Strategy

EP 25: How to Build a Successful Brand While Raising A Toddler with Alex Cook

January 31, 2023

The Grace-Filled CEO Podcast

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An expert OBM taking the operational mental load off agency owners so they can become better leaders.

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YOU WILL NOT WANT TO MISS THIS INTERVIEW WITH ALEX COOK!

Episode Highlights:

In this episode with Alex Cook of Sonrisa Studio, we talk about the ups and downs of raising a toddler while running a business and building out your brand. Alex shares some great tips on where to start building a brand and how to juggle all the things as your business and family grow. 

Connect with Alex!
• @sonrisastudio

Resources and Links:
• Join the Free Community for VAs and OBMs: Serve Your Heart Out
• Schedule a strategy call with Jillian Dolberry here: www.jilliandolberry.com/strategy-call 
• Reach out to Jillian Dolberry on Instagram, @jilliandolberry

Episode Transcript:

[INTRO] Jillian: Hey friends! Welcome to episode 25 of the Grace-Filled CEO Podcast. Today we’re talking about how to build a successful brand while raising a toddler. My friend, Alex Cook, is weighing in on this. She is a brand and website designer and completely understands the ins and outs, and ups and downs, of raising a toddler while running a business. As a brand and website designer, and a brand strategist, she has so much insight to share with us about how to continue to build your brand even though life is crazy while raising littles at home. You guys are going to love this episode. Here’s my conversation with Alex Cook!

Welcome to the Grace-Filled CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Jillian Dolberry, an online business manager for creatives who are scaling their business while focusing on what matters to them. I’m so excited to bring an honest and energizing take on being a CEO while you raise your family. In case no one has told you recently, it’s possible to rock at both! Every episode will include actionable steps that will encourage and empower you to build a business that supports your family and that thrives through systems, strategy, and – most importantly – heart. Join me on this journey to becoming a Grace-Filled CEO.

[INTERVIEW]

Jillian: I have Alex Cook with me today. She is a brand and website designer at Sonrisa Studio. Alex, how are you today?

Alex: I’m doing good! How are you?

Jillian: Good! I’m so glad you’re here. For those of you who don’t know Alex, she does some really impressive work. She has an Etsy shop and she also does custom work. So Alex, tell us a little bit about what you do and who you do it for.

Alex: Of course! As you said, I’m the founder and lead designer of Sonrisa Studio. Our studio is a branding and web design agency that helps business owners build a brand that aligns with their value, so they can start showing up with confidence, be proud of their brand, and create a business that gets more high-end clients in the door. I work with business owners to develop the strategy behind their brand as well as the overall look and feel of their business so they can build a brand that they’re truly proud of, start marquee in their business with more confidence, and really start attracting more dream clients. 

I started off in the corporate world about thirteen years ago and got into various marketing agencies where I was doing email campaigns and large website builds. I got to learn great design principles, but I didn’t love what I was doing. I didn’t really love the intricate web designs and all that stuff. After doing a few brand designs for a few friends for pretty much no cost, I fell in love with branding.I fell in love with coming up with the heart and soul of a business, the overall look and feel, how it can be translated throughout an entire brand, and how it connects with people. So, about six years ago I started Sonrisa as a side hustle and I slowly started to build up my clientele. With getting more clients, I was able to quit my corporate job and go all in. I absolutely love working with small businesses to either start a new brand design and come up with a look for a business that’s just starting out or work with clients that have been in business for a little bit that are looking to rebrand and really uplevel the look of their business so they can really represent their value. So, that’s a little bit about me and what I do.

Jillian: I love that. I love that you said “build a brand that they can be proud of.” Because there is value in starting messy and just being scrappy in a new season of business or starting your business. But then you get to the point where you think  “oh, I just don’t know if my logo or my presence is really representing what my brand is about and what my business is about and what I want people to feel when they work with me” and so I love the work that you do. I am a former corporate designer, so I have even more appreciation with what you do because – once a designer, always a designer in a way – and I feel like when I see people doing this really, really well, I just want to shout it from the rooftops because it makes me so happy. Because there are a lot of people out there who really, really need it.

Alex: Yes, for sure. I couldn’t agree more.

Jillian: And today, we’re talking about building a successful brand and brand presence while raising a toddler. So those are two very different things – we’ve got professional, we’ve got personal. So, I’m excited to chat about this with you. How old is your daughter?

Alex: She’s two and a half – almost three.

Jillian: Okay, yes. So, I have a seven year old and I have a two year old- oh we – we had this conversation! So, when is your daughter’s birthday?

Alex: December 13th. She’s a Friday the 13th baby.

Jillian: Oh my goodness, how precious. Yes. So, my daughter is two and a half, but she was born January 7th, so she is very close to Emmerson’s age and I’m excited about what this new season of three year oldness looks like, but also a little nervous ‘cause they’re a little crazy. 

Alex: Yeah! People have scared me with the age of three. They’re like “threenager” and I actually think I’m starting to see glimpses of it. She’s so stubborn in everything that we do. I just ask her to do simple things – like wash your hands or put on your shoes – and it’s like “Nope. Nope.” And this is where my creativity actually is helpful because I have to get creative and make it a game constantly, which is so exhausting, but it’s still fun. It’s still a fun age, but also very hard and demanding, I will say. 

What does it look like to build a successful brand that is authentic to you in your season of life?

Jillian: Yes. So, start with telling me – what does it look like to build a successful brand that is authentic to you in your season of life? Because, I know that you and I understand this, having toddlers – having kids in general, but having toddlers specifically – it’s a unique season of life. A lot is dependent upon them. So, tell me what that looks like for you.

Alex: Yes, of course. I mean this is such a great question. So, I think that a lot of it comes down to starting with your business vision. So, what is the goal of your business and your brand? Who do you want to work with? Who do you not want to work with? Your definition of success is going to change based on your season of life. My definition of success four years ago versus now is completely different. Four years ago, I wanted to work with as many clients as possible. I wanted to get my name out there. I wanted to be seen as an expert and start building a strong portfolio and I said “yes” to pretty much any project – big or small – that came my way. If someone was willing to pay me for a design, I was like “yes! I’m here to help!” Versus now, I’m super protective of my time. I do not say yes to everyone. 

I stick to my packages that I have set – they’re a little bit higher-end so I work with less clients, but in a bigger capacity. I focus more on my passive income and my Etsy shop. I outsource a lot more of my work, so I have a junior designer and a VA that I hand over a lot of tasks to and that really is what I think of  success as – I’m able to pass off tasks that I don’t necessarily want to do, but it gives me some of my time back so I can work on those bigger picture goals. 

So, how does this tie in with branding? A lot of people think of branding – they think logos, colors, fonts – but it’s so much more than that. Your branding is your business vision and where you see your business going. It is the brand positioning and how your ideal customer perceives your business. It is who your ideal customer is and how you communicate with them. How are you communicating your offers and the transformation that you’re offering? Your core values – what is important to you as a business owner? – and the strategy for showing up authentically. 

So, how do we align those two? Based on your season of life, how do you want to spend your days? Think about the offers that you are putting out there. How do you want to spend your days working with these clients? And then how are you focusing your marketing efforts to those offers? Four years ago, as I mentioned, I was trying to work with as many clients as possible and my brand messaging and positioning was a bit different than it is now because I had lower-priced offers and I was willing to work with just about anyone. So now, I’ve positioned my brand as more exclusive and high-end because I’ve raised my pricing and I won’t work with just about anyone. I’ve worked with a copywriter to make sure that my messaging communicates that – that I build luxury brands, that it’s a high-end service and you’re going to be getting that kind of white glove service when you work with me versus just a branding design. It’s really a lot of the strategy that I put in place behind that. 

And I also push a lot more of my passive income because that’s just – I love passive income. There’s literally nothing better than creating a really great product, putting it out there, and then seeing the sales roll in as you market it. So, love that! That’s really been something I pushed in this season of life just because my time is so precious to me. I usually take off Fridays just so I can be with my daughter, so I have less time to work. So, it really comes down to aligning your overall messaging and positioning of your brand with your unique stage of life.

Jillian: Yeah, I like that. I like that you touched on values. I like that you touched on other ways of bringing in income that really suit this season of life, too, because you’re right – it’s so nice to be able to build something and do the work that you love to do in a way that is not compromising the season of life or your current values because of your season of life. So, the fact that passive income is possible for you in this stage of business and you’re able to provide that to people – you’re still serving people; you’re still making an impact on the branding and website design side of things. What you are also able to do is you’re able to create more time; you’re able to delegate. You have a team of people who are helping you accomplish all of these things and setting up all of those things is going to help you show up as your best self in this season. Do you agree with that?

Alex: Absolutely! Yes. 100%.

What kind of accommodations or changes have you had to make in your business for your family?

Jillian: So, what kind of accommodations or changes have you had to make in your business for your family?

Alex: Oh my goodness. What changes haven’t I made? First I want to say, before I had Emmerson, I thought you figured out your childcare, you’ve got a nanny, you’ve figured out daycare, you’ve got your grandma involved, you figured out the childcare and you were set to go. So, for me, Monday through Thursday I have pretty much set up with some sort of childcare, whether it’s grandma, in-home daycare, or she goes to school. So, I thought, you set that up, you’re good to go, I’m going to have four days of work every single week. Well, I didn’t realize that the kids get sick and they stay home from school because they’re sick, or the childcare provider has vacation, or grandma goes on vacation and that just threw me off. I didn’t realize that, and there’s so much you can’t predict with these little humans. You don’t know what the week is going to look like. You could plan for having a four-day work week and then you lose three days without even being able to plan for it. So, I have learned that you have to be super organized as a business owner and you have to be able to build the business that’s going to be able to accommodate these random weeks that you’re just going to have to take off to watch your kid. Which I’m so – first of all, I want to say, I’m so grateful that I have this business that allows me to have that flexibility to take off if I need to. I can stay home with her if she’s really sick and not have to worry about getting into the office. So, I just want to say I’m super grateful for that. 

Some of the things that I’ve done is really automate as much of my business as possible and get really organized with my system and processes. I have all my email templates ready to go with pretty much every stage of the process of working with me. From the moment you come in the door, from filling out a project inquiry, I have an email template ready to go all the way through working with me and getting questionnaires – those are all set, proposals are all set – just having everything preset and ready to go so I’m not spending my time scrambling to get these things out if I’m home with a toddler. Because working with a toddler is just not easy. Just being able to hand that off to my VA or just be able to do it really quickly myself because it’s just a template has helped tremendously. Also, focusing more on my digital design shop where we have the premade branding kits, Canva templates, and website templates already preset and ready to go. I have marketing systems in place that are just getting people into my email and then I just have emails set up and ready to go. 

What I also do is content batch. Batching has also been really helpful for me – just getting everything done in one big swoop – just one day focusing on it all, so it’s just done and ready to go and my VA can just send it out. That’s been great. Outsourcing, being able to hand off tasks to my VA and my junior designer has given me space to work on the bigger picture tasks or take off if I need to and still have my business run in the background. 

And, lastly, just saying no. Saying no to all these people that are reaching out to me asking for help with a logo, or help with this, just little tasks or little projects that don’t align with my overall vision or don’t align with the packages I offer. So, just really learning to say no and not feeling bad about it. 

Jillian: Yeah, I think all of those things are, like – boom boom boom – all the advice! I think all of that is so perfect! It’s funny – what you’re describing is my week this week. My son and I have colds, and that’s one thing, but everyone’s home for fall break. My husband is a teacher so he’s home, luckily, and that overlines with my son’s fall break. So, that’s great, but there are just more people in the house, there are more distractions, there are more things to be done. So, this week specifically, I have a pretty full week, but if I didn’t have systems set into place or someone to hand things off to, or some other element of support that I’ve already kind of planned for, then it would be so much more chaotic. So, I think that’s what you’re saying – having these things in place as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect. We do our very, very best. If we do our best in getting all these things together, it doesn’t have to look perfect, It’s just going to help you regardless. I think that that is great advice – setting those things up for days and weeks like this where you do have less time to work. And it does make it so much less stressful, too, when something unexpected happens, and it allows you to be the wife and the mom that you need to be and be present in your home when that’s what’s most important to you at the end of the day. 

Alex: Exactly, and that is so important to me. At the end of the day, I can just shut down my work and I love to be able to just be present with my daughter – not be checking my email – and just know that I have people that could help me if I need to send out emails in a hurry. I have that set up so I can – if we are going to the zoo, I’m not on my phone checking emails  – I can just focus on having fun with my daughter and that is so important to me. And I think that that’s really important, when you are a business owner, to get that time off, away from your business or else you might burn out very easily.

Jillian: Yes. I feel like my business-owner guilty pleasure is legit taking the weekends off.

Alex: Yes!

Jillian: That shouldn’t be the thing that is a treat for us. I think so often, because we have the ability to work at any time and our work is really just a couple of steps away working from home, you can be really easily pulled back in. And so, truly being able to enjoy your time off, whether it be after 4pm every day, or on the weekends, or on Fridays like you talked about, those are just really important. So, setting systems in place – I think of a teacher, too – if you are going to take a day off, then you have to set up sub plans, right? So,think about what it looks like for you to have a sick day or your child to have a sick day in your business and what needs to be set up so that everything is getting taken care of. 

Another thing that I like to tell people is we run businesses, not ambulances. Everything we do is not life or death. If somebody has to wait 24 hours to get an email response from you, that’s okay – that’s more than okay. That’s just what needs to be expected, right? And even though people bring their urgent energy into your inbox, or into Slack, or with your team or whatever, it doesn’t mean that you have to jump back into that mindset. And Alex, I wanted to mention this, too, because we had talked about this at the Mastermind that we attended together. Your husband is also a business owner, correct?

Alex: Yes. He owns a landscaping and brick-paving company. 

Jillian: Yes. I just feel like that adds a different level – when both the parents in the home are business owners. Entrepreneurship, in general, has this stigma as working all the time and if both parents are business owners, you both have to be intentional about saying no. Like you had said earlier, “no” is a full sentence. You can say no to something; you have to learn what is important to say no to. I just wanted to mention that, too, because I feel like your situation specifically is going to relate to someone else. If their husband is also a business owner and, because of the nature of their business, they’re having to work more, but you have a business as well – there is a dance with that, right? There is an understanding and a communication. Communication is most important in that. But, being able to make the call and say “I have done everything in my business to set myself up for success” is a really powerful move. 

What are some takeaway action steps that people can take away from this episode to build their own successful brand in this season of life?

Jillian: So, what are some takeaway action steps that people can take away from this episode to build their own successful brand in this crazy season of life?

Alex: Another really great question. So, I think it really comes down to establishing your goals for your business and, again, going back to your definition of success. How do you want to be spending your days? And when you think about that, that is what you’re going to go back to when you’re coming up with your offers, or your products, or even a free resource. Figure out the goal of that and how you’re helping someone and the transformation. And is this something you’d really want to offer? I can’t tell you the amount of offers that I’ve created that I got all the way to the end – I created a sales page, I created a graphics board, I created all the emails and everything that went with it, spent hours and hours of time to finally do the offer – and hated it. I hated it. So I created this brand audit – I think it was last year – and I did the whole thing. I was super excited about it. I got in there, did one brand audit, and actually hated it. I hated going in there and criticizing someone else’s brand without actually fixing it myself. 

So, I just want people to be really intentional with the offers and products that you put out there. If you’re setting up a big coaching program, and you’re going to need to be on zoom calls 90% of the time and you have a small kid, that’s going to be hard to schedule – maybe rethink that. Maybe you should rethink something that might be a little bit more virtual or that you can do on your own time. So, I just want people to really think about how you’re spending your time, the offers that you’re putting out there, what you’re going to be doing on a day-to-day basis, and if that aligns with your definition of success and where you are in your season of life. 

Also, I want people to learn to just stay in their lane when you’re developing a brand. What I mean by this is there’s a lot of noise out on the internet. There are a lot of businesses out there, especially on social media – a lot of people doing different things – but I want you to put your blinders on when you’re working on your brand because it can be really easy to get distracted and go off course and I am 100% guilty of this. As I’m scrolling through Instagram and I see another branding designer launch something cool, I sometimes go way off track of my goals because I think oh I can do something like that in a different format, in a different way, but it doesn’t align with my goals or my definition of success, so it just doesn’t make sense. So, I just want people to learn that, when you’re developing your brand, it can be really beneficial just to put your blinders on and just focus on your vision. Keep going back to your vision and your overall goals so you can make sure that you are doing what you love on a daily basis that aligns with your overall business objectives. That’ll also help you build an authentic brand for you and your goals and it also helps you avoid imposter syndrome, because we know everyone’s got imposter syndrome at some time. If you really stay true to who you are, really build an authentic brand that’s unique to you in your season of life, you can build a brand that’s going to be something that works great for you.

Jillian: I love that. A lot of what you’re saying overlaps with what I do in my membership program. You’re talking about people in this season of life with toddlers and building a brand and stuff so it applies here, too, but we talk about, what are your non-negotiables? What is something that you cannot and will not live without? What will you not allow your business to compromise? What are your values? What are your goals? What is the impact you want to make through your business? And all of those things enform what we need to say yes to and what we need to say no to. So, I love that you touched on that, specifically. 

This conversation, I feel like, is going to help so many people because there are a lot of us that are in this season of life – we’ve started working from home in one way or another, in different industries even, to be able to be home with our families and home school our kids or just have the ability to pick up our kids from school. And it’s such a valuable thing that we get to do. So, we want to honor that, but we also want to grow really strong businesses alongside of that. I am the believer that this is possible – that it’s possible to do both. And you can do both really, really well – in a way that honors who you are as a person, who you are as a brand, in a business, and also your family. So, thank you for sharing all that you did today and sharing some insight from a branding perspective, too, because I think that that’s also really powerful. Tell everyone where they can find you after this episode is over and how they can get in touch with you.

Alex: Of course! You can find me on Instagram; that’s where I hang out the most. You can find me @SonrisaStudio. It’s spelled S-O-N-R-I-S-A, and that is the word “smile” in Spanish, if you wanted to learn a little bit of the backstory of my business name.

Jillian: Oh, I didn’t know that! I love that!

Alex: Yeah!  So, I’m on Instagram and my website is SonrisaStudio.com and I also have an online shop. It’s TheSonrisaShop.com where you can go and find those digital projects.

Jillian: That’s awesome! Okay, well thank you so much for sharing all of this with us today, and I’m so happy to have you on the podcast, finally. 

What is the biggest thing you want listeners to take away from this conversation?

Jillian: Let’s end with this – what is one thing you want, if everyone listens to this, what is the biggest thing you want them to take away?

Alex: Just to be super intentional with your time because time is your most valuable asset as a business owner. Just be really strategic with how you want to spend it, how you want to spend your days in the business that you’re building, so that it can align with what your definition of success is so you can make sure that you have the time you want. Whether that’s to pick your kid up from school or, for me, I love being able to go on a midafternoon run. So, I want to make sure that I work that time into my schedule so that I can do that because that’s going to make me a better business owner, when I get that time for myself and that time with my daughter. So I just want to say – just be really intentional with your time and build a brand that aligns with that and feels authentic to you.

Jillian: That’s perfect. Thank you so much for sharing that and thanks for being here, Alex. 

Alex: Thank you so much for having me! It was so fun.

Conclusion

Jillian: I tell ya, there is nothing quite like getting to sit in the room with a fellow mom friend and just talk about all the things business and life. I’m so grateful to Alex for coming on the podcast, but also grateful for you because you are here listening. I would love to hear what your big takeaways are from this episode so, find me on Instagram @JillianDolberry and be sure to find Alex, too! Come say hi, and let’s connect!

Alright friends, that’s it for this episode. I’m so grateful you’re here and would love to connect with you. After you subscribe to the show, come hang out with me on Instagram @JillianDolberry. See ya there! 

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