17hats Ambassadors / Business Education

Overcoming Hurdles: 17hats Ambassador Q&A

This continues our series of Q&As with our new 17hats Ambassadors.

Today I’m sitting down with three marketing professionals: Eileen Riestra does branding and graphic design through Depict Brands out of Boston, Shawn Brooks is a website and logo designer with Shawn Brooks Design out of Miami, and Samantha Strazanac, of Strazanac Solutions, is a marketing consultant in Raleigh, NC.

In our chat, I asked these 17hats Ambassadors to reflect on their experience. Each had valuable advice to offer for those getting started in business, especially in the marketing arena.

You three all hail from different parts of the country, but you share a love for marketing and branding. I know that we have a lot of readers who are in that same field. But everyone starting out in business – any business – will benefit from your insights.
So, to begin, what was your biggest hurdle when you were first starting out?

Eileen: As an artist without a business background, I had to learn how to juggle the creative and business aspects of my work, and quickly. I didn’t know how to price my services or how to value my work. I mean, I knew I had to pay for my rent and my equipment, so I based my prices upon my basic living needs. It was my biggest obstacle, because not only was I basing my pricing on survival mode, but it revealed insecurity on my part. 

Shawn: The same goes for me. My biggest obstacle when I started was understanding the business side of business – LOL. I was very good at designing, and focused the majority of my time devoted to that. But I didn’t know anyone in my family or neighborhood who owned a business. I didn’t know how businesses were run – all I knew was the fun side. I realized quickly that starting a business was more than just hustling design services part time – LOL again.

Samantha: In my case, my biggest obstacle was finding clients who would pay me, since I was brand new with little experience. It’s funny – well, kinda funny, but not really: Early on, some clients thought I was a hobbyist marketing consultant and was doing it for fun or as a favor, so then they didn’t want to pay me. 

No question, some small business people are reading this and nodding their heads, saying, “I’m facing that problem right now!” So how did you overcome those hurdles?

Eileen: Running a business is not easy. Especially when you’re first starting out in anything, it’s normal to have self-doubt. In my case, though, after a few years in business, I enrolled in an executive education certificate program at the Yale University School of Management. Through that, I learned how to value my work and how to target the right audience.

Shawn: Me, I had to learn that business encompassses understanding my value, my customers, how to serve them, and how to nurture those relationships. When I got overloaded with manual invoices, manual bookkeeping, and keeping up with clients in a notebook, I finally took the time out to learn more about business. It was an eye-opening experience that showed me that software like 17hats could simplify my work process!

Samantha: Well, as I mentioned, I had clients who thought that I was doing all this marketing work as an unpaid hobby, which was frustrating. But when I became a limited liability corporation and added “LLC” to my business name, clients saw that I was legitimate and serious, so they agreed to pay me. And that’s how my business started. The image was everything.

What other advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are trying to overcome similar hurdles?

Eileen: Sometimes we feel our work has no value because of some clients that reject us. It’s important to understand your ideal client, and to research the location where you want to do business. Going to business training gave me the security I needed to run a business, but remembering the importance of why I started the business kept me motivated to keep going. I advise people to read Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek.

Shawn: Take the time to ask questions, take online courses, speak with an accountant, attend seminars, try to get a mentor, and utilize software – like 17hats – that will help you simplify your business processes. Also, when it comes to building a brand and understanding online tech, I might include a plug for my own Amazon best-selling book, It’s All About You: The Essentials Of Creating, Building, and Managing your Online Brand

Samantha: Well, to build up a client base early on, I would suggest networking, and doing discounted services to build out your portfolio. I wouldn’t recommend working for free, but discounting at first is OK when you need to prove yourself. Still, you need to know when to raise your rates, and quit doing the “I’m new so you get a discount” thing.

Oh, and get used to hearing “No” a lot in the beginning.

Eileen: Can I add something? Samantha’s last point is really important.

I remember a terrible experience during my first job interview after graduation. I showed the creative director my résumé. He took one glance at the objective I had included, and burst out laughing before telling me that I didn’t belong there if I wanted to change the world. I felt embarrassed and thought that I had done something wrong. Now, looking back, I understand that his opinion of me actually had nothing to do with my worth as a designer. It’s important to value your unique and personal voice, and to recognize all of the experiences that have molded you. 

Thanks so much for sharing, guys. I know that many people may reconsider the obstacles in their path after hearing what you have to say.

Have a wonderful end to 2021 ahead, all of you.

Eileen Riestra’s website and social handles:

Shawn Brooks’ website and social handles:

Samantha Strazanac’s website and social handles: