The Autistic Innovator celebrates autistic business owners from all kinds of industries. Which is why I’ve created a monthly series on The Autistic Interview to ask the questions, so you can learn more about what it’s like creating and running a business as an autistic person.
Judith has generously agreed to be the second interview published on The Autistic Innovator.
I am grateful Judith has shared her knowledge and experience with us. She is a solo entrepreneur (aka sole proprietorship) with a graphic art and design business.
Judith is sharing her expertise with us from South Korea!
Let’s dive into the interview with Judith!
How did you think of the idea for your business?
I have always been a creative, artistic type, and when I was no longer able to work in the classroom as my professional career, I turned my hobby into my business. I had taught myself Photoshop through discovering digital journaling and digital scrapbooking, and I learned other techniques from YouTube videos and online tutorials as I went. It seemed very natural to be able to help other small business owners, and I learned that I had an intuitive ability to see the ‘gestalt’, think holistically, and go straight to the essence of a business, to represent it visually.
How did you fund your business in the very beginning?
Because I was offering my services online, the start-up costs were minimal: my existing laptop, a large Wacom digital tablet which was a prior Christmas gift from my husband, and the monthly subscription to Adobe’s Cloud to be able to access Photoshop - the gold standard for designers. I promoted myself through my own website, on social media, and with the help of a huge FB circle for womentrepreneurs.
How long have you been running your business?
Nearly ten years so far. I’ve taken a couple of breaks and returned to the classroom, but old clients still find me for special projects from time to time. Now that I’m leaving the classroom for good, it’s time to take Graphictional Design off the back burner and begin promoting my work again! I often offer special introductory projects that attract clients, such as WOTY (Word of the Year) custom visionboards, or project moodboards (similar to branding boards but smaller in scope), and I have quizzes on my website that let me collect the info for those projects very simply and in an engaging way.
Did you have any previous experience in your field before you started your business?
Not specifically in graphic design. However, I’d done some amateur interior design, product design, digital journaling and digital scrapbook layouts, all of which help to train your eye as well as work with clients. Also, my academic background was a big help in working with clients - I find it avoids direct conflict if I can gently ‘educate’, mediate, and refocus their vision. I don’t have a visual agenda or anything stock or premade: everything I create is custom-designed in conjunction with my client, and my desire is to provide the best experience to my clients’ clients, in the end.
Now that your business has been running successfully, is there anything you wish would have done differently in the beginning?
I would have read more in the field of graphic design, and honed my skills across the board, rather than beginning as a graphic artist and trying to simply sell ‘art’. I would have then focused in earlier on my ideal client (heart-centred solopreneurs or micropreneurs) and discovered that they wanted not ‘just a logo’ but a full branding package that understood their vision and their essence and interpreted that accessibly and visually. And I would have repriced myself regularly as my skills and offerings expanded, rather than coming from a scarcity model and undervaluing myself - I was giving a lot of personal time, responding to feedback, and multiple reworkings at a much higher level than I was charging for - so I would have researched my peers and competitors at the time.
When your business was merely an idea, what steps did you take to make it a reality?
The thought was the deed. I came up with a business name, a logo, and an aesthetic, all in one evening. The next day I threw up a free site on Weebly.com, scraped together a portfolio, and started promoting myself on social media. Leonie Dawson’s business and personal workbooks were a huge inspiration and really provided concrete steps for succeeding as a businesswoman; my earliest clients were from her FB circle as we promoted ourselves to each other and built each other up. Every six months or so I reassessed the website and what I wanted to promote, added to the portfolio and checked pricing, and got more focused in on my specific offerings.
How has being autistic helped you succeed with your business?
Art and design were always a Special Interest, to the point that when I thought of monetizing my hobby, it was not a difficult transition. My hyperfocus allowed me to turn out responses to my clients in surprisingly quick time, and it was a feature of mine to offer ‘live feedback’ where we met online and I performed ‘fixes’ on a design as they spoke, tweaking colour and size or making quick sketches as they talked through an idea. My already vast collection of CU/CC00 photos and legally purchased elements (for digital scrapbooking originally) became a giant resource that I could draw on to use for my clients. My strong visual memory helped me to recall appropriate colours, typefaces, and specific images quickly and clearly, while my obsession with fonts suddenly became an asset. I think my bluntness and forthrightness which can seem rude or abrupt in person, became perceived as clear and direct over email and on chat forums, and clients certainly spoke frequently and approvingly of my ability to understand the needs of their business, to capture the essence, and to, in a word, empathize with them - so that common criticism of autists was never an issue. My neurodiversity made it possible for me to connect with people around the world, from different cultures and backgrounds, and to offer a diverse, creative, unique perspective.
Has being autistic created challenges for you? If so, what helped you overcome or cope with the difficulties?
As far as my business goes, I haven’t encountered specific challenges that I would associate with being autistic. I’ve only ever had a handful of clients (three or four) find that they couldn’t ‘click’ with me or that they weren’t happy with the direction I was taking - which could be attributed to many other factors. I don’t specifically promote myself as ‘an autistic artist’, so I don’t know if that would be considered an asset or liability in my field. For myself, I’ve had less challenges since I’ve identified myself as autistic; it was so rewarding to understand that far from being ‘weird’, ‘broken’, ‘disabled’, ‘alone’, I’m part of a huge community of neurodiverse people who shine in a diverse way. Different, not wrong.
What advice would you give a fellow autistic person who is thinking of starting their own business?
Pretend you are looking to hire someone who does what you do: where would you start looking? What websites? FB, Fiver, LinkedIn, Twitter? Do your research. Find your peers and competitors. Where are they hanging out? What do they charge? What are their boundaries, expectations, rules, guidelines? How do they ‘select’ for their clients? What does their advertising appeal to? Does that match up with your essence, resonate with your values? If not, what are your values? What are you really selling?
What will it cost you to source, transport and store physical product or materials? Do you need a bricks and mortar, in a pandemic/post-pandemic world? How will that run and function? What are the other elements you need on a day by day basis? Is there a large initial investment? What can you turn back into the business? Do you have backup while you get off the ground?
Honestly, there is so much more you need to know. I promise, I don’t get a credit or discount or make a single penny off recommending Leonie Dawson’s work, but go buy her 2021 Goal Getter Business workbook (digital or printed) and you’ll be off to a good start. Her website is leoniedawson.com, but you can go straight to https://leonie-dawson.myshopify.com/ for the books. Oh! And turns out...SHE IS AUTISTIC - formally diagnosed just last month, so congrats to Leonie for becoming officially part of our neurodiverse community!
Does your business have a social media profile or a website where The Autistic Innovator readers can follow you and learn more about what you do?
I’m holding the space at http://grapfictional.weebly.com right now but hope to be re-opening http://graphictional.weebly.com for business in the New Year. You are very welcome to take any of the quizzes on my site - you don’t even have to submit your email for answers because I’ve always thought that’s manipulative. Plus I don’t do a newsletter or push content: if you want to work with me, you can use the form on the Contact page or message me on Facebook. I’m Bard Judith on FB as well. And you can follow me on FB at https://www.facebook.com/graphictionaldesign - thanks for asking!