Want to know what feels like Christmas morning to me?

Hearing that all this blogging I’ve been doing over the past (I don’t even know how many) years now has helped someone throw away the norm, and finally make their dreams a reality!

And so imagine just how tickled I was to have this little love note land in my inbox…

Backstory: this email arrived shortly after we had scoured the internet in search of talented designers. We ended up featuring Chandra’s work in a recent Squarespace example round up post, not realizing she was an actually avid reader of the blog! Small world!

“Hey Paige,

I’m contacting because firstly I wanted to reach out and say thanks [for the feature]! But also, it was cool to get the shout out from Paige because she literally inspired me to start up my own business designing Squarespace websites.

I had been struggling away doing some ad hoc projects using WordPress for 10 years and had no idea how to focus on being a designer without having to trawl through the backend nightmare of setting up a website.

Paige inspired me to check out Squarespace, launch my own business and I’ve never looked back! I have also never had a period without clients since I launched and I put that largely down to following her example…”

Sweet, right?

Well, I got to creepin’ her website, and discovered that not only is her portfolio , but she also happens to be a pretty talented storyteller and blogger!

Ready for the full story on how Chandra was able to quit her day job cold turkey, and design a business that actually brings her life?

I’ll let her take it from here!

Psssst! Be sure to peep some of her amazing work shared throughout this post!

How I made the leap from 9-5 and built a thriving web design business I love

By Chandra Casali-Bel

Seeking security, stability…and freedom

Three years ago I moved back to my hometown in the North of England, after working in the charity sector for over a decade. I was living in Toronto but wanted a change – to be closer to my family and to have more stability and security, having recently hit my 30s.

I quickly found the only available jobs in town – in an ice cream parlour on a dairy farm, and as a housekeeper for a small B&B.

I had been doing a lot of graphic and website design as part of my charitable role and people who had seen my work started to reach out asking for websites, so a side-hustle developed organically.

It was a pretty crazy time!

I would wake up early in the morning, work on a website, then cycle to work to do my shift, come home and have a break for dinner, and then work on a website until late into the night.

My background is in Fine Art and I had worked briefly as a professional artist after completing two degrees, so the transition to graphic and website design was fairly seamless.

However, trying to get to grips with the tech-side of websites and learn how to problem-solve behind the scenes just wasn’t in my skill set.

I was using WordPress and fumbling my way through the backend.

There always seemed to be issues with plugin compatibility, or problems at the server level, or some wonky code that would corrupt the whole site.

I just wanted to use my creativity to design, but the tech-side of WordPress presented a constant headache and I soon felt completely burnt out.

Finding inspiration: taking a ‘Paige’ out of her book

After trying and failing to find a “tech guy” I could team up with – I started looking at other solutions.

My partner and I were living in my hometown but weren’t really sure where we wanted to be based, and I thought how great it would be if I could create an online business so I could work anywhere in the world.

I love adventures and the freedom and perspective that come from travelling, and I always loved the idea of living an unconventional life that wasn’t just plugging into the same office year in, year out.

I had heard of Squarespace but my assumptions were that it was a very basic and limited template-based platform, designed for people to DIY a website quickly out of the box.

I can’t even remember what I was searching for but I suddenly came across a blog by Paige Brunton.

I ended up scouring her website for hours – from her impressive online portfolio of client work, to her story about becoming a successful website designer with little relevant experience.

Not only did she open my eyes to the limitless possibilities of Squarespace, but her positive “can do” attitude and empowering message of starting her own business from scratch deeply inspired me to follow in her footsteps.

I felt elated – I had found the solution to my tech-woes and a blueprint for building a thriving online business that would also be creatively fulfilling.

I was so inspired that I quit both of my jobs cold-turkey, and made the decision to go for it.

I went to Switzerland to do some meditation retreat and it was there that the name “Upala Design” came to me.

Launching my business

The first website I built on Squarespace was my portfolio website and in that same month I had my first paying client.

Since I launched my business I have never been without a client. Most enquiries come through word of mouth, and I’m generally booked up to 6 months in advance.

One year later I am enjoying both creative and financial freedom and truly love what I do. I moved to London with my partner a year ago and now work from home in a peaceful, plant-filled office.

I have doubled my income, feel creatively fulfilled, have the freedom to set my own schedule, and have had referrals from every client I have worked with.

I collaborate with small businesses all over the world and have met so many amazing, inspiring people.

Of course there were challenges to overcome in starting my own business. As a freelance designer you work alone and therefore carry the responsibility of every aspect of your job alone as well.

I spent a lot of time figuring out how to schedule projects efficiently and hone my process – learning everything through trial and error about scheduling, client processes, taxes, contracts, proposals etc.

Another major hurdle was learning to become more confident in what I offer and the value I add, which helped me to charge more and also say no to projects that I don’t align with.

Finding my own niche: from scarcity to certainty

Having made the transition into an exciting new life, the next challenge was dealing with the issue of how to sustain a business I love and continue to feel creatively nourished.

Once I had gone through several months of trial and error and finally put good systems in place, I started to address the scarcity mind set that can come up towards client work.

As a freelancer working alone, it’s not always easy to simply trust that work will always come in and clients will always show up.

Anxiety can easily creep in – leading to a sense that you should accept anything that’s offered, whether it aligns with your brand and vision or not.

This year I started to focus on establishing my niche with greater intention – really understanding who my ideal clients are and only accepting projects that felt aligned.

I’ve encouraged myself to work against the scarcity mind set because I know that working with my ideal clients is the only way for me to sustain doing what I love – where I can serve the clients who are best matched to me, and also do my best work for them.

It’s not easy to say no to a potential client when you don’t know exactly when and where your next job will come from.

But working with someone who isn’t your ideal client – who doesn’t respect your deadlines, haggles your prices, doesn’t trust your vision or asks you to produce an aesthetic style that you don’t connect with – doesn’t enable you to do your best work, or to serve them best either.

It’s so important to work with people who resonate with your business – it will be an energizing and meaningful experience for both of you; they will do your publicity for you, pay your prices happily, trust your vision and help you to create your best work – which benefits both of you.

When you work with people you are aligned with, magic really can happen.

Running my own business has really taught me the power of belief – in having the confidence to dream, to discover what’s possible, to create the life you want – to have vision.

It has given me so much confidence in my skills and also that anything is possible if you believe and are willing to work hard.

But I really have Paige to thank for turning up on Google when she did, because without finding her blog – I’d probably still be working a 9-5 job and struggling away with WordPress on the side.

Building confidence and finding support

It took a lot of confidence to get to the point where I felt like I could say no and turn down project enquiries if they didn’t resonate.

And I couldn’t have done it without the support, insights and business tips from the Squarespace community.

Finding someone like Paige Brunton who provides such a wealth of resources, insights and inspiration has made this process so much easier.

The squarespace community is so supportive – full of like-minded designers and experts who have inspired me to keep going through the challenging times, to grow and to elevate, and ultimately to build the life I always wanted.

It’s given me freedom, stability, and creative fulfillment – and the opportunity to add real value to others.

If you’re hustling websites on the side like I was and are thinking of taking the leap – my advice would be to go for it!

There are so many amazing courses you can take and inspiring examples you can follow.

Start before you’re ready, trust the process, and make it happen.

If you’re passionate about what you do and are willing to put in the hard work, you can take a ‘Paige’ out of the Brunton book too, and create a thriving web design business that you love!

Chandra Casali-Bell

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How Chandra made the leap from 9-5 & built a thriving web design business she loves