How to Prove the Value of Your Design Work, and Other Great Things I Learned at MoxieCon
by Joy Burke
While most people were likely sleeping in this past Saturday, I woke up bright and early, put my moxie pants on and headed over to MoxieCon, where eleven speakers taught the crowd dozens of ways to build a better design business. Totally worth it.
The five fantastic women that make up Chicago-based design collective, Quite Strong, put on an incredible debut design conference on Saturday. I got my hands on a last-minute ticket to this sold-out event, and took some notes for sharing. After all, sharing is caring.
If I were to picture the perfect design conference in my head, it would look a little something like this… It would be one solid day, and on the weekend so as to not interrupt my work week. It would be affordable (like, less-than-my-utility-bill affordable… okay, call me crazy…). It would be somewhat small (say, 100 attendees?) for a more enjoyable atmosphere, compared to a giant room with a sea of people where you can hardly make out from the back of the room whether the speaker is male or female, much less hear the poor soul. The line up would not consist of one dull “look at all my cool stuff” presentation after another; rather, each speaker would leave me with something usable to walk away with, some insight to help me be a better designer. It would be in Chicago, so I could easily get there. And instead of filling the goodie bag with useless paper-wasting notepads adorned with ugly logo watermarks and bunch of other crap I’ll never use, it would be filled with fun things like a Field Notes book, a CapriSun, a bag of Cheez-its, and a cool reusable water bottle thing.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but some dreams really do come true. The scenario I painted for you above became a reality this past weekend, as the ladies of Quite Strong executed, in my opinion, the perfect design conference. MoxieCon was a one-day workshop to help us creatives get better at getting paid properly for the work we love. Or in their words, “how to make that cheddar and look good doing it.”
Enjoy my recap below!
(All photos here are courtesy and copyright of IShootRockstars).
The New Rules of Professional Networking
Meghan Wilker and Nancy Lyons
Meghan and Nancy of Geek Girl talked about how to have an appropriate and memorable presence in the community. They hit a lot of good points that I also like to cover when speaking to students and recent grads, but it’s always good to hear them from someone else as refreshers.
- Be someone relevant to the conversation. Don’t just talk about the job you’re looking for, show your personality so people get the full picture.
- Instead of a personal logo, show your face (and preferably the same photo) across social media profiles so people recognize who you are when they meet you.
- Be assertive. Have humility. Be interesting. Err on the side of formality.
- Be specific when asking for something. If you don’t ask for it, some one else will.
- Always follow up.
What It Means to Be (and Become) a Design Leader
Marcia Lausen is a founder of the Chicago office of design firm Studio/lab, and she reminded us to stay relaxed about the little things. To quote the always-encouraging Maya Angelou, “You can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” Treat disappointments as opportunities. It will help build character and enhance your creative energy.
Negotiating Like a Pro
Linda has been advising content creators and licensors for over 26 years on how to strike the smartest deals and negotiate and close them effectively. She says you must negotiate with confidence. Think of the business transaction as a menu of your services. Simply stated, set your price, and if it exceeds your potential client’s budget, figure out what pieces you can take out and save for later (when they attain more budget).
Linda warned us against some of the biggest mistakes people make when entering into a potential project or job offer:
- Not negotiating at all
- Fearing that negotiating will cost you the gig
- Not doing your homework
- Taking things personally
- Not having a number at which point you know it’s time to walk away
Delivering a Knockout Presentation
Mare is a professional speaker, a public speaking coach and founder of the Chicago Writers Conference. Her commanding presence and eloquence kept everyone’s attention as she covered three of the most important things to keep in mind when presenting your work:
- No apologies. Don’t ding yourself.
- Know what you bring to the table.
- Finish strong.
Heart Work: Hard Work
For only being 26 years old (in fact, we were born six days apart and have been close friends since our Freshman year in college), Mig has quite the impressive string of successful accomplishments under his belt. But accolades aside, he talked to us about the importance of being vulnerable as a designer. Vulnerability, as he reminded us, is being open to attack and criticism. Through an exciting, hilarious series of animated gifs, his presentation covered the importance of making and sharing things, thereby opening yourself up to vulnerability. After all, isn’t that the whole point to what we’re doing? “You’ve all got moxie,” he told the audience. “Now turn it into a behavior.” Yes!
Protecting Yourself Legally
This media, advertising, promotions and intellectual property lawyer is a great person to contact for any questions regarding protecting yourself and your work legally. Heather walked us through the basics of things like trademarks, copyrights, patents, and the proper uses for registration marks (®) and trademarks (™).
Starting Your Own Practice
Marian Williams & Sara O’Mara
Marian and Sara, two friends who both have agency background, now each run their own studios (Marian Williams Design and The And Group, respectively) and collaborate on projects together. Here are a few things they advise you to keep in mind when transitioning from working at an agency to getting out there on your own.
- Stay small and don’t claim to do it all or be “full-service.” Know your value.
- Create transitions vs. transformations.
- Over-deliver. This leads to repeat clients, which keeps you in business. Show clients what they don’t even know they want.
- “Always be human. Be professional when necessary.” No one pays you to be a bummer. Say “thank you” for the opportunity to work together.
“You practice, you get better. It’s that simple.” – Phillip Glass
Mikey is an Ohio native, but now makes awesome things right here in Chicago. Ironically, when he was thinking about how best to tell us about self-promotion, the three main points he came up with are all things we’re told not to do. But hear him out:
- Work for free.
Get over yourself, take on smaller projects. Cut your teeth and pay your dues.
“I don’t work for free. There are value transactions that don’t involve money or ‘exposure.’”- Dan Cassaro, Young Jerks
- Be Self-Centered
You have to make work you care about. Don’t let your ideas die. You never know where they could lead. Call in sick one day if you have to, and just work on passion projects.
- Get Distracted
Do things that distract you from your daily routine. Get away from your computer and hang out with other humans. Get beers with like-minded people. Try mentoring programs, workshops and lectures.
How to (Politely) Demand to Be Paid to Do the Work You Love
This California-based journalist writes about all the stuff we love to read about (design, architecture, transportation, cities and walking) on some of our favorite publications, including GOOD, Fast Company and Dwell. Here are a few of the words of wisdom Alissa shared with us from some of her successful friends:
- Know your story and how to pitch it confidently and quickly.
Emily Pilloton, Project H Design
- Make it as easy and fun as possible for people to give you their money.
Colleen Wainwright, Communicatrix
- Just because something makes you smile or laugh … doesn’t mean it’s a joke.
David Reese, Artisinal Pencil Sharpening
- Make a really good case for why someone should donate to you.
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
- The money is no longer worth it if you no longer love your work.
I hadn’t known exactly what to expect going into MoxieCon, but knew the Quite Strong ladies would not disappoint. If you ask me, their first conference was a total success! The bits of info I had heard before was brilliantly refreshing in addition to the gobs of valuable new knowledge I gleaned. I’m already looking forward to the next MoxieCon, and recommend designers young and old to do the same!