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Inspiring Conversations with Susi Clark of Creative Blueprint Design

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susi Clark.

Hi Susi, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I was born and raised in a small town in East Germany (DDR), behind the wall.

Life was simple during those times, crime rates were low, and capitalism was seemingly nonexistent because we were exposed to a communist and socialist lifestyle, and as a young child you don’t know about the hardships that come with that. Everyone had a somewhat similar life path and income.

When the wall came down, we were instantly exposed to capitalism and power struggles but also fun things like choices when you go to the grocery store—so many things like bananas or ham were now available that we didn’t grow up having all the time. But people started competing with one another, many left, big industries collapsed, and new ones were built.

I had a humble but nice childhood. I grew up in a very tight-knit family with my best friend, my sister, always by my side. We were raised surrounded by nature in northeast Germany, right on the water, always enjoying outdoor activities like sailing with my dad, and my mom brought music into our lives, and I enjoyed learning different instruments.

I learned the simple things: to grow your own garden, bake and cook, sew damaged clothes, and most importantly that you work hard for your belongings and take good care of things.

As a young child, for fun, I started drawing every floorplan of every house I stayed in, and I changed them to make them more efficient. But I didn’t know at the time if that’s what I wanted to do for work. I also loved math, geography, publishing, and art.

Going through school was fun for me. I was the class speaker during high school and valedictorian in 10th grade. The last 2 years of high school were a little harder but nothing dramatic that would have kept me from studying in Germany, but I always had high expectations for myself and wasn’t feeling very confident applying to extremely competitive universities at that time.

During my finals, a tiny ad about being an Au Pair in the USA caught my eye. I thought, “Wow, I can learn English, see a different country, and get paid for it?” So I signed up on a whim and within 3 months took my first plane ride ever from Berlin straight to New York City.

Looking back, I don’t know where that courage came from, being 18 years old and leaving everything behind to travel to a foreign country where I barely spoke the language, but I have always had a sense of adventure and determination to make something work. I didn’t even have an email address, and cellphones weren’t a thing yet either. Communicating with my family was not easy at first.

I was extremely fortunate to work for and become part of a very loving family here in Maryland, whom I am still in contact with to this day. While I planned to go back home after my year was up, I ended up staying to help my host family with a delayed Au Pair coming in and started studying. English was my second language, and I still wasn’t fluid yet, but I excelled in school, I loved it and quickly knew that I wanted to finish my degree.

Because I didn’t plan to stay, my classes were random at first, but I noticed that one curriculum fit my classes best and that’s where it all started. I began studying Graphic Design. To me, a page or a design became my floorplan that had to function, be efficient, and look aesthetically pleasing.

Navigating life wasn’t always easy with your family support system being so far away and having to rely on yourself. Paying for school is not something we had to worry about in Germany, but in the US, it is extremely expensive to go to school, especially as an international student.

I didn’t want to burden my parents, although they were very supportive and helped me where they could. I took on many jobs and received a partial transfer scholarship from UMBC for good grades. I worked multiple jobs and paid every semester’s foreign tuition in cash. It was not an easy undertaking. I learned quickly to manage my money wisely. I never took a student loan or any loan for that matter, I just worked hard to not put myself in debt.

I also tried to see my family in Germany as often as I could. I didn’t take vacations or do extravagant things, and I traveled home when I had the time and money. My family also came to visit every few years. We continued to stay very close.

After graduating, I found a graphic design job at a direct response publishing company in Baltimore. Even though I was the newest member within a group of senior designers, I quickly created workflow procedures to make sure each designer on the team would pull their weight, especially when I noticed that I was taking on a lot but was paid the least. I wasn’t afraid to show my value, and I received a raise—yet with a low starting salary, even a 20% raise wasn’t necessarily the American Dream income.

But I had everything I needed. I had a job, I lived comfortably, even started freelancing on the side, and I was able to see my family. I continued to grow with the company and expanded my knowledge of direct response design.

After almost 10 years, of living abroad, I took a 3- months leave of absence from work to go home to Germany, just to be there. My dad was going through some health issues, and I became an aunt for the first time. During that time, I managed for my best friend who studied design with me at UMBC to take over my job (while she was changing careers and on summer break).

When I returned to the States, life continued seemingly. I took on additional responsibilities at my job, naturally started managing new designers, and became the art director. Over the next years, I put together and led a core team of 3 graphic designers and we handled a massive amount of work while the company continued to grow exponentially.

Everything from branding, editorial layouts, and direct mail. In 2011, the company acquired a bookstore and we managed to create new cover designs every week on top of our already crazy workload. The company grew quickly and the need to hire became necessary, but quality production was at the highest of my art teams’ collective interest and we stayed small and worked even harder.

I truly picked an amazing team of designers that were hard-working, willing to learn, adapt, and who are super creative and talented designers. At that time, I was one of 7 directors within a thriving company and I also bought my first house. Life was good.

Yet a few years later, things changed, a lot. I went through a divorce, my sister got very sick, I traveled home often just to be there, and the publishing company became so big that they hired on faster than the speed of light, splitting up the company into multiple smaller ones, which also meant splitting up my team.

At that time, everything was changing, and it was as if my life and my career were starting all over again and the want to take my freelancing business full-time became stronger, yet that was a scary thought. But despite the hardships, I stayed positive and still enjoyed life.

I made wonderful new friends, played a lot of volleyball, joined a sailing team, was in the best shape of my life, managed to buy and stay in my house, and even found a new love.

At work, I rolled with the punches and was dedicated to the company working extremely hard to keep up with the demands. I saw cracks forming and started building my online portfolio just in case things went south.

Suddenly my life took another extremely unexpected turn. While my sister seemed on her way to recovery, unfortunately, she was not. In late January 2019, I took an emergency trip home, and spent every moment with my sister in the hospital, helping my parents navigate through the diagnosis she was given and managing our hospital visits. This was the hardest time of my life.

On the morning of February 2, snowflakes fell gently when my most important person was taken to heaven. While devastated, I was grateful that I was able to be there for her during her last days and moments as she continued to fight and bless me with life lessons.

A few weeks later, I returned to the US and was laid off from my job of 13 years because the company needed to dramatically downsize as I suspected coming. It was hard, but they gave me a good severance package.

Facing one life-changing moment after another was a lot, but I had a great support system, and I was able to rely on my positive outlook on life and see the silver lining in losing my job; I felt grateful in a lot of ways.

I needed time to mourn, think, and refocus. With what happened, the need for more flexibility to see my family more often was stronger than ever, yet I loved my life in the US, and so the idea of trying to start my own company seemed like the perfect fit—building a bigger bridge to be part of my family in Germany and not having to rely on how many vacation days I would get from a company.

So, I went for it, despite being a sole-income (or no-income) homeowner, living in a desirable area. My bills were not cheap and giving having my own company a try felt like a now-or-never situation. Still to this day, I say, “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll look for a new job.” It’s now June of 2022 and my company, Creative Blueprint Design, is continuing to grow stronger every year, slow and steady.

While I am continuing to figure out the right balance between life and work, I LOVE that having my own business gave me flexibility, freedoms I didn’t feel before and so many new avenues to grow—as a business owner, as a designer, and as a person. I love learning, and I am determined and resilient, which seems like a good mix for an entrepreneur, but despite my strong suits, I also navigate through people-pleasing and imposter syndrome like many other people and business owners.

I wouldn’t be who I am without the experiences I went through and the people in my life. By using my sister’s iconic hair color as one of my company’s branding colors, I am happy that I found a subtle way to tie her memory into this new chapter as a constant reminder of my why and to give me strength to be the best I can be for my family, myself, and to produce good quality work for my clients.

I love life, I love growing, and I hope to continue to bring smiles to people’s hearts.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As you can read in my story, it has not been an easy road.

Living thousands of miles away from your family in a foreign country, not speaking the language fluently at first, going through many life-changing moments like the divorce or the company I worked for, drastically changing dynamics, starting my own business and all its obstacles, and most of all losing my sister and other family members during the same year were challenges I navigated as best as I could.

Having your own business versus being a freelance designer on the side is a completely different undertaking yet having only yourself to rely on puts a different fire in your belly, and to me, that was always accomplished with hard work, determination, discipline, and keeping my why in mind but also not forgetting to have fun and enjoy life as well.

We’ve been impressed with Creative Blueprint Design, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Creative Blueprint Design focuses on brand and book design. My clients range from solopreneurs to self-publishing authors, publishers, and mid-to large-size companies with various marketing needs.

I design logos and support companies with their marketing needs. For my book clients, I create cover designs or format the entire layout of their books while then also helping them to get their books printed or self-published. No matter the genre (fiction, nonfiction, children’s books), the size of your book, or where you are in the process, I can help!

With over 15 years of experience in design and marketing, a passion for functional simplicity, and a heart full of dedication and German work ethics. I can bring your design project to life, make you stand out from the crowd, and create brand consistency, which will increase your revenue.

You can contact me through my website www.CreativeBlueprintDesign.com or follow and support me on Instagram under @CreativeBlueprintDesign.

Any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general?
Connect with other entrepreneurs and others in your field, learn from them, help each other grow, and support one another.

Find other business owners that work with the same target audience/client but in a different field. For example, connecting with copy editors has created invaluable networking and referral connections for me because we both work with authors.

If you are a graphic designer, I would recommend building relationships with print vendors. They’ll become your best friends and might also turn into referral sources. Being able to provide print quotes and advice to your clients can be extremely valuable.

Seek out honest business coaching individuals or networks to learn from. Follow your ideal mentors or idols and listen to their advice. Make sure that if you do hire someone, they are the right fit for you.

Read as many business and marketing books as you can. There is so much value in these books. One of my favorite marketing books to recommend is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Thuy Waks and Kaja Ness

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