Designing Websites and Family Life from the Corner Office

Working from the corner office.

Kailani Sutton is a graphic designer and mother of one who has realized her creative dream by freelancing and working for herself from home. With no daily commute to the city, Kailani and her family have been able to work from wherever they please, which is currently on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. When she isn’t designing for Copperhead Creative, she spends her days playing with her toddler, exploring the many beaches in town and catching up on old movies.

Q: How did you get started becoming a freelance graphic designer?

The beginning of my story, stated at the end of another one — I got fired! It ended up being the first step that set me on this path to where I am today.

My first career was in project management in advertising, however I realized I was drawn to the more creative side of the business so I went back to school to be a graphic designer. I got a job at a small start up working in email marketing. After a few months there the company started going in a different direction and I was being pulled back into project management. I talked to the boss about the change in direction and it was either work on the project management side or leave — so that was it for me!

I landed a freelance gig after that with Holt Renfrew and that’s when I realized that I could do this full time instead. I had so much more flexibility, I could work from home and work my own hours. I took some time off to go travelling after that and when I came back I started looking for a “real” job again. I kept getting referred more and more freelance work from family and old colleagues and I realized this was my full time job!

Fast forward a few years later and my husband and I are expecting a baby. He was currently working long hours downtown commuting and since I was self employed I wasn’t going to be able to take a maternity leave*. We decided to join forces and form Copperhead Creative with myself managing the graphic design side of things and my husband handling website development.

Q: What has been the most difficult?

The unpredictability of work can be hard, especially when you first start out. I didn’t always budget enough time for projects and that would mean I would sometimes end up under charging. Some days I would have nothing to do and I would feel like a failure. And then other days I have too much work to do. It takes a while to iron that out. It’s been five years now and I know things will keep coming down the pipeline, there are always peaks and valleys of work as a freelancer.

Q: How do you structure your day?

Since my husband and I are both at home freelancing we split the day into shifts. In the morning I spend time with my daughter so he can work, then after lunch during her nap we switch. I put on my bluetooth headphones and I power through work for about four hours straight. The headphones are great because we are currently in a one bedroom apartment and this makes me feel like I have my own office. We always aim to have dinner together as a family and then take the evenings off, only working occasional evenings as needed. Client meetings are scheduled around nap time right now if possible, or one of us takes our daughter out for a walk if needed. I also try not to send emails outside of business hours, however I am usually a fast responder, likely due to my project management background!

Nothing like a mid week hike when you are your own boss.

Q: What has surprised you the most about running your own business?

I never thought about how I can work anywhere. Recently I needed to be in Ontario for a month for a family matter and I was able to do that and manage work at the same time.

It continually surprises me that I have taken this side gig and made it into full time work. I still get giddy when I tell people I am a graphic designer and I work from home, it’s the best! I can’t believe people pay me to do something that I love to do!

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting out on your own?

Not having a maternity leave* was really challenging. I was working three weeks after I gave birth to my daughter. I could barely stand, but at least I could sit in my recliner and type and still breastfeed my daughter.

A few times people have not paid me for my work. The first time was when I has just started out and I didn’t really know what I was doing yet. I probably should not have managed it the way I did. The second time I was more established, but the client was flaky. I learned that I had to start charging 50% upfront to make sure I didn’t start working on a project for a business that couldn’t or wouldn’t pay me later. It was a good learning experience though and it taught me how to manage how I bill. It also taught me to trust my gut — if something seems off it probably is. Now I do a “gut check” and if it doesn’t feel right I don’t work with them.

Q: Where do most of your clients come from?

Word of mouth is still my strongest lead generator from friends, to past clients and colleagues. It strangely feels like I am are working for this one large community.

Q: What’s the best part about running your own business?

I feel so lucky that my husband and I each to get be at home with our daughter and split the parenting duties 50/50. It means we don’t have to miss any of the little moments. The other day, my husband comes to grab me because the two of them are having a little tea party! She is “pouring” tea from her set and they are all set up with her stuffed animals. Moments like that have made this journey worth it. We also get to have breakfast, lunch and dinner together everyday as a family.

More control over your schedule means more family time at the park.

Q: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out?

You’re going to make mistakes because you are teaching yourself to run a business. Don’t get frustrated and upset when you fall on your face. You might get fired, you might not get paid, but don’t take it personally, try to learn from it.

If you love what you do, fight to do that. I don’t feel like I “work” anymore, I feel like I am living my dream. All the stress that comes with running your own business and being responsible for all the decisions is totally worth it to be at home and be with my family all day and do what I love.

I get to prioritize what’s important to me each day. Some days work is the priority and some days it’s not — but I get to make that decision. No one else is telling me what to do. I don’t think I could go back to work for someone else.

Call to Action!

This is the part of a series of everyday mom inspired stories who quit their desk jobs to work on their passion, all with kids in tow. If you enjoyed reading it, please leave a comment or a clap!

Are you a mom with an inspiring story to share? Send me an email to connect:

*In Canada if you work for any employer you are entitled to up to 18 months off with pay (assuming you have paid into unemployment insurance during this time). Your rate of pay is a percentage of your salary (capped) for the duration of your maternity leave.