My entrepreneurial story: How I became a successful Squarespace web designer

 
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When I tell people I’m a web designer a common question is, ‘oh, did you study computer science?’ 😂

No ma’am. I have a undergrad and Masters degree in - wait for it - Recreation and Leisure. I never took a computer science course in my life.

Today I’m going to share the story right from the start up until now of how and why this all went down. My hope today is to show you that yes, it is totally possible to change lanes and go a completely different direction and become an expert in that field if you want to.

So here’s my entrepreneurial story.

And yes, I’ll explain more about the degrees in recreation along the way. 😂

I don’t normally share photos on this blog, but to help paint a bit more of a picture I’ll give ya a few oldies but goodies.

Spring 2014 - started a travel blog from my college apartment

I was just polishing up my last year of undergrad at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada and was sitting in my, let’s be honest, completely old and gross university apartment.

Granted, that terrible student apartment has some of my fondest memories in it. Every time I drive by it, I still want to go back to that year again and relive it over, even I did live in truly a hole of an apartment at the time.

I lived with two amazing roommates and then there was always another 3 or more friends hanging out in our living room even though they technically didn’t live there.

My two best friends/roomies and I spent the previous summer having too much fun to pay attention to coordinating furniture so once we all showed up we realized we had an almost completely empty living room and kitchen.

We were graciously left a questionable used futon/couch from the previous students and our landlord found us an old kitchen table from the side of the road which we then reinforced the legs with duct tape. #livingthedream

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As much as I tease that old, nasty apartment and my time there - that’s where it all started.

Not to mention, the amount of fun I had in that last year of school with my best friends almost shouldn’t be legal.

As one hell of a year came to a close and my last exam time rolled around, I was so thoroughly over studying that instead I took to binging on Rosie The Londoners blog.

I had spent a semester the year before also having a life-changing, amazing good time at Keele University in Stoke-On-Trent, England and have always had such a fond place in my heart for England and London.

Rosie’s blog spoke to me and took me away to somewhere more exciting - London!

It was sitting in my bed in that gross apartment, reading Rosie’s zillionth blog post that I decided I wanted to be a travel blogger.

I had traveled a bit in my life but had no idea how to blog, but that wasn’t going to stop me.

But let’s be real - when I started the blog it was completely useless and as lovely as my friends are, they definitely teased me a bit here and there for what I was starting.

Lesson #1: When other people hate on your passions, keep going anyways

Blogs often start out as something small, useless and undefined. And you know what? It doesn’t matter one bit.

If I had let those initial teasings stop me from what I wanted to do, my life would be so drastically different - and I’m quite pleased with the life I’ve built myself now.

Lesson #2: If you feel a passion, chase that thing to the end of the earth, even if you have no end goal in mind

You don’t need a defined end goal. You don’t need a perfect game plan. You won’t ever be guaranteed that something will work out in the perfect way.

You just need to follow your passion and get started!

That useless first blog led to this 6 figure business that supports my life as I travel the world. #worthit.

(I had a subscriber in my last course launch ask me if she should join because she had a passion to create a website but didn’t know exactly what it would be about. I was so excited to write her back a response - and then also shared it on Facebook. You can see my answer to her in this video from, starting from 7:45. Basically, I get more in depth into my advice on following your passion.)

Summer 2014 - went to Oxford, MS for a masters

Earlier that year I had come to the (highly logical 😂) decision that if I had so much fun at university, I may as well keep going.

Granted, I also knew that one day in my career I wanted to be in a management position and I knew from speaking to those in my field that a Masters degree would be a requirement for that.

I started applying to schools for a Masters in Recreation Administration and a graduate assistantship that would pay my way through another degree.

While sitting in my bed again (I really like my bed), I opened my inbox to the acceptance email. I got accepted and given a position that would pay my full way at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)!

I was so freaking excited and emotional I actually couldn’t get words out. I couldn’t believe what I had been dreaming about all year, going to grad school on a full ride, was actually happening!

I ran out into my living room, where as you now know there were always people hanging out, and placed my laptop in front of my roommates. I couldn’t actually speak to tell that what happened, so they read the email instead while I stood mute with a giant smile.

Per usual, the crew gathered in our living room that night with cheap wine for a celebration and, of course, we watched the movie The Blind Side for the first time.

(If you’re unfamiliar, The Blind Side is a movie with Sandra Bullock where a young man from a difficult background goes to Ole Miss to play football.)

I spent the summer in Canada working as a summer camp supervisor and honestly spent my camp planning time working on the new site for my blog instead of actually working.

I found Squarespace and fell quickly in love with everything I was able to create on it. I blogged throughout the summer, slowly but surely defining it from a writing-about-anything-blog to a travel-blog and was all excited to share the new adventures in the south on the blog too.

In the fall, I packed my Mom’s orange Mazda 3 literally to the point of bursting and she drove me 16 hours south to Oxford, MS.

News flash—things don’t always turn out the way you expect them too.

I soon learned a masters degree isn’t nearly as fun as undergrad and I felt a disconnect with the culture in Mississippi. It wasn’t nearly as easy to connect and make friends at Ole Miss as it was back home and culture shock was a real thing which I had totally not expected.

Luckily, I met a very charming German in a bar one night and while I didn’t connect so well with the locals, we totally hit it off and began hanging out.

Granted, one really good friend doesn’t fill a ton of time, so I had plentyyy of time to work on my blog and I was always Googling to learn more about how to build a successful blog.

I joined blogger networks, landed a first few sponsored posts and had one post really blow up on Pinterest.

I was also lovinggg working on my blog website and the site was in a constant face-lift phase.

It was at that time I toyed with the idea of actually building sites for clients, but of course I didn’t know how to get started and didn’t think anyone would hire someone who had no education in the field.

Around that same time the charming German and I decided that while he was going back to Germany at the end of the semester, we didn’t want to be with anyone else, so we started dating and knew we were in for at least a year of long-distance.

Spring 2015 - built first client site

I’ve told the story before of my first “client” site, so you may be familiar with it.

I was doing a Masters in Recreation Administration and so we took a little field trip one day to a local recreation organization, an environmental nonprofit. It was our task on the trip to learn about their organization and then formulate ideas on how to solve the problems the organization was facing.

One of their primary problems was marketing, and by extension their website.

I offered to build them a new site for free and that was my first portfolio piece!

That first ‘client’ site helped with my confidence greatly in actually believing I could do this whole web design thing. They knew I wasn’t a professional web designer, but they also weren’t paying me so I didn’t have to feel like such a fraud, I was just helping someone in need.

I treated it as a legit project even though I wasn’t getting paid. I tested out my process I had in mind, met deadlines I set and produced a really fab website I was super proud of.

I got my first testimonial, proved to myself I really could work with clients and decided to open an Etsy shop.

2016 - Etsy shop & graduation

I knew I didn’t always want to be a web designer on Etsy, but at the time I needed to find clients and there was no chance I was going to crack the first page of Google for ‘Squarespace website designer’ within a few weeks.

Etsy was fabulous because people were on there searching for exactly what I offered and I actually had a chance of being seen by them.

I spent days making the perfect Etsy images and analyzing every other competitors’ shop. Turns out it worked, I did indeed land quite a few clients through it.

While my social life was nothing like what it had been back home in Canada, my days were indeed full for the entire year. I did a full-time masters degree, worked on my graduate assistantship for 20 hours a week, ran a travel blog and did website designs for clients.

Just as I was about to graduate again, a design agency had found my work on Dribbble and brought me on to be one of their contract designers.

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2016 - move to germany + part-time designing

In order to end the long distance aspect of my relationship, I took off from graduation, drove back up to Canada to see family and friends quickly and and then moved to Germany.

I knew that without speaking German and not living in the most international city, I’d be hard-pressed to find a job in my field in Germany. I spent 3 months going to (the most painfully boring) intensive language school over the summer and then decided I wanted to go full-time with my business.

I also determined that I couldn’t do both a travel blog and design business justice at once, so I shut down the travel blog so I could focus on a business that actually had the potential to pay my bills.

After all, I had been making decent side income from my business for a couple years, but it wasn’t quite enough to pay my bills and fully fund my life - yet.

Granted, I had always been doing the business on the side of school and a job and I just knew if I had full-time hours to devote to my business, I could make it into a legit, well paying job.

Well I tried and if you’ve read past blog posts, you know I failed.

I was constantly on the verge of tears. I was so stressed. I had very few friends in my new city where I still wasn’t confident in the language and my boyfriend had just started an extremely stressful, basically takes-over-your-whole-life training program for his new job.

I was sitting in our apartment by myself working from morning until night feeling totally isolated and terrified that if my business didn’t make enough income, I’d need to end my relationship and go back home.

We went out for drinks one day and my boyfriend met a friend who worked at a bilingual kindergarten. Their last English speaker at the kindergarten had gotten into a bike accident and they desperately needed an English-speaker to work there part time.

After just two weeks of running my business full-time I was back with another job which I saw only as a distraction of what I really wanted to do - build my business.

Not to mention, I felt completely frustrated and embarrassed in myself. I had just finished up a Masters on full-scholarship, graduated with a near perfect GPA of 3.7 and scooped up the award for the most outstanding student in my program. My classmates were off working legit jobs in our field and I was reading English books to 3-year olds.

I’ll admit, feeling successful and being the best has always given me satisfaction. I didn’t want to meet people because I was embarrassed to tell them what I did.

I knew I was capable of so much more but there I was cleaning up kids pea soup from the floor. I knew I had so much more to offer the world and the words ‘what the hell am I doing with my life?’ definitely left my mouth on multiple occasions.

The vibe at the job was terrible too and I’m pretty sure everyone at that job hated it as well because there was multiple staff members ‘sick’ every single day of the week.

I distinctly remember never being so tired in my life. I only worked 4 hours a day at that job but every day I’d wake up and feel completely exhausted and struggled so hard to get out of bed, knowing what I was walking into again that day.

Taking the subway to work felt like sitting on a train taking me unwillingly into a nightmare every day.

2017 - full-time website designer!

But there’s nothing like a terrible situation to light a fire under you to chase what you really want.

I was determined to take my business full-time again and make it work this time. In January 2017 I took a second crack at it and actually made my business work.

I started with getting my mindset right because clearly my own mind, stress and fear is what had brought me down the first time and I wasn’t going to let it happen again.

I read all the self-help books, joined B-School, started blogging here consistently to bring in clients and generally worked my ass off.

And it worked. Clients started coming. The blog grew. The email list grew. I actually had control over my day and lifestyle.

My boyfriend noticed how much I freaking loved my job. I told him about client projects I just couldn’t wait to start, about the new ideas I had or other designers I met.

I went home to Canada for 2 months and continued to run my business from there. I had built a business that worked for my life. My clients didn’t care where I was, as long as their site turned out fabulous and on-time, I had the freedom to live the way I wanted.

I could have my relationship and live in Europe and still see my family and friends back home for months at a time.

I travelled to 7 countries that year.

I controlled how much money I made, and distinctly remember the month I made $7,500 in my first year full-time. I walked down the road feeling on cloud 9 - right into one of the nicest shoe shops in town to treat myself to some brown leather boots I had been dreaming of.

As most first-year entrepreneurs do, however, I did work myself into a little burnout. My boyfriend was still in his training program that had him working around the clock, every day of the week and weekends. So I did the same and by end of November, it had caught up with me.

I took the entire month of December off, flew back to Canada purely for my friends and my annual Christmas party (it’s a hell of a party that’s worth the flight home) and decided I was going to make 2018 different.

I wanted more life, less constant work.

My boyfriend was also finishing up his training program and was going into his full-time job where he also decided he didn’t want to be a slave to work anymore.

I was finding that I didn’t have enough spaces in my calendar to take on all the web design projects that were coming my way and wanted a way to help the thousands of blog readers with their website designs at a more affordable price point than just my custom sites.

I determined that I had built enough of an email list to launch a product and was excited to dive into course building.

I figured doing it might take me 6 months to build the course along with doing client work. I did however want guidance on building the course and that’s when I found Mariah Coz’s Accelerator program.

I had a mini heart attack when I learned the price of the investment, but went for it anyways.

2018 - designing a business that supports my life

In 2018 I decided it was again ‘me time.’

No more working weekends and all hours of the day and night.

I wanted a business that supported me financially and in my preferred lifestyle - running a business that allowed me the freedom and time to travel. I decided to split my time this year between designing sites for clients and teaching with online courses.

I started off the first week of 2018 on a ski holiday in the Austrian Alps - my favorite way to spend my time!

I then took the first 3 months of 2018 and went to Bali while I built my Square Secrets course.

As I built the course, launched it and got to support students through it, I knew this is the direction and way I wanted to run my business.

I could serve more people, have more freedom and bring home more income.

Win-win-win.

2018 isn’t even near over yet, but I already know I’ll breeze past the 6 figure income mark this year! Oh and yep - I paid my $44,895.00 student loan in full and let’s be real, I literally just graduated 2 years ago.

I took a full 3 week holiday back in Canada with my boyfriend this summer and then hung out there for 2 months again while spending time with family and friends and working online.

2018 - Where I’m at now

As I write this I’m in day 2 (out of 2.5 months) of building my next course.

In the last course there was a veryyy consistent theme that students had questions about. How to work with clients as a Squarespace website designer?

And I’m creating just that!

Yesterday I outlined exactly what students have been asking and therefore what I want to teach, module by module and I cannot say just how excited I am to teach it!

Why am I so excited to teach it? Because . . .

How many jobs allow you to dictate exactly your own income?
How many jobs have literally no ceiling to how much you can make?
How many jobs allow you to work with people you love and vibe with and skip out on those you don’t?
How many jobs allow you to take a 3 week vacation whenever you want, without needing to ask permission first?
How many jobs allow you to hit the gym at 10 AM when it’s the most empty?
How many jobs allow you to live abroad but fly home anytime you want for something like a Christmas party? (It’s a reallllly great Christmas party y’all!)
How many jobs allow you to work from the beach in Bali or your parents’ house back home for as long as you want, any time of the year?

My business has given me passion. It’s given me freedom. It’s given my flexibility. It’s given me an income I couldn’t dream of getting at a 9-5 just a couple years out of university.

And I’d love for you to have that too!

If you’d like to skip over my whole messy years of figuring out how to build a web design business, I’d love to show you the behind-the-scenes of exactly how it’s done.

You can get on the waitlist to hear when the new course, Square Secrets Business, opens for enrollment!

 
BusinessPaige Brunton1 Comment