As entrepreneurs we need to be constantly educating and inspiring ourselves to keep moving forward. I’ve found that the best way to do that is to learn from others— especially those who are passionate about what they do. Expert Interviews are my new way to share the wisdom of fellow artists, designers and experts in a variety of fields, to encourage and motivate you to make things happen in your own businesses.
I could think of no better person to kick off this new series than Dawn Nicole from Dawn Nicole Designs. Specializing in hand-lettering, Dawn has built her own empire on the foundation of a little hobby that she took up to fuel her creative itch. Just a few years later, Dawn is a published author and a bonafide expert in the lettering field. Best of all, she leads an ever-growing community of aspiring designers who share in her passion for art + hand lettering. I can’t wait for you to learn more about this creative superhero!
What is your background in art + design? Are you formally educated or self-taught?
A bit of both! I have a BA in English and a MBA in HR Management, and I spent my days as an HR Manager at a pretty Charleston, SC resort before meeting and marrying a military man and then having kids (3 of them in 3.5 years!). That changed everything, so I happily did the SAHM thing for a few years and then went back to school in 2013 for a Graphic Design Certificate with a concentration in branding at Sessions College for Professional Design. I have a passion for typography and hand lettering. Most hand-letterers, myself included, are self-taught. It wasn’t touched on during my time in Design School.
What made you want to want to start sharing your talents in an online setting?
My husband is in the Air Force so we move a lot. We were living in a tiny Oklahoma town and it was just me and the babies at home at lot of the time. I needed a creative outlet, so I just started a blog to catalog what I was doing (which, at the time, was mostly recipes and sewing)! My blog niche has completely changed over the years to what it is now, an Art + Lettering blog.
Did you have any hesitations or setbacks after you started your business? How did you find solutions and overcome them?
Too many to count! I didn’t go into this thinking it would be a business. It was a kind of a “hobby gone wild”, I suppose. I consider myself an accidental entrepreneur. I think the hardest part is figuring out where your true passion lies and trying to make sure all your decisions revolve around that passion.
The biggest struggles for me is the legal side. It all makes my head spin. Having a mastermind group of fellow entrepreneurs is extremely helpful and for the really important aspects, I hired a lawyer and CPA. I think for really “essential to get right” things like that, it’s best to spend the money and leave it to the experts!
Can you identify a moment on your journey that felt like a turning point in your business? How did it come to be?
Oh yes! I can tell you the exact event that took my hobby to a full time business: publishing my first eBook. Having a product opened doors for working with companies like Hobby Lobby, TJ Maxx and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. And that was the start of my blog really becoming a full time income and business!
Hand-lettering + community building
Lettering is super popular right now. How do you set yourself apart from the other creative businesses who have similar brands and who sell competing products?
It’s so trendy right now! It’s been great for business! I started doing it a few years before it got trendy and I’ll be doing it long after it’s not. For the most part I just focus on keeping my eyes “on my own page” and doing what I love. I’ve realized teaching lettering/art and simply inspiring my readers to create (via the prompt I give them in my monthly Instagram challenges) is a huge part of my passion. I highly recommend doing a reader survey to figure out what your readers want. I did one recently and was really surprised by some of the results, and it shifted my plan a bit.
When I have an idea for an eBook, I do try to look and see if it’s been done yet if it hasn’t, I go with it. I’ve luckily been just ahead of the trend curve with all my eBooks so far. But I also think if you build community with your readers, they’ll often buy just because it supports you and you give them so much for free. I’ve had readers outright tell me that and I find that so rewarding and sweet!
If you had to pick up and move (oh wait, you did have to do that!) and could only bring three hand-lettering tools with you, what would they be?
Ha! Gosh, only three? You’re killing me, Michelle. I suppose I have to go with: (1) coffee, (2) pencils, (3) my Tombow collection. Does that 3rd one count as one thing? 😉
P.S. On a related note, the best part of an online business it that I can “pick it up” and move it every 2-3 years right along with us. #workfromanywhere
What are some of the ways you use online-community building to grow your business and connect with your audience? Any tips for others who are looking to create communities of their own?
There are a lot of business things I struggle with. I’m an extremely introverted person and dealing with the constant “on” part of social media and the haters that come along with having an online presence take a huge toll on my energy.
I like to do things based on my heart more than my head, which isn’t always best in business. But, on the flip side, I think that helps with building community. And I think that’s an area where I shine (it’s weird to say they but I’m trying to “own” my strengths and get outside help with my weaknesses).
I feel like I could write a book on building community but I think it largely comes down to generously and freely sharing your knowledge with people and building a spirit of community over competition. There is room for all us who are willing to put the work in to succeed!
This is post a I wrote about growing Instagram, which is largely about creating community with your readers!
Behind the scenes
How do you manage running a business and being a mom? Any tips for those struggling to do the same?
Coffee all day + a glass of wine at night. 😉 If only it were that easy! It’s definitely an ongoing balancing act to manage everything life entails as a military spouse and mom of three busy kiddos. It’s actually a question I get asked a lot so I wrote a post called 10 Simple Tips for the Work at Home Mom.
Can you name a book, podcast, conference, or individual who has had a lasting positive impact on you and your business?
Three books I consider must reads for Creative Business Owners:
- Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
- The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
I also really loved Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
All of these were pretty life changing books for me. If you read them, you’ll understand why. I felt like they were written just for me. Good stuff. The combination of these books really helped me combat burnout and find ways to increase my productivity by doing less.
Hopes + dreams
What areas are you still working on becoming better at, as a business owner and a creative individual?
As a business owner, the biggest thing I struggle with is learning to let go of control and pass off some of the work to very capable people. Instead of burning myself out with 16 hour days (been there, done that), I’ve taken on some help so I can focus on the things only I can do. I have a Creative Team of talented ladies that help me with creating blog content, I have a Virtual Assistant who helps me create round-up based content, and I just hired my first blog assistant to take over some of the emails and social media scheduling.
As a creative, it’s making time for daily practice and “just for fun” creative time. The business-y stuff can take over all of that if you let it. I just started doing “Funday Fridays” just for myself. It’s a day where I take a creative online course, sightsee, read a book, etc. Anything that’s fun, inspirational and/or further develops my skills.
What do you envision for the future of your business? Do you have any personal dreams that you still have your sights set on?
Tell last two years have been so full of pinch me moments, I still can’t believe it’s all real! Who knew a little blog started in Oklahoma would turn into a six figure business? Certainly not me! My vision for my site is to essentially be a top resource as a online art class! A place people love to come to get inspired and learn new art styles and techniques.
My current goal is to focus on creating more passive income. I want to be able to work less, enjoy life more (especially traveling), and create just for the sake of creating!
Long term, I would love to be able to hand this business over my kids one day. My girls especially, LOVE art and all things creative. My 6 year old has already requested I leave her my craft studio when I die. 😉
I know you have some exciting projects in the works! Tell us about what you’ve been up to lately and what we can look forward to:
I’m cutting back a wee bit while we’re stationed in Germany so I can really enjoy the overseas experience, but I just signed on with Tombow to be a Senior Brand Ambassador and am in talks for a new hand lettering book with my publisher. The next big thing I want to tackle personally (and that my readers keep asking for) is eCourses. I don’t love being on video, but I do know it’s the direction that is best for me to head in next, so stay tuned!
Thank you so much for having me, Michelle! It is truly an honor.