We recently had an “a-ha!” moment after hearing one of our Braid Ecourse creative entrepreneurs, explain the difference between being understood (and hired) for what she “really” does, instead of misunderstood (and hired, yes, but perhaps not as happily) for what she “almost” does. Brooklyn-based wedding designer Michelle Edgemont is all about quirky, fun, modern wedding design, yet serious about defining her own business and expertise. This is her Dream Customer Catching ECourse takeaway:

“I learned it’s okay to say ‘no’ to clients I don’t want to take on. I put this into practice the other day with a bride looking for a designer/planner. I don’t want to plan weddings – just make them look cool and pretty. At first I was terrified of giving up the money, but it let me keep that weekend open to be hired to decorate a wedding instead of plan one.”

Just let that sink in for a minute. It’s a perfect example of how saying “no” to the not-quite-right opportunities can propel you forward as much as saying “yes” to the right opportunities. It’s a powerful reason to define that difference right up front, so the opportunities (i.e. your potential dream clients) know what to expect from you – in Michelle’s case, not a planner. It also shines light on a struggle a lot of entrepreneurs have: how to turn down paying work when it doesn’t feel right, but would pay some serious bills!

Kathleen also recently blogged about another sticky aspect of defining what you do: job titles. Titles can be tied up in status (especially for those of us who started out in the 9-5 world), they can limit potential engagements, or ultimately be arbitrary for creative entrepreneurs. But while you don’t necessarily have to give yourself a title, you do need to define what it is, exactly, that you do and do not do. More with Michelle about what she “really” does vs. what she “almost” does, the importance of defining the difference for clients, and if and when it’s okay to break your own rules.

The Job of a Wedding Designer is Sort Of a Made-Up Role

How do you explain what you "really" do vs. what you "almost" do?
Michelle: My clients, brides and grooms, are unique from clients of other business because this is their first (and most likely last) time they will be shopping for creatives to help them put together a wedding. Imagine that you have never bought a pair of jeans before and you feel as though you must buy The Best Pair Ever because they will be The Last And Only pair you'll ever buy. Now imagine that the store you are shopping in is the whole internet and that you will spend the most money you've ever spent on something in your life. Stressful, right? Welcome to the minds of my wedding clients. 

They have a lot to digest when putting together a wedding, which is why I like to keep what I "really" do and what I "almost" do very simple. I say this a lot, "I decorate your wedding. I do not plan your wedding," and, "My best work is colorful, quirky, modern, and unexpected. It is not normal, traditional, pastel, or Anthropologie-inspired." What I "really" do is design modern-quirky decorations and flowers for creative couples. What I "almost" do is design and plan weddings with traditional decor and flowers. 

The job of a wedding designer is also a sort of made-up role. There have always been florists, but what florist will create a photobooth backdrop for you out of 1000 sequins? Not too many. That's where I come in. The main goal of my company is to offer couples a vendor who will conceptualize, design, create, arrange, and set-up the decor and flowers at their wedding. 

Clarify Your Content

Where do you find yourself answering this question of what it is you do, exactly? In person over coffee? Via email to interested potential clients? In your website or social media content?
Michelle: With other wedding industry folk, it's at networking events and over coffee where I can explain in person and in detail that I'm an expert in providing custom designed decor that has a modern, colorful look and that I don't plan weddings. 

With prospective clients, I can tell from the first email they send me if they are actually looking for a wedding planner, not a wedding designer. When this happens, I gracefully explain to the prospective client what I do and recommend a wedding planner. 

I admit, if I was more specific with what I really do vs what I almost do in my content, especially about my personal design aesthetic, there would be a lot less confusion. 

When you are tempted to go ahead and take on the "almost" projects? How do you resist? 
Michelle: Oh man, this is a hard one. Turning down a paying client is tough, although, if the design aesthetic that they love is not what I'm an expert in, then I'm not going to do my best work and they would be better served by one of my peers. Growing a small business is difficult and one of the ways I try to make it easier it by making sure I'm always excited by clients that I take on. Either our aesthetics are a perfect match, or I really resonate with an aspect of their personal stories, or they are getting married at a really interesting venue. In order to keep my client experience very personal, I only book one wedding per weekend. Saying no to something I "almost" do will open up a weekend for a couple to hire me for what I "really" do.

When to Bend the Rules

When to Stay True

When do you let yourself break your own rules and go ahead and do something that's a bit out of your core genius zone?
Michelle: When something about the couple really resonates with me, I'll make an exception and work with a more rustic/vintage aesthetic. If a wedding is in the off-season, which in NYC is December-March, I'll make a slight aesthetic exception too. Those months can be slow and any income is greatly appreciated. Although, I don't budge on "almost" being a wedding planner. I'm capable of planning a wedding, I just really don't want to. 

And that's why we've all worked our butts off growing our own businesses, right? So we don't have to work on the projects we don't want to work on. 

We love featuring creative entrepreneurs and their stories. Sticking to your core genius isn’t always easy. How much do you bend the rules, and often do you stay true? Tell us on Facebook.

Braid Method Branding for Creatives ECourse

The Braid Method Branding ECourse is for creative entrepreneurs who are ready to support themselves financially with their business, create a blog or consistent online presence, and finally turn the work they’re already doing into a digital product, package, or offering for dream customers. This branding ecourse comes with 7 learning modules in a 300+ page digital download, a workbook with 20+ branding exercises and scripts, a quarterly masterclass, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can connect with us and other students.

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Coworking spaces are starting to pop up all over the country, and they’re a great, inexpensive option for creative entrepreneurs. A cross between a cozy coffee shop and an open-concept office, these community-driven spaces encourage collaboration and offer both structure and flexibility for their members. 

You’ve probably heard of a place like this in your town or city – and then you start hearing about it everywhere. For us this conversation around coworking really ramped on the heels of a  Creative Entrepreneur letter from Tara. (Have you guys signed up for those yet? You should.) She was debating – or musing, rather, with lots of Downton Abbey-inspired metaphors – Braid’s current home-office situation vs. a potential “real” office scenario. She was raising a lot of really valid points, like: How much flexibility can we really thrive within? How much structure do we secretly crave? How many cat butts can our clients really handle in their face when we’re meeting at Kathleen’s dining table? 

Hungry for feedback, we opened up the discussion on Facebook – and were absolutely taken aback by the amount of passionate feedback we got for both options. Some of you lamented the overhead required to rent office space (and the non-yoga pants you’d have to wear), while others had a hard time focusing on work at home, surrounded by endless domestic obligations (and awesomely bad Lifetime movie marathons). 

And then people started chiming in about a cool alternative: collaborative working. 

So, for anyone else out there contemplating a change of work-scenery, we recently spoke to two coworking spaces, Mercury Studio and Indie Spaces, about the kinds of people who use their spaces, the challenges they’re seeing those entrepreneurs face, and the surprising side effects of coworking.

Mercury Studio in Durham, North Carolina has been open for almost a year, run by power duo Katie DeConto and Megan Jones. Mercury is right here on my turf, in the city where I work as a brand designer and writer for Braid, from my cozy home office. So when Megan and Katie invited me to come get the tour, I was excited to leave the sanctuary of my very personal work space, and go check out a very shared and open one. 

Meanwhile, creative couple Emily Thompson and David Austin just opened Indie Spaces in Florence, AL this week. Emily is unstoppable - I think she’s the first person to be featured twice in our Creative Entrepreneur series.

Mercury Studio

Indie Spaces

What made you (personally and/or professionally) decide to launch a coworking space?
Mercury Studio: We both value work and the effect our work environment has on our lives. From our own work experience we learned how important it is to feel like the work we do matters, that we're doing it well, and that we're appreciated for it. It is often a struggle to find work that meets these kinds of desires. We saw that in ourselves as well as many people we know. We wanted to create a space to thrive and to support others as they learn how to work well, doing whatever they do. We both had office management and customer service in our backgrounds, and an interest in design and communication. Mix that with an impossible job market and voila!, Mercury Studio was born. 

Indie Spaces: Because we wanted to work in one, and it didn’t exist! Also, we wanted to take the online community we had grown, and create a physical, local space dedicated to it. Our downtown area, in a place like Florence, Alabama - needs a home for that kind of creative energy, and we knew we couldn’t just sit back and wait for someone else to create this dream space. So we did. 

Paying for Space Elevates the Importance of Their Work

What is the common challenge that rises to the top for most creatives who seek a space like yours?
Mercury Studio: Budget. It's hard to give yourself permission to spend money on a workspace, especially when most people could have a home office, a kitchen table, or just go to a coffee shop for a change of scene. A lot of people might not think a dedicated workspace is technically essential, so justifying the added cost for a new or small business isn't easy. If cost wasn't an issue, there would be a coworking space on every block, but it is. We don't really work in sales. We try to present our space and its benefits as accurately as possible and then let people make the decision for themselves, when they are ready. We know the value of dedicated spaces like the one we offer, but our members need to believe it's worth it themselves. The upside about paying for a space is that it elevates the importance of their work, especially for our members who join to grow their own businesses. At minimum, they are paying for a space so that means they better use it. Productivity skyrockets. Connections multiply. It is so fun for us to watch!

Indie Spaces: They’re often struggling with committing fully to the flexible work/life balance lifestyle. They still have this “gotta have/keep a 9 - 5 job” mentality, but they’re not completely happy with it. Part of our job is redefining what work looks like to them; working here shows them that it’s okay to make your own schedule, and that you can still be productive even if you don’t hold these rigid 9 - 5 hours. Having space here also helps freelancers feel a little more legitimate, and a little more qualified to really own their work and their expertise.

Work Is Fun

What do you think is the most surprising part of the experience for those who work in your space?
Mercury Studio: It's that increase in productivity and connections that seems to really surprise people. Most of our members expect this to some degree and it probably plays into their decision to join. But when it actually happens for them, wow! Just recently, Katie was talking to one of our members, a photographer, about hiring her to do a job for a client we're building a new website for. Even though we know this member joined so these types of referrals would help her grow her business, she seemed very happy and surprised that her investment in her own business was paying off.

Indie Spaces: People start to find out that they’re having FUN while working. That they can talk to the others in the space, and enjoy themselves in their new flexibility. Guess what? WORK IS FUN! 

It's Okay to Make Your Own Schedule

Anyone Working on Anything Would Feel Comfortable

How would you describe the makeup of professions that use your space, and how would you like to see that change or evolve as awareness or the use of your space grows?
Mercury Studio: Our space is very diverse and we love it that way. One of our main intentions in designing Mercury Studio was to create a place where anyone working on anything would feel comfortable and supported. We believe we've accomplished this. Our members range in age from early-twenties to second-career entrepreneurs, and their work ranges from graduate school studies to doctors who write when they’re not in the ER. It's a wonderful mix and we really hope it continues to be that way. We're interested in people more than in specific professions, so as long as our members continue to be people who are community-minded and who are proactive about building the work they love, we'll be thrilled.

Indie Spaces: I’d say we have two kinds of people. There are the digital creative freelancers: programmers, photographers, videographers. And then there are the people who have jobs elsewhere, and need a separate space just to get things done. I see us attracting more freelancers, and seeing more of the freelancers we do have, as their businesses grow. And hopefully, we inspire the ones who have those 9 - 5 jobs to make a change, and commit to working for themselves!

We love featuring creative entrepreneurs – and we hope you love reading about them just as much. Let us know what else you’d like to see in our creative entrepreneur features (and continue to weigh in on the home office / “real” office / coworking office debate) on Facebook.

Braid Method Branding for Creatives ECourse

The Braid Method Branding ECourse is for creative entrepreneurs who are ready to support themselves financially with their business, create a blog or consistent online presence, and finally turn the work they’re already doing into a digital product, package, or offering for dream customers. This branding ecourse comes with 7 learning modules in a 300+ page digital download, a workbook with 20+ branding exercises and scripts, a quarterly masterclass, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can connect with us and other students.

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This was my third year to attend Alt Summit – a conference held in Salt Lake City for design bloggers. Just a few months prior I was hemming and hawing over whether I wanted to go or not but I ultimately decided to show up and be seen. And when I received an email saying that my design idol Stefan Sagmeister would be giving a keynote, I knew it was meant to be. 

If you’re not familiar, Stefan Sagmeister is a legend in the design community for his packaging and design work for amazing musicians like Lou Reed and David Byrne. He’s notorious for carving event details into his own skin with an Xacto for an AIGA event. And more recently he sparked some attention for posing naked with Jessica Walsh to announce their new business partnership. Needless to say, I have a huge crush. Through college I used to fantasize about moving to NYC and working 80 hours a week for Stefan Sagmeister but then I got overwhelmed, scared, and tired. It was much easier to stay put.

I first saw Sagmeister speak at my alma mater a few years ago. He shared lots about his approach to graphic design and an inside glimpse to his creative process – which pretty much involves lots of hand crafting and endurance. He’s a genius at creating from this place rooted in curiosity and exploration. Oh and he’s Austrian, which makes him that much more fascinating to listen to.

This year when I saw him speak at Alt it was about so much more than design and the creative process. It was about intent and purpose. It was about finding happiness.

THE TALK: WHERE STEFAN SAGMEISTER BLEW OUR MINDS WAY, WAY OPEN Stefan Sagmeister ALT Talk 2013

Stefan Sagmeister opened his talk with a couple of naked photos of himself. The clinking of cutlery went silent and a the minds of a thousand design bloggers adorned in top knots and blunt bangs were blown. The images weren’t distasteful or pornographic – they’re kind of ordinary, yet honest. My Mighty Summit friend, Jordan Ferney, later shared a theory that blowing our minds way, way open was the whole point. Because after that moment everyone was that much more receptive to everything Stefan had to share. And he pretty much changed all of our lives with what he had to say. 

Censored Sagmeister

From there Stefan shared how he’s documenting, shaping and sharing his own personal journey to understand and achieve happiness, avoid burnout, and the tactics he uses to keep his work a calling (versus a job). He shared how he grew up where critical, and often times cynical, thinking was valued, but later in life he turned that notion on its head and challenged himself (and us) to not just point what’s wrong in the world but to seek out ways to improve it. He challenged himself to be happy.

He started by listing some of the things that make him happiest – including: 
• Traveling to new places. 
• An open road and a motorcycle. 
• Working on projects that matter to him. 
• Designing a project that feels partly brand new and partly familiar. 

I can relate. You too, right?

Then Stefan shared his weapon against serious burnout. A year long sabbatical taken every seven years. He presented us with an infographic as follows: 

Sabbatical Sagmeister

The idea is that you spend ages 0-25 learning. Then from 25-70 you work. At 70 you enjoy retirement until you die. Instead of waiting until the end of life, Sagmeister has committed to peppering some of those golden years into his working years to increase productivity, pursue passion projects and experiments, and ultimately to avoid burnout. You can imagine the fear and uncertainty that comes with taking a year off – no money, missed opportunities, and annoyed clients. But Sagmeister didn’t just escape burnout – he found a kind of productivity and creativity that informed his work for the next seven years – which led to a long term financial gain. At this point I was on fire. 

The closest I’ve ever come to a sabbatical was taking the month of October 2010 off to fly to the other side of the world and trek to Mt. Everest base camp. I spent the following month of November 2010 shaping and sharing the experience on my personal blog. For two whole months I was my own client. And like Sagmeister, it completely transformed the way I not only viewed the world but the way I shaped my work (you can see the influence of the graphic treatment I developed then on my work now). Stefan got me thinking about how I could continue to incorporate daily discipline as well as structured and extended lengths of time off in order to bring curiosity and growth to my work. 

Stefan Sagmeister went on to share some of his projects that came from a place of authenticity – unmolested by Pinterest, Dribble, client orders and whatever everyone else was doing. He shared snaps from The Happy Show, a traveling exhibit that explores happiness and utilizes the often overlooked spaces, nooks and crannies in museums. He also shared clips from The Happy Film which highlighted his endurance and attention to detail when it comes to bringing typography to life. 

Sagmeister Happy Film

My mind was blown way open. It’s scary enough to be a creative entrepreneur, much less to have the kind of courage it takes to work with creative abandon. But Stefan Sagmeister made me feel brave enough to create from a place of almost child-like authenticity – and to remain diligent in being my own number one client. It’s the kind of work that pays for itself, emotionally and financially.  

THE AFTERPARTY: WHERE I BECAME A GIDDY FANGIRL
Years ago I was too shy to ask Stefan Sagmeister for a picture or an autograph – and I was still too shy to approach him directly after his talk. But hours later during the evening mini-parties I saw Sagmeister sipping a cocktail (or was it a beer?) and in the split second that he was by himself I knew it was my moment to swoop in and say hello. I fangirled out when I told him how much his work means to me. I asked for a photo and he obliged – but only if he could give me a kiss. PLEASE AND YES. 

Stefan Kathleen Kiss

We took our photo (I’m still blushing) but I had to know more about sabbaticals. He made it clear that it’s not just about taking an extended amount of time off at once but finding sacred time, and discipline, daily or weekly to work on your own projects. He explained that the artists, designers, and even chefs, who are dedicated to working on their own projects and experiments are the ones he respects the most. They’re also the ones who seem to find the most success, and perhaps happiness. 

I went on to compliment him on his design tenacity, particularly when it comes to executing and filming some of his typography work – including a house of cards stacked in the middle of a dance party to spell out the word “ME”. He explained that nobody would ever have the patience to rip off his work – it would just be too exhausting. Which is another compelling argument for the kind of passion needed to create from a place of authenticity.

I’m going to be exploring more on the themes Sagmeister presented throughout the year – probably throughout my entire career. I’ll be sure to share my findings. But in the meantime,  check out Stefan Sagmeister’s TED talk on The Power of Time Off here. And his TED talk on Happiness By Design here.  

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Braid Method Branding for Creatives ECourse

The Braid Method Branding ECourse is for creative entrepreneurs who are ready to support themselves financially with their business, create a blog or consistent online presence, and finally turn the work they’re already doing into a digital product, package, or offering for dream customers. This branding ecourse comes with 7 learning modules in a 300+ page digital download, a workbook with 20+ branding exercises and scripts, a quarterly masterclass, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can connect with us and other students.

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