- Alyssa Nguyen launched her side hustle, a graphic-design business, while studying at Princeton.
- She specializes in working with brands owned by women of color and helps them build their branding.
- After booking nearly $170,000 in revenue last year, Nguyen has plans to expand this year.
In 2020, Alyssa Nguyen was sent home from her junior year of college and notified that the marketing internship she accepted was canceled because of COVID-19, which made her one of the 5.4 million women who lost jobs during the pandemic.
Left without months of paid work, she launched an eponymous graphic-design business that aims to work with Companies owned by women of color, who were disproportionately affected by the global health crisis. Nguyen helps these entrepreneurs establish creative directions, build brand strategies, and manage social-media campaigns. Nguyen booked just under $170,000 in revenue last year, according to documents verified by Insider.
This wasn’t the career path she originally imagined: She intended to study molecular biology at Princeton University but switched to English literature with a focus on race theory after realizing science wasn’t the right fit. That change set her on the path for design and marketing.
“As a studio, we really champion awareness and social consciousness, especially when it comes to race and gender,” Nguyen said. “It’s important to me that both my collaborators and clients reflect all those values and can uphold them.”
Nguyen told Insider how she turned a passion into a business, grew her company through COVID-19, and continued finding clients who align with her values. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Seeing a business opportunity in passion projects
When I switched to English literature with a focus on race theory, I got involved in the women-of-color entrepreneurship scene. Simultaneously, I started working as the graphic designer for an on-campus job and multiple student groups.
Without any design background, I started out on Canva — a platform designers use to understand layouts, color schemes, and fonts in a user-friendly way. Soon, I was asked to create designs that required Photoshop or more advanced tools. I hate being the person to say, “I can’t do that,” so I said I could.
For about two years, graphic design was just something I did for fun and to make a bit of money on the side. Eventually, I took my passion for female and talent in graphic design and entrepreneurs and started a business combining the two.
Establish your business to book clients
When COVID-19 reached the US, I began focusing more on paid side jobs to make up for the money and experience I was losing.
I started an Instagram account, marketed myself as a freelance designer, and created a website. Within six months of intentionally building my business, it became so lucrative that I needed to set professional foundations to protect myself.
After establishing those outward-facing components, I created a contract and invoicing schedule, along with policies and guidelines for my business to share with employees and prospective clients. By the end of 2020, I filed for an LLC.
Without my portfolio of work and my established business, prospective clients might not have regarded me as highly and decided to work with me. It’s really important to take each of those steps to be fully rounded as a business owner.
Building a community leads to customers
Since the start of my freelance work, I have relied heavily on my community to find clients.
I was first connected with some Princeton alumni after creating a successful design project for one of my student groups. The time and effort I spent on that piece really paid off, which is why it’s so crucial for aspiring designers to create work they are proud of that also aligns with the type of work they want to create long term.
Along with the word of mouth, which sustained my business for the first few months, the online community can be just as beneficial. It’s so important to get on social media — that’s where the creative community lives. To build my community, I share my own graphic work, post photos and videos with my own face and voice, and promote additional projects like my podcast and minicourses, which teach creatives how to start a business.
Social media allows me to house each branch of my business under one roof, which has helped each one grow. This year is about setting myself up for a greater purpose: to continue growing, finding opportunities, and becoming a well-known studio by women of color, for women of color. Each of the steps I’ve taken so far is in pursuit of that.