We had the good fortune of connecting with Jill Malena and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jill, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?

After being laid off in the spring of 2020 (thank you, COVID), I took a month off to regroup and used it as an opportunity to pivot! I sought counsel from family and close friends and heavily weighed my “next direction,” of which I saw three options: 1) Find a new salaried position as an Art Director; 2) Completely change things up and use my joie de vivre and communication skills to go into sales, or 3) Start my own graphic design business. 

I had been doing freelance design on and off for 30 years while either being a stay-at-home mom or an employee for a company; the idea of being solely independent was enticing, albeit a little scary! Was my layoff the proverbial fire starter, a blessing in disguise? 

While I love the work itself and interacting with clients, the business aspect of owning a company was a bit daunting: Do I really want to chase down clients? Am I willing to be solely sufficient? What about health insurance? 

On the flip-side, do I want the flexibility of being my own boss? What about the variety that comes with serving businesses and organizations from different industries?

It was as if an angel tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Duh!” Then, I made the decision. The time had come to capitalize on my experience, doing what I love while helping businesses put their best foot forward. I am elated to help the mom-and-pop shops, medium-sized companies, and organizations, and those less-than-sexy businesses get to the next level. By giving them professional branding and collateral materials, they stand out amongst the competition!

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?

In the early years, I started freelancing. Then, as my career developed, and I became a Jill of All Trades! Once a production artist,  art director, creative director, event planner, and social media manager–becoming a business owner’s made sense. 

As an experienced designer knows, having a computer does not make you a designer, it’s merely a tool (as are a pencil and paper, which I still use to begin every project). One can amass many techniques and expediency over time, but using those along sound design principles is critical. The typical client is relieved to hand over “all this graphic stuff” to me, so they didn’t have to learn how to do it themselves, and that they trust me knowing I have their best interest at heart. 

Although I design with a computer for a living, I’m good at connecting with clients. I foster a team mentality, listen to their wishes, accept their input, and put my finger on what they’re trying to communicate effectively. I get excited when my clients love the branding and collateral that I created. I empower them, giving them more confidence in their branding presence. 

With an agency background, I learned to be swift and efficient in getting clients to successful visual communication solutions while meeting their budget and deadline. I’ve realized the value of focusing on what I do best – graphic design for print and screen, and know when to hire out! Thus, I can help medium-sized businesses and organizations stand-out among their competition and have consistent brand messaging without charging agency rates. It is joyfully  rewarding to utilize my design talents, expertise and resources to give my clients’ powerful branding that gives them confidence as they positively impact their market places and increase their profits.

It’s wild – I have friends retiring, yet here I am starting my own business in my mid-50s. And, it’s a blast–waking up every morning to be my own boss! 

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.

Any morning arrival should begin with a stop after the airport pick-up at Hash House a Go Go in Mid Town. Funky digs with delicious food and incredible Bloody Marys. That afternoon, we’d head over to old town Encinitas. Moonlight Beach for a walk, then a stroll up 1st street to sample some local restaurants such as Bier Garden (their nachos are the best around) and microbreweries such as Culture. Perhaps we’d hit Fish 101 for a fresh catch of the day, then finish up the night at The Roxy for some evening music and healthy eats. 

A visit to State Street in Carlsbad would be fun the following evening, perhaps beer tasting at Barrel Republic, then Vigiluccis or Garcia’s for dinner. 

A full-day visit via the train to downtown San Diego is always full of incredible sights, and people watching – then walk/scooter/Uber our way around town, stopping at any myriad of restaurants or art galleries. Taking a sunset cruise around the San Diego Harbor, viewing the city skyline at dusk is glorious. Finish off with fun and frivolity dancing at Trailer Park After Dark! 

One day would include Ubering around North County to local breweries for some award-winning IPA’s – Burgeon, Stone, Latitude 33, to name a few. Finish up in my fun little neighborhood at San Elijo Hills Village at Lost Abbey, then a stroll over to Vine & Tap for one of the best gourmet burgers in town. 

And although a typical go-to, the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park is always a pleasant day with its flora, fauna, and mysterious animals to observe. The gorillas are my favorite! 

Finally, if my friend was a golfer, I’d take her to St. Marks Golf Club in San Marcos. Beautiful 18-hole regulation course, followed by dinner, dockside on Lake San Marcos at Amalfi.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?

When I moved to San Diego from Sacramento, I met my design mentor, John Odam,  a brilliant graphic designer in Del Mar, CA. He gave me my first break, remarking that I had raw talent, and financed my first Mac computer. He instilled in me a love for publication design and taught me the adage, “it’s just ink on paper.” People who know John honor me greatly when they remark that my work reminds them of John’s style. My two young adult children, my parents, brother, other family members, and friends are the best cheerleaders a person could hope to have on their team; they make me feel invincible! Without their encouragement, I’d not have had the confidence to pursue my dream of excelling with my own company. Dawn Saunders, a long-time friend, marketing genius, and business associate, continues to trust and encourage my design and branding work, pushing me to find, yet, “one more option”; she has helped me become a better designer. 

The book “Building a Story Brand” by Donald Miller and its umbrella company, Business Made Simple, has redirected my approach to owning a business and has taught and empowered me to have the confidence to understand how it all works together! Without it, my website would have been “just” an online portfolio; instead, the messaging is clear and simple so customers will hear!

Website: malenadesign.co

Instagram: malenadesignco

Linkedin: Jill Malena

Facebook: Malena Design

Image Credits
Lauren Natalie Photography

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.