During her third year of nursing at Dalhousie University, Debbie Brady was introduced to the arts, which she describes as an “eye-opening experience.” However, being close to graduating, she completed her degree. Twenty years later, as her youngest child entered junior high, Brady decided it was time to pursue her passion. After completing a two-year program in graphic design at Holland College, which involved a two-and-a-half-hour daily commute and included winning an entrepreneurship award, Brady founded her own company, Graphically Speaking, in rural Prince Edward Island. Here, Brady shares the ups and downs of being a small-business owner of a one-person operation.
Advantage: Not only are you the sole proprietor, but you’re also the sole staff member?
Debbie Brady: Yes, but that works very well for me. Being the boss as well as the employee, I can be as hard on myself as I need to be. This makes certain that when I present creative solutions to clients they’re the best they can be. My clients really appreciate that, too. They also like knowing that when they call they’ll talk to me. Because I’m not a nine-to-five designer, they know I’ll get the job done for them.
Is it ever tough to be the only person on the job?
Sometimes it can get pretty hectic, but on the whole, no. I plan carefully, so when I take on a project I can give it 110 percent. I also have an excellent network of resources that I can draw upon, mostly from other home-based business services such as web programming, photography, and marketing. This allows me to provide all the services people might expect from a larger business with a more physical presence in the city, but they’re getting the flexibility I offer. These associates refer projects to me as well. It’s a two-way street.
Can you give me an example where you’ve worked on a project with someone else?
I was teamed with Scott Jay, [owner of] Your Digital Coach, during a project where I was hired to design a website, and he was the programmer. Scott is so easy to work with, and shares passion and perseverance—two qualities that I’m committed to. Since then, I have brought Scott on board for any programming I need done. In turn, he brings projects to me that are looking for higher-end website designs.
Awarded the highest skill ranking attained by a first-year graphic-design student
Is the first graphic-design student ever to receive Holland College’s Glendenning Award, an award based on the student’s abilities in the areas of leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurship
Graduates from Holland College’s Visual Communications Program
Officially begins Graphically Speaking
Coordinates first of three Prince Edward Island visual-arts festivals, completing graphics, press releases, and photography
Acts as project coordinator and label and website designer for a Japan and Prince Edward Island joint venture presented at Foodex Japan 2007
Achieves Licentiate Graphic Designer of Canada designation, becoming only one of four designers in Prince Edward Island with this designation
Launches Graphically Speaking website and blog, which forms the foundation for a social-media strategy
Creates a team from home-based businesses, and submits winning proposal for Inns of Distinction website project
Nominated for the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce’s Excellence in Business Award
How have things changed since you began the company?
When I look back at projects I did 11 years ago, I see that I’ve really been able to develop and refine my style: very clean and classic, yet mindful of current trends. I call myself a frustrated perfectionist. “Fine” is never good enough; I’m always pushing myself to reach the next skill level. As my 10th anniversary approached, my goal was to have a website—one that incorporated social media. I knew that Twitter and Facebook were gaining immense business credibility. Being unfamiliar with both, I buckled myself in for the steep yet exciting ride along the learning curve.
Has social media helped you reach customers?
Relationship building in today’s cluttered marketplace is extremely important. People, especially here on the island, prefer to know whom they are dealing with before doing business. Social media facilitates that process by making my physical location quite insignificant. Potential customers can objectively assess my skills and service. Social media allows me ready access to networking conversations. [I can] give updates about my business activities, promote clients, learn of new resources, and make and receive referrals.
How else do you reach customers?
I’m a member of the Prince Edward Island Business Women’s Association and local chamber of commerce. Participating in Lunch & Learn sessions, workshops, and networking mixers has significantly helped me meet new customers. My network of resources I’ve drawn upon for projects has also been a great source of referrals.
How do you begin the process with a client?
I am here to help them find a strong visual voice by guiding them through the creative process to get the results they need. They may not know exactly what they’re looking for, but I ask a lot of questions so that by the time I begin a project I have a better understanding of what we are trying to accomplish. For example, if I’m designing an ad, I would ask, “Who are you trying to reach? What message do you want to communicate? Have you had other ads? Is there going to be a call to action?”
Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about starting their own business?
Find something you’re passionate about and do your homework. If you make enough income to sustain yourself while doing something you really enjoy, and can delight your customers, it’s a plus-plus.