Getting Back to Work

KathleenCirclesNotes_TerenceTang

Late last week I spoke at the Circles Conference to a packed (and quite stylish) audience full of designers. And now I’m nursing what my friend Brené Brown calls a vulnerability hangover.

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My talk was about how painful it can be to be a working creative because of The Fear. But that if we can just do a few things – like get specific about what both the worst case scenario and the ideal day look like, get clear on what we really want to be doing all day, and maybe make a mantra to remember what that is – then maybe it won’t be quite so painful to put your heart into your profession. I didn’t really get serious about my talk until two weeks ago. I had written out what I wanted to say – and when I read it out loud it sucked. So I recruited my speech writer and voice coach (that would be my sister and business partner, Tara) and we spent an entire Saturday afternoon out at my parents lake house writing my script – word-for-word. Then I spent the next week memorizing my cues and designing my slides. The night before my talk in the hotel room I practiced forgetting the script so I could sound casual. As if I was going to walk up on that stage and give a story that had just come to mind – like lunch with a friend. Then I practiced walking (the stage strut – not quite a model stomp) and talking at the same time without forgetting that words were supposed to be coming out of my mouth.

Oh. And that was all only after getting my snotty and over-tired baby to sleep on the hotel bed – two hours after his normal bedtime. Which for a baby, and a new mom, is kind of a big deal.

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After my talk I felt high. I had a quiet, humbling moment of gratitude when I found myself backstage. And then when I was sure nobody could see me I pumped my fists in the air – like a dorky protagonist in an 80s romantic comedy who just scored a date with the homecoming queen. I know it’s probably not cool to admit that I was proud of myself … but I was proud of myself.

I made my way back to the conference lobby buzzing with inspiration and energy. And that’s when I saw my sister talking to my creative girlfriends – my tribe from all over the country (and even Canada!) – and my baby crawling around on the floor at their feet … and for a minute I felt like I had it all. And that I could actually do it all. But today. Today, I have fears, my self-doubts, and my vulnerability hangover. And now I’m getting back to work.

P.S. You can watch the talk here. 

Talk notes drawn by Terence Tang.

Freelance Matters | Who Are You Working For?

WorkingForMatters

Yesterday was the first day since working for myself that I kind of didn’t want to work. Like… at all. I spent my morning doing yoga, came home inspired to write this post about my hair, and then reluctantly went over to my sister’s house to work. I was so relieved we were on the same page when she greeted me with a “let’s not work today.” So instead we hung out on her bed all day talking about our business goals and finances while I snacked on wasabi peas, pistachios and dried apples (the BEST combination of snacky food ever). After a few hours of fuzzy math and financial brainstorming we had a good, long Skype meeting with a dream client in New York. From there I got an email from a client regarding a misprinted business card and had to call Kristin on her vacation to SXSW to clarify whether or not it was our fault (it wasn’t – but still… print jobs gone wrong suck no matter who is to “blame”.)

So I guess, in actuality, we worked. The great thing about blending my work and life is that sometimes “work” means that I get to hang out with my sister all day, and even if we’re not plugged into our laptops we’re still doing business. Or that a blog post, seemingly about my hair, can inspire other creatives trying to be brave – and for me, that means a job well done for the day. But even more than the work / life overlap, the day of not wanting to work really got me thinking about the ebb & flow of client projects vs. the work we do for ourselves – like blogging or launching new products of our own. So that’s what I want to chat a little more about here today – the emotional and financial ups and downs of being your own number one dream customer vs. client work.

Let’s start with some definitions.

THE WORK YOU DO FOR CLIENTS: 
Client work includes services or goods you provide in exchange for money. Your services might include graphic design, consulting, life coaching, photography, and styling. You probably get paid hourly or with a pre-determined flat fee. If you do retail the exchange is even more tangible – goods sold for money might include prints, art, clothing, or jewelry.

THE WORK YOU DO FOR YOURSELF: 
I believe you should be your own number one client. But it’s a little tricky because while the time spent doing this can have a long term return on investment it’s hard to see how it’s going to keep the electricity on tomorrow. It can feel self-indulgent and your parents or spouse probably won’t understand the point of it all. When you’re working for yourself you’re doing stuff like:
• Working on your own brand identity and positioning
• Capturing, shaping, and sharing original content like blog and Facebook posts
• Networking with peers and potential dream clients
• Continuing your education and craft by reading new books, taking classes, workshops and ECourses, and attending conferences
• Developing systems and processes that will help you work smarter
• Creating artistic collaborations
• Designing, writing and developing your own books, ECourses and Workshops
• Speaking and teaching
• Sharing case studies and testimonials of completed work

TheWorkChart

I’ve found after a couple of years of working for myself that this blend of work I do for myself and work I do for clients ebbs & flows in a cyclical motion based on where my attention is needed. And this cycle of work flow is almost formulaic. More recently, I’ve noticed that the work I do for dream customers only keeps me on cloud nine for so long. But the work I do for myself – it makes my soul sing. So if I’m paying attention to The Universe I think that means I should be doing more of that soul-singing kind of creative.

It takes some serious gut-checking to know if you love what you’re doing (for yourself and others). Here’s a tip for figuring out if you’re living the dream. When you wake up tomorrow morning and begin your work day by ditching the to-do list. Spend just 90 minutes doing what you want. Is it a blog post? Is it a client project? Is it even work at all? And how did that 90 minutes leave you feeling? Report back and let me know how it went.

THE CYCLE 
When you first start working for yourself or begin freelancing you may need to invest lots of time and maybe even a little money in growing and launching your business. That means you’ll be your own number one client for a while. From there you can expect to drum up some business and transition into getting hired by real clients who pay. Your parents may still not understand what you do for a living but they’ll understand that first dollar.

You may find that as client work demands your attention you have less time to work for yourself. Requests for estimates start slowing down and when you wrap up a couple of jobs you might start worrying that you’ll never get another client ever again. That’s when you pick right back up where you left off and start working for yourself. Share the work you completed, or what you learned along the way, and tell your audience how to hire you. Write some original content that will help your dream customer solve a problem. This positions you as the expert you are and requests for work will start trickling in to your inbox. Or maybe you even share a passion project you’ve been drumming up on the side that will lead to new opportunities or exposure.

Rinse and repeat.

TheCycle

Now this cycle of client work / “you” work is nice. After a while you find your rhythm and develop a sort of faith that if you build it they will come. It almost feels like a mathmatical formula that doesn’t fail if I follow the appropriate steps. This is where I’ve been for the past two years and it’s been comfortable. I recommend any new creative entrepreneur hang out here for a little bit. And if you’re at that phase you can stop reading this post here with the key takeaway being this: you have to work for yourself in order to attract the dream customers and projects that pay the bills.

But me? I’m ready to take it to the next level.

BECOMING YOUR OWN NUMBER ONE CLIENT – ALL THE TIME
First off, I believe in doing The Work. I’m 30 years old and have put in time, around 10,000 hours to be exact, developing my craft (graphic design and brand identity). I’m grateful for the decade of education and daily grind I’ve put into getting where I am now – but I’m equally grateful for the time I’ve got on my side to grow my business in a new way that lets me design the life and dream job I really want. Over the past two years I’ve learned that my core genius and true passion isn’t necessarily graphic design. It’s radical non-conformity. It’s living what you love. It’s seeing the vision come to life. Graphic design is just a great tool to help me share what it is I really want to say.

So with that, Tara (who has put in more like 17,000 hours) and I are evolving Braid in a way that we become our own number one client. We’re super grateful for the dream customers we’ve helped one-on-one. The work we’ve done for them has kept our lights on and allowed us to build our team and our expertise. But the problem with relying on one-on-one client work – especially if you’re charging hourly – is that it limits your potential for reach, impact, and earning. Plus, there are only so many hours in the day – when you spend all of them solving someone else’s problem you run the risk of forgetting to nourish yourself.

When I quit my job in advertising I remember trying to journal through my feelings (it was as dramatic as it sounds) and wrote in all caps “WHO AM I WORKING FOR?” I continue to ask myself this question every day. Yesterday, during my almost-playing-hookie-afternoon-brainstorm it was clear that our goal is to be working for ourselves but with the higher purpose of serving MORE of our dream customer – the brave creative entrepreneur who wants to build their own dream job.

Instead of just helping a few people live what they love by helping them one-on-one, we want to help LOTS of creatives vision their dream job, develop a business plan, and make it a reality. But there’s only so much of us to go around. So what does this mean, exactly? It means a bigger piece of the pie is dedicated to creating our own super rich content that will help more people find their own creative business clarity and “aha” moments without us necessarily being right there with them – but then to package it up in a way that can be purchased. We’ve already started sticking our toe in the water by offering Braid ECourses and we just launched our first 1-Day Braid Workshop. But we’re also looking at other ways we could be more intentional and efficient with our message – translating our one-on-one services into products that are easier and more accessible to click “buy”.

WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR? 
Tara and I work and consult with lots of creatives with amazing skills. But talent these days is just what’s expected. We’re far more interested in who they’re working for (or who they want to be working for), the creative process, and how these brilliant creatives are leveraging the work they do for themselves.

When You Work For Someone Else 
Now, the cool thing about working for someone else is that you can develop and hone your aesthetic, skills and process on someone else’s dime. It’s easy to feel like we have no control when working for someone else but the truth is you do. There are little things you can do to bring more of who you are into your job. Experiment within boundaries – try something like implementing a creative process using new technologies that your old school bosses might not know about. Or play around with how you structure your to-do lists. Or maybe execute something by hand rather than on the computer. And when you leave your job you can take those experiences, skills, and expertise with you.

When You’re Already Working For Yourself 
Tara and I just did a consultation with a organic / non-toxic beauty expert. She ghost writes posts on her expertise for other people. But she’s considering writing some eBooks. We encouraged her to not only write eBooks but to stop ghost writing and bring her personal brand, and expertise, to the forefront when writing for other people. Sometimes working for yourself can be as simple as giving yourself more credit.

So who are you working for? What are some ways you can work for yourself? Any questions? Leave a comment or let’s chat about it over on the Braid Facebook page. 

P.S. If you want to learn more about this kind of stuff check out our Braid ECourse on Dream Customer Catching in session later this month. We’ve also launched a 1-Day Braid Workshop scheduled for May 4th – learn more here

Letters for Creative Entrepreneurs

 TaraKathleen

When I first started freelancing over 2 years ago I was completely freaked out. So of course, I shared that struggle with you guys. I also shared the details of how I work with my Freelance Matters series – from advice on when to quit your “real job” to how to fire a client. And then when my sister quit her job as a creative director / VP to work with me we took a big leap of faith and decided to build a business model out of giving away our advice – we call it gifts of knowledge – for free over at Braid Creative.

But I wanted something more meaningful… or more personal… So I had this idea to start a series of letters for creative entrepreneurs (and aspiring artistpreneurs too). These letters aren’t flashy or tricked out with designs and photos. They’re letters like we would send to our friends where we share our personal journey as well as the advice and insights.

Today I want to share some excerpts from a couple of our letters with you guys – and then I’m going to ask you to sign up for our mailing list so you can continue to get these nuggets of Braid Creative wisdom for creative entrepreneurs from us. Or maybe just a good laugh. Or maybe a little bit of both.

MoneyisEnergy

From the Creative Entrepreneur Letter | Money Is Energy:

Confession: when I first started working for myself I felt like I didn’t really deserve to make money. I had convinced myself of a few deep-seated myths that I found to be true, including:
1. If I do what I love for a living then I don’t deserve to make lots of money.
2. My work is more meaningful if money has nothing to do with it.
3. Money is bad.
4. My family doesn’t come from money. I’ve always been provided for but “being rich” is for other people.

Now two years into working for myself my mindset about money has completely changed. Economics are fascinating to me and money is one of my favorite topics of conversation. It took a little bit of work to get right with my attitude about money but one of the best tidbits I received (and boy, did I receive) was this:

Money is energy. Giving and receiving money is an exchange of energy.

When I take a look at my list above and replace the word “money” with “energy” it is clear that I am worthy of energetic transactions that result in me making money. For example, statement #2, “my work is more meaningful if money has nothing to do with it“, would now read: “my work is more meaningful if energy has nothing to do with it.” And that’s just some horseshit right there. I got right about money real fast after thinking about it in those terms. 

EveryoneElseTogether

From the Creative Entrepreneur Letter | Everyone Else SEems to Have Their Shit Together But Me:

One of the most complicated things about working for yourself is the abundance and potential of ideas (so many world-rocking ideas!!!) immediately followed by the overwhelming feelings that:
A) you should’ve figured it out already, and then
B) not knowing where to begin, quickly followed by
C) paralysis to act

If you’re anything like me you start surfing blogs and reading interviews and watching TED talks on creatives you admire and start feeling like everyone else has their sh*t together but you. The earth begins to rotate a little faster and your heart starts thumping a little louder and you get that knot in the back of your throat and fantasize about working an “easy” job – like at a makeup counter in the mall. You start feeling really unoriginal and as if you will never be able to create anything world-rocking. Ever.

Tara and I have found from our work with creative entrepreneurs that this end-of-the-world feeling is common. We have found that everyone feels as if they’re making it up and nobody feels like they totally have their sh*t together.

My recommendation to remedy this feeling is this: start creating content immediately.

Where do you begin?
1. First, figure out which ideas have spark for your big future vision but also make sense of those ideas within the trajectory of your past victories. Pick one idea to start executing on now. Our past, present, future exercise is a great way to identify the overlap of what you should focus on right now.
2. Then sort out and organize what you can share about this idea (your expertise and gifts of knowledge) against what you actually get paid to do when implementing this idea.
3. Get specific and make it real. If you’re trying to keep your idea appealing to anyone and everyone it’s going to fall flat. If you’re using words like “unique” or “quality” to describe your product or idea … stop. Those words say nothing about who you are and what you do.
4. Get hired. Tell your customers how to hire you and then get paid – this step is what takes you from having a dream to becoming an entrepreneur.

If you miss Freelance Matters and want more of those insights sign up here (if this sign-up box doesn’t show up in your RSS feed visit my blog page and sign up in the right hand side bar – or at www.braidcreative.com):

These letters will also keep you updated with our Braid ECourse offerings – including exclusive discounts for our creative entrepreneur letter recipients. (Pssst… one is going out Thursday for our newest ECourse on Dream Customer Catching). 

When Having A Dream Job Takes Work

KathleenBraid

KathleenBraidB

Confession: After our 3-week trip abroad I was so ready to come home – but I wasn’t ready to go back to work. It was a depressing realization I made on our flight back to the US and I had no idea what to do with those feelings. I was terrified that maybe I hated the job I had created for myself. In order to keep from having a panic attack at a cruising altitude of 30,000 over the Atlantic ocean I had a glass of red wine. Or four.

After we landed in Oklahoma, unpacked and had a solid 10 hours of sleep I reevaluated these feelings in the safety of my own home. I think it came down to feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the insecurity that comes with being responsible for your own paycheck. Overwhelmed by all the amazing talent already out there and how little I can sometimes feel (ah, the comparison trap). Overwhelmed by the gap between here and there. Overwhelmed by the idea of starting a family on top of growing a baby business of my own.

But here’s the deal. As soon as I settled back in to my desk all the things Tara and I have been working really hard to achieve over the past year started coming to fruition. We’ve committed to positioning ourselves to creative entrepreneurs and overhauled our website to reflect that bold shift. We’re developing an ECourse (launching in September) to better serve the creative entrepreneurs who can’t quite afford a one-on-one engagement with us but deserve solid branding & positioning of their own (and I’m here to say – branding goes WAY beyond a logo design). We’re turning down work from people like government agencies, law firms and financial institutions with lots of money and great marketing directors but no decision making power. Some think we’re a little crazy for this but we’ve recognized that we’re best suited to work with other creatives like us, the “solopreneurs”, who not only need help with a brand identity but positioning and business visioning. That’s what we’re best at. That’s what makes us happiest. We’re working hard to make Braid Creative a resource and a place where we can celebrate other creative entrepreneurs.

I also had this idea of going beyond blogging and getting more personal with letters that will go straight from me and Tara to you. These are free, exclusive, emails for creative entrepreneurs (and the aspiring artistpreneurs) that will go straight to your inbox – and they aren’t old-school newsletters or regurgitated blog posts – but letters, from us to you. In fact, email no. 2 is going out this morning – in a couple hours – if you’re interested sign up below.

Here’s an example of the first letter you’ll receive, explaining what it’s all about, when you sign up:



BraidEmailHTMLTemplate

These are the things that make me happiest. Sharing content. Writing (I almost think of myself more as a writer than a designer these days, fragmented sentences and all). Genuine connections with other creatives.

All of this to say having your dream job takes work. That’s what email no. 2 going out this morning is all about. And I’m taking a healthy dose of my own advice and working hard to make it all a dream. Because, lately, I have no tolerance for doing anything I’m not in love with – and that’s okay by me.

Do you guys ever feel overwhelmed? What do you do to keep your dream job from turning into a nightmare?

Top photos by the talented and radical Greer Inez.

Freelance Matters | How to Write An Email

EmailMatters

The ability to compose a good email is imperative if you’re a freelancer. I’ve read a few tips from people I admire about how to write an efficient email. One tip was your email should be no longer than 5 words, but I think that can come off cold and inaccessible. So here are a few tips on how I write my emails. Here I’m going to focus on correspondence to new prospects, in particular.

NEW PROSPECTS:
• If a potential client is emailing you to ask for rates consider having a standard response and maybe even a PDF that walks your client through your typical process, deliverables and rates. This will save you so much time in the long run, especially if you’re getting lots of requests.
• On that note – make your attachments under 1MB – it’s polite.
• Don’t worry if your proposal doesn’t match exactly what they’re asking for. Yes, acknowledge the request but maintain control of how you work and what you can bring to the table. If your client-to-be feels like you’re a good fit THEY will be flexible to you (versus the other way around).
• If your rates are firm say something like: “my minimum engagement fee is $X” or “My houly rate is $X/hr. with a minimum of X hours.”
• If you are open to negotiation or lowering your rates wait until the second conversation to discuss options. You don’t want to come off as desperate and you don’t want to work with whoever is simply looking for the best deal.
• Always let the new prospect know the best way to get a hold of you with additional questions or discussion. For me I always like to follow-up with a Skype session or in-person meeting – but I thrive on face-to-face interaction.
• Avoid emoticons and using language like “LOL”. Especially when something isn’t funny. An example of what not to do: “I typically charge $X. LOL! :-D”

Here is an example of an actual email transaction between me and a client-to-be: 

Hi Kathleen,

I’m starting a photography business.  I am trying to find someone to design a logo, business cards and a website.  Can you let me know what your rates are?

Thanks so much,
Brian

Here is my response: 
Hi Brian,
Congrats on taking the leap and starting your own photography business! My business partner, Tara, and I, through Braid, are best suited to work with small independent businesses, especially creative entrepreneurs.

We are typically hired by artistpreneurs, because we help them clarify their business vision along with a clarified brand identity. It is woven together with their brand positioning, story and look & feel.

How we do this is through our Braid Method. It is a $X engagement. The Braid Method is how Tara and I take small business owners through their barriers, opportunities and truths and finds patterns and common threads that rise to the top to create their authentic brand. A bit like brand therapy, actually. 

What you get with the Braid Method:
– business vision findings visually laid out in a multiple page PDF (get some perspective)
– business positioning + purpose more clearly defined (actually explain what you do!)
– brand story and messaging platform (bring it to life in a consistent & often emotional way)
– a new logo & identity (no more logo “shame!”)
– and one bonus design (typically stationery or a web header)

At the end of this process you will have this physical, visual guide to help you implement your cohesive brand. Not to mention loads of confidence moving forward in your creative business venture.

See the attached outline that shows how this step-by-step collaborative method works, and what you get. Let me know if you think we might be a fit, or if you have any questions about how we work and we can set up a call or a Skype! I would love to hear more about your vision.

Talk soon!
Kathleen

EmailCorrespondence

OTHER TIPS FOR EMAILING:
• Your emails should always be guiding your client, client-to-be or vendor along your process. Never leave them guessing what’s next.
• Forget witty and make your subject line relevant & specific to the content of the email – especially if it’s a client you have lots of projects with. It will make emails easier to find down the road.
• I always assign next steps or actionable items and timelines to every email. I also clearly establish who needs to take action – whether it’s me or the client.
• Write everything in bullets and/or numbered lists. This makes it easy for both parties to respond.
• I also like to bold or highlight action steps needing to be taken. 
• If you’re including an attachment say so in your email. Sometimes it’s easy to look over.
• If you’re sharing work describe what you’re showing with a brief creative rationale – even if it’s something simple and seems obvious to you sometimes it’s nice for the client to know why you made certain choices.
• Re-read your email before you hit send. This one is tough, I know. Sometimes you’re in a rush but you can avoid lots of confusion and really say what you mean if you quickly proof your email.
• Sometimes you should just pick up the phone. Nothing beats a candid back-and-forth conversation when you’re trying to work something out. But follow up with an email to confirm what you talked about and what action steps came out of it – this is great for future reference and a great way to avoid confusion.

In conclusion, I’m not saying that there is just one way to compose an email or that you should feel ashamed if you throw winky-faced emoticons in your email. I just think we should all be a little more aware of what we’re saying before we hit “send” (myself included) in order to get the most out of some pretty amazing technology.

BONUS: HOW TO HAVE A ZERO INBOX
I’m always reading on Twitter about people having hundreds of unread emails in their inbox. Now, I’m not going to pretend to be an organizational genius with color coded folders and labels in my inbox – but I never have more than a dozen unread emails at a time. Here’s what I do:
• If I can respond to an email in less than 5 minutes I respond RIGHT THEN.
• If I can’t respond quite yet I will read the email and then MARK AS UNREAD. This keeps the email from falling through the cracks. And if you use Gmail set your inbox type to “unread first”.
• Unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters and other email subscriptions.
• At the end of every Friday I archive all my emails. (What a great way to end the week).

Do you have any emailing tips you would like to add? 

RELATED POSTS:
How to Fire A Client
Managing Your Client
How I To-Do