Happy Birthday BE3Designs

January 1, 2024
tl;dr: this article is a vulnerable, first-person journal entry from the perspective of a self-employed freelancer celebrating 14 years in business.
Featured image for “Happy Birthday BE3Designs”

Eleven years ago I originally published this anniversary post as I entered my fourth year in business. I had been celebrating the arrival of new office furniture, in all its bright orange glory, and hiring a copywriter to look after my blog for the rest of the year. It was a good year in terms of content strategy and management.

(Narrator: “It was the only good year…”) 

Rude but fair. I have really only published a handful of articles in the last decade. But today my little world of freelancing turns fourteen years old! I have been doing a lot of reflection over the last few months and am celebrating now with a little reinvention.

Growing up with girl power

I think back to my fourteen year old self and while I’d love to write some epic paragraph of enlightenment, if we truly honed in on that version of me this whole thing would turn into a fan-site devoted to the Spice Girls. Since I totally already have one of those, let’s dig a little deeper…

Young woman, Bree Emmerson, being interviewed on CTV News about Ladies Learning Code.
Me! On CTV Edmonton, talking about the Edmonton chapter of Ladies Learning Code.

Leading up to my eventual self-employment, I experienced early incidents throughout all three phases of my education. In elementary school, the few computers we had were always reserved and commandeered by boys in the class, leaving the girls art supplies to bide their time with. (To be fair, I also love arts and crafts but I digress.) By middle school, it became difficult to enjoy and learn on computers in a public setting. My first elective, information technology, led to my initial experience of being the only female-identifying person in the room. It may have been empowering if it wasn’t for the teacher suggesting, before we even started, that I would be better off focusing on the administrative aspects of the course to gain experience on typing, filing, record keeping and phone tasks. I unenrolled from that class within the first week.

After similar off-putting experiences, I spent a double spare block teaching myself more HTML and CSS at home on the computer that I purchased for myself with money saved from my part-time job. Before graduating high school, I had already launched professional websites for a refrigeration repair company, a roller derby league, and a hair extension stylist. Exciting!

A mock-up of a website on a computer monitor.
An example of one of the first websites I launched professionally. Pure HTML and CSS, with some PHP for rounding up the global elements. Before my days of WordPress and responsive design.

When it became time to think about the great beyond (after graduation) it was befitting to get a pricey piece of paper that acknowledged that I knew what I was doing. So, I went to college, where my teacher told me that I was better off focusing on graphic design rather than coding because it wasn’t likely I would get hired as a female programmer. 

Fine. So, I kept up learning on my own in addition to my course loads. (Without a doubt, I am convinced that I got a job offer from my college practicum placement at a local web agency because I understood HTML and CSS in addition to how to use Adobe software.) Within a few short months, they hired a new graphic designer and I moved more into web development.

Being my own boss

Soon, it was time to make the move from BC to Alberta – I had a couple of job interviews with local agencies lined up before I arrived. All went well, I was offered a job immediately and moved into a senior position where I worked before it was time for another change.

The first couple of years of running my business were quite isolating and lonely, honestly. I spent most of my waking life in my home office, a converted attic in a seventy-something year-old house that knew little of necessary temperatures: You got a freezer box in the winter, and a sauna in the summer.

As I’d never run a business myself, I spent a lot of time learning things that had frankly nothing to do with my actual profession. (I was ecstatic the day that I hired an accountant, let me tell you.) Most importantly though, with business planning, networking, and sales experience, I could now gauge by interest and requests that I needed to learn something called WordPress.

Cover of WordPress for Dummies book.
Reading this WordPress All-in-One for Dummies book by Lisa Sabin-Wilson, Cory Miller, Kevin Palmer, Andrea Rennick, and Michael Torbert was my very first experience working with WordPress.

Before WordPress, I coded static websites using HTML and CSS – with occasional JavaScript for things like sliders, lightboxes, and forms, and enough PHP knowledge to make use of global elements like headers and footers. I learned quickly that content management systems (CMS) were in high demand and with the amount of people contacting me asking for migrations away from what they were already using, making the decision for me to buy my first For Dummies book in 2011.

AWE Celebration of Achievement Nominees
Myself, in the back row – fourth from left, pictured with all of my fellow nominees for Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Celebration of Achievement Award.

Soon enough, I was working with larger agencies, part-time or as a contractor and partnering with other freelancers in addition to managing my own clients. I was lucky enough to be nominated for two of AWE’s Celebration of Achievement awards, featured in Edmonton’s Top 100 Women in Business, ran workshops for Alberta’s Leadership Series and iMedia Conference, was invited on a podcast for female entrepreneurs and featured on the cover of Alberta Venture magazine. And that wasn’t all I was working on…

Cover of Alberta Venture magazine
I was invited to be featured in an issue of Alberta Venture magazine, (I was told), after a late realization that no females were initially being covered for the story. I particularly have always enjoyed that we looked like a rock band on the cover.

Technology education in a safe space for everyone

In 2013 I had the opportunity to join the national organization Canada Learning Code, (originally Ladies Learning Code), and helped launch two chapters in Canada, including Edmonton’s which I went on to manage and run for seven years. 

Young woman, Bree Emmerson, standing beside banner for Ladies Learning Code at workshop venue.
Months of learning, organizing, marketing, and collaboration came to fruition when we launched the Edmonton chapter of Ladies Learning Code.

I think back to feedback surveys we received from women and parents who were so thrilled to have a space they felt comfortable learning in, on a topic that always fascinated them but didn’t think they could learn to do. Many similar stories to mine were shared, accompanied by nodding heads. Seeing people of all ages walk in not knowing a thing in the morning and leaving by late afternoon with a fully functioning website and big smiles – was incredible. 

Over time, our local team had grown and with it, we were running multiple series of courses for kids, teens, and adults all over the city and consulting with other organizations. If I wasn’t working on my own business, I was volunteering my time running workshops, managing the chapter, networking, mentoring, and appearing in public capacities to raise awareness for technology education in safe spaces for everyone.

Side overview of full room of students learning on laptops with instructor at front of room.
A sold-out house for our very first Ladies Learning Code workshop at Startup Edmonton.

It was probably the most rewarding time of my life, but it was also really, really hard.

At the end of 2019 I decided that something needed to give and made the extremely difficult decision to step away from what I had seen as my life, for the last seven years, and said goodbye to Canada Learning Code. While it was the hardest thing for me to leave, it was the best thing in my mind I could do for the organization as new minds and hearts could do much greater things – I was just sad to not be part of it anymore, honestly.

(Our local chapter continues doing amazing things, if you are interested in learning how to code with project-based, in-a-day workshops, check out canadalearningcode.ca – there are workshops for kids, teens, adults, and resources for teachers!)

Several woman standing at the front of a room being interviewed.
Our Ladies Learning Code workshops couldn’t have run without the amazing volunteer instructors and mentors who joined us on their days off to help our learners learn to code!

After years of working hard and misplacing myself in it all, I felt quite lost.

Then came the global pandemic

So this has been fun, right?! Like, totally fun. So yeah, things happen. Things continue to happen. None of it is easy. I’m just going to come right out and say it – I absolutely suffered from burnout, stress, and exhaustion. A short time ago, I also learned that I am neurodivergent, which has really enlightened me to a whole lot (I am gesturing vaguely, you just can’t see me).

I finally took some time for myself and sort of reevaluated well, it feels like everything, really. Having experienced imposter syndrome since the good ole merry-go-round days, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that amidst all of the working I am not sure if I ever really believed in myself.

The momentum of feeling like everyone else was moving full steam ahead while I remained at a walking pace left me feeling quite inept, so I dialed back, big time.

The more open and honest I have been about this portion of my life, the more I hear from others who have felt or are feeling similar ways. I know it hasn’t been a difficult time for some of us – but for most of us.

Starting again in 2024

Now that I’m feeling ready to try again, I am getting reacquainted with the local and online communities and with the industries that I’d like to both work with and learn from. I am going to make changes to how I’ve done business in the past and learn new things that interest me and bring me joy! This means I plan on leaning in on all of those quirks I’ve downplayed over the years, while I build and manage a strategy and routine that works for me – and in turn, improves value for my clients 🧡

So, happy birthday, BE3Designs! May this be a rather delightful adventure!

If you’re finding yourself in the swamp of sadness in your business or venture, let’s talk. I am open to work in 2024, send me an email and tell me more about what you do – or what you’d like to do! You can also find me on LinkedIn and Threads.

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Are you interested in starting or refreshing your website to reach and grow your audience? My name is Bree and I’m a website designer and developer who helps with the before, during, and after processes of launching and managing a website. If you’d like support with your website or business, reach out and let's chat!

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