In this article, we’re going to tell you, in no uncertain terms, “DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!”, but we promise not to be cynical about it. We offer this advice because we understand that, for a lot of creative professionals, sometimes you’ve got to take that crumby day job in order to fund your broader aspirations.
Juggling the demands of your day job with your long term goals is an art in and of itself. It takes tenacity, some level of stubbornness, and a heck of a lot of faith. You certainly develop a kind of dual lifestyle, and for some, even a dual personality. This, too, has its rewards depending on how you let this weird dichotomy manifest itself in your art. Sometimes you find yourself working at the right place but under the wrong title. Sometimes, the title suits you, but the pay doesn’t match. Sometimes, it’s all wrong, and you literally feel like a stranger in the wrong house.
Many a brave soul have succumbed to the temptation to pack up their tent and throw in the towel when faced with this professional dilemma. To those of you out there on the brink of folding, we’re here to tell you that you’re not alone. Sure, things seem pretty rotten right now. You come home at night feeling pretty let down, uninspired. Your true calling feels light years away, and so you end up surfing Snapchat all night instead of dedicating time to your art. To those of you out there struggling with this sinking feeling, remember this: Holding a crappy day job is simply a means to an end. It’s a tough gig, but sticking it out has its rewards. In the words of the great Ringo Starr, “You’ve got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues. And you know it don’t come easy.”
We recently asked a group of successful creative professionals to share with us some of their own remarkable horror stories of doing time in a lousy day job while chasing big dreams at night. How low can you go, you ask? There’s no telling until you hit rock bottom. And so, for those of you out there currently stuck between a rock and a hard place [creatively speaking], we’d like to share with you three inspiring stories from the artistic trenches.
Andre Espinosa, Exhibitions Designer, Cincinnati, OH:
I design exhibitions for a well-known museum, and I’m pretty happy with my job these days. But it wasn’t always like that. I’ve worked at this museum for seven years, but I spent the first five years here slogging it as a security guard. It wasn’t my dream job, but I kept at it and worked hard, day and night. Eventually, I figured it would serve me well in my long-term goal to work in the Exhibitions Department. It was a long road, I was the low man on the totem pole, and I almost quit on a number of occasions. I bumped into an awful lot of trouble along the way and had my pride hurt, and my head chopped off on a number of occasions. But I never quit. I watched people get promoted ahead of me, but I just kept working. I watched them bring in people from the outside to fill positions instead of promoting from within. Ouch! Still I kept working. I even watched as they implemented some of my ideas around the museum without a single nod of acknowledgment. I was never bitter. I just kept working.
Perhaps my darkest hour happened on a lonely Sunday afternoon in December a couple years back. My nine-year-old daughter was performing in a local production of the Nutcracker and, try as I might, I just couldn’t get the day off. [That’s another story altogether. You’d put in a time off request and, like a game of roulette, hope for the best. Sometimes you’d win. Sometimes you’d lose. I suppose I could’ve called in sick, but, remember, I had big aspirations. I was no deadbeat. I wouldn’t call in sick unless I WAS sick. It’s just not how I’m built.]
There was only one thing left for me to do, short of quitting, and that was to request early dismissal that afternoon. Early dismissal was an honest alternative, and harmless enough. It happened during the changing of the guard, between the first and second shifts, and only if the museum was dead quiet. Well, it was late in the afternoon on a Sunday in early December, and the museum was completely abandoned. You could hear a pin drop. I thought I was a shoo-in to head home early. But still, I was denied. So, with no other option available, I went to the floor supervisor and put in my request. I beseeched, petitioned, pleaded, and practically begged him. But he wouldn’t budge. I felt betrayed.
I was eventually set free that day after a hair-raising stand-off between myself and the powers that be. I made it to my daughter’s recital by the skin of teeth. But the damage had been done. The next day I was called into my boss’s office and reprimanded. I was treated like a real troublemaker. It stung, but I held my tongue and took the beating, trying to toughen up for better days that surely lay ahead. After all, I figured, it couldn’t get much worse.
Time passed, and I weathered many a storm with the goons in charge. In fact, I survived one manager after another, supervisor after supervisor – even a complete shake up from top to bottom within the organization. I guess I just outlived them all.
Eventually, a position would open up in the Exhibition Department for an Exhibition Designer. I jumped on it and got the job. It’s all good now. I’m doing what I love, and I’ve got most weekends off too. I hung in there. It was bleak, it was humiliating, and I almost gave up. But, today, I’m glad I didn’t.
Shirley Matusak, Graphic Designer/Poster Artist/Punk Rocker, Rochester, NY:
I took a job as a junior Sales rep at a big corporation, selling software to car dealerships. It was a lot of cold calling, fact finding. Lotta hangs ups. Pretty grueling stuff. Hours were 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. On the job, I was buttoned down, conservative. I never betrayed a thing about my secret artistic life, or at least that’s what I thought. On the clock, I felt like a different person. Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror in the bathroom, and I didn’t even recognize myself. But as soon as five o’clock rolled around, I’d transform into a bold, prowling punker. I sang lead in a local band, The Sh*ts. We gigged around town on the regular. It was great. My day job bankrolled the whole thing. I’m grateful for that.
The fact that I had to keep my true self under wraps, that was challenging. It started to feel like a Jekyll & Hyde routine. Juggling these two personalities would eventually take too much effort, and teach me a very valuable life lesson. The more attention I gave to my art, the less I could give to succeeding at my day job. I had to strike a balance, and, when the time was right, strike out on my own and pursue my dreams.
It all came to a head one year when after the Christmas holiday I came back into the office and discovered that my entire department had flown to Orlando for the annual Sales & Marketing retreat. I was told to answer the phones until everyone got back. That hurt like hell. I hadn’t been invited to the party. I felt like a loser.
The chips were down, and I was tempted to quit. But thank God I didn’t. I needed that job to finance my art, to keep me sane, more so than I needed a trip to Orlando, watching clips of Braveheart, doing “breakout” sessions” with a bunch of ex-football players in pleated pants and Brylcreem. The whole experience taught me that the only one you can trust in life, no matter what your path, is yourself. I was an oddball, and no level of covering up my true self during the day was gonna work. The artist inside me needed to show through, and, eventually did, in spite of myself. I was an outcast by nature, and it was time to come to terms with that.
I eventually left that place altogether and said good riddance to those squares. The coast is clear. My true self is now allowed to come out and show itself, day and night. I still sing in bands, but I now work for an advertising agency as a designer, and I also make my living designing gig posters professionally. My clients are mainly people I met while leading the dual life of a junior sales rep/corporate lackey by day, and punk rocker by night. That job forced me to fight for what I love, to have faith in what I believe in, and to appreciate the true person lurking beneath the phony exterior of a lousy day job. I’m glad I didn’t give up.
Maintaining a dual lifestyle wears you down. If you’re not true to yourself, eventually you’re going to crash, one way or another. But if you remain true to your dreams, no matter what life throws your way, your true self will eventually make its big debut. Be true to you.
Brad Castille, Marketing Director/Web Entrepreneur, New York, NY:
I worked for five years at a local nonprofit as an Administrative Assistant to the Marketing Department. My hope was that I would eventually move up within the ranks.
This particular organization was known for holding high profile events, and these events offered a great opportunity for employees to prove themselves. Lots of media and celebrities were always in attendance. But never one to be star struck, I could usually be found on my feet working the night away. I kept things very professional and never got distracted by all the glitz and glamor. But one year, my professionalism was questioned, and I nearly cracked under the pressure.
It all happened during one particular fundraiser when we hired an outside PR firm to help manage the often delicate world of media relations that surround these kinds of events. The PR firm sent a group of mostly young, college-aged girls, and I was partnered with them for the evening. Everything seemed to go down without a hitch. We spent the entire event hustling between the press box and backstage, seating guests, playing gopher to whoever needed a hand, you name it. Everyone worked tirelessly and gave one hundred and ten percent. No star gazing. No partying. We kept our noses to the grindstone.
But come Monday my boss called me into his office. He said that one of the undercover police officers who had also been assigned to help with security that night had reported that I (or someone closely matching my profile) had been spotted bringing “girls” out onto the floor during the event, and spending much of my time “entertaining” these girls. I informed my boss that these “girls” were in fact members of the PR staff that we had hired that night, and everything was strictly business. After a lengthy interrogation, I was let out of his office. A number of the regular staff vouched for me and even went on the record to say how well I’d done that night. But something fundamental between my boss and I had been breached, and we never fully recovered one another’s trust. It sucked.
I weathered this storm, and eventually found my way out of this situation altogether. Most of my off hours are spent these days focusing on my lifestyle/ecommerce website which I launched thanks to money from my day job. I still hold a day job, too, working as the Marketing Director for a well respected creative firm where I enjoy the trust and support of my coworkers and my boss. It’s a charmed life, and sometimes you just never know how things are going to turn out.
So there you have it, folks. What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. Never giving up, and not giving in, only serves to sharpen your creative edge. Hang in there!
The Eccentric’s Guide to Cold Calling in 5 Simple Steps….
Last month we discussed the oft forgotten virtues of peddling your wares door to door, a daunting enough task to be sure. In this installment we’ll explore the redheaded stepchild of marketing, the black sheep of self promotion, the dreaded cold [phone] call. They don’t call it the COLD call for nothing either. It’s true. Everybody dreads it. You do. They do. I do (And I love to “BS” with people).
There’s something about the process that feels unnatural for both persons on either end of the line. It’s cold, indeed. Cold enough to give both the caller and the person being called the shivers. It’s the Mt. Everest of sales tactics. You could be the most outgoing, confident person in the world, but picking up that phone and finding the strength to dial that number takes some doing. Here at Go Media, Cleveland’s premier Design firm, we believe in you. Your will is strong, and you’ve already got the know-how. You just need some motivation. So here we go…follow our lead.
Today we’re going to add warmth and personality to the cold call process in 5 simple steps. We’ll debunk some of the mysteries behind it, get the skunk on the table, look it in the face, and overcome our fears together to help you get your foot in the door and grow your business.
Fear is the optimum word here, people. More specifically, fear of rejection. It’s at the core of our collective dislike over cold calling. That, and it just seems unnatural. No one likes to have their day interrupted with a phone call from someone they hardly know. Being the person who has to make that call can be intimidating. If you’re like me and you hate being solicited, then you’re going to hate being the solicitor. You’re bound to feel some bit of self loathing, maybe even self hatred. To this I say, resist the temptation. Keep your chin up. You’ve got something valuable to share. And, besides, it has to be done. You can hide behind a smokescreen of emails forever. But pretty soon you’ll find that your business is suffering. There’s always room for some good old fashioned one-on-one conversation with people to perk things up a bit. We’re only human after all. It’s okay to feel some trepidation with the process. But it’s that personal touch (the very humanity of it all, if you will) that makes it such a reliable form of communication.
Step 1: It’s all about overcoming objections. Cold calling is a contact sport. You’re going to run into a lot of resistance. Just remember that you’re not a shyster, and you’ve got something important to offer.
Q: How does one overcome objections?
A: With confidence.
Q: How does one gain confidence?
A: Well, you either got it, or you don’t.
But if you’ve got it, and it’s hiding under a level of uncertainty, then do your homework. Learn as much about the company you are attempting to reach before you make that call. Seek to understand what it is that the company does. Get to know them inside and out. Identify possible needs that they may have, and fill in the gaps with the value that you bring to the table. This will help build confidence. And nothing thwarts resistance more than exhibiting confidence.
Step 2: Develop a personal approach. Conversation is an artform. You can talk AT people, past people, or wait until the other person is done talking, so that you can begin talking too. None of this makes for good conversation. Be prepared to let people speak. Learn to savour the silences and pauses in a conversation. They’re gifts. In a world full of noise and distraction, it’s nice to let things fall naturally. Resist the temptation to fill the gaps, and don’t worry if the person on the other line is about to interrupt you or dump you down the booby hatch. Throw caution to the wind. You’re not a snake oil salesman. You’ve done your homework. You understand their business, and you’ve identified a need. Share it, naturally. And, by all means, let the other person have the last word.
[Note: Here’s an extra bit of oddball advice for further instruction…Check out some old Youtube videos of the great talk show hosts, like Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, or Tom Snyder. This may sound highly unorthodox, and it may even strike you as being a bit silly. But, fact is, these were three of the world’s’ greatest conversationalists, able to naturally shift gears and effortlessly follow the rhythm of any conversation with just about anyone. And how did they achieve this? By being genuinely curious about other people. So open your mind. Get over yourself. And get ready to do more than just talk. Get ready to listen, learn, and share. Before you know it, you too have become a brilliant conversationalist.]
Step 3: The yogic approach. No kidding. One of the biggest hurdles to the cold call is physical tension and nervousness. Nothing calms the nerves more than simple breathing. And nothing jumpstarts breathing more than a little physical activity. Try doing some stretches before you call, some forward bends. Get the blood flowing, and let it rush to your head. If if helps, and you have the mobility, get up from your chair, and walk while you talk. It’s more natural than sitting at a desk with a phone glued to your ear.
Step 4: Get passed the gatekeepers. You will encounter them over the phone. Some of them are downright suspicious of everybody. Most of them, however, are ordinary people just doing their job. Don’t be discouraged. And, for goodness sake, don’t be rude. Talk to them the way you yourself would like to be talked to. Show them the same courtesy you would to the receptionist at your dentist’s office. Chances are they’ll warm up to you.
Come clean with you you are and why you’re calling. You’re seeking a moment of someone else’s time. Be up front about it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The gatekeepers are trained to sniff out the sneaky ones. Don’t be sneaky. And most importantly, always remember, before they connect you, to ask for the direct extension of the person you are trying to reach. That way, next time you call in, you can bypass the gatekeeper entirely. Unless of course you hit off. If so, more power to you.
Step 5: So you’ve had a nice brief chat with the gatekeeper/receptionist, and it has been determined that you do not pose any imminent threat of wasting anyone’s time. Congratulations. The finer attributes of your personality have really shown through. “I’ll connect you now,” says the receptionist. And just like that, you’re in.
That went well. Before you know it, you’re on the air. And it’s not a voicemail, but an actual person you’re speaking with. Remember to pace yourself. Your cold call is getting warmer. Speak in a manner that reassures the person on the other end of the line that you’re not a kook. Tell them upfront, right out of the gate, who you are, why you’re calling, and ask them if now is a good time to talk. Regardless of their response, this is your cue to provide a little bit more detail behind who you are and the purpose of your call. The person on the other end of the line is listening. You’ve got their attention. Deliver a short pitch, ask a question or two about their business, and settle in for the conversation.
At this point the conversation could go just about anywhere. If they insist on speaking with you at another time, accept it. Be prepared to offer a specific alternate date & time to follow up with them. In the meantime, offer to send them more information on your business. This will illuminate your next conversation.
So there you have it. You’ve cleared the biggest hurdle in the process – finding the motivation to pick up the phone, get passed the gatekeeper, make that personal connection, and establish familiarity with your clients. The rest is up to you. Good luck.
Peddling Your Design Services the old fashioned way in 6 simple steps…
There are a million different ways to market your design services nowadays, and countless tools to connect with potential clients. Thanks to the advent of technology, the conquest of the internet, and the proliferation of the social network, connecting with people across multiple boundaries, real or imagined, is just a hashtag away. Sure, the search for new markets can often feel like a search for life on other planets. But in the celestial spheres of business, niche markets be damned. The possibilities are endless. The potential for new business, boundless. The ability for an enterprising young designer to plot a course through the far corners of the galaxy, and penetrate sectors of the marketplace once deemed too remote, have become a heck of alot easier. Sadly, however, much of this technology has rendered our communications with one another soulless.
You can email, tweet, instagram, WHATEVER your clients to death. But, sometimes, nothing moves the needle more than simple, honest-to-goodness human interaction.
And so, today, we re-examine the importance of connecting with clients through the lost art of the dreaded cold call.
Part One: Going door to door. It’s a necessary approach to doing business that can solicit dread among even the most ambitious among us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The following is a kind of instruction manual designed to help you overcome the dread, find the joy, embrace the challenge, and master the art of the cold call in six simple steps:
- Determine a need in the Marketplace. Identify your Target Market
Maybe you’ve already done your homework and identified your target market. You’ve catered to them for years. Your loyalty is charming. But let’s face it, you can’t live in a bubble forever. It goes against the natural order of things. You run the risk of stagnating. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to expand into new territory and hunt for bigger game. Take stock of what it is that you do best. Then take a moment to think outside the box, step outside your bubble. Think of the most popular item in your portfolio, then do a complete 180, aesthetically speaking. Imagine your work being applied at opposite ends of the commercial spectrum. There are a lot of companies out there, for instance, whose brand and marketing collateral could use a re-boot, an upgrade. On the surface, it may appear that they are part of the “old economy”. Not as glamorous, true. But that’s beside the point. They have the means. They just lack strategy and guidance. Like treasure on a map, you can find them. Make it your business to educate them on the importance of getting their house in order.
- Strategize: Ground Game
After you’ve determined a need in the marketplace, a void that you can fill, get excited about it! In fact, get very excited! It’s okay. Thanks to this article, you’ve just accomplished – within the span of only a few short minutes – what a lot of designers have struggled their whole lives to figure out. And now you just can’t wait to get in touch with your new clients, and show them what you can do. Develop a ground game. Prepare a list of companies that meet your new target market criteria. Map these companies out in your area, and break them up into manageable, geographic segments, or territories. But be sensible. If you have an opportunity all the way on the other side of town, identify opportunities that surround it. Build your day around tackling them together. Identify key players within the organization, and, if it’s public record, gather the necessary phone numbers and email addresses of those individuals. Reach out. Provide a friendly heads up, and inform them that you’ll be in their area soon and you would appreciate a moment of their time to tell them about your design services. [*Note: we will explore the art of cold calling by phone in more detail in Part Two of this series.]
- Get all your ducks in a row. Gather your collateral.
Of course you don’t want to go out there empty handed. But don’t overdo it. Travel light. Keep your message lean. Don’t overwhelm potential clients with too much information. Distill your message down to a small sample of bite sized collateral describing your business, and put them in a sales folder with the usual suspects (and maybe even a few surprises): Business card (because it’s more than a calling card, it’s a badge of honor), a one page description of your services, a special “for your eyes only” promotion, exclusive to the recipient. And, by all means, be sure to include some swag from the office if you have it. But no junk. Make sure it’s useful. Something as simple as a pencil or pen with your company name & logo on it goes a long way in breaking the ice. It’s important to make clients feel like they’re getting something they can use for giving you the time of day. People appreciate it, and it makes for good conversation.
- Get scripted, but don’t tell anybody, sort of…
You may look good on paper, but it won’t mean a thing if you can’t speak with confidence to the value of your design services. No one appreciates a message more than when it comes from the horse’s mouth. Be the horse. Get scripted. Formalize your message into a brief set of talking points, but don’t sound so formal. Keep it simple. And avoid language that sounds too insulated, or trade specific. Think about what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to. Grab a thesaurus if you have to. Never mind the tricks of the trade, because people hate feeling like they’re being tricked. Clients want to hear about solutions. Respect your audience. You’ll earn their trust a whole lot faster.
- Pop in for a chat
And now the moment of truth, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Time to hit the streets. Get your map. Grab your collateral. Get in your car. Hop on your bike (they don’t call it peddling your wares for nothing). Whatever it takes. There’s gold in them there hills. Now go get it. And let your conscience be your guide if dropping by unannounced. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t like it if someone popped in on you and demanded time out of your busy schedule. Always go in with the courtesy of a deliveryman, but be prepared to have a conversation. Bare in mind, for every nine people that are just too busy to engage with you, there’s always that one individual with a genuine need, and a little time to spare to talk about your design services. Know when to split and when to stick around. Follow the performer’s maxim: always leave your audience wanting more. Deliver the script. Pass the collateral. Confirm a time when it’s appropriate to follow up, and move along.
- Follow up
It’s important to maintain regular communication with your new target market. After all, you’ve already invested a great deal of time and effort in them, and you’ve only just begun. Take heart. You’ve worked hard in the old school tradition. And now’s the time to take advantage of all that new school technology. Revisit your new target market regularly from the comforts of your office through inbound marketing, and other appropriate forms of communication available to you these days (email, LinkedIn, whatever works). And when going out again in search of other opportunities, be sure to leave room in your calendar to touch base again when you’re in the neighborhood. Just be sure to give advance notice. And, no matter what, always be willing to get on the horn and reach out with a simple phone call. You can’t beat the human touch.