Thursday, September 4, 2008

Creative Freelancer Conference 2008

I had the privilege of attending the first ever Creative Freelancer Conference, the creative brainchild of the folks at HOW and Marketing Mentor (Peleg & Ilise). How could I resist this write-up: “If you're a freelance designer, photographer, writer or anyone else in the creative arts trying to make a living at it—or wanting to make a better living at it, with more time to actually enjoy the rest of your life—the Creative Freelancer Conference is for you.”

I’m not a full-time independent designer. I’m an in-houser and I went to see if I could learn how to become an independent designer full time. Chicago is only a 5-6 hour drive for me and the price of the conference just fit in my budget, so I decided it was a worthwhile investment.

Having been to four of the “big” HOW Design Conferences (about 4,000 people), I was curious as to how a smaller conference would work. I had been to the Hyatt in Chicago for the HOW Design Conference in 2005, so as I walked the familiar halls, it was oddly quiet based on my memories of last being there. As I was standing in line, I struck up a conversation with 2 of the people ahead of me and we started talking.

And we kept talking as we entered the hall where the conference was being held. The first thing I noticed were the round tables. It looked so much cozier and comfortable than the big HOW conference and I immediately felt comfortable. My new friends and I sat down in the back of the room and continued to chat. With a few minutes to go until the opening session, a smiling Peleg came up to our table and said “Hello. I’m Peleg. I’ll be speaking in a few minutes and I wanted to be sure I could see you, there are plenty of seats up front.” How could we resist? So we ended up in the front row, and it was worth it!

Peleg and Ilise’s opening session about “Secrets of A Successful Solopreneur” had me hooked. Both were articulate, funny, and had great information to share. They had been where I wanted to go and were showing me the way. It was the perfect way to kick-start the first-ever conference of its kind.

Next up was Dyana Valentine (“Creative Collaboration Workshop”) who developed a brilliant worksheet to engage us and get us introverts talking and solving problems. It didn’t even feel like networking as we each shared with the other creatives at the table and helped each other to solve their challenges. In fact, the folks at our table almost completely missed the happy hour that followed because we stayed and continued to work on the challenge!

When we did finally make it to the happy hour, I found friends from my previous HOW Conferences there to chat with along with new friends I had met along the way that evening. We mingled and chatted about design and just life. We chatted so long that I almost missed my dinner plans with some friends I had met through the online HOW forums.

I did make the dinner, though, and got to meet two members of the HOW online forum at Athena’s in Greektown (Hi Lauren & Joe!) and chat more about design and life and the conference. When I finally got back to my hotel room about 11ish, I was beat.

The next day started about 7 a.m. for me. I showed up at the breakfast roundtables at 8 a.m. and thought I would be one of the first people there. Boy was I wrong! There was already a large gathering of people getting their breakfasts and scoping out which roundtables they wished to participate in. The roundtables were a great way to both network and start the day, even for non-morning people such as myself.

Joan Gladstone kicked off Day Two with “How to Get Your Clients to Fall in Love With You (And Be Loyal Forever)”. Most of it was common sense, but there were some great tips on how to do little things to go above and beyond without investing a lot of time or money to make your client happy.

Colleen Wainwright and Ilise followed with the next session, “Building A Well-Oiled Marketing Machine”. They focused on how to create a Marketing Machine with 5 elements that once you put into motion, should sustain itself. They broke each element down into tangible steps that should get you off to a good start. I would have liked to have seen more info for beginners here, but they were speaking to a diverse level of experiences, so I can see where those who are determined will probe deeper post-conference. What really got me thinking this session was the 10-Word Blurb to describe what I do to others.

I’d like to take a moment here and give a shoutout to Jeff, Steve, Scott, and the 2 guys from Emma that I forgot to get business cards from for a great Thursday lunch!

Peleg started the afternoon off with his session on “How to Talk to Your Clients About Fees.” And while I was skeptical of his “don’t tell the client the hourly rate” philosophy, I listened and learned. And did I learn. Peleg offered great advice on how to answer he most common questions about rates and how to breach the conversation about money in a non-threatening way.

Lloyd Dangle made what could have been a boring presentation on proposals and contracts interesting and informative. “A Quick and Dirty Look at Proposals and Contracts” was just that. He used his own contract and experiences to liven up the discussion and even though you do have to have some legalese in your life, Lloyd showed us how it was beneficial to all parties.

After a delightful dinner with Melanie, Carla, Jody, Dawn, and Roxy, we headed back to the room for a presentation by Idea Blob. It’s a new way for ideas to be born through online collaboration. It’s kinda like having your own peer think tank from around the world helping you work through your idea to make it better and take it out into the world. Each month, the members of Idea Blob vote on the best idea and the winner gets $10,00 to put their idea in motion. This interactive presentation from Ami Kassar was short, but fun!

Next up was the Business Review. Creative business experts go over your portfolio, marketing materials, what have you, from a business perspective to help you improve your materials so you can attract the types of project you are seeking. I admit, I chickened out from signing up. The old school critiques ringing too painfully loud in my head. But as I watched (hovering was encouraged), and I saw how much fun they were and how safe and supportive the experts were in giving their advice, I ran upstairs to my hotel room and picked up my portfolio. I asked politely if I could take any open spots, and luckily one did open up. I’m so glad I did it. I learned that with a few changes, my portfolio can rock!

After 12ish hours in the same room, we all went out to celebrate, but by about Midnight, I was tuckered out and ready for bed so I could be fresh for the last few sessions and a 6ish hour drive home the next day.

Friday already? Wow. How time flies when you are having fun! After another rousing roundtable with Peleg on “How to Find Clients”, Lee Silber gave some inspiring tips and an awesome display of humor with a bit of magic in his session, “How to Find the Time to Build Your Freelance Business”. Which might have been better named “How to Visualize Your Biz & Run It Your Way”. Regardless, Lee offered up great tips on how to organize and run your business that is in sync with your particular style of doing things so that you can have actual free time to enjoy the rewards of being a freelancer.

Last but certainly not least is my HOW friend, Jeff Fisher with his session “Reaping the Rewards of Creative Independence”. Jeff, who I believe is always on vacation, offered excellent examples of how to enjoy being independent, doing the work you love and not sacrificing anything in the process (including your sanity!)

After a nice lunch with a fellow Ohioan, it was off to my six hour drive home. Truly, this was a spectacular investment in myself and I’m very glad to have been a part of the first Creative Freelancer Conference “Class of 2008”.

Some closing notes about the conference as a whole. The small size was a great advantage for this conference. The round tables really helped with the networking. Everyone I met was fantastic, open, happy, and a pleasure to meet. Not once did I hear griping about bad clients and/or experiences. I head about the rewards of being independent: freedom, variety, and a sustainable career.

I noticed that nearly everyone, about 200 introverts, were connecting and networking and it was darned near impossible for us to stop. I have 3 pages of to-dos and so many business cards, my mind is spinning with what to do next. But most of all, I’m excited.

I was truly inspired and informed and my new goal is to change my “i” from “in-house” to “independent.” I gotta admit, I’m nervous about this change. I’ve given myself until next year’s CFC to achieve my goal. I’ve got a CFC “buddy” in my fellow Ohioan as well as the small “tribe” I’m building to keep me on track and to cheer me on to success. I have the determination and skill. Now I just need the clients…

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