I haven’t done an interview in quite a while, and it’s not for lack of trying. The ladies I want to interview are amazing, and amazingly busy, so I have had to be patient while the world sends me fabulous women to feature in this series. This week, I’m thrilled to feature the brilliant Fathima Kathrada of Fathima’s Studio. I have admired her blog since 2011, and she’s one of the magical, mystical, KZN creative crowd that I mentioned in a previous post (or two, er, three).
I have admired her work with watercolours and drooled over the dreamy logos she’s created. In 2014, I sent her a rather random email to commission a watercolour painting of a deer for my creative room. That creative room has since become my office, and said deer painting is still hanging on my gallery wall. I look at it every day and I’m so proud to have a piece of her work in my home.
So when I was brainstorming names for this series, Fathima’s came up without too much thought. She’s been in business for a few years, and she gets extremely real on what it takes to be a creative person making a living from their art. This interview is a long one, but I loved reading Fathima’s writing, and there was no way I was going to cut her answers short. I’m so grateful that she put aside a chunk of her time to answer these questions so honestly. I see in her a kindred spirit. Okay, she may love cats, and I love dogs; she’s a coffee drinker, and I adore tea, but I imagine it would be so much fun to meet her for a coffee/tea date and a walk through the Durban Botanical Gardens.
I love her hand lettering style and the way she includes her personality in her brand without ever coming across as full of herself or narcissistic.
You should follow her on Instagram. Seriously. How gorgeous are her drawings – she calls them “doodles” – that she scatters throughout her feed?
So without making you read more of what I have to say, I hand over to Fathima.
Q: Briefly tell us about your business journey. (What helped you decide to start your own business? What did you do before working for yourself?)
A: My decision to start my own business came from being unhappy with what I was getting through working for other people. I wanted to have more flexibility with my time and be able to work on projects that I actually cared about. I wanted to be able to have a daily life and work situation that were satisfying, and didn’t make me feel like I’m desperately trying to “get through” the week and live for the weekends. I didn’t want my life to exist only in two out of seven days of the week, because that’s not much of a life. I’d worked at several agencies before I started my business, in various fields of design, and found that it was more or less the same situation everywhere. Although the people were great, there were systems and attitudes that I wasn’t happy with and that didn’t align with my vision of a good life, so I was at a point where I was truly miserable pretty much all the time, was questioning my career choice and looking at completely different directions in order to get onto a happier path. I felt like I had no creativity left in me and never had any ideas. So it was definitely a time to make a serious change.
Q: What was the process you followed when starting to set up your brand?
A: I had a blog that I had been running since about 2009, so I had some kind of presence and following from that, so decided to just go along with that to start off with. Because of already having that “persona” with a following, I was conflicted about how to present myself now as a business… Should I go with the blog name as a business brand? Should I use my own name? Should I create something entirely new…? I didn’t really find an answer to this for a few years and just kind of went along with my blog. Towards the end of 2015, I felt the need for a more cohesive presence that encompassed what I do as a business, as well as the blog. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to communicate with my branding, the purpose of the name and the brand, who I wanted to work with, and how I wanted my audience to see me. Coming up with a business name is hard. I deliberated about it for ages and eventually settled on Fathima’s Studio. I kind of wanted my name in it, but didn’t want to use my surname, and felt like the word “studio” had the right connotations in my mind. And so, I settled on that. I then created a logo and branding for myself, and got a website done, and put across this whole new look there and on my social media.
Q: How do you manage your branding and make sure everything you do (from business cards, to packaging, to branding collateral) keeps in line with your brand?
A: I have a set of brand elements, as every brand should have, which includes things like fonts, colours, repeatable graphic elements, etc, and a clear general idea of the aesthetic and vibe of the brand. I put those together in each branded element in a way that makes sense for the purpose of each item. Having a brand guide is helpful to keep you on track with your look and make sure you don’t start adding in off-brand things that you may like.
Q: How do you manage your social media commitments?
A: Hmm… probably not very well, haha. I’ve always been in the habit of being active on social media, but when it comes to doing it as a business it’s obviously quite different. I try to set aside time to schedule all my social media for a week or two in advance, which works well when I do it but unfortunately that rarely happens since I’m not the most organised person, so I end up doing it on the fly – not ideal. I’m most active on Instagram since that’s where I find most interaction these days, and because that encourages me to keep creating so that I have things to post.
Q: How do you motivate yourself to keep going when your inner critic’s voice gets a bit too loud?
A: This is something I battle with a lot. I find it goes in cycles – sometimes the inner critic is mostly silent/turns into a mini cheerleader, but more often it’s cripplingly loud and makes things difficult. The way I deal with it is to try and stay away from looking at too much “inspiration” in the form of the work of fellow creatives that I admire, and instead seek more offline inspiration, generating some new ideas and taking action on them, immersing myself in things that make me happy and make me feel creatively inspired. Pushing through the less-awesome work eventually leads to me getting back on track, but I think that low phase also kind of just takes its course. Although it does get me down, I try not to get too stressed about it and trust that it will pass.
Q: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned since you started your business?
A: Routine is good – I love adding variety to my day, not following a strict routine and making the most of my “freedom”, but that isn’t the best approach if you really wanna get shit done. Routines and systems are what ensure that the things that need to happen, happen. Although I know this, I’m still not the best at implementing it, but I try.
Keep a close eye on your finances and know what’s going on with them. Get out of the mindset of being a “creative” and “not good with numbers so you don’t take an interest in those things”, etc. If you’re running a business, you need to know what your base expenses are, what you need to earn each month to cover those, what you need to charge clients to achieve that and to be up to industry standards with your rates, and have income goals and actively work towards them.
Freelancing/working as a single-person business is not for everyone – it definitely works for me, but I can see how it wouldn’t be ideal for others. I work best on my own, but some people need others around so being alone a lot can get demotivating. Know yourself and your strengths and structure your work life in a way that works for you.
Self-care is essential – as the only person in your business, you have to be working from a full tank to be able to keep going. Sometimes you push yourself too hard and your tank gets too low, and you see the effects of that in your business and your personal life (because as a freelancer those can get combined), so it’s important to keep that in mind and keep re-fueling. You need to find what your fuel is and make an effort to get enough of it.
Grow a filter – with all the “advice” and rules and “musts” and “shoulds” online and from others, you need to be able to filter that for what is best for you and your business. These articles are always written to sound like if you don’t follow what they say, you are 100% doing something wrong/going to lose out on business etc. This is nonsense. Not every bit of advice is suited to every type of business or individual, even if they have supposedly worked wonders for some. It’s best to take these things with a pinch of salt and try them out if you want, but they aren’t the hard and fast rules that they’re made out to be. This is a difficult one because you kind of have to remind yourself and be on guard all the time while online because it’s so easy to be taken in by the titles, but having a clear vision of your goals, your brand, what you are and aren’t, and what you need to be focusing on right now will help you stay on track.
I love this lady’s real talk. She gets shit done while creating a meaningful, joyful life.
Melissa De Klerk
Writer, Web Designer, Digital Media Strategist, Typophile, Inspiration Junkie, Yogi
Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media. She loves creating content strategies and has considerable experience with Website Design and Brand Management.
You can contact her here, and find her on social media by clicking the links below.