Black Art Director 2012: Keep It Moving.

2011 was a year filled with dramatic ups and downs. I fought a severe bout of depression, began seeing a therapist, and emerged with a fresh outlook. I spent most of the year with one toe in the job search pool, and one in the freelance pool, not really succeeding in either, until I made the commitment to building my business, and have seen the most creative growth in my career to date. Melissa and I have finally emerged from the failed move to Minneapolis, and can finally begin looking toward our future. I ended 2011 in a much better place than I began, and my theme for 2012 is Keep It Moving. Here’s how I plan to Keep It Moving and grow my business this year:

Ditch the Sweatpants: I went out for drinks a couple of weeks ago with some friends. While we were out, I realized that even though they were coming from work, they were all dressed nicely, and for the most part, when we’re out, they generally clean up pretty nicely. I looked in the mirror, wearing my tired jeans, t-shirt, and sweatshirt combination, and realized that maybe I’ve become a little too comfortable in my home office. I love working from home, but the inherent problem in doing so is that it’s become far too easy to spend all day in loungewear. Last year, I joked about buying some new “work sweatpants”, and I’ve come to realize that a) that might be a little TOO comfortable, and b) I think I need a new pair. For this business to be successful, I need to treat it like a business-which means I need to get up, and actually get dressed in the morning, instead of sitting around in sweatpants all day. Plus, when I meet with clients, I want to have a clean, sophisticated look to give the best first impression, not show up in jeans and a sweatshirt, and confirm the stereotypes of freelancers that is already out there. How I look is part of my brand. Hey-does this mean I can write off shopping trips? It’s brand development.

Live the Gimmick: In pro wrestling, there’s a term called “living the gimmick”. Basically, it’s a guy that literally turns himself into the character he plays on television. Ric Flair was notorious for this, riding around in limos, and chartering jet flights to the next city for his next match. Instead of hitting a switch, and acting like a “limousine ridin’ jet flyin’, kiss stealin, wheelin’ and dealin’ sonofagun” when the cameras were on, he lived the Ric Flair brand 24/7. I need to stop acting like a “freelancer”, and start acting like a business. I can’t expect people to take me seriously, or work with the clients I want, if I’m lackadaisical about responding to emails, or show up for meeting in a sweatshirt and jeans, because “that’s what creatives wear”. I need to carry myself like I’m running a full-fledged agency, because that’s what I am working towards. I also need to stop referring to myself as a “freelancer”. Because not only is that a boring way to describe myself, the term “freelancer” is starting to get a bit of stink on it. I am an Independent Designer and Art Director that brings a fresh creative look to your brand, event, or project.

Improve My Personal and Professional Relationships: My friend Stacey used to call me “The Mayor of Seattle”, because for a while there, it seemed like I knew just about everyone in Seattle. I took pride in having a large network of people to hang around with, whether it was ClubVibes, Underdog Sports, or whatever. Over the last few years, I’ve lost a lot of those relationships. Part of it, I’m sure, was a result of my move to Minneapolis, and the resulting fallout. But working from home has become a bit of a prison lately. I’ve lost any ambition to actually get out of the house, and I sit at my desk in my work sweatpants, and it’s slowly driving me insane. At one point in November, I came to the realization that I actually hadn’t left the house for an entire week. That’s not sustainable for my mental health. 

So I’m going to get out more. As I noted last week, I’ve been looking into coworking this week, and starting tomorrow, I’m going to start looking at spaces to work with like-minded creative folks. I don’t necessarily need to work with fellow designers, which would be nice, but I’m looking for coworkers that approach their work from a creative point of view. I’ve seen some spaces that house numerous startup companies, which could be fun. I’ve seen some spaces that specialize in traditional creative pursuits-and having a web developer, software developer and copywriter under the same roof can only lead to good things. I’m also going to work on my personal relationships. I’ve lost touch with some good friends, both locally, and across the country, and I want to rebuild those friendships. I may not become “the Mayor” ever again, but I don’t need to be.

Stop Letting Fear Control My Business: A few weeks ago, I was having trouble sleeping, so I got up to write to clear my head. Three hours later, I was slumped over my desk, having fully written out what I want to do with my business, my life, and my career. Stream of consciousness-type stuff. I was so fired up by this by writing this that I contemplated jumping on Skype to wish my friend Jessica a good morning in London. My intention was to post it the next morning, as a kind of “here’s how I write: just barf a bunch of things into my Mac and edit later” kinda of thing. But I didn’t. 

Why? I think because it was so personal, and so revealing, that I started to edit myself, then started to second guess myself about how it would make me look. I was paralyzed with fear that someone would finally figure out I’m a fraud, a shitty writer, and an even shittier designer, and that would be the end of me living the good life. Does it make sense? Of course not. Does every creative have a little troll sitting in their brain telling them this? I think so. 

So I’m going to stop running my business out of fear. I don’t promote myself like I should, I don’t engage anyone on Twitter or Facebook like I should, and I don’t follow up with potential clients like I should. All it’s doing is hurting me, and keeping me from getting anywhere.

And yes, I’m going to post that piece this week.

Keep Challenging Myself Creatively: I’m working on a film now, which is still a weird thing to say. I love coming up with new ideas and concepts, and instead of sitting on them, paralyzing myself with research, or constantly talking about it here, I’m just going to do it. I’m going to write more, and engage my social networks to flesh out ideas. I’m going to experiment with type and color on a regular basis. I’m just going to create things, instead of just working on paying projects all of the time, and making excuses for why I don’t get things done. I’m off to a good start with this, but I want to keep growing creatively in 2012.

Ask For Work:  I’ve been extremely blessed that almost all of my work over the past two years have come from referrals. On the one hand, it means that I’m doing something right, and doing great work. On the other hand, I can’t keep waiting for the phone to ring if I want to grow professionally. I’ve only had once client not work out over the past two years-that’s a really good success rate, it my book. But because of that, I’ve probably been a little too content to wait for the next call to come in, instead of actively marketing myself, and engaging my network. So I’m going to start now. Yes, I am available to hire for your projects. Contact me now to get on the calendar for 2012! Let’s make this year the best year for your brand!

Dwight Battle

Studio Battle, 9410 35th Ave SW #A, Seattle, WA 98126, USA

Dwight Battle is an award-winning independent art director specializing in mobile and digital design, branding, and creative direction. Dwight has been an art director and designer for over twelve years, and have worked with a variety of clients in a variety of stages of growth, from Fortune 500 companies to small family businesses, and from established companies to early-stage startups.