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Ep. 161: How this remote brand designer helps women grow their brand with Chelsea Blackwell

Chelsea is a brand designer, strategist, and coach for holistic-minded female founders. She works 1:1 with women on designing and growing their brand in a way that feels good so that it reflects their values and personality. When she’s not designing in a cafe or coworking space, she’s hanging out with her two rescue dogs and partner on the beach in beautiful Bali, Indonesia.

So, listen on to find out how Chelsea has been able to help other female entrepreneurs design and grow their brand.


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Transcription :

Debbie:

Hey everyone! I’m super excited to be here with Chelsea today. Hey Chelsea, how are you? 

Chelsea:

I am good. Thanks, Debbie. How are you? 

Debbie:

I am wonderful. Can you tell us a little bit more about you, Chelsea, and why you live an offbeat life?

Chelsea: 

Hi everyone. I’m Chelsea. I’m actually based in Bali Indonesia and I’ve been there full time for about a year. I live there with my two rescue dogs and my partner and I work online. I run a small design studio. So, I do branding and brand strategy with female founders. 

Debbie:

Wonderful. That sounds really exciting for you. How did you actually become a brand designer specifically for female designers? Was that something that you automatically went into or it just happened? 

Chelsea: 

Yeah. It’s something that definitely evolved over the years. In 2017, I was graduating from University and I did not take design. And it was sort of time to start looking for jobs, and I was hearing more and more about people who are working online and living abroad. And that just sounded so much more appealing to me. 

So, I kind of decided that that’s what I was going to do. So I started taking design courses online and like I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with it as much as I did. I started off just doing sort of any kind of design and then building my portfolio in that way.

It’s just built from there: building my website, my Instagram. Starting with small projects and then working up and realizing what I liked and what I was good at. And then, yeah, that definitely turned into more of a niche for me. 

Debbie:

I love hearing people talk about their beginnings because most of the time a lot of people look at someone like you, Chelsea, and say, “Oh my God, she’s already such an expert. How can I be like that.” 

And it’s interesting because everybody starts at the beginning knowing nothing and its just figuring it out. And really understanding what you’re also interested in, in order to keep going with that business. 

Was there a lot of challenges for you, Chelsea, to figure all of this stuff out? 

Chelsea: 

Yeah, totally. It has not been a walk in the park and like it’s still not. Obviously, in the beginning, I was learning design and mastering the craft of design and then, I was like, “Okay, I’ve got this piece of it, and now I need to figure out how the heck to run a business. I don’t have a business degree. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. I don’t know how to work with clients.” 

So it’s like when you’re starting in something, there are two pieces to the puzzle. It’s mastering your craft but then also figuring out how the heck to run a business. 

Debbie:

Were there any specific resources that you actually used in order to help you start your own business or learn to become a better designer?

Chelsea: 

Yes. I’m going to say, up until like this year, the business part of it was very much trial-and-error. But in terms of learning design, when I was first starting out and wanting to learn the basics, you guys might have heard of The Bucketlist Bombshells Design Skills course. 

Debbie:

Yes.

Chelsea: 

They’re awesome. And they teach you the basics in a super plain English language that you can understand. So that’s what really got me feeling like, “Oh my gosh. I love this. I’m good at this. I can do this.”

And then, from there, it was more taking like more specified courses on platforms like Linda and stuff like that. I also really love the YouTube channel called The Futur, it’s run by Chris Do and he’s a super successful designer. He had a huge agency and he does a lot of amazing free teaching on YouTube.

remote brand designer

And then in terms of my business, like I said, it’s been a lot of trial-and-error. Just getting help from friends along the way and little pushes from friends, ”Keep going.” And then, this past year I started working with a coach which has been incredible for me. And I wish that I had done it sooner. 

Debbie:

Getting a coach can definitely be a game-changer for a lot of people but you definitely have to find the right one. How did you make sure that you chose the right person to start coaching you? “Cause there’s a lot of people out there that may not be as reputable as others. 

Chelsea: 

Yeah. So, it’s somebody that I had been following for a really long time. And I feel like when you’re choosing your coach you have to make sure that, just kind of like when you’re choosing your friends, like you just kind of have that “click”. 

So, hopefully, you’re getting to know them in their content that they are putting out and they are offering you value in their content.

My coach has a podcast that even though we’re working together one-on-one, I religiously listen to her podcast. And for me, she was also a really great choice because she used to be a super successful designer and now she’s transitioned into business and mindset coaching. So yeah, I definitely just felt sort of that “click”. 

So I’d say, if you are 2anting to get a coach, it’s not something that you need to rush into, make sure that you feel good about the person.

Debbie:

When you finally decided, Chelsea, that you wanted to do this full-time and you wanted to create your business and make it more sustainable, how did you prepare to make that big change?

Chelsea: 

My story is very different from most people’s stories. Like I said, I graduated from a University and I decided that I wanted to move abroad. So, I basically saved up a bunch of money, sold all my stuff in Canada, and booked two one-way tickets to Bali. And while I was there, I went really, really hard on learning design like a crazy person because I would be next to the pool in Bali just learning design for like 10 hours a day.

After my two months in Bali, I decided to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand which is known for being a digital nomad sort of hotspot, it’s a little bit cheaper than Bali. So, I moved there to sort of hunker down and the cost of living was like a really helpful factor in that. 

So, for me, the transition into going full-time was just that I sort of made that decision. I did have a back-up plan. I had planned that if I couldn’t make it work, go to Australia and do a working holiday Visa. 

I even  bought the Visa and everything and I was like, “Okay, if this doesn’t work, I’ll go to Australia.” But I think it was just a matter of wanting it so bad and not in the first few months of Thailand that I was like, “Australia is not even an option.” This is what I want. 

So yeah, it didn’t happen quickly and I was lucky that I had saved up money and sold all my stuff. So yeah, that’s sort of the story of the transition to full-time. 

Debbie:

When you sold everything, saved up all of this money, and you landed in Asia and you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to do with yourself, did you have a “what now?” moment? And what was that like? 

Chelsea: 

Yeah. I did because I knew that I wanted this thing really bad, like I said. And I knew that I’d really like to design. And basically what happened was I went to a talk at Dojo which is a co-working space in Bali. And it was like a bunch of female founders talking about their experience and I was like, “This is going to be really good for me because this is what I want to do.”

Cassie, who’s the co-owner of the Bucketlist Bombshells, I was talking about their program before, she was speaking at the event. Hearing her speak and hearing her story and her, talking about her courses in a super genuine like human way, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I need to take this course,” because it was something that I had seen on many Facebook ads before.

Just seeing her in person speak felt like the sign from the Universe like, “Okay. Chelsea, this is what you do now.” 

Debbie:

I love that. I love those moments of clarity that you have and I’m sure that was such an exciting time for you. 

Chelsea: 

Yeah, it was exciting. I think that a lot of my friends in Canada thought that I was crazy like, “Chelsea, what are you doing? You just got your degree and you’re selling all your stuff and you don’t know what you’re going to do.” And I was kind of like, “Yeah!”

But you know when you just like feel called to do something and it just feels right. Like it didn’t really feel scary ‘cause I just felt like I was on the right path for me.

Debbie:

And it’s something that you had made a decision for yourself. You’re not following another person’s decree on how you should live your life. So that’s always the best part of all of this.

Chelsea: 

Totally. And I think throughout my degree in University, I’m glad that I went to school and I enjoyed what I studied but it never felt like I had that “click” of feeling super passionate and, like I said before, like I was on the right path, like it never clicked for me. 

So, when I found design, it just felt like coming home like, “This is how it’s supposed to be in it.” That’s why it spiraled I guess relatively quickly because it was just like, “Oh. This is what I meant to be doing. Thank goodness. I found it.”

Debbie:

That’s the beauty about travel too and really learning in the real world because that’s where it really comes down to. A lot of things that we learn in school, more than half of that or even 80% of it doesn’t really apply to the real world. It’s when you’re actually thrown out there and you realize, “Oh my gosh! This is so different from the classroom.”

And it’s also not something I thought I wanted or maybe it’s something different. So it’s very interesting. Once you finally got out there. 

Chelsea: 

Yeah. Totally. And I think that the whole digital nomad culture is pretty recent, like, it’s obviously blown up within the past few years. But it’s definitely not something that you’re learning is an option when you’re in high school or university. 

It’s like, “No, no, no,” like, you do your classes, you graduate, and then, you go and do your government or corporate job. And it actually doesn’t have to be that way. 

Debbie:

Now, especially because everyone’s in lockdown, it’s become the new normal. And even the new stability for a lot of people because then, having a nine-to-five is more stable. But now, having multiple streams of income, being able to work for yourself has become actually more stable. 

So, it’s ironic how things have turned the other way. 

Chelsea: 

No, that’s so true. And I was saying to my dad who I’m staying with like, “Holy Moly. I am so thankful for my past self for  deciding to take that crazy leap that everybody thought was insane.”  ‘Cause all of my friends have been laid off. I just feel so fortunate to have a business that can keep running right now.

I almost feel like, for myself and for my clients who are already online, we almost have this sense of duty on our shoulders to lead the rest of the world who’s interested in coming into space. And helping other people get here because it’s looking like this is sort of the way of the future and the more secure career type to be in with the current climate. 

Debbie:

Which is really exciting for somebody like you and a lot of the people that I talk to because you do have a lot of explaining to do when you first started this type of lifestyle. And a lot of people are definitely understanding why you were drawn into this.

Chelsea: 

Yeah. Totally. 

Debbie:

So, let’s go back to when you were starting your business and you decided that this was it. Obviously, one of the main things that we want is to make it more sustainable and profitable. How did you land your first client? 

Chelsea: 

My very, very first client was a friend of mine who saw the work that I was posting on Instagram. I really appreciate him because he really believed in me and he was like, “I think you’re doing good things. And he was like, “Can you make a logo for me?,” and I was like, “Oh my gosh. Yes! Best thing ever.” 

I don’t know if that counts as a real client with my friend. And then, my second client was from just like a random Facebook group. After that, it’s primarily been leads from Instagram. That’s like my main thing now. But in the beginning it was definitely more like scrappy and seeking out clients for myself. I

I did a lot of cold emailing and DMs. I faced a lot of rejections which is something that you have to get used to when you’re in the first couple years of your business. 

Debbie:

So, let’s go back to when you mentioned you were getting leads from Instagram. A lot of people think Instagram is just to show pretty pictures and a lot of people are confused about how you can actually turn your audience on Instagram into a client. 

How do you usually go about that? What is your system for turning an audience or a follower into an actual paying client?

Chelsea: 

The answer now is a little bit different to what I would have said to you a year ago because I think that when I first started online, I was pretty lucky and that the design community wasn’t as blown up as it is now so, I was able to get established. 

So, in the past, I was just basically posting my work and posting personal projects that reflected the type of work that the brands that I would like to work with would enjoy – if that makes sense. And sometimes I would reach out but I did get into a flow where people were just reaching out to me because they liked my work. 

I’m not going to say that’s like a super sustainable way of doing things. So, now I have a little bit better of a system in place which also goes hand-in-hand with working with my coach and learning actual strategies. 

So, now my whole business model is basically built off of giving my audience free value and free advice and tips. If you go into my Instagram feed youll see that almost every post, I’m talking about something that my audience can apply to their own business or I’m telling a personal story. 

Now, I’m really wanting to connect with my audience on a personal level because something that I teach to my clients is that people like to buy from people: they want to see the person behind the brand. So, yeah, my strategies definitely shifted over the years.

Debbie:

It definitely is changing every time because you learn more and more as you grow and you also change your strategies because a lot of them don’t work. You have to really make a ton of mistakes and you have to pivot quite a few times before it really sticks. 

Chelsea: 

Yeah, totally. I mean even in my first year I was like, “Oh, this is so cool.” Like people want to work with me just from seeing my work on Instagram which was awesome. But like I said, it’s not necessarily the most sustainable thing. Having an actual marketing plan is definitely a good idea if you want to be running a business that supports you long-term: scaling, building and all that fun stuff.

Debbie:

Aside from getting your clients on Instagram, do you have other marketing strategies that you use that have been super helpful for you? 

Chelsea: 

I really try to focus on one thing and do it really well. Definitely my main thing has been Instagram, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the solution for everybody. A lot of other designers are super successful on Pinterest. So that’s something that I’ve dabbled in.

And then, otherwise, Facebook groups have been pretty kind to me. So that’s a matter of being active in the Facebook groups that your ideal client is active in. And, again, showing up and giving free value and advice. And jumping on any opportunities where somebody’s looking for somebody in your field.

 I also mentioned before that, in the beginning, I was doing cold email, reach out and message reach out to just friends that I liked and I would say like, “Look:  I’m just starting out and I’m building my portfolio. But if you guys had anything that you need to be done, I would absolutely love the opportunity to work with you.”

That’s how I got some of my first couple clients just like tiny jobs where I barely got paid anything, but they were like really cool brands that I got to add to my portfolio. 

remote brand designer

Debbie:

Yeah. I love that and I’ve actually hired a few people from cold outreach too. So it’s not impossible, guys. If you want to start doing this, starting small and then growing big is definitely the way to go if you have no experience yet or very minimal experience. 

Chelsea: 

Yeah, totally. I think it just comes down to you have to just want it really, really bad. And I think that sometimes people will want to start an online business because they heard from their friends that it’s the next best way to make money. But, I think that unless you actually have the passion and drive and you know that this is your purpose, yeah, you have to like to be really committed because it’s not easy.

Getting rejected a million times is not fun. But yeah, the cold outreaches is definitely a tactic that was helpful for me in the beginning.

Debbie:

Yeah. And it works. It worked for you, I’ve hired people from it, so go for it. I think most of the time we’re the biggest people that really stopped us from going forward. So if you just take that first step, it’s going to go somewhere. 

Chelsea: 

Yeah, totally. 

Debbie:

So, Chelsea, when you were deciding on where to go because you obviously wanted to travel the world, why did you decide to go to Bali and to Asia?

Chelsea: 

Good question. So, after I graduated from University and I was sort of having that crisis of like, “Oh my gosh. What am I going to do?” I decided to go to Bali for 3 weeks. So that was in November of 2017. So I went just for a vacation, had a really great time. And it’s when I got back that I was like, ”I don’t want to be in North America anymore. I loved it there.”

And, again, like I said, I was really sort of soaking up all the information about being a digital nomad and then, gradually started getting myself into design. 

Debbie:

Well, that’s a really great place to be in and there are so many digital nomads there. So, I’m sure there’s a lot of really great people and you have created a wonderful community. Because that’s one of the biggest things: when you’re a digital nomad and, especially if you’re on your own, you need people who are doing something similar or at least people you can connect with when you’re abroad.

Chelsea:

Completely. Yeah. Honestly, I credit some of the friends that I met in Chiang Mai for actually my success that I have today. Because I met two really good friends in my first couple of months of being there. They were the people who liked to sit with me and I remember very clearly one day, me being too scared to like publish my  Facebook   business page ‘cause I was like, “Oh, what are my friends at home going to think.”

And I just made my friend push the button for me because I was so worried. These two friends just really helped me through the first couple of hurdles of having horrible client experiences and just all the little things that you don’t expect when you’re first starting to freelance.

Debbie:

That’s definitely scary stuff especially when you’re going to something unknown for sure. 

So, Chelsea, when you are traveling abroad, what type of travel insurance do you use?

Chelsea:

World Nomads. I’ve been using it pretty much since the beginning.

Debbie:

Perfect.

World Nomads is great, it’s definitely a great provider. But I’m also grateful, especially now because there are so many things that were all going through, especially for the digital nomads and remote workers out there who are suck in a location that they can’t get out of because it’s a crazy, crazy time in our world right now, and there’s a lot of providers that exclude a lot of things especially pandemics or natural disasters in their policy cover. 

So if anyone were to fall ill and need treatment for Coronavirus or a similar future pandemic, they wouldn’t be covered and we need to pay for their treatment themselves. Which is ridiculous because you already have so many things that you are worried about. 

That’s why I’m really glad to be working with Integra Global. They believe it’s their duty to support their members in uncertain times like this and stand by them when they need Integra. They have no exclusions for pandemics or natural disasters in any of their plans. If you guys want to know more check out IntegraGlobal.com and see how they can give you the coverage you’ll need and maybe some you never knew you would.

This is something that has been in everybody’s mind even when we’re at home when we do start to travel. We’re so much more careful of the places we get coverage from because there’s been a lot of insurance companies out there that didn’t have them and Integra had this coverage before coronavirus even hit us. Which makes them really incredibly great. 

So, thank goodness for those little things sometimes.

Chelsea:

Yeah, totally. I definitely had a lot of friends wanting to fly home because they were worried about what would happen if they got sick – myself included, even.

Debbie:

Yeah. It’s a scary time and we take that for granted because a lot of digital nomads are very young and we don’t think that any of this stuff is going to happen. Now, it’s a global pandemic and oh my goodness, it’s like, “How do we stay safe?” 

Chelsea:

Yeah, totally.

Debbie:

So, Chelsea, let’s fast-forward to 40 to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Chelsea:

In the future, I would like to start shifting my business to be more of an agency model. So I’d really like to hire some junior designers. And I’m also starting a coaching program for designers who are just starting out. 

40 or 50 years is a long ways away, but yeah, I’d like to be one of the bigger design brands. And also just a source of inspiration for people who want to take a similar path to what I have.

Debbie:

That’s a great thing to do especially when you have the means to do it. There’s a lot of people out there that want someone like you, Chelsea, to be able to give them guidance that they need especially during the time when you are so completely confused. And then, you’re the guiding light that you needed when you had that similar confusion in your life and you had the women around you that were really great and really helped you go through this and not be super scared like most of us in the beginning. 

Chelsea:

Totally. Yeah. In the beginning, I got a lot of my inspiration just from podcasts like this and hearing similar stories to mine now and thinking, “If they can do it, I can probably do it too.” And if you’re listening to this: you can because I did it.

Debbie:

Absolutely. We like to think sometimes that we’re super special and most of the time we don’t. It’s just persistence and just having real passion for it and not giving up is really the way to do it. 

Chelsea:

Totally. 

Debbie:

Are you working on anything currently that is really exciting to you?

Chelsea:

I am. So, I’m about to launch a store on my website which will be semi-custom brand kits for smaller businesses, newer businesses who are on a bit of a budget. They don’t necessarily have the budget for a custom design. So these will be like brand templates. That’s launching at the end of May and I’m really excited about it. 

And then, also, as I said, I’m just launching a coaching program later this summer for new designers. And then, I also have some really exciting one-on-one custom design projects coming up. I think my favorite right now is I’m working with a naturopath and we’re just working on creating a holistic online personal brand so that she can be serving her clients from all over the world and not just be limited to people in her city. 

Debbie:

That’s amazing. I love all of these different projects that you have and it’s obviously just going to keep growing as you go. If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you? 

Chelsea:

So I’m @honeyandcocreative on Instagram, same on Facebook. And my website is www.honeyandcocreative.com

Debbie:

Perfect. Thank you so much, Chelsea, for being here with us and for giving us so many amazing insights into your business. 

Chelsea:

Thank you for having me. 

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH CHELSEA WHERE SHE SHARES THE IMPORTANCE OF CLIENT IDENTIFICATION WHEN IT COMES TO CREATING AND GROWING A BRAND.


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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