Teaching Middle School left me with no choice but to gain some patience. I had to find it for not only students, but faculty, staff, and parents as well. Learning is a process and you can’t skip steps and expect a high standard of results. It takes patience to follow the steps and not skip ahead just to check the box. Working with many demographics of people coming from very different cultural backgrounds also forced me to find balance in my work and communication.
Being patient has attributed highly to my ability to practice effective communication with freelance clients, and has resulted in some very strong professional relationships that have withstood remote work and lack of “face time.”
I taught a Yearbook course to eighth grade students and quickly discovered that you rarely get your answers from your first point of contact or on the first try. You have to be persistent in order to track down the information you need to be successful. Again, good communication skills will get you even further, not to mention faster!
Being persistent has helped me gain new clients and keep existing ones. You need to be an active participant in your professional relationship in order to stay on the radar of your clients. Just dropping the occasional note to check in on them will let them know that you value their business, and may result in more work for you by triggering a reminder that they need work done and reinforce the fact that you are invested in their overall success.
Students don’t necessarily follow the same paradigms that we do as adults. They either haven’t learned them yet or they don’t understand them. Therefore, they can come up with some very creative solutions to challenges. I prefer the use of the word challenges rather than problems, because every problem is just an opportunity to overcome and find a solution. Again, I have worked with a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds, and this diversity often results in creative, unconventional solutions to challenges.
Being open-minded has helped me realize that I can use many different approaches to come to a design solution. There is no right answer and working with your client to see their vision and help create it will leave you both satisfied and motivated to keep building their business and your own.
Be a Planner.
As a teacher, my sole existence was based on planning. The schedule to be exact. Class times, meetings, bell schedules, your colleagues schedules—you needed to know all of these like the back of your hand in order to be successful. Things never went to plan, but I always had one. It was vital to controlling the chaos and coming out of any situation on the right side. Yes, planning is a lot of work. Yes, it’s worth it because it makes you analyze every detail and provides clarity to what you are trying to achieve.
Planning has helped me as a creative professional because it’s nearly impossible to manage all of the hats I wear as an entrepreneur without it. I handle all quotes, budgets, project management, customer service, account payable and receivable and whatever else is thrown my way in order to make business run smoothly. There is no option but to plan. You’ll drown without one.
Be a Life-Long Learner.
Never quit learning. Don’t be afraid to try new things and seek out education in new experiences. As the Yearbook Adviser and Middle School Technology Content Chair, I was constantly having to learn new softwares and philosophies in order to be successful at my job. Technology was and always is changing, and I have to continue to change with it. It’s so much easier to go with the flow than to fight against the current. You don’t have to do it alone, either. Recruit a colleague or friend to join you in the journey and you’ll be surprised at how much of that experience you can apply to your creative career. You may even expand your network at the same time.
Working in a school environment is entirely different than working in a business office. Sometimes, I even felt like I was dealing with adult social cliques while the students dealt with their own. The experience was positive for the majority of my time as a teacher, and the biggest difference I encountered between these two work situations was that the folks at the school turned in to family. People generally cared about your well-being and wanted to see you succeed. There of course was competition, but for the most part there was more collaboration because we had one common goal; helping students learn and grow as individuals.
Teaching taught me that creating strong professional relationships with trust as the foundation allows you to attain better results and more work from your clients. Solutions to challenges increase as your relationships and connections do. If there is one thing that helps maintain connection with your clients and peers, it’s showing appreciation. Remember birthdays, send thank you notes, and always give credit where credit is due.
Don’t Fear Failure.
I did not have any training as a teacher when I took my first position molding the minds of our youth (outside of teaching a few after school fine arts classes in schools around Denver once or twice a week). It was intimidating and I was worried that I might make mistakes that wouldn’t affect only myself, but also students, parents, faculty and other staff. I had always striven for perfection and taking on an entirely new role threatened my ability to do that.
It turns out that failure really is synonymous for success. Without it, you cannot find a solution to a challenge. Failure forced me to grow—to think outside of the box and consult others for help, including my students. Their lack of set paradigms often left me with some very creative solutions that I never would have considered.
As a designer, I’ve come to the realization that nothing has to be perfect the first time around. The number of revisions aren’t as important as the final solution, and working closely with your clients will help you cut down on those revisions. You’ll eventually get to know them well enough that’ll be able to attain a sense of perfection in your relationship and work.
You will not reach anyone if you are not genuine in your enthusiasm. Few folks will be willing to follow your lead. My students didn’t get engaged unless I was excited about what I was teaching them. You just need that first follower and the rest will follow suit.
The same goes for design clients. Be excited about what you do and how you can help them grow their business. Their success is yours and this enthusiasm helps build trust in your professional relationships. The more trust you have, the more efficient you can be at your job to help them grow their business and your own.
This was always a main topic of my lesson on the first day for students. My students had to come to class with all of the tools necessary to succeed, and this didn’t always mean just jump drives, paper, or pens and pencils—they also needed to have done the proper research to be successful for that day’s itinerary.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in—presentation matters. Don’t waste others’ time (or your own) by not putting in the work to know your subject matter inside and out when you are preparing to share it on any platform. It’s important to present all information in a way that is easy for your audience to understand as well. There are a lot of options out there to make your message more digestible through the use of visual presentations. Google Slides, Slide Rocket, and Prezi are just a few free online platforms that can really make your content shine.
Things change. My lesson plans did constantly. Whether I was teaching students the Adobe Design Suite or teaching the faculty how to use Twitter to increase community involvement via social media, there was a Plan B (and sometimes even a Plan Z). The internet would be down, I wouldn’t be able to access the server with all of my files for the lesson, there’d be water leaking from the lab ceiling over one of the iMacs from a broken A/C unit, or we’d have a fire drill. The list went on and on.
You need to learn to go with the flow if you do not want to be swept away in the currents of development. Again, there is more than one solution to any challenge. Just because your solution may not have been picked by the majority doesn’t mean that you should fight the current of change. If you put in the required energy to make an effort successful, you’re bound to find a solution that works for all—even if it wasn’t the original plan.
I’ve learned that the ability to be flexible is very important when working with my design clients because, as they say, “the client is always right.” Now, is this really the case? No. Sometimes you have to educate your client and in a lot of cases you know best because you’ve got more experience in that field of expertise. Sometimes a client will surprise you and their solution is a worthy one for the challenge, but maybe you’ve never used this approach. Be flexible—learn something new! It will benefit both your client and yourself.
Follow the Process.
Sometimes the tasks that I took on at the school were daunting because they involved so many different steps in order to complete. Trying to wrap my mind around them could be paralyzing, but the key was just to take the first step.
I recall being assigned to a committee of three people that was to create a student-led organization that would help alleviate poverty across the globe. I remember being flooded with a million different ideas and wondering where to even start. My method was to write my “to do” list and figure out what order it needed to be done in. In less than a year, St. Francis CARES (Children Actively Remaking Economic Situations) was born.
A process always made things easier for myself and my students. If I had a numbered list on the board of tasks they were expected to complete in any given time, they were so much more likely to meet and exceed my expectations, as well as their own.
Applying this to my design work has made me so much more efficient. It’s even better when a process already exists and I don’t need to create it from scratch. I always do my research and look for others that are trying to achieve the same thing. Often times, I can use their process and just tweak it. Be resourceful!
Distractions are everywhere, especially if your work is predominantly on the computer. I find myself closing all social media browser windows. Saying goodbye to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Skype and all of the rest while I work is necessary for me to be able to focus on the task at hand. I only have these open during working hours if I am posting something for work. As soon as I’m done, I close out of the window to prevent any temptation.
Distractions aren’t only digital, as things in your environment can have a large impact on your ability to hone in on your work. Working as the Yearbook Adviser and Middle School Technology Content Chair meant that I had students, faculty, staff, and parents in and out of my office all day. The caring environment a school creates often means that folks are not just their to discuss work, which eats largely into your very small amount of time outside of instruction and meetings.
In order to manage the flow of people in and out of my office, I created signs for my door that stated I was either in a meeting or recording video tutorials. These signs included other ways to contact me—email, voicemail or other times to visit. They were highly successful and I would recommend them to anyone who has distractions in an office setting like this. Luckily for me, I work from home and don’t get bothered too often when I hang out at coffee shops for a change of pace.