Dainty Mom’s “Mompreneur” feature is where I interview an amazing working or work-at-home moms. In featuring these awesome ladies, I hope to empower other moms out there with stories of real women who have taken what they love to do and turned it into a living. Today’s featured mompreneur is Patricia Alix-Villa, the creative lady behind Fancy Girl Designs, a boutique Web design studio specializing in women-owned brands and businesses.
Dainty Mom (DM): How did you begin Fancy Girl Design? Tell us how it all started for you.
Pat: I actually had my own design company back home (in the Philippines), before we moved to Singapore. I designed invitations and high-end wedding accessories, selling them through my mom’s wedding shop. At first, I was doing it to earn extra income while teaching Psychology in UP (a very fulfilling job but couldn’t pay for my shopping. Hehehe). Eventually I quit teaching and concentrated on the business.
In 2004, my husband was due to be transferred to Singapore a couple of months after our wedding. I found out I was pregnant a week before we left, and my pregnancy had complications, so I couldn’t work. I was on bed rest for several months, with nothing much to do except read and surf the net. After giving birth in 2005, I decided to be a stay-at-home-mum.
I learned web designing in 2006 after I joined Multiply, [where] I saw that some people were customizing their sites, and I wanted to know how to do it. I finally figured out how to do it myself [so], I experimented on my own site, and got requests from friends to make-over their sites. I decided to share free themes for everyone to use; I was posting them in the Multiply Customized Themes group site.
About 3 or 4 years ago, Multiply held a theme contest and I was asked by one of the admin staff to join it. (I seriously didn’t think I was qualified.) Surprisingly, my entry won second place ( I was tied with some really kick-ass professional web designers so it was even more of a shock to me). After that, I got inquiries from strangers who wanted custom themes for their sites.
I started slowly, not advertising my services, relying totally on word of mouth. At that time I didn’t even have a proper site for the business. In 2008 I shifted my blog over to Blogspot and learned how to customize Blogger sites. [My first WordPress client was] Neva, of ManilaMommy.com. I had absolutely no idea how to design WordPress themes, but I do love a challenge and any opportunity to learn new things, so I accepted her order.
Luck is not a valid business model, but that was all my business was based on. =) I didn’t even have a name for it! It was only last year that I started to think about things seriously and made attempts to formalize the business. The name Fancy Girl Designs was suggested by a friend. I thought it was the perfect name and I was happy to find that the domain name was still available. =)
DM: What were your start-up costs, if any, before launching into your design biz?
Pat: To do this properly you’ll need a good computer, first of all. I work on an iMac with 8gb of ram (Wish it was higher!), and I have a Macbook for when I travel. I purchased the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash. I also invest in premium fonts, stock images, vectors, patterns, etc. although I also regularly scour the web for freebies. I read books and magazines on web design. A very fast broadband connection is also essential.
3. Who are some women in the design business that you look up to?
Pat: There are a lot of really talented women web designers. Here are a few whose work I adore:
1) Gisele Jaquenod
2) Diane Kennedy of Blossom Graphic & Web Design
3) Courtney Kirkland of Amplified Designs
4) Sarah Neuber
5) Julie of Deluxe Designs
4. Take us through a typical work-at-home day for you; what’s it like?
Pat: My schedule (work or otherwise) revolves around my children. We have no household help. The fact that I get to accomplish a lot throughout the day is made possible by techie gadgets and near-OC organization of priorities.
My day starts before 7am when we all wake up and prepare my older son (Vito) for school. I check my emails on my phone while I run around and do chores. Before booting up the iMac I already have a general idea how the day should be planned.
After a quick breakfast and making sure the little one (Raoul) is fed and fully occupied (our whole flat is child-proof, so he has freedom to play and explore), I turn on the computer and answer emails. Then I check my to-do list and update it based on the morning’s emails and try to finish the most important ones as fast as I can. I work fiendishly in 20-minute segments (that’s how I break down tasks).
By 10:30, I fetch Vito from school, and by the time we get home it’s time to prepare lunch. I give the little one a bath after lunch because he’s a messy eater. Then I make sure Vito is all set to do his homework, which he does on his desk (about an arm’s reach away from mine). I supervise him while I work on projects again.
Raoul gets sleepy around 1:30pm, so I breastfeed him to sleep while I check twitter/fb/emails on my phone. As soon as he’s asleep, I’m back to work again, all the while checking on Vito and his homework.
When Raoul has woken from his nap, we play for about an hour or so, or read some books. Then I leave the boys to play together while I try to finish as much work as I can before I need to cook dinner.
Sometimes I work again at night when the boys are asleep. But I try not to.
5. You’re a work-at-home mom. How do you balance work, your marriage and your kids?
- My husband and I try not to work on weekends, for one thing, unless it’s an absolute must.
- My desk is in the children’s playroom — so they’re with me when I work. Every once in a while one of them shows me a toy or a drawing, and that’s ok.
- Raoul sometimes asks to watch a video on YouTube, so I stop working for a while and let him watch his favorites: Elmo’s ABC with India Arie, or Twinkle Twinkle by supersimplesongs.
- When I want a couple of hours of uninterrupted work, I let them borrow my iPad. I swear, it’s the best babysitter ever.
- When Vito has an important test, or when I see that the boys need more attention, I delay my projects, or ask for a longer lead time.
- I communicate with my husband throughout the day over YM. =) It helps that I’m online the whole time. And we have our time together after the boys are asleep.
- We don’t have a maid here, so we hardly ever go on a date unless we have family visiting us, or when we go home for a visit (once or twice a year). The time at night after the kids are asleep is precious to us.
6. What are a few of your tips for moms who want to work from home doing a design job?
- Keep yourself inspired. Expose yourself to other fields, not just yours.
- Make your work area inspiring. A cluttered workspace is death to creativity. If you keep your workspace clean and organized (and pretty!), you allow fresh ideas to spring forth more easily. =)
- Be organized. It helps you accomplish more at a shorter period of time if you know exactly where things are and what you have to do. Your checklist is your best friend.
Patricia Alix-Villa, graphic designer | www.fancygirldesigns.com You can contact Pat for your design needs at her Web studio, Fancy Girl Designs. (Incidentally, she designed my blog, too!)