3 Big Ideas from CFC

Just before the first breakout session on Friday morning at the Creative Freelancer Conference, I sat down at a table next to Ilise and together we marveled at how great the first day had been. As we talked, I pulled out my trusty bright-green ultrafine Sharpie and made these notes in my Finch Papers notebook:


  • have an inner circle/group of advisors
  • help clients see the big picture
  • be curious

As conference planners, we don’t impose an agenda on CFC speakers—and it’s always a wonder when, without our prodding, a theme or big idea emerges and weaves itself throughout the different presentations. I was interested that several presenters and panelists had touched on the ideas that I noted.

Here’s what I took away from CFC along those lines:

  1. Be with people who are smarter than you are. Luke Mysse has created a carefully chosen advisory board with whom he meets regularly. These advisors aren’t all designers; rather, they’re just smart people whose business success Mysse hopes to emulate. Steve Gordon, too, talked about having a network of people he can rely on. As I’m just starting out as an independent journalist and writer, I don’t feel ready to have a formal advisory group. But I am consciously building a network of smart people I need to stay connected with and learn from, even informally. Like Ilise and Dyana Valentine, and Alisa Bonsignore, who has a lot of this stuff figured out, far as I can tell. Whether you set up monthly meetings to share your financials and get marketing guidance, or you simply pick up the phone and talk with people, make it a point to learn from people who are smarter than you are.
  2. Be a partner to your clients. Mysse talked about this a lot, as did Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger of Motto Agency during their Thursday evening panel. Don’t just crank out the logo the client asks for; get deeper into their business and help craft a communication strategy. Develop a brand. Solve their problems. Help them see the big picture—because, as Motto’s clients, the CocoTherapy ladies, shared, small-business owners are way too deep in the day-to-day to look outward. That’s where we creative pros come in.
  3. Be curious. Explore, see, be in the world. Dedicate a set amount of time in your week for unconstructed research. Follow trails on the web to new inspiration. Get out of your office. Case in point: Rob and I collect vintage posters, and we’re interested in Cincinnati’s history as a hotbed of lithographic printing in the late 1800s and early 1900s. So we went to an exhibit of circus posters printed by Cincinnati’s Strobridge Lithographing Company at the art museum. But what caught my attention in a completely unexpected way was the larger-than-life copywriting on these posters: Exceptional, exclamatory feats of magnificent marketing mass-communication!

What did you take away from the Creative Freelancer Conference? Please share your comments here!

One thought on “3 Big Ideas from CFC

  1. Alisa Bonsignore

    I’ve figured stuff out? Wahoo! My work here is done!

    In all seriousness, CFC is about people, people and more people. Sure, that’s true of any conference, but at my academic conferences (tech writers, medical writers, healthcare communicators) there’s socializing and business talk but not collaboration. I don’t come out of any of the other conferences wondering how and when I can find ways to work with/for/near those people. After CFC, people email me to ask me to join their Overnight Website Challenge team in a city 1,800 miles away, or write blog posts that call something I said “effing brilliant.” I mean, how awesome is that? Clients don’t give that kind of love, I tell ya!

    But that’s the trick, isn’t it? You need to find that group of advisors — formal or informal, big or small — who can kick you in the butt and get you going when you need it, or give you the ego boost that makes you feel invincible. And don’t get wrapped up in the “smarter than you” thing. ANY perspective that is different from your own, that gets you out of your own brain, is valuable. As a teacher once told me, “Sometimes I learn more from my students than they learn from me. Life is full of give and take.” The older I get, the more I see the truth in his words.