How a new mum built a design agency – An interview with Rebecca Heinemann

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Following a successful design career and the birth of her son, Rebecca Heinemann built her own design agency CraftWell so that she could have a better work/life balance. In this episode Ian interviews Rebecca to discuss her background, the reason why she built her own business, the steps she took to get it up and running and the challenges and fears faced along the way. We also discuss why we both feel it’s important to work within agencies before considering building your own business.



Books & Resources Mentioned

CraftWell_Positioning Statement


Interview Transcription


Ian Paget: I’d like to start the conversation around the creation of your agency CraftWell, but before we get into that, to give us some kind of background context, would you be able to talk through what you was doing prior to starting your agency?


Rebecca Heinemann: Sure, sure. I’d love to talk about that. I’ve had a really fun career in design for many years. You know, I will say after college I took off a little bit of time to dabble in different things. And then finally around 27, I got back into design, and I started at a very interesting music startup in New York City, and was a designer for the website. And that’s how my career started.

I was doing banners, online banners at the time. So that was one of my first jobs. And then skipping far ahead, I finally started working at … well, I worked at HBO for a little bit. I worked at Universal Music for a bit, and then landed at an ad agency, which was one of the best career moves I ever chose. And worked there for about seven years and that was in New York City, and then from New York we decided to come out to LA after being in New York for about 12 years, we really needed a change.

So we came to la and that was just a few years ago where I was the creative director at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is one of the largest health insurance companies here in the United States. And I had a team of about 20 designers and UX designers across the country. So I managed a team that was partly remote and partly on site and that was very interesting, I actually helped them build their digital capabilities and their video capabilities.

And then at 42 I had my first child. And so that’s really what changed everything, and that’s when I decided I needed to make a career change and have more work life balance. And that’s how CraftWell started.


Ian Paget: So I mean I understand that you had a child at that point, but was it purely because you felt like you wanted to work from home that you made the choice to start your own agency or is there more to that story?


Rebecca Heinemann: Well, I really needed to have work life balance at that point in my life, because when you work at an agency or when you’re the creative director and you’re managing so many people, you are working round the clock. Especially at an agency, you’re working 10 hour days and especially here in LA, the commute can be very long. My commute was an hour there, and an hour home.

So to be away from my child for 10 to 12 hours a day just wasn’t an option for me. I mean some women can juggle it all, but I have found that something will fall … you know will end up falling to the ground. And I did not want that to be my family. So I knew that I had to make a change so that I could really call the shots in my schedule and then you know, having the child really did make that decision for me.

I had to make a change if I wanted to be able to juggle it all, and it really was the best thing that I ever chose to do, and today my son is four and a half and I consider going back to an agency, but I don’t think I would do that at this point because I’ve made it work for me and I enjoy being able to make my own schedule.


Ian Paget: Do you find that you do have a work life balance now?


Rebecca Heinemann: I do feel like I have a work life balance now, because I have to log off every day at 5:00 because that’s when I have to pick up my son from school. So it puts that time limit on it. And then the rest of my night is for me and for my family. So I work a solid between nine to five. I work those solid hours. But then after that I’m pretty much out.

I will say yes, there are times I have to hop back on for a client and do some work at 9:00 at night. It does happen, but it’s more rare and I do it because I enjoy doing it. I’m not always tethered to that office because someone else wants me to be there. And when you’re at an agency it night, after night, after night.


Ian Paget: Yeah, I’ve experienced that too. I mean I haven’t actually ever worked for a branding agency as such. But, I can totally understand how easy it is to fall into the trap of pretty much working late every single day. I’ve been there and it’s exhausting, and just doing my own stuff in the same way that you are, you do have a lot more control over and you have more freedom in your life as well because you don’t have that commute. You’re not tied to anyone else. You can call the shots and stuff like that.


Rebecca Heinemann: Right. Right. You know and I don’t … I mean I loved working at an agency, but for me it worked … I did it from 30, for like 10 years, 10, 12 years, and you have to really be able to dedicate a lot of your time to. It was the best experience ever because you learn so much, and that’s something I can talk about more later. But I definitely loved working there, but it just doesn’t jive with my schedule now.


Ian Paget: I can imagine there’s listeners that are in the same boat as you, and failing in the same way. So I do want to dive into the steps of how you created your business and everything that you did. But just before we go inside, I just want to say there’s a lot of young designers out there that are trying to build their own business like you are, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing because like in your case, you’ve built up a number of years of experience, you build agencies, you’ve managed teams, you’ve seen how things work.

You’ve probably made all of those mistakes that you would have made in those areas and you’ve been able to learn from different people around you. So based on your experience, I think what you’re doing, it just makes sense as the next step for your career progression. But what would you advice for people that are just starting out? Would you advise them to take the same route as you are? Like working for other people and then build your own thing, or do you have any regrets for not working on something like this earlier in your life.


Rebecca Heinemann: I don’t have any regrets. I do wish I had started sooner at an ad agency, and I worked at some Internet startups which was definitely very fun and I learned a lot there, it’s kind of fly by the seat of your pants and everybody digs in and you wear many different hats. But when I worked at an agency, the level of expertise just takes it up a notch. It’s almost like getting your MBA in the design business because you’re working with account people.

You’re working with very senior creative directors, you’re working with incredibly talented copywriters, and you start to really dig into the strategy of everything, of every project has a creative brief, and you start to really learn how to dig into the strategy and there’s not just one way to dig into the strategy. There’s multiple ways to dig into the strategy.

And so I really feel, and if this is, you know, one little tidbit that I think is so important for people is working at an agency or a good design shop, is so key because you learn so much more than just being a designer. I mean, when I started at the agency, I thought that I was just a designer. I made things pretty. But when you work at an agency, you learn that there’s strategy behind it.

You learn how to get up and speak in front of your clients, and you learn how to pitch your ideas. And that’s incredibly hard to get up in front of clients and try, and win their business. And you just learn all the different areas from the account area, how to be an account person, how to manage the financials, how do I price this out? You learn the copywriting aspect, you know not only am I a designer now and a creative director, and our director, but I’m also a copywriter because you’re pressed to learn that side of it a little bit as well.

So being at an agency I think is the best way to start out because you are just going to learn every aspect of the business when you do decide to go off on your own.


Ian Paget: I totally agree with that. I mean, I’ve spent the last 10 years working for an agency and it’s only been in the last few years I’ve started to go out on my own and there’s experiences that I’ve been involved with, which would probably be impossible on my own. You know, just one example is, for example, working on a project for a company’s biggest Barclaycard. There are systems and people involved like legal teams and all sorts of stuff there.

The politics are very different and being surrounded by account managers and company directors that have spent the last 20 years with projects like this, I could not have learned what I’ve learned through those experiences any other way. I would not learn it on my own. I would not learn that by listening to a podcast, watching a youtube video, whatever. The only way to actually get that experience is by working for an agency and you get, I don’t know if you had the same.

You get thrown into situations that you are not okay with, you know, like standing up in front of 20 people and talking through your work. You wouldn’t choose to do that on your own. And that’s not only made me better at my work, but a more confident person. And you know, it’s helped me grow as a person. So I just want to stress with this episode to be honest with this part.

People listening that are students, they’re thinking of starting their own thing because they’ve seen some YouTube video of other people having success. Go out, find a job, spend 10, 20 years learning from other people, and then build your own thing because you’ve got the experience like you do. You’ve got experience working with teams. You’ve got graphic design experience, strategy experience.

There’s students coming out of university that think that they could be brand strategists, but you can’t be a brand strategist without the experience. You know, you need to build that up and the best way to is to find a job in an agency.


Rebecca Heinemann: Yeah. One of the things we always say is, you don’t know what you don’t know. If you’re not experiencing all the nuances and the different situations, and the different ways that these brands want to strategise, if you’re not experiencing that, you’re not going to know, and it’s not just one way of doing it. You know because there are some YouTube podcasts or videos that talk about here’s the way to do branding.

Well, that’s just one way. When your client comes to you, there are so many different nuances in different ways that you need to tackle it. By working at an agency, you’re going to see the different ways that you can tackle a project because just that one way is not going to do it every time, and you may lose clients that way. So yes, I think, you know, working at an agencies or a great design agency is the way to go.


Ian Paget: Yeah. Absolutely. Okay. So let’s talk of three, the steps that you took to build your business. So as you mentioned, you spent a number of years working for different agencies. You had a baby and then you made that … you made your mind up, “Okay, I want to start an agency.” Can you talk us through what was the first things that you did in order to kind of build the agency up?


Rebecca Heinemann: Sure, sure. I can talk about that. You know, there weren’t many like … you know, how many here are the five things that you do? I think it really started out of necessity because I needed to. I knew I needed to do it and so it grew organically, and it grew slowly, and sometimes I take a couple steps forward and sometimes I take a few steps back. But the way that I started out, I don’t think … I also don’t think I started out thinking right away, “Okay, I’m going to have … today I’m going to open the doors, I’m going to have an agency.”

Like I said, it grew out of necessity, so I started to reach out to my contacts, and that’s another great reason why to work at an agency because you build such a great amount of contacts that way.


Ian Paget: So was reaching out to the contacts the first thing that you did, or did you create some kind of brand name, and so on first, or you literally went out there looking for work first?


Rebecca Heinemann: Okay. So yeah, so specifically there wasn’t … I didn’t decide, okay, I’m going to buckle down and I’m going to create the agency and create a website and my positioning, which is very hard for someone to do on their own. You know, I wanted to do everything, especially coming out of an ad agency, I felt like I can do … you know, I’ve done everything, I do the whole campaign.

So I had to reassess that, like what can I do for people and my clients being a one woman show when I first started out and try, and pare that down though it was hard to do? So anyways, yes. I did build a site and I brought on some people that I could reach out to on an as needed basis so that if I did get a big project I would have resources. And yeah.

So we started out with the website and then I did a capabilities deck. My capabilities deck, which I think just helps you to assess in your own mind what is it that my agency can provide for my clients. And then I started to send that deck out to different contacts, and also just personally writing contacts, and that I think for me personally was the best way to get some of my clients.


Ian Paget: Can I just quickly, you mentioned about the capabilities deck. Can you just quickly explain what that is?


Rebecca Heinemann: Sure. So the capabilities deck is basically a little intro about what your business does, and then I got into more specifics of the capabilities such as we do branding, we do web design, we do graphics, and so I get a little bit into that, and then you talk about the clients that you service so they know who you’ve worked with, and what your experience is. And then I did three case studies to really highlight the different work that we do and then wrapping it up with bio’s of you know, what my background is. That’s kind of an introduction.


Ian Paget: So would you do that as a PowerPoint presentation or a pdf?


Rebecca Heinemann: I did mine in Keynote. You can do it in PowerPoint also, and then I just save it as a pdf, and I sent that out to clients or contacts. Yeah, that’s good that you’re getting into the specifics. Sometimes I don’t get into all the specifics.


Ian Paget: No, that’s my role.


Rebecca Heinemann: So, yeah. I’m glad you asked the questions.


Ian Paget: Okay. So there was another thing that you mentioned about positioning as well. I think it’s worth going into that in more detail as well, because you know people are starting out, some people don’t know what to do and I think it’s really good that you’ve done that, because you’ve obviously been able to establish what you want to do and where you’re going to be focusing. Can you talk through a little bit more in detail on the area?


Rebecca Heinemann: Okay. So positioning is actually very important to me, and it’s something that comes up in every creative brief that is a big question for me when I’m even talking to my own clients. So you want to make sure that your positioning is very succinct, and is very specific. Because that is what you’re always going to ladder up to when you are creating your branding.

And so for CraftWell I wanted to try … It was really hard to do for CraftWell because like I said before, I wanted to be able to do everything, but really your positioning should be very succinct in maybe one sentence. There’s actually a formula for it, and I don’t have it in front of me. But there’s a formula that you can follow and I wish I had it in front of me so that I could really walk you through it.


Ian Paget: I mean what we could with that … if you can send it to me afterwards, what we could possibly do is link to something or add something into the show notes for this episode, and then people that do want to follow the exercise, they still got that resource because you don’t need to talk through it now if that’s something that people can reference.


Rebecca Heinemann: Yeah, I would love to share that.


Ian Paget: Yeah, I think that would be really good.


Rebecca Heinemann: I will just say like recently I just did positioning for a client of mine, and she wanted to take a crack at it first, and it was interesting because it was very generic. And thing about positioning is you want to really try and dig deep into specifically what makes you different from the rest of the competition, and that’s what’s important about positioning. Finding the specifics that make you very different from your competition out there.


Ian Paget: Yeah. I wanted to quickly ask you on that topic. A lot more people talk about online is niched down, you know finding one specific target audience or focusing on one specific area. But, correct me if I’m wrong, as far as I understand you are pretty much offering lots of different things and that’s working for you. Is there any particular reason other than wanting to do everything that you didn’t choose to niche down at that point?


Rebecca Heinemann: I guess it’s because of my agency background. I mean, when we would take a project from a client, we would do everything from creating a new logo for them, to then concepting out the campaign, and then I would even help develop the program. Say for someone like … like right now, no … I don’t want to get into too specifics, but just developing that entire campaign so that … like right now I’m developing a starter kit for Allegan for birth control and you know, I’ve helped to develop the packaging, to be the logo, and then ultimately we’ll develop the website to all the materials that then go out to the physician and the materials that go out to the consumer.

And then also that includes developing the campaign, doing the photo shoot, so you’re doing the whole kitten caboodle at an agency. And so then I just can do all those things so I want to continue to be doing all of those things for my clients, and which I am right now. Like right now I’m working on a conference. So I’m doing everything from developing their logo, to blowing it out to the actual floor show, their posters, their flyers, their website. So I do still … I do do a lot.


Ian Paget: No, I think is good that you said that because not everyone needs to focus on one specific area. I think that can get boring as well. Like there’s positives and negatives to a niche down, and obviously it’s working with what you’re doing. So, I think that would be comforting to people like yourself that do you want to do everything.


Rebecca Heinemann: I think it takes time though too, you know?


Ian Paget: Yeah.


Rebecca Heinemann: And I think that’s where the ad agencies experience the 10 years comes into play. You know, it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in the beginning. You know, you need to really have that experience so that you do know what you’re talking about. So you do know how to plan the whole thing. That you know the background, you know the production, you know how to write the copy and it doesn’t just come from, you know, day one saying, “Okay, I know how to do this.”

Like there’s a lot of little details that you need to know how to do. So it was hard for me to niche down. You know there were people that told me I needed to, but you take what you know, and you just keep moving forward with it and building on it.


Ian Paget: Yeah. I think at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you’re making money from it, and enjoying what you’re doing. Like you don’t need to take the advice of everyone if it works for you. So I actually like that you haven’t niched down because it’s a good example of that you don’t always need to. And that you can still be a success if you chose not to do that.

Oh, I just wanted to ask about another area that you mentioned, because you mentioned about finding people that you could potentially work with. I looked on your website and it looks like you have a team. Am I right in making the assumption that you’re basically working from home, on your own, and then you would outsource the projects to those people, should those projects come up or is there more to that?


Rebecca Heinemann: Well, I actually have expanded to a studio. I have a nice little studio, and I do have a designer that works for me part-time. So we are trying to expand. Then, like you said, yes, as projects call for it, I do bring in different people. If I’m working on a big website, then I would bring in my project manager, and I would bring in the UX person.

I tend to do a lot of the UX myself, so I don’t bring him in as much as I would like to. The copywriter, I have someone part-time copywriting with me as well. So yeah, you know, you bring in the people that you need at the time that you need them.


Ian Paget: I just wanted to ask as well on that, I read a book a few years back called The E-Myth Revisited, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that?


Rebecca Heinemann: No.


Ian Paget: But in that book, it really stressed the importance that you should be working on your business, not in your business, and I like what you’re doing, that you are taking that method where you’re not doing everything. You know, that you don’t need to do everything and you know that building a team is going to be able to … would mean that you’re able to basically take on bigger projects and offer more services to your clients, and I’ve liked … I like how you’ve been able to build that on your own from the beginning by finding people that you could potentially work with so that you got all of that sorted, so that you can comfortably say yes to that project knowing that you don’t need to be running around trying to find suitable people.

So I think that’s a good … it’s good that you’ve done that. And it sounds like with the studio space that you have, even though it’s … is it just yourself and an intern at the moment? But you’ve laid down the foundations to build on that. So it sounds like you are going in that direction anyway.


Rebecca Heinemann: Right. Yeah, and for me it’s just, you know, it’s slow, it’s taking, like I said, a few steps forward in that direction, and then there are times where the work slows down and so you need to be able to retract a bit and maybe then I’m doing more of the work myself. But then having that team that you can call up when projects do increase, you bring them in so that you can juggle a few projects at the same time.

I will say, you know, one of the … You know Chris Do gave me a lot of good advice about really trying … I think trying to expand the business, but there’s also a point where for me I’ve realised, I don’t need to be … I don’t want to have so many projects that I’m overwhelmed. I like having just a few key projects, and a few people working with me. I don’t need to be huge bringing in a million dollars a year.

I’m actually happy with just having a nice flow of projects, and when I do have downtime, I look at it in a positive way for time to actually really dig in and work on the business and see where we can expand again or what we can improve upon.


Ian Paget: Yeah. I think it’s important to know what you want to do because I’m doing similar to you. I’ve got no plans to grow my service even though I possibly could do that. But there becomes a point where you start to think, “Why am I doing this?”


Rebecca Heinemann: Right.


Ian Paget: And there’s times when I’d rather say no so that I have time to do other things and in your case, you know, having a child at home that you want to make time for, I just feel like that’s more important to you than anything else and the agency that you’re building is a way to make sure that you got an income and that you’ve got more freedom as well.


Rebecca Heinemann: And doing what I love. I mean, I absolutely love doing this. So I love having good clients that give me creative work. So always just trying to make sure I’m getting good clients, not the ones who just want production work, but the ones that really want good creative work. So that’s always a challenge.


Ian Paget: I thought we could go in to that. I think we can go into the area now in a little more detail, because obviously when you’re starting out a business, there’s all these things that you can do, but without clients you’ve got nothing to be honest, clients is what brings in the income. What brings in those projects and so on. So what have you been doing to find clients and maintain a flow of clients?


Rebecca Heinemann: Well, right now I’m actually so busy that I have not been looking for some new clients, so that’s a really good thing. I’m actually booked up till the end of December, so I feel pretty lucky. So my head is down right now. But when things are slow, that’s when I start to take the opportunity to connect with past clients. The ones that you know, I haven’t heard from because those are the ones that you already have a good relationship with and you know, sometimes they just need a little prodding like, “Oh, right. Rebecca’s there. CraftWell can help me out.”

So I tend to reach out to the clients, or the contacts that I already know, if there are people that are in town, I make lunch dates with them to connect on a personal level. If they’re in New York because I have a lot of clients in New York, I just try and pick up the phone, and see how they’re doing. Because I have a pretty … you know, with a lot of them… I have a good relationship where I can just call them up and say, you know, “How are things going? What have you been up to?”

So a lot of times I find that the personal connection is the best way to go to get your clients back on board or wanting to do a new project.


Ian Paget: Yeah, I’ve, I’ve heard that. I can’t remember what the stats are, but people spend a lot of money trying to find new clients, and finding new clients obviously can include like networking, you know which you’re sacrificing time for. You can spend time marketing online, you could spend money on that. The physical time and money investing in finding new clients is substantially higher than engaging and retaining the customers that you already have.

And I think that’s one benefit of actually not niching down because you are able to easily present other options, and you can provide those people with a much greater offering, and you probably only need a handful of clients to keep yourself busy for a long time.


Rebecca Heinemann: Yeah. Once you find like … you know, I try and find … One of my clients is Allegan, you know they do Botox, that’s one of their … one of the products that we work on. And you know, once you find a big client like that, it’s ongoing work. It’s my bread and butter.

It’s continuous, you know, there might be a month where things slow down, but there’s continuous flow there, so having a big client is very helpful, and the way that I got that client was because I had worked at an agency, and was good friends with the creative director there and now she’s at Allegan, so I called her up out of the blue one day, or actually I emailed her and I just said, “Hey, if you ever need some extra help, let me know.”

And you know, I think it was maybe a month or two later that she rang me up, but now that’s one of my biggest clients. So having that contact is how I got the work.


Ian Paget: It’s been really interesting because I’ve done about 30 interviews now, and I’ve spoken to different people at different levels and in general, the people that have been able to get fairly big clients, they get them because they build relationships with people. They get to know different people. They obviously keep them informed of what they’re doing. They’re basically doing what you’re doing and that seems to be one of the best ways to actually get proper clients. Ways to actually get proper clients because they know you, they trust you, and they like you, and that’s why they want to keep working with you, because they know that you can do a good job, and they’ll pass on work from other people. That’s how these things go.


Rebecca Heinemann: Right. I had someone call me up recently, out of the blue … The ones that you don’t know, the people that are considering you that you don’t know, I don’t know. It just never works out. It’s maybe one out of 10 might work out for me. I find it’s a waste of my time. I end up getting on the call, they don’t know me, I don’t know them very well. You try and have a half an hour call, and it goes nowhere.


Ian Paget: Yeah.


Rebecca Heinemann: I’m like, I just wasted probably three hours of my time because I usually prepare a little bit for the meeting, and I’m like, I just wasted my time. When am I going to learn?


Ian Paget: You probably need a sales person on your team because I’m probably about the same stats as probably one in 10 is actually worth dealing with, but you still need to deal with the other people. They seem to suck out time, so you need to be able to quite quickly weed those people out.


Rebecca Heinemann: Yeah. I’m learning. That’s one of the good things that Chris Do helped me with. I think there’s an episode where we talk about weeding out the clients, very quickly. He’s very good at it, and I’ve learned from him to do that, to ask a couple questions beforehand to find out, what’s your budget? What’s your timeline? How important is this project? From those answers, you can really gauge whether or not you should continue.


Ian Paget: I think it’s worth asking you a question about the videos with Chris, because that’s how I know you, and I can imagine listeners that already know you, they probably know you from Chris’ videos, because the Futur channel is quite popular on YouTube now. I wanted to ask you, I mean, ignoring the fact that Chris is on youtube and stuff like that, you basically went to him for consulting?


Rebecca Heinemann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Ian Paget: How beneficial was asking for help from people that offer consultancy for you?


Rebecca Heinemann: It was interesting talking to Chris. I really wanted to get a different point of view, and also to meet more people in LA. I’m fairly new to LA. I had been here maybe four or five years. Again, having good contacts is so important. That was one of my reasonings for reaching out to Chris was so that I could meet more people here in LA, and also to kind of get myself out there more, get over my fear of speaking on camera. That’s always an issue of just being able to speak publicly and get in front of people.

Talking to your clients can be hard, so the more you put yourself out there and put yourself in positions that are uncomfortable, the more you will grow. So this just seemed like a really good opportunity to make myself uncomfortable and see where that would go. So I reached out to Chris, and he was very open to having me come on the show, so I took that opportunity and it was hard. It was hard getting on front of that camera and talking to someone that I didn’t really know that well, and asking what their point of view would be on starting a business in your 40s.

Definitely, there were some positives that came out of that, and some advice that was helpful, and some that wasn’t as helpful. I mean, I can continue talking about … I don’t want to ramble on.


Ian Paget: No, no, no. I think one big thing I got out of that is I know that you’re an introvert, I am, too. Doing these things is hard for most people. Most people are not comfortable with getting on camera, or being interviewed like you are now, or anything like that. I think it’s good to talk about that, as well, because obviously you’re building a business, and in order to build that and grow the agency, you are having to step out your comfort zone. It probably wouldn’t be growing as much as it is.

Anyone that’s listened to the first episode can probably hear that I was pretty much crapping myself doing the first one because I was so nervous. You getting on that, and now you’re on this show, it’s funny how these things happen, but I think it’s good to step outside your comfort zone and get in front of camera, do voice and different things to get the opportunities that you are.


Rebecca Heinemann: Yeah, you have to face your fears, for sure. I mean, when I started out as a designer, I think that’s one of the reasons why I loved being a designer, because I thought, oh, I can just sit behind the computer, and no one will bother me, and I can just sit here for hours and do what I love. Then when you get to the agency, that’s not true. They’re like, you have to present. You have to go pitch. You have to talk about …

They would run us through the mill. Not only did we have to pitch to clients, they would make us pitch to the managing partners a couple times a year. We would have to present our brands to the partners. You’re constantly put on the spot anyways. So, yeah, you have to face your fears if you want to move up. Especially if you want to have your own agency, you need to be able to comfortably speak with everyone and anyone.

That’s another reason why I take my clients to lunch, is just another opportunity … It’s hard. It’s hard to go out there and talk to these account people, because sometimes they speak a different language, and so you just have to become more and more comfortable with them. That’s one of the things that Chris tried to each me, sorry to interrupt you.


Ian Paget: That’s fine.


Rebecca Heinemann: There’s an episode where he talks about just talking to everyone, and that will help you to become more comfortable when you talk to your clients.


Ian Paget: Yeah. I find what you said then loops back to what we spoke about earlier. Some of those situations that you was put in, you probably wouldn’t have done them if you was on your own. You would’ve hid away or shied away from those things. It’s by working with those agencies, you being forced to do those things because you’re getting paid and it’s a job, and if you didn’t do it, you’d probably get fired. You’ve been pushed to do those things in those agencies.

Even though you’re still an introvert, and probably a little bit shy still, like me, you are now comfortable to be pitching things to clients, to go on Chris Do’s YouTube channel, to be on podcasts like this. You probably wouldn’t have that confidence now if you didn’t go through that 20 years, whatever it was, experience at different agencies. It just stresses that point that it’s beneficial if you do want to create your own agency, to build up that experience first.

I wanted to make sure to stress that in this because I don’t want young designers, straight of University to listen to this and think they can do the same. Go out there, get the experience, and then look into doing it and taking some of the advice from this episode.


Rebecca Heinemann: It’s still difficult for me, but at least now I can just do it and be okay with the stumbles or the mistakes that I make if I’m talking to someone, or a client, or trying to present, and I don’t do it perfectly, I’m not so hard on myself. I just go out there and do it. It builds your confidence.

I’m still an introvert, yeah, sure. I’d still love to sit behind the computer and now be bothered, but now I know how to just do it. You just do it. It’s part of the job, and you get more confidence by doing it. It’s a daily thing that you are always trying to improve on.


Ian Paget: Yeah. I’ve always suffered from anxiety from quite a young age, so things like telephone calls, presentations, stuff like that. When I first started working, it literally almost made me throw up. I was terrible, but you learn to cope with that. You don’t necessarily get more comfortable as an introvert, but you learn to cope with those situations.

For me, I’ve learned that breathing, posture, helps, but also, the more that you do it, you do genuinely get better, but I don’t think it’s going to go away.


Rebecca Heinemann: Yeah. I still don’t want to get up and speak in front of huge crowds. It’s hard. I go blank. When I’m up there, sometimes when I’m done, I’m like, what did I just say? Because I literally, in my head, I go blank, and the words are just coming out of my mouth. It’s hard.

It’s hard, but luckily I don’t have to do any kind of pitching like that now, it’s just more presenting and talking to my clients, and that’s so much easier.


Ian Paget: Yeah, but I think you could do it if you wanted to. If you knew it meant that’s the only thing that you could do to get that project, you would still do it.


Rebecca Heinemann: I would do it, yes.


Ian Paget: You knew that you could do it even if you don’t like doing it.


Rebecca Heinemann: Yeah, right.


Ian Paget: I think we’re near the end of our time. We’ve gone through some really good stuff in this episode, so far. I’m just going to ask you one last question.


Rebecca Heinemann: Sure.


Ian Paget: If you could travel back in time and offer your younger self some advice from what you’ve learned in your career so far, what would that advice be?


Rebecca Heinemann: I don’t know. It just goes back to the agency thing. I know I keep repeating this over and over. I definitely would have tried to get my foot in the door and an agency at a much younger age out of college. I just had no idea, I didn’t even know what they did there, and what I could do. It’s such a great job, and I just wish I had started that sooner.

I also wish I had had Ethan sooner instead of at 42. I probably would have had him a little bit earlier, as well. Life is a journey, and everybody takes their path differently. You take a couple steps forward, and you take a couple steps back. That would just be the one piece of advice is just get into an agency and learn as much as you can because it’s great experience.


Ian Paget: We do have a little bit more time. I just wanted to quickly ask you whilst I’m thinking about it, that agency experience, if you would go back and tell yourself that, is there anything in particular that you did to get that opportunity? I know with agencies, they can be hard to get into, so I think it’s quite easy to say, go and work for an agency, and then you’ll be fine. For some people, it’s just not possible, it’s really hard.

Is there any advice that you could give to people that are kind of in that position now looking for that agency job?


Rebecca Heinemann: Yeah. Well, what I noticed with some of the people coming in who were trying to get in the door, the way that they go in was by working the front desk, interestingly enough, and answering the phone. They started there, and then from there, then you get to meet people, and you say, hey, I’m really interested in copywriting, or I’m interested in being a designer.

Another way that they got in the door was through the studio, the production studio. They start just being a production person. Then another way they get their foot in the door is maybe being an assistant to the creative director. There are ways of starting at the bottom so that you can work your way up.

Somebody even started … I don’t know if they even have traffic anymore. I think traffic is an old position, but they would start in traffic, trafficking the projects from around the office. Now, I just think that just is done through PDFs and email. You start at a low-level position, and there sometimes are programs where they’re trying to bring in interns, so I would seek out those internships. I interned many internships, and I did it for free, and I worked three jobs. You just bust your butt, and you do what you can do, maybe or free as an intern just to get your foot in the door. Everybody wants free help.


Ian Paget: What I got from that, that would be quite relevant forever, is actually building up your network, getting to know other people, and that’s quite easy to do now online. There’s a lot of free communities online, there’s obviously some paid ones, as well. Those communities mean that you can network with these people really easily. If you’re continuously looking and working towards those goals, those people should be able to help you on your way, even if it’s just for advice or pointing you toward someone else. I think there’s a lot of opportunities there by getting to know other people in the industry.


Rebecca Heinemann: Definitely. Definitely.


Ian Paget: Well, we’re pretty much at the end of our time. I just want to say, Rebecca, thank you so much for coming on. It’s really good talking about your story, and I think there will be people out there that will be in a similar situation to you that are trying to work out what they want to do next. I think what we spoke through should inspire them to take those next steps and start building knowing things you have.


Rebecca Heinemann: Wonderful. It was so great talking to you, and I really enjoyed it. Hopefully, yes, some of this information will help somebody out there. I really hope so.


Thank you to HolaBrief


I’m incredibly thankful to HolaBrief who have sponsored this episode. HolaBrief is a platform that makes it easy to ask all the right questions and nail your design brief every time –  Sign up for free here.

How a new mum built a design agency – An interview with Rebecca Heinemann

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