Welcome to 9 to No Thank You! an interview series with freelancers who kicked their 9 to 5 habit and now kick serious business butt. These inspiring ladies and gents are sharing the stories of their cubicle escape, and giving helpful tips along the way.
Today we’re hearing from Kim Herrington of Bear & Beagle Creative. Kim turned her freelancing career into a fast growing business, so read on and steal her tips!
Hey Kim! Let’s get started.
Where do you live?
I live in Conway, Arkansas! It’s a beautiful city and I love it here so much. I moved here in 2006 for college after growing up outside of Boston.
What do you do?
I’m the owner of Bear & Beagle Creative. We help businesses and bloggers look awesome online and make revenue through their online presence. Our business is two-fold. For business clients, most of which are local to us, we build websites, maintain their blogs, social media, and do search engine optimization work on their behalf, as well as provide training for businesses that want to bring those tasks in-house. Our business clients range from multi-million dollar corporate clients to small mom and pop shops we love.
We also work with creative entrepreneurs and bloggers across the globe to help them make their websites more productive, whether that’s teaching SEO courses, doing blog and online marketing coaching, selling resources in our shop, or just listening and giving valuable feedback.
How long have you been freelancing? What were you doing before?
After college, my boyfriend and I moved to another part of the state while he was in law school and I took whatever job I could find. It was in the middle of the recession, but I scored a temp job at our municipal government. I hustled to make myself invaluable and was hired for an office manager position over the road crews. I helped to manage nearly 100 construction workers and took very angry calls from citizens. While the benefits were great and the pay was decent, it was pretty soul-sucking and I wanted out. But the experience was invaluable! I know a lot about employment regulations, project management, and how to handle unhappy people.
When I was first trying to find a job, I went through the phone book and called any and every business that looked like they might need someone like me and called a small online agency. They didn’t have an opening but asked for my resume. And they kept it for nearly three years. When they had an opening, they asked to interview me.
I started moonlighting for them in January 2013 blog writing and eventually started working for them full time as a subcontractor and left my government job. It was a leap but it was the right stage of life.
Contracting work isn’t assured and they lost a bunch of clients towards the end of 2013. My hours were severely cut and I had to do something. I looked for regular 9-5 marketing jobs, but it meant taking a huge pay cut and commuting for hours. So I decided to start my own company! When I did, I left the contracting job and had no assurances of “secure” income.
We launched March 25, 2014 and are just coming up on our one-year anniversary.
What was your transition into freelancing/entrepreneurship like?
My transition was really smooth because I have a lot of experience running companies. My parents are entrepreneurs and own an archery store in my native Massachusetts. I helped my dad run the business for a number of years and learned a lot from him. It made opening my own a lot easier. I’d also learned a lot from the company I subcontracted with, especially how I would do things differently.
What do your days look like now?
Most of my days are spent managing the business aspects more than getting my hands dirty, though it wasn’t always that way! Being the boss is really different from being a solopreneur but I really enjoy it.
Most days I get up around 6:30 or so, eat breakfast, and go for a run. I do yoga two days a week and sleep in till about 8 on those days. I get to the office around 9 and immediately answer emails and check that blog posts went live.
My days are almost never the same after that. I might be writing content for websites, approving work from my staff, managing website builds, meeting with clients or pitching to leads, doing SEO audits, or preparing materials for our shop. I also squeeze in maintaining our own marketing by writing content for our website, shooting videos, scheduling social media, or reaching out to influencers we think are awesome. I leave the office around 5 and either head home or to yoga class.
Having an office, though it’s a brand new change for me, has made a huge difference of my life-work balance. I can leave work at work now and it is really nice. It makes running a business feel a lot less life-consuming.
What is your favourite part of being a freelancer/entrepreneur?
Hands down, it’s seeing my clients’ faces when we do something amazing for them. They feel empowered instead of trod down and helping them get to that is the best feeling in the world.
The second best is knowing I can provide for myself and make positive changes in my community doing something I love and do very well. I’m raising up others by employing them and giving them a chance they might not otherwise get. I’m very focused on creating a great place to work.
What were some of the doubts or roadblocks you had when you started, and how did you work through that?
If there was room for yet another gal with a laptop in the world. If I could actually make this work. If I could make enough money to support us. If I could not screw up even though I didn’t 100% know what I was doing. The doubts could go on and on. There isn’t a doubt or worry in the world I probably haven’t had about my business. And I worry about unknown unknowns too, to borrow a phrase from my boyfriend. It’s the things you didn’t even think to think about about that get you. Some of the biggest roadblocks were all because of me doubting myself and treading water when I should have been speeding ahead.
Opening an online agency is really easy compared to a lot of other businesses because all you need is a computer, internet connection, and skills. It’s not the same as a retail space or opening a business in a highly regulated industry like a law firm. Watching my boyfriend start a law firm made me realize just how easy things have been for me and reminds me to be very humble and thankful. While nothing will replace being a go-getter, some industries need a lot more go-getting than others!
I worked through it all by just pushing myself more. In the stress of opening a business, I gave myself shingles. I’m not a crazy entrepreneur to the point where I’ll wear that as a badge of honor. It’s not. I firmly believe running a business shouldn’t be detrimental to your life outside of the business and it’s a constant struggle. Yoga is my godsend, as well as all the outpouring of support I’ve received from everyone in my life, even total strangers!
Is there something you know now that you wish you would have known when you were first starting out? And what are your best tips for freelancers just getting their start?
Oh, isn’t that the million dollar question! There are so many things you don’t know when you start a business. But I’ll let you in on a secret—no one knows what the heck they’re doing all the time. People who say they know are liars, pretending, or have really big egos. I wish I had figured out sooner exactly what I needed to offer and what questions to ask from people with different expertise than me.
The best advice I can give is to get a business attorney to help you get your ducks in a row and protect yourself. So many creatives I know have been screwed over. In almost every instance, it could have been avoided with some legal planning in advance. Lawyers can be really expensive so shop around and try to negotiate a better price. I paid my boyfriend’s firm to help me and the insight has been invaluable for my business. Going into business is risky but making it more risky by not having a legal business, contracts, or operating agreement is just stupid.
What are some of your favourite tools for running your freelance business?
- Zoho – Free email with your domain and CRM system
- Schedugram- A little known Instagram scheduling tool
- Viralwoot – Pinterest scheduling
- CoSchedule – Social Media scheduling
- Moz – SEO tools & education
- Toggl – Work timers for my employees
- Google Apps – Obviously
- Mailchimp – Email marketing
- LeadPages – I’m trying this out but thinking about switching
- Google Voice – A separate business number made easy
- Intuit Payroll – Makes payroll super easy
- Google Adwords – We’re working on our Google Partnership so we spend a lot of time in there
- WordPress – We’ve been a mostly WordPress shop but this is slowly changing as my developer loves a framework called Laravel, created by an Arkansan
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Getting an office open has been a huge endeavor and I’m ready to get settled in. We’re focusing on serving more local clients as well as starting self-guided and online group class options for our creative and blogging clients. Our goal is to do $100K in business this year and I’m confident we’re going to get there.
http://www.bearanbeaglecreative.com/audience-building-challenge a free taste of what we do!