Smile Politely

An interview with local creative pro Gretchen Wieshuber

For a person who likes independence, variety, and challenges, the life of a freelancer can be sweet.

Of course, freelancing also has its downsides. Fortunately, Gretchen Wieshuber is willing to serve up some of her ups and downs, with a side of dos and don’ts, to guide others through the process.

Wieshuber started her company, Studio 2D, with a business loan in 1989. Her goal was to assist smaller businesses and organizations that wanted professional design services but couldn’t afford a full-size agency.

She has shared her graphic design knowledge and expertise with Parkland students for several years. Her start-up experience — writing a business plan, developing a budget, figuring out a marketing strategy — has led her to her current role counseling aspiring entrepreneurs as a SCORE volunteer.

According to Wieshuber, whether you work for yourself or a large company, thinking like a freelancer can help. Competition, new technology, and changes in market demand will affect all businesses.

The forces of change seem to be speeding up, requiring continuous reinvention. As a student at the University of Illinois, Wieshuber learned to cut and paste. In 1986, she advanced to electronic page design and layout on her first Mac. Then, in 1999, she adapted her design skills to web design. Today she is designing user interfaces for the mobile web.

After spending much of her time the past several years instructing others on starting and running a small business, Gretchen decided to consolidate the details in a concise how-to manual: Graphic Design Home Office. It’s available for purchase here, and you can find it on Amazon.

Gretchen will also have copies of the book at her upcoming Meet the Pros presentation at Parkland College on Wednesday, March 12th, from 12-1 p.m. To set the stage for Wednesday’s gathering, Gretchen answered a few questions about her background, her business experience, and the many ways she chooses to defy death as a hobby.

Smile Politely: What is going to be the main focus of your upcoming Meet the Pros presentation?

Gretchen Wieshuber: I’m going to talk about the business aspect of design. A designer has to be profitable in order be able to keep designing.

SP: You’ve managed to start a small business, build it, and maintain it through some challenging economic times. What do you see as the key to your success, and what do you recommend to others starting a business in this current climate?

Wieshuber: My key to success is value. If I can deliver a little extra to my clients — make sure they are happy and have a good experience — they keep coming back. And they recommend me to their colleagues.

SP: You began your career designing books. How is the book design process similar to, and different from, your other graphic design projects?

Wieshuber: Book design was great foundation. A book has many parts that have to be different, yet all work together as a unified whole.

SP: You’re an author to boot. How did your own book project come about?

Wieshuber: Ever since I started teaching at Parkland, I would talk to my students about freelancing and welcome their questions. That is something I can offer them in addition to the course material. I decided to record the important points in a blog for reference. When I thought I had covered everything that a freelancer needs to know to get started, it seemed the next step was to publish a book.

SP: Any other book projects in the works?

Wieshuber: I also have a blog on creativity that I plan to some day publish as a book.

SP: Graphic design is a fairly sedentary job. Your hobbies on the other hand (hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, and tango-ing) are decidedly not. What has been your most adventurous experience?

Wieshuber: The most terrifying thing I ever did was skydive. The most exhilarating was rafting the Upper Gauley in flood conditions. My “peak” experience was summiting Mt. Shavano and Mt. Tabaguache, both over 14,000 ft., in one day. Not bad for a nerd!

Meet the Pros Presentation, Wednesday, March 12

You can hear more of what Gretchen has to say about small business ownership as well as gain some practical graphic design knowledge at Parkland College on Wednesday, March 12 at 12 p.m. Gretchen’s presentation is the fifth event of the 2013-14 Meet the Pros creative-focused lecture series presented by Fine and Applied Arts at Parkland College and sponsored by CUDO and 40 North 88 West. This free lecture series is open to the public and features designers, photographers, illustrators, and other commercial artists in our local creative community.

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