Courtney Ahn is the founder of Courtney Ahn Design – a brilliant one-woman design and illustration studio based in Portland, Oregon. She helps go-getters, makers and society shakers build and develop their brands through accessible and transparent design services. Courtney’s images that addressed white privilege and anti-racism caught the eye of WWW founder Lorrie Thomas Ross. Once we saw Courtney’s website, work, and illustrations, we wanted to learn more about this Ah-mazing artist, entrepreneur, and woman.
Meet Courtney Ahn!
What inspired you to launch a web-based business? As a twenty-something, I practically grew up on the web and given the digital aspect of the design field, it was just a no-brainer for me. I’ve also never been that much of a social butterfly and being able to communicate, advertise, and build a following online has felt so much more comfortable and easier for me.
What do you love most about having your own business? There’s something incredibly empowering about making your own money. Knowing that you’re not being shortcutted by your company. Knowing that your coworker isn’t being paid more than you. Knowing that you determined your worth. That’s what I love.
What is the most challenging about running a business? I think the big first hurdle was, “Okay I’m ready, but how the heck do I get clients!?” It felt like all the work I had put into starting up my business just wasn’t delivering results, or at least not when I wanted it to. And soon enough, with a bit of patience, consistent marketing, client references, I had a steady client flow. Then all my problems became good ones, but equally challenging: accounting, managing client communication, figuring out taxes, etc.
What are some professional risks you’ve taken that led to positive outcomes? I’d say probably the largest risk I’ve taken was leaving my 9-5 to work at my freelance studio full-time. It was equal parts liberating and terrifying, but I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at now. Another risk that had been 5 years in the making was aligning my external business values with my personal values. I’m no longer afraid to post content on my business profile that may be considered controversial or political as I strongly believe the people I work with should understand my values and viewpoint as a minority woman. Surprisingly, being open about this has led to so many great opportunities with social justice organizations, minority-owned businesses, and like-minded brands.
Where’s your favorite place to get work done? Pre-isolation, I was an absolute sucker for a really trendy coffee shop. Something about sipping an overpriced coffee, a great atmosphere, and being surrounded by other artists is motivating!
Name three web tools you can’t live without.
What does your typical day look like? I’m a total creature of habit so it’s incredibly formulaic. I get up at 7:00am everyday, shower, make coffee, and get “video call ready”. Don’t let these earrings deceive you, I am most certainly wearing sweatpants! By 8:00 am, I’m in my office and usually spend the morning prioritizing tasks for the day, replying to emails, taking consultations, and drafting project paperwork. I’ll take a quick lunch, probably eating some quick frozen food or leftovers. The afternoon is typically when I bust out all my design work for the day and blast 80’s montage music to get motivated. If I actually got all my work done, the rest of the evening is reserved for TV cuddles with my pup!
How do you unplug from work? This is probably the oddest thing, but rollerskating! I picked up the hobby a few months back from a close friend and it’s become my favorite pastime to completely get work off my mind and focus on more physical activities.
What tips for maintaining work/life balance would you give to other businesswomen? Set clear and intentional boundaries between work and personal life not only for yourself, but others. I’m working only from X to X, this many days a week, and stick to it. At 6:00pm, I’m muting all email/slack alerts and not responding til the next morning. Schedule your lunch, literally put it on your calendar and do not let yourself work through it! Take your days off seriously, don’t let work encroach both mentally and physically on your well-deserved days off.
What investments have most helped your business grow? Time/money in developing really good brand content. For me, that was spending 10 hours a week on unique content for my channels, work I wasn’t being compensated for but ultimately gained return on through clients/projects gained from that initial content.
Business-wise, where do you see yourself in 10 years? I’d love to be doing exactly what I’m doing now, but with a little more clientele, more passion projects, and a trusted network of designers to employ within my practice and work alongside.
What advice would you give your younger self? It’s okay to put all of yourself into something and not be sure if it’s what you should be doing. Follow things that interest you and eventually they will lead to the things that inspire, empower, and fuel your passions.
What is the number one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to run a web-based business? Know your audience and where the best place is to be to find them. The web has so many facets and platforms that facilitate business, and understanding where you can fit in is key to finding success.