Maria trained as an IT specialist and completed her training course in 2006 with Lufthansa Systems. She now runs Coding Owl, her own online web design and development company which she runs from home. She has many interests and is a creative soul, often dabbling in drawing, crochet, creating games and gardening.
Here’s an interview with the fabulous Mompreneur and creative genius behind Coding Owl, Maria Knuutinen.
Let’s start off with your favourite life quote?
Hmm that’s a tough one, I have so many, it’s difficult to choose just ONE favourite. A great one that stands out for me is “enjoy the little things” because that is what I am trying, everyday.
Did you always want to be a web designer/developer if not, where did you see yourself instead?
As a child I wanted to be a helicopter mechanic. My interest in IT and computer based work came slowly and I grew into it somehow.
How did you land your first client for your business?
My first client was a relative who needed a lot of help for their online business. It was really helpful to have a steady income from the beginning.
Any tips on how to build up a vast and interesting portfolio?
In the beginning it’s not easy at all. The best way, if you can afford it, is to look for voluntary work, or give big discounts for some of your first clients. There are also so many Muslim charity events and organizations you can offer a hand to. They appreciate the help a lot.
How do you manage a work/life balance and can this ideal balance be achieved when you are an entrepreneur and run your own small business?
I think there is no such thing as an ideal balance. As a mother you always struggle with questioning yourself and self doubt can creep in at times. It’s definitely a challenge working from home with kids but you just have to remember, you cannot have it all. And even if the home is in chaos after you’re done with work for the day, you’re reassured as you know you are still there for your kids. The laundry and the dishes are an endless job, they will wait for you, but the kids are only small once so it’s important to treasure those precious moments and be there with them as they grow.
What was the most interesting/exciting thing that’s happened in your entrepreneurial career thus far?
Meeting with new awesome women and hearing about their great projects is always so exciting! Mashaa Allah there are so many great ideas in this Ummah, so many people want to do good for other people. It is amazing each time!
Is there any example of a difficulty you faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome this?
Yes, having a bad experience with a client is always very difficult. I tend to try and always give a 100% to everything I do, but it is just impossible to make everyone happy. At times I feel very sad and disappointed, but there are things you have to say no to, otherwise you will burn out, sooner or later.
Can you share any resources or sites you follow that help you with your web design/development business?
Yes mostly I check on two Google+ groups, one for entrepreneurs and one for web designers, there are many great resources shared. And of course many great sisters with their blogs like Najmah Capal, a web designer and blogger who has such great tips for bloggers on her platform By Najmah and Kimberley from Muslimahs Working at Home, just to name a few examples.
What advice would you give a non-techie who wants to learn web design/development skills? Where’s a good place to start?
Web design and web development are really two completely different things. Many of the advice I often come across says that one should not try to be a designer and developer at once, and learning both of them is similar to simultaneously learning to cook and learning how to repair cars. So very different and far apart, but I enjoy them both.
Although I’ve had no formal design education, I have done a lot of self studying. Learning design is mostly about practicing and many of the rules can be learnt from books. However, one must also have an eye for design which only comes after years of practice. Feedback from other designers or from a teacher is also essential and ensures that you are progressing and continuously developing your design skills.
Learning web development though, starts with the basics of programming. At first, I learnt it with a pseudo language, this means it is not an actual programming language, just a collection of wide used words. If you know the basics, then learning a new language is easy.
One last piece of advice for women who are looking to start their own small business?
I can only encourage them to not to give up on their dreams. My journey has been rough so far, full of ups and downs, but I do not regret any second of it. When starting off, getting as much help as you can is really important. There are great Muslim sisters who are business coaches and they give free lessons, I can only recommend you take full advantage and utilise these.
Being an entrepreneur and running your own business can come with a lot of paperwork in the beginning, with business plans, marketing plans, brand strategy and so on, but it is completely worth it in the end!