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Ep. 142: How this remote creative entrepreneur started a successful brand design agency with Peggy Bree.

In this week’s episode, I speak with Peggy Bree who is a PASSION-FILLED Creative Entrepreneur from Toronto, Ontario. 

She dipped into the Digital Nomad lifestyle when she was 23, and has since kept this lifestyle a part of her journey while switching back and forth between full time and entrepreneurship. 

She has a remote agency called BLANK ROOM, a brand design agency that also publishes Founder Stories and Resources to help motivate the curious entrepreneurs and experienced folks make the next move. 

She launched a book called BRANDING QUICKIES, a collection from 20 BADASS women killing it in the branding game. 

Listen on to find out how Peggy has been able to create a passion-filled creative business. 

Listen Below:

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My Offbeat Journey: How to turn your business from hobby to profitable Business

Transcription :

Debbie:

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I’m so excited to be here with Peggy. Hey Peggy, how are you?

Peggy:

I’m good. How are you?

Debbie:

I’m wonderful. So before we get to your incredible story, can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Peggy:

Yeah, so I’m just a little bit about me. My home base is Toronto and I’m pretty much like a part-time digital nomad. I started the digital nomad life full-time about a few years ago. Now I’m just home-based just kind of taking it slow and moving about at my own pace. I’m a creative director/designer. Right now, I have my own agency called Blank Room, we focused on helping others kind of launched their brand, their design, and anything direction-related.

I think I live an offbeat life because I think having touched base in that digital nomad lifestyle is pretty offbeat. It’s a pretty cool life experience. I think that it’s really out in the norm. It’s not typical but it’s also so interesting and I think that’s what makes it so offbeat and so out of the ordinary and so out there.

Debbie:

Peggy is really incredible because she actually got me and a few other incredible women to do this incredible book and a lot of those females will actually be on the podcast as well. Peggy, can you tell us a little bit more about the book that you allowed us to all create and what it’s about?

Peggy:

Yes. I am so excited about the book still. The book is called Branding Quickies and it is basically a condense book full of wisdom, authentic insight, and it’s all written by 20 amazing women and they each give their tips, their stories, advice, their brands, and they just kind of like condense it all in this section. I guess the idea just started just came up to me randomly.

I love creating, I love like bringing products, I love making ideas real so, I just started thinking about how cool it would be to kind of have a bunch of founder’s stories condensed in a book and the idea came to be. It’s pretty cool to have a lot of women that I know personally in the book and everyone’s connected in a way. You were referred by Fiona and it’s just so cool to have everyone connected that way just so it could feel very genuine – like full of love. I’m still so excited about it.

Debbie:

I’m really excited about that book as well. And it really got me to connect with so many incredible females who are real badasses in their industry and they’re just doing so well with it. And it was really great to actually read their sections too because, Peggy, you also surprised this with everyone’s type of information that they were giving as well. So, that was pretty awesome when it was finally out. And to be able to have it and hold it in your hands is pretty incredible.

Peggy:

When I wrote the proposal invitation, I also wrote like a little sample of how this section would be like. So, I even followed that structure that everyone else is going to do. When submissions just came in and I saw everyone right in that structure – it was just so interesting. I knew that it would be so interesting for everyone else to kind of read what everyone else wrote in the same structure that everyone followed. I love that part, that was really cool.

Debbie:

Yeah. The structure was all similar but the stories were so different and they had all different types of valuable information and tips for all of us really. And everyone’s story was so incredible. Now, Peggy, let’s go back before you even started your agency, what was your life like and how did you begin to leap into the unknown to start your own company and be a part-time digital nomad?

Peggy:

Yes. So, right out of school I’ve been already freelancing. I did a lot of freelance design, a lot of freelance social media management, a lot of freelance web design. So, I was a full-time freelancer in that sense and that was when I kicked off that digital nomad life. And that was when I moved to Mexico and just freelanced away using my creative talent to help companies, help other agencies, and just be really like involved in this digital sense, in this internet, in this entire realm of what it’s like to work remotely.

Actually, in Mexico was where I met Andrea, who’s in the book, and she definitely inspired me to do more things online and more remote related work gigs. And that was pretty awesome to open those roads up. I’ve always been freelancing full-time, just using my creative talent. So far I’ve lived in Mexico, Thailand, Peru, and Columbia but as of right now, I am in Toronto kind of taking things slow.

Debbie:

Well, that was a really amazing thing that you started. You were able to do this with the help of so many different people. And I do know Andrea and she’s such an incredible inspiration. All of the stuff that she gives us, especially on Instagram, is just so valuable. She’s definitely one of those people that will really get you going for sure.

Peggy:

100% yeah. It’s just very cool when you step out and you connect with other entrepreneurs because it’s just so collaborative and everyone is just so willing to help each other move to the next step or just work on exciting projects together. And I think like that world just excites me and it’s just so fun to be a part of. And I definitely love that.

Debbie:

Now, Peggy, let’s go back to when you first started your freelancing gigs or even now as an entrepreneur, we all have that “what now?” moment when we are finally doing what we set out to do and we have this moment where we’re saying, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do? What now?” What was yours like and how did you handle it?

Peggy:

I think that because I’d been freelancing for so long and I think that there was just no hesitation when it came down to just having my own like branding agency and like have it all be under one umbrella – like it was always in me. So, when I came to Toronto, after living such an awesome nomadic life, I just started to realize, “You know what? It’s time to kick off what was in my mind for so long; to really bring forth this branding agency.”

And there’s just no hesitation. So, I think just coming back to Toronto and just realizing like, “Ok, I still want to move later in the future too. I love doing this, let me kick this now.” And I think that was that moment of like, “Hey, let me have that structure of Blank Room kind of set up and slowly kind of add more into it with my freelance experience and meeting other people who have agency of their own and kinda really bring it together. Like to have something to call my own.” That moment was pretty pivotal.

Debbie:

Having an agency seems like so much work, right? So if somebody was listening to this and they were thinking about doing it, what would be the first steps that you would recommend to do if you want to start your own?

Peggy:

Yeah. For me, the agencies that are solely remote have to have all the management stuff, like the foundations there needs to definitely be set up in the beginning. I’m using things like Trello, Basecamp, and Slack, simple things like Excel to keep that daily tracking going. Have that foundational software or tools set into place and organize well – I think that would definitely help anybody who is looking to start an agency ’cause they definitely need those tools to be implemented so that any future flows could have flowed well.

Debbie:

One of the things that most people are really concerned about, especially when they’re starting a freelancing type of life and starting their own business, is where they get their clients. How were you able to do that from the beginning and how do you continue to find your clients?

Peggy:

Totally. So, for me, because I was out of school, I probably seem like, “Oh, no one’s gonna hire me. I’m just out of school, freelancing -there’s no way.” But there is a way, I was able to kind of build up my online presence and have my portfolio created so that I can reach out to clients. I could post about what I do online and I remember at the beginning, I used Upwork even though I definitely stayed away from stuff like that because it kind of locked me in; just savagely looking for work and like bidding proposals – it’s just so competitive.

I learned that it was just so much easier to rely on myself and my own name and reach out to people that find my work likable and connected with me and just have it be more relational than just kind of bidding and doing like production work for clients that had no relationships.

So it was really like developing relationships with people. Having the word of mouth out there, asking friends if they know anybody who needs work just so that it could just be more, I guess, meaningful and more connected in that way. There was a lot of putting myself out there online. It was a lot of making sure that the online presence was good and that everything was cleaned up and it really is all about ’cause you have to walk the talk. You really have to show what you can do and showcase it in a way that the people would want to have you hired to like work for them. So, I’m just really establishing like a good portfolio – is really important.

Debbie:

When you were looking for your clients, you said there was word of mouth and also looking at your friends and asking them, what about when you were actually searching for them? Were there specific sites or maybe Facebook groups that you went to, to find those clients?

Peggy:

It was definitely Facebook, some Facebook groups, but it was also outreaching to different agencies. I kind of love the wellness industry, I remember looking upon pressed cold, pressed juice sites and then just contacting the owners and asking them, “Hey, this is who I am. This is what I do. Do you need help?” Sometimes there won’t be any replies but to really find ones that connected with me just so I can build a strong portfolio. It was contacting companies that related to me and I did use Facebook groups.

Facebook groups are awesome to kind of ask, “Hey, here’s my portfolio, does anybody need any design or management or anything?” It’s totally like putting yourself out there and not being afraid, being proud of your work, and having confidence and showing that, and knowing that people would want to pay for it. But even from meeting people from Facebook groups, after you completed a project, you can just ask them like, “Hey, let me know if anybody else is looking for it.” So, it’s just kind of really keeping that ongoing and having to build a relationship with everybody. I think that’s the best way to go about it.

Debbie:

I love those tips, Peggy, because you’re right, relationships and follow up is so crucial to creating a business that will last a lot longer. Now, what about the biggest setback that you’re currently encountering as an entrepreneur? What is that like for you right now?

Peggy:

Well, as of right now, I’m in Toronto and I’m kinda taking things slow. I’ve just kicked off Blank Room and the book and it’s currently my side biz ’cause I’m working full-time in Toronto for a bit before I move again. And I think that’s kind of a setback. Sometimes when I think about it, it’s like, “Oh, I should be full-time doing all this.” I love doing it but full-time is the ultimate setback especially in the entrepreneur world. Everyone’s always like, “The corporate life is the ultimate setback,” and stuff like that. And I think, for me, with the setback, I kind of look at it as everybody’s at their own pace. My mindset is forever entrepreneurial and forever kind of digital nomad focus.

It’s like embedded in me and even when I’m working full-time, I know that this is just temporary and even if it’s a side business, I’m still gonna add to it. I’m still motivated to grow it and I’m going to get out of this soon. And there could be times where I might come back and just being okay with it.

Debbie:

Well, sometimes it’s really easy to look at what everyone else is posting. You have to quit your nine to five, you have to do this, you have to do that. But at the end of the day, as you mentioned, we have to all go at our own pace because we can’t rush when we’re not ready. We can push things and we can’t force ourselves to do certain things that we’re just not there yet. And I think it takes a really specific amount of time to be able to do that.

And you can’t force yourself and what you’re doing right now is something that you need to do in order to prepare for that lifestyle. So if you’re all listening to this and you feel like you’re not there yet, that’s fine. We’re all in our own time. Don’t force yourself to do anything that you’re not ready to do, but also don’t slack at something and be like, “Well, I have all the time in the world because we don’t – there has to be a balance, right?”

Peggy:

Totally. It really isn’t an overnight thing. It really takes so much time to grow something. And I know that before when I was freelancing and doing that digital nomad life, that still took time because I even went to school for creative design and advertising. And so I was able to build a portfolio during schools – that took time too. It wasn’t just like, “Hey, I’m going to go freelance and be digital nomad tomorrow.” It was totally like developing it slowly and kind of building that online presence and kind of building up a portfolio to kind of kick-off. It definitely does take time for everything.

Debbie:

Yeah. I mean with me, too, when I first started this, it was during my nine to five. And I think a lot of people underestimate how much work it actually needs and how much preparation you need to do in order to leap into this lifestyle. I mean, granted, there are people who just opt and leave. But remember they also probably have a lot of savings, they’ve been planning this.

So for the most part, nobody just leaves a job with zero money in their pocket unless you’re living with somebody and they’re paying for everything, which is not what everyone can do. So just take your time if you need it and don’t compare yourself with other people’s journeys. I know everyone says that a lot, but it’s so true. You’ll just make yourself go crazy if you keep comparing.

Peggy:

That is so true. Especially because the online world, even social media, is just so rapid. You just see everybody from the surface and you really don’t know what their progress is like because I know that a lot of people thought, like while I was in Toronto, I was still just hustling and just focused on Blank Room and the book but I’m still working full-time. It’s just interesting how social perceptions online to really dictate a lot of things and people just compare.

Debbie:

Well, that’s what happens when you’re looking at social media and you think everyone’s living this amazing life. Meanwhile, the reality is we’re all huddled in our home office or a desk somewhere, not in some exotic place. We’re in our little corner and it’s not always as glamorous as what everyone thinks it is. And even if you are traveling full-time, it has a lot of different stressful factors to it that I don’t think we think about enough. I mean, the mental capacity you need in order to really succeed in this is also pretty heavy.

Peggy:

For sure.

Debbie:

You’re preparing for the digital nomad lifestyle as you are now and you want to go into it full-time. How much money are you preparing to save before you set off and how are you planning to make sure that you are budgeting this so that it’ll last?

Peggy:

I think because I was able to kind of have that experience already, I kind of knew what it would take to kind of make things sustainable or make sure that this time around there wouldn’t be many complications as the times before and like learning from when I’m just starting out.

So this time around I’m definitely looking into having multiple sources of income and not just rely on freelance design, a website project to kind of make me last for like two months, which was what it was before. This time around I’m making sure that there are multiple ways to back myself up just in case and kind of making sure that, budget-wise, I wasn’t just living.

I remember back then when I was in Mexico, I’ll be like working on a web project that would be like, I don’t know, 1500. And then I would use, obviously, like 500 of it for rent and for food. So it was kind of living for projects and surviving and I don’t want it to be just like surviving this time around.

I want it to be more sustainable, having more things coming in and not just rely on a project to project basis, which is kind of hard, I guess, for a beginner freelancer who’s doing the digital nomad life. Because you would want to take in like one big project and then that takes up most of your time. This time around just making sure that there are more multiple streams and not just relying upon a project to project basis.

Debbie:

You definitely don’t want to earn things and that’s it, right?

Peggy:

Yeah, exactly.

Debbie:

You definitely need multiple streams of income and I know a lot of people talk about this, but it’s so true. I think every single freelancer you’ll talk to will understand this and we can’t stress this enough if you can, you should and if you’re not, you should create more multiple ways to create income even if you have a full-time job. I feel like it’s always good to have something on the side because you never know what’s going to happen. We all think that having a nine-to-five is so secure. I don’t think it is because once you lose that income, you actually have nothing else. I think that’s even scarier than being a freelancer and you have multiple strains coming in so, at least, you’re more prepared.

Peggy:

Yeah, that’s so true. I’m like looking at my sister who’s just solely basing everything on like her nine to five and she doesn’t have any side gigs at all. And I’m grateful that I can use freelance talent or different ideas and projects to just make multiple streams happen and like slowly preparing more and more so that I can finally go full-time digital nomad again. ‘Cause it was just so fun. I loved it so much.

Debbie:

It’s a different experience, right?

Peggy:

Yeah. It’s just so fun and even going to a cafe on a random Tuesday at a different location and working on a project that you love to do. That feeling was awesome and it definitely just doesn’t die in me, I just want to grow it more.

Debbie:

Once you get hit and bit by that bug – that’s it, you’re done. That’s all you do, right?

Peggy:

Definitely.

Debbie:

Now, let’s fast forward 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?

Peggy:

I just want to be remembered as a really inspirational person so that, in itself, can help other people. I think 50 years from now I definitely would be so excited to say, “Hey, I lived here, I lived there and I definitely fully lived out what I wanted my life to be and to really say that I did do – it is totally what I want.” And just looking back and to be able to say, “All of these things did not stop me even sad things that happened – those never stopped me. I still did it.” And just to be proud of it. I think that’s, that’s very exciting.

Debbie:

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

Peggy:

Currently, I’m working on one branding project and I’m kind of preparing the next book. It’s interesting ’cause so many people are interested to be in it. But, right now, I’m just kind of letting the idea settle. I think that the next book should be very different and very interesting. So, that’s in my mind, I haven’t set that out yet but that’s what I’m working on and yeah, not much, just a few brain projects and that next book.

Debbie:

Perfect. Now if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?

Peggy:

They can definitely find me on Instagram. So it would be @peggybree and you can follow along Blank Room’s Instagram too @blankroomdesign and just say hi to me. I love meeting online friends, I love meeting people and talking about their journeys and talking about what they want to create. I love being in that space.

Debbie:

Well, thank you so much, Peggy, for being here today. I really appreciate all the knowledge that you gave us.

Peggy:

Yes. I’m so happy to have you and I’m so happy to have you in the book. It’s so cool that the book exists and your section was awesome. It was just like full of realness, condensed, and just straight up like, “Hey, this is how you do it. This is how you market, this is how you brand.” I love that, it was so good.

Debbie:

Yes. And make sure that you all go to Amazon and look for Branding Quickies by Blank Room. Thank you so much, Peggy. I really appreciate it.

Peggy:

Thanks for having me.

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WHERE PEGGY SHARES HOW TO CREATE AN ONLINE PRESENCE THAT WILL LAND YOU CLIENTS.


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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