The First Five Years: How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure

The First Five Years: How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure

Getting started in your creative career is tough. You’ve got boatloads of ambition and energy, but you lack experience, the kind of knowledge that feels like you can see into the future because you’ve been there before. So we’ve introduced a new column that will allow you to get the benefit of hindsight before you’ve actually gone through the experience. Welcome to “The First Five Years” where Mitch Goldstein, a professor of design at Rochester Institute of Technology, answers reader questions related to the uncharted waters of beginning a career. This month, Mitch answers a question about how to halt the negative cycle of comparing yourself to others.


Q. How do I stop feeling like a failure?

It’s long been said that failure is an important part of growth — a learning experience that is necessary for continuing to move forward with your practice. This is true, and as an educator I have to constantly make my students appreciate that without the insight of making bad work, they can never make great work. Failure can be valuable, but failure is not the goal, it is not something to strive for, it is not the point — it is merely a byproduct of trying new things, taking risks, and learning.

And that brings us to an important point: failure is useful, but feeling like a failure is not. In today’s world, feeling like a failure is incredibly easy; one of the worst parts of the internet in general and social media in particular is the accessibility of people you look up to. The people you admire online may be more established than you, and the ease of being on social media makes comparing your accomplishments to theirs almost effortless.

“Everybody — even the superstar — feels like an impostor at one time or another.”

Enjoy the connections the internet offers you, but don’t let them get in the way of your own development. You are you. You are not someone else, and one of the most destructive things you can do as a creative professional is to constantly compare your work to theirs, your accomplishments to theirs, and your recognition to theirs. Having heroes is fine, and paying attention to people you admire is healthy and can be a nice motivation or inspiration. Feeling miserable about yourself because you have not done the same things in the same way with the same popularity as your heroes is a toxic habit that you must try to stop. They all started somewhere, they have all had good projects and bad projects, they have all felt like failures and felt like successes — just like you.

And then, there is “impostor syndrome,” which is something else that has been exacerbated by the connectedness of the internet. I don’t think of impostor syndrome as a syndrome, I think of it as simply part of the human condition. Everybody — even the superstar — feels like an impostor at one time or another (and most people — including the superstar — feel like impostors often). This is not a bad thing, and leaning into the idea of approaching creative practice as an impostor can be beneficial — you are coming at something with fresh eyes, and may see things the seasoned “experts” might not.

Indeed, design is an abstract profession that mostly exists in the gray area of opinion and interpretation, rather than hard truths and simple facts.  Not knowing exactly what you are doing is a gift because there are no absolute “right” answers, and this is what makes design incredibly interesting. There is a reason why it’s called a “creative practice,” instead of a “creative know-exactly-how-to-do-it-perfectly.”

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Design Debate: Do Illustrators Need Agents?

Design Debate: Do Illustrators Need Agents?

In our newest design debate, Alva Skog, Erin Aniker and Yuko Shimizu explore whether it pays for an illustrator to hire an agent. Ready, set, debate.

1. Having an agent means that you can concentrate on what you do best.
Alva Skog, freelance illustrator

I was considering going freelance straight after university, but the prospect of doing everything on my own was scary. Towards the end of my last semester, I emailed a bunch of agencies with my portfolio and I was lucky that my current agent, Jelly, got back to me.

I had always found it difficult to price my work. Before having an agent, I was concerned that I didn’t know how much an illustration was worth, and I didn’t quite grasp licensing. There’s so many things that you have to think about when you price an illustration: Where is it going to get used? How long will it get used for? Now, my agent does all of that thinking for me.

When a client contacts me with a commission, I direct them straight to my agent. My agent talks to them, and makes sure that the budget matches my time and labor. They usually up the price too, which is something I always found difficult to do on my own. If it’s a big commission, my agent deals with all the client feedback—so I don’t need to stress about that side of things. My agent also writes up contracts, invoices for jobs, and then chases invoices to make sure I actually get paid. All of this means that I can concentrate on what I do best: illustrating.

“There’s no doubt about it: social media, and the growth of online and offline creative communities has allowed freelancers to promote themselves and get their work out there, which has changed the role of an agent.”

In addition to all the obvious admin pros of working with an agent, there are lots of things Jelly have done for me that I didn’t expect. They’ve been extremely supportive of the fact I’m a recent graduate; we talk a lot about what kinds of commissions I would like to do in the future, and how I can make that happen. For example, we’ve been working closely to shape and broaden my portfolio. When I signed, I mostly had portraits; now we’ve been getting together more cityscapes and large scenes filled with lots of people. Working with an agent gives you a support system to explore new ways of working.

An agent, of course, also brings in bigger clients. I’m currently working with Apple, and that came through Jelly. I wouldn’t have been able to handle a big project like what I’ve done for Apple on my own! It’s been extremely helpful to have someone guide me through the process.

2. You learn invaluable skills through representing yourself.
Erin Aniker, freelance illustrator

I’ve been acting as my own agent and it’s been working out pretty well for me. But…over time, the admin and invoice-chasing has ground me down a bit. The more clients I get, the more time consuming that side of things is becoming. If the right agent approached me and we were a good fit, I would definitely consider signing with them.

Sending out emails and updating spreadsheets is definitely not what first comes to mind when you first think about becoming an illustrator. But the reality is, it’s important to be multifaceted as a practitioner. What I’ve personally found is that I don’t necessarily need an agent to find clients. I actually really enjoy connecting with new people, networking, and meeting new art directors and editors. There’s so many aspects of being my own agent that I like and which are important skills to learn, such as communicating and marketing. I also keep 100% of all the profits from my work, since no one takes a cut.

“When it comes to pricing, I’ve been doing quite well on my own.”

I’m very active online and have a tight creative network. We’re incredibly supportive of one another: someone will often recommend me for a job, and I’ll recommend them. I have many mentors and peers that I can turn to for guidance, and I would say the information that I’ve established through them can be just as valuable as an agent’s. There’s no doubt about it: social media, and the growth of online and offline creative communities has allowed freelancers to promote themselves and get their work out there, which has changed the role of an agent. Despite all of this, I imagine working with an illustration agent can help you focus more on the drawing side of things.

When it comes to pricing, I’ve been doing quite well on my own. I’m half Turkish, half British, and my mom is the best haggler I know. From an early age, we’d go to Turkish markets together and I learned the art of haggling, which I’ve now applied to pricing my illustrations. So, until an agency that’s a good fit comes along, I’ll just continue doing what I’m doing!

3. “Don’t stress about getting an agent. Start out on your own, and see how it goes.”
Yuko Shimizu, freelance illustrator and educator at School of Visual Arts

I don’t recommend that anyone starting out in illustration get an agent straight away. It’s a myth that once you get an agent, your career will be set. It’s not true that an agent means everything’s going to be fine and jobs are going to be pouring in. The truth is that if your work is good, you’re going to get work. That’s the only way that things are going to happen.

A lot of my students are international, so they need to get a Visa to stay and work in the U.S. If they have an agent, their Visa gets sponsored, so often international students will get an agent right of school, which makes sense. What usually happens though, is then other students see their work everywhere, and they think the agent is getting their former classmate work. But in reality, the agent has only approached the student because they were already getting work.

“An agent is only necessary when you start doing big jobs, for instance ad work, which needs someone to help negotiate and organize.”

Getting an agent is like entering into a marriage—it’s a commitment. Its their business as well as yours, so they’re only going to work with you if you’re going to be bringing work to them. It’s best to spend the first years of your career gathering clients on your own and getting your name out there, because then you have something to bargain with when the right agent does come along. When I got an agent after around 7 years of working on my own, we agreed that they would only get a cut from new clients that they were bringing to me. If you’re just starting out, how can you make those kinds of negotiations? An agent is only necessary when you start doing big jobs, for instance ad work, which needs someone to help negotiate and organize.

One of the best ways to begin as an illustrator is to do editorial and book jobs, which allow you to experiment and produce a lot of work quickly. You don’t need an agent to get editorial jobs—you send around your portfolio, and once you start to work for certain magazines and newspapers, other art directors will see your stuff, and you get more work. If you then have an agent, and they take a 25-30% cut from the small budget, what’s the point? We live in New York and rent is high, you know?

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Collaborating on a Creative Project? Tips for Making It Work

Collaborating on a Creative Project? Tips for Making It Work

While creativity draws inspiration from many sources, the physical act of creating is often a solitary one. There’s a purity in wrestling a concept into words, or paint, or a photograph by oneself, without the competing influences of others.

But sometimes working alone is overrated. The best collaborations fuse two complementary skill sets and points of view to create something greater than the sum of its parts. When effective, a creative partnership can sustain and push you far beyond the point you would have reached on your own.

Isabel Lea, a UK-based designer, and Aaron Bernstein, a US-based photographer, have found this magic in each other. Both Adobe Creative Residents, the two met through the program last May. They hit it off immediately, and decided to collaborate on a project that combined their expertise and interests: language, in Lea’s case, and food in Bernstein’s. First conceived as a one-off series visualizing food idioms from around the world, the scope has since expanded to become an exploration of the relationship between language and food across a variety of visual mediums. (An initial series of images was published in December, with a second iteration, an editorial commission that explores a subset of English culture, to be released in late winter.)

For Lea and Bernstein, it’s been a validating, challenging, exhilarating process. Recently, the two sat down to interview one another about what goes into making a successful creative partnership. Below, insights from their conversation, including finding the right collaborator, working together across time zones, and why two can be better than one when it comes to breaking boundaries and taking risks.


Ask yourself, ‘Do I like, trust, and respect this person?’

Perhaps this goes without saying, but it’s important to like the person you are launching a creative endeavor with for the sole reason that you’ll be interacting with them a lot. “I talk to you more than I talk to anyone — like my mom,” Bernstein told Lea.

Trust and respect are just as important. Isabel and Bernstein are both intensively creative, but they come from different fields. “We respect the other one’s expertise,” Lea said. “I think sometimes it’s helpful to work with somebody who knows a little bit about what you do but can advise with a little bit of distance as well.”

“We can outwardly admit to each other that we don’t know what we’re doing and where this is going. But it’s fine because the other one will prop it up and keep it going instead of giving up and putting it in our graveyard of ‘almost’ projects.”

“I am not confident in graphic design at all. There’s a lot of trust there where I know I can mock up something really crappy in Illustrator and show it to you without feeling judged,” Bernstein agreed. “Then you can send me an iPhone photo to suggest a composition or something and I won’t judge you for that. But it gives us the space to grow our skills.”

This dynamic — a respect of one another’s expertise and opinions, coupled with an implicit trust that any effort to advance the project, no matter how clumsy, will be taken seriously — creates forward momentum.

“I think you know a collaborative process is working when you feel accountable, but not judged, and you feel like they trust you to do their job,” Lea said. “Maybe the other person doesn’t always understand, but I think we’ve got that point now where if the other person goes, ‘No, no, trust me, this will work,’ that we go, ‘Okay.’ That’s really important for pushing the boundaries of what we want to do.”

A jug of milk with a cap that reads "bad mood" spills over.

Adobe Creative Residents Isabel Lea and Aaron Bernstein are collaborating on a photography project about food idioms.

Make accountability a focus.

As most people who have embarked on a long-term creative project can tell you, at some point you will burn out on the very thing that sparked you into action. “It’s quite easy to give up on a project when you’ve only got yourself accountable,” Lea said. Having a partner makes throwing in the towel that much harder.

The best partnerships offer far more than this, of course. In the beginning, ambitious projects tend to be amorphous. It’s not clear where they are going or how they’ll evolve, which is both exhilarating and overwhelming.

For Lea and Bernstein, what started as a one-off series visualizing food idioms from around the world has morphed into an exploration of the interplay between food, language, and culture, an admittedly broad topic.

“Sometimes when you’re forced to have a conversation with yourself on Slack or iMessage, you solve the problem.”

“Because [this project] is so limitless, it’s not something that I could ever do alone,” Bernstein said. “I don’t think that I would be as willing to keep the end goals so open if it was just me because that scares me. I can’t concept that sort of thing.”

The key is finding someone who doesn’t just support you, but challenges you to push past the point you would have reached on your own. “It’s one of those things you don’t know until you try, and it starts working,” Lea said. “We did this one project, but then it’s spun off so many other opportunities that it seems silly not to run with it.”

Be each other’s sounding boards.

Collaborating with a partner can help with overarching challenges, such as imposter syndrome. “We can outwardly admit to each other that we don’t know what we’re doing and where this is going,” Bernstein said. “But it’s fine because the other one will prop it up and keep it going instead of giving up and putting it in our graveyard of ‘almost’ projects.”

But having someone who understands the bizarre, ultra-specific obstacles you are dealing with can be just as important. When shooting a photo for their second series, which involved mince pies, the package Lea shipped with the ingredients didn’t arrive in time. Bernstein struggled to find everything at American grocery stores.

“I had to be guided by your grandma, basically,” he told Lea. “I think it’s those little moments, too, where it’s like, ‘Okay, Isabel can understand why I’m stressed out about this,’ instead of just internalizing all of these little stressors and problems that drive me crazy in my own individual projects.”

Recognize that a difference in time zones can play to your advantage.

Living and working in different continents presents some obvious challenges. “It’s difficult because we have to be very organized,” Lea said. Anything that requires physical, in-person collaboration must be mapped out far in advance. What’s more, the time difference often made it impossible to share moments of confusion or excitement in real-time.

But the two have found that the distance makes certain forms of communication easier. Being five hours ahead “means that I can leave you with something in the morning,” Lea told Bernstein. He’ll often do work after she’s gone to bed, which means when she wakes up, “progress has been made.”

“Sometimes when you’re forced to have a conversation with yourself on Slack or iMessage, you solve the problem,” Bernstein said. “By the time that I wake up, it’s all sorted.”

“Or the other one where one of us will go, ‘Okay, here are three edits or versions or choices, I think, two, four, and six,’” Lea agreed. “Then we wake up to, ‘Yes, I agree, two, four, and six.’ We kind of already knew it anyway. But it’s nice to get that clarification.”

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Looking for a Career Boost? What Creative Coaches Want You to Know

Looking for a Career Boost? What Creative Coaches Want You to Know

It’s common for athletes, executives, and opera stars to have performances coaches—someone to set goals, benchmarks, tackle potential, and keep them in shape. But coaching has expanded beyond the C-Suite and the playing field to ambitious creatives at all levels of their careers.

Why this expansion? Part of the answer is pragmatic: freelancers and side hustlers now make of 34% of the U.S. economy. These entrepreneurial workers are following trajectories that don’t have built-in career development, pay raises and promotions, or retirement plans; they must create their own career structures. Sans the traditional office environment, an informal network of mentors and service journalism (ahem, you’re welcome) can often be the only sounding board or context to inform that structure.

But it’s not only freelancers who are feeling the pinch of a career without feedback, context, and professional development. During the Great Recession, large companies cut an entire generation of middle management to slash costs. And afterwards? When CEOs saw that workers kept coming in and performing, those managers were never rehired. The dearth of managers could be connected to so many company staffers now feeling adrift at work, just like freelancers, without the typical culture of management and people development from which previous generations benefited. So coaches stepped into the void, working with independent freelancers and self-starters, but also acting as consultants for big companies, serving as a resource for staff and filling in a management gap with feedback, goal-setting, and advice.

Since they’ve seen it all, we asked a few creative career coaches about the most common problems their clients are facing and got some advice on how to cultivate a career when it feels like you’re going it alone.

1. Recognize that tackling career problems may mean tackling problems in your personal life (and vice versa)

For many of us, there are no clear boundaries between our personal and professional lives; pain points in one area affect empowerment in the other. That’s why coaches address both business and personal goals as one.

“People come to me when they want to grow,” says Kristine Steinberg, who started out as an arts psychotherapist before becoming a coach for companies like New Lab, TED, Adidas, and Microsoft. “We work on the future they want to design, the future self they want to live in,” she says.

Since creatives’ future selves aren’t siloed into separate business and personal inboxes, creative coaches often wear many hats: confidante, mentor, and business partner.

2. Take as much care navigating opportunity as navigating hardship.

Contrary to popular belief, coaches are not only called in at times of crisis. In fact, they’re often most useful to those embarking upon exciting opportunities. Their value is that they provide accountability, no matter what the situation.  

“Creatives don’t struggle for ideas,” says Tina Essmaker, who spent a decade in social work before launching a design publication called The Great Discontent, and now coaches both independent and company clients. “They struggle to make them happen and take action.”

Whether you need help navigating a new project idea, choosing between multiple job opportunities, or stretching into a promotion, a coach can be a useful partner, providing perspective at times of paralyzing opportunity. The most powerful support they can offer is tactically breaking down the project into steps, suggesting resources, setting goals, and providing accountability in a vacuum. “It’s like having a partner who’s invested in you succeeding, but not invested in the project needing to be a certain way,” says Essmaker.

3. Remember that uncertainty is water in the creative industry. The only island is being brave.

Creatives live in an ambiguous world that is constantly iterating and evolving. The creative’s challenge is to sustainably manage that uncertainty.

For those times when everything is great on paper, but you’re feeling overwhelmed, Essmaker prioritizes cultivating bravery over agonizing what the right answer is. “Being able to hang out in that state of ambiguity long enough to know what’s next for you [is important],” she says. “If you try to make a decision out of fear or a scarcity mentality, you’re probably going to make the wrong one.”

Essmaker acknowledges that we all have good days and bad days. On the good days, the foundational things that fulfill us and that we value are clear. Trust the compass that comes from those good days to see you through the days that you feel rudderless and frightened. Essmaker advocates taking action while in the optimistic zones. “Make decisions when you’re having a good day and you have the energy to have insight,” she says. On the days when you’re scared, wait and sleep on it before you make that life-changing choice.

4. Don’t go to Bali. Go find the problem.

Getting unstuck is a prime reason creatives reach out to coaches, but often it takes some detective work to get through the layers to find the root of an issue that can manifest itself in a variety of ways: feeling out of balance, finding work all-consuming, or just not being happy without knowing why. A client may be struggling with how to ask for a raise, but a coaching conversation may reveal that the underlying issue is the client’s sense of self-worth. Or, a client may voice a desire to uproot—quit a job, leave a relationship, and move to a new city.

“It ends up being a surface level symptom to a different problem,” diagnoses Heath Ellis, who prefers the title “expansion guide” and works with clients such as Creative Morning’s Tina Roth Eisenberg.

Sure, uprooting and moving to Bali sounds great. But wherever you go, there you are; the desire to drop everything and start over doesn’t tackle the underlying issues which will no doubt resurface, even in Bali. “When people tend to run into the same issues—if it were a relationship, it would be ‘I keep dating the same girl and it never works’—there’s a subconscious pattern that needs to be healed,” says Ellis.

Coaches work on finding small steps and changes that put their clients in the driver’s seat in a more sustainable way than doing a reboot every few years. “The answer is not uprooting your entire life and career,” says Essmaker. “It’s looking at where you are and the changes you want to make where you are.” To do that, do some soul searching to identify the real energy behind your actions or feelings—anything from boredom to aversion to imposter syndrome—and then map that information back to a place where you can make a change. 

5. Own your results.

The common thread in so much coaching, is for people realize how much control they actually have. Most of the time we act unconsciously, responding to deadlines, responsibilities, and a fear of failure or of disappointing others. Ellis works to get creatives to own their results. “If something doesn’t work, it’s not your girlfriend or your boyfriend’s fault. It’s not your company or your boss. It’s something inside of you,” he says. “You’re creating your results. As painful as that can feel if your results suck right now, that’s super empowering,” he says.

Coaches provide the pillars that support a thriving career—feedback, accountability, resources, soul searching, and someone whose ultimate goal is your individual success. As our world of work becomes ever more entrepreneurial, ambitious, and, frankly, overworked, the kind of support they offer is key to preventing burnout and cultivating a thoughtful and empowered career.


To get you started on exercising those conscious career muscles, we asked Kristine Steinberg to share a few of the questions she asks her clients, to act as soul-searching thought starters. Happy homework!

Are you operating at your highest potential?

  • How are you thriving in your career?
  • How are you leveraging your greatest talents and gifts in your work?
  • Are you living to your fullest potential?
  • If so – why?
  • If not – what is getting in your way?
  • What is your future vision of yourself?
  • How can you manifest that vision?
  • What is one thing you can do today to drive yourself to the next level of excellence?

Are you looking to get unstuck?

  • What patterns in your behavior or actions are becoming repetitive and redundant in a negative way?
  • If there was a new behavior or action you could take to break this pattern, what would it be? Can you commit to that?
  • How do you think people perceive you? Is that okay with you or do you want to shift that perception?
  • What is draining your energy?
  • What would give you energy if you had the motivation to pursue it?
  • If you were not stuck, what would be possible?

With a bit of soul searching and a commitment to acknowledging your dreams and insecurities, you can be on your way to a more fulfilling career.



from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Meet the Founder of Bev, the Canned Rosé That’s Taking on Toxic Masculinity

Meet the Founder of Bev, the Canned Rosé That’s Taking on Toxic Masculinity

Hyper masculinity had better watch out: Alix Peabody is on a mission.

The first-time founder has a plan to shake up the male-dominated alcohol industry with an eye-popping coral canned rosé called Bev. Her secret weapon? A “Break the Glass” message that takes aim at the toxic world of tech parties, date rape culture, and hyper masculinity.

Peabody drained her life savings and bought 300 gallons of rosé to launch Bev in 2018. Now, she arrives at 6 a.m. sales pitch meetings—where distributors are used to seeing men in flannel shirts explain the new Sam Adams lager—with a team of 10 women who bombard the room with decks of memes, boombox-led stretches, and pink donuts. It looks like she’s selling a brand, but really, she’s trying to reshape an industry.

“For so long, the alcohol industry has capitalized on people’s insecurities rather than their strengths,” says Peabody. “It has perpetuated a culture that is so unhealthy and unfair to both men and women. We want to redefine what that culture looks like.”

Now, she’s landed a partnership with Reyes, the biggest beer distributor in America. We got in touch with Alix to hear about going from $12 in the bank to a fundraising round of $2.2 million, and how she’s popping the top off of a beer-dominated market.


Q. Bev came about in an unlikely way. Tell us how it started.

A. I’d had these weird health issues that nobody could figure out. I’d had six surgeries in 18 months and was $20,000 or $30,000 deep in medical bills. So I started throwing parties to help pay off my medical bills. They were basically ragers at my aunt and uncle’s house in Sonoma. These were 200-person parties and they were during the day so they were called the Sonoma Daygers. You’ve read all about all the kinds of parties that go on in tech land in Silicon Valley: dingy and creepy, with women flown in from LA and paid to be there. The Daygers were the opposite. We would get crazy costumes, like boas and sparkly hats, and by the end of the night everyone was wearing something random and bright and dancing the funky chicken like nobody cares. If I were to liken it to anything, it would be Burning Man: radical self-expression, inclusive, everyone’s having a good time.

An orange cat sitting in between red cans of Bev against an orange background

The name Bev is both a shorthand for beverage and a reference to an imaginary brand personality named Beverly.

Q. When did you sense there was a business opportunity here?  

A. I got addicted to the idea of the “female-owned party.” I wanted to build it, but I didn’t really know how. I quickly realized that if I wanted a brand that was going to take flight, I needed something actually tied down to a product. I had this ‘aha moment’ where I realized that the lowest common denominator of every party you’ve ever been to is alcohol. I started to look at the alcohol industry, and that’s when I realized that it’s really screwed up. When you look at what’s for women or depicts women in a strong way, there’s nothing there. You get Skinnygirl Margarita and White Girl Rosé and that’s the end. Everything is by and for men. Date rape culture really stems from a hyper-masculine social scene. The alcohol industry at large is the biggest perpetrator of that culture.

Q. How did you go from a square one idea to launching a company?

A. I cashed my 401(k) and bought 300 gallons of rosé. Then I set out to fundraise. I researched some angel investors and what parties they were going to, and flooded those parties with product. Then three days later I’d say, “Oh I’m raising.” Then they would tell me, “That stuff’s everywhere!” And I was like “That’s so crazy!” Just kidding—I’d put it there. I raised about $2.2 million. Now, we’re launching with the largest beer distributor in America, Reyes. We’re the only product they’ve ever taken on in their history from launch. And we’re their first canned wine. It’s really exciting.

Q. Why do you think your distributor took that leap with you?

A. The reality is, no one’s ever done anything like what we’re doing. I don’t say that to sound cocky. It just doesn’t exist to have an alcohol company that’s women run, women owned, women built and is not just ‘pink it and drink it’.

Q. How did alcohol become so male-dominated?

A. The alcohol industry is weird because of Prohibition. The people in distribution who became powerful at that time were, for all intents and purposes, drug dealers. They were doing something very illegal. Now, distributors are billion-dollar family-owned businesses, started by the same people who were doing criminal activity during Prohibition. That’s who we’re dealing with—people who are really kind of scary, to be honest. I was just talking to one of our distributors the other day who was telling us stories of his childhood and how he’s been stabbed eight times. It’s been a male-dominated industry for so long.


10 people pose for a high energy picture in pink sweatshirts

The full Bev team makes an appearance when Peabody pitches the brand to distributors.

Q. Why do you think that’s shifting?

A. The liquor industry in America is dramatically changing. Historically, women went to the grocery store and men when to the liquor store.  Which, by the way, is why the liquor store was dingy; it was the place only the man went. Now, in large part because of the legalization of booze in grocery stores, women are buying the household wine. So, there’s a huge hole in the market for something like Bev.

Q. The identity of the brand is a real eye-popper. Where did the design come from?

A. I wanted it to be female without being ditzy. I wanted it to infer a woman’s name, Bev, and try to give her a personality. But it’s also just a cute name for ‘beverage’. We wanted it to be sleek, bright, unapologetic, slightly retro, and personable. My favorite color is bright coral and we were making a brand centered around being unapologetically yourself. So, I said, “I’m going to unapologetically make this can bright coral.” The original logo was just our handwriting. We literally wrote ‘Bev’ and ‘Made by Chicks’ on the side of the can and made a font out of it.

Q. Bev started with 300 gallons of rosé. What kinds of numbers are you looking at now?

A. The Reyes distribution partnership has been huge. We went from pretty much zero accounts to over 100 in two weeks. Bev now has a team of 10 people. And we’re launching in new markets across the country, starting with SoCal, Nashville, and NYC.

Q. For anyone looking to follow in your footsteps, what does it take to be a good entrepreneur?

A. You will face extraordinarily difficult decisions and challenges. Entrepreneurs don’t fail because they fail; they fail because they give up. You’ve got to know that they can throw anything at you and you’re not going to give up. At one point during the fundraising period, I had $12 to my name. It was really awful. And literally, eight days later, I had raised half a million dollars. It was the hardest and also the most beautiful time in my life. It sucks a lot of the time. But, when you feel like your entire world is falling apart, that means you’re close and it’s about to happen for you.

from Adobe 99UAdobe 99U

Grace Bonney: What I Learned in My 15 Years of Running Design*Sponge

Grace Bonney: What I Learned in My 15 Years of Running Design*Sponge

When Grace Bonney started Design*Sponge in 2004, her expectations were low. In the beginning the design blog was a side project she did in addition to her real job, first at a design PR firm and later as a freelance writer for House and Garden, Domino, and Craft, among other publications. “I thought that maybe in a few years I could use it as a digital portfolio to one day apply for a job at a magazine,” she says.

As Design*Sponge developed a loyal following and interest from advertisers, “the blog kind of became the magazine job that I wanted,” she says. By 2009, the site was generating enough money for her to focus on it full-time. Since then Design*Sponge has continued to grow — it now reaches roughly 2 million readers a month — and its focus has evolved to reflect Bonney’s own shifting interests, moving away from products to center on people, and, in the past few years, address topics such as how gender, classism, and racism, social issues, and diversity connect to and influence design.

But as Design*Sponge changed, so has the ad industry. The rise of social media and proliferation of design sites has tipped the scale back in the advertisers’ favor, enabling them to demand more for less. Over the past few years, it became clear to Bonney that the blog could not continue to support itself through ad revenue unless she overhauled the content strategy. Instead of chasing clicks, Bonney decided that she would end the blog on her own terms; in early January, she announced that this year, Design*Sponge’s 15th, would be its last. “For me, this will always be a place to simply connect with, learn from, and listen to friends, new and old, who happen to love design and creative pursuits in the same way we do,” she wrote in a heartfelt post explaining the decision.

The cover of Good Company magazine.

Bonney recently launched Good Company, a print magazine for women and nonbinary creatives.

Bonney is working on a book about intergenerational friendships between women and she recently launched Good Company, a print magazine for women and nonbinary creatives. That said, she doesn’t know what her day-to-day will look like this time next year. “I think everyone expects there is this hidden project, but no,” she says, laughing.

Whatever the next chapter might be, she’s ready for it. Among many other things, Design*Sponge taught her how to balance doing what you love with the realities of making a living. Here, she shares how she’s navigated the tension between art and money and offers advice to creatives on how to the walk that tightrope for themselves.

Q: Why do you think Design*Sponge resonated with people in the beginning?

A: Any early era blogger would be disingenuous for saying that we didn’t benefit from being early adopters. There was so little competition and no social media landscape. When you went on the internet and looked for furniture or interior design, there was only going to be a few of us that popped up. We grew in a way that is nearly impossible to do today, organically.

I was also talking about things that were affordable. I focused on young people, students, and people who were upcycling before that was a hot trend. A lot of other sites were catering to people who wanted to buy brand new things, or buy expensive things or fancy things. We were kind of the opposite of that. I think it was the right time and style for that particular moment.

“I absolutely made money from Design*Sponge, but it was never the thing I wanted to make money from. I always thought Design*Sponge would be the bridge between whatever I was interested in and a bigger, more stable project.”

Q: As the design media landscape grew more crowded, did your approach to promoting Design*Sponge in order to reach a new audience change?

A: In 15 years we’ve never sat down and said, “How does this apply to gaining a bigger audience?” I think I’m one of the few bloggers from that era that never approached this as a money-making venture. I absolutely made money from Design*Sponge, but it was never the thing I wanted to make money from. I always thought Design*Sponge would be the bridge between whatever I was interested in and a bigger, more stable project.

Q: In your blog post announcing that this year will be Design*Sponge’s last, you mentioned that you’ve “written and re-written a letter like this dozens of times.” Why did you decide it was time to move on to something new?

A: The ad market was great in the beginning. We could sit back and be slightly comfortable in the fact that advertisers would come to us. We were able to think about: what’s important to us?

Now advertisers demand more content and more blatant placement for less money. It’s become a really crappy game to play. It limits how much we can talk about things that are important to us. I heard from people when we started talking about Black Lives Matter; that wasn’t a popular opinion for a lot of advertisers. The change in the ad market is definitely a big part of what inspired us to say, “Hey, I think we’ve had a great run, let’s all go do something different now.”

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Starting next month I am hitting the road to work on a new book, and we have a third issue our magazine, Good Company, coming out. We are waiting to see how cumulative sales are for the first three issues to decide whether or not to put out a fourth issue.

“Don’t have any shame of judgement for how you get creative projects off the ground. If you are able to do them full time, awesome. But be honest about why you can.”

Q: When evaluating a new project’s potential, how do you weigh how excited you are about it versus its ability to pay your bills?

A: I’m not making so much money that I can take on any project that doesn’t pay, but I’m not making so little money that I can’t afford to take a little bit of a hit. I live in a two-income household. My wife and I both get paid. It’s important to be open about that. I don’t want someone to look at any of my projects and think, “Oh wow, all of this is so profitable, she can just jump from project to project.”

When I started Good Company, I talked to tons of independent magazines. No one was making money! But you wouldn’t know that from the media coverage they receive; I hear from people everyday who want to know how to start a magazine. The answer is: you have to have a ton of money or some sort of outside funding. It is widely expensive and most of us aren’t profitable. If you have family money, cool. If you have venture capital money, cool. But be honest about it so people understand the financial reality of projects like these.

Q: How do you feel about having a day job that pays your bills and doing your creative project as a side hustle versus going all in and trying to turn your passion into a full-time career?

A: There’s a strain of discussion in the creative entrepreneur world right now that it’s all or nothing. It’s like, “follow your bliss, do what you love, everything else is compromise.” I don’t think that’s true. I know a lot of people who have stable jobs with health insurance and a decent salary that allow them to do their creative work on the nights and weekends. There’s nothing less creative about that. If that gives you the creativity and security to take risks in your creative life, even better. I think my message is: don’t have any shame of judgement for how you get creative projects off the ground. If you are able to do them full time, awesome. But be honest about why you can. I think a lot of people see new businesses with shiny branding pop up overnight, and it seems like that’s a feasible thing to do. And it’s probably not. Those things cost lots of money.

Q: In your post announcing that this year will be Design*Sponge’s last, you mentioned that you’re at peace with how social media has changed the design landscape, but that wasn’t always the case. How do you maintain a healthy relationship with social media when it’s an integral part of your professional life?

A: As a user, it makes me sad to not see half the content from the people that I am following because of the hashtag, or what time it went out, or whatever. But there’s a lot of really good stuff happening there, too. It’s like anything: with all the really bad stuff there is really good stuff. You have to have the ability to put it in perspective. Social media is not the end all be all.

The most important thing for me was understanding what I’m getting out of it. That’s something I’ve had to figure out through conversations in therapy and at home with my wife and my friends: Why am I going there? If I go to Instagram to be inspired, I don’t have any guilt about how much time I spend. But if I am going on there to read things that will make me feel good about myself or connected to people, I need to understand why am I going there and not to real people in my real life.

Q: What do you hope is next for the design media?

A: I hope it’s more diverse. The voice of the young white design blogger — which is me! — we’ve had our moment. There’s been enough of us. It’s time for a lot of us to step to the side and give space to voices and stories that haven’t been heard yet.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.



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Freelancers: How to Negotiate Like a Pro

Freelancers: How to Negotiate Like a Pro

If you aren’t a freelancer yet, your time may be coming.

The signs are already there: research shows that more than a third of the U.S. workforce freelanced last year, an increase of 7% since 2014, while the non-freelance workforce grew just 2% over the same time. According to some estimates, freelancers and contractors could make up more than half the workforce within the next decade.

While much of that is good news for work-life balance and flexibility, it does put pressure on freelancers to become better advocate for themselves when it comes to pay. Indeed, many companies have eliminated full-time positions in favor of permalance contracts, engaging employees to work as full-time contractors often without benefits. As a result, there has never been a more critical time for freelancers to know their rights and their rates, and to take steps to prepare for these types of negotiations.

Here’s how to negotiate like a pro.


Educate yourself through salary resources and networking sites

Too many freelancers freeze up when it comes to discussions about money. Often reluctant to charge too much for fear of scaring away potential clients, they may be unaware of the critical value of their skills and experience to an organization, or what compensation is customary, and may not have realistically calculated what the project will eventually cost them to complete. Sadly, women in particularly are at even more of a handicap, with research showing that they tend to pitch lower rates than their male counterparts.

That’s why it’s so important to do your homework. Googling “what should I charge” will get you an overwhelming amount of (often useless) information, but tapping trade-specific platforms can help. For example, a helpful resource for artists in the nonprofit sector is the W.A.G.E. Guide (Working Artists in the Greater Economy), which establishes industry minimums for speaking gigs and exhibitions. Another is Study Hall, an online support network for media professionals, who last December put out a call on Twitter for rate transparency that went viral.

There are also more traditional career development outlets like Mediabistro, local organizations by state (in New York, the Council for the Arts), and the Freelancer’s Union, whose blog often posts useful tips for setting freelance rates. Networking sites like Alignable, Contently, and freelancer groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, also provide support. Ultimately, however, freelancers always need to be their own best advocates.

Calculate how much you personally need to make a job worthwhile

“Responsibility for negotiating rates is one of the many hidden costs of freelancing,” says Leanne*, a former magazine editor who currently works as a freelance writer and graphic designer. She explains that while clients may feel a rate is fair, they’re often oblivious to the “real costs” to a freelancer, which may include everything from tax issues to time expended on administrative tasks like invoicing and printing.

“It comes down to asking yourself, ‘How much do you want the job not to cost you?’”

What helped Leanne establish her rate was working backward from a year-end income goal and then dividing by 50 weeks–the number of business days in the year assuming two weeks of vacation–to research a weekly rate. She then divided further by day and even by hour, factoring in office rentals and health insurance.

“Those target numbers become my ‘break-even point,’ and I remind myself that accepting any work for less will require doubling up on hours,” she says.

She recommends all freelancers track their hours, drafts and revisions, and overall content output–everything from word count to pages–to get the best sense of their workflow. “Too much of the responsibility has fallen on the content creators, who are more vulnerable to begin with,” she explains. “This is why quantifying what goes into a project has been so helpful for me.”

Stephen Heller, co-chair of the design department at the School of Visual Arts says that while freelancers should be aiming to get the best deal possible, they should factor in other considerations, such as the potential for a job to lead to new opportunities. If the job is If it’s a terrific gig that may open doors, he encourages drafting a cost/loss estimate.

“It comes down to asking yourself, ‘How much do you want the job not to cost you?’” he says.

Don’t be first to put out a number, if you can avoid it

Jonathan*, 70, built his career managing corporate teams and providing cost-cutting solutions to companies in the financial sector. This frequently put him in a position to hire new contractors and employees. He advises that anyone going into a negotiation should try avoid sharing their salary expectation without first hearing what the client is willing to offer. “Never be the first to pull out a number, if possible,” he says. “This gives the other party the upper-hand.”

“You may like the client, but they are not your friend.”

Instead, let the client explain what amount they have in mind and why; if it’s unsatisfactory, you can always try to bargain up. By waiting, you also diminish the chances of underselling yourself; the rate your client offers could be above what you were expecting.

Connect your skills to the core needs of the job

It often happens that a client will pay more to get the exact right person in the job, so let them know how your skills and talents can help them solve their greatest needs. Alex Serio of Nameless Network, the company behind the wildly successful Museum of Pizza pop-up, says demonstrating that kind of value is essential to getting what you want in terms of pay.

“Ultimately, I want someone’s unique talent, not just to get the work done,” she says.

The same ethos is espoused by Astrid Stavro, who recently became a partner at Pentagram. “I work out budgets based on real numbers, and I’m very frank, honest, and upfront with any freelancer who works with me, both regarding fees and payment schedules. People are worth what they are worth, and fees are fees. There is no in-between.” She explains that when you get an exceptional designer, you often find that person to be not only good for the job but good for the company as a whole. “When it happens, it’s priceless.”

Remember that this is a business agreement

No matter how upbeat your conversations with a potential employer are, you have to recognize that you’re striving to negotiate a business deal. Feeling like you have to sign onto a job to be nice is out of the question. “You may like the client, but they are not your friend,” says corporate consultant Jonathan. “They are interested in your services, secured for the best price. You may later become friends, but never forget that this is purely business.”

For that reason, be sure to take the time to all of the expectations of the agreement. Luke Anton, VP Brand Marketing & Buying Director at  2-TIMES, a private multi-brand fashion retailer and independent digital publisher, recommends that freelancers take care to ensure they understand all deliverables and timeframes. “As a freelancer, it’s your business to understand what you can and can’t deliver on, and to perform excellently and on time.”

*Last names removed to protect sources’ identities.


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