Category Archives: Advice

Little Lessons #4: Saying No For The Right Reasons

Nubby Twiglet | Saying No For The Right Reasons

When it comes to client work, I have only recently gotten more comfortable with saying no. It’s always been hard because I have a bit of a guilt complex. The last thing I’d want to do is hurt a potential client’s feelings. Email should make it easier and in some ways, it does. But there’s still a human on the other side, reaching out.

It’s only been in the last two years where I even felt comfortable turning down projects. Up until that point, I took on everything I could get my hands on because I needed the real world experience, the income and I knew that each project would teach me something new. I took on the good, the bad and the questionable in a thirst for knowledge. A few projects landed me long-term clients that I still work with over at Branch and filled out my personal portfolio at a time when I spent my days working at agencies on large corporate projects.

Looking back, I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences because they not only taught me a lot about working with different types of clients but they taught me a lot about myself. I learned what I wanted more of. I learned that the sweet spot of Branch was creative small to medium-sized businesses.

Where is all this leading? By now, it should be easier to say no. A few weeks ago, even when I looked at the Branch schedule which was booked solid for at least a month out, I found myself cringing inside as I told my project manager to turn down about five jobs. Saying no still stings but I’ve learned that it is better to be honest.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of timelines. If a client needs something faster than you can offer it to them, be upfront about it. There’s no point in disappointing yourself and them when you can’t keep up. Other times, it’s in an industry you don’t know much about or feel comfortable diving into. That’s okay, too. Take the time to offer some great referrals to other designers you feel would be a better fit. And in some instances, it’s a clash of communication styles — you’re going to be spending a lot of time with clients, even if you’re working remotely so it’s imperative that you mesh well right from the beginning.

If you’re saying no for the right reasons, you should never feel guilty. Every single person who contacts you deserves the absolute best service and outcome of their project. If you can’t make that happen for any reason, be honest. There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for potential clients. It’s nothing personal; it’s a matter of being comfortable enough with who you are to know what you excel at…and what you don’t.

Saying no doesn’t always have to be viewed as a negative — instead, it can be viewed as empowering, honest and straightforward. Don’t just focus on what’s best for you but also what’s best for your potential clients.

Your turn: What are your tips for making saying No sting less?

Little Lessons #3: Embrace Those Quiet Times…and 10 Ideas To Drum Up Business

Nubby Twiglet | Little Lessons #3: Embrace Those Quiet  Times..and Don't Panic!

When you’re self-employed or even just freelancing on the side, there are weeks where your inbox seems to go quiet. Right as you start to doubt yourself, the work suddenly comes flowing in, offers for blog and magazine features pile up and it seems as if the world is being handed to you on a silver platter. Then, as if on cue, another slow time hits. What gives?!

This year, I’ve had a lot of those moments. Even when I have a seemingly full schedule on paper, those days hit where I have an open block of time and look around nervously, refreshing my emails and wondering if I’ve done something terribly wrong. And truthfully, everyone does. Sometimes, this stretches on for months at a time. It can feel like an intense roller coaster ride, full of the highest highs followed by a high-speed dash back to the bottom. Instead of questioning why it’s happening though, you have to accept that when you work for yourself, this is the new normal.

When I worked at design studios, I watched them experience the same highs and lows. One month, we’d be feverishly busy and just barely hit our deadlines. Late nights and pizza were accepted as the norm. A few months later (usually at the height of summer or right before Christmas break), we’d be looking around, wondering when the next project was going to drop and idly surfing inspiration sites, bored out of our minds. When work stops fortoo long, it goes from fun (afternoon movies, happy hours and long walks in the park) to a really dark place (which one of us is going to get cut first?). As uncertain as it feels, work, just like everything else is always going to have an ebb and flow.

When you do slow down, even if it’s just for a few days, instead of panicking, use this time to really promote your business. Instead of taking off to the beach (okay, that’s fine every once in awhile!) put together a really nice media kit of your services and packages, dust off some of your most loved blog posts and re-share them across social media, tighten up your portfolio (because let’s face it, it’s never really done) and showcase some of those projects you never quite had the time to post about before.


View Slow Times As An Opportunity

If you’re still on the edge of your seat and there’s not an immediate uptick in demand, use that nervous energy to think about how you can diversify:

1. Make a list of other services can you offer and add them to your site and / or media kit. Dive into something new, like designing e-books or digital courses.

2. Contact previous clients to see if they have a project they need help with.

3. Create a digital product. What can you teach someone?

4. Brush up on new skills with a Skillshare class (they’re really affordable). Blog about this new skill you’ve acquired — your audience may need it.

5. Volunteer for a non-profit. They always need good, willing design help! Make connections in the process.

6. Offer an incentive for new clients to work with you. Just be careful to not come across as desperate — desperation, no matter the situation, is never attractive!

7. Offer a referral program. Happy clients love recommending services to their friends!

8. Build out old projects for your portfolio. There’s nothing wrong with a little self-initiated work.

9. Use your downtime to connect with design peers. Also, let them know you’re able to pick up extra projects they don’t have time for. Every designer likes to keep a list of referrals on hand for jobs they can’t take on.

10. If you’re not blogging, start. Share genuinely helpful information. Here are 30 topic ideas to get you started.

When times are slow, they give us the chance to reflect and improve upon what we’re doing. Everyone, no matter how skilled, famous and fabulous has room to improve! We all hit slow times. Embrace them. Make the best of them. They won’t last forever.


It’s your turn: Do you have any coping skills to deal with those painfully slow times?

P.S. That yellow poster in the top photo is pinned behind my desk and reads Stay Positive. Yes, I glance at it often. ;)

Little Lessons #2: Change Up Routines

Nubby Twiglet | Little Lessons #2: Change Up Routines

When I’m stuck in the same place for too long, I lose perspective. When I walk the same route down the same streets every day, I don’t notice the flowers around me, the street art or the vintage signs emblazoned with inspiring typography.

The second I step foot into somewhere new, my mind races — I have visions of images I want to create, still lifes I want to arrange and much more ideas for client projects than I have when sitting at my desk. Travel keeps me inspired.

Traveling doesn’t have to be a big, orchestrated event. It can be a day trip to the beach or a smaller gesture like a drive across town to a neighborhood you haven’t explored or simply walking into a new coffee shop you’ve passed a million times but never took the time to stop into.

Last week, I traveled back to Palm Springs even though I’d just been there the month before. I had no good reason to be there. But then again, I had no good reason NOT to be there. Instead of listening to my practical side, I listened to my heart — I was feeling burnt out after a particularly trying month of remodeling around our house and a handful of rush design projects and I needed a break.

Walking through town, I snapped photos of plants, signs, store windows, palm trees, meals I ordered and even though I didn’t buy a single thing (except for the necessities like food, hotels and gas) I had the time of my life. So much so that I stayed in town an extra night.

My practical side always does kick in eventually — that extra night wasn’t in my original budget so I simply sped up a client timeline and delivered a project early which more than made up for that. It all worked out. It somehow always does, doesn’t it?

Sometimes, you need to loosen up the reigns and let yourself run free. Creativity can’t be put in a box. If you’re feeling stagnant, burnt out and lost, a day away might be all you need. Give yourself the permission to have some fun. Fill up the tank, grab some snacks at Trader Joe’s and hit the open road. And don’t forget to pack a notebook and pen because I promise you, that wave of inspiration you’ve been chasing will strike.

Little Lessons #1: Go With Your Gut

Nubby Twiglet | Little Lessons: Go With Your Gut

This is the first installment of a new column, Little Lessons which will be centered around tidbits I’m learning as I move along through life and business.


By nature, I’m a planner. And if I’m being honest, I plan a little too much. This mindset definitely spills over into my client work big time. While it’s important to be prepared so you can carry out your best work (that’s what you’re being paid to do, after all), sometimes, there just isn’t time for that.

Two weeks ago, a surprise project from a long-time client popped up on my radar. It involved branding, packaging and the potential opportunity to land on the shelves of one of my favorite national retailers. The problem was, time was almost nonexistent and if we wanted to make it happen, we had to make a move immediately.

I sat at my desk early the next morning as a wave of fear slowly boiled to the surface. What had I just committed myself to?! I had a good idea but just that one. I tried a few other things, but nothing felt quite right. As I moved along, staring at the screen, I kept going back to the first. My gut had told me that it was the right direction all along but I was afraid to present just one solid idea.

With little time to do much more, I sent off the presentation with some quick notes:
This direction just felt right. I feel that it’s very on-brand for you and very now. And yes, that’s my handwriting. I hope you like it!

Within about 10 minutes, the client had responded — she agreed. We got the packaging done and off to the printer the next morning, just in time to hit the deadline.

A few days later, another deadline was on the horizon, this time for a workshop. Once again, one direction felt perfect and nothing else I tried was working. “This is it. This has to be it,” I kept telling myself. “I hope she likes it because my gut says this is perfect for her.” I once again felt an internal tug-of war about presenting just one idea but I sucked it up and fired off an in-process screenshot anyway. A few minutes later, I had the thumbs-up to build out the rest of the assets.

In the past, when it came to projects like these, I would keep doubting myself and exploring, pushing out more attempts that never felt quite as perfect as the first. Now, I’m learning that our intuition rarely leads us astray so we should trust it in life, relationships and yes, even design.

Lesson learned: listen to your first instincts. Go with your gut.


Photo: Made U Look.

A Reminder For Designers: Search Out And Define Your Niche

Nubby Twiglet | A Reminder For Designers: Search Out And Define Your Niche

Most of the early professional design work I did revolved around sports. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, it’s pretty obvious that I’m not a person interested in sports. At all.

I really enjoy working with creative small businesses, especially those with a focus on lifestyle and beauty. These niches have long been my passions but when I was first starting out, like most designers, I had to take whatever jobs I could get. I needed a steady paycheck and there’s a lot of consistent, well paying work to be found connected to sports. So, that’s what I did. I did a lot of work for sports-focused brands and campaigns for the NBA and the NFL.

While the work I did professionally wasn’t a perfect fit for me personally, it got me out of my little, perfectly styled bubble. I learned how to design based on specific style guidelines. I learned how to quickly knock out massive production files. I learned that design wasn’t all about me or my personal vision. I learned how to work successfully in a team environment. Overall, these assignments made me a better designer.

But still, my dreams were rooted in those other worlds. Those brands felt very far aways as I worked late nights on sports-focused projects. What I quickly realized though is that when I left these freelance gigs for the night, they didn’t define me. I had a design & lifestyle blog I was obsessed with posting on, I had stacks of fashion magazines sitting in my home office and beyond that, I didn’t have to share the projects I did to make a decent living in my personal portfolio.

My portfolio could be comprised of whatever I chose to share.

I started really narrowing down what I showcased in my portfolio, knowing that what I shared would draw in more of the same. While I didn’t share the NBA All-Star campaign I worked on for three months straight, I did share the branding and magazine I did for Rock n Roll Bride. While I didn’t share the NFL campaign that I spent two months on, I did share the media kit for Veronica Varlow. Slowly but surely, I was able to cultivate an image and a focus. And, the work I wanted did follow.

Spending your days on projects you’re not completely into on a personal level might seem grueling but the thing to remember is that the “cool” brands you want to work with don’t always have the biggest budgets. Still, these are the projects that can really define your portfolio. For me, working on the big-name sports projects allowed me to take on those smaller budget dream projects and get my portfolio more focused.

It took me about five years of slowly building my portfolio with the right mix of projects. I now run Branch full time working with the types of clients I focused on courting early on. A lot of them have been long-term relationships we’ve slowly built as their budgets increased. We’ve grown up and evolved together.

From the outside, it can seem like everyone else has it together, working with a roster of exclusive, dream clients but that’s not always the case. This post is a reminder that the path to finding your niche, then courting the people you want to work with and then getting to a point where you can charge enough to make a living isn’t easy. There is no magic bullet. The new catch-phrase I hear everywhere is “work smarter, not harder” and while that’s a great mindset, in the beginning, you’re going to have to work extra hard to build the portfolio and relationships you need to draw in those dream clients. There are no shortcuts.

Carve out your niche, that place in the industry that makes you really happy. Build relationships that matter. Only share your best work. Over time, the pieces will fall into place.

P.S. If you need a little help landing those dream clients, my post about creating self-initiated projects may be helpful.

Designers: How long did it take you to find your niche? What was the turning point for you in your career? And, do you now focus on that niche full-time?


Photo: Made U Look.

5 Resources For Continuing Your Graphic Design Education

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Resources For Continuing Your Graphic Design Education

One of the things I was most afraid of when I left my last agency job was losing my skillset and falling behind my peers. I now realize that it was just fear getting in the way. If anything, I now spend more time behind my computer doing actual design work than I did before! But it does raise a good point since graphic design is such a competitive industry.

Here are some ways you can keep your skills fresh whether you’re a recent graduate or long out of school:

1. Pick Up New Talents Through Skillshare

Skillshare’s about page begins with the bold statement of “Education is what someone tells you to do. Learning is what you do for yourself.” I couldn’t agree more. The ease of learning a new skill is great but equally wonderful are the affordable price points of their classes. So far I’ve taken Beyond the Logo: Crafting a Brand Identity and absolutely loved it.

Some other classes I’m interested in trying include Logo Design: Creating Custom Typography For Your Brand, Lettering For Designers: One Drop Cap Letterform at a Time and Get Stuff Done Like A Boss.

Skillshare goes on to say that “Your statement of accomplishment no longer needs to be a degree, certificate, or stamp of approval. Instead, frame the pictures you’ve taken, bake a cake, and wireframe your future website.” I’m onboard the Skillshare train…are you?

2. Subscribe to Lynda

If you’re new to the Adobe Creative Suite or want to pick up another program and dive really deep into the features, sign up immediately. Lynda has the most informative, step-by-step tutorials I’ve ever come across. When I was in school, we used Lynda in place of textbooks in my design classes and watching videos to learn Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign made a huge difference with comprehension. It’s affordable and will get you up to speed in a snap. A subscription gets you unlimited access to 2,385 video courses. Need I say more?!

3. Visit Creative Bloq

I subscribe to dozens of design blogs but for for articles with tons of on-trend design resources, I always visit Creative Bloq. It’s updated constantly with everything from the best places to find free vector art to tips to improve your portfolio.

4. Follow Smashing Magazine

When I want to learn more about design industry trends, especially on the interactive side of things, I stop by Smashing Magazine. Over my many years of reading, I’ve noticed that they’re always on the cutting edge of trends before they hit the mainstream. Their articles are really meaty — there’s never any filler or fluff, just extremely well researched content. A few of my recent favorites when it comes to articles include How To Create A Self-Paced Email Course, Selling Responsive Website Design to Clients and Mistakes I’ve Made.

5. Upgrade Your Adobe Software Suite

Until this year, I’d been running Adobe CS4 across all my machines. It worked just fine but I knew that I was missing out on a lot of the newer features. It’s part of my job to stay current with the programs and things had changed just enough that I felt myself slipping behind. A few weeks ago, I bit the bullet and signed up for the full year subscription which provides access to ALL of the CC programs at a hugely discounted rate. The advantage of a subscription is that you always have the most current versions at your fingertips and a device manager lets you know as soon as any upgrades are ready. And remember, if you’re running a business, it’s a tax write-off.

When it comes to design, the learning never stops. Since I began working in the industry seven years ago, I’ve watched trends come and go, cheered peers on while they rose through the ranks and held on for one wild ride as I dove into learning new skills.

In industries that are evolving at such a rapid pace, it’s important to not get too complacent. At the same time, working on the same types of projects day in and day out can lead to major burnout. By varying our resources and methods of learning, it’s easier to stay inspired. And these days, there are more opportunities than ever before to learn new skills without going into major debt.


What other methods and resources do you use when it comes to brushing up on your design skills? I’d love to know!