How Just “A Girl And Her Mac” Created A Successful Web Design Business

Last Updated on September 17, 2022 by 52 Comments

How Just “A Girl And Her Mac” Created A Successful Web Design Business
Blog / Customer Spotlight / 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 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 (MyCuisine), (TheSource) and did some illustrations for the (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 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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  1. Amazing story Leslie, regards from the UK

  2. Great article Leslie and great website! You really do have a great eye for design and color composition. I wish I had the same positive experience with small businesses and non-profits. Some have been great long-term clients. Lately though, that has not been the case. Most want to try and barter for services. I inform them that I actually try and do this for a living and appreciate their offer, but bartering doesn’t pay the bills.

    Like you, I also offer payment plans. Only a few clients pay on time. I go three months before shutting down their website then they somehow find the money. I am having trouble with my accounts receivable and planning to use automated payment system. I’m also earnestly hunting for a better niche, and better established businesses. It is a real challenge in my locale (Central Florida Space Coast).

  3. Thanking for being a source of motivation. I think this personal expirence will help me and others continue to work toward being our own boss’s and reaching our career goals. Thank you for this reminder. Keep up the awesome work.

  4. Absolutely Inseparable. Gooooo Leslie Go!!! 🙂

  5. I’m just starting my own project and this is a very inspiring story. Congratultations to Leslie. I hope she can continue being her own boss, and certainly, print is not dead.


  6. I have to come on here and thank the staff of Elegant Themes. Since this article came out I have gotten so much exposure AND WORK!! In fact a recent client said he received an email highlighting this article, over a year and a half after first being written, and I cannot thank you guys enough!!

    I never would have gotten so many people to look at my site without this Customer Spotlight and I TRULY appreciate it!! Much love, and as always I love your themes and plugins!!

    • Hi Leslie, quick question about your sites. How do you get the youtube videos to not display the grid of recommended videos at the end of the clip? (Sometimes they are quite embarrassing, especially for a Christian site). I’ve asked around but can’t seem to get the answer. Thanks in advance!


      • Hi Rene! I believe it’s in the youtube settings itself, it’s certainly nothing I coded. When you go to embed you should see a separate set of options that will allow to not recommend other vids once yours is over 😉

    • Great to hear your story. I’ve just launched myself into the web design / development world and am loving the flexibility that elegant themes and wordpress gives me.

      My biggest issue at the moment is getting new clients!

      Any advice?



      • Hi Steve! What I did in the beginning to get clients was contact local businesses myself to offer my services. Sometimes they had a site that I thought sucked and I let them know how I thought I’d be perfect to get them a better looking site (and I didn’t use the word “sucked” lol) or if they didn’t have a website I’d tell them why I thought they should. Not everyone responded back but quite a few did!

  7. Good Stuff Leslie! Keep Rockin!

  8. Very inspiring story, well done Leslie, I wish you all the best in future.

  9. Wow some story Leslie. Good on you and hopefully this will bring inspiration to others…. ^^

    Luv this part: 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.

  10. Hi Leslie,

    I LOVED your story! So great and inspiring. One thing, though. I tried to go to to your website and while I could get to the home page with no problem, I couldn’t load any other pages. I kept getting an Internal Error code? I tried on my iPad as well as my Mac and same thing?


  11. So helpful and inspiring to hear her story! Good to know there’s hope for the rest of us…


    Another Chick Starting Over at 30

  12. Congrates Leslie Bernal.. Your blog really will inspires all readers. Many people tries it but very few people succeed. People like you are best examples for those who have fire got achieve their goals. Highly appreciate your effort.

  13. Well you have great experience and also you shared such great information with us, but what be your next step about web designing, I am asking because you also need to show more expertise about that.

  14. Is elegant themes compatible with a Mac?

    • Asking this type of question means you should start learning about internet again :/

  15. Thanks for these suggestions. I’ve been on WDL and Smash Magazine and they have some great blogs full of advice that is relevant and up to date. But having a few more to read through is great.

  16. So something very unfortunate has happened. I don’t know if it’s something that stemmed from this awesome feature post on me or just coincidental, but someone has begun a website called and completely ripped off my logo, some wording, and even chose the same elegant theme. I found out who the registrant is, not even a female actually, and I really have never had to deal with this type of blatant stealing before.

    Any words of advice from the ET Support Team or the ET user community??

  17. Hi Leslie,

    What an inspiring story, like you I cater for the smaller businesses out there… they need to be online, but they also need the right price!

    My portfolio site is due a redesign, believe it or not, I chose Nimble previous to reading this and it’s currently in development!

    I love how you tweaked your portfolio images and logo images so that they are much larger than the original design. How did you manage that though, would it be possible to post your CSS tweaks?

    I would really appreciate it, and no doubt others here would too. It’s a simple tweak but looks very effective 😀

  18. Great inspiring story for people starting out.

  19. Congratulations to Leslie Bernal…

  20. What a great story Leslie. Good on you and hopefully this will bring inspiration to others.

  21. Hi Leslie, just wanted to say great article, I enjoyed reading it and love your work – always good to have a sticky beak at what other designers are doing with the ET! Cheers, Ellen.

  22. Oh. And I LOOOOVE freebies!

  23. I’d like to address a question emailed to me by another ET member. He asked how I found clients and/or got the word out about my services. I sort of stuck my nose in where it didn’t really belong and it paid off:

    I came across a website for a local farmers market here in town – Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market – and I immediately recognized the site as the SimplePress Elegant Theme, but it was totally out of whack. Content wasn't fitting in the box, some sections weren't aligned, little things that non-designers may not notice, but WE would. It really ticked me off because their great looking logo is what brought me to the site, and I was so annoyed that such a good logo didn't have a properly functioning site to support it. Long story short I contacted the farmers market founder and explained some things that really should be fixed and if she ever wanted some tweaking to the site to contact me. She actually called!, we hit it off immediately, she loved the minor fixing and additions to the site, and being the founder of the farmers market she's been referring me to all the vendors who need a website! So I'm truly grateful for meeting her, and incidentally I don't know if it's because farmers, ranchers and the like tend to be into caring more for the environment and sustainability, but they are the E A S I E S T people to work with. I in no way mean this to be a generalization or stereotype, I mean it in the most whole-hearted complimentary way possible, I couldn't ask for better clients!

  24. Now this is an awesome story!!! Thanks a lot.

  25. Nice story, Leslie! Regards from Holland.

  26. Congratulations to Leslie Bernal

  27. I loved your story….It’s very inspiration….

  28. I LOVED this post!!! Thank you so much for featuring a girl I can relate to! It really inspires me to keep building my business and to finish school!

  29. Leslie, you are an inspiration! Keep up the good work, and I may be in touch with you soon to enlist your service.

  30. Love your whole story, Leslie. Your dedication to local businesses is great, and very necessary (they should all have websites!). They must be so thrilled with the Elegant Themes WP sites you provide them. Do you find yourself helping them with their website messaging, too? Sometimes I’ve found businesses need help articulating their brand online–since it’s such a different medium from local ads & brochures. Or maybe since I come from an editorial background, I’m just eager to work on the words as much as the graphics.

    I hope you have keep having fun!

    • Leslie is amazing; we love her and the fabulous work she does! The Roots of Wholeness website has paid huge dividends for our new “Mom & Pop” fermented foods business. She’s also creating our print branding.

      I definitely recommend Leslie for any creative job you need done well!

      • Thanks so much Greg!!

  31. Thanks everyone for the kind words of encouragement and potential job offers!! Irene – I can totally relate to the pre-computer art of your background. When I first entered college in ’95 I was a math major that took every fine art class possible lol. Nude drawing, painting, etc. By the time I made my way to computer graphics I convinced my parents to let me switch my major to Fine Art, then Computer Graphics, since I knew I’d found my calling. I know the foundation in fine art has always helped with my eye for design and design layout in regards to web and print, and am so glad to have learned those basics.

    • Hey Leslie,

      Why don’t I see the Estimation Page on your new site? Did you decide not to include it anymore? Why?


  32. C’est super mignon, une bonne image et un bon esprit.

    Bravo a toi.

  33. No o o o o m o r r r r e freebies pleeeeeease! Just give us the mother of all themes.

    • You can’t please everyone unfortunately. I like the tips and freebies. If you don’t want them you can either unsubscribe or just delete the ones that are of no use to you. Easy.

      • The freebies are great, I have found value in them. I appreciated the child theme being covered. Thanks for the great work in all areas. If you want to get the award of all awards let me know where I can get a plugin that will allow me to stay on my website when taking credit cards with a regular Paypal merchant account and not have to have a Paypal Pro account!!

        • (ahem….)
          More Freebies, thank you.

          I don’t believe that any of that is interfering with progress on Divi. We enjoy what’s happening here.

          I would like it if ET’s home page could call out these blog posts, as well as the freebies, featured themes, etc. Static home pages are sooooo 90s. =)

          Thanks for these stories, too!

  34. Absolutely adorable. Go Leslie, go!

  35. I am in great need of an eCommerce website. Get in-touch so we can talk about it. Hoping to hear from you soon.

    Thanks & best wishes

  36. Great story! Thanks for sharing and great work. I will reach out to you as our company needs a designer on hand.. talk with you soon!

  37. So envious! What a wonderful story!

    When I was in Art School (150 or so years ago), there were no computers. Period. Everything was art tables, T-squares, compasses, and the correct hardness of pencils. I’m self-taught in Adobe (although my teacher can be indecipherable at times), and wish I had the time, motivation, and financial wherewithal to start from scratch at school again. In spite of being a little behind technically, I still *do* have a good eye for design. As you said, that’s one thing you never lose, no matter which design field you choose!

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