A contract ending, a pregnancy and a light bulb moment created the perfect conditions for Lesley Luce to transition to full-time freelancing with PITCH Graphic Design.
This Toronto-based graphic designer runs a thriving business, produces a podcast and is a full-time mom to a toddler. Find out how she does it while also carving out a highly specialized niche that sets her apart from the rest.
Meet Lesley Luce of PITCH Graphic Design.
What was life like before PITCH Graphic Design?
I’ve always been artistic—I went to art school for undergrad. Although art is my passion, the idea of being a ‘starving artist’ never appealed to me. I’d done some work at school in communications and found it very interesting. So I continued on to complete my post-secondary education in communications.
I started a PR career after I graduated and I worked for some agencies as well as in-house. I always really enjoyed the hustle and problem solving that comes with a PR career. I find it a very fulfilling challenge.
Describe the a-ha moment that caused you to pivot into entrepreneurship?
As my career advanced, the type of work began to change. It started to become less hands-on and involved more strategic thinking and planning. I slowly realized what was really missing for me was the creative outlets I used to find so fulfilling.
When I looked at my job more critically, I realized the people I liked working with the most were the creatives—the designers, the printers. And I thought “why am I not following my lifelong love of art?”
So, I went back to night school to freshen up my Adobe skills (I’d been in PR for 10 years so a lot had changed). At the same time, I was about to end a contract so the transition seemed to come naturally.
How long did it take to fully transition from contract work to solopreneurship?
I started to lay the groundwork about 6 months in advance. I spent time doing things like researching costs and creating a business plan. I also started looking into accounting software and the nuts and bolts of starting a business so I could hit the ground running.
During those 6 months, I also became pregnant! So in addition to my contract ending, I also knew I had a mat leave on the horizon. I was still eligible to take maternity leave benefits so I saw this as a great opportunity to soft launch my business. This allowed me to get a running start on building my business and slowly grow my client base.
This way, once my little guy old enough for daycare, I had laid all the groundwork so I could really launch with a bang.
Now that you have a few years of experience under your belt, what would you say are the 3 biggest lessons you’ve learned?
- There’s value in writing a business plan. Researching, understanding and thinking about everything involved in a business plan is super useful. You may never look at it again, but it’s a valuable exercise.
- Don’t underestimate the emotional toll of starting a business. Going from the security of an employer to the uncertainties of freelancing involves a huge mindset shift. You have to start realizing your self-worth in dollars and cents and you need to be careful not to undervalue yourself or your work.
- Value your time. Tracking your time and recognizing how you’re spending it versus how you’re billing your clients is almost like found money. This is often overlooked by freelancers who just focus on their billable rate.
In terms of the emotional toll of starting a new business, what did you personally find helpful in overcoming that hurdle?
When I started to recognize that my business was taking a toll on me emotionally, I looked online for like-minded communities for support.
Going from the security of an employer to the uncertainties of freelancing involves a huge mindset shift.
I started to consume a lot of small business and entrepreneurial content and I started to become more aware that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I was feeling. There’s a great group called The Being Boss Club—they have a podcast, a Facebook group and run events and meetups all over the place.
I also started following a career coach called Marie Forleo. She talks a lot about emotional intelligence and self-worth.
Gary Vaynerchuk is really great as well is great—he can be really intense but he’s great at helping you recognize and play to your strengths.
Another really helpful resource has been a community for freelance graphic designers in L.A. called TypeED. It’s a fantastic group of like-minded people working in all types of niches. Although we might not necessarily be doing the same thing, we are often struggling with the same challenges.
Finding these relationships helps a lot, especially when it comes to defining your self-worth in relation to how you bill for your services. For example, if someone asks the group how they go about raising their rates, there will be a very tactical discussion on how others have solved that problem.
What are some of the other challenges that get discussed in your freelance community?
For first-time freelancers, just getting off the ground and overcoming the emotional barriers can take up a lot of time and energy.
Once the dust settles a bit and you get into a groove, you start to think about growth. That is what I see as my next challenge.
When I think about growing my business, it’s not just about achieving growth but about how I can grow in a way that I’ll continue to be fulfilled doing the work.
So what does sustainable growth look like for PITCH Graphic Design?
One of the things I enjoy the most is the niche I work in—all of my clients are PR professionals. Since I spent over a decade working in the field, I can bring a lot of value to the relationships and that brings me a lot of satisfaction. I don’t want to just be a pixel pusher.
So growing, for me, doesn’t look like expanding into broader niches. I’d want to find a partner with the same interests and expertise in the area of PR.
You’ve recently launched a podcast—Pitching PR. Tell us how you got started with that.
I don’t have a fear of public speaking, I have a fear of public writing. Things like taking notes during a meeting or writing up on the whiteboard make me cringe.
When I started my business, I knew I’d have to do some proactive marketing. But the idea of starting a blog or writing articles made me very uncomfortable.
I thought about what opportunity I’d enjoy most and feel comfortable doing. So starting a podcast seemed like the best fit for me!
I love the idea of creating content that’s both informative for my audience and shows I understand their struggles as a PR agency or manager. Pitching PR is the best way for me to showcase my expertise and be helpful at the same time.
How do you plan your podcast episodes?
I think about what challenges my clients face and what their pain points are. I also think of my own personal experience in PR. Then I find someone to interview who can share insights on how to overcome those pain points.
I seek out experts to help inform the issues the industry faces. I work with them on an outline and then we record it. Then I work with an editor who takes care of the technical stuff.
How do you find your experts?
Sometimes they approach me with a pitch and sometimes I’ll look online to find people who have written about or spoken on a particular topic. Then, I invite them to be a part of the podcast.
Do you have any advice on what makes a successful pitch to be a guest on a podcast?
It comes down to the fundamentals of media relations. Do your research and know who you’re pitching. Show that you’ve listened to some episodes so you really understand who the audience is and what type of information the podcast discusses.
Also, be very clear about what you have to offer and what you’re trying to promote. If you’re pitching something, don’t hide it but also be up front about the expertise you have to share.
And most importantly, be real and authentic when you do reach out.
Any last words of wisdom to share?
Don’t be afraid to define your niche
Own your niche.
If you try to cast a wide net you’ll find it’s probably an unfulfilling strategy because you won’t be working on stuff you really like. Although it might seem scary because you’re limiting yourself, you’re really just opening up many more opportunities for future work.
For me, I decided to focus on my expertise of PR and be very narrow about who I work with and the type of work I do—this has truly been a winning strategy. I get to work with a lot of like-minded clients and I’m able to add more value because the past work I’ve done is more relevant to the future work I’m going to be doing.
Don’t be afraid to define your niche—just be aware it might take a bit of time.
Learn more about Lesley and PITCH Graphic Design:
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about the author
Amanda is a content editor at FreshBooks, writing and producing blog content to help small business owners achieve their goals and enjoy (yes, actually enjoy!) running their business. Amanda’s background in education and customer support makes her a natural communicator who loves empowering others to succeed. When she’s not writing and editing content, Amanda takes her dog, Jonny, on adventures searching for the best coleslaw in Toronto.