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?
A lot of businesses send out promotional materials in December as a thank you to their clients for the holidays. But why limit it to December? With a day for nearly everyone, we think you should pick your own holiday to celebrate. After all, holidays are a great opportunity to keep in touch with clients and set yourself apart from the pack.
Here is a list of some of our fun favorites for every month to get you started*:
January 26, 2015 – Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day
Who doesn’t love Bubble Wrap? If I were going to send out something for this, I would send out bubble wrap and a list of fun things to DO with bubble wrap on a card. Because lets face it. Popping bubble wrap is just fun.
February 17, 2015 – Random Acts of Kindness Day
This one would be great for a non-profit. What better way to further your cause than to call attention to Random Acts of Kindness Day? Do something nice for your clients or donors and ask them to pass it on.
March 14, 2015 – Pi Day
Pi day is already pretty popular. This might be a good one for some of the services out there that specialize in numbers and math. OR use Pi Day as an excuse to send your clients a real pie. After all, who doesn’t love pie?
April 13, 2015 – Scrabble Day
For the wordsmiths out there, this could be a fun holiday to send out designs or cards with Scrabble tile inspiration.
May 15, 2015 – Bike to Work Day
Bike to Work Day is super popular in the DC area. Try sending a mailer with some sort of reflector for a bike or vest that has your logo.
June 5, 2015 – Donut Day
This is another easy one. A dozen donuts is low in cost, and food is always a hit with clients. If you work with local businesses, hand delivery means a lot as well.
July 2o, 2015 – Lollipop Day
Lollipops are fun and easy to customize. Get some lollipops in your brand colors and send them to clients.
August 9, 2015 – Book Lovers’ Day
Book Lovers’ Day is a great day for you to share knowledge with your clients. Does your company have a book? Promote it! If you are a marketing agency, it might also be a good time to send a list of your favorite recommended books to help your clients succeed in their marketing efforts.
September 19, 2015 – Talk Like a Pirate Day
This is another day that took off due to internet fame. Why not send all your clients a pirate eye-patch or bandana with your logo and help them look the part?
October 30, 2015 – Check List Day
Who doesn’t love those notepads that have the presorted checklist for your day? They can include everything from a list of grocery suggestions to a list of things to do. Put your logo on them, and you have a great promo for Check List Day! Maybe even add your company to the list.
November 26, 2015 – Cake Day
Do I need to say more?
December 21, 2015 – Crossword Puzzle Day
This is another fun day. Create your own crossword puzzle for your clients with a secret message. Include a link where they can find the key online.
So search the internet and find a holiday to make your own. It never hurts to connect with clients throughout the year, and this is an easy way to stand out and create a holiday synonymous with your business.
*Holidays via Days of the Year
When I first started my design career, almost every company had pre-printed letterhead. Now, with the continued advancement of technology, and the changing needs of businesses, more often than not I get asked for letterhead in a Word document. How do you decide what is right for you? Here are the advantages and pitfalls of each, and things to watch out for when working with them.
Pre-printed letterhead is my own personal preference. It allows you to have a lovely, full-bleed design that is guaranteed to be consistent no matter what you do with it.
Pre-printed letterhead is good for formal communications from your company, and looks sleek and professional. Unfortunately, if you want to email a document on pre-printed letterhead, you will need to print it and scan it, which can be cumbersome.
Another pitfall of pre-printed letterhead is if you desire a different first page. You will need to do a print run of the cover page, and another print run of the internal page design, which means double printing cost.
Word letterhead is a little trickier to perfect. It depends on the customers software (Word, Pages, etc) and is less predictable. It is, however, very important if you send a lot of communications as email attachments.
Word letterhead allows for a different first page, which is advantageous over pre-printed letterhead, where you would need to do two print runs of the different page designs.
If you are only using it as an attachment, a full-bleed design for a Word letterhead is fine. However if you intend to print it off on your office printer and mail it, I recommend a design that does not bleed off the edge. Most internal printers will almost always leave a white border on your full-bleed printed communications. This inevitably changes the look and professionalism of the design.
What are your experiences with letterhead for your company?
To see letterhead that we have designed, visit www.skleber.com.