interview w/ Copperheart Creative
This interview was first published in our Spring 2019 newsletter. Subscribe here.
We got to talk to Amber Brannon, founder and creative director of Copperheart Creative, about her experience as a creative and businessowner, through all the ups and downs. Copperheart Creative is a team of creative entrepreneurs focused on branding.
Tell us the story of how you got to where you are today.
Born in Germany into an American military family, rural Ohio is where I grew up. You might say all of this contributed to my “military backbone with a small-town heart.” From coloring on our base-housing walls to masterpieces with my mom’s sewing machine, I’ve always been creative to the core, but it wasn’t ‘til I first laid eyes on Photoshop in high school that I knew design was my future. I graduated as my college salutatorian, moved states away from home, and began my career in the agency world.
The next five years consisted of me being a sponge... and a huge job-jumper. I worked between cut-throat agencies in both Nashville, Tennessee, and Silicon Valley, California. At each place I worked, I immersed myself fully to learn as much as I could from the incredibly talented creatives, business owners, and clientele that I was surrounded by. I was an eager little designer. Ha! I finally realized that with all of my searching from agency to agency, that I would never find my dream job… so I decided to create it. In September of 2016, after much wrestling with my own fear, the words “I quit” fell out of my mouth in a staff meeting.
Then I realized... crap, I don’t have any clients! I began to reach out to some of the relationships I had built throughout my career: old coworkers, college alumni, previous employers, friends, networking connections, etc. That’s when I got my first clients! My old employers :) The reason why I am in business today is because I left each job in my career on good terms and continued to have great relationships with my previous employers. And week by week, the word of mouth began to grow that I was freelancing. The agencies I was working with on their overflow work, began to directly connect me to their leads that didn't have the budget or we’re not a good fit to work with their company. Without even realizing it, I had started to form my own clientele solely on relationships, without advertising or marketing myself at all.
From there, our clientele began to grow and the projects got bigger and bigger. I knew I had to hire talented people who compliment my skills in order to keep up, looking to the connections I made through my years of agency experience. We partnered together to work virtually, and seamlessly like an agency — but with the flexibility of a digital nomad. They are my "dream team", and we are Copperheart Creative! Fast forward to today, I get the opportunity to serve clients with heart and connect people through amazing design! I’m honored to be listed among the Top 10 Designers in Tennessee, Nashville 100, but I couldn't do it all alone. I love waking up every day to design for our clients. They are the best people, with the biggest hearts I know by creating top-notch branding that changes the trajectory of their business. We design with heart, for people with heart. If your heart’s in it, so is ours.
How has your approach to running Copperheart Creative changed since you first started? What have been some of the biggest lessons you've learned?
Running a business, as a creative-minded person, has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever tackled in my life. I didn't know when I first started my business, how much I wouldn't actually be designing anymore. I needed to change how I was running the business, so I could stop working IN the business and start designing again.
Biggest Lessons I learned:
Just because you work from home, doesn’t mean you don't need community. I got out of my shell and began to focus on building community with like-minded, passionate entrepreneurs to be in my corner. It has changed my life. They are my cheerleaders, referral sources, and shoulders to cry on during rough patches of business. They understand. They get it. They are now some of my closest friends, my business besties.
It takes a village. I love the analogy of "do what you love and hire out the rest"... yeah, that was me. When I stopped trying to do it all myself and began to create relationships with other super talented people in and outside of my field... it allowed me to start building my diverse team of contractors. Initially, it was insanely hard to release control of things in my business, but eventually, I released the control… and a TON of stress… most circling around administrative work!
Work with a CPA right away. Sometimes, we wait too long to get the "not so fun" stuff in order, because we're too busy getting our business started. One of the biggest things I was unsure of was the taxes, income, and invoicing. I needed someone to guide me financially and legally to direct me in the right path to set my business up correctly from the start and that has made filing my taxes, bringing on team members, making a budget, and organizing the legal part of my business THAT much easier.
Hire a (damn good) business coach. Unlike the classic business coaching model, focused on revenue to track the growth of my business, I found a coach that aligned with my morals and definition of success. She helped me grow my business by focusing on creating the lifestyle I wanted... then crunching numbers, setting goals, and accountability to make it happen!
No one is dying over graphic design. This was one of the hardest things that I learned (and am still trying to learn) as a creative business owner. I cherish each relationship deep in my heart so I always put my clients first but I began to let that dictate my life, routine, vacations, self-care, and ability to unplug. Setting better boundaries, learning to say no, and realizing that no one is dying over graphic design has allowed me to not take my business so seriously and release a ton of the stress that I was putting on myself.
For many, running a business involves periods of great expansion along enjoying things as they are. Have you noticed these phases while running Copperheart Creative and if so, how does your work change with the phases?
I love the quote "If your business is not changing, then you're not growing." When I finally understood that my business is supposed to change as it grows... I was finally able to accept it. Change is good. (If you don't believe that yet, keep repeating that in your head until you believe it.) Some call these times of fluctuating change 'the entrepreneur rollercoaster'... but I like to call them seasons.
Similar to the seasons we are all are familiar with, we also have different seasons of business. Some I have personally experienced, include seasons of... waiting, growth, opportunity, rest, creativity, feast, famine, hustle, learning, simplifying, etc. Whatever season you're in, you have to be okay with knowing that it will all change and you'll be coming into a new, completely different season soon.
I finally had to stop white knuckling what my business should be, and start to loosen my grip to shift my mindset on what it could be in this next season. It's much easier to get through the tough seasons of being an entrepreneur and appreciate the great seasons when you realize that it is just a season of business... it won't last forever. Hang on because being an entrepreneur is one of the best rollercoasters you'll ever ride! :)