Sometimes the most heartbreaking thing about being a creative for a living is when a client has negative feedback.
It looks a little something like this: you go through a discovery process, you ask all the right questions, you and your client are jiving and on the same page, you pull inspiration and the client gives you a big thumbs up. You spend days sketching, refining, and finalizing a design that makes you proud. It just might be your best work yet.
Then, you present a design to your client. You can read their face – they aren’t loving it. Or maybe they take their time getting back to you – you take the silence as criticism and start beating yourself up over what they’re thinking. Maybe they come back with “I love it, but could we change …” followed by revisions that butcher your work into something that resembles nothing you would ever create. You find yourself feeling like a pixel-pushing order-taker rather than the gifted creative expert you are.
At worst, you’re left wondering if maybe you really do suck at your job, and at best you’re wondering how to get your clients to trust you. You become resentful and begin daydreaming about what it must be like to be an accountant for a living – work that isn’t quite so objective or personal.
Sound familiar? I know, me too. I spent the first eight years of my career as a graphic designer battling feedback that was anything less than glowing. But I’ve learned a few things along the way – and I’d like to share those coping skills with you today. I’m writing this post from my perspective as a graphic designer, but I think it could apply to any visual creative field.
It’s really easy to rush to judgments at first glance. You’ll only pick up the very worst parts of what’s being said and come to quick conclusions when your feelings are hurt. So when you receive feedback from a client, be sure to read it at least three times before you start freaking out. If a client is giving you feedback in person, write down, word-for-word, what they’re saying (it’s easy to forget what was said when emotions take over).
Actively listen to your client. What is it they’re actually saying? What are their biggest concerns? Which part of the work, specifically, is and is not resonating with them? Why?
Remember, you and your client are both on the same side with the same goals. Get on the phone or face-to-face – reiterate the original objectives of the project, your client’s original input, and explain your creative rationale (without getting defensive). Your client is probably as flustered as you are – they may be feeling a range of emotions as well! What you want in this situation is to remain calm, transparent, and open. Sometimes, going through rough patches with a client (and acting like a kind pro in the process) will only help them trust you even more through the next round of revisions!
Sometimes criticism can feel HUGE when in fact, you just need to make a small shift. For example, one time I presented a branding project and the client said it just didn’t feel right. At first glance, I thought my client was asking for something COMPLETELY different than what I had designed. But after a little bit of conversation, I realized my client wasn’t jiving with just a few aspects of what I had created. With a slight color-shift and a minor typography change, the brand was still on-point, not that different from my original concept, and made all the difference to my client.
You can even use this tactic to reassure your client that you guys are on the right track. You can say something like: “Okay, after chatting I think we’re still on the right track, and with just a few adjustments, we can easily have a design that both of us feel really good about.”
Pretend like you’re in couples therapy with your client – repeat the requested feedback, verbatim, to them. Then share your concerns, insights, and recommendations and plan of attack so everyone gets what they want.
An actual conversation might look like this: “I’m hearing you say that the typography isn’t ‘clean’ enough and you’re looking for something that feels ‘modern’ and ‘sleek’. My suggestion is that we update the expressive typography to something classic, and maybe tone down the accent colors you originally wanted to something a little more neutral, like a metallic, so that it still has a little edge. Is it cool if I try that approach? Keeping in mind your desire for something clean, modern, and sleek, while I make those tweaks?”
Your client doesn’t speak the same language you do. Their feedback may read a little harsh only because they don’t have the words to describe what they like and don’t like about the work (which has to be frustrating for them too!). If your work is visual, one of the best things you can do to get back on track is moodboard out an updated design (textures, typography, color palettes, photography, logos, themes, etc.) and ask them specifically which examples they like and ask what they like about it. As you begin to see what they’re gravitating toward, give them language to describe what they like and don’t like.
You might even say something like: “I’m noticing that all the examples you’re pointing out have organic textures paired with black hand-drawn lettering. And while you like hot pink, it appears that most of the brands you like use accent colors in their photography more than the actual brand identity.”
Remember, at the end of the day if you can maintain control over your own emotions, assume the best, act with intention, humanize your motives and your client’s feedback, and strive for a positive outcome everyone is enthusiastic about ... then you are truly doing the best you can.
If you found this helpful for dealing with client reject, but you're also wondering how to get more clients in the first place, you're in luck! Join us for a FREE webinar on Friday, January 27th at 12pm Central Time where we'll share three simple things you can do to attract more dream clients (without feeling icky). Sign up for the webinar here.
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Creating content is one of the best ways to position yourself as an expert, attract dream customers, and really become known for what you do best. But if you’re not doing it consistently or cohesively you could confuse your reader and potential customers. And if you’re not leveraging that content to its full extent, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table.
It might surprise you to hear that if you have a content problem you have a branding problem—because your brand is the impression you leave and what makes you memorable, and your content is one of the best ways to define who you are and what you want to be known and hired for. In this article, I’m going to share a step-by-step on how to create an editorial calendar that supports your branding goals.
The most important thing you need to understand before you begin creating content is what you want to be known for. If you want to be known for your artistic hand-lettering, your content should support that expertise. If you want to be known for your methodical and strategic thinking, you should be sharing it in your content.
Try this: pretend as if you’re writing a book.
This is the exercise we use with our one-on-one clients and in our Braid Method Branding ECourse to help our students define what they really want to be known for.
You can download the worksheet that will help you outline your book title, chapters, and topics. Your book title is your expertise. Your chapters and topics are the content you will write, speak, or share—every single time you hit “publish.” The content boundaries you create with your “book” will give your content (and brand) so much focus.
Once you determine the kind of content that will help your readers, listeners, and viewers understand what you’re all about and begin to trust your expertise, you need to pick your sharing platforms. I want you to consider your PRIMARY sharing platform and the SUPPORT platforms.
Whether you’re writing, designing, speaking, filming, or streaming, your primary sharing platform should be where you put the most effort into your content.
Your support platforms are other places your content may show up—but the trick is you always want your support content to point back to the primary platform.
Here is a list of just a few sharing platforms to consider—these can and will change as your brand and technology trends evolve! That’s okay. Choose ONE as your primary sharing platform and a FEW for your support platforms.
Here’s an example of how your sharing platforms might work:
PRIMARY PLATFORM: Blog
SUPPORT PLATFORMS: Newsletter, Facebook Live (streaming video), Twitter, Instagram
Let’s say you post once a week—your most impactful and generous knowledge—to a blog.
As you can see in this example, all the support platforms always point back to the primary content you created. Your primary platform could also be a social media platform like Instagram, for example. In that instance, your support platforms always direct your audience to follow you on Instagram. I’m always being asked for my opinion on the best “primary” platforms, and my best recommendation is that it is a “place” you have control of (like your own website or newsletter) and something you enjoy creating—whether that be video, writing, podcasting, or simply sharing impactful images.
Now you know what kind of content you want to share, the platforms you want to share it on, and the frequency with which you’re sharing, it’s time to systemize your content creation! My favorite way to do this is to open a calendar—digital or physical are both great. I like to get nerdy with it and color code my sharing platforms. So for example, I might highlight every Tuesday yellow indicating a blog post. Then I might fill in my support tweets in blue and my Instagram posts in pink.
Sometimes I’ll build flexibility into my editorial calendar by simply knowing I need to publish a blog post or send out a newsletter on a certain day OR I’ll begin filling in my content calendar with specific topics I want to share. I also like to take into account program launches, seasonal themes, or special promotions I want to include in my schedule and wrap my content around those in a way that feels cohesive.
I want to tell you that there is no wrong way to create an editorial calendar, and you might try out a few different platforms and sharing frequencies until you find something that works for you. Now get to creating and sharing!
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I was recently talking shop with my friend and business mentor who is wicked smart and has her finger on the pulse when it comes to all things creative online business – and as we were chatting she confessed that she didn’t entirely understand where the branding process fit in when it comes to launching a new business. We started talking about the order of setting up shop and where branding fits in. I thought, if industry professionals like US were having this clarifying conversation, it might be helpful for those of you who don’t do this for a living to get an idea of what comes first and what you need next before moving forward in launching your creative business.
Whether you’re launching an online coaching business or opening a local bookstore, I’m going to be sharing the sequence I use when launching a creative business from the ground up and hopefully clarify a few questions you might have along the way.
If you like this post and want to hear more, I’ll include links along the way with additional articles and podcast episodes that dig a little deeper. You might start by listening to this bite-sized podcast “minisode” on Being Boss: Setting Up Shop 101.
When you’re starting a business, the first thing you want to clarify is how you make money. What service, knowledge, skill, or product will you exchange for money? In other words, you need a business plan—and it doesn’t have to be fancy! Here’s a quick fill-in-the-blank model:
I will make money by selling _____(product/skill/service)_____.
It will cost ______ per ______. (This is how you price your product or service.)
If I sell ______ I can make ______ per ______. (This is projected income.)
My expenses will be __________. (Make a list of expenses and costs to run your business.)
If you are opening a business with a lot of projected overhead from the get-go, such as a retail store, it is a good idea to talk with your banker and see if you can get a loan. They’ll walk you through even more business model questions that will help you identify any holes in your business model.
Want to learn more about designing a business model? Listen to Being Boss podcast episode #92 Creating a Business Model with Tara Gentile.
Even if you work all by yourself, it’s important to get super clear on the organizational structure of your business – in other words, what’s your job? And if you are collaborating or partnering with another person or planning on hiring an employee at some point, it’s all the more important to define who does what within your business. I would start by making a list of all the roles involved in your business and the tasks or skills associated with those positions.
Financials: bookkeeping, payroll, quarterly taxes, budgeting, billing
Creative: writing, designing, making
Project Management: daily to-do, launch planning, organization
Marketing: social media, email, blogging, podcasting, PR pitches
Admin: emails, contracts, marketing implementation
If you’re having a hard time identifying the jobs required for your creative business, just list out every single thing that happens from start to finish for a project. You cannot get too detailed – paying the bills to sending out client contracts to sending that final invoice.
Once you understand the roles involved in getting your business up and running, it is crucial for your own level of happiness to get clear on what role makes you feel most capable within your business (hint: it’s probably the “creative” part of it). The thing you want to be known for is your number one priority and where you should focus the majority of your effort. You can outsource the rest … which brings me to our next step:
In Being Boss podcast episode #62, Emily Thompson and I talk about roles and communication when partnering up in business.
It is never too soon to set up systems and processes for how you work in your business. From how often you share content to how you get that content published for the world to see … to how you track your income and expenses or onboard your clients from the moment they express interest in working with you – systemize the work you do. This will help you stay consistent, productive, and focused. It will also make it easier to batch and automate the things that lend themselves toward automation (like social media posts) and outsource the things that need a human being behind them but don’t support your expertise (like responding to email inquiries).
But remember: systems are only as good as the person using them. So while most of your friends use a project management software like Asana or Trello, you might be better served with a simple to-do list in a Google doc.
In Being Boss podcast episode #27, we chat with systems queen, Val Geisler, about organizing your business and processes in a way that works for you and your dream client.
This is the part of the process that seems to trip up a lot of creative entrepreneurs. If you live in America it’s so easy to open a business bank account and set up an LLC for your business. You can also start to develop contracts to use in client work or set up insurance if you’re opening a brick & mortar store. You can easily DIY this part of the process or you can hire a lawyer and / or accountant to help you along the way. If you’re working with a business partner, this would be a good time to get an operating agreement underway. BUT—and this is a big BUT—don’t let the legal stuff stop you from making the thing you have to sell and doing the work. In all of my businesses this is one of the last things I invested in while setting up shop only because I wanted to start smart and allocate my start-up expenses on things that would help me make money right away – like branding and a website.
In Being Boss podcast episode #73, we chat with our own lawyer, Autumn Witt Boyd, about what you need (and don’t need) when it comes to setting up shop, getting legit, and legally protecting yourself.
Most likely, if you’re a creative entrepreneur, you already have the materials you need to execute your craft. For example, if you’re an artist, you already have your brushes, paints, and canvases. If you’re a designer, you already have your laptop and Pantone swatch book. If you’re launching something like a retail store, now is the time to gather the inventory you’ll need to do business.
If you are offering a service like coaching, you might “gather your materials” by investing in additional training or certification. Read some books and do some research on what will make you the best at your game. But remember, you’re going to have to show up before you’re ready – you can always continue to learn and grow along the way.
In this Being Boss “minisode” we chat more about hiring a coach or mentor who can give you more guidance and help you pinpoint next steps.
It might come as a surprise that selling comes next – before branding, launching, and opening up shop for business. This is because the sooner you can sell what you have to offer, the sooner you will have money in your bank account, feel like a legit business, and have a little confidence under your belt. I recommend you start selling by sending a personal email to your closest friends, peers, colleagues, and clients. Thank them for being a part of your journey and acknowledge the role they’ve played along the way. Then ask them if they or anyone they know might be interested in your offering.
I’d dare to say that this could come first – even before you hammer out your business model. In fact, for most creatives who “stumble” their way into working for themselves, it DOES come first. For example, one of my first freelance projects happened when a blog reader liked my self-designed wedding invitations and asked if I could make some for her too. The transaction was simple, straight-forward, and the beginning of my creative career in working for myself. I didn’t have a bank account, an LLC, or a business plan – and I didn’t need it (yet). The creative came first, then the first transaction, then the business.
Afraid of selling? My good friend Jason Zook wrote an article for on how to get over your fear of selling. Read more here >>
Branding is how you use words, story, and design (color, images, photographs, and typography) to give your business a memorable identity. A brand package might typically include:
When you hear the word “branding” you might think of a logo and business cards, but it’s also what you want people to know, do, and feel about your business that really affects your brand.
Business visioning is the part of the process where you’re able to take all the ground work you’ve already done and package it up in a way that helps you:
If you’re working with a professional branding agency, like us here at Braid Creative, you will go through a collaborative and methodical process, a bit like “brand therapy” – we call it The Braid Method. It’s a series of branding exercises and facilitated conversations where you’re a part of the process. It’s how we create a brand that helps you clarify and package together who you are and what you do into a simple, articulate, and super-visual brand platform.
In Being Boss podcast episode #56, we have our very own Tara Street chatting with us about owning your expertise (even if you’re a beginner!).
If you’ve gone through a process like The Braid Method, you already have an arsenal of graphics and content a web designer can use to create your website. However, they’ll want to take you through their own process to understand the primary purpose of your website, how your user will engage with your online space, and the kind of functionality you want to include – from a blog to eCommerce all of those things are taken into consideration when building out a site.
If you have a physical store front or office, this is the part of the process where you’ll begin bringing the look and feel of your brand into your offline space. The furniture you pick, the colors you paint, and the choices you make when designing your physical space can be inspired by all the branding work you’ve already done. Our clients with physical spaces will share the packaged branding documents we’ve created with their architect or interior designer so they understand the brand and business vision.
Whether the space you occupy is online or offline, the more groundwork you do to clarify and define your brand and business vision, the easier it is to launch. If you’re missing the foundation of who you are, what you do, and the look and feel of your business, it’s going to become glaringly obvious during the building phase of your website or storefront.
In one of our earliest episodes of Being Boss, website & online business guru, Emily Thompson, and I chat about how your website is your most valuable employee.
Phew! You’ve done a lot of work, but it’s not over yet. Now you need to launch and celebrate all your hard work! It’s time to send emails, publish content, and saturate your social media feeds with the fact that YOU HAVE ARRIVED and are ready for hire.
In Being Boss podcast episode #63, we talk about what goes into a launch—a must listen.
After launching, you can feel like your work is done… but it’s really only the beginning. You have to keep publishing, marketing, and curating client work that you can show off and share. The great news is, the more clarity you have around where you started and where you’re going, the more focus you’ll have along the way. Your brand and business vision will continue to grow and evolve as you get more work under your belt.
One of my favorite posts was written by Tara where she explains the content you create often shapes your expertise and the work you continue to do. Read that here >>
P.S. I’ve included a branding exercise worksheet straight from our Braid Method Branding ECourse that will help you clarify your creative process, which is just one part of getting clarity around what you do when you’re setting up shop.DOWNLOAD THE WORKSHEET
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