The freedom to create the life you want -- it rings like a mantra in today's market of independent online business, but this freedom doesn't look and feel same for all self-starting entrepreneurs. For blogger and designer, Janet Brent, the freedom from a 9-to-5 day job came as a free fall into poverty, a spiritual journey that led her back to her native homeland of the Philippines.
in 2009, Janet quit her unsatisfying day job, sold her possessions and packed her bags on a one-way ticket from Portland, Oregon to Asia. With absolutely no savings, less than $1,000 to her name and her retirement fund that she decided to cash in on, she took a long career sabbatical where she volunteered in Indian slums, went on Buddhist monastery retreats where she learned meditation for the first time, shaved her head, temple hopped in Taiwan, and walked 800km in Palawan, Philippines.
During that time, Janet started a blog with the mission of helping other creative professionals make positive change in the world through inspired and mindful design. Through her own business, Janet contributes to the education of young girls in developing countries, donating 10% of her earnings to charity.
Ready to "march to your own beat"? Find out how it's done in my interview with Janet, the passionate artist behind Purple Panda.
1. Thinking back to when you quit your job in 2009, can you describe what led up to this decision? Was there some kind of breaking point?
The breaking point was literally a break up with my boyfriend at the time a year prior, but it was always about being independent and finding out my sense of self since I felt I had been in this huge rut during the first years of my 20s. I guess I had a “quarterlife crisis” and knew that I had a lot of potential. I had just started reading and writing blogs, and it was early enough into the game that “business blogging” was just catching on, but it was enough to pique my interest and I knew working online was exactly what I wanted to do, and that I had the skillsets (graphic design) to do it. I was a bit rusty on web design, but I had always wanted to do it professionally so I started from scratch and taught myself WordPress and picked up on the html/css I learned back when I was 13, loved AOL, and thought working online would be my ultimate dream job.
2. At the time, did you have any idea of what you would do instead? How did your spiritual journey begin to take shape?
I knew that I wanted to do something with design and be “location independent”. But I also knew I wanted a break. I basically took a year career sabbatical and I knew that I wanted and needed more spirituality in my life. I had been with an atheist for 5 years and I was lacking spirituality in my own life to make me feel more centered. I made a list of things I wanted to do in Asia. One of them was join a Zen buddhist monastery retreat and practice meditation. I forgot about the list but that opportunity fell into my lap even when I wasn’t looking! The universe really provides.
3. What has been the most pivotal moment or meeting in your journey so far?
I would say UNconferencing World Domination Summit last year (July 2013). I grew up in the Portland, Oregon area so it was convenient for me to visit my parents for the summer and attend all the unofficial meet-ups. Even though I didn’t go to the actual conference, I got SO much benefit from all the positive energy just by being on the fringe. It was my first time to finally meet like minded entrepreneurial people in person and that made a huge difference for my morale. I finally felt like I wasn’t alone, in my own little island (literally, in the Philippines). I realized that the Philippines wasn’t even the future that I wanted and that I needed to live my future NOW. It was the pivotal moment for me to switch course and start living more intentionally about living my “new story”.
4. Your blog is very personal. How is your writing important for your business? Has this platform evolved with your online presence?
It doesn’t really make much business sense and I don’t really consider what I do as blogging for my profession or that blogging is my job. I don’t take it too seriously, and don’t blog as often as I should. But it does tend to attract my ideal sorts of clients so I get business that way. I’ve been really vulnerable on my blog and that gets the most attention as far as blog content. Every time I get more clear on my business, the blog starts to have a new sense of purpose as well and I get reenergized to start blogging more. I know I should do a content marketing calendar one of these days and actually commit to it!
5. How much of your business comes through your website? What other marketing strategies have been successful for you?
Most of my clients come through word of mouth or through social media. For example, online forums (free or paid) that I’m a part of. I do get some people who write me and are inspired by my journey, but that doesn’t necessarily convert to clients. I just launched my new website rebrand, jflostudios.com so hopefully I will be getting more business through my website than I had been previously!
6. Tell us about Her Star Scholars and how you got involved. What has been the impact -- both professional and personal -- of committing to this philanthropic side of Purple Panda?
I actually got involved with them when I was experimenting with selling some photography on Etsy. They found one of my pictures of a vegetable vendor at a local Filipino street market and asked if they could have the rights to use it on their website. From there, I actually upsold them to do a logo design and I’ve kept in contact ever since! I applied to be a board of directors and got accepted. I truly feel that educating young girls helps empower the world and it’s an issue I feel most strongly about.
7. In your recent post ushering in the new year, you talk about finding a balance between commitment and freedom in 2014. How do you plan to realize this goal in your business this year?
That’s an interesting question because I feel like I’ve had a hard time fully committing to anything these past few years but I think commitment actually brings about freedom. It’s the same concept that systems/schedules actually give you more freedom to create as well. You need the balance of chaos and organization.
8. You describe your approach to graphic design as "intuitive" and "feminine." How does your process set your products apart?
I think I just have a really intuitive knack for getting exactly what the client wants, even if they’re unsure of what they want or have a hard time conveying it. The process is really fun and clients love working with me. It becomes a collaboration, but I am able to translate their ideas into visual form and have a knack for it.
9. Can you describe your typical client -- or what they tend to be looking for when they come to you?
My typical client is holistic, creative, and heart-centered. They are typically holistic health coaches, yoginis, healers, creatives, artists, etc. They are looking for an e-book design for their opt-in, or a sales page/landing page, etc. I do a lot of creative/web admin type virtual assistant (VA) work and charge clients who purchase blocks of hours (20 hours, 10, etc.). I also do website design and quote per project. I have a new service, called Shine On Sessions (S.O.S.) that’s basically a brand rejuvenation package to help people get clear on their visual brand identity and shine their web presence so they can stand out from the crowd. It’s a holistic approach because I also offer guidance around self-limiting beliefs and manifesting your ideal life & biz goals.
10. What do you think is the greatest challenge for creative professionals today, and how are you taking it on?
I think the greatest challenge IS to stand out from the crowd. The market is very saturated and there are a lot of designers competing for the same types of projects. There will ALWAYS be a designer that’s cheaper than you. You have got to get your branding super clear in order to stand out and attract your ideal clients (which you also have to get clear on). Position yourself as the BEST in a particular niche (mine is holistic, creative, heart-centered entrepreneurs) and you’ll be to go-to person. It’s all about brand positioning. What do you want to be KNOWN for? What are your top 5 qualities/values? For me, my branding is really based around the idea of being a bohemian/digital nomad with lots of wanderlust. Creativity, courage, compassion, and intuition are my top values. I also recently started to experiment with taking on the gift economy business model which means clients can set their own price, based on what they think my work is worth, and the value that they receive. It’s a model based on trust, respect and gratitude, which are really central to my brand. Being known as a designer doing the gift economy, which is pretty radical and not very common, is another great angle for branding, and it lines up with who I am and what my brand represents. All of this is a great way to reinforce my brand and stand out, and the gift economy reinforces the heart-centered aspect of my brand as well. It all works together!
Thank you Janet
Janet Brent is a designer and blogger at jflostudios.com, a website with the mission of helping other creative professionals make positive change in the world through inspired and mindful design. You can also find her on Twitter at @JanetBrent