Biz Ladies: 6 Tips for Staying Creative without Colleagues

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Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from curator and educator, Margaret Hancock. Since 2010, Margaret has provided curatorial and educational services for businesses, museums, nonprofits, and individuals. As a sole proprietor, Margaret has learned how to create a create environment for herself and today she shares her tips for doing the same in your business. Thanks for the wonderful advice, Margaret! –Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump…

Prior to launching my own business, staying creative was not something I gave much thought, as my former colleagues provided a plethora of creative conversation and inspiration.  As a sole proprietor, I often miss the daily interaction with creative souls and so I follow these tips and ideas diligently to stay creative without colleagues.

1. Avoid Your Favorites 

When self-employed, the coffee shop becomes the office and local restaurants become the meeting room.  When I first started my business, I frequented my favorites and came to know the usual suspects, the chalkboard designs, the secret parking spots, etc. Now in my fourth year of business, I make a concerted effort to stray from those beloved spots.  Pushing yourself beyond places of familiarity allows you to see things in a different way.  The music at the other coffee shop, the menu at the French bistro that just opened, or the mural on the wall across town may be just the thing to get creative juices flowing.  Avoiding favorites necessitates observation and, ultimately, facilitates creativity.

2. Just Go  

When I went out on my own, my dad told me that “nobody is going to hire you if you’re sitting on your couch in your yoga pants.”  He actually didn’t say the yoga pants part, but I feel that is important too.  It falls along the lines of “get up, dress up, show up.” When you receive an invitation to attend that cocktail party, see that show, grab that cup of coffee, hear that band, or do that studio visit, get dressed and go.  You never know what conversation, invitation, or creative inspiration you’ll have at the outing you almost missed to watch Modern Family (in your yoga pants).

3. Listen 

I can’t say enough about the benefits of networking, but that is for a different post.  This post is about staying creative without colleagues and for this, I find it can be clutch to go to events without wondering who is in the audience you might need to exchange business cards with later.  This allows you to focus on listening and, ultimately, glean as much creative inspiration as possible.  I recently followed the advice of the previous point (“Just Go”) and went to hear an artist lecture.  I almost talked myself out of it – the artist works in a medium I do not often exhibit or teach, Mondays are especially hard days to motivate, I wasn’t feeling very social, and so on.  However, I hadn’t felt very creative lately so I went and sat in the back row, taking in how the artist works with different materials, engages her local community, and finds projects that keep her inspired.  I simply listened, leaving with a renewed sense of focus and oodles of inspiration applicable to my own business.

4. Steal Moments With Your Smartest Friend 

My smartest friend is a former colleague, creative genius, and all around guru.  I steal moments with her as often as possible.  In between updates on our personal lives, we delve into business ideas, marketing opportunities, the latest trend, and anything else that may stir a creative thought.  I bounce ideas off her, get informal feedback on a proposal, and simply participate in an exchange of thoughts I don’t have without a weekly team meeting.  The ever-important conference table conversation is relocated to the coffee shop, lunch table, dressing room, wherever.  Stealing moments with your smartest friend (or friends) keeps creative conversations and ideas flowing.

5. Stay Resource-Rich 

To stay resource-rich with a limited budget, I challenge myself each year to visit at least two museums I’ve never visited before.  Of course, the local galleries and museums receive unlimited visits, but the new ones provide a fresh perspective and setting a specific goal keeps me on track.  I also set aside a couple of hours at the beginning of each month to read the latest magazines at the library.  Subscriptions can add up, while the library’s collection presents the same inspirational content and eye candy at no cost.  Lastly, I subscribe to mailing lists in multitudes.  Certain retailers showcase especially creative ideas through their product images, promotional videos, and carefully crafted text, and e-newsletters from museums and institutions across the country keep me informed without having to travel.  Staying up-to-date on the work of institutions in your field is as easy as hitting the “subscribe” button.  I have been fortunate enough to work for institutions with elaborate resources – libraries of art and design books, invited guest speakers, staff retreats, and more. The investment in these resources show a dedication to employees’ creativity and something I feel is essential whether you are a large organization or a one man shop.

6. Recruit Companions 

This last point is similar to “Steal Moments with Your Smartest Friend” in that it engages individuals in conversations you might not otherwise have.  And for even the most creative person, sometimes two minds are just better than one.  On an art scouting trip to Atlanta last year, I recruited my aunt to accompany me to the exhibition of an artist I was featuring in an upcoming show.  As we viewed the art and discussed the artist’s color choices, we developed the idea to exhibit the paintings by hue.  The artist’s work had never been exhibited in this way before, bringing a creative curatorial aspect to everything from the design to the title.  I would not have come up with this had it not been for the viewing companionship of my aunt – exemplifying the value of feedback and conversation to staying creative without colleagues.

While none of these six ideas alone may seem especially ingenious, as a compilation, they have guided me in my journey as a self-employed curator and educator and I remind myself of these action steps as I continue to seek out creative outlets that benefit my business.  Hopefully, they will guide others and, if nothing else, prompt the recruitment of a friend for a gallery show.  Who can’t use a little more art this new year?!

Britney McSweeney

I can’t remember the source of this quote, but some advice I love is, “If you want to write well, read good books.” I think it goes for everything. I want to build a better blog, so I read blogs that inspire me (like this one!). I strive to take amazing photos, so I spend time appreciating good photos. Thanks for the tips!

maggie

I LOVE these tips. I am in transition of moving from my full time job to being able to freelance and support myself with etsy sales and freelance writing (YES!) and I am a little worried I will become a recluse. Thanks for the inspiration.

Christine

Grace, I hope you guys are considering making your next book a compilation of your Biz Ladies and related interview content. It’s valuable and unique material!

Terri

These are such great ideas! I am a new freelance designer, working at home part-time. I didn’t realize how much I need to remember these tips, so thank you!

Adriana

This could not have come at a better time!
Working primarily freelance, even while at school, can be incredible isolating. A lovely read :)

Kimberly

Such a timely post-I’ve just moved from Australia to New York and now entirely work from home-I was just hassling myself today to get out to anything! I gave myself a snowstorm pass today but I’m newly inspired for tomorrow! Thank you.

Kim

You know you’re home too much when your dog becomes your best friend. I so needed this. Thank you for the tips!

leslie

Very helpful! Definitely need to heed #1.
Margaret is a good friend and when we lived in the same town, she was one of my smartest go-to friends! So miss those times together.

Jo

Biz Ladies is the best! I love Libby Vanderploeg’s Illustrations for Design Sponge. Have you guys considered doing a Biz Ladies with Libby? I’d love to hear about how she got started. Thanks!

Ekanem

This inspires me to change my route and even change some pictures in my office. Thanks for the bright ideas – much less stressful to imagine than going to the typical networking event!

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