Unless you’ve been to a previous Creative Freelancer Conference, you might not know of Luke Mysse (though Luke certainly made the rounds speaking at other design events in 2010). But he’s a guy you should meet in Boston—use your Big Ticket pass to catch his CFC session.
Like so many of the speakers we’ve recruited for 2012, Luke is not just a talented creative pro. He’s incredibly open and generous in sharing what he’s learned from success and failure. For a guy who runs the solo creative practice Crossgrain, with all the work that entails, Luke lives an enviably balanced life, with ample time in his day for his family (he and his wife have two sons, ages 7 and 3) and for his other passion: cycling. Luke and I spent some time via iChat this week, and we talked about surrounding yourself with people you value—people you hope to never disappoint—and about finding space in your life to let ideas percolate.
First, Luke, tell us a little bit about what you’re up to now. What work is keeping you busy these days?
Last year was interesting—there was a lot of distraction. I was speaking a lot, and riding a lot. I had an opportunity to go work full-time for a non-profit group, but that’s been slow to develop. So it’s come full-circle: They’ll be a client on a more significant level, and now I’m working to build my client base again.
How is it that you wound up speaking so much last year?
All of it was by invitation; I didn’t go after any of it. I think I have some natural ability as a speaker, mostly because I’m so open about sharing things that I’ve struggled with. Some of the gigs I had last year came from people who’d seen me speak and invited me. This year, I’m pursuing more local stuff, also as a way to meet clients.
My board asked me in our meeting at the beginning of the year what my dream job is, and I told them it would be riding and speaking.
You’re an avid cyclist, and you devote serious time to it. There’s a physical component to it—health, fitness—but what’s the mental payoff? How does that time on the bike fuel your creative work?
My creative process has four parts—the gathering of information, the brainstorm ideas where anything goes, the execution of those ideas, and then the final touch-up of the ideas before I present them to the client. That’s a fairly typical creative process.
But what I’ve found is that the heavy lifting comes in the in-between space. It’s why people have ideas while they’re driving, or in the shower. I don’t know what’s going on physiologically, but I know that something happens during those downtimes that allows your creative mind to do the heavy lifting so that when you sit down to do the work, the ideas have already fleshed themselves out.
Cycling is a repetitive type of motion—I can let my brain go. It’s helped my creativity immensely, to the point where I don’t know how I did this job before I started riding. I don’t think my stuff was as smart as it is now. A lot of is that gap time. I find myself pulling over to the side of the road constantly, getting my iPhone out to record a voice memo about something.
It’s that downtime that you can’t really quantify because you look at it and think, ‘Wow, I just wasted two hours this morning.’ But somehow when I sit down to do the work it flows better.
You mentioned your advisory group—I’ve heard you speak at length about how you value them. And this is something you have in common with Justin Ahrens, who was the HOW speaker in our spotlight two weeks ago. How do you work with your advisors?
I had a mentor that I spent a lot of time with—he was the interim CFO at a client—he has this amazing way of calling you on your stuff, but in an encouraging, gentle way. He and I had conversations years ago when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. He said, ‘You’re trying to walk alone; you need someone to encourage you.’ He suggested that we put together a board. It’s always been a mix of people—and it went beyond business stuff.
It’s typically four people, and I’ve had a few people rotate out. We have quarterly meetings. I like to have business guys on the board—I don’t need to talk about design, I need to talk about business. We look at everything: sales, financials … I’ve cried in those meetings. They believe in me and what I’m doing. I just have to say thank you to them.
I recall your first presentation at the Creative Freelancer Conference: Your rabble-rousing talk about setting real boundaries with clients had a lot of people thinking, “Yeah, right. I wish I could do that.” But you’re very serious about setting boundaries and keeping balance. What’s your secret?
It starts with being intentional about finding good people to work with. That’s step 1, and that’s why you have to market yourself. If you want to grow, you have to market yourself, but you also have to market yourself if you want to be selective about your clients. And No. 2 is that you have to be willing to sacrifice. So sometimes that means you’re not making as much money, but you have a holistic view of your life. You make choices. People have more choices than they realize.
I’m taking it a step further: I’m actually networking in my cycling groups to find more clients who ride. It’s easy to set boundaries with people you share values with.
For me, and it may be different for other people, if I don’t like the person I’m working with, my creativity is not there. It’s not that it suffers or that it’s harder—it’s not there. It might be selfish, but it’s also beneficial to the clients that I like working with.
It’s funny to say this, but my niche is people that I like. From there, I’m focusing my marketing efforts in certain channels.
Your session in Boston is all about growth—whatever that may mean to different people. What has growth been like for you?
I’m going to talk about the different business models that creatives take, because I’ve taken all of them:
- I’ve been a hired gun for another agency
- I’ve had employees
- Now I have a virtual team
The idea is that you have to find what you want, you have to define growth for you. It has to be sustainable for you long-term on a health and family level.
I know that I’m never going to make a million dollars, and I’m never going to run a big company. But my kids will tell a story some day that their daddy changed the world.
Curious about how to grow your creative business in a way that’s purposeful and right for you? Catch Luke’s presentation on Options for Growth at this year’s Creative Freelancer Conference. And if you’re not a freelancer, be sure to register for the Big Ticket, which gives you access to ANY HOW Design Live session you want!