Amy Braswell is a business consultant, copywriter, business owner, and speaker. She is the owner of PaperFinch Design, a company the creates inspirational and geographic art and gift products. Braswell is skilled in copywriting, customer service, advertising, sales, and strategic planning.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta – before Atlanta expanded so much. So it definitely wasn’t a “city experience” growing up – very suburban. But I am an only child and there weren’t a ton of other kids on my street, so it was a bit more solitary than most, I guess. I had friends and would love having them come over and play, but then I would need some alone time to recharge after they were gone – something that I still need today. Even though I’m an extrovert, I have some introvert tendencies for sure!
I read a ton as a child (and teenager, and adult…) and I was always involved in theater and chorus. So I’ve always been into the creative arts, which my parents thankfully supported. I also watched my mom leave her “safe” job of customer service and go into real estate. And I watched my dad leave his accounting firm and start his own – from our dining room. So I think I got a taste of working for myself early on – I never doubted that it was possible. I got my first job at 15 and have been working ever since. I started working in a gift shop on top of Stone Mountain and since then I’ve been a waitress, receptionist, office manager, bartender, animal trainer, and finally – an artist.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That I don’t have to do it ALL by myself. I started out in graphic design really beating myself up because I’m not the best illustrator. Like, at all. And let’s not even get into the financial side of the business – profit margins and ROI and all that stuff! (I definitely had to learn all of that as I went). But I had this idea in my head that I had to everything – and do it perfectly.
Even in school – I was an overachiever, straight-A student. When I got a C in college Astronomy, I was devastated.
I’ve realized over the years that it’s okay to ask for help. And that it’s okay to use creative assets like illustrations and stock photography. And it’s okay to fail once in a while. In fact, if you don’t fail…you’re not doing it right. Cause that means you’re not taking chances and truly exploring yourself and what you’re capable of.
And when you find something that you’re NOT capable of…. it’s okay to hire someone else to do it.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I think that, in the small business world, there’s this feeling that you have to either be working on something as a side hobby….or you have to immediately grow to 6 figures. There’s a whole lot of in-between that people don’t talk about – and that creates this feeling of failure amongst everyone caught in that middle area.
So I think that all of this “hustle, hustle, hustle” mindset – and the implication that you haven’t truly succeeded until you’re at 6 figures and 10,000 Instagram followers – it’s harmful. And I think it sets totally unrealistic expectations. If those are your goals, great – go get them! But everyone has a different story and a different set of dreams. So I think you’ve “made it” when you’re proud of what you’re doing and when you’ve reached the level of success (and the busyness that goes with it) you’re happy and comfortable with.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
This one’s easy. I had a 3-4 year period that was just rough on all fronts. My dad battled cancer (twice) and, unfortunately, lost that battle. My mom battled cancer and won. And my husband and I went through years and years of unsuccessful infertility attempts. It was just hit after hit of disappointment and grief. And all while trying to build my business.
First and foremost, I learned that I’m strong. That’s something II probably wouldn’t have said about myself previously. I was always the friend who needed someone to come comfort her when she was falling apart (slight exaggeration…but not much). But going through all of that Life Stuff, I had to be the strong one. Especially for my newly-widowed mom who was dealing with her own cancer.
So I kind of learned my own way of dealing with stuff – which is to allow myself to wallow for one day. Like, chocolate cake and wine for dinner level wallowing. And then get moving again. I realized that’s what worked for me – I got to deal, to have a mini pity party, and then get it all out and keep putting one step in front of the other.
I also learned that I needed to implement some steps in my business for when Life Stuff happens again – I needed to Weatherproof my Business and protect it from when life’s storms suddenly pop up. So that actually led me down a coaching/consulting path on helping other small business owners do the same!
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
It sounds so trite, but customer service. I just treat my customers how I’d want to be treated. I literally smile when I’m typing emails, just because I feel like it somehow affects the wording I use (and the emojis, let’s be honest), and the customers can feel it. I’m also very transparent in my business – when I screw up, I admit to it. I’m transparent about what I personally create…and what I outsource. And I truly try to engage with people – if someone mentioned that the print they’re purchasing is a birthday gift, I try to write things like “I hope she loves it!” or “you’re a great friend!” on their packing slip – so they know I”m listening.
And I get a lot of returning customers – so I think it’s working 🙂
What is your morning routine?
Well, I am most definitely NOT a morning person. My mom claims I’ve been that way since birth. So my morning totally depends on if it’s my turn to get my 5-year old ready for school…or not. I’m either getting up at 6:30 am…or around 8:30 am. Either way – I head straight to the coffee maker 🙂
I’ve been training myself to make my bed every morning for a few months now – and that really does help my daily motivation and starts me out on a productive note for the day. I do any necessary prep-type stuff the night before – making my son’s lunch, gathering up anything he’ll need for the day, setting things by the front door that I might need. Anything to help my groggy-headed morning brain.
I’ve learned that my main creative bursts come later in the afternoon, so my mornings at work are typically spent making my to-do lists, responding to emails, and doing all of the administrative tasks that come with running a business. I try to “eat the frog”, as Mark Twain says – and choose the least desirable task…and then get that out of the way first. And then I can reward myself with design time later in the day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Probably exercise. I definitely did not grow up athletic or regular exercising… but once I realized I love tennis and don’t hate running, I felt better in so many ways. It turns out my dad was right – exercise helps your body and your mind. Why are dads almost always right??
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I am a big fan of writing things down. As much as I love online tools like Trello (huge fan here), I still write down my to-do list every day. And then I can prioritize each day from there. I have a tendency to get distracted easily, (squirrel!) so written lists help keep me on track.
I’m also a fan of setting timers and only focusing on ONE thing during that time – usually about 20-30 minutes. You lose so much time by trying to multitask too much. Your brain loses focus when it tries to switch from one task to another too quickly.
Also, I’ve paid attention to the cyclical nature of my creativity. When I’m not feeling super creative, I knock out the tasks that I’ve kind of built up over time – like scheduling social, organizing files, etc. And then, when I’m bursting with creativity, I just let myself create – without the guilt that I should be doing MORE. That one took a while to come to terms with. But it ends up keeping me more productive in the long run.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I’m primarily a fiction reader, so the book I always, always recommend is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It’s funny, seems light-hearted – and then packs a wallop at the very end. But I love it for the message that there’s a plan for everyone and that everything happens for a reason – something that I truly do believe in. Plus, John Irving is a bit quirky, which I love..and which I am as well. And something that I try to incorporate into my brand a bit.
So I guess that it did still influence my business despite it being a fiction novel, just by making me feel confident in just being myself, quirks and all. And I think, to be a successful small business owner (especially one in a creative field) requires that confidence in yourself and your unique talents + gifts.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
My absolute favorite is by Helen Keller: “Life is a Daring Adventure or Nothing At All.” In fact, I love it so much that it’s my brand motto! Paperfinch celebrates everyone’s unique daring adventure – whether it’s across the globe or in your own backyard. Adventure is everywhere.
On a related note, I also love this one: “Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” As a creative, I get to explore, dream, and discover for a living, but I try to encourage it in everybody. Even if it’s exploring a new restaurant or discovering a bird’s nest in a tree down the street – new experiences and details make life so much richer.