Interview with Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia: Part 2

You might remember our interview from last month with monthly contributor, Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia, here is the second part to our interview, filled with some of her favorite handmade finds and an insight into the life of a busy (and brilliant) designer.I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed this look into Aeolidia behind the scenes. Also a big congratulations to Arianne on her new baby boy who is a month old today!

1. You have a degree in marine biology- how did you wind up running a successful design company?

I figured that having a college degree was important, but what the degree was in was not so much, so I decided to do something that would be fun for me. I learned about molluscs and helped tag and weigh elephant seals, and would come home at night and make websites. It turned out one was more lucrative (and relaxing) than the other!

2. Aeolidia is busy! How do you manage to balance work, parenting and time for yourself, especially with a new baby on the way?

Well, I have a plan for this, but haven’t been able to put it into practice yet. I’m hoping I can start fresh after my maternity break and be more strict with myself about work hours and how many projects we take on.

At the moment, I play with my two year old in the mornings (and recently he’s started playing independently, just wanting me in the room for company and discussion, so I can answer a bit of email). Then, his grandpa picks him up in the afternoon, and I work like crazy until dinnertime. Ideally, I would be done with my work day at this point, but we’ve been so busy all year that most nights I work after Calvin goes to bed at night as well. And sometimes on the weekend. My goal is to cut this extra work out!

aeolidia interview, happy owl glass, scrabble tile pendant
fused glass pendant from happy owl glassworks

3. How do you take maternity leave from running your own business, or will you? Have you spent a lot of time planning your leave?

This is the great thing about working for yourself! Getting to decide when and how much to work. A couple of months ago, I stopped taking on new projects for myself, instead scheduling projects that Shoshanna, Lauren, and Chris will work on. In that time, I’ve been getting all my existing projects finished up.

My plan is to take 2-3 months off, depending on how everything goes and how I feel. Last time, my brain was scrambled for the first few weeks of sleep deprivation. However, after a while, my brain started to feel flabby, and I wanted to get back to solving some coding problems. So, I can always help out with Chris’ projects if I need some mental stimulation, but I don’t want to get myself set up so I have to work on something when I’m not ready.

I do most of our project management, and sort out all of our potential and new clients, so I won’t be taking a complete break. But I hope to just have some email to answer each day, rather than actual project work. I will be turning a lot of new project requests down, but still want to hear from people so we can fit things in as we have time and of course work on logos and illustration with our team of artists.

We will also rely on auto-responses (to let people know we got their email and will get back to them as soon as we can) and form letters during this time. Chris will be able to answer some of my email, as he won’t have to come up with a brand new response, but will be able to send out my standard replies and info.

This way, we’ll be able to stay up and running, and everyone but me will have plenty of work. I would hate to leave existing clients in the lurch, so I’m incredibly glad to be working with trustworthy folks who can help with emergencies, updates, and upgrades, as well as new projects while I get our new little one accustomed to life on the outside!

aeolidia interview, ceramic bowls from gleena, modern handmade design
organic bowl with flower from gleena

4. Aeolidia designs are beautiful, distinctive and exactly what the handmade market is looking for, how do you stay so on top of current design trends and styles?

Well, I’m glad to hear you say that, because I don’t feel like I spend much time researching what’s popular. I do have my Google Reader packed with design blogs and handmade blogs, so I do see what’s out there. I think a big part of it may be that we ask clients for their inspirational websites, so we can get an idea of what they like. I’ve had clients point me to some beautiful sites I’ve never seen before that way. We never copy, but we try to capture the feel that the client likes.

5. Do you have any suggestions or advice for other designers thinking about putting their entrepreneurial skills to the test by starting their own company?

Customer service! This applies to any type of service business, whether you design websites, personalize stationery, or create custom products for clients. Design skills are great, but clients are very nervous to part with their money up front in the hopes that you’ll be able to make them what they want.

I think what makes Aeolidia successful is that we are all committed to getting things just as our client wants them. Even at our busiest times, we try to get back to all emails quickly, answer questions, and make adjustments. We never stick you with the first design we come up with, and when we can’t make a technical change for whatever reason, we try to come up with possible alternative solutions or hire outside help.

I spend a lot of time helping clients sort out what will work best for their business and customers, rather than just slapping together something that would work for anyone, and leaving them to it.

So I would say if you want to have longevity, and have all of your clients telling their friends to work with you, make sure that your most important job is to listen to what they want, and do your best to come up with tailored solutions to their problems. Be very prompt about answering email, and if you ever can’t make a deadline, let the client know right away, and make sure your new deadline works for them. If the project doesn’t work out, accept your part of the responsibility, and do what you can to make cancellations and payments fairly. Never take a client for granted, even at your busiest! They’re all you’ve got, and everyone has so many online connections nowadays – they will talk, and you want that talk to be glowing!

aeolidia interview, modern ceramics, handmade
sweet pea bowls by kimwestad

7. Designers are notoriously picky about details (I am guilty of this!) what are a few of the things that make your inner designer cringe?

I’ve been used to doing entire projects myself, from first design idea down to every bitty bit of coding, so I do find myself cringing sometimes when my non-designer husband codes my site and doesn’t get the spacing right or the height between the lines of text perfect, etc. With each of our projects, I schedule a day to run in and tidy all the little details of the site up, and I find myself pasting a screen shot of his coding over my original Photoshop design so I can go back and adjust things pixel by pixel to my original plan!

I’m more picky about my own work than other peoples’, and I’m always learning from good design.

8. How do you celebrate handmade in your life and home?

I love, love, love owning handmade stuff. I shop from indie and handmade sites, and Etsy, of course, and I go to local craft fairs ready to buy. Often, as I’m working on a website for a client, I end up wanting things, and have definitely been known to trade work for goodies as part of the final invoice!

I also love giving handmade gifts, because you can really amaze someone with something they haven’t seen before.

Though I never settled on one craft of my own, I’ve always enjoyed dabbling in different crafty projects. I can crochet and knit, I’ve been known to make myself jewelry, and recently I sewed a quilt for my toddler.

aeolidia interview, loyal loots log bowls, handmade
loyal loot log bowls from the good egg shop

9. Aeolidia appears to be a dynamic and growing company-how do you feel about where your business is at and where it is going?

I am trying not to grow too much. Potentially, we could put the word out that we were looking for designers and developers and be able to take on many more projects, but then I would find myself in a completely managerial role, with no time to do my own work. I would rather stay small and be able to be sure each of our clients and team members are happy. Keeping it simple!