Name: Erin Anacker
Claim to fame: Helps female designers build successful businesses with her company, Betwixt
Wise words: "I tend to fight the endings, but the moment I remember that every ending is the beginning of something else, I am reinvigorated and more excited than ever to get that thing off my plate and start the next thing."
I met Erin Anacker on a rainy day in Victoria, British Columbia, a city neither of us call home. Our meeting that day was rather serendipitous: a few weeks earlier, I responded to a tweet lamenting the availability of vegan goodies on Vancouver Island sent by a writer I admire. Aware of a great vegan bakery right around the corner from my place in Ottawa, I offered to hand-deliver some treats on my upcoming visit. He responded suggesting I join him and his friend for coffee—“I think you two will get along.” That friend was Erin Anacker, and it turns out he was absolutely right.
I've followed Erin’s work online since the fall, silently cheering her on from afar as she grew her company, Betwixt, a community and a resource centre for independent women in design. Having a design background herself, Erin founded the company to meet a need that she saw for a dedicated space for female designers to connect, learn, and gather support to face the challenges of running a design business.
Lots of people talk a big game about authenticity, but Erin truly lives this value, in good times and bad. In this edition of Conversations With Her, I talk to Erin about what it really takes to live a life and run a business that is in alignment with your true self—even when it feels like everything is going to hell.
On shutting down her first company
A life-long artist, Erin has spent years following her creative inclinations wherever they lead her. “From age 0 I knew I would be some sort of artist” she laughed, “I always loved to draw, I was always very good at it. Through my childhood, I explored all sorts of different career paths—archeologists, architect, cartoonist.” But for all of her youthful meandering, Erin had yet to land on a vocation that truly inspired her. “There was always something with each path that didn’t sit well with me” she explained. All that changed when she found design in high school. She appreciated the blend of technique and finesse involved in the craft and quickly set her sights on design schools for college.
Over the next few years, Erin happily pursued her design studies at college, all the while knowing deep down inside that a traditional career in design would not be her professional be-all and end-all. “I knew that design was not my end all and be all, that there was something bigger I was going after, but because I didn’t know how to articulate that for myself, I stuck to the path that was available for me.” So, a few years after graduation, motivated by the desire to be her own boss, Erin launched her first business, a traditional design agency called Pixology. “It fit in a box and it was easy for me to understand” she explained, “I was 24, a few years out of school, just ready to run and ready to show the world that I could do whatever the hell I wanted to.”
Her joy and enthusiasm didn’t last long. A couple of years in, the tedium of agency ownership began to wear on Erin, coupled with the return of an inner yearning she couldn’t quite name, left her feeling restless and eager for a change of scenery. “That deeper knowing there was something bigger kept coming back, and eventually just created total misery” she shared, “which ended up in me hating receiving requests for proposals from potential clients (a designer’s bread and butter), even though that’s such a privilege.” Frustrated and burnt out, she was ready to throw in the towel.
Keen to sort through the mental and emotional turmoil that she was experiencing, Erin hired a business coach—a decision that she considers pivotal to her growth. This coach was able to help her remember that her true passion was teaching others and sharing her knowledge, “from there, I started to formulate a new direction.” By the fall, she had the all-important conversation about finances with her husband, who supported in her in new venture, despite the fact that she still had no idea how financially successful it would be.
With that, Erin set about dismantling her business.
“Firing all my clients was amazing” she gushed, “it was like the last day of high school or the last day of a job that you’re done with and it felt like pure liberation, the world was yours and you’re ready for it.”
Although she felt liberated, Erin did admit to having some initial hesitation when it came to the task of embarking on the challenging journey of rebranding her business to match up with this bold new direction. After much mental back and forth, she realized that she would be serving a completely different set of people with a completely different set of services, and that her old Pixology brand simply wouldn’t carry through, no matter how badly she wanted to avoid the rebranding exercise.
“I tend to fight the endings, but the moment I remember that every ending is the beginning of something else, I am reinvigorated and more excited than ever to get that thing off my plate and start the next thing.” Erin acknowledged that there will always be moments in life where we are invited to change and reinvent ourselves, “it’s happening on a daily, weekly, monthly basis...it’s just a matter of scale.” She noted that although we seem to focus on the big changes that happen every couple of years, it is important to pay attention to all the changes in between, which are practice for those bigger life shifts.
“My hope is that that cycle gets a little faster and tighter every time. That the time between the moment when I realize ‘hey this isn’t working is the moment we shut it down’ and the moment when I pull the plug gets shorter and shorter. It’s a constant evolution and I’m learning to be okay with the process instead of fighting it and wishing for arrival. There is no arrival.”
On the business of being yourself
A great deal of the inspiration for Betwixt—a safe space for independent women in design to connect with one another and learn how to run their businesses more effectively—came from Erin’s own experiences with her first business.
She explained to me that the desire to come across as professional and in charge can lead to unhealthy compartmentalization, which prevents entrepreneurs from showing up as their whole selves in their businesses. “Everywhere I look, it doesn’t matter what type of business, people aren’t allowed to show their whole selves” she continued, “they aren’t allowed to say that they’re struggling or that their grandfather is in the hospital, even though that affects the way you work.” She strongly believes that when we flip this old school model of business on its head and allow people to show up as their whole selves in professional situations, people will be able to function on a higher level and consequently, be more productive
Instead of stewing about it, Erin set out to support the people she felt were pioneering this new approach to business: women. “Women are uniquely equipped with a profound ability to empathize” she argued, “because we cannot separate our person from our business, it just makes sense to me, as women, to focus on that relational piece.” And it’s not all touchy-feely, either, “when you have good relationships in your business, your business grows.”
As she spoke, I had the image of Betwixt as a sort of base camp for revolutionary humanization of business; a place where creative, passionate women can arm themselves with the tools and connections that they need to go forth and change the world with their businesses. “When people interact with Betwixt, I want them to feel like they belong, and that they aren’t alone in the struggles they face as business owners and as humans trying to make something in the world” she explained. “And I want them to feel encouraged and excited because what they’re doing is brave and needed and they should do it despite the fears and insecurities.”
On the art of (positive) self-talk
Deeply committed to being honest and transparent, Erin is quick to admit that running a business as a reflection of your true self is not without challenges. “I’ve never been more satisfied in my work, I’ve never felt like my work mattered as much as it does now, but I struggle every day to show up and be seen. Building a business is hard” she admitted.
To help keep a strong mind and heart in the face of challenges, Erin has placed priority on improving her self-talk in the last several years. “I’ve always been very hard on myself” she explained, “so when I started noticing people saying ‘you do realize that you’ve done a good thing here, right?’ I realized that my perception of myself was not lining up with reality.” She shared that self-reflection has been key to removing that pesky negative lens from our perception of ourselves. Erin has found it particularly helpful to look back and make lists of past accomplishments in order to recognize those achievements.
Erin also credited her husband as having played a big role on her journey to improving her self-talk. “He’s the most patient person I’ve ever met and I’m the least! Ever since I met him, I’ve wanted his patience. Because it seems so much more peaceful. Part of having patience with others is having patience with yourself.”
On Non-Conformity and What Comes Next
The next few months will see Erin forging ahead with Betwixt, launching new offerings, including courses, services, and retreats. When it comes to growing her business, Erin prioritizes intentionality and deliberate choices over speed. This focus on staying in her own lane and building what she wants to build has helped her stay true to her vision. “It’s hard to build a business the way you want to, there’s lots of examples out there, but very few are worthy of being replicated. Non-conformity brings you uniqueness and makes you stand out, but it’s much slower.”
Although she is proud of the fact that she isn’t one to conform, she acknowledged that it isn’t always the easiest path to take. “It’s an uphill climb and people will say ‘you can’t do it like that’, but it’s important to give yourself permission to not follow in other people’s footprints” she offered, “if it doesn’t feel right, try a different way.”
“At the end of the year, I want to be able to look back and say that it was a really great year, but not because everything went well or went as planned or because all of a sudden I became super successful or because my business took off, but because I was present in more moments than not and because I positively impacted at least one life, which I can already say, so I want to keep doing that. I think it’s important to remember the individual.”