lovely FB business group (Susannah Conway’s Inside Story). From there things grew quite organically via word-of-mouth and the occasional FB share. In the early months I would also seek out friends or people I followed that had beautiful visual work but didn’t have a (decent) website, and would offer them a generously discounted service. Beautiful imagery makes such a difference to a site, so I figured it would be win-win as I built up my portfolio. A few months in I started seeing a return on my site’s SEO (thanks to Kerstin’s amazing SEO course!!), so I began getting enquiries via Google as well. Also, for two of my projects I had the opportunity to work alongside my clients’ existing digital marketing and PR partners, both of which became quite pivotal relationships - since their clients often need a site upgrade as part of their growth plan, I’ve had quite a few referrals through them, which has been lovely.
Three sites I designed (and wrote) in my first year are:
4) Do you have a niche market, or a speciality, or are you more of a generalist?
It took a few months for me to hone in on the kind of work that really lights me up and the people I most want to serve, to find my sweet spot as it were. Actually, I ended up going full circle - as a therapist and coach my purpose was to help people live fully expressed lives; as a web designer and copywriter, my purpose is to help people feel fully expressed in their words and websites. I’d say my niche isn’t so much a particular field as it is a particular type of person. I work best with big-hearted purpose-driven women – often creatives, coaches and changemakers – who feel called to do their ‘heartwork’, but don’t know how to distill it all down into a brand and website that actually does them justice. I really think that if done right, the process of creating one's website can actually be be a very powerful personal development exercise: it invites us to dig deep, clarify our purpose, own our story, find our voice, distill our essence, articulate our uniqueness… all of which can help us be more actualised in the work that we do.
To help people with that process, I’ve recently created a little workbook called HeartWork: Prompts to get to the Heart of what you do. I’ve found that when we sit down to design our brand or write our website, we often freeze up and get very heady about it, or unwittingly constrain ourselves to what’s expected, or obvious, or readily available. I think there’s some really important pre-work to clarity, which involves softening, loosening up, getting out of heads and into our hearts - that’s what the workbook is designed to do. I think we have to go within to uncover the real magic of our brands. Once we grasp that, our success is built on us simply being more of ourselves, which makes writing, designing, and marketing feel so much more natural and joyful.
5) What are your five top tips for starting your own business?
1. Resonance over reach
When I first started exploring the online business world, it was inevitably the louder voices that I heard first. I learnt a lot from them, and I probably tried to be like them, but being something you’re not really isn’t sustainable. In fact it’s exhausting and overwhelming and disconnects you from your natural brilliance. Eventually I’d hear a quiet voice that cut through all the noise and ‘shoulds’ of online business, and I’d lean in and listen, and listen some more, and feel reassured that I could do business in a way that felt gentle and natural to me. Following those quieter voices has opened up lovely little corners of the internet for me, where I can have cozy conversations with people like me, and at the end of the day, that's all we need to build a business - lots of cozy conversations with lovely people that we actually get along with! It’s not that I’m encouraging an echo chamber, I just think it’s TMI out there, and to preserve our authenticity, clarity and sanity (!), we need to really curate our online world in a way that feels good for us. Seek out the voices that remind you of your own.
2. Get clear on what you’re NOT
When you first start your business it’s natural to first try and ‘fit-in’ - given my rather abrupt leap into web design, I certainly felt I needed to earn my place by showing I was ‘one of them’, from the highly-styled IG feed (which I got nowhere with) to the ‘tips and tricks’ blog posts (which I never wrote). But to hone in on your unique space in the online world, you have to keep asking yourself how you're different, not only when it comes to the people or brands you don’t like, but (especially) those that you love as well. Getting clear on that difference will help you get clear on your unique brand identity, from your voice to your style to your purpose. With time I realised that my zone of genius was a little different to most designers, which leads me to my next point...
3. Embrace your past
When I first started this business I felt I had to draw a line under my previous vocation in order to fully inhabit my new one. Now, I realise my higeldy-pigeldy past was actually my current work in the making. In particular, my coaching background means I’m all about doing the ‘deep work’, asking the right questions, and listening between the lines... all of which helps clients get to the heart of what they do, so that we can create a website that is truly and potently them. So don’t shy away from the parts of you that don’t seem to ‘fit’, as they may be what gives you your edge. As Neil Gaiman so beautifully put, “The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can."
4. Make space for yourself
Earlier on in my entrepreneurial journey, I would visualise a jam-packed iCal as one of my images for success. It meant I was ‘wanted’, doing good work, and making a good living. Space on my iCal meant the opposite! That visual must have really stuck with me as I soon found myself so choc-a-bloc with client work that I’d squeezed myself out of my own business. I wasn’t giving myself the time and space to reflect, rest, recalibrate, get inspired, play, let my business breathe. This meant that, firstly, I was overwhelmed and depleted and not doing my most inspired work, and secondly that I was really just being reactive and treading water rather than moving my business in a direction that I felt in true alignment with. When we’re ‘living our passion’ we often think that prioritising work is prioritising ourselves, but it really isn’t the same. You are your business's greatest asset - make sure you get all the physical, emotional and creative nourishment you need.
5. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be shared
You may be hatching grand plans to change the world, but the only way you can really gain clarity and ‘get good’ is by actually doing. As Kayte Ferris wrote in her recent blog post, "all that time you’re spending agonising over whether to podcast or blog, WordPress or Squarespace, Stories or caption, there’s only one thing happening – you’re not sharing those ideas. You’re not putting your work out into the world, you’re not providing value, you’re not being seen, you’re not making a difference. The format doesn’t matter. Just publish that content.” So very true!! I am actually so guilty of this - 2019 for me really is about getting out of my cave and sharing more of myself. So no matter where you are in your business journey, don’t wait until it’s perfect or you’ve got it ‘all figured out’. In whatever teeny-tiny way you can, share what you do and what have to say, because once it’s out in the world, interacting with real people, it will start to come alive.
Christina would like to share her workbook HeartWork: Prompts to get to the Heart of what you do with anybody who needs more clarity around their brand purpose. The workbook is currently exclusively available to her HeartWork coaching clients, but if you email her, she’ll happily share it with you for free.
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