I’ve been writing a lot (mostly because I’ve been getting over a cold and all those feelings are coming out), but I promise for some great visual pieces in the coming weeks!
It’s getting to the six month mark since I left my “traditional” job. Naturally, a number of insecurities have popped up at inopportune moments. Business has been both fast and slow. It can be a little confusing. I still get that nagging query of how best to enter a new world of working for myself in a way that is balanced with my own life goals, able to promote my own work and attract clients, and in short, and sufficiently competent to attain those indicators associated with success (ie. dollars).
Then, at the most inopportune moment (doing the dishes, also known as my calm space), I realized that I had already done this before. When I came back to Phnom Penh in 2011, I had some work experience and a graduate degree to boot, but no offers despite an absurd number of job applications that had been sent out. And three years later, I found myself making it. While the fields could not be further apart, the process of getting there can be fairly similar. I had already shared advice on this with so many other friends seeking to work as independent consultants, but I had never associated the trajectory to success in global health consulting with the creative world before. Today, I wanted to share some of those points with you, and maybe if you’re looking into getting to “working for yourself,” it might even help too.
Prospective clients can be as close as your neighbour and as far as the penthouse office. When I first started consulting, I made a list with potential bosses who were close to me (friends and former employers) on one end and a list of agencies I aspired to work with on the other. I started sending out introductory emails to individuals on both ends simultaneously. Some of these emails turned into coffees and lunches. Others turned into actual contracts. My name started to get passed around. And this happened on both ends of the list. So far in the past six months, I’ve mostly depended on clients who were either close friends or friends of friends. But with trips looming to London and Copenhagen happening very soon, I thought – ‘why not take the chance,’ and send out emails to some of those aspirations on the other end of my list (Condé Nast Traveler, I’ve got my eye on you).
While your first jobs might not be quite associated with your core skills, take them anyways. Why? Because you never know what may come of them; whether its discovering a new skill you’re particularly adept at, or using one contract to link to another more attractive one. Basically, say YES to most things that come your way. But maybe not all things. I’ve found that relying on gut feelings about whether I can do a good job and how other components of a contract may turn out serve as a good mark for success.
In the end, you’ll find that having a decent sized portfolio of high quality work is a nice accessory to carry around with you. Something to be proud of when you’re talking to prospective clients and proof of what you can deliver. A great example comes from blogger and designer extraordinaire, Bri Emery.
All these lessons taken together also amount to building your brand and being able to promote a core set of skills you have. Whether its about finding your appropriate medium (in my case, I’ve learned that it’s mostly about the visual side of things: photography and layout) or having a valuable set of skills (qualitative research, systems and strategy in my other work world) that you can take ownership of and quickly shoot out when someone asks “what do you do?” Or when prospective clients are looking for someone with a certain acumen, that your name comes up immediately. The words “are you available?” quickly become music to your ears.
Of course, establishing a brand also means being able to put a name on it and being able to share it. Cait+Tiff has been such a great way for us to show everyone who we are, what we do and what we’re aspiring towards. We feel most authentic here. I also think the name is pretty snazzy. It’s been the best way to share pieces in our portfolio that we are most proud about and build on each other’s talents. Later on, we’ll be developing our own personal brands as we branch out into our own creative spheres (watch out for that soon!). I’m really excited about this and so proud of the fact that we’ve gotten this far.