“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

BABE #208: SARAH RIDDLE CULCLASURE — Founder, Riddle Design Co.

BABE #208: SARAH RIDDLE CULCLASURE — Founder, Riddle Design Co.

As the Founder of Riddle Design Co, Sarah uses her creative skills— paired with her nine years of corporate and boutique advertising and branding experience— to help companies in the food, beverage and beauty industries tell their stories, connect with their audience and ultimately sell the heck out of their products. Situated in her very own Richmond, VA-based studio and as any true advertising professional does, she’s got a keen eye for content and a passion for storytelling to boot. With client experience including Microsoft, Old Navy, and Burger King in addition to an advertising design degree from SCAD under her belt, Sarah’s professional journey is an impressive one, and we’re excited to share it with you today!

The Basics:

Hometown: Greenville, South Carolina
Current city: Richmond, Virginia
Alma mater: Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
Degree: BFA, Advertising Design
Very first job: Lifeguard/Swim Instructor
Hustle: Founder/Designer, Riddle Design Co.

The Interests:

Babe you admire and why?
Oprah. I’ve learned many important lessons from Oprah, like how to squeeze all of the juice out of a lime using your teeth. But really, she’s an incredible role model and example of where you can go if you’re the hardest worker out there. She’s a savvy businesswoman and a perfect example of what excellent branding and communications look like. But, more importantly, I love how she uses her celebrity to spread kindness, positivity and help other people.

How do you spend your free time?
On most days, I take my crazy bird dog for a long walk to get out some of her energy. I try to work out most days, otherwise I feel like I’m not really awake. I’ve also been enjoying trying to turn my brown thumb green with a humble garden and indoor plants. On weekends, my husband and I try to do something outside like canoeing, hiking or hunting. I also enjoy eating delicious food and sometimes cooking it. And, of course, I like drawing fun things.

Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
Black coffee. (And if jalapeño is listed as an ingredient in an adult beverage, I’ll probably order it.)

Current power anthem?
Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life.”

What would you eat for your very last meal?
Pizza with bacon and arugula, plus peach cobbler and chocolate chip cookies.

If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Tina Fey and/or Mindy Kaling.

The Hustle:

Tell us about your hustle.
I work with small business owners by designing beautiful, fun and thoughtful branding, packaging and websites. Most of my clients work in the food and beverage industry, and as someone who thinks about food all day anyway, I’m happy to spend my time thinking about my clients’ food or beverage. I also recently started working with an indie magazine called B SIDE Collective that features female entrepreneurs in Richmond, Virginia. Volume 2 featured women in the food and beverage industry (right up my alley), and our upcoming issue will feature women making handmade products, from jewelry to furniture. Being a solopreneur can be extremely isolating, so by building this magazine with them, I get to work with other people and brainstorm how we can better tell the stories of women in Richmond. The magazine is a complete labor of love, so in addition to providing design and art direction, I’ve been helping sell ads, brainstorm marketing ideas and come up with other ways to generate income. It’s been inspiring to read the stories of the women featured in the magazine, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed connecting with more of the female entrepreneur community in Richmond.

What does your typical workday look like?
Throughout my day, I’m a designer, strategic thinker, client relationship manager, project manager—and sort of someone who keeps up with their books. It takes a lot of juggling to start your own studio, and I definitely have a greater appreciation for all of my former advertising coworkers whose expertise allowed me to focus on developing creative solutions. I start everyday by opening my email to see if there are any emergencies. I know people say you shouldn’t do that, but I do, and it makes me much less anxious. Then I usually sketch or work on whatever project I have going on. I usually have at least one in-person meeting or phone call a day. I work out of a coworking space, and everyday at 11:30 a.m. we have a time to gather called “tea time,” so we all actually talk to one another rather than staying sucked into our screens. After that, I eat something quickly while catching up on emails. For the rest of the day, I work on knocking out my workload while listening to tunes or podcasts. Around 6:00 or so, I wrap up whatever I’m working on and catch back up on the ol’ inbox. I try very hard to get my inbox down to 20 messages. I usually do a bit more work around 8:00 until I go to sleep.

Have you always had a love for design and branding? Where do you think that stems from?
I think I’ve probably always been interested in advertising and design. Being the pack rat I am, I used to save Got Milk? ads and packaging I liked when I was a kid. One of my favorite classes in college was the history of advertising. I loved studying how the men of Madison Avenue came up with simple but meaningful copy and design to communicate their clients’ message and ultimately sell a product. There’s a true science behind understanding your customer and what will speak to them. I’m drawn to branding and packaging because it’s truly the first opportunity for a business to make a great impression with their potential customer. Good branding and design elevates a product in the mind of the customer. So, while working with small business owners, I’m able to play a small but important role in making sure a customer will give their product a try and create a favorable impression of the quality and personality of the brand and product. If I can design packaging that’s unique from what’s on the shelf and that quickly and clearly communicates the main benefits of the product, I can help sell that product. In doing so, I can help talented food and beverage creators make a living and contribute something beautiful and delicious to the world.

When and how did you decide to take this passion full-time and start your own business?
I always wanted to start my own business, but I started it much sooner than I anticipated. About five years ago, my husband and I moved from Colorado to a small town in North Carolina. There were no ad agencies there, so I started freelancing. I called it my Bon Iver years where I lived in the woods and just made things.

Do you prefer working with small businesses or larger organizations?
I enjoy working with small businesses because I like the collaborative relationships that often form. They become my friends and teammates. They’re usually putting all the eggs in their small business basket, and are extremely passionate about what they’re building. I thrive off their energy and feel like I’m contributing to the world and my community.

What’s been your biggest career milestone to date?
I think getting my first job at an advertising agency is still my biggest career milestone. It was during the peak of the recession, and I had spent a year taking unpaid internships (free grad school, as I called them) and working part-time jobs. It was an extremely tough job market, and I felt so lucky to be hired. It taught me to take nothing for granted, to work super hard and to be persistent to get what you want out of your career. I had amazing creative directors who taught me to push my ideas, making me a better designer. I learned how to work with printers and production techniques from our production team. I learned how to manage client expectations from our account team. And most importantly, because I was at a mid-sized ad agency, I was always expected to present my work to our clients. This really helped me learn how to explain my thinking and “sell” my work. I also met two of my best friends there, who are still my favorite people to work with and group text with.

How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
At times, it was difficult to have my ideas heard by some of my male coworkers. But, now that I’m on my own, my clients all respect and appreciate my opinion. I feel very lucky that’s the only negative thing I’ve experienced as a lady. I probably don’t get paid as much as my male counterparts do, but I’m working on that. I think because of some of the things that have been going on culturally, women seem to be truly supporting one another. In Richmond, we have several networking groups for female business owners to meet and collaborate. I also probably wouldn’t be designing a female entrepreneur magazine if I wasn’t a woman. I feel like it’s a great time to be a woman. However, there’s still room for improvement.

Which brands would you most like to collaborate with?
So many. I would love to work with Noosa yogurt. Their brand tone is so fun, and I know I would have a field day with it. I’ve been running in Brooks shoes for over 16 years, and I’ve always dreamed of working with them. I also would really like to design branding and packaging for a chocolate bar. I send my clients a gift box filled with some of my clients’ products plus a chocolate bar. So, I’d really love to be able to add a chocolate bar client to that box.

What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
If you want to work in advertising, make sure your portfolio shows your best work. Reach out to other designers [and ask them] to give you feedback. Be persistent. If there’s an industry you want to work in, create a side project that focuses on that industry or create designs for fake companies. If you want to start your own design studio, be persistent, too. Tell everyone you know what you’re working on. Put yourself out there. Do good work and be nice to people, and they will keep asking you to do good work with them and will spread the word.

What is your philosophy on work-life balance?
I’m not sure I have the best work-life balance. I like working a lot and love to be busy. Going for walks, running, hiking and doing barre help me zone out and destress.

Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Be confident in yourself. Don’t feed the imposter syndrome. If you don’t know how to do something, Google it. There’s probably a tutorial out there. It might not be perfect, but with time and practice, you’ll get better. Say yes to things, even if you’re not totally sure how to make it work. Then either figure out how to do it, or find someone to help you. Also, always be nice.

Connect with Sarah:

Instagram | Email

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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