Wednesday, May 13, 2015

18 Tips for a Solid Creative Career

I think I've finally found my groove as a stay at home mom. There are still some rough days, and rough times of day, but that's true no matter what you do, right? Part of what helps me stay positive and enjoy my day-to-day routine is having a creative outlet AND a source of income, even if it's small. I've managed to merge my love of shopping, getting the boys out of the house, my desire to work for money, and personal hobbies, all in one venture - my Instagram vintage shop, Retro Riot. I'm still building it, and it's not my first priority in life (consistently devoting time to it is hard with kids and a home and school), but I think I can say that it's a success, and I love it!

I love the community of vintage lovers, I love the specialized knowledge I've gained, and I love how well it fits into my life right now. It makes me feel like I'm staying active in the work force in some capacity, and learning new skills so that I'll be in demand when the time comes for me to work outside the home again. This is especially comforting to me as I've noticed recently that I'm no longer on the cusp of what "kids these days" are doing (the slang, the music, the styles). I like getting older, but I don't want to become out of touch with what is current.

I'm by no means some business mogul that has all the answers, but I do read (ahem, skim) a lot of articles about entrepreneurship and profiles of businesswomen. I don't have a lot of free time in my life right now, so I want to make every minute do double time for me if I can swing it. For instance, I view my leisure time (browsing blogs and Pinterest, posting to my Instagram accounts, even "curating" my wardrobe and home) as brand building time.

I'm not sure what my brand is just yet, but having a firm point of view is good for creatives in business, and so I make an effort to build on that right now, because I can! I read a tip from some blogger one time about keeping your online presence in "notice-worthy" condition. I don't hang my hopes on being discovered by some agent who wants to help me get paid a lot for my artistic eye or opinion (not that I'd mind...), but you never know who's looking, and I do want to put my best face forward in case there are those connections waiting to happen around the corner. {image}

Of course, authenticity is important too, and if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know I don't shy away from telling the truth. I even occasionally post an unflattering picture of myself to social media. ;)

So anyway, today I thought I'd round up some pointers that I've either read about or try and put in practice myself for being a good businesswoman - whether you're a stay at home mom wanting to sell some crafts on the side, or whether you're... anyone else! :)

1. You've never "made it" enough to let yourself off the hook from learning.

2. Always try new things, but stick to what you're good at. In other words, have broad interests, but focus on becoming an expert in something. {image}

This is a great exercise on several levels, but Joanna from A Cup of Jo asked her readers, "What have been your toughest interview questions? Douglas Edwards remembers being interviewed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, [who said]: 'I'm going to give you five minutes...When I come back, I want you to explain to me something complicated that I don't already know.' He then rolled out of the room toward the snack area. I looked at Cindy. 'He's very curious about everything,' she told me. 'You can talk about a hobby, something technical, whatever you want. Just make sure it's something you really understand well.'"

Isn't that brilliant? What would you explain?

My dad (who is the HR manager of the company where he works) said one of the department managers in their office recently asked a prospective employ, on a whim, to tell him a joke. My dad said it was very telling to watch how the interviewee reacted. Were they able to roll with it, or did they become flustered and shut down?

3. Outsource components of your job that you're not an expert in - I will never be a seamstress or play an instrument. Not because I don't love those things, but because I will never have the time to be great at everything, and I've made my peace with that. I can pay someone else to sew stuff for me and use the time I would have spent frustrated at my own attempts (and not enjoying it) to do something I am great at!

4. Surround yourself with people who are different than you. Nothing gives you a more false sense of confidence than having a bunch of people who are just like you affirm your work. Challenge yourself and keep your worldview open.

5. Utilize peer review. Ask other people for input, and always get a second opinion if you're about to present a touchy topic and you're not sure about your word choices. Sometimes an editing eye can save you from saying something heartless, or just plain wrong.

6. Give feedback. When you take the time to help others with their work, they'll often return the favor.

7. Unfollow sources that you don't completely love. There is so much information and inspiration available to us these days, more than we can ever keep up with. Be very picky about how you invest your time, especially when it's time spent following rather than creating your own work. There are a bunch of people in my life who I know and love personally, but who I don't follow on social media because the information isn't noteworthy. I don't say that to be mean, but you know the kind of thing I'm talking about. Ten million pictures of your baby in the same outfit, links to your extreme political beliefs (see point 4), or invitations to play the latest phone game aren't things that are worth my time. If your baby has a different outfit on in every photo, well... that's another story. ;) I want to be strategic about my screen time, and strategic about my friendships (in that I want to invest in a more meaningful way), neither of which the bulk of social media friend-accounts helps me with. I don't feel guilty about this practice of mine, even when people ask me if I saw something they posted on social media, and I didn't. When that happens, it's a great opportunity to say, "no, I didn't! Tell me about it!" and have a more meaningful conversation than you would have had on social media anyway.

8. Be interesting, especially in interviews.You know when you meet someone fascinating who you want to be around all the time, and hear every story of theirs? Figure out what you like about those people and aspire to be that way!

9. Cultivate a sense of humor. Is there anything sexier than a funny woman? I don't know why we have two funny women (Tina Fey and Amy Pohler) and every other funny person on the planet seems to be a man. Seriously? Ladies, we can do better than that. I am so endeared when someone makes me really laugh (especially a woman!), and so I consciously develop my sense of humor (I hope it's not overworked). I feel more respected when people think I'm truly funny - maybe that's weird?

While we have Tina Fey on the brain, she happens to give great work-place advice, in addition to being funny.
My unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.
10. Copy, copy, copy. No stealing, but the smart creative isn't ashamed of being inspired by great work. I try not to worry about creating something that no one else has ever dreamed of, but instead focus on improving and reinventing things.

14. Volunteer for projects, even if you don't know exactly what you're doing (yet). Take (or make) opportunities to work, even for small publications (or whatever term fits the industry you'd like to be in), and pick the brain of your boss/project-leader. The worst thing anyone can say is no, so there's no harm in asking for their time. I have received incredible (free!) advice when I've shown interest in other people's work, reached out to them, and then listened to what they had to say. I also say "yes" to some things I don't know exactly how to do, and that forces me to figure things out that I didn't know how to do before. However, I am honest with people when I'm not an expert at something.

11. Learn to say no. Especially when you do creative work, a lot of people (especially personal friends and family) will ask you to draw a tattoo for them or illustrate their idea for a children's book, or take family portraits for them. Although I'm often flattered by these requests, I do not enjoy being roped into a project where someone is dictating what I do (especially when they don't understand the creative process), often times without even being offered some sort of compensation. Of course, I do stuff for my mom or my grandma, but don't let the list of people you work for free for get too long! I've learned to be clear when I'm not interested in doing something. If I hem and haw about it too much (trying to be polite), they keep asking until I have to actually say what I mean, so I try and be clear right away. The three main ways that I get around accepting working I have no intention of doing is a) be honest about how busy I am with my kids, school, work, etc. This is totally valid and everyone understands it. B) Explain that what they'd like me to do is not the kind of art that I'm good at. A lot of people think that because you are a creative person, you are good at all kinds of art. I assure people that they definitely do not want me to draw a tattoo for them, because I do not draw well, I prefer to do abstract painting or cut holes in things, and I tell people that (see point 9 - somehow, honesty often manages to be funny in my experience). C) If I'm not willing or able to accept a project, I suggest a friend or acquaintance of mine who might be willing to take on the kind of project they are looking for. This is helpful for the potential client, and hopefully helpful for my friends who are looking for work. (Apparently, I've absorbed everything on this topic here).

12. Know thyself. I'm an introvert. I prefer to work alone. I am most focused in the morning. I make most sense when I write, as opposed to speaking on the phone or in person. I'm easily suckered by the promise of free stuff. I'm too attached to my own work to be good at editing it. I tend to edit other people's work too harshly. I depend on lists to organize my thoughts and remember important things. When I'm aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, I can play to the former, and compensate for the latter.

I got a little crush on Lena Dunham when I read this confession of hers:
"I still go to a party and say something embarrassing to someone, and then write them a weird e-mail about it the next day, and then write them a text because I think they didn't get the e-mail. No matter what happens with your level of success, you still have to deal with all the baggage that is yourself."
I'm prone to doing that too! Since becoming aware of my tendency to apologize for everything, I try and remind myself that more likely than not, someone else is not obsessing over some little thing I said or did the way I am. I don't make a bigger deal out of my failures than I need to. {image}

13. Be honest. I think I've lost some interview opportunities due to honesty, but I'm cool with that. I once told Toys R Us that I didn't like children, which is probably not something you might bring up to a company dedicated to making children happy, but it was the truth. The way I see it, a shrewd boss would appreciate honesty and think to herself, "this person wasn't afraid to tell the truth, and because of that, they could be a perfect fit for such-and-such an position in our company." After all, ADULTS are the ones shopping at Toys R Us. I try not to offer up any information that I think will put me at a disadvantage (though I'm pretty bad at it), but I feel strongly that honesty is always the best policy. As an aside, I've come to learn that I don't like ill-behaved children, which does happen to be most of them, but I digress...

14. Believe in yourself, and your customers will believe in you. I know that sounds cliche, but seriously, which do you prefer when you're the customer: a firm handshake and direct eye contact, or a limp one, and mumbling? People are more likely to respect you and take you seriously if you act like you deserve it.

15. Break up with Jealousy. Again, I'm going to borrow from Lena Dunham, who says, "channel the energy you would have spent being jealous into your own to-do list. " There are a lot of women in my life who do certain things better than I do, or have a house that I wish I had, or who get complimented on something that I want to be noticed for too. However, I have to remember that the time I could spend sulking about all of that could be spent so much better by minding my own business - literally. The more I pour into being good at what I'm good at, the less I worry about whether other people are doing better than I am, and the more I feel like I'm becoming someone that other people want to emulate.

16. Set attainable goals for yourself. When I set myself a realistic goal, I often reach it, and that empowers me to set myself new goals, and progress further than I ever have before. Write yourself a business plan.

17. Get dressed, even if you're home all day. I'm really bad about this, but I notice the difference it makes when I force myself to do it. Similarly, dress the part, even if you're interviewing over the phone.

18. Allow yourself breaks from work, especially if you work from home. If you use your personal phone for business, like I do, try and designate time that is for business, and don't constantly check it when you're not working. I'm also pretty bad at this one. When it comes to my school work, I allow myself distractions at various intervals, and that helps me stay energized, even for the tasks I'd rather not be doing.

I keep a Pinterest board of articles with advice I want to remember when I rule the world. Some of my favorites are:

1. How motherhood prepares you for entrepreneurship.

2. How to email a busy person.

3. How to be in business with your significant other.

4. How to build your business as an introvert.

5. How to be a good boss.

There are lots more ideas on how to be a mindful boss, employee, and women, including reminders of certain words or phrases that are meaningless or weak ("I feel like..." instead of just stating something), the distinction between talent and skills, and a list of power words for your resume!

What are your best work-place tips or standards that you try and hold yourself too? How do you keep yourself sharp if you run a business from your couch? Please share your ideas with me! 

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