5 Truths for creatives to help get away from design table and into the boardroom.

Indianapolis’ fashion community continues to gain recognition as an emerging industry. Recently, Polina Osherov, Editor-in-Chief of Pattern, and Danielle Smith of Fresh Fettle, LLC were interviewed on”Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick.” The growing interest from the community at-large means that our public projects, as a reflection of our talent and business sense, are allowing us to become a legitimate cultural and economic resource.

I posted the following on my Facebook page the other day:

“Remember, kids. Being a creative isn’t just fancy fabric swatches, displays, models, and styling. It is a business — budgets, proposals, contracts and presentations. It’s a fun ride, though.”

Recently, I was contracted as a “Visual Merchandising Consultant” on a holiday project for the city. I am not going to pretend that making the adjustment from the design table to the boardroom was an easy one, thus I want to share some of what I have learned in hopes of better preparing you to balance your creative vision with good business sense.

TRUTH ONE: Just because they communicate differently doesn’t mean that they are not creative. Stay humble!

It’s easy to jump into a project and take charge as the lead creative thinker, but calm your jets! It doesn’t matter if you’re working with a team or just one other person, you must practice active listening. Chances are that they don’t want a cocky creative coming in and taking over. My experience is that a Project Manager will bring on a creative person to help develop a vision, generate a plan, and execute it.  Even if you are confident in your abilities, stay humble in the boardroom. It is our job to execute the vision that the client wants. Our talent and experience is a service that they are paying for, thus it is important to make a good impression because it just might be a working job interview.

TRUTH TWO: Always have a plan A, B, & C, and know that none of them will work out perfectly. 

It doesn’t matter who you are working with, the scale of the project, or the amount of work needed; the plan will continually need to be adjusted. Patience and flexibility is a must. I have been hired for creative projects where I have produced several plans that met the objectives of a project, only to later discover that the agreed upon plan went out the window due to “administrative tasks.” Expect that a budget that looks so beautiful in Excel will get slashed to pieces and need to be reworked. Just like they may not understand the importance of one design element over another, you may not understand the importance of repeatedly moving line items around a budget. The important thing is to be flexible and professional. We are not the first to experience situations like this in executing a project, and we won’t be the last. We can only anticipate that changes will happen before reaching a successful project completion. Namaste.

TRUTH THREE: Protect YOUR business. 

When you are at the design table, it’s rare that you have to fight for your ideas or experience, but in the boardroom, you have to know how to protect and advocate for your business. When taking on a new project, it is better to have an overly-detailed contract than not at all. If you are not careful, the creative side could lose. Don’t be afraid to take your time reading it over and examining the language, as contracts can be intimidating and confusing. I highly recommend talking to someone in the legal profession to help you understand the framework. Compensation and a specific time frame are just part of the project’s contract. It is also a good idea to address what will happen to any other ideas you may share. You have to protect your business, but you also have to make yourself needed.

TRUTH FOUR: Pretend you are on an episode of Hoarders. Keep everything until the end of the project. 

Receipts, billable hours, emails, and notes — keep it all. You never know when you are going to need something. Keeping these items organized in a binder, email folder, or computer file helps to protect your business. It is always better to have reference material than to say, “Oh, I must have misplaced that receipt.” Keeping everything on file also serves as a resource for any other projects you are managing.

TRUTH FIVE: Attend Pattern Meetup + other industry networking events.

Network with other fashion industry professionals regularly, and use them as a resource or sounding board for your projects. Get to know people with real experience — you want someone who encourages your growth, not one who challenges it. I am so grateful to the industry contacts whom I go to for advice, inspiration, or a decompressing drink. The Pattern Meet-ups are a great source for connecting, as are other industry events. Creating relationships with others will help you navigate both boardroom and design table challenges. Having a diverse, experienced network is a major key to success.

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