Alexis Andra is the first to admit that running a business isn’t as glamorous as it appears on the ‘gram. And the irony isn’t lost on us. As the founder of The Shift Creative, a custom art installation, event design, and product styling company, Andra knows a thing or two about curating an exceedingly Instagrammable moment.
So, we asked the successful entrepreneur to pull back the filter for a second (the Instagram filter, that is) and fills us in on how she successfully turned her creativity into a profitable business. Ahead, she shares all the nitty-gritty details, including the biggest mistakes she’s made along the way, the tools she swears by for staying on top of her business financials, and the hardest decision she’s ever had to make professionally.
CREATE & CULTIVATE: The Shift Creative is an art installation and product styling company that specializes in large-scale art for conferences, events, and storefronts. How did you turn your creativity into a profitable business? What is the secret to taking the leap and making your dream career happen?
ALEXIS ANDRA: There’s no magic key. Work hard, seize opportunities, and be great to work with. Here’s the deal, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have or how talented you might be: If you lack character, no one is going to want to work with you.
In an interview, you mentioned that, at the beginning of The Shift Creative, you started contacting people you knew and organized photoshoots. From there, you started to submit to larger blog platforms and noted that social media was also a big part of growing the business. Can you talk us through that process? Would you recommend it now? And what was your social media strategy? How did it grow your business? What advice do you have for other founders who want to grow their brand organically as you have?
When I started my company, I had no idea what I was doing. Heck, I didn’t even think it would be a company. I started by utilizing what little I did know, and who I knew. I reached out to friends who were graphic designers, models, hair and makeup artists, and so on. I straight called on those I knew and said, “Hey, I’m starting a blog I think we could create some really cool stuff together. You in?” Start with what you know. You might have more resources than you think! I started creating content I loved, submitting it to large blog platforms, and they got ACCEPTED! So, I kept doing it. The more you’re known the more possibilities you have in being hired! Seems like a no brainer right?!
It’s really from my early days of styling shoots and collaborating with others that my following grew. Instagram is essentially my portfolio. It reveals my past and current work, who I’ve worked for, and gives some insight into my personality. I’ve shared a lot of personal aspects on my feed. While I know a lot of companies don’t mix their business with their personal life, I have become the face of my company. People can relate to my stories, to my pain, and can celebrate with me in my successes. I always say that people don’t just invest in your business; they invest in you. Use social media in a way that helps others. Use your story. Use your talent. People are attracted to relatable, not perfect.
Starting a new business is never easy—what have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way and what have they taught you?
Don’t take shortcuts. Do the hard work upfront. If you get lazy or overwhelmed by the onslaught of work it’ll only be harder to do things the right way after the fact!
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you #FindNewRoads + switch gears to find success?
Comparison, failure, and self-doubt will always rear their ugly heads in business. When I find myself going down that rabbit hole, I think about the opportunities I’ve had, the company I’ve built, and the people I’ve impacted. So often we lose track of our own success because our eyes are too busy looking at others. I focus on the success of The Shift Creative and how I’m going to continue to challenge myself creatively.
You’ve achieved so much success, but what do you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were first starting out? Why?
Being in this industry, you either won’t get taken seriously or you will be deemed superficial—or both. Remember, God has your reputation.
When you’re a small business you have to fall in love with the numbers. What have been some of the hardest money lessons you’ve learned along the way? What is your #1 money tip for small business owners? Why?
You have to execute at the caliber of your ideal client. I remember when I was first starting out, I would get frustrated that potential clients would ask me to execute champagne-level work on a beer budget, ya feel? I started to create pieces that I really liked just for me and that I wanted to be known for, and eventually, it targeted the right client (i.e the one with the larger budget). If you don’t believe in your work, your client won’t either. You have to answer why they need your services. What can you do for them? Not only why they should invest in your services but why they need too!
What are some of the tools you use to stay on top of your business financials?
I seriously just use Quickbooks as my main business tool! I utilize payroll, run profit/loss reports, and pay taxes through it!
From the outside (and social media), you run a very successful business, but the reality is “not all that glitters is gold.” What is it really like to run a small business? And what is your definition of success?
Running a business is not as glamorous as it appears on the ‘gram! Most days, I’m on my computer preparing quotes, brainstorming ideas, taking conference calls, designing (and then revising), and managing my team (and that has its own difficulties). PLUS, being a wife and mom of two! Someone hand me a coffee! Some days, I don’t feel motivated to create and I get discouraged. Other days, I thrive off my work but feel conflicted in my family life as I miss field trips on install days. Each day, I aim to do the best I can.
“Success” is tricky, isn’t it? You achieve a goal, and there’s another one right behind it. You make (x) amount and all of a sudden it needs to be more. You’ve worked with so-and-so, but there’s someone cooler right around the corner. If I chase after that meaning of success, I will be chasing it forever, unsatisfied, discouraged, and discontent. I ask everyone that comes on my podcast, It’s Not What It Seems, how they define success, and I love hearing their answers. So, here’s mine.
Success to me is a bike ride with my family after a week where I’ve worked hard and done my best. It’s family movie nights with pizza after my team and I have pulled off another big and crazy install. It’s working hard in my marriage, overcoming obstacles, and persevering even when we’ve wanted to quit (BTW, did I mention we work together?!). Above it all, success is having my faith be the cornerstone of every aspect. My work. My relationships. My business. Without that, I’m just chasing the wind.
What is the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make professionally? And how did you get through it/what did you learn from it?
Choosing to let go of someone on my team was really hard. It came at a very busy time for Shift. I had to ask myself if I wanted this person to stay in that role that I knew was the wrong fit, or let that person move on, but be short-staffed. I chose the latter. Sometimes, you have to do what’s best for your team even if the timing seems chaotic.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who have an idea but don’t know where to start to execute it?
Seek wisdom from those who have gone before you. Ask those who you look up too! Email them. DM then. No answer? Do it again. What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t respond? But what if they do? Sounds like a risk worth taking! Collaborate with others in your industry. The people you look up too started off with no followers. They started off with no clients. They started off just like you. But, they started.
Photographer: Jenna Peffley