What's the story behind your entrepreneurship journey?
I’m a graphic designer specializing in printed apparel and merchandise. I’ve had an interest in design ever since I secured a job at a local print shop in Springfield, and have been working toward a career in graphic design ever since!
I started Crimson Fox Design Co. when I was laid off from my print shop job at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local print shops rely heavily on big events for their business, since they require lots of posters, apparel, and memorabilia. Even though I wanted to pivot to serving local small businesses, they didn’t have the cash to hire a new designer at the time.
Since I knew I didn’t want to completely switch careers, I bought my own screen printing equipment and tried to go solo with that. Businesses and people were suffering, and I wanted to create an apparel line to boost morale and shift people's focus to the small things that we could still experience safely, such as the pumpkin patches opening up.
Why might a business prefer to hire someone who specializes in print over a generalist graphic designer who also does websites and logos?
Great question. When you design for something like a t-shirt, you have to use a very specific layout. I often see shirts or other clothing items with placement issues, such as a pocket insignia placed way too far up the chest.
When you’ve mainly trained on 2D design, it’s easy to lose sight of the contours of the human body or the way clothing is stitched together. You’ve probably seen a t-shirt before that looks good when laid flat, but terrible when worn.
That’s where I can help.
I also try to work primarily with local businesses, because it’s really important to me that I get to spend time with the owner and inside their storefront (if they have one). Getting familiar with the vibe of a client business is really important to me, and you just can’t do that easily with an intake form or single discovery call.
What led you to CO.STARTERS?
Once businesses in Springfield began to open back up, I knew I needed to start taking the business side of my freelancing seriously.
"Honestly, I learned more from this course than I have in any of my college business classes."
I remember browsing social media and walking downtown, and discovering Innovate Springfield, and learned about CO.STARTERS through their social media. I began stalking the accounts of entrepreneurs who had gone through the program.
The more research I did, the more I realized how much I needed this program. Still passionate about graphic design, I needed the business know-how and accountability that a program like CO.STARTERS offers.
What lessons from your CO.STARTERS experience have stayed with you as you operate a small business?
I gained a lot of focus about who my customer is and what their needs are, and I really clarified my pitch. The Canvas was really useful when I built my website. The program also taught me how to do good competitive research, so I can position myself accordingly.
I remember learning about competitive research in some of my college business courses, but in CO.STARTERS, you actually work through it live with the cohort instead of just being lectured about it.
Honestly, I learned more from this course than I have in any of my college business classes. Sarah, our facilitator, was so motivating and encouraging throughout the whole process. I couldn't have gotten any of that experience from my college courses.
How has CO.STARTERS changed your relationship with your community?
A lot of businesses in Springfield tend to not stick around, but I’ve noticed a lot of the businesses who go through Innovate Springfield and the CO.STARTERS program survive. The program really improved my relationship with the business community here—the community is so tight-knit, especially the Innovate Springfield family.
"The program and this community have changed my mind about some things too. Lots of people see competition when they look at the business scene, but at the end of the day, we’re all making this place better together."
Each of the businesses in my cohort actively support the others in the wild; it really does feel like we’re all in this together.
The program and this community have changed my mind about some things too. Lots of people see competition when they look at the business scene, but at the end of the day, we’re not fighting with each other. We have to work together, because we’re all making this place better together.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are facing the same challenges you faced a couple years ago?
Failing—even failing multiple times or with multiple ventures—is okay. It’s going to happen until you find what sticks. It’s happened to me, and it’s happened to my mentors. It’s okay to experiment, and the best experiments won’t happen until you let go of the fear of failure.
It’s also okay to step away from your business for a while if you need to. While I’m in school, I don’t take on new clients. I want to give clients my undivided attention, so right now I only work in the summer.
And if you’re in the Springfield area, seek out Innovate Springfield and the CO.STARTERS program. They provide a ton of confidence and emotional support. They really hype us up a lot, and that’s so beneficial.