Category Archives: Advice

Creative Chronicles: Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles #9: Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

Over the years, so many emails have landed in my inbox with variations on the same theme:

“I’m [insert age here] and just realized that I’m meant to be a designer. Am I too old?”

Those emails always sting big time because they hit so close to home. I wish I could meet each and every single one of you who write me those messages, give you a big hug and tell you that it’s never too late. Instead, I’ll have to do it virtually, right here.

If you’re contemplating a career in design, it really isn’t too late.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles #9: Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

Ignore your age and get to work

I now spend my days running a graphic design studio but it wasn’t always that way. During high school in the late 90s, I was a late bloomer and had no idea that being a graphic designer was a viable career option.

Unsure of how I would make a career as an artist anyway, I went to school for business which was super practical but completely crushed my creative spirit. After graduation, I worked some stints in offices but those those so-called real jobs I thought I was supposed to have as an adult left me feeling empty and hating life.

After I met a few graphic designers in my early 20s, it was a wake-up call. I knew I was definitely in the wrong profession. By the time I got into a program at my local community college in 2006, I was 25 years old and mostly surrounded by a bunch of fresh high school graduates.

Instead of feeling old, I used my life experience to my advantage and poured it into every single project. Why? I knew that age was just a number and was well aware that many people who are now the best known in their professions also got a late start:

1. Oprah Winfrey’s talk show didn’t go national until she was 32 years old.

2. Debbie Harry didn’t release her first album with Blondie until she was 31 years old.

3. Jon Hamm debuted as Don Draper on Mad Men at 36 years old.

4. Julia Child published Mastering The Art of French Cooking when she was 49 years old.

5. Martha Stewart founded her catering business at the age of 35.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles #9: Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

Being older is an asset

By the time I graduated and got my first full-time design job, I was 27. In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t old but designers at the studios I worked at that were the same age often had 5 solid years of experience under their belts while I was just scratching the surface. Instead of feeling bad about where I was, I decided that I would work harder to catch up and spent most nights and weekends working on any project I could get my hands on. I actually still do that!

Trust me, your age can actually be a huge asset. These are 4 reasons why breaking into the design industry when you’re older is beneficial:

1. You’re more focused.

All that background noise is long gone. When I started my program at 25, there were a handful of students who were older than me and their work was the strongest in the class by far. They showed up on time, did the work and gave every project their all because they were serious about wanting a design career.

2. You have more life experience.

This trumps everything. You can only learn so much in school but real world experience is where serious growth comes in. When you go back to school as an older student, you’ve worked at a larger variety of jobs. You’ve traveled more. You may have a family. You have a firm sense of who you are as a person. Life experience gives your work depth, grit and provides a sense of perspective.

3. You know yourself better.

Knowing yourself on a deeper level develops naturally with age. As you discover more of who you are, your personal style becomes more defined — you’re able to draw a line in the sand, assert yourself and that confidence shows. Period.

4. You’re more driven.

As you get older and work more jobs, it becomes clear that you’d be happiest supporting yourself doing something you truly love. A few bad job experiences will propel you on the path to search out a career you actually like. Before I got into the design world, I worked in an accounting department, did a bunch of other entry-level office jobs and worked retail at a few shoe stores. The second I got my first design job, I felt like I’d finally found my home.


The only obstacle is you

Once you’ve made up your mind to be a designer and attend school at an older age, there’s no reason to hold yourself back. Trust me, once I made the decision, I had to push off a constant barrage of questions from well-meaning people who were concerned about me racking up more debt and another degree. I was lucky to land a full-time design job as soon as I graduated and paid off my student loans two years later. Nine years after enrolling in that design program, I’m happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been.

Quotes about doing what you love fly around so often now that it feels like a bit of a cliche but you really have to do what makes you happy. There’s no point in going through life feeling miserable and looking back, wishing you’d given your dream a real shot.

The truth is, nobody cares how old you are except you…so get started.

Photo: Shell de Mar Photography.

Creative Chronicles #6: The Comparison Game and 3 Tips To Stay Competitive

Nubby Twiglet | 3 Tips To Overcome Competition

If you’re not careful, the fear of competition can creep up and get the best of you. It’s easy to let negative thoughts seep in because everywhere you look, there’s another mega-talented designer sharing their latest and greatest project.

We all have bad days where self doubt takes over and questions like these become overpowering:

Am I good enough?
Where do I fit in?
Will I have enough work?

These are all valid concerns but I can assure you that there’s enough work to go around. And yes, you are good enough.

Competition is loaded — it’s something that both pushes me and scares me. I’ve always been a super competitive person by nature which has major benefits but it also carries plenty of weaknesses. The biggest benefit is obvious — I constantly challenge myself to do better. The more hours I dedicate to my craft, the better results I see both in client work and my confidence. The downside to competitive feelings is that it’s sometimes difficult to shut off comparisons no matter how hard you work, which can make you feel like you’ve fallen short even when in reality, you’re doing well.

When I think back to feeling competitive in the design field, 3 different events stick out in my mind:

1. In 2006, I remember sitting in class, noticing that some of the students were much better at the Adobe Suite than me. This was a good case of competition. I knew that to be good enough to get hired once I finished the program, I had to step it up. Working harder did pay off and got me hired a week after I graduated.

2. In 2007, during my design internship I was seated next next to guys who had a solid 5 years of agency experience. Even though I was still in school, I was fearful that I’d never get to their level and every day that I was asked to do something I didn’t know how to do, my stomach would sink. I felt like a fraud. I was really hard on myself and felt the sting from art directors when I didn’t do something right but once again, it turned out to be a good thing because I learned fast. Sink or swim!

3. In 2012, I would start my mornings at my full-time job clicking through the blogs of freelancers I admired. While their work inspired me, it also made me jealous because no matter how hard I worked, I never had enough free time outside of my job to produce the projects they were getting to do. That unhappiness was uncomfortable at the time but also a blessing because it pushed me to eventually leave my job and start my own studio.

Competition is a normal part of who we are — it feels good to try your best. Stretching yourself can produce results you never knew you were capable of. And as you can gather from the above stories, even though competition can make us squirm in the moment, it can also force us to seek out what we really want.

Nubby Twiglet | 3 Tips To Overcome Competition

If comparison is something that you struggle with, these 3 tips will help become a stronger competitor:

1. Specialize your offerings.

You know that saying, jack of all trades, master of none? Don’t be that designer! The easiest way to win at the game of competition is to fine-tune what you offer. It’s a novel idea in a MORE! MORE! MORE! focused world but instead of offering a little bit of everything, pinpoint the things you excel at and just offer those. Go small. Be clear about what you stand for. Make it easy for your tribe of dream clients to cut through the noise and find you. As an example, Branch focuses in 3 specific areas: branding, print design and web design. If a client needs something else, I have a list of referrals at the ready. Don’t water down what you do by stretching yourself too thin!

The much welcome outcome to specialization is that the more projects you do, the sooner you’ll be considered an expert in those areas. And when you’re an expert, you can charge more!

It feels so good to do less, produce higher quality work and outsource the rest.

2. Produce work that makes you feel good.

When feelings of jealousy take over after you see a really great project someone else did, it’s important to ask yourself why. Do you feel like you’re not talented enough? That you’ll never get those types of clients? Usually, it stems from being unsatisfied with where you are at in your own career.

I know that when I felt my worst, I had a stable job with great pay but that wasn’t the issue — the work just wasn’t pushing me creatively. I’d check blogs on my lunch hour and come across the work I wanted to create. While it made me miserable at the time, I started to make changes by taking on small, creative freelance projects on my own time. One of the first was a brand of lipsticks and once I began releasing work I really loved, it opened up more beauty and lifestyle brand opportunities which I’d been wanting for years.

Producing work you love will leave you feeling so satisfied that you won’t even care what the competition is doing. Run your own race.

3. Remember that there’s room for everyone.

Even when I come across new talent and am afraid that I’m not good enough and just maybe, the work will finally dry up once and for all, I’m always wrong. The inquiries keep coming, the repeat clients always return with new project ideas and somehow, things just keep flowing.

There are so many different areas you can specialize in and so many different ways you can work. You just have to decide what you want and be relentless.

Do you want to work for yourself, work in-house at a company or work in an agency with lots of different clients?

Do you want to be a brand designer, a web developer, a letterer, a production artist, a producer, an art director or something else altogether?

Whatever path you want to take is possible. Remember, no one person or company can do all the work that needs to be done.

Produce solid work you’re proud of, share it regularly and make it easy for clients to book you. It’s that simple.

The bottom line: competition can feel intimidating. If one of your competitors does something amazing, instead of being happy for them, it can be easy to feel undermined. Turn that negative into a positive and use it as motivation to step up your own game. Come up with new ideas. Market yourself in new ways.

When you push yourself to produce better work, the right kinds of clients will take notice.

Your turn: what tips to you have for keeping competition feeling positive and avoiding the comparison trap?

For even more Creative Chronicles, please click here.
Photo: Lakshal Perera.

Creative Chronicles #5: 5 Tips To Fight Fear In Your Freelance Career

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles #5: 5 Tips To Fight Fear In Your Freelance Career

“We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets.” —Marilyn Monroe

Working for myself was always on my bucket list but I never felt prepared enough. How would I know when the time was right? What could I do to make make the transition easier? Week after week, I held onto my stable, well-paying job, afraid of making a wrong move.

After all, from the outside, it looked like I had it made. I constantly asked myself why it was so important that I set out on my own. I had a great career with as part of a brand team working with huge, recognizable companies and I was petrified to leave it all behind. Part of my fear stemmed from my background. I’d grown up in a family where my parents always had traditional, 9 to 5 jobs. I valued stability and set routines. Stepping into a life of freelancing meant that I was signing up for the great unknown.

I saw other people freelancing full time and they seemed to be doing okay but what if I wasn’t as savvy at finding new clients as them? What if I completely failed at my dream? The “what if’s” never slowed down.

Then, one day my friend invited me to a small business class. One of the activities centered around facing our fears. We were each told to take out a sheet of paper and spend a few minutes writing out our worst case scenarios.

Most of mine centered around not having enough client work. My worst case scenario was asking for my old job back or going out and finding a stable, corporate job for awhile. I stared down at the list and almost laughed out loud. My worst case scenarios weren’t bad at all. What was I waiting for?

Next, we were instructed to place that list of fears in a Ziploc bag, zip it closed, take it home and put it on a shelf.


My fears were now out of sight and out of mind.

Once I had that reality check, I realized how much time I’d wasted worrying about tiny things that in the grand scheme of life really weren’t a big deal.

Less than 6 months later, I gave my notice. That was over 2 years ago.

Of course, there have been ups and downs but I’ve been fine. My business has nearly doubled over the last year and now I have the freedom to set my own schedule. I definitely work harder but I also see the direct payoff of satisfied clients and new opportunities. Was it worth giving up my stable routine? Yes, absolutely.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles #5: 5 Tips To Fight Fear In Your Freelance Career

Here are 5 tips to prepare for the transition to freelancing:

1. Set up a designated workspace now.

Even if you’re 6 months out from quitting your full time job, having a designated workspace will help you get more comfortable with the reality of your new path. It’s okay if your desk is in the corner of your bedroom. Set a schedule, whether it’s mornings, nights or weekends and get to work. How does it feel? What can you do to make your spot feel more official? Buy plants, artwork and matching office supplies to help you get in the zone. Need some inspiration? Here’s my old home office!

2. Save a minimum of 6 months of expenses.

There’s nothing worse than feeling desperation set in because you didn’t save enough money. A serious safety net will make it possible to focus on putting out your best work without the imminent fear of starving or getting evicted. Save, save, save! And then, save some more. Money isn’t everything but it does give you the luxury of saying no to opportunities you know aren’t a good fit.

3. Have your portfolio and website ready to go.

These both take a lot of time to get together so you may have to set some goals long before you give your notice. If you don’t have a budget for a custom web design, that’s okay. Work with what you have and you can always upgrade later. My first pro portfolio was on Cargo Collective and it worked great. Squarespace is another option. You never know who is going to stumble across your work. Both Forever 21 and Virgin Records hired me based on work I’d posted online.

4. Network like it’s your full-time job.

The easiest path to freelance success is to build up your network of creative peers and clients. To get started, do as much free marketing as you can on social media — my favorite platforms to share work on are Instagram, Dribbble, Pinterest and Twitter. I also still find blogging to be really valuable because it allows me to go deeper and share more of the process and story behind each project. Once you’re making some decent money, invest in in-person events. There are dozens to choose from but I’ve had the best results with Designer Vaca. Finding the right mix of networking opportunities takes some trial and error but the point is that you’re making an effort to connect.

5. Set up contract opportunities.

Freelancing doesn’t feel as intimidating when you have a backup plan. When I first started freelancing years ago, any time I had a slow period, I reached out to placement agencies like Aquent and 24 Seven. It’s in their best interest to place you because they earn a commission. They want you to be happy so you stay put! Between the two, I always had a steady stream of work. While I only work with my own clients these days, I’m still great friends with my agent, Dan and know he’s just a call away.

I know firsthand how scary it can be stepping out on your own. Being your own boss is no joke! But through my own journey, I’ve also realized that you have two choices in life: you can either keep holding yourself back or you can ask yourself what your worst case scenario is.

Is it really that bad?

If it isn’t, you know what you need to do.

Your turn: Are you thinking about freelancing full-time? What scares you the most?

For even more Creative Chronicles, please click here.
Photo: Shell De Mar.

Creative Chronicles #4: 6 Must-Have Documents To Automate Your Creative Process

Nubby Twiglet | 6 Must-Have Documents To Automate Your Creative Process

As a designer, you probably spend a lot of time tweaking your externally-facing brand: your website, portfolio and social media all play a huge role in getting the word out about your business.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the touch points that the public sees because that’s what they’re judging you on. In a digital world where you don’t have the ability to meet in person, image is everything. If your brand looks like a hot mess, potential clients will probably pass you up for someone who looks like they have their shit together.

With all this focus on the external, it’s easy to put off the internal, client-facing stuff since it’s only seen by a handful of folks at any given time. But, what happens behind the scenes is potentially more important since this is what paying clients interact with. And remember, it’s always easier to keep your current clients than find new ones so providing them with a seamless experience should be at the top of your list.

When you’re working with clients, the obvious way to stand out is to provide fantastic customer service but beyond that, the next piece of the puzzle is having a streamlined process and beautifully designed documents that make them feel at ease.

Nubby Twiglet | 6 Must-Have Documents To Automate Your Creative Process

Nubby Twiglet | 6 Must-Have Documents To Automate Your Creative Process

Nubby Twiglet | 6 Must-Have Documents To Automate Your Creative Process

Nubby Twiglet | 6 Must-Have Documents To Automate Your Creative Process

I’ve been thinking a lot about documents and processes lately because I know all too well what it’s like when you launch a creative business. You’re so busy just getting a website live and booking out enough clients to keep it afloat that everything else that’s not as of-the-moment falls to the bottom of the to-do list.

Why is all this effort spent on the behind the scenes stuff so important?

Think of it this way: if a client books your most expensive package and then, over the course of the next few months receives documents and presentations that have a similar look and sense of order, they’ll feel at ease. In turn, you’ll come across as a total pro.

My goal with running a design studio has always been to let documents do the heavy lifting for me. I use a bundle of them to keep things running smoothly while cutting back on questions and confusion. Remember, you may be the first creative professional your clients have ever worked with — these documents are the tools that inform them of everything they need to know.


Here’s what I’ve implemented and the order I use my documents:

1. Media Kit — This document informs clients of packages and how we can work together. Read more about media kits here.

2. Estimate — Once we’ve discussed a client’s specific needs, they receive an official estimate.

3. Proposal — Once they’re ready to book in, they receive a proposal which includes the finalized estimate, timelines and a contract.

4. Invoice — The proposal is sent along with a deposit invoice.

5. Process Documents — Once the job begins, there are a series of numbered documents they receive throughout our time together including an overview of the steps we take to ensure a great outcome, a questionnaire and a Pinterest how-to.

6. Presentation — All design concepts are sent in a branded presentation template.

Having a bunch of documents on hand might seem a bit overwhelming at first but once you’ve used them a few times, the process starts to feel like second nature. You can even go a step further and have form emails typed up for each step of the process so you just attach the document and hit send. Automation means that you get your job done faster and your clients interact with a well-defined process that’s been proven to deliver fantastic results.

If all this talk of documents is making your head spin, don’t fret. I was once in your spot and only figured out what documents worked for my business through many years of trial and error. To make things trickier, every studio I worked at had a completely different process. Over time, I threw out things that didn’t work for me and added in new ideas based on chats with fellow creatives.

If documents aren’t your strong suit and you’d prefer to get back to work on the creative side of things, I feel you. Completely. In early 2016, I’m partnering up with my friend Paul Jarvis to launch an affordable, easy solution that will help you streamline the process of your creative business called Project Prescription. Knowledge is power and making the business side of things easier for creatives is something that I’m excited to share with you.

Remember, creating processes for your business is just as important as the work you do. Keep refining and keep thinking about what you can do to make your clients’ time with you as painless as possible. That ease will turn them into repeat customers.

For even more Creative Chronicles, please click here.
Featured documents: We Are Branch.

Creative Chronicles #3: Making Time To Do The Work Plus 5 Tips For Staying Accountable


“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” —Earl Nightingale

Nothing happens by accident. If you want to work on your dream project, you have to make the time. If you’re ready to counter with, “I just don’t have the time!,” then it’s simply a matter of priorities.

I get asked all the time how I manage to get so much done and I’ve been a bit afraid to tackle this question because the truth is, I don’t have all the answers. All I can say is that if something is important enough to you, you will find a way.

As you carve out time to reach your goals, there will be plenty of downers along the way. You might have to give up a few things like your favorite TV shows. I unplugged my TV a year ago when I remodeled my room and have purposely left it that way. Sorry, Dr. Phil! Hear me out, though. If what you wanted was easy to achieve, everyone would be doing it.

And with that, after close to a decade of being a designer and blogger (both of which are extremely time consuming!), I’ve developed a few techniques to squeeze the most out of my days. Here we go…


5 Tips For Staying Accountable

1. Treat yourself as a client. Set aside chunks of time and write clear cut deadlines. You may have to get up an hour earlier every day, stay up later or spend your Sunday inside but this is the only way that you’ll see visible results. I’ve been working on four new digital offerings that are launching in 2016 and even though these are internal projects, I schedule calls and deadlines on my calendar just as I would any client project. If the week is too hectic, I push these projects to the weekend and complete them then. Time for your personal projects should be non-negotiable.

2. Write out a daily list. More importantly, add time limits next to each item. You’re on the clock for yourself. If you don’t set limits, you’ll take 5 times as long to get something done. Write down everything, including an allotted amount of time for social media. It’s true that a task will take as much time as you give it. If you have an hour to blog before work, then you’ll find a way to push that post live in time.

3. Keep a weekly calendar. If you can only see a day at a time, it’s more likely that you’ll over schedule yourself but having the full week in front of you makes it clear where you have open chunks of time. I personally write everything out on these Kikki K planner pads (how old school!) because seeing the list in front of me and crossing out each item keeps me accountable at all times.

4. Start with a few easy wins to build momentum. I know this is counterintuitive to what a lot of the experts say but I like a bit of a warm-up to a busy day. Crossing a few things off my list right away makes me feel accomplished and gets me excited to continue on to the bigger, harder items.

5. Define what your to-do list is helping you accomplish. This is a bit abstract but just hear me out. Think hard for a second: what is your big picture goal? Is your to-do list helping you to eventually leave your full-time job and work for yourself? Is it helping you become more fit by exercising regularly? Is it helping you earn extra income by completing client work? Once you know the answer, it’s easier to give it your all.


There you go. My 5 tips aren’t groundbreaking…but they work for me. The bottom line is that to work hard and get shit done, you have to determine what motivates you. Because really, motivation is EVERYTHING. Are you motivated to buy a new pair of shoes? Advance your career? Leave corporate America? Earn some extra money to take a swanky vacation? My motivation every day is to take great care of my clients, grow my business so that I have more stability, to carve out enough time to develop digital products so I can work less and spend more time with my family, and finally, to continually draw in my dream tribe of clients so that work feels fun and inspiring for everyone involved.

That’s a lot….but it’s what keeps me going, even on weekends when I’m sitting in my office scrolling through Instagram, feeling a severe case of #FOMO creeping in.

I’ve learned that if you can figure out what you’re working towards, the work you put in becomes worth it instead of feeling like a chore.

Okay, now it’s your turn: what are your tricks for making sure you have time to do the work?

For even more Creative Chronicles, please click here.
Photos: Erika Astrid.

Creative Chronicles #2: 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

Do you offer services or advertising in your business model?

If you answered yes, then you should probably have a media kit.

The term media kit has been around for a long time but the truth is, I didn’t really understand what it meant until 2007 when a client with a print magazine approached me, asking me to design one. They sold advertising spots and needed to convey to companies why they were worth the investment.

To get me started, they sent over a bundle of media kits they’d gathered, mostly for large print publications. As I dug in and started researching the format, I began to realize that although they targeted completely different audiences, the content was basically the same.

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

They all contained some form of the following:

1. Branded front cover
2. Intro / mission statement
3. Stats and / or notable accomplishments
4. Notable clients
5. Services offered
6. Rates
7. Process / how to book
8. Testimonials
9. Frequently asked questions
10. Contact info

I got to work and once the project was finished, added it to my portfolio. Soon, all sorts of businesses were booking me in for media kits. Bloggers, photographers and creative entrepreneurs from all walks of life realized that they could take that basic format and tweak it to sell their ads, sponsored content and services.

Over the last eight years, I’ve designed a few dozen media kits, including plenty for myself. And, that’s what we’re going to chat about today: how creatives can leverage media kits to grow their own businesses.

As soon as I launched Branch two years ago, the first thing I did was design a media kit and it’s become my most important selling tool. Why? Because when you’re dealing with a potentially worldwide audience, it’s not always possible to be there in person to sell in your services. A media kit is able to do that for you.

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

Here’s the process of sending out a media kit:

1. A potential client contacts Branch.

2. Within 48 hours, our project manager responds with an introduction and attaches a PDF media kit to the email.

3. The client follows up with which package they’re interested in and we set up a call to discuss their specific needs.

The media kit is a great tool because it essentially gives them all the information they could possibly need in one easy to navigate document while often cutting our correspondence time in half because it’s already answered most of their questions.

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

Five reasons why you should have a media kit

1. It does the talking for your business when you’re not able to meet in person. This is especially important for those of us who have businesses with an online following.

2. It explains packages, processes and rates in more detail. Some of this information is very in-depth or sensitive and it’s easier to format it in a nice document versus clogging up your website.

3. It builds a dialogue. If a potential client emails you for a media kit and then drops off, you can follow up to find out if they have everything they need and if the rates work for their budget. From there, you can work to meet their needs.

4. It’s easier to sell larger offerings. By showcasing a menu of services / packages, clients can compare pricing and what they receive much easier because the value is clear. For instance, instead of a logo, they may decide to invest in a brand platform when they understand the benefits.

5. It shows you care. By laying out the information a potential client needs and thinking of all the answers before they even ask a question, a media kit positions you as a pro and makes it clear that you’re invested in the best possible outcome of their project.

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Media Kit

As a reminder, media kits can be formatted to market nearly any business. Whether you’re a blogger, writer, photographer or designer, a media kit is simply a way to explain what you offer in a streamlined, informative document. The easier you can make it for your clients to understand what you’re offering and how to book you, the more successful your business has the potential to be.

I hope this post has demystified the content and process of media kits a bit more and if you have any further questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments!

For even more Creative Chronicles, please click here.
Featured media kit: We Are Branch.

Creative Chronicles #1: Dealing With Negative Feedback and 6 Tips To Overcome Self-Doubt

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles

If you want to grow your audience and clientele, you have to get comfortable with sharing your work. The more work you share, the more likely you’ll get hired for future projects. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. Have you ever been afraid to share an outcome? Me, too.

I remember project critiques in college well. We sat around in a semi-circle with our freshly printed work taped to a wall. I was never self-conscious about sharing my work in this closed environment because I knew I’d given it my best shot and my class was super tight-knit, with maybe 20 students.

Early on in critiques, I began to notice something: a positive comment would elicit more positivity. The more someone raved about a particular design solution, the more the rest of the class would chime in because they began to see the same thing. Positivity bred positivity.

And, when something didn’t quite work with a composition and someone was brave enough to point it out, the same thing happened but in reverse: constructive criticism, while good natured, often opened the floodgates for negative feedback.

Being a creative, whether you’re a writer, fine artist, designer or photographer, requires a really thick skin. Whether your project is self-initiated or paid work for a corporate client, each is a piece of your soul that you’re bravely standing up and sharing.

I’ve been sharing my design work online for over a decade now and luckily when I started, I had a nearly non-existent audience and social media wasn’t really around yet. There was no pressure since nobody was watching, which I now see as a huge benefit. What started out with fooling around with a digital camera and Photoshop brushes in 2003 led to me enrolling in a design program in 2006. While I sometimes cringe when I come across that early work, I’m still proud of it. It shows an evolution and with each project, I learned something new.

A decade after sharing those early projects (which elicited a mix of good and bad feedback, I might add) I run a thriving design studio. Even today, while some of the projects I share produce a ton of leads, others, even though I’ve given them the same care and effort, fall flat. Not everything you produce is going to be a winner but what matters most is that both you and your client feel great about the outcome. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

Dealing With Negative Feedback and 6 Tips To Overcome Self-Doubt

If you’ve ever gotten negative feedback, it can be hard to stomach sharing more work but I want to encourage you to keep going.

Here are 6 tips to overcome self doubt and get back out there:

1. Practice, practice, practice.

Your first piece of work will never be your best. And, that’s just more of an incentive to keep trying new things and evolving. Always date the work you create (if it’s digital, add it to the file name) and look back at it on a yearly basis. It’s amazing how much you can grow when you devote yourself to your craft every single day, even if it means setting aside 15 minutes on your lunch break. Get those 10,000 hours in! And, if someone starts digging in and criticizing you, ask yourself: have they dedicated themselves to 10,000 hours of anything? Probably not. Then, get back to work!

2. It’s easier to criticize than create.

By sharing your work, you’re being brave and you deserve credit just for that alone. While you might have spent days, weeks or even months producing a piece you’re proud of, it only takes someone 10 seconds to leave you a nasty comment. How does that really measure up? If you let negativity silence you, it’s only going to hurt your career and prove the negative commenters right. Instead, use it fuel to push yourself to create even more amazing work.

3. Develop a support system.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sharing your work — negative feedback can still really sting. That’s why it’s important to develop a network of close friends and industry peers that believe in what you’re doing. I have a few friends I reach out to when self-doubt starts to creep in. Sometimes, all it takes is a shift in perspective. Instead of wallowing in sorrow and beating yourself up, reach out — the sooner you do, the sooner you can move onto creating your next piece.

4. For every hater, there’s a lover.

Truly great work doesn’t elicit a “meh” reaction. It attracts and repels in equal measures. Think about creatives from all walks of life including Damien Hirst, Marilyn Manson and Robert Mapplethorpe. People have strong reactions about all of them.

5. Know that you did your best.

If you feel that you’ve given a project your best shot, then why does the negative feedback even matter? Remember that people don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. There’s a story beneath the surface of the work they’re viewing. Deadlines, client feedback, process sketches, meetings, piles of revisions….these all play into the completed piece. You have to remember that a reaction is often tied to a quick glance at the outcome. You know what you put into a project and take solace in knowing that you gave it your all.

6. Separate constructive criticism from meanness.

This is a tough one but often, there’s a kernel of truth even in negative feedback. It’s not always apparent when it’s laced with venom but if you set it aside for a few days and let your emotions die down, you can often improve upon your original project. Of course, there’s a big difference between being downright mean and offering constructive criticism. Some of the best feedback I’ve ever gotten was from my creative directors at the studios I worked at based on mistakes I’d made — to this day, I still use it when I’m working through a project. Is the type on my business card designs at least 6 points? Is the body copy on my page layout easy to read? Did I print out my work and proof it before sending it off? Find people you trust to weigh in — that feedback can take a project from good to great, before you release it.

It’s your turn! Do you have any tips of your own for handling negative feedback?