We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Laura Heymann. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Laura below.
Hi Laura, thanks for joining us today. Are you happier as a business owner? Do you sometimes think about what it would be like to just have a regular job?
In July 2020, only a few months into the pandemic (the one everyone thought would only last a couple weeks, remember?), I celebrated being in business for myself for 10 years. June 30, 2010 was the last day I was gainfully employed full-time. The very next day, July 1, 2010, marked day one of me doubling-down on whether I could sustain my growing freelance design side-hustle as a full-time business and work from home to have more creative freedom (and more freedom in general). I wanted to be more accessible to my children, who were at the time 11 and almost 15. I was walking away from the coveted title of Art Director at a weekly publication, and a very decent salary for someone in their 20s (my children are adopted if you’re trying to do the math; and when you start out with half-grown kids, you have even less time with them and they just literally grow up overnight). Anyone who’s ever started a business or gone out on their own knows the special brand of fear that only we have felt. And let me tell you, there is not a special measure to let you know you’ve “made it” or a guarantee that everything is going to be OK… ever. Even though the yardstick keeps moving, ten years feels like a huge milestone worth acknowledging. It’s very satisfying to know I’ve garnered up every penny of my salary, ALL the taxes I pay, and my savings out of thin air for ten whole years, without any magical matching dollars or the security that comes with knowing a certain sum will be direct-deposited into my bank account every two weeks. When you’re self-employed, no one tells you when you’re due for a raise or a bonus (ha!), you just keep your head down, work hard, and keep showing up every day. It feels like I’ve worked at least a tiny bit through just about every vacation – taking calls from the printer while standing on Alcatraz island, sending emails from the beach, and sneaking out of our hotel room to get a signal at Big Bend National Park just to check in and make sure everything is OK. I’ve even sent orders to print from a moving vehicle using my laptop and my phone’s hotspot (something that wouldn’t even have been possible for me back in 2010). As business owners know: you can never 100% “turn it off,” walk away, or “leave it at the office.” I’ve worked hard to put boundaries in place that work for me, and over time I’ve fully transitioned to a B2B-only business, which makes boundaries a bit easier, since I’m not dealing with the general public as customers. I love working for myself and I love this crazy independent life with all its highs and lows, and I wouldn’t trade it back in. Every time I think of the fat salary and benefits another job could offer, I think about wearing heels and slacks and sitting in traffic, and sitting in meetings, and inter-office politics, and the answer is no way, no how.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
Certainly! I knew I wanted be a graphic designer ever since working on my high school newspaper. I studied journalism at UT Austin and then worked in the magazine industry for several years across Austin, and then Las Vegas. After getting married and inheriting a stepdaughter in 2005, we relocated back to Texas (this time, the Dallas-Fort Worth area), and I began working for a marketing firm where I expanded my design skillset into package design, logo design, food styling and photography, as well as sales presentation decks. I tried to start a magazine in 2007 but it didn’t make it more than a few months in the tumultuous economic period of the time, so I got another job as an Art Director for a weekly publication, and I later added freelancing on the side in 2009 after the addition of our fourth and final family member. Once the side-hustle workload increased, I left my day-job, making my own business a full-time operation in 2010. Finally, after several years of steady growth, I split up the B2B & B2C client services into two brands and eventually decided to focus solely on the business services. Today, Green Apple Lane Design is an award-winning graphic design and marketing firm located in North Texas. We work directly with business owners and marketing directors to develop show-stopping creative, including digital and print advertising, web design, and social media content.
Has your business ever had a near-death moment? Would you mind sharing the story?
Here’s a fact most folks find interesting when it comes up… I really hate the idea of feast vs. famine so even though I’m a sole proprietor, I keep business and personal finance VERY separate, and I pay myself a flat salary every month, no matter how business is going or whether I have worked 50 hours a week or 20. Some months, income for the business is lighter, and sometimes there is a surplus (which is when I catch up on savings for taxes, cashflow security net, etc.) but I know my monthly salary. I had no funding at all to start out and no one seemed to be able to answer the question for me way back in 2007-2009 when I was just getting started: “I have steady business but how do I get & maintain cashflow?” I suspect business owners still struggle with this because without a safety net you can’t stay afloat when anything hits the fan. Because of this, there were a couple months I had to pay myself my monthly salary in two installments because I didn’t have it all on the first, but I could count those months on one hand out of 12 years in business. All you have to do is keep showing up to work every day at 8, 9, whatever time. You do it every day, no matter what, and no matter if the bank account has $45 in it, because the work will always come, and you have to be there to do it. Now I only keep one month’s salary in savings to be able to draw from if needed, and any excess is invested in a high-yield savings account online until I need to take out a chunk for taxes. All expenses possible auto-bill to a credit card where I get miles for future vacations, so the only thing I ever have to pay from the bank is my monthly salary, and the credit card payment to cover work expenses. This is just what works for me, but I hope it helps someone else!
Alright – so here’s a fun one. What do you think about NFTs?
I was enthralled with NFTs back in 2020 when they first started being talked about in mainstream creative circles. I created one, just to do it, and opened a blockchain wallet, minted it, did the whole thing, just so I could understand how it works. I invested a small amount in Ethereum which I plan to leave alone in hopes it will someday be worth a ton like Bitcoin, and I still own my NFT token – it’s not listed for sale and it’s very crappy – again, I was just trying to understand it all way back when. I don’t have anything cool like Bored Ape going on here, and no real interest in creating, selling, or buying more, but I know a little more about it all than a layperson, I suppose. Lots of creatives have made some serious money out of the deal, which is great, but it’s out of control now with celebs in the mix.