design a new year

cocktail party

If you’re a freelancer like me, every day is a new start. We are continually beginning again. There is no pipeline feeding us work and inspiration. As a result we are constantly engaged in engaging ourselves, looking for pathways that both inspire as a designer and help to pay the mortgage. Are you looking for something to put the designerly spark back in your step? Maybe a new revenue stream or source of inspiration? You’re a designer….design a new year! Here are three ideas that work:

go to cocktail parties

Seriously. I am not a big fan of the networking events where you stick your hand out and offer a business card. But give me a social occasion and I’m golden. While you’re together mention what you do for a living. Talk about projects you’ve worked on, people you’ve worked with. Designers don’t just work design, we live design. And it’s an exciting world, especially for those who don’t inhabit it.

  • Attend neighborhood socials
  • Go to your kids’ school events, dinners, fundraisers
  • Accept invitations to a friend’s house for dinner, especially if there will be people attending that you haven’t met
  • Throw a party and invite the neighbors

I’ve been re-designing my house since we moved in 17 years ago. And the neighbors have been watching the transformation. They’ve all been over for a party or coffee and have seen what I’ve been up to first hand. So when the realtor next door needed help with drawings and a permit before selling her client’s home, my neighbor called me to see if this was in my wheelhouse. A few months later I’ve now helped not only the realtor next door but others as well. Retro permits are now a whole new revenue stream for me.

learn a new skill

You are undoubtedly great at what you do. And you’ll be great at what you don’t yet do. Learning a new skill will create potential opportunities, and it will ignite pathways in your brain. That excitement is what feeds designers. And if you are a multipotentialite like me, learning new skills is probably how you breathe.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. ~Socrates

So choose something that you don’t know how to do. Look for skills that inspire you, not that will necessarily lead to a specific revenue stream. Find something that engages you and makes you smile. Maybe it’s a new musical instrument or a new technical skill. Be serious about it…take a class, sign up for a series of webinars, buy a book of lessons. Don’t just do it when you have a free moment. Set aside an hour or two every week and put it on your calendar. Make it real.

Last year I worked on web design skills: CSS, HTML, PHP. I wanted to re-build my own website, and being a designer I wanted it done my way. In my case this led to several clients who needed help developing their online presence either via a website, newsletter or both. This year I’m working on Photoshop and SketchUp, two programs that I know and use, but not proficiently. They both feed a creativity that inspires me. Who knows where they will lead?


You know a lot. Because you already know these things, they may seem mundane and uninteresting. They aren’t either. The things you know are interesting to the right audience, in the right environment. And teaching is not only a great way to learn and grow your own knowledge, it is also an opportunity to make an impression. In a room full of people, the name of the person leading the conversation is more likely to be remembered than the other 100 names.

Sit down with pen and paper and make a list of things that you know. Next to that list make a list of who might benefit from each of your pools of knowledge. Then start making contact.

  • Give a talk at a local school

This is excellent practice and carries very little risk. It can be a career day at the local middle school or your college alma mater.

  • Be the expert on a panel or at a business organization’s monthly meeting

Talk to people in another field about your business and what you can do for their business.

  • Be the speaker at your design organization’s event

Talk about the niche you work in, share your methods and your process, create a conversation with your audience. Use the opportunity to share what you know and gain some new knowledge.

  • Share a skill or specific knowledge in a video

Then post it on your website, your facebook page, LinkedIn, your twitter account. Link it at the bottom of your email. Create short bites that potential customers and clients can watch in less than 5 minutes.

Let me know what works for you. Do you have other ideas about how freelancers can keep the spark alive? If so, let me hear them! I hope you’re off to a great 2016…design it your way.

Keep in touch,

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  1. […] say you’re at a cocktail party and the guy in last year’s suit marches over, sticks his hand out and says “Hi, […]

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