Gabrielle Blades is the owner and artist behind Blades Creative. This thirty-year-old dynamo has had an exciting journey. She’s gone from a self-proclaimed “artsy person” to the owner of a successful design and branding company. Gabrielle defines Nongirly as “Taking ownership of your own life and doing what you need to do for yourself and defining your own success.” Her story is one of creating your own opportunities, trusting your intuition, and making yourself a priority.
What was Gabrielle Blades like in her early years?
Gabrielle loved drawing, dancing, and painting as a kid. She also had a drive that pushed her to enter competitions and work hard at her craft. Also, she explored emerging creative technology, like Kid Pix, Myspace, and Printshop. She liked the mesh of all classical and digital art. She was also a realist. “I can make a job out of this. Making a hobby into a profession was neat to me.” She had supportive parents, a mother that modeled being a successful smart business owner, and she knew she wanted to make a living doing design.
Gabrielle grew up in Louisiana. She was a shy kid who was clearly on her own path. Reflecting upon that time, she wished that she had not worried so much about what others thought and their judgment on what brought her joy.
When she was 16, she and her family made a pivotal move from Louisiana to a city in Tennessee. The change in geography helped her “find her people.” Gabrielle said, “Finding your people helps build your confidence in who you are and what you can accomplish.”
…The pivotal move and the impact it has had in Gabrielle’s career
The move started her on a path to attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC). While studying at UTC, Gabby entered the program thinking she would be a web designer. After school, an opportunity with the City was presented to her, and she shifted gears creating maps for the City Department of Transportation. This practical opportunity steered Gabrielle to more traditional types of graphic design and projects. One of her pieces of advice is, “Take every opportunity that comes your way when starting out.” The part-time gig at the City wasn’t initially what Gabrielle thought she would be doing, but it helped her continue on the path of making a living through her love of design.
Chattanooga is a city where “Innovation” is a value. As part of that, a Chamber of Commerce program incubates new small business owners, and a graphic design colleague of Gabrielle connected her with the program. The opportunity to create different kinds of projects for various audiences was appealing to Gabrielle. She got her business license and EIN, and Blades Creative was born. Gabrielle did all this before 25.
Why we all, like Gabrielle, should trust our intuition
While going through this process, Gabrielle wasn’t sure if being a small business owner was what she was destined to do. Nevertheless, she trusted her intuition and pressed forth. Likewise, she wasn’t sure how long she would be a small business owner, but work was coming her way, and “it felt right.” She also knew that the projects she was creating while in the Incubation space made her feel valued. That feeling was a value that she filed away, knowing that she knew she wanted to feel valued whatever path she chose.
When Gabrielle started, she took every project offered to her from for-profit and non-profit companies. She was drawn to projects uplifting small business and providing services to non-profits that may not have large budgets. She said this taught her a great deal about professionalism and collaborating with clients.
While enjoying the work, Gabrielle admits that she was “turning out projects with very little consciousness for work/life boundaries, what to charge, and how to hold clients accountable to their end of the deal [paraphrased].”
Why knowing and embracing yourself is key to succeed as a business owner
As she gained more experience, she was able to clarify what kinds of clients she wanted to take on and what type of work filled her up. Five years into the business she said, “You learn about what you are good at, who you like to work with, work style, process [in both business and design] …”
This process also taught Gabrielle what mattered for her as a small business and for her personally. She was taking on whatever project came her way with little focus, and she was feeling drained. In 2019, she had a lot going on and accolades were coming from all directions, but she wanted to refocus her business so that she could both grow and maintain what she had built. She felt up until then she had compartmentalized her life and her business and that she wanted there to be more crossover, particularly in interest.
She wondered, “How can I make this easier for me and how can I create the space to have rest and do the work…” Gabrielle did some soul searching and found that choosing the path is important. She wanted to incorporate the holistic parts of her life, like cycling and yoga, into the work she was doing. She knew that as a small business owner, you need to manage yourself and take care of yourself. So, she wanted to create a lifestyle where her business and life were integrated in a healthy, manageable way.
How Gabrielle is running her own business on her own terms
In 2019, she narrowed in on her audience, what she was charging, and what she felt she had a unique skill set to address. In the middle of the pandemic, she rebranded and created a company focused on, “An intuitive, intentional design process that ensures that the most important pieces of your brand become an experience for your clients or customers.”
Reflecting on where she has been and where she is going, Gabrielle feels that it was the right move to start her own company and make her own way. “There are challenging parts and amazing parts —entrepreneurship can be a glamorous thing.” Gabrielle, you sure are glamorous!