Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in design services but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Alesha Burgraff, Owner and Creative Director of TandemHart, located in Des Moines, IA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are a boutique design and marketing business. We grew up in the agency world working on national brands and now bring that expertise to our own clients. Our roots are in the wedding industry, working with both newly engaged couples to design their wedding stationery and wedding professionals who are looking to rebrand themselves or create a new website. Now that we've been in business full-time for over 2 years (the side hustle was 10 years+), we take on so much more with our small business clients, non-profit organizations, and agency partners.
Tell us about yourself
Over 10 years ago, while living agency life as a designer/art director/creative director, I created a stationery side hustle, TandemHart. Like most side hustles start, I was doing things mostly for family and friends, but then it was friends of friends, going to wedding shows, and having clients. While I loved where my career was going, I was always curious to take a leap and go out on my own, but I had no idea when it would be right.
It was finally in 2020 that so many things aligned that the leap made sense. I knew I wanted to grow TandemHart into more than a side hustle. It was the time when everyone was reassessing what was right for them, and my good friend, Amanda Krumel, was also ready for a new path. I'm so lucky and grateful that we were both able to take on the new challenge together because doing it as a team is way better than going it alone.
While we're a graphic design business, it's three main things that guide me and the business: to do great work, love the people we work with (clients and co-workers), AND HAVE FUN! I left my job to have the freedom to enjoy what I do every day, and it has not disappointed me. I've found amazing clients that get our vibe and are great people, we work with many freelancers and friends who are like family, and we enjoy every minute of it.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I am super proud to have grown the business to support having a studio space where we can actually make working as a team a reality! Amanda and I are full-time at TandemHart, but we co-work with many others – our copywriter and freelancer Kelly Visser, who also has her own clients, Gina Cramer, who runs her wedding show and event business with her team that's frequently in and out of the space, and our TandemHart intern, Marissa Sakakhanone, who has been a lifesaver this past year. While I knew I could work from home, that desire to work and have fun with amazing people was way more important, and creating the co-works space with a fantastic view of downtown IS EVERYTHING.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Currently, with our team being so small, the hardest part is taking on everything and getting pulled in every direction, which is the usual story of the small business owner. I'm trying to decide where I need to take on new employees to help, it could be a project manager or virtual assistant for the general workflow, but I'm also seeing us grow to where I can't be the designer in most projects and have to focus (like I used to) on being the creative director, guiding the work but not doing the work. It's a hard decision trying to figure out when it's right to grow your team.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- If you're doing the side hustle in your full-time job, you may not be getting clients because people know you have a full-time job. People are hesitant to reach out, even when you tell them you are taking on clients. The second I stepped out on my own, I instantly had people who knew my previous work who wanted to work with me, but they would never have reached out when they knew I had a full-time job. So while it was scary to believe the work would be there, once people knew I could focus on them, they were interested.
- Find a team or "business friend group" you can rely on. They might not be employees at first, but you might need support, and having others doing the same thing you can talk to, or if you get in a bind and need to pass some work to them, it's much better to know who you can trust and reach out to rather than go it alone.
- Stay positive, but don't just say it. Believe it. And if you don't believe it now, keep telling yourself those positive mantras until you do believe it and feel it. I know it's not everyone's natural path. I've always been the type of person to see the glass as half full or laugh when everything seems to be going wrong (because what else am I going to do?!). So you may need to work on finding that positive side, but I know it has shaped me and my business. I really do believe that putting positive energy out there does wonders.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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