The Power of One: Michaela Latavanha

Today, I want to introduce you to Michaela Latavanha from Bonfires and Ukuleles. Michaela is an award-winning designer, surfer, and all-round awesome lady. She's a South African, living in Brazil and rocking her own online design business.

Michaela and I worked together on her copywriting over a year ago & we still keep in touch (because we all need entrepreneurial friends to bounce ideas off). She was a dream to work with & her designs are equally dreamy. If you love the outdoors & want handcrafted design that reflects your adventurous style, then Michaela is the woman for you.

I'm pretty excited to share this interview with you because there's a LOT of wise words in here. It's definitely one of my faves so far.

Now, to hand the mic over to Michaela...


The Power of One interview with Michaela Latavanha of Bonfires & Uukuleles. Michaela is an award-winning graphic designer, surfer, and all-round awesome lady with a lot of wise words to share about life & business. 

Tell us about your path to entrepreneurship.

Straight after school I went to college. Studied visual communications (graphic design) for three years, I was very determined and freelanced while I was studying to have an upper hand for when I would apply for jobs after college.

At the end of your third year, you're obligated to do an internship. That internship usually turns into a job. In my case, I gave them a big no thank you, packed my bags and went camping around Europe.

I thought the time in Europe would help me figure out what to do when I got back home, but when I got back, I thought I studied the wrong thing and all I wanted was to travel the world.

So I became a scuba diving instructor, doing freelance design work while I did my courses. The idea was that I would work for a cruise ship so I would be able to work and travel.

I ended up working for Norwegian Cruise Line on their private island in the Bahamas. I didn't get to travel much, but was able to live the island lifestyle. My time on the island made me realize it was not graphic design that I didn't like, it was working for someone else. That's also where I met my Brazilian husband & followed him to Brazil.

In Brazil, I decided to start freelancing again but this time take it seriously and build my own business. I started freelancing online just because I couldn't speak Portuguese well enough to get local clients, but it opened up my eyes to the possibilities and I've never looked back.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

That I need to set boundaries, have a process (that works for you) and a service agreement (contract).

I've learned the hard way to never email a client after 5 pm or on the weekends. When you do it gives them the impression that you work at those hours and they can expect you to work late hours (very late hours in my case). I use Boomerang to schedule my emails when I do work late, but I also try not to because you need time to disconnect and refuel your creative juices.

Having a process in place helps take the stress off things, helps automate things, helps you not forget anything and impresses your clients. Using project management tools like 17 Hats, Pancake App or Basecamp really helps. I also use Evernote to keep notes and checklists and Squarespace as a project management tool. I try to keep the tools I use to a minimum to simplify things.

Having a service agreement not only covers your bum legally but it sets the expectations. The client can clearly see what they can expect from you and what is expected from them. It really clears the air.

I find each new client is a learning experience and after each client I look at how I can improve. How can I make the design process run smoother, what can I automate or set the expectations so no-one gets disappointed.

What has entrepreneurship taught you about yourself?

Quite a lot. When you are a solo entrepreneur, you have to put yourself outside your comfort zone often.  That alone is a big learning curve. You learn you can do things that you thought you couldn't. You learn how to deal with fear because you just have to.

I've learned that I'm more of a perfectionist than I thought. I had to learn that an idea doesn't need to be perfect at the start, it will evolve and you must let it evolve.

My confidence at times is non-existent and I've learned that having a group of online friends who are going through the same things as you are, is so important especially those days you need a cheerleader or two.  Also, a business coach is amazing.  

What's the best advice you've ever received?

That everyone's journey and their definition of success looks different.

I had to learn to stop comparing myself to others & realize what success means to me. To me living a lifestyle where I can schedule my work around my outdoor adventures, wake up without an alarm & having more time for the people in my life is a success. Whether my business is making me 5 or 7 figures a year or whether I have 1 or 10k followers, if it allows me to live that lifestyle my business is successful.

For others, success might be making 7 figures that year or having 10k followers on twitter and that's perfectly fine and awesome. I had to learn to use my definition of success as a way to measure how my business is doing instead of comparing myself to everyone else.

Our journeys look different too, someone else's business might seem to be growing faster than yours, but they might not have had the same obstacles as you or maybe they are working themselves to burnout or big things, like moving to another country, didn't happen to them. We don't always know what's going on behind the scenes. Don't be so hard on yourself when you see someone else is making faster moves than you and enjoy every moment of your journey.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How does that fit with what you’re doing now?

When I was a kid, I didn't really know what I wanted to be, but I knew it would be something in a creative direction & I knew what I wanted my lifestyle to look like.

From a young age, I knew that I wanted an outdoors adventurous, simple lifestyle. Spending more time with the people I love & doing the things that make me happy. I also couldn't understand why everyone waits for retirement before they do the things they really wanted to do when the future is so uncertain. By the time you retire, you might not be able to do the things you wanted to.

Now I'm living that lifestyle and want to help others live their ideal lifestyle too. I guess you can say I'm in the lifestyle business. I believe in "working on your happiness like a full-time job and, to me, living your ideal lifestyle goes hand in hand with that.

The big why behind my business is to help other live a happy life and live with intention instead of letting life just happen to them. As for the creative part, I use my graphic design skills to help them make their business create an income for them, so they can live their ideal lifestyle.

[Note from Alyssa: I totally love the way Michaela just described her work. Don't you?!]

Do you have any habits that help you to embrace the uncertainty & risk of being an entrepreneur?

Something my husband and I did when we moved to Brazil was simplified our lifestyle. We didn't have much savings when we started out & wanted our money to go as far as it could. We ended up loving our simple lifestyle so much that we didn't want to change. I know it's not for everyone, but I found that having less material things makes me happier and helps take some stress off financially. The biggest struggle was to train my brain not to fall for advertising and knowing when I have shiny object syndrome.

We also budget for our expenses each month & use the envelope system to keep us on track. We literally draw the money & add it to its envelope so when the envelope is empty that's it. It's simple & helps us not to go over our budget. We do add spending money to our budget, so we can spend it on whatever we want. I find this system really works well on an irregular income.

With so much going on, what do you do to disconnect... do you disconnect?

I struggle to disconnect sometimes but find it's a must if you don't want to get overwhelmed or burned out.

On weekends, we would go to the beach for the whole day and I leave my phone at home. That way I would enjoy the day, disconnect completely and not be checking emails or adding ideas to my Evernote. I would also try very hard not to go online when I'm home on the weekends or after work hours except if it's for personal things like looking for a tasty recipe. I would rather do other things like a DIY project or exercise.

I've deleted almost all social media apps on my phone (Instagram is the only one left, for obvious reasons) and rather schedule a time during my day to check and interact on social media. I find it helps me concentrate better when I work and I get more done faster. I also disconnect when I'm away from the office (my computer). No sitting on the phone when I wait for something or reacting to every notification.


Want to find out more about Michaela & her work? Head this way, my friend.


Alyssa Martin

AlyssaMartin.com, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia