Vari mentors creative freelancers on how to start and grow a successful business with more freedom and less burn-out – and I adore the strength and authenticity that Vari infuses into each and every aspect of her life and business.
One thing that completely shone through throughout our chat, is how dedicated Vari is to creating a life that works for her and her family, by changing up perceptions and crafting flexible focus points to pull her forward in the direction of her best life.
In this chat we also cover:
- The importance of spontaneity and taking a step back to re-gain clarity and focus.
- Boundaries and keeping some of those things you’re good at in life, just for you.
- Re-defining success.
- Collaboration and inspiration seeking.
- Going from corporate life, to working for oneself: the challenges and the light points.
Ready to dive in? Read on!
On the go and don’t have time to read? This interview comes with two audio files for you to listen to. Scroll to the end of the post and click play on parts one and two, to hear the full interview, with content not included in the write up.
Q. Welcome Vari!
Hi Mel, it’s so nice to be here.
Q. So lets dive right in. Help us get to know a little bit about who you are, the main moments of your life which have brought you to this point, and in general, what your best life is all about.
Yeah, sure. So I started life as a graphic designer back in Glasgow, straight out of uni, and I kind of worked in a few different roles, be it agencies, in house or national publications. Then my husband and I moved out to Australia 7 years ago, and so I continued to work in in-house positions once I arrived in Australia. I was on maternity leave with my first boy, and he was just 5 months when I realised I had been made redundant, so it was a kind of big blow at the time, especially financially, and it put a big dint in the old savings!
So it was a bit of a freak out moment for us all, though I had always dreamed of having my own business, and doing my own thing. I come from an entrepreneurial kind of family, so I always wanted to have my own business and just be out there doing design on my terms, and not with the red-tape of the corporate world, and all those budgets that they like to hit you with.
My business has really evolved over the last couple of years. I started doing custom events stationary and wedding stationary at first, then did a line of social stationary that I sold to wholesalers and on-line. Then about 18 months ago, I really started by accident working with a few friends, and friends of friends, who were starting up their own businesses, and needed some branding. I started working on their projects and I realised that was really my passion, and that’s what I loved.
I think doing the social stationary side of things was really good, but I found it was really stifling creatively, so I naturally moved out of that area, and began working one-on-one with people, and that was certainly what I craved. Being at home and working, I missed that one-on-one contact with people. It makes such a difference to your creativity as well, it’s hard to get inspired when you’re not working with people and you’re on your own.
So that has been the journey for me in my business to get to where I am just now. I work a couple of days a week from home, I’ve got two little boys now and I just managed to create a life that really works for how we are as a family. That’s something that’s changing and evolving all the time. It’s nice to see how it’s all unfolding at the moment.
Q. I love how spontaneously you’ve got to this point, obviously beginning with your social stationary lines and then moving on to branding. I love how sometimes things ‘by accident’ pull you forward to where you need to be.
Oh absolutely. Hindsight is such a beautiful thing. Those little spur of the moment decisions that we kind of go “oh well, let’s give it a try” can be game changes big time. I love looking back and seeing that all those little seemingly insignificant moments, are massive changes.
Q. Absolutely. So did you always know that you wanted to be in design, of some description?
Yeah, it was always something I was passionate about. My mum still tells the story about my primary one report cards, which said “she likes to draw and colour in” and incidentally, my brother liked to fix trucks and he’s a truck mechanic. So I think we knew early on what we wanted to do!
Q. You did know early on what you wanted to do!
I was always really passionate about sports. I played sports when I was younger, volleyball and netball for Scotland, and was always interested in exercise and keeping fit.
I think a lot of people expected me to move into that kind of area with my work but it was something I wanted to keep completely separate. I didn’t want to do that as a job. It was something I did for me, and I was passionate about that as a hobby and past time, something to spend my energy on that wasn’t a business. So design was always something I knew I would get into, and keep the more physical exercise part of it just as pure pleasure for me.
Q. Yeah, absolutely. Just on that – how important is it to you to keep certain things that you’re good at, just for you. Just for the pleasure and enjoyment of it?
I think it’s really important. I think we’re often told do what you love and you’ll make lots of money out of it and you’ll be happy and successful. I think that’s true to a degree, but I also think you have to keep some stuff just for yourself.
To think you have to turn every passion into some kind of business venture or make it bigger, I think is a mistake and people end up losing that initial love that they had for those things, so yeah – for me it’s important to keep it just as something that’s personal to me.
Q. I absolutely agree with that. Naturally I’m a big writer, but when I write for other people, it’s very different to the way that I write for my own pleasure, so I like there to be a defined difference. I agree if you’re feeding out your passions too much, you end up losing it for yourself a little bit.
Q. So tell us, what are the non-negotiable elements of your best life?
I try not to hold on to non-negotiable’s too tightly. It was something I had done before “I’ll be successful when I have this beautiful list of accomplishments and achievements and the money in the bank and the number of clients.
I kind of really stuck rigidly to that. Then I felt when it didn’t happen when I wanted it to happen – which for me is usually yesterday – I’m not the most patient person in the world! I found that I just felt like a failure, like I was really rubbish and it was never going to happen. It didn’t motivate me or pull me forward. It just made me feel really crap, so I put that to the side and stopped.
For me, the big driver certainly in my business and my life is all around freedom. The freedom of time, to travel – this is a big thing for me and my family. To be able to have the freedom financially to do what we want to do, to live where we want to live, without the vanity of it, but to have that social and financial security, for our family and for our boys is really important for us.
Certainly the aspect of freedom is what I make my decisions based upon. Is it going to make me feel more free or less free? That’s the way I’m swayed one way or the other.
Q. I love that you’ve shifted how you define success so it’s now more around how you feel and your values, rather than money in the bank and the accolades. Like we all need to remember to do, let go of the form and be in the flow of things by sticking to how you want to feel.
Yeah, totally, and I think so many people love Danielle LaPorte’s work. I’m one of her biggest fans, the way she frames working out how you want to feel in your life and then designing your life around that, that has just been a really big shift for me.
I’ve got post it notes all around my computer so every day I sit down and I’m like “right, these are the feelings I want to feel” and I kind of use this to guide me in the decisions that I make in my life and in my business as well.
Q. So, from that perspective: do you have a big grand plan or are you more taking it day by day?
It kind of comes in different flows for me. Sometimes I’ve got a really big grand plan, and other times I’m like “Oh, I want to do this next week!” As I said, I’m quite impatient, so I’ve got more shorter term goals, more immediate things I’m working with, and they kind of develop into bigger grander plans I guess.
I don’t really have an idea in a year or 3 or 5 years this is where I’m aiming to be. It’s more about things gradually unfolding for me rather that having somewhere I’m really aiming for.
Q. Has that changed over time? In the past did you have the 1 – 5 year grand plan?
Yeah definitely. I think for me, having my boys and becoming a mum made a big change there. I’ve always worked in the design world, and always wanted to have my own business, but I thought in order to do that I would have to have a big agency and employ lots of staff, and have some beautiful loft office and that’s, when I was younger, what I saw ahead of me.
Then especially moving to the other side of the world, away from extended family, having the boys, I saw that that would not make me happy. I didn’t want to be managing people, or deal with renting a big office and it just wasn’t aligned with where I was at, at that point.
For me, having the boys and being able to be home and do that work was a big shift for me. I had the idea of success in the Graphic Design industry (winning the big awards and having the grand offices) and I thought to be successful I had to have that. The switch and mindset of – you know I can still be successful but on my own terms, was just massive for me.
Q. You wrote a blog post a little while ago, about how you work nights and on weekends because that works for you. How your whole definition around success and what it means for you has shifted and changed. I love how liberating that was, because when you read stuff like that it gets you out of the box of how you believe things need to happen, in order for you to have freedom and success.
Yeah, totally. I’ve got a lot of girlfriends that are in really strict corporate positions. I see that they love their work so much and are really passionate about it, but I see how demanding it is on them, especially when it comes to their family life as well. They have no flexibility, so for me to be able to create flexibility in my work life, is so important.
It’s funny, because when you come from a corporate background, you feel like you’ll be successful when you do the Mon -Fri 9-5 and take weekends off – but when you’re doing the work that really passionate for you and you really love, then there’s not such a definite line. It’s not so black and white. It’s much more of a grey area, which can be difficult because to others it appears that all you do is work, but to you, it’s like you never work! It’s so funny how it’s viewed.
When it’s so much more of a lifestyle business, and something you’re really passionate about, there is so much more of a grey area but it’s trying to give yourself space within that grey area, and try to give yourself time as well because it quite easily can become overwhelming if you are constantly thinking what’s next.
When you’re doing your own thing there’s always something next.
I’ve become better at giving myself space, and as a result, it’s a no brainer, you become so much more creative and so much more inspired. It feels counter-intuitive but its been really good to give me that space and letting us have really quality family time, which can be difficult when you’re working from home.
Q. So, where do you draw your inspiration from?
It sounds so cliche, there’s not one definite thing and I’m inspired by everyday things. If I feel lacking in inspiration or I feel I need a bit of a boost, just little things for me make a big difference. I might take a different walk down to the village or go to a different coffee shop than I normally would, or listen to different radio station – just really small subtle changes are a good shake up for me. It helps me see something slightly differently. Or I might buy a completely random magazine that costs $15.00 and is beautiful but I have no idea what the content’s about! That can be really inspiring for me.
Certainly working with clients I find that the initial call that we have and we speak and I hear about their vision and their project. That conversation and the exchange of energy is really inspiring and usually when I get off that call, I’ve got a 100 ideas, so I find the collaboration is inspiration in itself.
Q. Absolutely, collaboration is a big one for me as well. You get all of your ideas ticking over and it’s beautiful when it comes together, isn’t it?
Yeah certainly, and I find that my relationship with my clients is much less client/designer relationship and it’s much more of a collaborative. The end result is something that neither of us could have come up with on our own. It’s something that could have only have been created between us working together, and I love that kind of magic that comes from that.
Q. Yeah, absolutely. So, behind the scenes of all your beautiful successful business and freedom filled life, that completely works for you and your family, have there been particular challenges that you had to work through, and turn them into opportunities for growth?
There definitely has been some big challenges along the way. I would say first hand, to get that balance between life and work, the balance that we’re all trying to get. I think realising that that doesn’t really exist was helpful for me to recognise there doesn’t have to be this black and white area. It can be all mixed in together, and this helped me get through all of that.
Also, I think when we’re working on our own, it can be really lonely and isolating, when we’re doing our own thing, so certainly community for me, be it through on-line programs, or accessing networks of women locally, or girlfriends running their own businesses at all different stages. Just to have someone to kind of vent to, or bounce ideas off of. That’s been really helpful.
What I did in the early days which was so wrong, was to go straight to my husband with all my complaints and troubles and insecurities when it came to business, and it’s hard because the people closest to us, I’ve found, are the ones that want to fix it for us. They want to make it all right and help, and that’s so not helpful, so I’ve learned when I’m overwhelmed or stressed out, just having a sounding board, without someone trying to fix it for you, has been really good to just clear my head.
Q. Have there been challenging beliefs you’ve needed to flip around into more positive thought processes?
I think coming from a design industry it can be a really ego driven industry, where you think you’re only as good as your last project or award, and it can be really damaging to you. To realise there’s always going to be a better designer out there than me, or someone who approaches a project in a better way for the client. To know that’s going to happen, but know your own unique set of skills is unique to you, and whilst there might be someone who can do an element of what you do better than you, that you’re the only one that can do it all the way you do it.
To really own the high-points and the low-points. To know that it’s all me that I’m bringing to the projects I’m working with, and not compare myself with other people in the industry or other businesses, and just to feel secure in that what I’m doing is right for me and right for my client, and try not to let all of that external chitchat infiltrate what I’m going.
Q. You mentioned comparison, and that can be really sticky for all of us, so in terms of that, what’s the best piece of advice that you would provide to people who are in that comparison loop?
Yeah, it’s something that regardless of what stage we are in our business, it’s something that we can slip into so quickly. It’s so damaging for us. I found it completely takes me off my game. I see what someone else is doing, and then there are phases (of comparison) for me. It starts off by coming across a blog or website, and “thinking this is amazing”, “she’s doing so well” and you’re motivated by it. Then it kind of slips into stalkerville and I’m there all the time, and then you start to doubt your own achievements and successes and you don’t value them as much as you should.
Then it takes you off your game and then you start worrying about all that stuff, rather than what you’re doing yourself. I think quite often we can get a bolt of lightening about something you want to create or a new project and our first step is go a google it, and find out what else is out there, so we go straight from being in a place of hugely inspired from some divine download from the universe to then all of a sudden thinking “she’s already doing it, and I couldn’t do it as good as that”.
I think to realise that maybe people just need to hear it from you, and maybe you have a different type of people and maybe this is just the time they need to hear it from you, and not someone else. To keep that in my head is something that has really helped me.
Certainly when I’m in that comparison space, I’ve just tried to remove myself from it, and limit the amount of distraction, kind of helps re-focus and bring me back in.
Q. So, get what you need down, and then if you need additional inspiration, go out and do your research. I don’t know if you’ve found this yourself, though I’ve found when I have an idea come through, there tends to be 5 or more people around me that come up with very similar ideas. I’ve got to remind myself not to look at that right now, get my ideas and what I need down first, because otherwise it will muddy the waters for me.
Definitely, and I think when you look at that we see someone doing something and they’re really successful, we think that’s the only way to do it, and we can’t see anything else but that. The only way to deliver it, speak about it or present it. I think if we hadn’t looked at it, we would have come up with our own way that’s more suited to us, to deliver the information to our people.
It can get you so stuck that that’s the only route to go down to be so successful.
Q. That’s one of the things that I absolutely love about you – you’re so good at delivering things in a way that’s so true and authentic for you. Whether it’s your newsletters or blogs or whatever it is you’re doing, and you just know that it’s coming from you.
Oh thank you! One of the things for me that I tried to remember is, especially when having an on-line business where you want to create a personal connection as much as possible, I ask myself with every communication, if the person reading this were to meet me face to face, would it feel like me? So I try to keep this as my focus when I’m putting stuff out there.
It’s the easiest way to be authentic and consistent – just be you!
Q. What do you think is the single attribute that has best helped you to get to where you are right now?
I think persistence. Especially starting the business when Gabriel was just 5 months old, it would have been easy to give it 6 months, and go “right it’s not going anywhere” and then default back to the 9-5, which just would not have been possible for our family. It would have been really stressful. So just to be persistent and keep knowing I was on a path that was going to change, and I certainly at that time didn’t know what a business would look like now. I think to be persistent and allow for flow and change of direction. To not think that because this is where I started this is where I need to keep going.
There’s a balance to keep moving down that track, but to also let things fall away that aren’t serving you or your clients anymore. To be persistent and open to change has really helped to get me to where I am now, for sure.
Q. Beautiful. And so what’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?
God, there’s so much wisdom. I’m sure my dad would have a list the length of his arm! I think, just on what we were talking about there – to kind of allow yourself room for movement in what you’re doing. Whether it’s your life or your business to just not have such definite expectations of how things are going to turn out. Certainly have somewhere to aim for, I’m all for setting intentions of where I want to go and what I want to do and to keep those intentions front of mind, but just allow the path to unfold in front of you without feeling you have to dictate every step of the journey.
Take your hands off the wheel and let it freewheel a bit, helped to guide me in the right direction.
Q. So can you share with us what’s going on for you next in ButtercupInk?
At the moment I’m working on some beautiful branding projects for clients that are about to go live, and I’m continuing to do that, but I’m also stepping into a space where I’ll be mentoring other creative freelancers, so people like me who are designers or illustrators or stylists, who perhaps worked in that corporate world and they’re stepping out into that freelance world. It’s about teaching them how to start and grow a successful business that really serves them and their clients, but without the burnout and suffocating nature that can come with being freelancer when you feel like you’re working 24/7. I’m really excited about it!
Q. I’m excited for that as well! I think it’s something that is so required, because often we get into burnout so quickly when we start freelancing and working for ourselves, so I think it’s going to be enormously successful. And just to finish up, is there anything else that you’d like to share with everyone?
I think the main thing for me is to just go with the flow, this is what’s hitting home right now. To be open to whatever is coming your way and have fun with it. Every day should be that adventure that you get to choose where you’re going. We can either choose to make it hard, or we can choose to make it more fun, so I’m all about the more fun.
Yes. And I’m right there with you.
Vari Longmuir is the owner of Buttercup Ink, an online branding and graphic design studio for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She also mentors creative freelancers on how to start and grow a successful business with more freedom and less burn out.
Connect with Vari via instagram
Thank-you so much to Vari for this interview. Like I said at the top of the interview, I love the strength, determination and authenticity that comes through this interview and I’d love to know how Vari’s words have made you feel too.
In the comments below, I’d love to know: what was your biggest take-away from Vari’s interview and, what will you do now to create gold in your own life?
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Much love and soul wellness,