It was just over a year ago when I first heard about The Wonder Jam: Allie Lehman announced on her blog that she and her husband, Adam Lehman, were starting a new business together to help entrepreneurs “be the brand of their dreams.” I was just starting to think about how to make writing Hither & Thither viable (financially) and needed some advice. I was particularly excited to find a team that might be able to consult on design as well as all of the stuff I’d until then ignored, but wanted to learn about (SEO? Alt Tags? What?). And before I knew it, we were redesigning the site!
It’s been such a pleasure working with them; I told Adam the other day that he could easily be the volunteer coach on a kids’ basketball team—their enthusiasm is wonderful. But what’s really amazing is, just over a year later, getting to follow all of their success. So I wanted to ask them about how they took that leap to create the thing of their dreams.
To start, we’d love a little background about your history at The Wonder Jam. How did the idea for this business come about?
Adam: For many years, we both worked for other people. Allie grew up an artist—painter, yearbook designer, and photographer. I grew up on a hog farm and later worked at a marketing agency and then a smaller start-up right before we launched The Wonder Jam. I gained a lot of experience working between startups, agencies, and huge corporations.
Allie: Before we launched, I owned my own business called Allison Lehman Design. I did really well as a one-person team and was often brought in at other agencies and start-ups to help with their own brand and collateral. Most of the time, they were too busy to focus on their own business and so I was able to take on those projects left on the back burner.
Adam: We always thought the other was pretty talented—we’d lay in bed at night and conspire: we’d say, “we should work together!” The idea really just stemmed from us wanting to spend more time together and to have the lifestyle we dreamed of. We just had to figure out how to make that dream profitable.
When someone asks what you do, how do you answer? What’s your elevator pitch?
Allie: I tend to start the conversation with, “I own my own business.” I like to explain that The Wonder Jam’s main offerings include designing and building websites, branding small businesses and producing specialized photography for our clients. It’s hard to hone in on only a handful of offerings because there are so many other things we offer potential clients. We help people publish and market their books, we work with bloggers, and hold classes and workshops.
Tell us about a typical day in your work life.
Adam: My day starts early and typically consists of a lot of writing—creating content and managing communications for clients and their online products. I also serve as project and business manager, which means I spend a lot of time invoicing, budgeting, reading over contracts, and interacting with clients via email.
Allie: My best days are meeting-free and filled with sketching, designing, photographing, and creating. I live and breathe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and Lightroom.
Did either of you study what you’re doing now in school? If not, what skills did you have to learn—if any—in order to launch your business?
Allie: I studied design in college. Adam studied educational theory and communications. Those things often bleed into our work.
Adam: As far as the web is concerned, I’m self-taught. Blogging is really what captured our attention. The prospect of being able to put out ideas and connect with so many fascinating folks around the world had both of us loving the web, design, and social media.
Allie, you were freelance before starting The Wonder Jam. Do you miss anything from your freelancing days?
I still do some freelance work. As a graphic designer, I’m hired specifically to design info graphics and collateral for some pretty large companies. Those aren’t on our website—in the scheme of things, they’re side projects and are less about the big picture.
What do you love most about doing what you do?
Adam: Honestly, the work we’re putting out now is the most exciting. We’ve gotten into a really, really clear flow with our branding process and have become great at bringing out out the unique qualities of the bloggers and brands we work with. We have a clear style and aesthetic, but the process is really about bringing what’s unique about each client to the surface, and communicating those things effectively.
Allie: What makes us happiest about what we do is equipping individuals and small business owners with a visual brand that excites them. We love hearing our clients say, “It really feels real now.” We know that feeling, and to see our clients light up is a reward in itself.
What are some challenging aspects of your job that might surprise people?
Allie: As a small business, we have a daily, delicate balance to maintain: how do we make each client feel like a priority while implementing well-organized guidelines and processes?
Adam: Also, when do we stop working? Do we keep our email alerts on 24/7? Can we really work on every client’s project daily, or should we batch our work? These things can be really difficult to navigate when you don’t have an admin assistant, a project manager, a junior designer, or an in-house developer.
Are there still things you’re learning as you go? Are there areas in your work that you hope to improve?
Adam: We have a lot of clients right now. Too many, really. Over the past year, we’ve worked to get better and better at managing our workflow and leaving time for creativity. We’re better than when we started, but we’re still not quite where we’d like to be in terms of balance.
What’s it like to work with your significant other? Are there any secrets to your success?
Allie: We’re on the same page: a few years ago, we decided that working at corporate jobs with the goal of retirement wasn’t our desire. We wanted to take advantage of the life we have now in our late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. We want to travel, try new things, live lean and experiment. Deciding that for ourselves was so key in how we run The Wonder Jam and how we make decisions.
We’ve found a key to working together effectively is to communicate far more than feels necessary. We now block out meeting times for just the two of us. Overall, it’s extremely fulfilling to work side-by-side and we feel we fall more in love every day because we’re doing it together.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to get into your line of work?
Allie: Start before you start! We both were building our business and our list of clients and contacts before venturing into this. Put yourself out there, create the things you want to be hired to create, and be available to do the grunt work—or work that doesn’t pay much. In college, I designed $20 logos for Etsy shops and volunteered to design things in Columbus for free when I first lived here, just to get my name out there.
As for tangible and specific ways to take the leap into being an entrepreneur? Our advice would be to start saving money, find resources online that will teach you what you need to know. Don’t go back to school. Connect with people who are doing exactly what you hope to do someday.
Thanks, Allie and Adam! I love that advice, “Connect with people who are doing exactly what you hope to do someday,” particularly because it pushes you to start having a vision and ask yourself “What does the goal look like?,” or even “Would I want to do what my boss does?”
Learn more about The Wonder Jam.
Thank you to Shoko Wanger for her help with this series! Read more about the inspiration behind it. Know someone who’d be great for “The Work We Do,” or have a request for a profession you’d love to know more about? Email email@example.com.