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I knew that having a child would mean life would be a little different, but there were a few things that I really wasn’t prepared for. I guess it’s the sort of stuff you can’t imagine beforehand because you need the lived experience to really understand.

I’ve seen loads of people talking about the run up to having a baby, preparing their business, maternity leave, and even setting up once you already have a child. But I don’t think I’ve seen any one talking about having to change the way they were running their business after having a baby.

I didn’t prepare my business for having a baby. I feel like those people that were able to do that are in another league of being organised. I had some vague plans about setting up a digital product shop before giving birth and that earning a little money, but then the pandemic happened while I was a few months pregnant and it was honestly hard to concentrate on anything else other than getting my client work finished off. There was also a grey area with what I could earn while claiming self-employed maternity allowance from the Government (UK) and it was easier to be not earning so I knew I could claim the allowance.

Although it occurred to me that life would be different, I guess I thought I’d just pick up work again once I was ready. My husband had a really good full time job and I knew we’d be ok for a while without an income on my side.

Then Kieron got made redundant the week that Logan was born and our whole world flipped on its head. He was a Manufacturing Engineer and we’d thought that those sort of jobs were always safe. Of course with manufacturing of everything slowing down to a halt, his company had to make redundancies to keep trading.

We had spoken about how his heart wasn’t in engineering any more though and the redundancy turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We decided Kieron would stay home with us so that I could focus on my business still as I was continuing to get enquiries for work through the pandemic and my short maternity leave.

I thought that with having Kieron home full time with us, it would be really easy to just slip back into work and it be the same as it was before.

My God, that was not true for me!

How I felt as I started back with work

It initially felt great starting back with work. It was something to pull me out of the fog of new Motherhood and it felt grounding to be doing creative work again.

With having an already established business that had been really active on Instagram and especially on Pinterest over the past 5 years or so, I already had built a bit of momentum for people finding my work and website, and enquiries.

With the pandemic, I’d had a spike in enquires through Pinterest because so many people were at home thinking about starting businesses on the side, or finally having time to dedicate to forgotten things like branding and marketing. I had bookings for work straight away and so that part was the easy bit.

It all felt almost too easy…

Where it all started to feel like too much

I soon realised that even with another parent at home, Logan would want me an awful lot, and that would mean I wouldn’t have the longer periods of focus I was used to.

I was surprised at how long it took me to get back my focus each time and would often end up having Logan in a sling sleeping on me while I worked. I have lovely memories of wearing him in the sling when he was small, and at least while I was wearing him, I didn’t have to think about what he was doing or whether he was ok all the time, so that part of my brain could focus too!

There was the added stress of me now being responsible for paying the bills when it had never been a sole responsibility before.

With work enquiries coming in thick and fast I booked people in as I had done before, sort of always on the verge of being overbooked, but thinking it would be ok. The thing is, it had always been ok in the past because I had the time to work longer sometimes if I needed to. I never did too much that I was burnt out, and I guess it was a bad habit that I didn’t realise would need to change.

It didn’t take long before I was feeling perpetually exhausted, was overbooked, stressed and crying in the middle of the night.

I honestly had no idea I wouldn’t be able to keep up the same sort of schedule and work in the same sort of way I’d worked before (overworked masquerading as well-organsied). I had Kieron at home full time, I felt like I was failing and I should be able to do this!

3 changes I made to my business

Needless to say, something had to give. And of course, it was work. Over the course of the next year or so I slowly made some changes to make the business work for me rather than it running me.

1. Moving to asynchronous communication

A big part of my new ethos for my business is making it fit around my life seamlessly, and leaning into what feels good rather than overthinking and doing things the way they’ve always been done because that’s what people expect.

I moved almost exclusively to communicating with my clients via voice notes, texts, and videos that are sent asynchronously. Asynchronous just means ‘not existing or occurring at the same time’. So we send voice notes when we can and we don’t have to be available for a call at the same time.

I’ve felt more anxious since having a child probably due to hormones, plus I’m a relatively shy person anyway, and I just found myself really getting wound up about Zoom calls during the time when everyone was zooming in the pandemic. So I decided to stop.

I still do the odd call when it feels necessary, like I sometimes do training with current and past clients on design software. But as a rule, even discovery calls before a client books can be done by voice note instead. If a person seems to have a problem with it, they probably aren’t going to be a great fit for working together.

I’ve built some structure into this for my different packages and have specific days where we chat and plan and specific days when I’m doing the design work. I’ll go into that more in next point.

The real benefit is that I have ultimate flexibility with communication – Having a baby or toddler means your schedule can change last minute if they didn’t sleep well the night before, or they’re poorly, or they’re just having a day where they want Mum. I wanted to be able to lean into this

An unexpected benefit is that this works so well for clients I have where there is a time difference! I get clients from all over the world thanks to Pinterest and Instagram, and it allows us to communicate in a personable but flexible way.

2. Shorter process with a stricter timeframe, still being mindful of having enough space and flexibility to work on the peoject.

As I mentioned I was accidentally overbooking myself and you might wonder why I would do this.

A few things were at play. Firstly, I’ve always had a very flexible process where there is a loose structure, but I don’t set dates because I found it hindered the creative process. Instead I’d keep the client in the loop along the way, giving an idea once I was into the design work when the draft would be ready to review etc but still keeping to any deadlines they had in place.

This is the hard way of doing things, and it was always a bit of a juggle to work different projects round each, but it felt right at the time. I had the extra head space to be agile with what I was working on day to day and switch between tasks.

Now I most certainly do not have that extra head space. That space is filled with toddler stuff! I can’t quickly switch between tasks and I have to give myself realistically just the one thing to work on each day, my attention span is much shorter. Just a quick note that this will probably change in the future too, but when talking about running a business during the baby and toddler years, this is definitely the case for me.

I am a recovering people pleaser and perfectionist, and so at first, even though I knew I was finding it harder to focus on multiple projects, I didn’t want to let people down. I thought that if I told people when they were booking in the process would be a bit slower, it would all be ok. It wasn’t and the work built up and it just added to the stress.

I found I didn’t want lots of projects going on all at once any more, I wanted to be able to finish a project in a smaller timeframe, with the process more clearly defined. But I did need to keep a lot of that flexibility.

I’d heard about Day Intensives, where you plan beforehand, and then get all the specified work done in one day. I liked the quick sound of this, but I wanted to have the balance of it being quick…without the stress of only having one day.

And so I came up with a 2 week Design Intensive package. Usually with a day intensive the research and exploration will be done during the days before the intensive, and you’ll kick off with a call. I didn’t want to do calls and I wanted everything to be contained and explained inside the process.

I developed a process where during week one we chat via the voice messaging app Voxer to plan what I’ll be designing during week two. The pacing is the key for this package. There is enough space during the two weeks to check in with the client each day and work through thoughts and ideas, but as long as I haven’t got a load of other things booked in at the same time, it leaves room for life to happen.

I priced it relatively low at the beginning and each one went so well and had great feedback. I’ve increased the pricing now so that I can almost block off the last 2 weeks of each month specifically for one of these projects. There is a really well defined timeframe, so it’s great for cashflow – I’ll often be booked a few months in advance for these, and I know that what I’m charging for that is enough to pay our bills.

Then I fit a larger branding package in, one starting every other month, and work it around the design intensive. I try to plan it so the two weeks of the design intensive are less intensive weeks of the full branding package, so the part when I’ll be doing refinements rather than the full on design work.

I’ll be creating a training all about my Design Intensive package soon!

3. Going ‘all in’ on my project management software, streamlining, and getting help.

I know it’s really important to be super organised with everything now. I use Notion as my project management software – it’s not the same as other project management tools because you can set it up however you want to. It has the balance between flexibility and rules that I seem to be craving 😂

Here’s a mini course I made about how I use it that you can access for free right now before I make some updates and turn it into a paid course.

Access the mini course >>

Access the mini course >>

As well as getting really organised with Notion, I have hired out for help on things like brand strategy for my own business and my end of year accounting!

All of this just means there’s less in my already full head and I can concentrate on what I do best. Previously I really hesitated spending money on things but I’ve now seen how much time and headspace it’s given me!

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The thing I find truly fascinating about visual branding is the layers of meaning that can be brought into the design work.

Layers of meaning and symbolism can of course be used in all types of visual art, but in my opinion, it’s an especially important part of branding.

What do I mean by Symbolism?

To be clear, what I mean when I talk about symbolism here is the use of imagery like the illustrations in your branding to represent ideas or qualities.

Symbols can come to mean something in retrospect, and that will be true for imagery used in your branding, that’s true for many big brands and was certainly true for my own logo design. Sometimes the image comes first and it gathers meaning as the brand grows.

But it’s also wonderful to make design decisions from the outset based on what has meaning for you as a business owner, and also what will have archetypal meaning for your customers or clients too.

Again to be clear…

An archetype is a term used to describe universal symbols that evoke deep and sometimes unconscious responses. Archetypes are defined as recurring patterns of situations, characters, or symbols existing universally and instinctively in the collective unconscious of man.Citation

Why is adding meaning and symbolism to my brand identity useful?

When we use imagery that has universal meaning behind it we’re holding up little green flags for our audience that show that we’re the same as them, we think the same, we care about the same things. This is the very start of building up that ‘Know, like, trust’ factor with your audience.

When we add a layer to our branding that has deep meaning for us as the business owner, it means it’s more likely to feel right for us long-term. We do it once, we do it well, and we do it with meaning.

Branding illustration for Helena Rose Photography

How can symbolism play out in my Brand Identity?

Take this Moth design for Helena Rose Photography; There is a layer of archetypal meaning with the design that like minded people will be drawn to.

The style of drawing, the witchy vibe of the elements, the Moth being a creature that is drawn to the light. This last point makes sense for a photography business where working with light is part of the skill of the art form. These are things that we intuitively understand as humans when we look at imagery, without really thinking about it.

And then we uncover the symbolism of what the design means for the business owner. It’s a deeper layer that might not always be apparent at first glance, but it’s important none the less.

Here the Moth represents the ethical and sustainable businesses that Helena works with; they are drawn towards the light in the sense that they are conscious of the how they impact the world.

If possible, we’re looking for something that works on more than one level, but you can always combine symbols together or weave meanings into other parts of your brand identity.

Tips for how to start weaving layers of meaning into your Brand Identity

  1. You can start by noting down any imagery, things, symbols that you’re drawn to. You need to love the imagery you’re using in your branding as well as it holding meaning.
  2. Think about any imagery that holds meaning specifically for the industry you work in, or for the specific services or products you’re offering.
  3. Think about what imagery, if any, is evoked by your business name.
  4. Symbols could be really simple, like a triangle, or it could be more complex imagery that would be more of an illustration, like a type of bird, animal, or plant.
  5. It’s important to research any symbolism you intend to explore in your brand identity to make sure it’s culturally appropriate for you to use. You also may need to sift through the many meanings one symbol alone can have to make sure there isn’t anything negative that might come up for people.
  6. The internet is obviously a great source of information, but books are even better and often more reliable. Try the Signs and Symbols Sourcebook by Adele Nozedar as a starting point.
  7. Reference meanings of imagery in different places to make sure you have a good understanding of all the meanings.
  8. Can your symbol link back to your business in more ways than one? It’s ok if not, you can add layers of meaning with other branding elements, combining symbols in a design, embellishments on typography, pattern designs, your colour palette, even photographs. Don’t force multiple meanings, lean into your intuition about what feels right.
  9. Remember that your brand identity is not your logo alone in isolation. Everything should work together to form a multi-layered, meaningful design for your brand.

If you’d like to explore weaving symbolism into your brand identity with me you can can apply to work together in my Signature Branding Package called 🌿The Unfurling.

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