Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?
My name is Courtlyn Jones and I am the CEO and the founder of The Design Database, an online platform, and community designed to be a support system for Creatives (designers, artists, writers, photographers, architects, etc.) by connecting them with clients who are looking to hire now.
My platform also connects Creatives with other Creatives through the community forum, allowing for partnerships and collaborations, inspiration, making new friends, and gaining mentorship and support from one another. We also allow Creatives to host and sell their work on our platform, directly from their accounts.
What’s special about The Design Database is that it is not designed to be a recruiting agency or typical freelance platform. Our biggest difference is that we do NOT take any commission from our Creatives. All of their hard-earned revenue is 100% theirs to keep. It is designed specifically to help artists and designers build the career of their dreams by allowing Creatives to pick and choose their clients and the projects they choose to work on and providing them with the tools and resources to do so successfully.
We are not only a community of Creatives, but we are also a community of companies that share the same mission and have partnered up to give Creatives guidance through podcasts, videos, courses, project management tools, invoices and contracts, on-demand video-calling for advice, and access to a drop-shipping service to print, sell, and ship their work or products to customers.
Our platform is especially useful for new freelancers who are just starting, recent graduates from art universities, and anyone in the creative industry who needs to feel supported. Creatives' jobs have always been deemed as “less important” than other jobs and my mission is to shine a light on just how important Creatives are to this world and this economy.
Since launching in late July, over 200 Creatives and 25 companies have created accounts on our platform, we have received grant funding from the HerRise Pitch Competition by HerSuiteSpot, and we’ve raised over $10,000 crowdfunding on Kickstarter. We are off to a very exciting start!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I am a graphic designer and visual artist. I have mostly worked incorporate, but have moonlighted as a freelancer for over 10 years. I started out working in Production for many years, waiting for my chance to be a designer at the company that I have worked at for 9 years. I graduated with my degree in Graphic Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.
I always believed that I was meant to be an artist or designer and that was always my goal. I've been creating art since I was a child. But after getting a job at my "dream company," and abruptly quitting after only 5 months, I realized that I'm meant to do way more. After leaving that role, I realized that I just couldn't work under anyone anymore. I'm meant to be a leader, so it became very hard to continue working under someone else who was stifling my creativity.
So, I decided to continue as a freelance designer because I always love how much freedom and happiness that gives me. That plan quickly changed when I realized I just wanted to design for myself and help others instead. I decided I would start my own company and help OTHER freelance Creatives find work and succeed in the creative industry. I want to give others the support I never had and have always wanted.
Everything happened very quickly. I threw out the idea for The Design Database onto a message board on Linkedin a few days after quitting my job, just to get some "feelers" out there and start a conversation about starting a community for Creatives. Within 30 minutes of that post, my inbox was FLOODED. Most of my first subscribers came from Linkedin, so I've continued to promote on there as part of my marketing strategy.
Then of course I moved over to Instagram and Facebook. I was able to get my first 100 subscribers in less than a week, and less than 60 days later, I am now at 800. Creatives understand the struggles of not feeling supported, so when they hear that someone, especially a fellow Creative, is creating something to help resolve these issues, the word was able to spread around pretty easily. So I've been blessed.
What’s very important for me and my team is that everyone who is using the platform feels that they have a voice because I am building this for all of us.
I know now that I am meant to help others and bring people together. Someone once told me I have a gift of bringing people together, so I decided to make that into my company. When Creatives come together, that's when true magic happens! When I was just starting in the creative industry, it was one of the hardest times of my life because I felt scared and lost. With The Design Database, I want to encourage people to help and support one another.
New freelancers who are just starting can connect with more experienced Creatives for portfolio reviews and advice on how to price your work properly or which pieces are their strongest to showcase. On the other side, more experienced Creatives who have been in the industry for quite some time may require assistance from the younger Creatives in learning new software or other digital skills. These connections are very valuable and allow for Creatives to become more successful.
Take us through the process of designing your initial product
At the very beginning of building The Design Database, it was only me designing everything on my own. All of the social media content, advertisements, and front-end pages of the website. Then, I hired my web developer to design the back-end, where the job portal is and he helped the platform come to life. He later expanded his team and added 3 or 4 other members to assist him. The beta website took us approximately 2 months to build and launch.
Through beta-testing, we were able to get 80 Creatives and 10 clients signed on to the platform in the first month and we’ve sent out emails asking for their feedback and patience. We received a lot of great suggestions from people, which has been extremely helpful. Of course, we’ve had some bugs and other technical issues. What’s very important for me and my team is that everyone who is using the platform feels that they have a voice because I am building this for all of us.
The Design Database is a community, not an agency. I want everyone to help me give them what they need. That’s why I have the community forum on the platform to help us stay connected. We checked in a lot to ask what is working and what is not working and we were able to improve the biggest issues very quickly.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After I quit my job, with no plan B, I immediately knew I had to figure out my next move quickly. I came across an online ad about a business workshop for the “Rich Dad Email Startup Incubator,” taught by a very successful entrepreneur, Anik Singal, CEO of LURN. Anik teaches a very extensive course about how to start your career as an entrepreneur and the value of email marketing. I was so inspired and it clicked in my head that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I had the idea to create my design agency one day, but I had this in my 5-10 year plan. The Universe had other plans and Anik’s course was the push that I needed to make it happen now.
My first step in creating The Design Database was first putting the idea onto online forums (Reddit, Quora, etc) built for Creatives. I wanted to see if this was something that would appeal to the creative community. After receiving so much excitement over it, I immediately started working to build it.
I think that showing off my personality lets people know that I am not a corporate person in a suit trying to make money, but instead I’m a graphic designer trying to create positive change in the creative industry.
I hired my first web developer about a week in, and I spent the majority of my time building up the community by marketing on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin). I wanted to build up my email list so that I would have a strong foundation and community. In Anik’s course, he mentions that finding your first 100 subscribers is the hardest part. I was blessed to reach 100 subscribers in only 4 days, and that encouraged me to keep going.
I financed the entire beta website on my own, using my savings. I spent money on more business courses about social media marketing and guest posting because I had to be strategic about finding my audience and brand awareness. I’ve also spent money on countless Instagram ads, which brought in the most traffic, and I was able to reach 800 subscribers in less than 45 days.
Attracting Creatives is the easy part, but the biggest challenge comes with convincing clients and companies to post. In the beginning, clients were messaging me on Linkedin, asking about my platform, and were sending me job listings to send out to my email list before The Design Database was even launched. Unfortunately, after the platform launched, we started receiving fewer job listings, so we decided to launch our Kickstarter campaign to raise funding to increase our marketing.
Unlike GoFundMe, crowdfunding on Kickstarter is a big risk because it’s an “all or nothing” system and only about 38% of campaigns are successful. I chose Kickstarter because it is designed for creative projects, whereas GoFundMe is designed for disaster relief and other causes. Our Kickstarter campaign was successful and we ended up exceeding our goal of $10,000. That is a very big win, but also one of the most stressful parts of my journey thus far. What made it possible was having the support of my friends, family, and former colleagues. I did not have an informational video to promote to the masses like most Kickstarter campaigns, so I had to be proactive and creative.
Before I launched my campaign, I made a list of everyone that I know that would possibly be interested in my business, and would send out personal emails to each one to explain my mission, goals, and vision. I also advertised on my social media and in networking groups. I believe in The Design Database so much and I am willing to take these big risks because that’s what we all have to do to be successful.
I am truly blessed to have the support system that I have. The funding raised from this Kickstarter campaign will go towards elevating our marketing to reach more clients and companies globally, expanding our platform and building our mobile app, and growing our team.
Fortunately for me, I am a graphic designer so I have been able to design all of the marketing collateral and front-end pages of the website, while my web developer designs the back-end. We’re doing great so far with what we have, but I’m very excited to have more funding and will be applying for more grants.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Marketing on Instagram and Linkedin has been the most effective in attracting my audience. I’ve learned that sending individual messages to people on Linkedin or connecting through comments on posts or in group discussions makes a difference.
People respond to my voice. I have a strong message that resonates with others and they can feel my passion and determination through my words, which is such a powerful blessing. On Linkedin alone, I have gone from 500+ connections and followers to 1300+ in two months, just from speaking up about the struggles in the creative industry and my plans to help resolve them.
On Instagram, I have received the most attraction through ads and organic conversations. There are so many artists and designers who use their Instagram accounts as their portfolios these days, so there is a huge pool thereof untapped talent.
Most recruiters and hiring managers are looking to hire talent from Linkedin, Indeed, or Monster. That never makes sense to me because, yes there are Creatives on these platforms, but the hiring managers see the resumes and bios before looking at the artist’s work. That drives me crazy because we should all know by now that someone can have natural artistic talent but spent the last 4 years in business school, studying finance. The work should always speak for itself. If Creatives have the talent and the portfolio to prove it, who cares where they got the experience from? Using my voice with messages like these has been a huge plus for me in attracting my audience.
I’ve also worked with a few PR agencies to help expand my reach and I have been featured in a few blogs and podcasts. Because I know my target audience so well since I am my target audience, it makes it easy for me to network within my community. I was featured on a podcast by Lodesigns Studio called “The Struggles of a Graphic Designer,” hosted by Lauren Ortega. Lauren’s audience is my perfect demographic because it ranges from Gen-Z to Millennials. On her show, I was able to talk about my journey, but also hear about struggles she has faced in the creative community and that helps me learn how to improve my platform to resolve these issues. Being able to introduce my platform on her podcast helped me to expand my audience.
I think that showing off my personality lets people know that I am not a corporate person in a suit trying to make money, but instead I’m a graphic designer trying to create positive change in the creative industry. Your audience has to be able to trust you and trust in what they are investing their money into, so I try to connect with my audience by posting funny posts on my Instagram stories, reposting artist’s work on my page, and highlighting their talent, and regularly checking in through email marketing to make sure my community knows that they have a voice and their opinions and feedback matter to us.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, our platform is membership-based with paid packages, which is one of the biggest differences between us and our competitors, who are commission-based. On our platform, Creatives only pay the membership fee for the package they select and there is a 0% commission fee for their job earnings.
Clients who are hiring Creatives pay an affordable and competitive fee of 3.5% and can post unlimited job postings. Once we get the right amount of funding, we will be expanding our team and redesigning the entire platform. It will still have the same brand colors, logo, and aesthetic, but we are adding in so many new features.
We will be including integrations with our partners, like the drop-shipping company for Creatives to print, sell, and ship their work to customers, and also the video-calling feature for on-demand design advice. There are so many great things to come!
We are still in the early stages, but I have big plans for The Design Database. I plan to continue growing our partnerships, expanding our platform significantly, adding more resources, hosting live events in-person and virtual, creating merchandise, and marketing to more countries.
Currently, we have four partnerships that we are developing now and we are so excited to have this incredible community that is going to revolutionize the creative industry. We will also be expanding our marketing to art universities because The Design Database is the perfect platform for college students to start looking into for their career start.
This is a very competitive industry and it’s easy to feel so lost and confused when you are just leaving school and starting. Our mission is to make the transition from a recent graduate to a full-time worker much smoother.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think the biggest mistake would be thinking that I could do it on my own. That was stupid and completely impossible. I applaud myself for trying as long as I did though! But, absolutely not. The Design Database is an online GLOBAL platform and it's essentially a marketplace. I don't know-how in the world I thought I was going to be able to build that myself and still do ALL of the marketing, design, and everything else. I am extremely grateful to have found my team.
We are always our own biggest obstacle. We stop ourselves from doing what we want to be doing because it’s scary or it’s “too hard.”
I have also learned that you should be very careful where you spend your money on advertising. As mentioned earlier, Instagram has been the most successful, whereas Facebook and Twitter haven’t been bringing in much traffic at all. You have to monitor your ads carefully or else you’ll be running an ad for weeks, wasting so much money on an ad that’s not working. I have learned that the hard way. I usually test an ad out for 2 days and see how it’s performing. If it’s not generating many clicks at all, I’ll pull it and either adjust it or create a new ad altogether.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For project management, I like to use HoneyBook. They are one of the companies we help promote on our website. With our link, we can offer a 50% discount here. This is a great all-in-one platform that helps small businesses and independent workers keep their business super organized and they provide so many great resources like webinars/videos, invoices, contracts, and more.
For email marketing, we use Flodesk because they are 100% customizable which allows us to keep our branding consistent. We also love that we can have up to 20,000 subscribers without having to upgrade to a new package. Other email marketing tools that we have used in the past always charge us for additional subscribers and it can get expensive fast. With our link, we can offer a 50% discount here.
You can learn more about these two tools on our website here:
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Both of these books are what made me realize that being an entrepreneur was what I was meant to be doing. I never even considered it or thought about it once in my life. I just knew that I was meant to help people and both of these books pushed me to realize my true potential. In Secrets of a Millionaire Mind, there are exercises and affirmations that I enjoyed using in my daily practice. When I used them, it changed my mindset. We are always our own biggest obstacle. We stop ourselves from doing what we want to be doing because it’s scary or it’s “too hard.”
Both of these books helped me to reframe my negative thoughts and limiting beliefs, and once I did that, my entire life changed. Everything that I have been doing up until now was preparing me for this moment.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t let anyone who has never walked the path that you’re about to walk on influence you or deter you from trying. My biggest advice is to grow in silence. If you have a great idea and you want to pursue it, don’t tell the world until it’s ready to be launched. I know it can be super exciting and you want to tell your friends and your family, but be very careful with whom you share your information. You can’t always trust everyone around you. I don’t mean that to scare anyone. I’ve just learned this the hard way. Not everyone has the drive or mindset to be an entrepreneur.
In the book Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki talks about the difference in the way millionaires think vs. the way lower or middle-class people think. If you tell your ideas to someone who may have a more negative way of thinking, they will try to bring you down (not intentionally) with their own limiting beliefs. They’ll tell you something like “That’s not going to work,” or “You can’t make money like that.” Because they’re close to you, you want to listen because you feel they have your best interest at heart. In reality, they have never done it before. They are probably still working at a job that they hate because they think that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing. That’s why I say grow in silence.
Trust your intuition, follow your dream, and make it happen.
Another piece of advice is to focus on your why and don’t give up. It’s not easy at all. People will be rooting for you to fail. You’ll lose a lot of your friends and you’ll have to make sacrifices. It gets to be very lonely while you’re trying to grow, but that’s only because you’re entering a new chapter in your life. The people who are meant to be in your life will meet you on the other side. What helps me get through the hardest parts is focusing on why I’m doing it. I’m doing it so that I can give myself a better future, help support my family, and give back to my community.
My dad passed away when I was very young so my mom is a single mother of four daughters. I’m the youngest. I am grateful for all of my blessings and I loved my childhood, but I am doing this to give back to my mother who has worked extremely hard for years now to get all of us through. I am also doing this for my father to thank him for all of his hard work, and I want him to be so proud of me knowing that I am breaking generational curses and we’re all going to be okay. Lastly, I am doing this for my sisters because I want to inspire them and show them that they can have big dreams and nothing is impossible.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking to hire more Marketing and Graphic Design interns soon.
For the interns, I will be looking for 1-2 hires to assist me with social media marketing (designing/creating content across all platforms, scheduling posts, researching trends, building up our online presence on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.) My ideal candidate is comfortable creating Instagram Reels and engaging content for TikTok.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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