Editor’s note: This is part of a series on the new faces of business in Chelmsford, Westford and Littleton.
WESTFORD – As owner and founder of AKM Graphics, Andre K. Mills brings many skills, including management, technical design and creative vision.
As a fine artist, Mills loves illustration and channels her imagination into visions for wall art, greeting cards, and more.
Mills is one of the artists in an exhibit at the Chelmsford Public Library, in honor of Black History Month.
In his office and workspace at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Mills took the time to talk about the challenges and rewards of running a business and crafting a vision for the future.
What services does AKM Graphics provide?
We help companies develop their brand image. We do logo designs, web development, web hosting.
We make technical illustrations, business card designs. We do whiteboard animations, explainer videos — if a client needs a 15-second video to explain their services, we do it.
We just started doing courier services. We’re doing an explosion of emails. So if you want to communicate to everyone in your subscription or email file with something new or upcoming events, that sort of thing.
The “we” part is due to the fact that for some of my services, I collaborate with other people. If it’s a fully animated video, I have a team from Texas doing it for me.
I have someone in the Quincy area who takes care of the technical aspects of my web hosting, for WordPress websites.
I’m more of an illustrator, drawing and design… I also do home illustrations. The real estate agency will send me a photo to sketch and frame, as a closing gift for the seller or the buyer.
How and when did you start?
I worked in the semiconductor industry… for 15 years, and in telecom for 14 years. I was kind of exhausted from managing people.
I was ending with The Partnership, Inc. — they’re out of Boston. They work with people of color in leadership roles. Since I had been in management for a long time, the company I was in thought, “This could be good for you.”
In this program, I realized I had the skills to do my own thing. I started in 2012, but I still worked with American companies until June 2015.
In the spring of 2015, I said: “I need to free myself”. If I wanted to grow AKM Graphics, I had to focus on this 100%.
What are the challenges of running your own business?
Have new businesses coming all the time, or find those businesses constant and consistent.
In the beginning… I practically started again. I had to network, build, let people know who I am, keep finding business.
Now I’m at the point where people know who I am between Nashua and the Merrimack Valley area. People have seen my work.
In Chelmsford, Black History Month events focus on the past and the future
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I market myself via Linkedin and social networks. More work is coming to me…maybe a little easier than before.
This year is my year of a lot of collaboration. I can wear the salesman’s hat. As a solo entrepreneur, you get the work, but you also have to do the work.
The key to the visibility part is huge.
Why is this job important to you?
Maybe because I go to the beat of my own drum. I guess I’ve been in a leadership role since a young age.
I have been in management for 25 years. After college, I was in a start-up. I’ve been a manager for 25 years, out of college, I was in a start-up, I was the eighth employee.
More in this series
In the Chelmsford nail salon, a young owner forges a vision of success
In Westford, a South Asian grocery store fulfills a dream of business ownership
In Westford, a couple bring modern tastes to a longstanding restaurant
We were all about the same age. We made it the largest independent in-house programming in the country. It gave me a good idea of how to run a business.
My grandparents on each side ran their own business. My maternal grandfather had a fencing business. They did a lot of ironwork in Jamaica. Then my paternal grandfather had an orange grove.
What do you envision for your business in the future?
I would like to get to the point where I have a good team – maybe another place, where I have regular full-time employees.
My clientele is currently turning to Pittsburgh and Virginia. I would like to have a more national customer base — not just local businesses, but more national ones.
You also do fine art and illustration.
I make the artwork I’m looking to sell. I also do book illustrations. I’m making a book cover for a children’s book.
I appreciate that. It allows me to escape a bit. That’s the fun thing. I love drawing people, and as you can see I have the moon in there.
Something about the moon… it’s a bit of a mystery. It lights up the sky at night, and it’s just kind of a mystery. You go out at night. You see the full moon, and it just makes you wonder.
AKM Graphics, LLC and Andre K. Mills, illustration
Western Avenue Studios & Lofts, 122 Western Ave., Unit 183, Lowell
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