Julie Rustad graduated from Drexel in 2001 and now is the owner of 24-7 Creative Solutions, which provides businesses with professional design and creative services. Her company specializes in corporate branding that is rolled out into their identity, marketing collateral like brochures and proposals and also custom e-newsletters, and Web design.
As a young professional, Julie was working as an in-house Art Director when she decided to take the leap into the world of entrepreneurship and started her own graphic design business in Tucson, Arizona. The following is an excerpt from an interview where Julie talks about her journey, the challenges of owning her own company, and her other passions – playing drums in a rock band and competitive tennis.
Can you talk a little bit about why you chose Drexel and your experiences as a student?
Well, it was a perfect fit for me. Drexel has one of the premiere graphic design schools in the country, while it also has a Division I tennis team. I excelled at tennis in high school and was awarded an athletic scholarship. I chose Drexel to pursue my passion of playing tennis, and studying graphic design. At times it was tough balancing my sports career with my academics, but I also learned to multi task, which helps me today as I run my own business.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
After six years of in-house experience as a designer and later an Art Director, I felt like I had grown as a designer and a professional to the point that I wanted to take on more responsibility. And with that, comes a wider collection of clients and interesting projects. I really love that creative aspect of my work. I love finding solutions for my clients. They are often creative themselves but don’t have the tools to put together a branding package for themselves. Often times they don’t have the objectivity to understand what their company should look like to the outside world.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?
It can be difficult to figure out what types of clients are the “right fit”. I like to work with medium-sized businesses that need help. They may need help laying out a new proposal that makes them stand out when it’s laying in a stack along with their competitors proposals. Or, if a company needs a new whole print collateral package and they just realized that they don’t have the expertise to do it and are not in the position to hire a full time designer, I work with them on a monthly basis; as a hired gun. Those are my favorite clients – the ones that I can have long-term relationships with.
What advice would you give to other young professionals who are considering starting a company of their own?
Do a lot of research first. A part of this could include finding someone in your career field that you admire and ask them to act as a mentor. They can offer guidance and think of potential challenges that you didn’t even realize. It can feel very scary to make the leap. The night before I resigned from my in-house Art Director position I read “The Business Side of Creativity” by Cameron S. Foote over and over to gather my courage. Not once over the past few years of owning 24-7 Creative Solutions have I regretted my decision. It can be tough, but it is so rewarding. I love what I do and enjoy working with my clients!
Did you always know that you wanted to go into graphic design?
Well, I always knew I wanted to be an artist and my dad who was a math teacher wasn’t very excited about that career field at first. In high school I took an advertising and design class and fell in love with the process of having a problem, gathering research, creating a concept and having it come into fruition. That’s what I love about what I do. Today my dad is very proud and is happy I am following my dreams.
What is your favorite thing about graphic design?
My favorite thing is actually being able to see something that I create. For example, I was in Boise and I saw a billboard that I did. I have quite a few national clients, so it is very rewarding when I visit their locations and see the final product in person.
Working in the field of graphic design obviously requires a lot of creative thinking. Do you think that you were born with this sense of creativity or was it more a talent that you’ve honed over the years?
I have always been a creative thinker and wanted to be an artist. And that can be nurtured. I obviously expanded my artistic capabilities in school. A creative person has to be able to focus and refine their ideas to really solve a problem for a client. My parents, who were both teachers in New York, encouraged me to work hard. They really helped me hone my study and organizational skills. I credit my success to their encouragement to take on hard challenges.
Can you tell us about a project that you’ve worked on that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
Sure, I would say I enjoy most all of my work, though probably the one that was most exciting and personally rewarding was for my band Mozart’s Sister. I created the brand for the band that appears on every promotional piece that we do. And then as a bonus, the album artwork that I did won two awards last year. It’s fun to be both the designer AND the client.
Where do you see yourself and your company five years from now?
That is a good question because this is a big year for me. My husband and I are in the process of merging our businesses. He makes TV commercials and film work mostly for Los Angeles clients. We have some national contracts and we are expanding our capabilities and providing marketing and advertising strategies in addition to custom design.
In addition to owning your own company, you also play drums in a band. When did you learn to play the drums and how did your band start?
During my time at Drexel I choose music classes for most every elective opening that I had. I took History of Jazz, History of Rock 'n Roll and then, finally in my senior year, I took a Percussion 101 class. I loved learning to play drums. After moving to Arizona a friend mentioned his friend was starting a band and that I should try out. I thought there was no way I would make it, but I got the gig! That was five years ago and today I am in two other rock bands, Mozart’s Sister and The HypnoGogs!