Amanda Eich of Sepia Studio-Cushing & Co: “Don’t be afraid to outsource”

Have a clear vision of who your client is. Then you’ll get a clear sense of who YOU are. This may take time to figure out, but keep your eyes focused on where the path of least resistance is coming from as far as profits. If you’re losing money, or not making enough on a particular […]

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Have a clear vision of who your client is. Then you’ll get a clear sense of who YOU are.

This may take time to figure out, but keep your eyes focused on where the path of least resistance is coming from as far as profits. If you’re losing money, or not making enough on a particular revenue stream… those aren’t your people. That’s ok. Recalibrate, fine tune, and not only will things get easier, but you’ll only get a stronger sense of who you are and what you offer.

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Eich.

Amanda started out as an architect in corporate interiors, took a detour into entrepreneurship with a graphic design + stationery company primarily designing wedding invitations and greeting cards, and moved back into the corporate arena designing graphics, logos, and marketing collateral for small businesses (you’d be surprised how similar writing greeting card punch lines is to creating company logos and tag lines). It seemed inevitable that creating Sepia Studio, a design department within the architectural and environmental graphics printer Cushing & Co. would be the next logical step in her career. Amanda has a particular knack for finding the story in someone’s brand or project and bringing that to life through graphic design.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in rural Ohio, outside of Toledo, in a large family. I loved the freedom of the country, but was always fascinated with the idea of living in a big city.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are probably two I fall back on regularly:“Form Follows Function” by the architect Louis Sullivan and “Be quick, but don’t hurry” by John Wooden.

The first because it is so true- the true function of a design challenge, whether it be architecture, or a simple social media graphic I do for a client, should always be the ruling mandate first and foremost, then you design the form around that. If you aren’t justifying the function, then how it looks is nothing but a distraction and kind of irrelevant. It’s a humbling approach to design.

And the latter is a lesson I learned when I was a novice entrepreneur and I was always trying to satisfy other people’s deadlines instead of informing the process with actually how long it would take to do something carefully and well. There’s a sweet spot to being fast and efficient, but still holding on to your craft and work ethic.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A little weird quirk about me, I’m fascinated by stories that involve death. So the TV series The Good Place I find absolutely brilliantly creative and turns the idea of an afterlife upside down.

Same goes for the series Dead Like Me, and Six Feet Under. It’s one of the very few subjects none of us can say we know what happens.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

“Before Covid” (the new BC), my career was a little… distracted, maybe is the right word. I was trying to get a new entrepreneurial path off the ground, a graphic design company with a focus on small business corporate graphics and marketing. I have 2 little boys and was finally feeling like I was in a good rhythm with their schedules and needs and could focus on what I wanted out of my career. BUT I was struggling, spinning my wheels. I had good ideas, but they were almost too big. I didn’t have the resources and support to implement them and I was letting that trip me up on getting even the little things done.

I had been talking to the owner of Cushing & Co., a large printer in Chicago that focuses on environmental graphics and architectural printing. Having some experience in print media, I was hired in the color department prepping files and learning how to run the presses, but only part-time because I wanted to indulge myself with the idea of my own graphic design company growing legs.

I started in February, 2020. Chicago got shut down in the third week of March… and so did I! I got laid off, my kids’ daycare closed, and suddenly I was essentially a stay at home Mom, my own freelance graphic work really not amounting to much at this point.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

When Joe Cushing and I were talking about working together earlier in the year, he told me he and his team had put a lot of thought into creating an in-house graphic department. We bounced ideas off of each other, I told him what I was trying to do with my company. We both felt like this was something that could be real for Cushing… someday. When I was working in the Color Department, I assumed, well, maybe someday I’ll work into that graphic design role when the company is ready to do it. After I was laid off, I thought… well, that’s that!

But in April, I got a meeting request titled “Design Business Incubator Discussion” and I literally responded with “um, was I included on this invite by mistake?” It wasn’t a mistake. I plopped the kids in front of YouTube in the other room (like every good mom during a pandemic does), and we video-talked our way through the possibilities of that “someday” design division happening now. Together with a team of Cushing’s brightest leaders, we have created Sepia Studio- the official graphic design department of Cushing & Co.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

I can’t take credit for it in any way, it was a seed that was planted many months, years really, in the ethos of Cushing’s business development.

But when Joe called me to tell me he had to lay me off in March, I reassured him I was going to be fine. I didn’t envy his position of having to make those calls that afternoon. I immediately got on my computer to respond via email that I had received the paperwork and started to write off the cuff.

I told him, people will eventually go back to work, they’ll go back into their offices, and the companies they work for will want to focus on retention more than anything. They’ll want graphics and mission statements on the walls. And you’ll be the one to print these things for them. And just maybe you can hire me back someday to design these things for them too.

I was speaking from the heart. I wanted him to see himself and his family-owned company that has survived so much for over 90 years well past this and into the future where things were better.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I think I created a tiny bit of a mental parachute for him and started the, “why not now?” question that could no longer be ignored. The timing was perfect to pull me back into the discussion and I felt like my past experience with building something out of nothing and current wheel-spinning struggles were all fuel to the fire.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Turns out, SO many people are also pivoting. And when businesses pivot, they need logos, they need graphics, they need new signage and marketing collateral. Our goal was to soft launch November 1, and we’ve been so busy with actual work, we’re still in “whisper launch” stage, but we’re ok with that. We’re being as quick as we can without hurrying.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My first company was Spilled Ink Press. I designed wedding invitations. But it started as a fun hobby, like so many micro-businesses do. The fun hobby jobs were multiplying and a good friend and coworker at the time started introducing me to people, “Oh this is Amanda, she designs wedding invitations” and it stuck. I started creating invitations for coworkers, and then friends of coworkers, and then they’d leave and start working somewhere else and I’d do their new coworkers invitations (I was in my mid 20’s, I was surrounded by young interior designers getting married). If Aileen Sancho in 2008 hadn’t planted that seed in MY head that this is what I do now, then who knows. It’s so cliché, but sometimes you really do have to get out of your own way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Probably it was that I almost didn’t respond to the first meeting request from the marketing director at Cushing to discuss the design department we’re now building because I literally thought “Oh. He must not know I was laid off”.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Working 18 hours a day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a hard worker. It might mean you’re doing it wrong.

My degree is in architecture. In college, architecture students are encouraged to pull all-nighters. It’s kind of an unspoken rule, if you didn’t lose sleep over it, then you weren’t trying hard enough, you didn’t give the design all you had. In the real world, sleep is important. You start to cheat yourself if you stack your deadlines up so high that you borrow from your own personal night shift to get it done, because when you’re first starting out, all you have to borrow from is yourself. It creates a narrative in your own head that your time isn’t valuable, and it’s not healthy. Give it all you have, but don’t start bad habits doing it. It’s just not smart.

2. Don’t put off what you want in your personal life because you’re chasing what you want in your professional life.

This one is for the ladies, particularly. My husband and I started our first company together. We were all in. We used to say it was our first baby. Well, we put off starting our “real” family and in the end we really struggled. We eventually built the family we wanted but much later than we should have and at a much higher cost (literally, financially and emotionally). Don’t take your family-building years for granted! They are precious, invaluable really. If you want that, don’t think you’ll always have next year. Our bodies aren’t built like that! Celebrities have babies into their 40s because, well, they have a lot of money and great fertility doctors.

3. Have a clear vision of who your client is. Then you’ll get a clear sense of who YOU are.

This may take time to figure out, but keep your eyes focused on where the path of least resistance is coming from as far as profits. If you’re losing money, or not making enough on a particular revenue stream… those aren’t your people. That’s ok. Recalibrate, fine tune, and not only will things get easier, but you’ll only get a stronger sense of who you are and what you offer.

4. Don’t be afraid to outsource.

My god, the amount of money I’ve lost over the years wasting time on tedious tasks! It took a long time to realize that TIME is just as valuable as a tangible resource. It may seem cheaper to do something yourself, but if someone else can do it 10x faster for whatever reason, they’ve figured out their niche, not you. Pay the people that know their niche, and yours will only get stronger.

5. Do NOT be afraid to raise your prices.

My fear of raising my pricing when I first started was what my husband called my “poor catholic white girl syndrome”. Maybe the lesson should be to know your own personal cultural handcuffs and don’t be shackled by them! Know your worth. It’s a hard lesson. But when you have faith in the unique perspective and talent you bring to the market, then that is when you can price yourself at what your worth and not lose one wink of sleep over it.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

Well, I get up at 5am and meditate… I’m kidding. Honestly? CBD Gummies, and seeking out humorous instagram accounts. If you’re doom-scrolling, set yourself up to laugh a little along the way!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Creating a green-initiative economy… flipping capitalism on its head and instead of 10 people making a billion dollars every day, a billion people work for a living wage, eat clean food, and breath clean air. I honestly think it’s the only way we’re going to have anything to leave our grandkids.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Michael Schur, he’s a brilliant writer, and does it with comedy and that I think is the hardest genre. Making something so good, that’s deep, successful, and important that a very broad American audience can not only absorb but also laugh at is like giving a feral cat a pill. He’s done it flawlessly so many times.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram: @sepiastudiochicago

Website: coming soon! But for reference:

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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