Category Archives: Advice

Creative Chronicles: The Battle for Quality Over Quantity

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Today I want to talk about something we face constantly as designers in a fast-paced world: making the choice between quality and quantity.

Every single week, I get inquiries from potential new clients who need something done right away. More like yesterday. And trust me, I get the urgency. The online world is evolving fast and small businesses are doing everything they can to stay ahead of the curve. Updated branding, marketing materials and websites help project the right image. The sooner they can implement updates, the sooner they can potentially book up and sell more.

Even though I get it (I run small businesses myself), I won’t bend my processes or timelines to make it happen. In this world, being the cheapest and / or fastest is a race to the bottom because there’s always someone who can slice margins even thinner. It’s best not to compete on those principles. A few sloppy jobs to appease clients or make a quick buck will do nothing for your image and hurt your bottom line in the long run.

What you do have is the quality of work you put into the world, your ethics, your process, your unbeatable customer service and your personal story. Use these things to convey your worth instead.

Hold Your Ground

Breaking processes and bending ethics to make a quick buck is never a good idea. Things will go bad. Every time I have made an exception, I’ve learned the lesson again. It’s painful when you end up with a disappointed client and it’s your fault because you caved.

A few weeks ago, I was on a call with a client I really wanted to work with and after explaining my branding process, they mentioned they’d already done most of the steps before with another designer. Couldn’t we just skip ahead and use that content, they wondered?

While I explained that it would be helpful to see what they had, we still needed to go through my process in order to get the best results. We’re now a few steps into my process and making some major tweaks to the outcome of their new branding based on things I learned from their questionnaire and pins that weren’t immediately obvious during our original call. If I’d skipped the steps, we would be at a much different outcome (and not necessarily a happy one).

Red Flags

If you’ve explained your process and why it works but a potential customer is adamant that you change it for them, it’s usually a red flag that they’re not an ideal fit. And that’s totally okay — keep a list of referrals on hand for these situations so they can find a better suited partner.

Always remember that you’re a professional. You’ve done this before. There’s a reason for why you do what you do. You have the proven results to back it up. For a project to run smoothly, there has to be a level of mutual respect and a process in place.

I know how tempting it can be to stack on more work, bend your ethics and skip steps in processes to make more money but is it worth it? Does it make you feel good? That’s the only answer you need.

Quality over quantity, always.

P.S. If you need some help with your client process, I created Project Prescription with Paul Jarvis to make it easier.


Check out even more Creative Chronicles posts here.

Creative Chronicles: If You Build It, They Will Come

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There are easily thousands of articles scattered across the internet that dish out the advice that your portfolio should be specialized. The thought process is that if you focus in on promoting the projects you want more of, more of the same will flow in.

Specialization and zeroing in on what you’re passionate about is great and I never disagreed with that advice because it makes complete sense. The tricky part for some of us is when exactly we should start specializing. After all, if you focus in too narrowly before building your clientele and audience, it may be harder to make a living.

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When I started freelancing 10 years ago, I cast my net really wide for a few reasons:

1. I was still building my client base and audience.
2. I was hungry for experience in a variety of areas. The best way to learn is on the job.
3. I needed the extra income since I was still in school / working retail.

Over time, I did start to specialize and drop projects from my portfolio that I didn’t want more of but really drilling down was hard because I still wasn’t sure who my audience really was.

When I started Branch, I’d just ended a stint working on a branding team at a large agency so I was still trying to find my design style away from heavy art direction. I admired the work they did and their clean, crisp style felt familiar so I used that as inspiration when I built out my own brand.

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That was fine because in the first year of business, it’s best to not overthink things. Just go with what you know and start moving forward. Everyone says you should just launch and learn and I agree because you may think you know who your audience is — but it could be completely different than you expect.

Over time, your audience will subtly let you know what it wants. Certain projects will bring in tons of new inquiries while others fall flat. It’s hard to say what that mix is and the only true way to figure it out is through trial and error. Also, your aesthetic and interests will change and that style tends to be present in the work you produce. The more work you do, the more your style comes through.

Going into my third year of business, I finally feel like it’s time to fine-tune the look of my design studio and be more picky about the projects I choose to share. I’m now asking myself what I love and focusing in on that mix — creative businesses with a heavy focus on lifestyle and beauty brands. It’s good to get specific about what you want.

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As a creative, what kinds of brands, services and products are you naturally drawn to? What brands share your aesthetics? Once you figure that out, your brand will naturally start to evolve. Once I’d decided what niches were my focus going forward, I felt comfortable softening up our overall look because I now had a customer in mind. The orange went from 100% opacity to 80%. Blacks and dark grays were replaced with creamy carrara marble. Hard geometric patterns were replaced with a halftone image of an orange tree I’d photographed over the summer.

The truth is, things are still a work in progress. Business has literally doubled over the last year and it’s been harder to get all our content switched out. If you’re struggling with the same thing, I feel ya. Treat your own brand as you would a client. Make changes in manageable phases.

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After I started implementing changes in the brand and what we shared earlier this year, the impact was near-immediate. The kinds of brands that I’d coveted for a long time started reaching out. As this has been happening, it reminded me of some simple truths:

Your brand is up to you to define.

It’s your job to decide exactly what you stand for.

Ask yourself, “What do I want more of?”

Ask yourself, “What do I want less of?”

Once you know where you stand, you can make changes. As I’ve gotten more focused on what I want and have seen the positive shifts happening in my own business, it’s been a great reminder that anything is possible; you just have to be willing to step up and be clear about who you are and what you want.


Check out even more Creative Chronicles posts here.

Creative Chronicles: The 3 Best Places To Find Stock Photos

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles: The 3 Best Places To Find Stock Photos

Sometimes, stock photos are an absolute necessity. Whether you’re a blogger who needs a very specific image for a post or a designer who needs to make an impact with a client presentation, they can set the exact mood you’re tying to convey.

The problem is, there are more bad stock photos out there than good: think of the typically cheesy, overdone 90s-era variety of people in ill-fitting business suits shaking hands or awkwardly composed family photos with fake smiles.

I’m always looking for great stock photos and in an effort to help you find what you need quickly, here are my top 3 picks (two of which offer free downloads):

1. Death To The Stock Photo

I’ve been subscribing since the very beginning because this site offers a free download pack of 10 high quality photos from a guest photographer every month when you join their list. The variety is truly awesome — everything from creative work-related setups to flowers to beautiful landscapes round out the mix. If you want instant access to older photo sets, there’s also plans for that.

2. Stocksy

Hands-down, for creative photos, this is the best paid stock photo site out there. The pricing is very straightforward (no confusing credit plans needed) and allows you to buy small, medium or large sizes for set rates. One feature I love is that when you click on an image, it shows you the exact gallery it’s from directly below so you can find similar styles from the same photographer. One thing that’s also worth mentioning is that if you buy a smaller image size but need to upgrade later, just log into your account, click on your purchase history and pay the difference. No starting over! Genius.

3. Unsplash

This site offers gorgeous, high resolution photos that are completely free and you can do whatever you want with them. Simply click the download button underneath each photo and you’re set! Plus, you can subscribe and get 10 new photos delivered directly to your inbox each week. Unsplash has a variety of photos but the standouts are the natural scenery and modern architecture. The mix is truly eclectic because the number of pro photographers submitting their work is massive.

I hope these three recommendations help you find some beautiful stock photography for your next project!


Photo: Death To The Stock Photo.
Check out even more Creative Chronicles posts here.

Creative Chronicles: 5 Tips To Pinpoint Your Digital Product Offering

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Tips To Pinpoint Your Digital Product Offering

A few years ago, I started noticing that digital products were becoming a hot commodity and as someone who runs a service-based business, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep the same pace of offering custom design solutions forever. My dream has always been to run a small, efficient studio that allows me the flexibility to spend more time with my family and travel often so having a massive staff (with the overhead that goes with that) and more than the few dozen regular clients we regularly work with wasn’t in the cards.

Simply put, a digital product is anything you can offer in a digital format, usually as an immediate download. Think along the lines of e-courses, e-books, digital templates, design assets, MP3’s and so on. Most of us probably bought dozens of digital products last year without giving it a second thought.

I had two key reasons for wanting to dive into the world of digital products:

1. One-on-one services only allowed me to help a small group of clients at once. Finding ways to serve a bigger audience was important to me. There had to be a more efficient way to help a larger audience reach their goals.

2. The hours in a day limited my earning potential. We all have a cap on what we can realistically output and even with more help, I still didn’t feel like Branch was able to reach the demand. Dozens of inquiries came in each week, yet we passed most of them off to referrals because we were booked out.

The tricky part was, I had no idea what I could offer. Do you have those days where it feels like everything has literally been done? I did…but I felt like those days stretched on for a few years. I’d designed dozens of hugely successful digital products for clients but I never felt like anything I thought of was good enough. I was too deeply entrenched in the middle of it all, surrounded by what my clients were doing PLUS seeing new launches pop up every day from people I followed on social media. There was too much noise.

If you’re feeling this way as well, first of all, give yourself permission to dream and explore. The best ideas are usually right in front of you.

Nubby Twiglet | 5 Tips To Pinpoint Your Digital Product Offering

5 tips to pinpoint what your audience wants

1. Check Google Analytics / Your Most Popular Posts

I know this might seem obvious but people are telling you exactly what they need in their search terms. When I looked at my stats for this blog, informational posts about processes, designing great portfolios and media kits were at the top. What topics are you naturally interested in and already talking about?

2. Use Pinterest Sources To See What’s Trending

Since commenting on blogs has declined, if your site is more visual like this one, it can be hard to know what’s resonating with your audience. I’ve found Pinterest to be a valuable resource for sorting out what my audience is drawn to and it’s super easy to do.

Go to pinterest.com/source/yoursiteurl.com/. For instance, this blog would be:

https://www.pinterest.com/source/nubbytwiglet.com/

What does your audience pin over and over directly from your site? What colors, styles and topics do they love? After a quick scan, I can see that my audience is drawn to creative resources, unique design layouts and interestingly enough, travel posts.

3. Do A Survey

Go straight to the source and ask your audience what they want — they’ll gladly tell you. I’ve done surveys about upcoming digital products here and I’ve also asked the Branch mailing list. The honesty in the responses I got was refreshing — people were clear that they wanted all juice and no filler. They wanted to know how to improve their portfolios, how to land new and better career opportunities and how to build their client base.

4. Define What You’re Struggling With

What have been the biggest hangups in your own career path and personal growth? Chances are, if you’re struggling with something, others are, too. Think of how you solved your own issues, whether it was finding your niche, building a thriving freelance career or getting over your fears. How can you use your unique perspective to offer a value-packed product that directly helps your audience?

5. Ask Yourself What Could Be Simplified

Does something that you do seem way harder than it needs to be? In my case, I’d personally struggled with having a defined process for client work at the start of my freelance career and it really held me back from earning a decent living. Based on that experience, I collaborated with Paul Jarvis and we poured our results-driven studio processes into a set of fully editable documents called Project Prescription. If you can find a way to make people’s lives easier in some way, they’ll be interested.

How It’s Working

Based on the 5 tips above, my digital offerings have been going well so far.

Project Prescription launched February 7th and has since sold a few hundred copies — it’s affordable, helpful and customizable which I think all contributed to its success.

Next up is a course called Future So Bright launching later this Spring. Career strategist Ellen Fondiler and I are addressing one of the biggest issues new design graduates face — finding a well paying, meaningful job in the industry. There are dozens of freelancing courses out there but not everyone can make a full-time living as a freelancer right out of school, nor do they want to. Full-time gigs have tons of benefits but knowing how to find the opportunities, build a killer portfolio AND interview properly can be intimidating — I still cringe at some of my own interview experiences! Once again, this was a struggle we knew existed so it makes sense to fill that gap.

Pushing Fear Aside

Beyond these two courses, I have a few more concepts in the works but it took getting over my fear of the unknown. I constantly wondered if my ideas were good enough. Worse yet, what if I did follow through and it failed? What if…[insert concern here]? WHO CARES. Once you push your ego aside and honestly ask yourself how you can serve more people, the answer usually presents itself.

If you’re still unsure of what you can offer, fill in the blanks:

I’m a [insert what you do here] and I notice that my audience is struggling with [insert issue here] and my personal experience can help them overcome it by [name what you’re going to offer] so they can [insert outcome here].

Here’s my answer using Project Prescription as an example:

I’m a graphic designer and I notice that my audience is struggling with their client processes and my personal experience can help them overcome it by developing a set of pre-made, editable documents so they can get back to work quickly and charge more.

When it comes to developing digital products, my advice is simple: start small and focus on what you know. Don’t overthink it.

By offering your personalized expertise, a good value and accessibility, your digital product has the ability to do really well.


Photos: Afsoon Zizia.
Check out even more Creative Chronicles posts here.

Creative Chronicles: Streamline Processes, Teach Clients How To Treat You and Charge More with Project Prescription

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles: Streamlining Processes and Teaching Clients How To Treat You with The Project Prescription

When I started freelancing ten years ago:

1. I assumed that my creativity alone would be enough to stand on.

2. I thought that my great ideas and follow-through would be enough to earn a full-time living.

3. I assumed that by saying nothing, my clients would automatically know how to treat me.

And….then I learned the hard way that none of the above were true.

Does earning a living as a freelance designer feel like an uphill battle but you’re not sure how to transform your career into something more lucrative? I feel you — because I spent years in the same boat, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles: Streamlining Processes and Teaching Clients How To Treat You with The Project Prescription

The Process Problem

From the beginning of my career, I had a strong sense of style but no matter how creative my ideas were, at times I struggled to get work approved and even worse, to charge what it was worth.

Designers can be a sensitive bunch and when things didn’t go my way, I often took the rejection personally.

My issues had nothing to do with creativity or talent and everything to do with teaching my clients what to expect. My creative work wasn’t falling flat….but my processes were.

As you navigate the tricky world of running a freelance business, one thing becomes very clear: producing creative work is only half of the equation. The other half is less obvious but it’s just as important.

Processes are everything. Without them, you’re missing the opportunity to increase your output, get treated fairly and earn what you deserve.

Having a process wasn’t always clear to me and for good reason: nobody likes to openly discuss their internal processes.

And, can you blame them?

It’s their so-called “secret sauce” and if they give it away, they’ve essentially handed over what makes them unique. While design style is important, how you present it and convey your value to clients is what makes you a living.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles: Streamlining Processes and Teaching Clients How To Treat You with The Project Prescription

The Shift

What finally changed for me?

I worked at a lot of studios, attended plenty of workshops and retreats, asked a ton of questions and swapped ideas with fellow freelancers. I kept digging until I’d cobbled together a process. Then, I launched Branch and tested it out a few dozen times, making tweaks along the way.

Once I was happy with my process, I started thinking: if I struggled for so long with this, there has to be others who feel the same way.

And, let’s be honest here: processes can take a lot of time to develop. When you have projects to get done, the last thing you want to do is dump a bunch of time into something you’re not sure will even work.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles: Streamlining Processes and Teaching Clients How To Treat You with The Project Prescription

The Simple Solution

I had an idea to share ready-made process documents but knew it could be better so I reached out to Paul Jarvis. He’s worked with the likes of Marie Forleo, Danielle LaPorte and dozens of others over the last 17 years and, as you can guess, his process is SOLID.

With our partnership, Project Prescription was born: a set of 15 fully customizable documents so you can quickly add your branding, colors and fonts to a pre-set formula and get back what you love — the creative side of things.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles: Streamlining Processes and Teaching Clients How To Treat You with The Project Prescription

Interested?

Sign up for our mailing list for an exclusive download of two free documents plus a specially priced offer when Project Prescription launches.

Developing a process for your creative business doesn’t have to be intimidating and full of unknowns. Project Prescription launches February 7th and I genuinely hope it helps you level the playing field and grow your business.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back next week with more specifics about the documents and how to put them to work for your creative business! -Shauna


Fine print: To customize Project Prescription documents, a basic knowledge of InDesign is recommended. Documents are built on the Adobe CC Suite. A trial version of InDesign can be downloaded here.

Questions? Email us at us@theprojectprescription.com.

Creative Chronicles: 5 Things To Share On Your Instagram Business Account

5 Things To Share On Your Instagram Business Account

As a creative, social media is one of your most powerful marketing tools. The premise is simple: the more work you share, the more work you’ll get. My earliest freelance opportunities came to me thanks to Flickr and as the platforms have evolved, I’ve done my best to keep up.

Today I want to share a short but sweet post on Instagram since that’s where a lot of the social action is these days. I’ve had many client inquiries lately with specific mentions of discovering my studio on Instagram so I’ve been dedicating more of my efforts specifically to that platform.

Running a personal account is pretty straightforward — selfies, vacation photos, latte art, your killer new shoes and photos of your cat all pass the test. But what about business? When you have a business account, there’s more pressure to step it up and yes, be on brand. I hate to even say those two words because they’re so overused but it’s true — the more polished and pulled together your brand is, the easier it is for a potential client to feel at home and hire you.

Like many of you, I’ve struggled in the past with what to post to my business account. Through many trials, I’ve defined five key things that work well and are easy to produce.

5 Things To Share On Your Instagram Business Account

1. Inspirational Messages

Everyone loves a positive message and an inspirational story, especially when they’re having a bad day. The key is to make the graphics your own. Don’t just grab them from Pinterest and re-post without attribution! Use your fonts, brand colors and any imagery or patterns to pull in your brand style. I format these in bulk in InDesign and then share one a week under the hashtag #branchquotes.

5 Things To Share On Your Instagram Business Account

2. Work From The Archives

If you’ve been producing creative work for awhile, chances are that you have some rarely seen pieces and / or plenty of rejected client concepts. Instead of letting them gather dust, brush them off and share the story behind them! What was your process? What did you love about this particular project? Remember, much of your audience hasn’t been with you since the beginning so this “old” work is all new to them! I love this page from a portfolio I designed for Luke Copping a few years back and will be sharing it soon under the #wearebranchfiles hashtag.

5 Things To Share On Your Instagram Business Account

3. Workspace Still Lifes

Make the objects you already have in your office work for you! I often spend 10+ hours a day at my computer so to switch things up, I’ll pull together simple still life compositions. The art of arrangement helps you think in a new way and work with your hands. I’ll often share these on Instagram to break up the monotony of just posting work.

5 Things To Share On Your Instagram Business Account

4. Work In Progress

What are you working on right now? Do you have a project that you’re super excited about? People love to see what you’re up to! One of my current favorites is a branding project for Kate Eckman ( I LOVE her — more about her story and project soon!) and though we aren’t wrapped yet, I got permission to share her brand icon. Sharing work is also a great way to tag your clients and give them a shout-out.

5 Things To Share On Your Instagram Business Account

5. Travel Photos

Of course, you can’t spend all your time hiding in your workspace — you’ve got to get out and live! I love sharing photos that remind me of my brand when I’m traveling because it gets me inspired and thinking of ways it can evolve while also allowing my audience to discover somewhere new. The Parker Palm Springs was a defining factor in the visual style of Branch so I tend to share photos every time I’m there. Ask yourself, “What places feel in line with my brand?” Is there a coffee shop, store, park, restaurant or something else that sums it up perfectly?

I hope these five tips help you get the creative juices flowing for your Instagram business accounts!

Your turn: What kind of content do you find works well on your account? Any themes, tips or tricks you swear by?


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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.

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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.