HOW Design Live: Ilise Benun Spotlights the Creative Freelancer Business Conference

Ilise Benun co-founded HOW’s Creative Freelancer Conference (with Peleg Top) in 2008, and she continues to bring her smart marketing perspective and keen eye for the challenges of working freelance as the event’s program director.

The Mind Behind HOW Design Live’s CFBC

We couldn’t imagine a better partner in programming the event, because Ilise is a freelancer herself, working as a marketing and business consultant to creative pros, shepherding the Creative Freelancer Blog and working with the Freelancers Union to develop educational programming.

HOW Design Live CFBC

We recently caught up with Ilise to ask her what she’s seeing in the market and how that’s shaping the Creative Freelancer Business Conference for 2014.

First, tell us what you’re working on now (besides the CFBC program) that you’re excited about.

Half of my time is spent on Skype and consulting with creative freelancers and professionals on building their businesses—everything from marketing, to pricing, to proposals, to figuring out target markets. So many people have come to me saying, ‘I’ve lost a big client, they’ve taken the work in-house and I need help.’ More and more, everyone has to be thinking about the next phase of their life and work—they don’t just automatically keep going. That kind of reinvention is what I’m helping people with.

I’m also working with the Freelancers Union as a program developer; we’re focused on how to live a successful freelance life, both work and life. In fact, I hope that Sara Horowitz, the president of the Freelancers Union, will be at the conference to answer the questions: ‘What is the world of freelancing like? How do you make a successful life as a freelancer?’

The third pillar is the Marketing Mentor store, where we’re developing and selling products like a 2014 Marketing Calendar and other tools.

This is the 7th annual HOW conference for creative freelancers and business professionals. Looking back, what inspired the idea for the conference in the first place?

There needed to be an affordable conference for freelancers, something specifically focused on the business of freelancing. In 2008, a lot of people were laid off. So they needed to figure out how to make it on their own.

CFC2013 at HOW Design Live

How has the conference program evolved over the years, with different topics and different attendees—as a reflection of how freelancing has evolved over the years?

The basics are kind of the same, but now there’s more advanced material for people who aren’t newbies. And in fact, the majority of attendees are not new freelancers. They’re people who realize, suddenly, ‘I have to take this seriously because this is the only option for me now.’

That level of seriousness has evolved in both the attitude of the attendees and the depth of the material. Over the last two years, we’ve heard from attendees that they want to learn from each other. There are fewer “experts” and more freelancers on the program, so the material has come closer to real life.

Why is that peer-to-peer learning so important for this group?

They’re unsure of whether or not they can actually do this, and they need to hear from and see models of people who are doing it. It inspires them it reassures them and it gives them confidence. Because otherwise they’re alone in their home office.

Looking ahead to 2014, what’s new for the program? For folks who’ve attended before, what will they find that’s new and different?

The program is always evolving. I see the commoditization of design and writing and photography and other creative services. And the only way to survive in this constantly degrading environment is to position yourself as a strategic partner who understands the big picture, and not just as a pair of hands.

So all of these topics are spokes on the wheel that will get you going to survive in the future. Anyone can take a marketing webinar, but that’s not what CFC is. It’s about investing in your value so you can position yourself as more valuable to your clients.

We’ve invited almost all new speakers. As much as there are favorite speakers, I felt we needed to hear new perspectives. The business information that I’m trying to deliver isn’t just about how a freelancer runs her business—it’s also about business in general and how business works.

For example, Dana Manciagli will talk from her experience in the corporate world about what happens when they receive your proposal. And Douglas Davis will be talking about marketing, about what your clients are doing and how you can help them. And Alina Wheeler, who’s never spoken at CFC, is talking about Reinvention 101: how you should always be looking ahead and thinking about, ‘what’s the next chapter?’

You’ve heard from past attendees that the information they’ve learned at the Creative Freelancer Business Conference has made a huge impact on their work. Can you share a few of those success stories?

Sure. One freelance writer talked about how the conference has created relationships and developed the confidence he needed to grow his business—and in fact, he cited this year’s CFC as the tipping point he needed to pay off the last of his debt. Another creative told me he landed a 2-year contract with a dream client after he gained the inspiration he needed to focus his business at CFC this year. (See more success stories from the Creative Freelancer Business Conference.)

If you were to choose one word that would describe an attendee’s state of mind at the end of the conference, what would it be?

Energized—with a hint of inspired.

Learn more about the program of outstanding speakers that Ilise has developed for the 2014 Creative Freelancer Business Conference. Register for HOW Design Live before February 11 and save $300 off the price of a Big Ticket.

Can’t wait til May to get your that creative tune-up? Today and tomorrow only (December 10 and 11) register for the The Creative Tune-Up for Designers course for half the price! Who wouldn’t want to get $120 worth of inspiration for $59.99? Classes begin December 16, so sign up today.