Building A Business Around A Passion For Brand And Web Design: Highlighting Remote Workers
In this series, we will be highlighting real, successful remote workers working in various industries across the globe. They'll give us an insight into how they got started in their industry, their advice to their younger selves, and tell us why they chose remote work.
Introducing: Hollie Duncan, brand and web designer at Tropic Media.
Hollie spent a large portion of her career working as a paramedic until a car accident caused her to need two operations on her spine and forced her to consider other job options. After working in clinical software for a while, she knew a traditional office job was not for her and drove her to research ways to work and travel simultaneously. An online course in graphic design, branding, and web design sparked an interest and motivated her to launch her own business, Tropic Media, in 2019.
How did you start working remotely?
I learned new skills online by buying courses for graphic design, branding, and Squarespace web design and then started my own business doing branding and web design for other female entrepreneurs who are inspired by travel.
What made you choose your current field, and what do you love about it?
I actually thought about being a Virtual Assistant first and bought two courses in a bundle, one that was focused on VA training and one that was design-based. I decided to do the design one first and actually fell in love with it! I haven’t done anything creative since I was at school and studied product design until age 18. I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy it, so it reignited that passion I used to have.
What has been the highlight of your remote career so far?
I’ve met so many incredible people through the online entrepreneurial community, people who are so supportive even though we’ve never met! It’s great to now have a group of like-minded friends, and we can support each other as our businesses grow. It’s also been amazing seeing my clients go from stressed and confused to really confident and excited about their business again once they have their new branding and website.
What are some of the challenges you faced?
I have been building my business around my 9-5 so it took up most of my free time. This was hard for a long time, but because I was so passionate about it and loved doing design it didn’t really feel like work, just something fun to do. Figuring out the financial side of things was tricky as I’ve never run a business before, but I’ve slowly got the hang of it!
Also being the only one in my business, the buck stops with me, so being responsible for everything can be hard at times, but it also means I can run things how I like and don’t have to follow anyone else's rules.
How did you stay motivated when facing these challenges?
My ultimate goal of working towards being able to travel where I want, when I want has kept me going. There have definitely been a few tears of frustration and days where I just needed a break, but I’ve always just tried to focus on how amazing it will be once I’m able to travel wherever I want to. The group of other entrepreneurs I’ve met have also been so supportive and are a great help when you’re having a bad day.
What is your opinion of remote work? Benefits vs disadvantages?
I personally love it, I actually find I’m more productive at home than I ever was in the office because of the distractions of all the other people. It’s great to have my own business and I am proud of what I have been able to achieve in under a year of hard work. It has also meant that I have the flexibility to work the hours that I want to, and only take on projects that I think I will enjoy. I am also looking forward to being able to travel as soon as possible and I am planning to start with a 3 month trip to Bali.
I think the main disadvantages are that the work can be intermittent to start with until you start to build up your audience and find the ways that work best for you for finding new clients. You have to be a jack of all trades, I do my own social media, marketing, website, sales calls, emails, finances, everything! So if you don’t get into good routines with it and stay on top of it all then it can be pretty stressful trying to manage everything by yourself.
It can also get lonely being by yourself all the time if you’re working from home, but as I said to help with this I have built myself a little online community of other entrepreneurs who I chat with regularly.
If you could advise a younger version of yourself to do something different - what would it be?
The rat race really isn’t worth it, just do what makes you happy. I felt so under pressure to hit all those social expectations of a good, steady job, buying a house, having a nice car, etc, that it’s taken me a long time to break out of that mold and not feel like a disappointment/failure for doing my own thing and not being bothered about what society thinks I should be doing. Freedom and time with people you care about is far more important than earning more money.
What do you predict for the future of your industry?
The online space is continually growing and more and more people are starting online businesses, so I expect that there will be more need for branding and web designers in the future. People are starting to understand how important branding is now for their business to be successful so I’m optimistic that my services will continue to be in demand.
What would you like to achieve professionally in the next five years?
I would like to start earning some passive income and have plans to launch an eBook about building an online business later this year. I have already made a free resource about this called The New Business Checklist which has been well received so hopefully the eBook can help more people start this journey.
I am planning to travel from August / September if I’m able to and would like to take on a staff member or two to help with the admin and social media side of my business so I can focus on the design side, and eventually a junior designer to help with that part as well.
Any words of wisdom for people looking to get hired in your industry?
With design, you just really need to find your own style that helps you stand out from everyone else. It’s really easy to compare yourself to other designers and not feel good enough, but your own style is what makes you unique and is what will attract the right clients. Also when you’re just starting out or in times where things are quiet, create portfolio pieces of work for your ideal clients as this will help show off your skills and attract them to work with you.
Any predictions for what will happen to remote work as a whole?
I think most people that can work remotely will be doing so over the next 5-10 years. I definitely think that there has been a move towards it in the last few years and I think the number of companies offering remote jobs or people starting their own businesses from their laptops is only going to continue to grow.
Final question, what is your go-to recommendation for others to read/listen to/watch right now?
For the world of design my recommendations are:
Michael Janda - He owned a design agency that did work for a lot of big companies like Disney and Fox and he is a fountain of knowledge about being a design freelancer. He’s also just a lovely guy and always has time for everyone and any questions you have.
The Futur - They offer some great courses and lots of free resources about brand design and strategy
Better: The Brand Designer Podcast - This is a great podcast that was started last year by two women running their own brand design companies. It talks about all the difficulties of running your own company and gives lots of great tips on how to overcome issues. There is also a great Facebook community to go with it.