Lilli Keinaenen on The Art of Monetizing What You Love
Lilli Keinaenen is sustainable packaging and branding designer of Changemaker Creative and is an inspirational business leader who has learned how to monetize doing what they love. They took some time out to share their insights with Rob Barratt, Co-Founder of The Industry Leaders.
Can you begin by telling our audience a little about yourself, your business, and what led you to pursue your particular passion as a profession?
Changemaker Creative is a sustainable packaging and branding designer for wellness companies with heart. With a focus on sustainable packaging for conscious consumer product brands, she's deeply passionate about saving the planet through better design. Through a collaborative design process, she helps companies attract a cult following of loyal customers. Clients include award-winning food, cosmetic, and personal care brands sold at major retailers and cannabis and CBD boutiques across the US. You can often find her speaking on stages about sustainability, packaging, and design.
I'm curious to know, what was the defining moment that made you realize that this passion could actually become a business? How did you identify the unique value it could bring to others?
Back in 2007, I had just moved to San Francisco, California from Tampere, Finland and was feeling a bit adrift. My career has been a string of happy accidents. At the time, I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life. I had worked at an ad agency straight out of college. So with this fresh start in a whole new country, I started volunteering, just to have something to do. All of the sudden I had all those volunteer projects asking if they could start paying me for my work, and recommending me to their connections! And that's how my first iteration as a freelance designer business was born. Worked with social justice and environmental nonprofits for the next decade as a result, before moving on to what I'm currently working on with product-based businesses.
Every entrepreneur faces obstacles, especially when turning a passion into a business. Can you share some of the initial challenges you encountered and how you overcame them?
Pricing your work, as a new freelancer is hard. In a new country and market, harder. Even harder as a people pleaser. It's extra agonizing in an industry where you feel like by charging money, you're taking money away from those good causes you're trying to work with. Even now, almost 20 years later, I'm still struggling with pricing my work in a way where I feel compensated fairly, and where it's in my clients budget. I still chronically undervalue and overdeliver!
Monetizing a passion requires a solid business model. Can you walk us through how you developed yours, and the key factors that make it successful?
I was lucky enough to build my business with my husband being the main breadwinner. I did not make a lot of money at the beginning, I think my first year I made like 20k or something like that! I've slowly built it up to six figures, which in the San Francisco Bay Area, is still considered low enough to be considered low income...
I'm currently finally in the phase of my business where I'm looking into income sources that aren't a 1:1 exchange of consulting time for money. At least I don't work hourly anymore – that was a major mistake I made earlier in the business. I'm really fast and efficient, so a project-based fee makes way more sense than an hourly retainer.
I'm also now offering (and charging for!) the more strategic advice than just straight up design production work. I've always been a strategic, thoughtful designer, but now I'm also presenting myself as a strategic thinker.
Next step is to test out products, I'm working on a book and a course about cannabis edibles packaging, regulations and best practices.
Many people worry that monetizing their passion may take the joy out of it. How have you managed to balance the business aspects with staying true to what you love?
I could be designing for something boring, like in my agency days, my clients made container cranes and car tires. What a joy it is to get to help companies doing something exciting, something good in the world? Doesn't hurt that my clients are absolutely lovely humans, passionate, and wanting to save the world. I get to work with fun people, on things that matter every day, doing what I'm good at. What's not to love?
As your business grew, what strategies did you employ to scale it while maintaining the core values and essence of what made it special in the first place?
I've decided against scaling into an agency with staff for now. Honestly, I despise managing people. Instead, I've structured my service offering to be a narrow selection of things that are things I enjoy doing, and am good at and that pack a big punch. To put that into real world terms: I don't do social media graphics design, or brochures or such, as they don't have transformative value to the customer. They can get that stuff done on Canva. What I like to do is work on the big picture brand strategy, finding the inner meaning. And also design delightful packaging, steering clients into more sustainable choices in an area of design many find bewildering and confusing.
Your journey is truly inspiring. What key insights or pieces of advice would you offer to someone looking to turn their passion into profit?
Niching is really useful. I honestly hadn't realized how much of a difference it made, my company is known as the sustainable cannabis packaging agency. Also narrowing down the services, so instead of the 100+ things I know how to do and could do, I've narrowed it down to just branding and packaging. It sells better when there are less choices.
Anything you're interested can be your business. If you're a Booktok fanatic, turn that into a book cover design business. If you are a fitness person, start designing websites for gyms. Great design comes from a deep understanding of the client.
Side note: you are also allowed to have hobbies. Not all your interests need to become businesses, fuck hustle culture. You can just enjoy things on your free time.
Reflecting on your journey so far, what are you most proud of? What future developments or projects are you excited about in your business?
I'm really proud of my willingness to pivot away from the nonprofit world after being in it for so long, and pursuing a new and emerging market instead, kicking imposter syndrome to the curb and learning all I could know about packaging and sustainability, even though not having a formal degree in really either.
I'm excited about this new chapter of launching the Impeccable Edibles course, I've surprised myself on how much I enjoy public speaking, so offering my knowledge as a course is the next logical step, and a step I've been pondering on for a while. So finally actually doing it. Heck, it may not make me money, but you won't know unless you try!