I was in the Decker Design office located in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. It was a loft, tastefully done, with exposed brick and large tables for layouts. It was like any other design firm I’d ever been in, only this one belonged to one of my personal heroes. I don’t usually feel like I’m standing on the precipice of a cardiac episode when I visit an office, even if admiration and anxiety are my first cousins.
Just the same way a cocktail party is somehow immediately elevated once a celebrity arrives, I find that everything from an email to a barbecue takes on a whole new level of jitters once it is attended by someone I look up to. Visiting this particular studio was tantamount to being the president of a boy band fan club and being invited to greet them at their local show at the mall.
It didn’t matter that I had originally met Lynda Decker, the founder of this firm, when I was at the beach, wearing a bikini, my hair on end. She’d liked me plenty then, and had given me a chance. Ever since the first time we hung out she has offered me advice, jobs, and mentoring whose value cannot be overstated. After seeing her work I became an unabashed fangirl. I wanted to work for her almost as much as I wanted to be like her.
I’ve written a lot about looking for work, various approaches for getting clients, keeping them, and marketing yourself. It’s tough, when starting out, to convince people to pay you for words, especially if they are creative and feel as though writing can be done adequately enough internally. It became clear to me on this visit with Lynda that there is yet another way to try to reach out and attract clients, as counterintuitive as it sounds: contact those whose work you admire.
Think about it. Compliments are always welcome. Even on the worst of days, we want to hear that someone likes our sweater. I think that fostering a relationship with a company or group that you admire offers the possibility of the best kind of work.
Of course, any work is good work, especially when you’re as desperate as we are. And recently we’ve had the opportunity to work with several companies who not only turn over awe-inspiring work in a variety of fields, but we’ve developed friendships with the owners and management of these companies. This buddy system has been a great method of educating ourselves and learning how to manage our business at a level slightly more organized than a grade school dodge ball game.
There are a bevy of benefits that come from soliciting work from the heroes and heroines of your trade. Those who create and oversee enterprises that sock you in the gut with their awesomeness are often treasure troves for work. For one, you tend to try harder to impress them. You find yourself more inclined to do a better job — no matter what field you’re in — if you’re familiar with your client. You aim higher and any revisions are treated with the same fervor as your first draft. The same way groupies oil their leather bustiers and feather their hair to winged perfection, you use your skills to better garner the respect of those you drool over. Always be ready to catch the drumstick or go backstage.
Another plus to fan-work is that it nearly automatically becomes part of your portfolio. By assisting companies you like it’s likely that you’re proud to have scored the gig. The words, or work, becomes boast-worthy, the most titillating form of name-dropping. I find that our work with Decker Design is usually my go-to conversation piece, I’m thrilled that we did work for them, and I want everyone to know it. After all, they’ve worked with some pretty incredible companies, including IBM, Knoll, Miramax…and us.
Maybe the most important aspect of this kind of work is the education you get. Any job can exercise your gray matter, and experience gives you tools to draw from, but to work for companies and clients who have proven track records — no matter what they do — teaches you all kinds of new tricks. From Decker Design we learned not only about the design field and how a firm works, but we developed a new voice that embodied what we wanted to represent: the tone of creative professionals.
It’s nearly impossible to say when the next job will come, or if there will even be one for us. If there is something that I have learned so far in this adventure, it’s the benefit of the mutual admiration society. A large portion of our clients have been people who have read our blogs or Twitter postings and decided to solicit us to reword their websites, rebrand their companies, or turn over press releases shouting out their latest achievements. These clients have not only helped to keep food on our table, but they’ve fed our egos as well. Lynda Decker has always told me that she operates with a keen understanding of good Karma. By sending out our complimentary cold calls we might not get any more work, but at least we’re returning the favor.
Check out Decker Design, who, along with New Jersey Resources, were recognized at the 2008 International ARC Awards with the Grand Award for Photography. We wrote the company bios that are on the site, and we’ve also been lucky enough to help them out with additional assignments.
Fanmail: AinsleyDrew at gmail dot com. Thank you to everyone who donates, times are tough and we are truly grateful.
Like It. It’s rare but sometimes things don’t make me want to throw up.