Andreea Michaud is the brain and lady boss behind Klangwelt and Style Unsettled. She has been doing visual design and creative direction for over 17 years. Her main focus is building premium brand identities, outstanding designs and memorable visual experiences for luxury, lifestyle, fashion and culture brands. Throughout her career, she has switched back and forth from the design agency life to working freelance and has experience working with hundreds of clients worldwide while living across multiple European and American territories.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I switched between working freelance and being a design agency employee throughout my entire career, looking for that “perfect” position that would make me the happiest. I love challenges and get bored easily, so there always must be something creative going on in my life, otherwise I go crazy!
Back at the end of 2009 when the recession was in “full bloom” I lost my job due to the restructuring of the agency I was working for. That event opened my eyes to how fragile and unstable the idea of full time employment really is, even though society might want you to think otherwise. So I decided to never let someone else control what skills I should learn, for how much money I should trade an hour of my life, when I should get up in the morning and how much of my inner peace I should sacrifice for a slice of success that could be so easily taken away from me at any time.
Besides starting my own business, it was time to admit to myself that I need to have a lot of freedom, flexibility and control over the projects that I work on in order to be truly happy and deliver my absolute best work. Another reason I started my business was because of my relentless passion for design and building quality visual stories. There is no bigger reward than getting up in the morning and working on exciting projects that set your soul on fire. I want what I do in life to have meaning for me and to feel like I’m progressing towards something, not just spinning the wheels.
Tell us about your business.
I actually have two businesses: Klangwelt and Style Unsettled. I always had a variety of creative interests and I found it hard to pigeon hole myself into just one field. There came a point in my life, I think when I turned 30, when I just accepted it (and stopped feeling like a freak) and decided to embrace it and express myself freely, in every way I loved.
Even though they are both creative businesses, Klangwelt is focused on branding and visual design, while Style Unsettled is a fashion and lifestyle blog. I do all the marketing, networking, sales and all the creative work you can see on there. I also run both of them solo, which can be a challenge at times, haha.
But there are also times when being a solopreneur is smoother and faster, because whenever I get a creative idea, I don’t have to rely on coordinating it with someone else in order to execute it – I just go and do it right away. What I love the most about the opportunity to have my own business is that I get to work on a variety of projects and help so many awesome people all over the world with my skills and talents.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
I’m actually in the process of organizing an Instagram contest where my followers can win either a gorgeous Zara bag or a FREE logo design, plus one t-shirt designed by me in exchange for a follow and tagging a friend.
I have a BS in computer science, I am certified as a programmer (even though I have no intention on pursuing that career) and I have won 3 online web design awards.
Where is your business based?
I’ve been all over the place, but at the moment both my business and I call Sarasota, Florida, our home.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Given the field I’m in, it was a no brainer that the absolute first step had to be buying a domain and getting my website up and running. Luckily that was super easy for me, since I’ve been designing websites and doing graphic design since the year 2000. I didn’t need a webmaster either because of my Computer Science degree.
It was a bit difficult putting together a portfolio in the beginning, because I was just coming off of a 5 year history of agency jobs where we were all obligated to sign NDA’s, so I couldn’t showcase any of the work I had done there online. Luckily, I always had personal projects and freelance work on the side, so at least my website wasn’t 100% bare.
From there, I started connecting with musicians, since at the time, that was my target market, and I slowly started getting projects in.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
It’s hard to tell, because times have evolved so quickly and so has marketing. In the beginning, when the web wasn’t so crowded I could rely a lot on just good SEO, referrals and word of mouth. But now that’s not nearly enough, so I became very active on social media and also try to contact potential clients directly.
I used to run Google AdWords, but in the past two years I have seen a serious decline in business coming from those channels. Maybe people don’t click on ads as much as they used to anymore? Or maybe I just need to brush up on my knowledge.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
I think that my biggest challenges so far, just as every other business owner, has been getting a ton of high paying clients. I wasn’t always a very outspoken, confident and clear focused person, and that worked against me. I was scared to approach potential clients, especially big ones and I was under-selling my services. That was until I had to take a full time job that I really hated which opened my eyes that if I don’t truly go after my dreams, nobody else is going to offer me the credit, the respect, the projects or the payment that I deserve.
I’m happy for those challenges, as they made me realize my shortcomings and catalyzed the decision to not let them shrink me, or stop me from going for my dreams. Now, even though I still get shy sometimes, or my heart pounds in my chest and I get a knot in my stomach, I keep going for it and I press that “send” button to the important email, or I say “yes” to that meeting invite.
Another thing that can be challenging is making time for everything you want to do in a day, and that’s when saying “no” to things or people comes in. In the beginning it will be hard to say no to friends or relatives or even silly things like the plumber wanting to schedule a repair in the middle of the day (eventually when you have a deadline). But you gotta understand that if you don’t set boundaries and a schedule for yourself – not a super strict one, but a realistic one – people won’t respect your time or your boundaries.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Overcoming these struggles is for sure not a definitive thing. Sometimes certain challenges come back, sometimes you have tough months, sometimes you just don’t have enough time to deal with certain things or you run into a difficult client and that breaks your positive flow.
I usually personally try to learn as much as I can about a situation when I encounter it (even if that means reading an article about it), so I won’t have to face it again, but the reality is that each situation is different and it might require a different approach. What worked at some point, might not work now.
As a rule of thumb, I try to diversify and not put all my eggs in one basket, because if something happens, it drags everything down with it. I have many interests, ideas and “hustles”, if one challenging at a certain time, there’s another one to balance it.
Another way is by reminding myself that behind any business or client there is a human being that is struggling, makes mistakes and has feelings too, and I can always relate to that slice of humanity in them.
Also, for me family is extremely important, so no matter how busy I get, I always try to stay in touch with the ones that are the dearest to me. In trying times, knowing that I have their support makes me feel like I can conquer any (hypothetical) mountain.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I try to remember why I started this in the first place. It’s hard to lose sight of what’s important or to forget what brings me the most joy when I am in the middle of tough times. I become so obsessed with fixing what is “broke”.
That’s when I remind myself that I need to relax and keep in mind that I’m doing this because I have a deep passion for everything creative and I love seeing people make their vision and dreams come to life with the help of my skills – and that should be my main focus at all times. Sometimes the best solution is just to take a small break from the problem and then to approach it with fresh eyes.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
By creating distinct and high quality content, that is always infused with a little bit of my personal style. My entire life has been filled with people trying to stuff me into little boxes with labels on them, and I always rebelled against that. I was also faced with an incredible amount of rejection.
In the beginning of my career, that rejection made me afraid to stand up for what I believed in, or I was watering down my capabilities in order to appeal to everyone, but I realized that if I keep doing that, I will end up without a backbone and with a negative bank account.
So now I’m just super honest and upfront in all my business dealings. I am not afraid to not be everyone’s cup of tea. Unique is always better!
What is the best advice you have received recently?
To never invest my time or money into something I’m not passionate about that. The most important currency is time, not money, because you can always make more money, but you can never get lost time back.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Don’t ever settle and don’t sacrifice the big picture for short term gains. Keep searching and improving and pushing the envelope until you are proud. There will always be someone who is not going to like you, but you cannot let that stop you from pursuing your dreams and being who you are.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
I am an artist at heart and by nature I’m not very excited about having to deal with the business side. If I could, I would just spend the entire day with my head in the clouds, creating. But, I realized that maybe because it is not my strongest suit, I should keep at it and try to learn how to better “decipher” it, because in the end, overcoming my weaknesses will only grow me.
I like to read a lot of articles and spend a lot of time researching ways to improve my business. That includes signing up for webinars, courses and checking social media daily. Chatting with people that know more about business than I do is also very valuable.
Marie Forleo’s videos have totally transformed my life and have given me a lot of courage as well, she’s been like an indirect mentor for me.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
“Love. Style. Life.” by Garance Dore. Even though it is a light read, I got very smitten and captivated by her stories, that are not just raw and unfiltered, but also humorous and incredibly inspiring. The design of the entire book is just beautiful and vibrant, emanating an intoxicating air of art, culture and sophistication.
I love it also because it embodies the essence of what I strive to do with Klangwelt: an intersection of art, culture, fashion, style, creative direction, visual storytelling and design.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
Writing incredible pitches that close the deal on the spot. Also convincing potential prospects why they need to invest in high quality custom branding instead of going with the “I have a nephew in my best friend’s basement that took a design class in high school” route (which, by the way, only makes the process more lengthy and painful leading to hiring a real professional in the end), if they truly want to be successful.
I honestly think that no matter how much you know, there will always be something new to learn and that is very exciting for me!
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
My biggest goal for Klangwelt for the next few months is to do the full branding identity, visual design and creative direction for an exquisite fashion house. Also to develop a client funnel that will bring in automated leads, so I won’t have to spend so much time scrapping the internet manually.
As for Style Unsettled, I would like to land an editorial collaboration with a fashion brand like ISSEY MIYAKE, MSGM, DIESEL, ONESIXONE or DSQUARED2.
I’m striving to achieve these goals by constantly working on my craft, bettering my skills and connecting with awesome people from the fields I love.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.