This is a series of interviews from women entrepreneurs about learning and understanding how they first got started with their businesses and the challenges they went through to get to where they are today.
The first of this series is Bethany Martin of BMartin Studio located in the Gowanus district of Brooklyn, New York. Here is what she had to say during my interview with her.
Karla Lockhart [KL]: What is your full name?
Bethany Martin [BM]: Bethany Martin
KL: Where do you reside?
KL: Where are you originally from?
KL: Describe your business. What is the name of your business?
BM: BMartin Studio – Online Marketing Strategy Branding & Web Development Firm based in Brooklyn, NY
KL: What is your business’s mission?
BM: Mission is to help businesses & organizations that have some kind of social mission that is part of their business to help them do what they do better.
KL: How did you get started?
BM: My current business has evolved, basically, from a long term freelancing world. When I was a senior in college [Smith College], I had a work study job. In my college’s town, there was a guy who lived there. He proposed that if I could find him a [web site design] project, we could split the cost 50/50, with me doing all the design work. At the time, that was way more than what I was making in my work study job making $5 to $6 an hour. It was a whole different scale of income even though I don’t think that that’s a good business arrangement today. But it was great for where I was at. I had taught myself HTML. I knew Photoshop. I actually learned Photoshop 3.0 in high school so I had all of the skills and I just lack a little bit of the experience. I started freelancing my senior year in college.
I graduated [college] in 1999, a time when there were many jobs for web designers, but no trained web designers. At this point, I had experience as a web designer. I had a portfolio with 3-4 web sites that I had created during my senior year so I started applying for those jobs. I ended up working for an interactive agency in New York during what has now been called the ‘Silicon Alley’ boom. Several years later, it collapsed. But at that time, it was a tremendous experience just to enter into all of these projects. Nobody knew what they were doing. Everything was very much overpriced. We were all figuring it out together. We were figuring out what was user ability and human centered design. And then we had to work with technology. This is the time of the Netscape navigator browser and, of course, Internet Explorer which had been troubling to work with. [The learning curve to understanding what a browser] could and could not do was pretty high, especially from the perspective of design. That’s the world that I entered into.
I worked for companies for many years. My undergraduate education was not in design. It was in Fine Art and Latin American studies. At some point I decided to go back to school and get a design degree.
KL: Tell us about one of your proudest moments in regards to your business.
BM: Proudest moments. Certainly there have been some projects that I have worked on that I’ve [been] happy with how they have [came] out, but I think one of the major transitions for me was making the decision to, instead of working on my business part time to go full time into it, to take that risk of being 100% self-sustaining. So that is a tremendous shift and depending on what you doing, can be somewhat speculative. I was working part time and I made the decision based on [the fact that] ‘I have a certain amount of money in the bank and I have a certain amount of ongoing project work to just take the leap and free up the rest of my time to fill’.
KL: When did this transition happen and how long did it take?
BM: I transition to doing this business full time about 7 years ago. It took about 3-4 years to get up to what I thought was making enough money to live off of reasonably. I was married at the time so that was really helpful. And as for the rest, you know you are taking a risk and you just have to apply yourself to it and try new things. And it’s always a work in progress, of course.
KL: Tell us about a typical day for working on your business.
BM: I am not the kind of person who gets up at 4 in the morning. I am asleep at 4 in the morning. Pretty soon, when my time was my own, I realized that I was not that productive in the morning, with work work, I rearranged my schedule right away to allow the morning time to be personal time. And I get the most out of the afternoon and the evenings. Typically, in the morning, I do other things. I am constantly learning or researching something that are completely unrelated to my business. Also, I train in martial arts and exercise in the morning. I do things that cultivate the rest of myself in the morning and then I transition. I normally get to my office midday and work in the afternoon and the evenings. I’ll also say that along with the non-traditional daily business hours, I work most days. I try to take off one full day a week. I’m probably working 6 days a week. But I have a lot of flexibility over my hours. If I have other things I want to do like if I want make time to meet a friend for lunch, that’s available [to me].
KL: Do you adjust your schedule for your family?
BM: Right now, I don’t have a family. It allows me to really go with my own rhythm. I think if I did have a family, all of that would have to change, of course. It feels completely gratuitous, actually. The way that I kind of run my life. It might not be a forever thing, but for now, it works pretty well for me. so I think I’m lucky in that way!
KL: In what ways did this business change your life?
BM: I think the biggest thing is, you know we were just talking about time management, having complete control of your time, or having ownership of your time is really the number one thing. It doesn’t mean that I don’t spend a lot of time doing work, but what it means is that the value of my time is just different. And so, I think about things [like common place things] in terms of the value of my time, like going to the grocery store and how long that takes in relation to the value of my time or valuing time in a different way.
For example, what’s worth it to spend time on and what’s not worth it to spend time on. When you start getting clear about that, you really start to understand what things you should be doing and what things you should not be doing. From a lifestyle standpoint, when you’re working for a company, who is in control of your time, you don’t have as much ability to make adjustments to that. If you are salaried, the money is coming in whether your productive or not, within reason of course. But it’s just different. It brings a whole different energy when you ask yourself questions like how am I spending my time. Do I need to go to the grocery store right now, or do I shop for a week, or do I shop for one meal? That’s a very banal example but the idea is just like what else am I doing and how am I using my time.
KL: What’s next? What are some future goals for your business?
BM: Yes, my business has grown somewhat organically, although I have really woven myself and my own values into it. There are certain kinds of businesses or organizations that I won’t work with. Just so happens, that the biggest impact that I foresee on my business in the future is the political climate. I think that when things sort of come to ahead like this, it puts in a certain kind of burst of energy into industries in different ways. I am very social-mission oriented. I feel like the current political climate; if you did not have a stance [before], you kind of do now. And not only that, but you may or may not have already made changes or publicly drawn your line in the sand. As it relates to what I do, I meet whatever is before me with as much integrity as I can. But I am very strategy oriented. I ask questions like what should this be, and what should you be doing. When I say “should”, I mean not only for the success of the business of the organization but if you can map that out, one or two more levels to broader view – Should this exist? Is this a good thing to put into the world? Those kinds of questions. When I first started marketing myself as being working with social-mission oriented businesses, it was a little bit more of a niche, boutique kind of concept, but now we are poised on the cliff of climate change and political extremism and things like that. How we communicate about what we do, what our values are, become more and more important. I think I am right here on a wave. And so I expect that I will be doing more of that, maybe in a more pronounced way.
KL: What is one advice that you would give to our audience about starting a business as a woman entrepreneur?
BM: It is so important to be authentically yourself in the world. If you are not doing something that is aligned with your values, your ethics, or your heart, you’re not going to have the energy to really bring it through. All of the different challenges that you’re going to encounter. This is something that you are going to have to work out. There’s no manual. No online course. There’s no book. Nobody’s hack this and nobody can hack this, except for you. And the best way to do it is to figure out what is important to you and then how do you weave that into your business. How do you make your business sustain your life and how do you make your life sustain your business, because if you are going out on your own, in a creative business or any kind of business, that’s what has to happen in order for there to be a kind of balance and sustainability.
KL: Thank you Bethany for allowing me to interview you and learn more about how you got started with your business as a women entrepreneur!
BM: Your very welcome.
Please comment below if this story inspired or motivated you in any kind of way to help start your business. What are you most concerned about in starting a business? What other questions do you have in starting a business?