The Design Business Show 180: Undergoing a Business Transformation with Melissa Heckel

Director : Melissa Burkheimer | April 7, 2022
Check out episode 180 of The Design Business Show with Melissa Heckel to learn all about how she was able to transform her business!

Melissa is the Founder and Creative Director behind Branch Creative Co.

Design has been a passion of hers for years—from her early days (before even turning double digits) when she would put together the “family newsletter” using Microsoft Paint, to her first real job as a designer at a large print shop…she has always loved this industry!

She started her company back in 2009 as a side hustle while working full time as the Creative and Communications Manager at the Sioux Falls Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. As her family grew, she was blessed to be able to grow that side hustle into a full-blown design studio!

Since then, she’s built a team of contracted design associates to help her manage the day-to-day client work, allowing her to focus on what she loves the most—working with businesses one-on-one to bring their passion and purpose to life through a strategic branding and design process.

Her home studio is located in Brandon, SD where she and her husband have two daughters and one cute little pup named Finn. Fun fact: she is also Co-Owner and Director of Marketing for Severance Brewing Co. located in beautiful downtown Sioux Falls, SD!

Here’s what we covered on the episode:

Melissa’s Passion for Design + Starting Her Freelance Side Hustle

  • How we met through Michelle, who told me that melissa would be a great guest for the podcast
  • Melissa shares that she went to school for design and has always had a passion for it — after graduating, she worked at a print shop and then moved into the creative and communications manager position for their local visitors bureau
  • While working full-time, Melissa started doing freelance design on the side, and by the time she had her second daughter about 8 years ago, she was able to go full-time into freelance and build her own company
  • At the print shop, Melissa worked as a production designer and shares that she learned a lot about the print industry and how to prep different files
  • Melissa missed working with clients on projects, so she applied for the creative and communications manager position at the visitors bureau, where she got to do different event promotions and design advertisements — this is where she met a lot of her first clients as a freelancer
  • How Melissa was focused on her full-time job and building relationships through it so one day she could branch off and do freelance
  • How Melissa wasn’t ready to go full-time into freelance yet, so she worked part-time as a designer at a digital marketing agency for a couple of years and shared what was great about the agency was that they didn’t offer print services, so they were able to refer clients to her
  • The story of how Melissa was able to lean on the relationships she already had to get the opportunity to leave full-time work, go part-time while starting to build her freelance business

Melissa’s Transition to Full-Time Freelance + Building Her Business

  • Melissa says to lean into the relationships you do have, don’t be afraid to call the people you know or meet up with them, and says, even if you don’t get the job or opportunity right away, you are planting the seeds and nurturing those relationships
  • How Melissa was open about her goals and intentions to eventually go full-time into freelance with the digital agency and how her services and the digital agency’s services aligned really well, so there was never a lot of competition
  • Before going full-time on her own, Melissa had a new client who was going to replace her income from her part-time job
  • Melissa shares that she used to charge $50 – $60/ hr for freelancing and was doing it about 15 – 20 hrs a week
  • How Melissa was naive in thinking that it would be 100% blissful joy working from home as a mom of a 3-year-old and a newborn and says that the transition was harder than she thought it would be
  • The biggest thing Melissa learned during her transition to working from home full-time was that she needed help with her kids so she could focus, serve her clients to the best of her ability and build her business the way she wanted to
  • To show people she was successful, Melissa thought she needed to build a team and have a brick and mortar store for people to see her studio — up until November 2020, that was still her goal, and she had hired additional designers and a business development manager

The Shift in Melissa’s Business + Implementing The Brand Process

  • In December 2020, Melissa’s grandfather unexpectedly passed away from covid, which hit her hard and left her feeling very unmotivated for a few months
  • In the first quarter of 2021, Melissa lost two of her biggest clients due to them hiring her position full-time, in-house, her business development manager had found a full-time opportunity, and one of her designers decided to take a full-time position with an agency and her other designer was going on maternity leave soon
  • How this shift in Melissa’s business helped her reenvision how she saw the growth of her company and through a string of events, Melissa came across a new coach, Lydia Kerr, who had started a program called, The Brand Process
  • Melissa shares that she’s been working with Lydia through her coaching program for about a year and that it has completely transformed her business — Melissa learned that she could offer a very solid brand process and charge premium pricing for it
  • Melissa feels that she can now approach brand strategy as a designer and as a business owner because she’s owned her own business for 12 years and now has the brewery
  • Now that Melissa has The Brand Process, her vision for her studio is not a brick and mortar; it’s not a big team, but she shares that she still has an associate designer who helps her with the day to day, hourly design work for her clients
  • Melissa’s focus is on all the brand and web clients and says that she only takes 1 – 2 a month because it is very hands-on and intense — they spend several weeks talking about their brand strategy before jumping into design
  • Melissa shares the deep dive into brand strategy she does with clients and shares that the work being produced with this new process is so much better and intentional, which her clients appreciate
  • Helping other business owners is Melissa’s passion because she is one herself and says that she loves diving deep into their brand strategy and being able to help them with the design after
  • Before The Brand Process, Melissa was doing logos, web design and says that the majority of her work is what she calls ‘hourly work’ — she wasn’t sending proposals or quotes for each little project her clients had; they would email her whenever they had design needs, and she’d bill them hourly
  • Melissa’s business name, Branch Creative Co., comes from being an extension of her clients’ team
  • Since making the shift in implementing The Brand Process, now Melissa still takes care of clients through hourly work, but she’s not out seeking more hourly clients anymore and is a lot more strategic and picky with who she works with for small hourly projects
  • Melissa walks through how her process works now; she starts with brand strategy, moves into the logo design, and after the logo is approved, they work on any marketing collateral they might need and finally move into web design
  • Implementing The Brand Process has given Melissa so much more freedom because everything is scheduled out on the calendar, and she knows what to expect; It’s also given her more control because once her slots are filled up, she’s telling people that she is booked out until a certain date, which she’s never been able to say before
  • Last year, Melissa’s goal was to get her process dialed in, which she did; her goal this year is to automate parts of her process, like client onboarding, and says she is working with a Dubsado specialist
  • Melissa shares that clients work directly with her for the most part during the process, but her assistant designer will jump in and help with initial logo concepts and will then build out all the logo files once the logo is ready
  • Another system Melissa has heard about and is thinking about implementing into her business is the Logo Package Extension for Illustrator that will name out and save different logo files for you
  • 2021 was a year of transformation for Melissa’s business, so this year, she will be focusing primarily on personal things and trying to implement automated systems into her process

Pricing Approaches – Then vs. Now

  • Before having The Brand Process, Melissa thought in terms of hourly rates for her logo design package and shared that she was charging around $100/hr
  • After implementing The Brand Process, she increased her prices by 200% but realized after talking to her coach and other designers that it is so much more than just an hourly
  • Hourly rates are the easiest way to charge clients, but the flawed aspect of it is the more experience you get, the more efficient you get, and the less you’re going to get paid
  • Another form of charging for design work is by value pricing, which Melissa explains is basing your price based on how much value it will bring to the client — but that could be different for each client, so Melissa doesn’t think it is the most transparent or fair way to charge
  • Through The Design Process, Lydia taught Melissa a blended approach where you take into consideration your hourly rate, the value it’s going to offer the clients, and your experience as a designer
  • Now, Melissa has a base price for brand strategy, a base price for brand strategy + logo design, and a base price for web design and says she can add additional collateral pieces to each package if the client needs
  • For Melissa’s life-long clients, she still charges hourly but, going forward, she will use the blended pricing approach for her brand and web design projects
  • How Melissa doesn’t see herself as a freelancer anymore but as a studio owner and creative director instead
  • The story of how Melissa named her business Branch Creative Co. because she wanted to take her name out of it and because she sees herself as an extension of her clients’ teams
  • Melissa shares that she doesn’t do all the marketing for clients when it comes to ad buys or marketing plans; they are the branding and design branch when it comes to the overall marketing efforts
  • The biggest thing Melissa has learned in the last 10 – 15 years is to trust herself; she used to compare herself to others, but through working with more designers and executive-level businesses, she realized that she actually does have a lot of experience and knowledge
  • To any creatives out there, Melissa says, don’t be afraid to lean into what you have and what your talents are and to live fearlessly with that because you can take your business further than you probably ever thought you could
  • Connect with Melissa on her website, branch creative


Links mentioned:

Branch Creative Co Website 

The Brand Process

Connect with Melissa on Instagram 

Connect with Melissa on Facebook


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