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  • Writer's pictureMark

From Vulnerability to Master of My Domain

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

Allow me tell you a little bit about myself. I consider myself to be a curious introvert, which seems to fit with my design and creative DNA. I'm quiet, love working alone with my headphones on listening to music and my curiosity and willingness to learn is unceasing. I don't care how old I get or how much experience I have (or think I have), I'm finding there are always new things to learn about running a business, ways to design, or just life hacks. I have absolutely zero pride about admitting I may not know something and going out and learning it.

And that's exactly what I'm doing now that I have my own business.

While working over 25 years in the corporate design world, within in-house and agency environments, from a newbie designer in the beginning, to various levels of art and creative director and management roles. During that time, my employers always took care of the health insurance, and buying supplies and equipment when needed, and Human Resources. Oh, and paying the bills. And marketing to get clients! I've discovered just how much I've taken for granted with so many aspects of a business.

Being bald, I'm not shy about wearing lots of cool and different hats, but this is ridiculous! ;)

And, now, I've taken the bold leap to finally go after my dream and start my own humble branding studio. I said as much back in 1984. I'm on the far right.

I'm not afraid to admit that all of this is just a bit scary. I've enjoyed all of my past jobs and a little bit of each one, and the people I've worked with over the years, have made me into the confident person and creative I am now.

But today, I'm feeling vulnerable. Sometimes alone. But it's also made me bold and excited. Apparently, not everyone feels as compelled as I do to keep me busy! So, while I'm extremely passionate about what I can offer for businesses, startups and investors, the official OPEN FOR BUSINESS sign definitely was not a magical spigot to automatically bring in branding work. Here are some of the things I never knew (or had to worry about) before starting my own business:

  • Imposter syndrome. I'll admit it, since starting my own business my confidence has taken some hits. Here I thought my experience and abilities and creativity would transition to getting clients automatically because I never had any problems getting freelance design work. But the more I delved into marketing myself on social media, the more I saw how other solopreneurs were doing it, and how successful they were at it. It felt like I was nowhere near where they are, even though they've been doing it for years. Designing in a corporate environment, or being a manager and learning to delegate the work or teaching others didn't always allow me to work on killer portfolio-worthy work for long seasons at a time. Or bread and butter collateral isn't the most exciting thing to show off to the world that I really want to design logos. So while I waited for the consistency of new clients, I was left with unwanted time on my hands, wondering if I was good enough, letting my insecurities and imposter syndrome slowly creep in like a fog in a Stephen King novel:

    • Was I really just a no-talent fraud?

    • Was my website not showing the right things to convince potential clients I could do what they needed?

    • Did I make the right decision to go off on my own, and give up and go back to an office?

    • Will people respect the life/work boundaries I wanted?

    • Are my prices too high and should I slash them?

    • How is that branding designer able to get so many clients? Apparently, I'm not alone feeling like this. It's estimated that up to 70% of creatives have fallen victim to imposter syndrome. I also learned by reaching out to these other brand designers, that they also experience the same struggles and slow seasons.

  • Perfectionism. The natural spinoff of imposter syndrome. Because I felt like I was "behind" or not good enough, there was no room for errors. I had to back up all my years of expertise with flawless examples of my work. And, as we all know, being perfect is impossible, but we attempt it anyway. Every pixel, color, angle, and concept had to be virtually finished before showing anybody just the first step in the process of many steps to achieve strategically sound results. Little things that should take only a little time because I really know what I'm doing suddenly become staggering, agonizing behemoth chores because of the need to make up for whatever I thought I was lacking. Doubt would sneer at me from an imaginary place in my head every time I thought I could be at a stopping point and present to a client. The problem that is inherent with design, art and anything creative, is that it is very subjective. What your gut tells you is the perfect brand solution because of your education, work, experience and trial and error, gets a "meh" from the client. The anxiety begins to rumble. You start to doubt everything that brought you here, and what you are passionate about and enjoy so much now becomes a thorn in your side you can't shake. Nothing is perfect. And no amount of pretending I am perfect will convince anyone that I am. The sooner we can all embrace this concept, it will no longer rob us of time, unnecessary changes and edits, and most importantly, the joy. I remember being told by an old girlfriend that my "vulnerability" was what attracted her to me. Among other things, of course. That was so empowering and something I need to remember even today in the professional world. We already embrace less-than-perfection all around us and might not realize it. There are grungy and scratchy photo filters we apply to otherwise pristine pictures we take and post on social media. Jeans with tears and holes in them are acceptable fashion statements. Unkempt hair (and baldness!) and unshaven faces are a celebrity style. Getting clarification in a meeting because you don't understand a bullet point requires admitting you might not know everything already. But you know what my imperfection really is? Authenticity. It's human, my work, and my style and Period. Deal with it.

I am by no means able to say that I have slain this annoying two-headed beast permanently. It still raises its ugliness at times, but they are a bit more toothless. What have I done to overcome these troublesome nuisances?

  • I've learned to tell myself it's OKAY. Sometimes, good enough is enough, let it go. I'm my biggest critic and when clients say they love it, I need to learn to accept that! I used to find myself offering even more designs and saying, "Oh, but you should see what else I came up with today!"

  • I'm trying to be comfortable outside my comfort zone. I'm being more bold and brave. I'm more confident with my solutions and because I use the One Concept method, I feel comfortable with the strategy we've worked together to achieve, and my rationale backs it up and aligns with it. It's design, not the apocalypse.

  • My dream is to have my own branding business, and not anyone else's. I get to create my own style, my own prices, my own boundaries that I hope clients can appreciate, because they have families and lives too, so learning what that looks like for me and being vulnerable is part of that discovery. I get to experiment and try new things. Some will work, some won't, but at least I'm trying.

  • I can't be everything to everyone. Arriving at the solutions I do are because of my experiences that no one else has, and that is special. I'm not a cookie cutter branding specialist and you shouldn't want one. You want to stand out, be distinctive, not blend in. How I dress, how I cook, how I take time to do what I enjoy is all ME, take it or leave it. If that bothers a client, then they won't be a good fit anyway.

This will sound like a pithy, post-it-note platitude, but for other designers who might be experiencing this, understand you are good enough. You are enough. It's ok to say 'no' and not be a people pleaser. Don't say yes, if your insides are screaming NO. If you don't want to walk a tightrope over the Grand Canyon because everyone else does it, then don't do it. If you really like your design then LOVE it! It's OK! It's not the end of the world if a client doesn't see it like you do. You'll communicate why you arrived at a certain solution, make some adjustments and live to go forth and brand another day.

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