Firebrick Design award-winning Creative Director Pam Howard founded her graphic design firm more than 20 years ago. Here, she shares with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about her entrepreneurial journey.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial or known you wanted to own your own business?
PAM HOWARD: I always have been entrepreneurial. I think it runs in the family. Even with any of my full-time jobs, I always had a side business doing freelance design and illustration.
NAN: When and why did you transition to running your own business full time?
PAM: I had experience working in editorial design at Harford Courant Northeast Magazine, in publishing at Scholastic, in high-end design and web builds at a boutique design firm, and in marketing at a multinational financial company.
So, I had 10 to 15 years of combined experience working in studios, working with outside clients, working in-house— and I was garnering a lot of information along the way. I was honing my design skills and learning how to run a business. At the time, I was packing that information away, not knowing exactly what I’d be doing with it going forward.
In 1998 I had my first child. We were living in New York City then we moved back to Connecticut. When I had my second child, I was freelancing. The freelance work was slowly building up. Eventually, I decided it warranted its own studio and named it Firebrick Design.
I have to admit, I didn’t have a grand plan to become an entrepreneur. I love what I do and I like collaborating with others. If the opportunity arose and my schedule permitted, I would’ve been just as happy going back to an in-house situation.
NAN: How were you building clientele?
PAM: I would work for one client and they would repeatedly have me work on pieces they knew were within my niche and then word of mouth spread. I kept on garnering clients. It worked rather nicely. And the business grew as I had more time to give to it and could do more.
NAN: How did you find your niche?
PAM: If you contact me, generally, you’re already invested in the concept that design is good business. I do brand management for larger companies and brand building for smaller companies and startups. Niche-wise, all of my clients believe that design and how you communicate your brand narrative is important. I take a holistic approach and work with clients on strategy, implementation, and management of a visual language that reflects who they are and what they’re building—basically a clear, concise way to tell their story.
NAN: You’ve been doing this for more than 20 years. What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
PAM: A lot of it is flexibility. After I had my two sons, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to go back doing what I was doing at the level that I had been doing it. Freelance fit into my life at that time so I could do good work with great clients and still be present with my family.
Also, I’m self-sufficient, intrepid, and curious about my clients’ businesses. If I’m involved with your business, I’m an advocate for your business and I’m invested in your success. That part of entrepreneurship has been great for me. I enjoy working on projects from so many different industries, from nonprofits and arts organizations to insurance companies and tech startups. There aren’t too many in-house opportunities where I’d have that level of variety between clients.
I have return clients, some of whom I’ve been working with for more than 10 years. I’m proud of that because it’s a reflection of the relationship I’ve built with them. I trust and value them. And I know they trust and value me. It’s very fulfilling.
I enjoy the innovative side of entrepreneurship too. Working with clients who are up for trying new approaches means I get to do things that are a little different and more playful.
NAN: Any lessons learned or advice for others?
PAM: I talk to kids at high school at times and they’re always worried about doing the right thing and knowing exactly what they’re going to do in life. That amount of planning is excellent, but I also encourage them to be open to new opportunities. I tell them it’s okay to try something and to be really bad at it too. Save your perfectionism for certain areas and let yourself be free to explore.
I tell people starting out to ask a lot of questions and lead with curiosity. It’s the best way to learn. And, in some way, it’s going to widen your world.