As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kassandra Marsh.
Kassandra is the owner of Lakazdi (La-kazzz-dee), a company that makes the world a more beautiful place, one document a time. Turning graphic design into a systematic process, Lakazdi designs and formats a wide range of documents for clients. Kassandra has been traveling the world with her husband since 2014.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Yeah sure. I will start by saying I am a twin. I have a twin brother. So I spent my whole childhood with a really close friend by my side. In terms of what set me up to do what I do now, computers were coming in a big way when I was a child. We went from handwriting and presenting assignments on cardboard to having to type them all out. So while I joke about being a document formatter since I was 8, it is where I started. I grew up in the 90s and I feel like it was the very best time to grow up because we got to learn to use computers pretty young but there were no mobiles or social media or anything back then. We learnt how to have fun riding bikes or climbing trees. Which I still do today.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I had applied for a very strange job out of the classifieds. They asked for a qualified childcare worker, which I am, who can format business documents, especially forms. It is just such a strange combination; I knew that I had the job before I interviewed. I found out later that they’d intended to put two ads in the classifieds. I got the job and couldn’t believe I could get paid to format documents. It was like a dream come true.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Starting small and doing something I really love has helped immensely. Because of my work, I see many businesses in their startup or level-up phase. And many people try to take on too much at once without getting the very basic processes right. My brain is really wired for processes, systems, and continual improvement so I applied this to my business. It really helps to have a good workflow even if it’s just for the saved time and headaches.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Think of a way that you can do it on the side. It does not make sense to completely give up your job and put so much risk and uncertainty in your life. I genuinely believe it is this risk and uncertainty that holds people back. In the West we see so much of the world in terms of black and white, this or that. But in the East they really find ways to do both. Is there any way you can do both? Perhaps dedicating two hours of your week, every single week, to that passion project is enough to really enliven your life. I did this myself in order to make an inspirational bullet-journal style diary that is full of creative diversions. I really wanted to see that book in the world so I worked on it, two hours a week until it was done.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I do agree with this statement. Perhaps not from my own personal experience but from what I see around me. I know of chefs who eat poorly. Mechanics with bad cars. Landscape gardeners with overgrown lawns. For me, I always see my skills as complete blessings which are so useful for a range of applications. I’m grateful on a daily basis to have my skills and be financially independent because I use my skills to help other people. So this means I don’t dread it. To keep things fresh, I try many different things. One is just to see how quickly I can make something. I get a rush from seeing how little time it can take to make a brochure or workbook if you know what you’re doing. I like to video screen capture my work too. I don’t watch them all but it is certainly interesting to see how my brain works. I make little personal projects for myself regularly and sometimes, when I think other people will benefit from them, I sell them. Oh, and if I have a client that I always dread doing work for, I fire them. I love what I do partly because I love the people I get to work with.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
The things I love most are picking my own hours and what projects I work on. This has been particularly useful when travelling. I’d work for a bit, site-see and then work a bit more. At the moment, my routine is getting my body and mind ready for work in the first two hours of waking, working office hours, and then living my best life in the evenings. The downsides are repetitive admin tasks. I’ve gotten really good at making as much as I can be automated or on auto-pilot. I set a lot of that up because of the years I spent working long days and realizing that most of it was the administration type stuff. A really simple and easy thing to implement is canned responses in Gmail. If you ever type the same email twice, set up a canned response with some fill-in-the-blanks. Such a time saver.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
For a long time, I expected all my clients wanted their work done yesterday and for a fraction of the price. But over time I realized that I had done that to myself. My actual job has clients who understand that the creative process takes some time. And that I need a night to sleep on it and look at the document with fresh eyes. My clients want me to take some extra time and fix nitty-gritty details in the documents, they see the value in having these things done perfectly. I also learnt that so many people hate formatting their documents. Even if they have a great template to work from. It is just not something people love. I always thought since I love formatting documents, it is my zone of genius, that everyone else did too.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
Only when I feel a bit lonely. I work remotely. I don’t have a team of people who talk about things around the watercooler. There is no happy hour or long lunches with colleagues. The world has embraced video chats in a big way and this certainly helps me overcome loneliness. I also work with agencies on projects so that I have a collaborative environment which is easy to miss when working alone.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Taking on a logo design project. It is just not what I do. The whole project was awful for me and the client. I learnt that it is okay to stick to documents. Just because there is a job title called graphic designer doesn’t mean I have to do all the things that this term covers. I can offer my skills which are more production based and make a nice business for myself. I do tell people I am a document designer just so they can work out for themselves what it is that I do. It surprises people though that I can make money from formatting documents. It is just not a job that people hear about.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Women who are the CEO of historically male-dominated industries. I am just so proud of them for continuing to work to a high level in an environment that they have had to build as they go. I think of how much the world has changed since I was born in terms of gender equality and I know it is, in part, these women who have given me a better world to live in.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have done some heavily discounted design work for non-profits I believe in. I also make sure I regularly donate money to certain charities I know are making the world a better place. To decide which charities, I see how they are meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. A big one I advocate for is food security. It is so unfair how grocery stores throw away food while people in the world are starving. One charity I regularly donate to take this food, cook it, and give it to people in need.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Don’t overcomplicate things. There are so many ways to run a business and things you can be doing to market and promote yourself. And I think it has gotten worse with all the marketing courses and social media pressure. But the times I am happiest with my business is when I keep things simple. I used to post on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn three times a week while doing courses on self-promotion. Now I use Hootsuite to repost the same content across all channels. I live a great life because I’ve tested and refined what I do to get maximum lift from minimal effort.
Only have profiles in the places where your clients are. I get most of my work from people visiting the places where I have these profiles. But it took me a long time to realize how important this was. I used to waste a lot of time syncing and maintaining profiles in all the places I could find. Once I realised only a few of them were bringing in clients, I removed the others and regretted that time I wasted on them.
Store your files in Dropbox. The tears I have cried over lost files or having a corrupt hard drive! The last time I needed a new computer, everything was already on cloud storage and most software is cloud based now. Going from brand new computer to fully operational business machine with everything exactly as I left it is now only a couple of hours instead of a few frustrating days.
Multiple currencies and bank fees. I have quite a few payment methods now but at the start I lost so much money to horrible bank fees and foreign currency conversions. I wish I had sorted that out so much sooner. This was especially important for me because my clients are international, and I travel across many countries.
Build all your templates. I know I should have known this one because I make templates for my clients. But having templates for contracts, briefs, proposals, quotes, portfolio items, social media, etc is such a good way to save time and have a reproducible product. If you make a document regularly, it makes no sense to start from scratch each time. You’ll also find that you make less mistakes and consistently produce better looking documents. I’ve even discovered that I jump on more opportunities and grab them faster when I’ve got a template ready to go.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Travel in your hometown. I’ve been travelling the world since 2014 and I always get asked ‘where’ questions. I keep telling people: your hometown. Go stay in a hotel in your hometown. Explore the back alleys. Eat out at the most expensive restaurant in town. Read the “what to do this weekend for free guide” and do it. I remember before I travelled, I had couch surfers staying with me. I would ask them why they chose to travel across the world to see my home town. Their answers were amazing, and they told me so many things about my hometown I didn’t realize. It inspired me to learn more about and to explore what I had overlooked and mistaken for boring or familiar.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Not all that wander are lost”. I was never trying to find myself or get external gratification from my travels. I knew exactly who I was, and why I was there. It’s important to feel okay about wandering. Not having a plan exposes you to new experiences and opportunities. It also makes you flexible and responsive. This is true while travelling, but it is also what enabled me to try many things as I settled into my professional niche. If I hadn’t just wandered, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Anna Renderer from Popsugar Fitness. I have watched her fitness videos for years and they are always so much fun. Her personality really shines through in the videos. The videos inspire me to keep fit and healthy. To have breakfast with someone who has had not just that impact on my life but all those people who watch and do the videos would be interesting. Hopefully, we’d work out before breakfast.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.