Everyone has their own approach to business. If I had to boil mine down to one thing, it would be “Yes, and…”
“Yes, and” is a common tool in improv, where the person in the act acknowledges the situation, and adds to it. You accept the situation, and bring something new to the table.
In the context of my own business, it means saying yes to the opportunities that present themselves, and stepping forward again and again.
Sometimes, this means that my business or mindset needs to shift.
When I was looking for a job around 2008, I met with someone who said they didn’t have a full-time job, but rather a logo they needed. It wasn’t what I was aiming for, but it was a good opportunity – so I said, “Yes, and…” took that step forward. That step led me down a path of freelancing for many clients, until I started my business full time a few year later. It wasn’t always a smooth road but without that first opportunity, I don’t know if I would be running a successful business today.
Sometimes, it means stepping off a cliff and not knowing what’s next, but knowing that yes is the right answer.
I was employed full-time for a while before I decided to branch off on my own. No one knows when the right time is – but for me, it came around the time that 2 projects presented themselves – projects that would keep me afloat for a bit while I built up a larger client base. It was time to say, “Yes, and…” take a leap of faith.
I find that I say yes more than I say no, and each yes takes me closer to the next phase of my business.
What is it time for you to say yes to?
On September 15th I went down to iStrategyLabs to check out ContraryCon with some of my favorite freelancers in Freelance DC. ContraryCon advertises itself as the “anti-conference” for people who “upset, astound and evolve” the creative industry in DC. I am happy to share my favorite quotes and insights from a few of the speakers.
José Andrés is Chef/Owner of ThinkFoodGroup. He talked about what it means to be disruptive.
“To be disruptive you have to get to people.” – you can’t be disruptive if no one knows about you. You have to stop talking and start moving forward. While it may seem fantastic, “Reach for the impossible and anywhere you fall in between will still be good for people.”
One of the inspiring things that he said was that, “Sometimes the people that seem like followers are actually leaders.” You may not feel or look like a leader in the conventional sense, but you may still be implementing big change. “At times it’s going to be unclear who is a leader and who is a follower and that’s ok – we need everybody.”
Christian Dutilh & Jacob Weinzettel
Christian and Jacob are co-owners of Composite Co, a multidisciplinary creative studio for branding. They spoke to use about being different.
“We are all born different. Later in life it takes an active effort to take pride in the fact that we are different.”
They talked about establishing their company, and repositioning. Essentially, “repositioning yourself is about tapping into something unique and authentic and bringing that out. Be the thing. Don’t be afraid to call yourself what you are.”
In a design process, “Good taste isn’t enough – you have to have concept and rationale behind it. Research, research, research – but then do your own thing.” They spoke about how we get bogged down in research, and often try to recreate what we see – but in reality, we should use the research to inform, and still use our intuition to guide us on the design journey.
They reminded us that “Creativity is something you can learn and hone and it doesn’t happen for no reason.” You have to practice creativity, the same way you practice every skill. The more you use it, the more you will have…
Kalssom Lakhani is Founder/CEO of Invest2Innovate. She talked to us about being vulnerable and honest as entrepreneurs.
“By not saying [doubt/fears] out loud I am stoking people’s feelings of inadequacy.” She questioned why we all put on a facade, and reminded us that by hiding our struggles, we make people believe that the struggle doesn’t exist for us, and shouldn’t exist for them. “It’s ok to be afraid of failing.” We all are.
She also reminded us that we need to take care of ourselves first. “You can’t be in service to others if you’re not first in service to yourself.” If you sacrifice your own health and wear yourself down, you can’t be helpful to other people.
In the end, “Success is a process and not an end goal.” Our businesses are forever changing and evolving. We have to celebrate all the victories, as they are today’s success.
All in all, ContraryCon introduced me to people doing really amazing work in DC. Definitely well worth the $20 price point. I’d recommend it, and I’ll see you there next year!
Sometimes, I reflect on how lucky I am to be able to do what I love to do – and do it on my own terms. The road to owning my own business didn’t happen overnight. There is no perfect formula, but to those starting out and looking for your first clients, here is what I would say:
Meet people. Lots of people.
When I first picked up freelance projects, I was actually looking for a job. I was meeting anyone and everyone to try to get a foot in the door. This brought me a few of my very first clients, but it also taught me an important lesson – you never know who you will meet and how you may be able to help each other. Maybe someone doesn’t have work for you right away – that’s fine – it is still worth taking the time to connect with them.
Don’t be discouraged. There are GOOD PEOPLE out there.
Sometimes, it will feel like people are trying to dull your sparkle. Realize it isn’t always about you. Keep your head up and seek out the people who are good. Let them inspire you and hold on to them as clients and/or colleagues. The good people far outweigh the bad in the long run.
And in that vein…
Do right by people.
In the same way you want clients and connections to do right by you, you should do the same. People will remember it, and respond in kind.
Do your best work.
It may seem obvious, but always strive to do your best work, regardless of the client or the budget. In a lot of ways, the work will speak for itself, and if clients are happy, they will come back or refer other clients to you. A small budget project may lead to a huge contract later. You just never know.
Utilize social media.
I have met a few wonderful clients on social media. It is a great and inexpensive way to show people who you are, and to get your name out there. Have conversations, share tips, interact… It will help keep you top of mind when that project DOES materialize.
What do you wish you had known when you first started your business?
Branding has become a buzz word in recent years, and more and more companies are offering “brand guides” (or style guides) that give insight into how to best use your logo and brand elements. These can be as simple as a page (which is what I usually offer to most clients) or as extensive as 67+ pages, which I encountered at the last company I worked with. What is best for you and why do you need it? Let’s consider.
Pretty much every company needs a simple brand guide.
This goes without question. A simple brand guide can be as little as one page, and should include your logo, and the fonts and colors used in your logo. Colors preferably are given in Pantone, along with the CMYK build and/or HEX code.
It is important to know these things so that you can easily work with your brand in printed materials and on your website. You don’t necessarily HAVE to use the fonts in your logo all the time, but they may be useful for headings, or to keep from visually clashing when choosing fonts to pair with it.
Most of the time, something like this is sufficient for a small business or start-up. It is less costly, and provides them with the necessary launching point to work within their brand.
When would you need more?
This depends on your company, and what you expect from the designer.
If you are a big company, with multiple designers or offices, a larger brand guide will help to keep your design consistent. This sort of guide would go further, to include things such as logo placement, fonts for body copy and headings in printed materials, what NOT to do with the logo, minimum and maximum size, secondary colors, advice on how to choose images, etc.
If you hired an external designer not only to develop a logo, but also to build out your brand to include collateral, this sort of guide will be helpful as you move forward, and continue to work within the brand independently. The designer likely has a clear vision for you, and can develop a guide to answer most of your questions and concerns.
This sort of style guide is an investment, as it is much longer and requires a thorough examination of how and when to use different elements of your brand. Companies with large brand guides include Adobe, The International Baccalaureate and Skype, among others.
Don’t worry if you can’t cover every base right away. Your brand guide is a long term investment, and will likely continue to grow as you work with the brand, adding sub brands and design elements, and run into new challenges.
My recommendation is to look at where you are, and evaluate from there.
Did you just finish your very first company logo? Maybe you just need a one-pager for now.
Has your brand been around for a while? Is it disjointed as different people work with it? Maybe you need a longer guide.
Have you established a look and feel in your collateral that you want to see used consistently? A longer guide might be best for you.
If you want to explore your options, we’re happy to help!
Good luck on your branding exploration!
As you may have noticed, I recently updated my photos on the website and social media. I’m super pleased by the photos, and have gotten some wonderful feedback. SO, this week, let’s talk a little about headshots.
Why invest in professional headshots?
As a designer, I help you put your best business face forward – with your logo, collateral, etc. All these things are an investment – but so often we forget that we are the face of our business as well. Shouldn’t your headshots be an extension of you and your brand?
I understand the pain point of investing in professional photos, but it is more than worth it. By putting a professional face forward, you can help build trust with potential clients before they meet you. Would you rather put your business in the hands of Business A, whose CEO has a well executed photo? Or in Business B, whose CEO used a snapshot and cropped out their significant other, party drink, etc? You’d trust Business A every time.
So who did my headshots?
I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the photos, and for the record – any and all praise should go out to Mary Gardella of ‘elle and Nicole Palermo of Happily Ever After LLC. Mary is currently running some wonderful Profession’elle marathon sessions where you get a mini-photosession with 2 photos, and make-up by Nicole at a discounted price. They are the magicians behind the portraits – and I haven’t seen any bad ones yet.
Thanks, Mary and Nicole!
Let’s get personal for a minute. It has been almost a year since I took the plunge into full-time freelance, and the year has been a ride. Here are 5 things I’ve learned as I took the leap into self-employment.
1. You will work harder than ever before.
As a freelancer, you get a lot of freedom. Want to wake up at 9am? Do it. Want to go to the store in the middle of the day? Done. But like they say on Once Upon a Time – “Magic comes with a price.” In freelancing, that price is that only you can get the work done. Sick days? Days off? They only sort of exist, because if you are on a deadline, there is no one there to pick up the slack for you. You will work harder than ever before. But…that brings us to number 2.
2. It will be more rewarding than ever before too.
I work harder than ever before, but because the work is mine, I want to. I love my clients, and I love the feeling of satisfaction finishing up that job that I’ve been striving toward for ages. I do a bigger range of work now, and I find that extremely rewarding. Instead of an employee, I am a partner – helping people achieve their business goals. That is an incredible responsibility, but it also comes with a lot of satisfaction.
3. There will be quiet times. This is ok.
I am still working on this one. There are times when all your projects are out for review, and the work is…well, done. You sit down, and you stare at your inbox, and you wonder what the next email will be. It is scary – but it is ok. I consider these days “forced days off” – days to recharge my batteries and work on the projects that keep my business running, like updating my website, writing blog posts, etc. And tomorrow, either I will find work or work will find me.
4. Everyone will say, “It must be so nice. You can turn down work you don’t want.”
One of the first things I hear when I tell people I freelance is – “I wish I had the courage to do that.” The next is “It must be so nice to turn down the projects you don’t want.” While this is nice in theory, it isn’t the reality, at least not for someone building their business. I want to get my name out there – I am hungry for projects. And while I won’t devalue my work or take less money than I deserve, I will rarely turn down a project because I “don’t want it.”
5. You are not alone.
Sometimes, freelancing is isolating. Not everyone understands how it works. People will think you are between jobs. People will think you are taking this monumental risk. Maybe you are. But there are many, many other people out there like you, who are waking up every day and setting their own schedules, and they are hungry to connect. Freelance DC has been a huge resource for me this year. I’ve found clients, and I’ve found friends. Find your group – they are looking for you too.
Here’s to another year of learning, growth and partnerships with great clients and friends.