"If you want something done right, do it yourself."
Toni Patterson is a Brand Strategist & Designer and the Owner of Skye Media Group. Before pursuing a career as a Creative, Toni studied Business Administration and started a career in the legal field. After getting her creative feet wet with Web Design, Toni delved head first into what made her happiest. Skye Media Group specializes in Brand Strategy, Web Design, & Brand Design. Toni's latest business addition to her growing brand is Skye Soiree Brand Experiences, which conceptualizes and executes business events that reinforce your brand, grow your market, and spread your message.
Transitioning to a New Career & Entrepreneurship
What was your career before entering the Design field & entreprenuership?
When I started college I wanted to be an interior designer and publicist. At the time, those occupations weren’t as popular as they were now. I struggled to understand how I’d make a living as either of those. I pursued a more traditional course as a Business Administration major and focused on English and Writing.
By the time I graduated, I was working in the legal department at a mutual fund company and decided to get my Paralegal certification. I decided not to pursue a paralegal course because spending hours in the law library researching cases was not my idea of fun. I decided to stick with the legal, administrative, and office management track.
What sparked your interest in changing your career?
I always had an interest in technology and was a creative at heart. When social media communities like Friendster, Blackplanet, and MySpace became popular, I was excited to customize my profile with different colors, photos, music, and font. I felt a sense of control and instant gratification from adding HTML to a section and then seeing it change immediately on my profile.
I hesitated to change my career or even pursue web design because I had no training! I only had the desire and passion to learn, but still needed that push, so after getting encouragement from my support system, I started learning how to design websites.
What tools or resources did you use to navigate your career change and learn more about your desired field?
Photoshop was my friend! I would find different Photoshop tutorials and try to recreate the design. Mine would never turn out the same and it helped me appreciate that even though people are given the same tools, their interpretation and manipulation of those tools can create different designs. This is beautiful. When I started getting my first few clients, I designed their websites in WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) design platforms, so it was a lot of designing in Photoshop and drop and dragging layouts. I didn’t like that I had to design within the confines of those platforms where the code was proprietary. It meant that I truly wasn’t developing sites. I wanted to make websites from scratch and manipulate the code.
I would post questions in different code groups to get assistance with various issues. There was a web developer who started helping me to understand WordPress (I had transitioned from WYSIWYG editors), CSS, HTML, syntax, and other coding languages. He became a virtual mentor to me. I never met him or spoke to him beyond getting training, yet he assisted me for a year. I’m very grateful of the time and chance he took on me. It helped me to see a true definition of mentorship.
Did you find that skills from your prior career were and have been transferable? How did they help you in your new career field?
Being in the legal field helped me to put everything in writing and to account for what I do. It also helped me to work with different personalities and be confident about my work product. I’ve also learned to confirm, double-check, and remind. Communication and follow-up is key in this industry. It’s the true mark of excellent client service.
Becoming an entrepreneur can be daunting and you decided to not only switch careers but to become an entrepreneur in that field. What was that transition like?
I started my business while I was working full-time. Even though I was tired and frustrated from learning new things, I was energized and thrilled to be putting in effort to do something I love. The transition was gradual, but tough. There’s so much to learn with web and graphic design, but it’s more than designing. I had to learn how to run a business. Working in Corporate America helped me to see that I had to stay on top of my job. This was the path I choose and I wasn’t going to quit or do anything mediocre.
When I moved to a new city, I found myself in a new job that I didn’t like. Although I worked it, I wasn’t happy and was getting depressed with the situation. Then, a few months later they called me in and fired me. I didn’t flinch, but immediately thought “this is the out I’ve been praying for” so instead of crying, I began working on my business with a new focus and energy.
What are three tips you would give to those looking to change careers?
- Before you make a career change into entrepreneurship, study your craft and industry.
- Develop your strategy, unique sales advantages, marketing plan, target market analysis, communications strategy, and solutions.
- Save money. Pay yourself first from your paycheck and put it towards growing or starting your business. Learn how to live without for a little bit and make investments towards your dreams.