Bad advice

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the things I do, or don't do, that experts tell me I should. So here, publicly, I want to share with you some advice I've ignored.

Leave Albany (Smallbany).

And it's many variations: You can't do great work here, there are no jobs here and there are no clients here.

I believe you can work from anywhere as long as you are willing to place yourself firmly in the community. Want to work remotely? Make a stand on the internet. Blog, write and participate in online groups and message boards. If you are like me and you want to work in a small city be an active part of that community. Join the chamber, get on a non-profit board or volunteer your time—and get to really know people. Show them the difference design-thinking can bring your shared work.

Don't let clients know you have a life.

And it's many variations: don't let clients know you have children, a husband, a dog and always be professional.

I opened my business the month after my daughter was born. It took us five and a half years to have our daughter and another five to have our son. My kids and husband are a huge part of my life. I try to draw firm lines—no calls after five o'clock, no work meetings after hours. That said, I'm the parent with more flexibility. So our kids out of necessity have come to client meetings, vendor meetings, photo shoots and press checks.

My clients know that they come first during business hours. And my good clients also know my family. (I'll let you know a little secret, my baby shower was thrown by a vendor and a client. It was awesome.)

Get an office.

I think clients appreciate frugality. The majority of my clients have been to my house and met with me around my dining room table. Most of the time I go to them or we have phone conferences. Occasionally we meet at a coffee shop. Working from home makes me efficient. I can keep projects moving and take care of things that pop up—repairs, sick kids, etc.

Only do work you are proud of.

And it's many variations: only do work that will win awards, always put your best foot forward and never show a client work you don't want them to choose.

I love awards. Getting recognition from my peers is awesome and affirming and makes the hard work worth it. But here is another secret: sometimes the client doesn't care about the project. They just need to get it done quickly and easily. Put yourself in their shoes. What do they want? If they want the job to be down and dirty—do the work cleanly and move the project through quickly. If it is a project that they care deeply about and they are willing to put in the time with you—shoot for the moon. It can never hurt to ask a client if you can push a project to be more but always make sure they are on board first.

Find a niche and stick to it.

And it's many variations: do one thing really well and be a thought leader.

There is a lot to this point. It is easier to sell yourself when you are really clear. There are a million designers out there. Clients are busy and want it to be easy to figure out which designer to hire.

I believe that if you are interested and inquisitive and consistently put your client's needs first you don't need to specialize. I say yes a lot. When a client asks for something I might not know how to do I say yes. I tell them it is a little out of my range then I figure out how to do it. It has helped keep me fresh.


At great personal risk, here is some advice you might consider:

  • Be genuine—be yourself and share yourself freely
  • Choose your life—choose where you want to live and be an active part of your community
  • Do your client's work—meet their needs, not yours
  • Develop interests—be interesting, develop expertise and share your passion
  • Carry a great card and give one to everyone—friends, neighbors, relatives, babysitters, clients and vendors

Then again, feel free to ignore everything I've just said.