We had the good fortune of connecting with Heather Schiefer and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Heather, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
It was less of a thought process than a series of events. Which is a whole story that started back in 1994.

My whole life I loved art. I never thought it would be my career though. I didn’t think artists made money. While attending high school from 1991-1995 I never touched a computer or enrolled in creative courses. My guidance counselor confirmed that an artist would not be a great career choice. I chose social work. Then, one day I was helping a friend in our senior year after school in the art room. She was having a hard time with perspective and I was helping her figure it out. The art teacher came out and hollered, “Hey! Who are you? I’ve never seen you?” I thought I was in trouble. He wanted to know why I wasn’t in his classes. The following week he had me enrolled in several art classes and explained that “graphic design” was, in fact a thing and that it was a real job. That was event number one.

I decided that my dream job was to become a freelancer. It seemed so glamourous. But you can’t just start out making money in 1996 as a freelance graphic designer. Especially when you find yourself with a new baby right out of high school. After dropping out of college to care for my son I took a few typical jobs. Then, beginning in 1999 I worked as a production artist for a vinyl shop and then a local paper. I worked up to an in-house marketing director. Eventually finding myself creative director at a small local agency. I had experienced all kinds of work environments. Good and bad. This agency was another kind of monster though.

This agency was essentially the straw that broke this camel’s back. The CEO / owner was manipulative and spoke to all of her employees as if they were children. She would lord over you while you worked and then literally pat you on the head and sigh when you failed to understand her backwards direction. She didn’t respect the process or the people.

I was approached by one of our clients at the time. They had an in-house design position opening up and wanted me to interview. I agreed. My boss was less than thrilled, obviously. I mean, they pretty much just poached me out from under her. But I needed to leave. The long hours and unrealistic expectations were very literally ruining my life.

Some weeks went by, I was officially offered the position and excepted. I gave my notice. Two weeks, as is customary. On my last day at the agency, as I was walking down main street on my way to work, I received a phone call from my new employer. They were sorry, the position was no longer available. No further explanation. Well, I hung up and called my husband. I was completely unsure what to do. I walked right past the office and went around the block. He asked me, “What do you want to do?” I mean, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. Then he said, “You’ve always wanted to work for yourself. Maybe this is the time.” It made sense when he said it. A spooky kind of sense. It was 2008 and I had been in the industry since 1999. I was experienced, talented and now motivated to succeed. We decided that I would still quit this agency job and start looking for freelance clients.

It was no coincidence that as soon as I walked through the door of my office my boss summoned me with condolences and an assurance that they were willing to keep me on and “find a place for me” even though I attempted to abandon them. She knew before I did that the position would be gone. That’s when I knew that the decision we had just made was one-hundred percent the right one. I smiled and shook my head and said, “No thanks. I’ve decided I’m still leaving. I’m going to try freelancing instead.” She was stunned and the only thing she could think to say was, “This will be the worst decision you ever make.” That pretty much solidified any wishy-washy tendencies I still felt. If you want to see me dig my heels in, try telling me that I can’t do something I really want to do. She counted all the ways I would fail and then left the ball in my court again. I thanked her for her concern and asked if I was still able to come in that Saturday to get the rest of my things from my office. That was it. I returned the next day, filled a box and haven’t been back since.

So in September of 2008 I had my first client. More followed and continue to do so. My husband and I had a son in middle school and were planning on more children. We figured that working from home would allow me to set my own hours, control my work load and manage stress more efficiently. I still have spurts where I work long hours, and you can’t avoid stress all together, but I can pick up our daughter from school or have dinner with my family. I can schedule vacations and not have to worry that my boss will drop a last minute project on me, resulting in some horrible hybrid work/vacation scenario like Robin Williams had to manage in that movie, “RV”.

So, is it glamourous? Not exactly. Some days I work in my jammies and take breaks with my chickens or out on our boat. Other days I get to network in the city with fancy business people and have drinks. So, I guess sometimes I do get that glamourous vibe. Although the comfort and flexibility are what really make it worth it.

If there was any real thought process in between those events, it was one where I weighed my mental health against the industry requirements. It was questioning what kind of connection I wanted to have with my work and what kind of relationship I wanted with the client. I couldn’t have it the way I wanted it in an agency. I have real, long-term relationships with clients. I’m not just churning out budget design. People know me and trust me enough to come back month after month and year after year. Those clients validate my decision every day. It’s a decision I wouldn’t take back and I’m glad I didn’t second guess it back in 2008.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think my story earlier details how I got here. I specialize in brand development which typically starts with a logo design and then stretches into brand voice and messaging that help draw people in and keep them engaged. I am also a photographer and web designer / developer. As a “side gig” I make macramé art that I sell on Etsy.

I think what sets me apart is the fact that I do “it all”. I have developed my skills in a way that allows me to understand branding and the design elements of marketing in a unique way. As someone who codes, processes digital imagery, designs logos and works in more traditional creative mediums; I have an insight into many different dimensions that a lot of creatives don’t have. I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve essentially gained all of my skills independently. I never finished college. That used to bother me, but the older I get and the longer I do this, the more I see that I wouldn’t have learned what I learned the way I learned it and so, wouldn’t be the same person or the same artist.

Nothing about starting or maintaining my business has been easy. I struggle with “imposter syndrome” like anyone else. I am constantly having to justify my value to people who question my worth. I question whether I’m “doing this right” almost every day. My clients help me move through that, though. When one of them comes to me and tells me how I’ve added value to their brand I know that I’m doing it right. The support of my husband is super important as well. He can always build me up.

My clients have taught me that nothing gets done in a vacuum. Even though I work “independently”, we always end up working together. When I work with a client long term, I learn about a new industry. I learn a new perspective and new skills. They teach me about themselves and through them I gain knowledge that school couldn’t teach me. I want the world to know that creatives are valuable. True creatives aren’t just artists. We work with code, on computers, in a studio, from our cars. Creatives are just problem solvers. Some use paint or a camera and some design websites or help people define the voice of their own brand. Our worth is self-evident and without creatives the world would be a far darker place.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m a homebody at heart, so we’d likely spend a lot of time just chilling where we live on the lake. Spending time on the boat or sipping wine on my patio are my favorite ways to unwind.

There are plenty of places we could go as well. A night out in downtown Spartanburg, SC is always great. There are great restaurants there and since COVID they’ve expanded the outdoor seating into Morgan Square and closed down the streets so it’s essentially a street party every weekend.

There are loads of trails to hike around my town of Inman, SC. Or even just driving the Blue Ridge Highway and visiting the little towns that border North and South Carolina.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would dedicate it to my family I think. My grandfather, uncle and father all started and ran their own businesses. My father still runs his today. They taught me about perseverance. My mom taught me empathy and compassion. My husband supports me even when the pay check isn’t what we’d like.

I would also give a shoutout to my clients. Especially the ones who have been around while. Katrina Noelle of KNow Research and Scoot Insights is actually the one who nominated me for this series. We’ve bee working together for several years now. If it weren’t for clients like Katrina, I would obviously not be able to do what I do the way I want to do it.

Website: heathermarie.design

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heathermarie.creative/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heathermschiefer/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherMarieCreative

Other: You can find that artwork I mentioned on Etsy at MacrameandMimosas.

Image Credits
Heather Marie Schiefer

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