Katherine Forbes moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2011 as an accomplished pianist with a music technology degree and a passion for design. That’s quite a variety of qualifications, but Katherine was determined to make them all work together somehow.
So in 2016, she started her business, Designing the Row, while maintaining a full-time day job. Designing the Row (referring to Nashville’s Music Row) is a brand design company for musicians and small businesses.
Month after month, she took on new clients—she did a little bit of everything, from web design and social media management to album artwork. Understanding the music side and the design side of things has put Katherine in the unique position of being able to serve the exact needs of her clients.
“If you put in the work, it’s going to work out.” -Katherine Forbes
When she quit her day job and took her design business full-time in 2017, she grew her email list by 450% using lead magnets, like eBooks and PDF downloads, she created and designed herself!
Thanks to her regular clients, referrals from customers who loved her work, and a booming email list, Katherine wound up making $1,000 per month more than her previous full-time job working for someone else. Hello, $12,000 raise! (Well, $9,000 after taxes—don’t forget to hold back 25% for those!)
But Katherine says she didn’t feel like she really knew what she was doing until she had a full year under her belt of working for herself.
“It’s scary,” she says. “I still don’t know who my clients are going to be in August. But just when it looks like it’s going to be a slow month, five new clients come in. You just have to keep going. If you put in the work, it’s going to work out.”
I love this girl’s attitude and work ethic! During my recent chat with Katherine, I learned about her biggest challenges, how she’s said no to the wrong projects, and the no-brainer (but often overlooked) way she sets herself apart in her industry.
* * *
What has been your biggest obstacle in running your own business?
Figuring out what my business actually is! When I first started working for myself, people would ask me about my business and I would literally exhale, all frustrated, like, “You wouldn’t understand”—because I was scattered doing so many random projects. Now looking back, I was the one who didn’t understand what I did!
But having that period of confusion was crucial in getting me to where I am now. I had to try out everything to figure out how I work best, what kind of work I enjoy doing the most, and what type of client I can best serve.
I ended up cutting out the social media management piece of my business because I didn’t like the work. That was tough because it was money already coming through the door that I made the decision to say no to.
That’s huge, isn’t it? I often tell my readers to resist the urge to offer all the things, because when you do that you’re just confusing your customers and burning yourself out! So once you honed in on your core service offerings, what’s been the secret to your success?
Every business goes through five distinct stages. Find out which stage your business is in with our free assessment.
I recently had a client who told me that, during her 10 years of being an artist, she could count on one hand the number of people who’ve followed through for her—me being one of them. So never underestimate the power of being attentive to what others need, because it pays off! Word-of-mouth referrals are how I’ve built and continue to grow my business. None of what I do or who I work with would be possible without that.
“Never underestimate the power of being attentive to what others need, because it pays off!” -Katherine Forbes
I know you listen to the Business Boutique podcast. How has Business Boutique helped your business?
These days, it seems like so many female business coaches are saying that success is all about having “five-figure months” or having a “six-figure business,” but you guys always keep it real. Everyone’s business is different, we’re all in different stages of business and life, and I feel like you consistently meet me where I’m at. For example, when I put my numbers into the Profit Potential tool and it comes out right at my monthly goal, it gives me a sense of relief.
Yes! Success looks different for everyone, and I love to remind y’all to focus on your own race, otherwise you’ll end up crossing someone else’s finish line.
Speaking of finish lines, what is your big dream? The one that’s so big you don’t know if it’s possible?
Well, I started an online community for female musicians called Music Biz Besties. We currently have almost 3,000 members, but I’m not making any money with it yet.
I host monthly meetups in Nashville and beyond. I’ve even had some in London! Eventually I’d love to have courses in there and teach these independent female artists how to design their own websites, how to be their own artist manager, things like that. So I’m trying to figure out how to monetize that, because I’m so passionate about it.
What advice would you give to someone who may be reading this and wanting to pursue their business dream?
To anyone starting out, I’d say, “You get what you focus on, so focus on what you want!”
It’s easy to get caught up in what others are doing or are telling you that you should do. But I’ve noticed when I tune out all the noise and focus just on myself and my goals, I make the biggest leaps in my business.
If you want to make more money, look at your bank account every day and really get in control of your finances. If you want to get new clients, ask your current clients for testimonials and referrals. If you want to reach a new audience, get out and network!
Yes, sister, and amen!
You can follow Katherine on Instagram: @designingtherow.