Originally from Germany and now based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, Kerstin designs gorgeous Squarespace websites and teaches online courses. She recently launched Squarespace Biz Box, a comprehensive course to help people create their own successful and profitable web design business.
I love Kerstin’s unconventional path to self-employment. A self-described Jill-Of-All-Trades, she spent years flying around the world as a flight attendant for Lufthansa, managed IT projects in southern England, did corporate sales in the airline finance industry, ran her own online dating site and personal growth workshops in London, worked as a hotel manager in the Pacific Northwest, and was college secretary in Massachusetts and the registrar of an international school in Germany, before “accidentally” starting her own business.
After years of following each other’s adventures online, we finally met in Seattle last year and bonded over a shared love of lists, details and peanut butter cups. Our regular Skype chats on all things life and business never fail to leave me inspired and rebooted.
I’m so chuffed that she was up for sharing the story of how she built a thriving business that’s full of integrity and heart.
1. How did your business begin?
My foray into entrepreneurship happened rather by accident. Since starting a blog in 2005 I have always dabbled with its design, first in WordPress and for the last 10 years Squarespace. I just loved creating new looks that reflected whichever mood or season I was in, this was (and still is) my perfect idea of R&R!
In 2014, when we relocated from the UK to the US, a friend of mine asked me to redesign her business website and it was such a success that, instead of looking for a new job, I decided to start my own business as a Squarespace web designer!
I was 51 at the time and had spent decades in corporate employment so this definitely felt like a crazy thing to do! But it also felt very right. I’ve been profitable since day one and my revenue has tripled in the last three years so this is absolutely a viable income source for me.
2. Pick three adjectives to describe your work.
Modern. Stylish. Organized.
3. How do you make your money?
70% web design projects and 30% from Squarespace e-courses (I started these in early 2017).
4. What does a typical working day look like? Do you like structure/routine or are you more a by- the-seat-of-the-pantser?
For someone who likes to be organized (I am German after all!) my work style is surprisingly fluid and dictated by what’s on my plate at any given moment. I am quite good friends with the panic monster, there is nothing like the thrill of a deadline to get me going!
Mind you, most of my deadlines and pressures are self-imposed and I keep reminding myself that I am my own boss these days and can make my own rules! Which means that I generally stick to a Monday to Friday work week with a schedule that is mostly driven by my appointments and a daily to-do list that I write into my bullet journal every morning.
5. What do you typically wear when you work from home? Is there any connection between what you’re wearing and how you feel as you work away?
During my first year in business I rented an external office which meant that I got dressed up and put on make-up every day. This was actually crucial to starting my own business because it made me feel like I still had a ‘proper’ job.
However, since I can work from anywhere I decided after one year that I’d rather put the rent money towards our mortgage and set up office in our 3rd bedroom. I love my cozy little home office! And unless I know that I am going out I keep things pretty casual with yoga pants, comfy t-shirts and knits. Being comfortable always makes me feel good and puts me into a good mindset for working.
6. I love your refreshing openness about the way you feel about business life. You’ve written very honestly about having your work plagarized, FOMO and the ups and downs of “the hustle”, to name a few. Do you find this honesty has had a positive impact on your business?
Thank you, and likewise — I have always loved your openness and think you’re pretty awesome, too!
Yes, this has definitely had a positive impact! You often hear it being said that to run a successful online business you need to establish trust with your audience. I think being honest about myself and my experiences helps my readers to connect with me and that in turn supports an environment in which trust can flourish. But even without this, being open and direct is simply who I am, it’s how I used to write about my life as a blogger and how I continue to share the joys and perils of entrepreneurship.
7. The word “heart centered” is quite overused in the online biz world (and if we weren’t all heart-centered, we’d be dead). But you really do run your business from a place of integrity and heart. Can you tell me what heart-centered means to you, in terms of the way you approach your business?
Totally agree, it’s become a very overused phrase and as such has lost some of its genuine intention and power. You already mentioned the one word that I mostly associate with heart-centered: integrity. Integrity, to me, is about using a more gentle and personable approach that is in line with my core values of awareness and consideration.
I despise the shouty 6-figure marketeers that make running your own business all about how much money you can earn by following their secret seven steps to guaranteed success. I call this ‘the pyramid scheme of the gold rush entrepreneur’ and all I can say is ugh. This is not how I want to ever run my business.
What’s most important to me is simply becoming really good at what I do and delivering a great service and high quality work to my clients. My business has grown very organically, and steadily, as a result and I am able to draw a great income from it as well.
8. Another thing I love about you is that you’re a fellow Attention To Detail person. What details matter most to you?
OMG. I can drive myself — and others — crazy with this need to make sure all the details are just so and just right! In my designs this means paying close and occasionally obsessive attention to balance and flow, as well as contextual, structural and visual integrity.
In my business it means being reliable, accountable and a conscientious communicator. The other day a client outsourced some of the maintenance work on her site to a junior employee and he paid no attention to the date and time format that I had been using, resulting in visually inconsistent updates. Which drove me nuts when I saw it!
They are just small irregularities but I can be quite the stickler for this kind of stuff. Alas, my client outsourced this task because I wanted to be freed up from it and I am learning the important lesson of letting go of those things that are not mine to control anymore.
9. What’s your least favourite task related to your work?
Bookkeeping when I’ve been procrastinating on it. Ironically, bookkeeping is also one of my favorite tasks, once I get into it! I get a lot of satisfaction out of tallying up the numbers, seeing my Excel formulas at work and getting a clear overview of the financial state of my business.
10. What’s the nicest thing a client has said to you about your work?
I am very grateful for the amazing testimonials I get from both my web design clients and e-course participants. Each in their own way has said super nice things about my designs, how easy I am to work with and that I am a great teacher. I also get a lot of positive feedback regarding my openness and honesty, see point 6! I have really good relationships with my clients and consider myself lucky to have worked with so many truly wonderful people.
11. What are your favourite ways to procrastinate?
Facebook. Instagram. Tinkering with my website.
12. Do you have any hopes and dreams or just plain old plans for your business in 2018? 🙂
I do! 2017 was all about growing my e-courses while continuing to design websites for clients. I love both but it’s been exhausting keeping up with it all. This is the point where many designers start hiring and expanding but I decided that I prefer to work solo. I am currently working with a great business coach to figure out what this means for 2018 and the way forward. My desire is to create a better balance between my on-screen and off-screen time and to make more space for my health and wellbeing related goals.
13. What is your beverage of choice while working? Do you have a favourite mug/cup?
Water, herbal tea with honey, and Nespresso with a dash of cream!
14. Working for yourself can be a lonely business! Do you have any sources of support?
You are right, working for myself and from home can get lonely and the companionship of colleagues is one thing I miss about corporate life. I am grateful for a supportive husband who is a great listener and always interested in my business and happy to let me bounce off ideas as well as frustrations.
In absence of co-working spaces in our town I also love working out of coffeeshops and try to do this once or twice a week. Just being surrounded by people and good coffee makes me feel good and increases my productivity.
15. When it comes to getting organised, are you a digital or analogue person, or a combo of the two?
I am a big believer in simplicity. There are so many productivity apps out there and my German brain goes into overdrive at all the possibilities of getting even more organized! But this last year I realized that many of these tools are just another distraction and that I can easily spend more time “getting organized” than actually working. These days I organize myself as follows:
1. I use 17hats for all client related administration, such as proposals, contracts, invoicing, questionnaire, time tracking, bookkeeping and automated workflows. Love 17hats!
2. For scheduling work related appointment and consultation calls I use Acuity and my Apple Calendar. Acuity is embedded into my website so it’s a seamless process from booking to getting into my digital calendar. My calendar has different categories and this is where I keep anything scheduling related as well as important deadlines, both for personal and business use. It’s a pretty important time management tool and I heavily rely on the notifications to remind me of upcoming events!
3. Email can be such a vortex for my time and energy! I dabbled with a few email tools but in the end I came up with this very simple system that works great for me. In my Apple Mail I created three folders:
- To Do This Week
- To Do Next Week
- To Do Bookkeeping
As emails come in I sort them into one of these folders and I only keep in my Inbox what I intend to work on today. Once a task is done I either delete the email or file it, and when I reach Inbox Zero I get more tasks from the “To Do This Week” folder. This simple system has made me a lot more efficient!
4. Apple Notes is my digital catch-all app for notes, ideas, lists, links and anything I want to keep for later use. Folders and sub-folders make it easy to file everything and there are easy at-a-glance overviews of any linked documents, photos and URLs. I sync Notes across all my devices and it’s a wonderful and user-friendly tool for organizing lots of information.
5. Last, but not least, I am using my Leuchtturm bullet journal for my weekly organization, master to-do lists and day-to-day stuff. Every Sunday I create a 2-page overview of all my appointments and a to-do list for that week and then I use the subsequent blank pages to scribble down notes throughout the week, draw doodles and washi-tape-down receipts, fortune cookies, quotes and whatever snippets of daily life I wish to keep. My digital calendar sends me reminder notifications but using this analog system helps my brain prepare for the week ahead and deal with day-to-day tasks and events in a creative and organized way.
(Please note that Kerstin’s links to 17hats and Acuity are affiliate links)
16. What do you see out the window of your workspace right now?
We had a dusting of snow! And I still have my Christmas decoration up on my window sill! (Shauna’s note – Kerstin completed this interview back in January!) My office window faces west so I get to see some amazing sunsets and I love seeing the horizon from our 3rd floor condo.
18. Would you mind sharing a photo of your workspace?
I converted our tiny 3rd bedroom into a cozy office, painted one wall turquoise and I love it! I always have candles going and occasionally I am joined by my furry office assistant 🙂
Big thanks to Kerstin for her time! Find out about Kerstin’s offerings on her website.