I’m Not That Kind of Girl: Manage Perceptions To Do The Work You Love

Let’s begin with the premise that design, illustration and photography are service professions, and that being a professional means you’re in business. You’re making a living by doing something that you (hopefully) love to do, which ultimately helps a business or organization do what it does. The fact that you love your work does not make you any less a professional or your creative practice any less a business.

We operate best in our sweet spot – that which we love and do best because we are naturally bent to it or made for it. We each know our own bent, and look to others — even our clients — to support rather than hinder us in our endeavor.

The fact that you love your work does not make you any less a professional
or your creative practice any less a business.

If you’re a solo creative, how your clients understand your role in their success is important to your success. As a soloist, it’s easy to blur the boundaries when your client asks you to assist or produce in a way that doesn’t fit. We’ll often accept these odd requests to help out the client. This seems to be a nice thing to do, but accepting opens the door to wrong perceptions and distractions.

Define your role 

My clients’ perceptions of my role need to be constantly adjusted if I’m going to do what I do best. This necessitates that my role is clearly defined — by me. It’s the same idea as if I were a pilot or when I drive. I can’t hold the steering wheel or the controls exactly steady. I have to constantly adjust for wind, bumps in the road, and the fact that no course is ever s0 perfect that no correction is needed. Having your roles and values defined gives you the basis for those necessary adjustments.

Why is this important? The problem of being defined as other than what we are comes about when we function in ways that don’t align with our values, definitions and services offered. I’ve been referred to by clients as an IT person, a publicist, a marketing consultant, a printer, and a developer. I’ve been asked to salvage files from a crashed hard drive and to set up Outlook on a client’s laptop. But I’m not that kind of girl. These things are not what I do. They are distractions from my creative work.

In our own eyes, our roles may appear well-defined. When we cross our own lines of demarcation, the lines begin to blur, the client is confused and gets the wrong idea. Or, it could be that they just come with a wrong idea of what a designer does. Either way, correction is necessary. If we allow others to define our work based on their convenience or expectations, we’ll find ourselves expected to provide and perform in ways we can’t or don’t want to. This problem occurs often with creative soloists, but businesses and organizations can also experience it.

 

If you’re not basing your business operations on a set of values,
you will encounter problems in managing your brand.

 

How do we manage perceptions and expectations?  We begin by defining our roles and underlying values. Here are a few of my values. They’re based on my personal paradigms: respect, self-determination and creative excellence:

  • Don’t work without a written contract. Contracts have a tendency to weed out clients you don’t want to work with and help avoid misunderstandings during the development process.
  • Take a weekly sabbath day for reflection, rest and relaxation. Time away from work makes you more effective at work.
  • Don’t schedule appointments and errands during times of peak creativity. This requires you to know when you’re at your best each day.
  • Communicate regularly and consistently with the client. This builds trust and relationship.
  • Always do my best work. Any project worth accepting and being paid for is worth my performing to the best of my ability.

When we determine what roles we play, we won’t accept every prospective client, every project offered, or perform outside our sweet spot. We will ensure that others perceive us correctly, get the work we want and the clients we want to work with.

 

Your turn: Have you been asked to perform work that is not on your menu of services? If you obliged, how did the client’s understanding of your role change as a result?

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