The struggle between being a #girlboss and maintaining personal relationships is real. Every woman, from Hillary Clinton to Tina Fey, has worked crazy hours, despite wanting to strike a balance between work and life. Before you consider moving to Sweden for a six-hour work day, consider how one successful designer and working mom went from plugging away around the clock to setting healthy limits, all while continuing to grow her design-focused brand into a top luxury invitation company.
Luxury invitation designer Ceci Johnson built her brand Ceci New York from a one-person operation in her tiny New York City apartment (“I moved to New York City with a dream and my fish,”) to a 20-person team. Previously, Ceci worked full-time in the corporate world as a web designer, but as a side hobby, designed paper wedding invitations for friends. As more and more people came to her to create their wedding invites, Ceci realized that she could make this dream a reality. She studied the wedding industry, worked out of her apartment and used her savings account to fund her fledgling business. Soon after, her work was getting noticed by top bridal magazines, and she won a coveted Modern Bride trendsetter award.
All sounds ideal, right? Just like any successful entrepreneur can tell you, mistakes are a part of the gig too, and in her recent workshop, “Success Tips from the Top: How to Pursue Your Dreams and Succeed,” at the Adobe MAX 2015 conference, she shared one of her biggest business mistakes.
When she first started Ceci New York, she met with clients at all hours and shared her design ideas before securing a contract for paid work. One day, in one of The Knot’s chat room forums, Ceci learned that brides were meeting with her, loving her work then stealing her design ideas to get reproduced cheaper elsewhere. This startling revelation made Ceci realize that she was doing something very wrong. She decided to rearrange her business plan.
The reformed workaholic’s new mantra became, “Work smarter, not harder.” Ceci made several major changes to her work style that everyone from interns to entrepreneurs can learn from. For starters, she set office hours, stopped giving clients her cell phone number and established limits for herself and her team. Instead of having her email as her to-do list — and constantly trying to answer emails while completing tasks — she made her email part of her workday flow and didn’t let it rule her life. She sets goals for her work week to make sure she’s focused on what needs to get done versus tackling everything at once. Ceci used to answer all calls and emails that her company received, but has since delegated that task to an employee. An appointment is now set via phone or in-person to discuss the client’s budget and to look through the company’s portfolio of designs. “If they are serious, then they get to meet with me. I’m not giving my ideas away for free!” says Ceci.
When first starting out, she was afraid to accurately charge clients for her time for her custom paintings. One painting might take anywhere from three to 20 hours to complete, but Ceci admits, “I was worried that if I told them that it would cost more, they wouldn’t pay. Then I found myself finishing paintings at 3am, and realized I was giving away my work for free.” Ceci made the decision to raise her rates and set limits on her working hours. For hopeful business owners, Ceci suggests, “Track your hours. Declare your hourly rate and stand by it.” She uses the app Toogle to track her time per project.
With these changes, Ceci got to focus more on what she loved — designing and dreaming up unique invitations and branding — and less time on the day-to-day operations of her company. She wasn’t working around the clock anymore or answering calls and texts from clients at midnight at home.
As a working mom and entreprenuer, Ceci loves creating one-of-a-kind event invitations, including weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate events. Her design inspiration often comes from elaborate ideas, like wanting owls to deliver a Harry Potter-style bah mitzvah party, which led to the creation of paper owls in the final invites.
Ceci, who mentions design icon Diane Von Furstenberg as a role model, has worked with celebrities, and her work has been featured in hundreds of magazines, online sites and TV. For creative women, Ceci strongly emphasizes, “Put your dreams out there. Don’t be afraid to expose your creativity.”
Follow Ceci and her design style on Instagram at @cecinewyork.
Are you a reformed workaholic? Share your tips for creating a healthy work-life balance in the comments!
(Feature image by Allan Zepeda)