Creative Freelancer Conference Take-Aways: Part One

From the 19th to the 26th, Jeremy and I were back in San Francisco for the Creative Freelancer conference, a small part of the How design conference. It’s been less than a week since we left and already, as predicted, the details are starting to get hazy. I honestly don’t know how I could possibly sum up everything I’ve learned into a coherent recap, but I’ll try…

The first impression that I had walking into Moscone West at 7 in the morning was “wow. This place is huge… and empty.” For some reason, I had expected the registration lines for the creative Freelancer Conference to be out the door, but I was very much mistaken. Luckily, Tom Tumbusch, a very nice freelance writer sat down next to me to network and kill some time until the conference started.

Day one started with Ilise Benun, host of the conference, giving a wonderful introduction full of advice on how to make the most of the next three days. She encouraged us to change tables often, swap business cards and network, network, network.


We had seven talks the first day and I know that I never would have been able to keep track of all the advice and information if it weren’t for this amazing complementary “creative cupboard” notebook that designed by Crystal Reynolds. Inside were bios and contact info for all the speakers, along with a fold out schedule and blank pages for notes and doodles. It kept my notes all in one place and provided a linear organization.



The first speaker was Luke Mysse, who spoke about his “arc of failure” and how when we fail, we either settle for failure or strengthen our resolve to try harder. He said that having vision gives us courage and to always have a big vision that can grow as you grow.

Sarah Durham spoke on the importance of balance in the office, as well as how to figure out your positioning and values. My favorite part was when we discussed how specializing in either a vertical (client or industry) or a horizontal (specific service) model will clarify your vision even more. I especially loved her worksheet on her companies values and discovered that a lot of mine stemmed from my experiences with my clients not trusting my expertise or judgement. I gravitated towards words like “voice”, “authority”, “leadership”, and “self-respect”.


On the “From the Trenches Panel: How to Grow A Small Business”, we had John Cleveland, Jenn David Connolly, Stacey King Gordon, and Kirk Roberts speaking about growing a successful business. They all gave some awesome advice on starting a business, and here are a few nuggets:

1. Mistakes are part of the process
2. The learning curve can be steep
3. Always think bigger and plan to get bigger
4. Understand the value of your time
5. You are the designer of your own life
6. Growth doesn’t always mean getting bigger; It could mean sizing down, moving laterally, or doing something completely different

Jim Krause’s talk on “How to Stuff 10 lb of you know what into a 5 day week” was chalked full of small tips that can help you keep focused and accomplish more in a day. I think my favorite tip from him was to write your “to do” list at the end of the day to clear your head instead of first in the morning when you want to just start working. He also discussed his four steps to success : Pace , Process, Mindset, and Time Management.


When Dyana Valentine walked on stage, she immediately changed the energy of the room and simultaneously taught us how to perfect our pitches with her perfect pitch worksheet. She completely changed the way I answer “What do you do?”. Now, instead of defining myself through my title “Freelance Graphic Designer”, I will answer with a passionate description of the type of client that I love working with and how I love to help them. Her point was that “if you feel it, they will say it for you”,  meaning that if you tell them “I’m the logo gal and I love working with startup companies”, then they will remember that and think of you when a friend or a colleague is starting their business and needs a logo.

4 copy

The next session about “Saving your Sanity through better client relations” by Alisa Bonsignore really spoke to me. Having had some major trial and error learning experiences, I was interested to hear how I could improve my tactics on handling clients who request more than agreed upon. Everything Alisa was saying, I was silently screaming “YES!” to in my head. She was both funny, and frank, and very relatable. Every one of her “mistakes” that she made, I’ve made also. Her message was clear: Having a healthy work/life balance means trusting your gut and saying no when needed. Make sure you have a rock solid contract, get an attorney to write a master service agreement, and have an “out clause” that protects you when your client is becoming obnoxious.


The last talk of the day was another “From the Trenches Panel: Working with Corporate Clients”, which was also a very relatable topic, but most of the information was already gained through my own experiences, such as filtering all your feedback through one person to avoid conflicting directions. The day ended with Ilise’s recap session where people shared what they learned from each talk. After that there was a happy hour, which i skipped out on to see family instead.

And so concludes the first day of the conference. I’ll get the next day up as soon as I can!

  • James Matthew liked this on Facebook.

    29 June, 2013 at 9:32 am
  • “@LorettaMay: Creative Freelancer Conference Take-Aways: Part One >> http://t.co/32bYNzsZWZ” #howlive #cfconf

    29 June, 2013 at 9:41 am
  • @WordStreamCopy It was great meeting you at #CFConf. I mentioned you in my re-cap. http://t.co/4RJeo5Gfq2 please be kind. I’m not a writer.

    29 June, 2013 at 2:27 pm
  • @clearwriter thanks again for all the great knowledge from #cfconf. I mentioned you in my re-cap: http://t.co/hwjW1VWK9Q

    29 June, 2013 at 2:55 pm
  • RT @LorettaMay: @clearwriter thanks again for all the great knowledge from #cfconf. I mentioned you in my re-cap: http://t.co/hwjW1VWK9Q

    29 June, 2013 at 3:09 pm
  • @artsylydia I know what you mean! It took me days to write day one of my #cfconf re-cap post but it’s finally up! http://t.co/F3UWsKZcWZ

    29 June, 2013 at 4:25 pm
  • @LorettaMay Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I’ll be sure to post my notes online somewhere once they are a bit more organized!

    29 June, 2013 at 4:27 pm
  • @LorettaMay I’m just thrilled you mentioned me, and that I made such a good impression. :-) Thanks for your kind words!

    30 June, 2013 at 12:00 am
  • @nblton @LorettaMay Nice recap! Can’t wait to read part 2. #HOWLive #cfconf

    1 July, 2013 at 8:24 am
  • @LorettaMay Thanks so much for the shout out! Your #CFConf #HOWLive recap is amazing! http://t.co/m6QFXRy9nb

    1 July, 2013 at 9:47 am
  • RT @LorettaMay: Creative Freelancer Conference Take-Aways: Part One >> http://t.co/4aolovKdTl

    1 July, 2013 at 9:54 am
  • RT @LorettaMay: Creative Freelancer Conference Take-Aways: Part One >> http://t.co/4aolovKdTl

    2 July, 2013 at 5:47 pm
  • Great re-cap of the HOW CFC http://t.co/95nE4I4dyH

    4 July, 2013 at 6:48 pm
  • I loved this recap from @LorettaMay.Creative Freelancer Conference Take-Aways: Part One http://t.co/umhWppSdjv

    6 July, 2013 at 9:40 am