Lilli Keinaenen is a sustainable packaging and branding designer of Changemaker Creative
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
I've always been a designer, started off in the agency world back in Tampere, Finland, and after landing in California, found my way to designing for environmental and social justice nonprofit organizations for a decade. Jumped into the world of cannabis and sustainable wellness goods when California was legalizing weed. It's been a wild ride.
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
There's been a lot of people cheering me on and supporting me, and the love is mutual. I think the most constant business buddy has been Kendra Losee, marketer extraordinaire. We've grown our businesses together, with the ups and downs that come with being in an emerging industry like cannabis, and just being a woman in business.
There's been a lot of others who pushed me to become who I am today. One of the most useful things I learned from a former business partner was to think of networking like flirting at a bar. Being superbly shy in a business setting, I invoked my younger, peppier self, and realized that networking is exactly like talking to someone at a party – you just smile a lot and nod, and ask them to tell you more about a thing they're excited about. They will think you're really insightful and smart – even though you're saying very little, you're just asking them questions. People like to talk about themselves, and that's the best introvert business trick I ever learned.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
I spent way too long being nice, giving clients way too much work for too little money and having absolutely no boundaries (like a true millennial in the workforce). Really the most useful help I've gotten is from clients (yes, CLIENTS) telling me I'm charging too little, and getting info from other designers on what they charge. And then believing in that. I have notes and a folder of pricing aspirational messages I've gotten along the way – really useful whenever that imposter syndrome creeps in! If I were to summarize the advice, it's to believe in your worth, charge accordingly. The worst they can say is "no". Your price SHOULD be a little painful to clients – they'll respect you much more and the projects will go a lot smoother when you're charging more, it's some odd psychological thing where they respect you more if they pay you more.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
The most important lesson: you don't have to be liked by everyone. You don't have to work with everyone who asks. I now have a strict "no assholes" rule. If you run a business that doesn't align with my values? I won't work with you. If you don't follow my instructions in our first few interactions, like leaving me a voicemail when my voicemail recording tells you not to leave me voicemail, I won't work with you. If you're rude to me on our initial call and talk over me or call me "missy / sweety / honey"... I won't work with you. There is so much more joy helping clients who are good people. The assholes don't deserve my help.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
1. That you'll never be "done" – your business will always keep evolving and changing
2. That money isn't everything – being happy is much more important
3. Riches are in the niches – I used to offer all the things that people seemed to want, but now in a niche within a niche, I can own that and be The Sustainable Cannabis Packaging Person, as an example. Confused minds don't buy.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
Don't show up just to receive – be authentic, vulnerable, and helpful. Building relationships is like dating, you should start slow, and think of it as a long term thing. Humans are humans, we like to be needed, and will help those we feel we know and like.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
I'm a fan of the soft pivot – if what you're doing is working, just not as well, dip your toe into the other thing and see if that feels better. I'm currently pivoting, by expanding my target audience from just cannabis into also some other consumer products, but doing it very slowly and intentionally. You don't have to burn it all down and start again to change course.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
Sometimes things really suck, and sometimes you'll be riding really high! The upswing is always coming, there's always something out there to give hope. If I'm feeling really down, I go read past client testimonials, and reach out to existing contacts. Just to talk to people, new, or old, can be so refreshing. Usually pinging former clients and contacts brings in a lead or two, just reminding people you exist. Most of the time people might think you're always kicking ass, so if you need help, you gotta ask. If nothing else, riding the struggle bus with some company is always nice.
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
I spent too long playing things small, and just passively waiting for cool things to come to me, even sometimes feeling bitter about other people being successful. But the thing is, nobody is gonna find you if you're just sitting at home alone, and not putting yourself out there. Did I nominate myself to a 40 under 40 award recently? Why yes, yes I did. Didn't get it, there were mayors and astronauts on there, but hey, it COULD have worked out!
Where should people follow you to find out more about your work?