We were sharing our key takeaways and “ah-ha” moments during the closing session at DesignerVACA (it’s like summer camp in fabulous Palm Springs for graphic designers) when one designer said something along the lines of coming to DesignerVACA to learn freelancing tips and tricks but was surprised to come away with her tribe. She said she had underestimated how important it was to connect with comrades and would be searching for more of “her people” once she returned home. And then just this week one of my creative coaching clients asked me how she can build her following and find her tribe. So that’s what I want to talk about this week: how to find and build your tribe.
WHO IS YOUR TRIBE?
Think of your tribe as a layered onion. The outer layer might be blog readers, Instagram followers, and friendly acquaintances at the coffee shop. The next layer in might be people you only know from the internet but refer to as friends – for example, your husband or girlfriend might know this person by name and/or Twitter handle because you refer to them often enough. The next layer in might be IRL (that stands for In Real Life) friends – the ones you’ve met at conferences, workshops, or retreats and keep in touch with via social media. After that you might find the people you’re in the trenches with – your co-workers, business partners, and creative collaborators. Then there are you close friends – the ones you text your secrets to and have 5-hour long brunches with. The closer you get to the core of the onion the closer your tribe becomes – for me these are my best friends and family – pretty much the people who have seen me ugly cry.
I think artists are typically pegged as being eccentric, messy, and unorganized when it comes to their space, their creative process, and how they do their work. But when it comes to creative entrepreneurs who have turned their passion into profit, organization is essential – in fact some of us pride ourselves on how organized we are.
Kathleen here. I spent last week in Palm Springs at Designer VACA with a hundred designers who are not only creative, but super organized – so much so, I started to think my own perceived organizational skills maybe aren’t as fine tuned as they could be after all! As a small team working together here at Braid, our methods for staying on top of everything (some automated, some more old-school, like good ‘ol post-its) have served us well up until now – enough that people often ask how we manage it all. So today I want to share how we stay organized, plus some new tools, tricks, and tips I’ve learned about, but haven’t yet tried, that could help us (and perhaps you, too) get even more streamlined in our daily grind.
Here at Braid Creative we use Gmail. There is a lot of functionality built in like folder, labels, and tasks – plus extras in Google Labs like canned responses and multiple inboxes.
At Designer VACA Jessica Hische gave us her secret to maintaining a zero inbox and that is to 1) download all your emails and respond to them offline. That way you can’t get sucked down an internet rabbit hole while answering emails. And 2) Stop using “unread” emails as a to-do list (guilty here) and instead read the email, respond appropriately, and add any actions required to your actual to-do list.
Kathleen here and today I want to admit that work, life, the blend, and the balance has managed to kick my ass this week. Back-to-back client meetings, planning for the future of Braid Creative, creating content, coming down from a big talk and already prepping for the next – it's the good kind of stress that I typically thrive on. But then add to the mix 1.) a nocturnal baby with a stubborn fever, 2.) my own symptoms of unrequited wanderlust, and 3.) a serious case of “never-enough-time-itis” – and I'm melting down. So even though a big part of my work is coaching other creatives through the work / life hullabaloo I'm still susceptible getting stuck, scattered, and spread thin.
But here's the deal... I'm comfortable admitting that I don't feel like I have it all together all the time because most of us don't. Think of the most successful person you know. Even she suffers from insecurities from time-to-time. I mean, I bet even Beyonce has her days! As I get vulnerable with my creative confidants and tell them that I'm burning out they almost seem relieved because "ME TOO!" – from homework battles with their kids to the general pressure of running your own thing and chasing the dream. It can be overwhelming.
So what do you do when you feel like you've taken a work / life beating? Follow the energy. Let me explain....
Last week I gave a talk at The Circles Conference, a two-day gathering for designers and artists to learn and get inspired. Because I only work with other working creatives I decided to use this chance to talk about so many of the patterns I see – the struggles but also daydreams we working creatives all seem to share in common no matter what city we live in. Most of us share The Dream of having a job with purpose, creative fulfillment, and control of our own schedules. But we also share The Fear. The fear that keeps us from creating that dream job, from leaving the day job, from owning our expertise, and the fear that has us feeling like frauds.
These are painful and relatable fears we have as working creatives – but we gotta push through them so we can get back to work, right? So how do you push through the fears? I suggest the following:
Get specific about the worst case scenario – what does failure actually look like?
Get specific about the ideal day – what do you really want?
Make a mantra to help remind you of your dreams
Make a decision and move forward
You can see more by watching the Circles talk I gave here....
My favorite thing about owning a business with my sister is that when we go into business-planning mode we can speak candidly and with total honesty about our money goals. We can say things like “I want to be able to buy a freaking vacation house” or “I want at least 8 weeks of vacation a year” without feeling self-conscious or judged by the other. You see, it’s not just about a number – we’re able to really dig in and explore our goals, desires, and dreams. It’s not just about how much we want to make – it’s about how we want to feel.
It usually boils down to us wanting to feel rich, wealthy, and successful. They might all sound like words for the same thing but they aren’t. When my sister and I get specific about what being rich, wealthy, and successful really looks like, this is what we find:
WHAT DOES “RICH” LOOK LIKE?
- expensive raw denim
- staying in a fancy hotel
- buying a new car – with a sunroof
- hiring someone else to clean my house
- ordering take-out from a fancy restaurant – on a weeknight
- subscribing to Amazon Prime and a United Mileage Rewards credit card
WHAT DOES “WEALTH” LOOK LIKE?
- having brunch with friends that lasts all day long
- picking my baby up early from daycare
- working out in the middle of the day
- donating to charity (without having to Tweet about it or pour a bucket of ice over my head)
- my modest heirloom wedding ring (my husband told me we could get something fancy – that it was just a placeholder – but I love it)
- ordering prints of my Instagram photos
- road trips with my girlfriends
Inevitably at some point during a creative entrepreneur’s journey, down her uncertain path, a big leap is going to be required. Actually, big leaps and big risks are usually how this path begins – graduating college, quitting the day job, forming a new partnership, to name a few. The big leaps typically feel risky and daring, they’re equally scary and exciting, and they make for really fun dinner conversations and Facebook status updates. Big leaps will challenge your courage, get your adrenaline pumping, and make you feel like a badass when you make it to the other side. Once they become a habit, you can get addicted to big leaps – craving the next one or even becoming antsy or bored if you don’t feel one coming your way.
The thing is, becoming a successful creative entrepreneur is mostly made up of small steps. The stuff that doesn’t make you feel like a particularly interesting person – things like spending two hours perfecting the tiniest bit of typography in a logo, coordinating a client contract, reviewing quarterly goals, keeping up with the books, writing, designing, and meeting – plus the life stuff like household chores and errands. It’s not that these things aren’t worthy, they’re just not Pinterest-worthy. The value in the small steps comes with consistency, time, and sticktoitiveness....
Have you heard about the Law of Attraction? The idea, as I’ve come to understand it, is that if you can visualize what you want, it is yours – that your emotions, thoughts, and feelings set into motion what comes your way. So if you’re negative, you will probably attract even more negativity into your life. And on the flip-side if you focus on the positive more good things will come your way. I believe this to be true on a universal “woo-woo” level – that when you get clear, set intentions, and “put it out there” you begin to attract what you want without a whole lot of effort.
Kathleen here. I see the Law of Attraction show up in my life on a daily basis. I have noticed that whatever I’m interested in personally, is what I seem to attract professionally. For example, when I really started diving into my yoga practice I started attracting a bunch of yogis as clients. When I got pregnant I found that we were being hired by more and more doulas, midwives, and postpartum health coaches. When I get fired up about food I start attracting foodies – from Paleo cookbook authors and experts to juice cleanse coaches and raw food fanatics and everything in-between. Even my more rational business partner and co-workers will tell you that there is a little bit of mojo at play when it comes to attracting these dream customers. But you don’t have to be a magician to make the Law of Attraction work for you too.
If you’re skeptical about the Law of Attraction here is a more practical breakdown of how to make it work for you:...
It only took a few months of working for myself to realize that being your boss doesn’t always feel so dreamy. You still have deadlines and tricky clients (or lack thereof) to manage. You might find that your newfound flexibility is a double-edged sword that has you working evenings and weekends rather than 9-5. And trading in stifling security for vast uncertainty sometimes has you wondering which is the better deal.
My motivation for being a self-employed creative entrepreneur is to be wildly productive and living the dream – for my days to always feel ideal or at the very least to feel like they’re on my own terms. It sounds hedonistic, yes, but I’ve learned that living the dream takes equal parts vision, discipline, and perspective.
My sister (and business partner) Tara recently let me borrow a book called Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. This book was originally published in 1955 but its themes of slowing down, craving a simple life free from distractions, being a creative, being a feminist, and managing a work / life balance as a mom and wife … they strike as eerily relevant over half a century later. Anne Lindbergh wrote Gift from the Sea when she took a brief solo sabbatical to an island. Lindbergh intentionally makes space from everyday demands she encourages her readers to do so as well. She actually recommends taking a week a year for yourself, a day a week, and an hour a day....
There is nothing more frustrating for the creative entrepreneur with big ambition than feeling like nobody is listening, reading, or buying what you have to say, write, or offer. It’s especially deflating when you feel like you’re giving it everything you’ve got only to be greeted by chirping crickets in return. You might start to play the “if only…” game. “If only Seth Godin was my dad.” or “If only I had more talent.” or “If only I were friends with Marie Forleo.” or “If only anybody knew what a difference I could make!” It’s easy to throw yourself a pity party, but that’s the last thing you want to do when you feel like nobody knows who you are.
So what should you do when you’re not getting the recognition you desire or deserve? Here are a few ideas.
WHEN NOBODY KNOWS WHO YOU ARE … GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
You can lose yourself when you spend all your time trying to impress anyone and everyone who might read your blog or buy your product. Stop thinking about what “they” might like and start thinking about what it is you really want to do and be. Start by simply asking yourself “What do I want?” and go from there. Or dig deeper with daily meditation, journaling, ECourses (we’ve got one or two you might like), or hire a coach for some outside perspective and accountability.
Related post: Grounding Exercises for Dreamy Creatives...
Our friend and internet-awesome-maker Sarah Von Bargen is re-launching her Post College Survival Kit – if you just graduated college and have spent one last summer kicking it on your mom’s couch watching Sex and The City marathons wishing you were Carrie Bradshaw (but feeling a bit more like Lena Dunham from Girls) then the Post College Survival Kit is for you. Or if you’re about to enter your senior year of college and are already freaking out about the real world that lies ahead … well, The Post College Survival Kit is for you too. Anyway, as part of Sarah’s launch she asked us to share a few bits of advice we’d like to give to our younger selves. Here’s what some of the Braid team had to say:...
I recently read an article that said something like 92%* of first graders, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, respond with “famous.” They don’t necessarily care about how they achieve that fame – whether it’s as an actor, the president, a professional athlete … they just want to be famous. (*I have no idea what the actual percentage was but it was alarming.)
So yeah, it’s pretty disturbing that we’re bringing up kids who value fame and recognition over talent, grit, skill, and smarts. But this post isn’t going to address how we solve that problem. This post is about how I’m seeing the exact same desire for recognition happen with aspiring creative entrepreneurs. Here’s how I’m seeing this show up for well-meaning creatives:
“I want to inspire others to create and live an authentic life.”
“I want to inspire people to not give up.”
“I want to inspire and empower women to be brave…”
I get it, because... “me too.” However, inspiring others shouldn’t be the goal in and of itself. Fame, recognition, money (as much as I condone getting paid), and even something as noble as inspiring others shouldn’t be the thing that drives you to do what you do. If it is, you’ll never measure up and you’ll always be chasing a moving target....
Summer barbeques, holiday dinners, and family reunions are always a little tricky for the creative entrepreneur. Why? Because you have to explain what you do in a way that makes you sound like the successfully self-employed badass you are and not an unemployed starving artist who may or may not be considering going back to grad school for a little bit of legitimacy. But sometimes what we do for a living isn’t just a mystery to our great aunt – sometimes our parents or even our partner-in-crime don’t even really know what it is we do or what our days look like. So how can we explain to distant relatives, acquaintances we network with, or even our nearest and dearest to “get” what we do as creative professionals?
Kathleen here. I’m a creative entrepreneur who runs the show with my sister Tara. Our business model isn’t super traditional and we wear a lot of hats. So even though it’s my job to help other creatives position themselves in a way that makes them super hireable it’s not always easy to offer a concise answer to “what do you do?” for myself. So today I thought I’d offer up a few scripts for how Tara and I explain what we do depending on the context of who’s asking....
Tara and I started Braid Creative right at three years ago from my 1920s tudor-style home located just a hop and a skip from downtown Oklahoma City. After a couple of years of growing our little business from my guest bedroom, I got pregnant and found myself needing some work / life separation. That’s when we decided to rent an office space to call our own. For the last year we’ve really enjoyed having a space to call our very own (plus the incentive it gave us to get dressed). And if I’m being completely honest, having rent and utilities set up in our business’ name made us feel capital “L” Legit. An office space seemed to complete the picture of success we had painted for ourselves as creative entrepreneurs.
Kathleen here. I recently decided to move out of that 1920s house and into a new home. I didn’t move far – just a hop and a skip from where I was. But my new house (a rad mid-century modern 1950s split-level ranch) just so happens to be across the street from my sister and business partner, Tara. So with that, after a year of proving to ourselves how credible and successful we were by paying overhead on an office space, we decided to bring Braid Creative back home.
When you work from home it’s easy to let work bleed into life and let boundaries slide. It’s easy to feel isolated and unprofessional when you’re working in your pajamas from your bed. So today I’m going to share a few ideas on how to keep the personal and professional blend that comes with working from home feeling ideal....
As a young creative professional my biggest fear was not having enough ideas. Now as a creative entrepreneur my biggest fear is not knowing what to do with All The Ideas. Kathleen here, and I must confess – I’ve been feeling really creative lately. From product launches to new business plans, ideas seem to strike in the middle of yoga class, while running errands, and my personal favorite, at 4am in the morning (insomnia, anyone?). While it’s a good problem to have, too many ideas can confuse you (and your clients), diffuse your energy, leave you feeling scattered, and even paralyze your ability to make decisions and take action. And I know I’m not alone – most of my clients and creative peers seem to have the same trouble with too many ideas.
So today I want to share one simple approach for dealing with an abundance of ideas:...
The one thing the designers, developers, coaches, photographers, and even yogis that hire Braid Creative have in common is they all want to write more. But they don’t know where to begin, how to carve out time for something like blogging, or are plagued with self-doubt when it comes to hitting publish.
I could talk about blogging for days – there’s a lot to cover on the topic. But today I’m going to keep it simple and share the most powerful piece of advice I’ve got for getting your blog on.
MAKE “BLOGGER” A PART OF YOUR JOB TITLE
As a creative entrepreneur I’ve worn a lot of hats. From designer, to creative director, to accountant, to janitor. But it wasn’t until I put “blogger” in my job description that I started taking it seriously and stopped feeling bad about dedicating time to writing instead of designing, accounting, and even cleaning.
Now that “blogger” is in your job title you need to make time for writing. Include writing and blogging on your daily to-do list and block off time for it in your calendar. Give yourself deadlines and rough out an editorial calendar. And don’t make it the last thing you do (unless you feel most creative at the end of your day)....
About a year ago we decided here at Braid Creative that it was time to update our website. We had been in business for two years and while our site was fine, we knew it could be better. Our business had grown, our dream customer had evolved, and our offerings had become much more clear after a couple years of putting the Braid Method and creative coaching into practice.
But updating a website is kind of like remodeling a house. Kathleen here, and I just moved into a new house this week. So I’m all too familiar with the fact that a few cosmetic updates here and there always reveal deeper issues – the kind that aren’t nearly as fun as a coat of paint or new carpet – but the kind that keep your house in working order. Things like paying thousands of dollars to update the electric service from 60 amps to 100 amps (and y’all – I don’t even know what that really means). It’s the stuff you can’t see but appreciate when you can run your dryer, fridge, and hair dryer all at the same time.
I was pretty excited about redesigning our site with new images, a dreamy “day in the life of Braid Creative” brand video, and some more streamlined content that more accurately shares the brand we’ve built. But I knew – just like updating the electric in my house – that my website had to really work for me. It had to be functional.
Here are a few things we did to make our site work for us:...
Kathleen here. Here at Braid Creative we talk a lot about creative entrepreneurs and freelancers who are paving their own path to live what they love. But get this – a majority of our creative coaching clients have day jobs. Most of them hire us for the confidence and clarity that comes from our coaching and consulting to quit. We regularly get emails from those former clients who share with us that they’ve finally decided to make the leap from day job to do their own thing (!!!!!) – those emails usually include lots of exclamation marks – and we’re always so happy (!!!!!) for them. All of that said, and as supportive as we are, we never actually tell anyone to quit their day job.
In fact, day jobs can be ideal for lots of creatives. While working nine-to-five (and then some) doesn’t give you a lot of time, it can offer the kind of security that allows you to build up a portfolio of dream projects on the side. With a day job you can afford to be picky about the extra stuff you take on. And on that note, when you work for yourself sometimes you get desperate for clients (even not-so-dreamy clients) with cash – and nothing kills creativity like desperation and clients from hell. Day jobs also give you access to teams, resources, and rad customers that you may not have when you work solo. And just because you work a day job doesn’t mean you can’t also rock the entrepreneurial spirit by embracing your own personal brand and razor sharp point-of-view within the walls of an organization that also happens to offer you a steady paycheck....
Two money posts in a row, I know. Kathleen here and I'm positive the majority of you creatives and aspiring entrepreneurs and freelancers are craving a conversation about cold hard cash. I know this because every time I get some face time with you all we end up talking about money. How to find it, make it, sustain it, and grow it. Last week I shared four bits of money advice on the blog and this week I have one more important tidbit to share with you and it is this:
Be a farmer. (Not a hunter.)
Yup, you heard me: be a farmer. This is actually a money mantra Tara and I used a lot when we first started Braid Creative together. We adopted it from Blair Enns, a new-business coach whose specialty is helping creative agencies sell themselves. Meanwhile, we were leaving the agency world and starting over on our own. We were three months in, and had been tirelessly building our business from scratch – from the branding, to the website, to the endless administrative stuff like setting up our LLC and accounting systems. Once the flurry of setting up shop settled we were discouraged to hear crickets chirping as we waited for clients. Even though the silence was discouraging, an even more demoralizing prospect was going out and selling ourselves “cold” (i.e. knocking on doors, making calls, or sending unsolicited emails). So we started farming....
One of the biggest struggles I see with creative entrepreneurs (or aspiring entrepreneurs) is they don’t know how to make money doing what they love. Or rather, the whole topic of money altogether makes them uncomfortable. I get it. When you bring in the kinds of good feelings that come with being creative, making things all day, and loving what you do – it feels as if the reward is in the work itself. You may feel like you don’t deserve to make income on top of feeling good. Or maybe you feel like your work is tainted or is less meaningful if money is involved. Or perhaps you’ve come from a mindset where money is straight up bad. Maybe money has always been a struggle or a seen as a necessary evil in your life.
Kathleen here, and I’ve found the key to making money by doing what you love isn’t that complicated. First, you must have something to sell. Whether you’re selling a product or service, it should be something you believe in with your whole, creative, weirdly-you heart. Feeling like you’re wholy-great at this somethin’ somethin,’ or like you have the natural potential to be great at it in the not-too-distant future, doesn’t hurt either. Then you need a solid brand platform and position to sell your goods with confidence (psst… we can help you with that). But it can get a little trickier when it comes to having the right attitude. Your own inner weirdness around money can make or break your bottom line.
So below I’m going to share four money-mojo tidbits that have helped me take the leap from day job, to freelancer, to successful business owner – all while feeding my family and feeding my creative soul....
Well, “nightmare” might be a bit harsh. But it played off of “dream” so nicely – and really, nightmares are kind of just waiting to happen whenever you work with non-dreamy customers. Misaligned expectations, unclear needs, differing aesthetics, unfulfilling end-product, Freddy Krueger coming towards you in his weird striped-sweater-fedora combo… (shudder). Wake me up!
Figuring out exactly who you work with best helps you in two ways. One, you can find them easier, by creating content that speaks directly to them. And two, you can work with them easier, because you’re able to be such an expert for their needs. Super dreamy-sounding, right? So – how can you tell if your idea of your dream customer is right-on or a bit off?
Liz here. Along with Tara and Kathleen, it's my job to guide all of our clients through our Braid Method. I see lots of patterns and disconnects come up when it comes to their own dream customers. Here are some not-so-dreamy assumptions we see entrepreneurs make time and time again, when figuring out who their dream customer is:...