How Just “A Girl And Her Mac” Created A Successful Web Design Business
This is a post by Leslie Bernal as part of our Customer Spotlight series. If you have an interesting story to tell and would like to share your experience with WordPress and Elegant Themes on our blog, please contact us!
Let Me Introduce Myself
My name is Leslie Bernal and I’m a freelance designer from the great state of Tejas! For 12+ years I worked in the service/restaurant industry, and was everything from sandwich-maker to hostess to waitress to manager. The pay was actually great, life was fun, but I’d always known I needed to be in a creative field to truly be happy. So I decided to pick up where I left off years before and go back to college and pursue that pesky degree I’d kept putting off. I moved back to my hometown of San Antonio, TX and basically started all over at a 4-year University, since very few of my previous credits were transferrable. This ended up being a good thing, as so much in graphics had changed since I’d been in school. When I left I was learning Quark, now everything was Adobe Adobe Adobe!
Fast-forward 4 years, standing on a football field in my cap and gown, one of two “adult” students graduating with my BFA in Graphic Design in the spring of 2011. Mind you I did not do well in my web classes, I was aaaaall about print!, and had NO INTENTION of becoming a web designer. Are you kidding me?! Who wants to sit and stare at code all day? Umm ya, keep reading.
Starting From Scratch At Thirty-Something…
I had decided in my last semester I didn’t want to work for anyone anymore. I wouldn’t be applying to any design firms. I wanted to be my own boss, be a Freelance Print Designer, whatever that was. Turns out, it’s not really a thing, at least not in my neck of the woods. I did get some work designing logos and brochures, a few flyers here and there, but nothing that would pay the bills, and man did dealing with printers suck! Whenever I did meet with a potential client I was almost always asked if I built websites, and always defiantly answered with a brisk “no.” I finally realized how much work I had been turning down because of my own limitations I was putting on myself, and my hard-headedness at wanting to prove I could make it doing freelance print work with absolutely no contacts, no connections and no “real world” experience whatsoever. I’d have to build websites if I wanted to make money without going back to a 9to5. But I didn’t remember that much web and coding. I literally had to open my school projects and look at the CSS and HTML and familiarize myself again. I made a few sites for friends who were business owners who were kind enough to throw me a bone, and gradually I started getting some concrete referrals. This was great, but more and more clients wanted to be able to control their own content.
Enter Elegant Themes
I wasn’t about to teach someone else how to code, even as limited as my knowledge was, but I’d heard about WordPress and at one time started a blog that never got beyond the default intro post. So I knew the solution was out there, I just needed to get familiar with it so I could start using it for my clients. Besides, I’d secretly known using WP would provide far better stability for my clients’ sites than I really was capable of offering, truth be told.
I don’t remember what brought me to Elegant Themes, but once I found it I never tried another WP theme studio since. Honest. I’ve always received support for all my questions and, so far, have had enough variety to choose from as far as theme designs are concerned that I haven’t needed to look elsewhere, and don’t plan to now that I’m finally starting to customize more. Speaking of customization, I really only just started to venture into that. My last completed site www.wildlifecamptx.org was featured in the Customer Showcase — thanks Elegant Themes! — and has probably had the most customization I’ve done, primarily on the homepage. Before that I tinkered a bit on www.rootsofwholeness.com (MyCuisine), www.remaxcommercialsa.com (TheSource) and did some illustrations for the www.sarocks.org (StyleShop) background. Gotta stick my love of AI and illustration in where I can
I tend to work for local, small businesses and startups, most having very small budgets, and I like it that way. I’ve found that this gets me more free rein in what I can design for them, and this helps me avoid putting out a website that my client is happy with but I hate. I made my site www.agirlandhermacstudio.com in Nimble and really left it as is because I just liked how it was built already. Making my personal site was a bit daunting at first. I wasn’t sure how much or how little I should let any potential clients know about my experience or background, and ultimately why they should hire me. I made my site with the thought of putting myself in their position. What would I want to know? Since I am not the most experienced web designer — but very confident in my eye for good design in regards to color, composition, typography, etc. — it was very important to me to put that information and as much about my personal story in my FAQ. I even chose to put my prices on my site (I know, I know…EEEEK!).
I was truly expecting an email from some random designer scolding me about “why do you charge so low?” and “don’t you have any self-worth?” Hasn’t happened yet, and I hope it stays that way *hint-hint*. Yes I need to pay my bills, but that truly isn’t why I love building websites. I love knowing I’m helping non-profits or Mom & Pop shops get a beautiful website that I’m proud of without cleaning out their bank account. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no design martyr by any means. If I can work in an extra $15 for the latest sale on a Laura Worthington font I will!
What’s Next For Me?
More websites, more awesome clients to work with, and I now have a job redesigning package labels for a former web client, so I do still get to do some print work like I always wanted to, and I now LOVE staring at and playing with code and figuring out how to make the themes more my own. Like many designers I’ve neglected my own site a bit, but will probably try out Divi as a new look once it’s released.
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