Things labeled "for women" are subconsciously misogynistic. Soft colors, rounded edges, and with a huge focus on the children and husbands of the targeted woman. How can this product make a women better for the benefit of the people in her life rather than for herself?
Sure, not every product or service with this label are pushing that stance. But after attending many events specifically catering to women, all have displayed common traits that are too blatant to ignore.
I attended a financial strategies event that was hosted by a women oriented organization and had "Strong Women" in the title. It was about saving for retirement, how to invest your money for future wealth and stability, and how soon you should be doing what. I was excited, since I hate money topics, that this would give me clear steps on how to go about setting up investments and the like.
Boy was I way off.
It introduced vague topics like, "What are your dreams?" and "Keep looking ahead."
I thought I would be given a guide of steps I need to take in order to best prepare for a financial future of independence. Or where do I begin if I want to invest, who to contact, what are my options, common investment accounts. You know, money stuff. Or an outline of what are my assets now and what new ones do I want later down the line. Logical steps to achieving a singular goal.
Instead, we were rushed through a slide show with brief touch on different types of markets; Bull, Swing, and Bear. That was the most useful content our speaker covered. And I'm not giving the guy any flack, I'm sure he's good at his job. But he seemed to lean on his history of being around strong women in his life that he knows the best language to teach other women.
Another big issue I had was the heavy focus on married women and children. Yes, being married does grant some financial perks. But not everyone is married. And to that point, not everyone wants to get married. Same applies for having children. Out of the five women our speaker covered, that were all fake for this presentation, only one was single without children. But he did emphasize she was "thinking about the future." Another vague statement.
All the language boiled down to "Think about everyone else, because you're just here to take care of them." How do you save your money to make sure your kids get into college? Will you be able to take care of the family if your husband gets laid off? What if something happens to you, who will take care of everyone?
Yes, this information applied to 99% of the room. But what about us non-married, child-free professionals? We have goals and dreams and a desire to move forward in a vague manner. Where's the money talk for those women?
Events, seminars, lunch and learns, and all things catered to women have worn me down by being too soft. Women are strong and can handle way more than even our fellow ladies give us credit for. Putting pastel colors and rounded edges doesn't improve your message for a female audience: it keeps them down.
It labels us as only being receptive to feminine things because we can't handle it any other way.
"This topic about thermodynamics is too much for them. Let's put in some pinks and purples into the presentation. That'll help them understand such a complex subject!"
This has turned into a bit of a rant, I know. But it's an issue that I have noticed over the time I've been a freelance designer. All the women focused events and organizations I've gone to are all guilty of catering to their audience this way. They don't provide solid guidelines or steps, they make blanket statements and send you on your way. Or they offer you more cheesecake and coffee.
My point is, women need to acknowledge our strength and play up to it; not play down to it. You can keep your pastel colors and soft focus photos in your slide show, but please don't talk down to us. We women get that enough as it is.
Last Friday night was the Cincinnati ADDY's awards ceremony. I finally had a campaign I could enter for the professional competition and sat with some anticipation when they rattled off the gold and silver winners. Sadly, I did not win anything. Before they announced the Best of Show winner, I was already out the door and back at the bar to get my last free beverage. You might be thinking this is going to be that lamentation of a loser that didn't win anything because her work just sucked or didn't stack up to the big-boys. First off, false on all counts. Second, there's an obvious trend to who wins these awards, and it always comes back to money and hands on deck.
I knew weeks ago that I wasn't going to win, but I wanted to try anyway. It might be some form of masochism that I took the time, effort, and money to enter my work into a contest that I knew I had very little chance in being noticed. I've already covered the subject of judged contests before, yet I wanted to try one more time. After seeing the winners and what projects actually won, I know it's a numbers game.
My business consists of a solitary person doing all the work: me. I design, edit, modify, upload, download, print, proof, and package all the pieces. The campaign I entered was the labor of 11 months and spanned from the web, to social media, to print, to a coloring book, to buttons, to in-person events, and to a hand-sewn puppet. Yes, a puppet. Budget wise I spent more on it than I earned from it. It was for a good cause, a non-profit fundraiser, so I felt good doing it.
The winners had many more people developing the concept and probably even more people involved executing the final product. With much higher budgets and access to skills and labor, my little one person work has no chance on the professional platform against established agencies. Does more money mean 'better' campaigns or just the kind of campaigns that win at peer-judged shows? More often than not, the answer is yes. Is that a solid measure of a successful campaign? Well, that feature was overlooked for this contest. From the impression I got it was just the best looking work, not a reflection of how well it did in the wild.
One aspect that I didn't participate in this year was the People's Choice (PC) voting. A total of 16 projects were presented as options for the PC, but there were many, MANY more entries available. Out of the 16 to pick from, two won gold in a different category and six won silver. Half of the entries already won something. That isn't to say they aren't worthy of being in the running for the PC award, but I don't understand how only these 16 were our options.
Being given only a selection of 16 to vote on didn't make sense. How is this the People's Choice if we're told which projects are up for the vote? This isn't the election folks; this is the People's Choice. Why not put numbers on all the projects that were on display and have the people pick from everything? That would actually be a choice. This is a lot like the Oscars where the films that are more often nominated are films that weren't seen by the mass public. It's an inside job by members of the Oscars, not by the box office success of a film. Which is a clear measure of how well, or poorly, received a film was. This is a favorites game played by a select few. This wasn't a reflection of the people at large, just the judges; both the Oscars and the ADDY's.
This experience isn't one that left me bitter, but has reaffirmed my feelings on judged competitions. If I made work that was only to satisfy a designer's eye, then maybe I'd have a better chance at notoriety among other designers. But I didn't get into this business to be rewarded for making work that only appeals to a specific demographic. I make work that best reflects the brands and businesses I work with. It isn't for me, it's for them. It's always been for them. If they are happy, then I'm happy. And they are not designers. If I make work with designers in mind, I've alienated my client and missed the mark on what really matters.
Maybe one day I'll enter a project that was just for the sake of winning an award. But until they reduce the cost of entry into the competition AND the ceremony, I'll give them a skip.
Have you seen a freelancer working in the wild of a locally owned coffee shop? The mental picture that fabricates might be: a young-ish hipster dressed person, with extra ear piercings and visible arm tattoos, working on a slim Mac laptop computer, drinking a $10 cup of coffee, while using the free WiFi at the cafe in the early afternoon. They are looked on with envious eyes of the workers that are dashing in for a quick to-go cup of caffeine while on their way into a florescent lit room of cubicles, often mistaken for an office, as they wear uncomfortable button up shirts. Other coffee shop patrons are stay-at-home parents, mostly moms, with their newest offspring in tow while they get a much needed coffee before running errands in their matching track suits. At least that was the impression given to me by movies and television. It all seemed so glamorous and carefree. I knew that wasn't the case, but oh how I wanted it to be true.
In fact, the amount of times I actually went to a cafe to sit and use their WiFi as I sipped casually on a cappuccino has been a total of three. Three that I can remember anyway. Some cafes didn't have the most comfortable chairs, so I didn't end up staying much longer after I was done with my drink. Other places got too noisy and I'm not a huge fan of wearing my headphones while out in public. Most of the time it was a hassle to pack up my work station, drive to a coffee shop, and set up to work for maybe an hour or two. No, I spent the majority of my time at home in my elastic waist-banded sweat pants and a comfy t-shirt. I was anything but the model of what a freelancer would look like. But for the past year, my method worked just fine for me.
After a year freelancing full time, all I can say is it feels much longer than that. I'm still in contact with some of my past co-workers from my last office job. Occasionally we have lunch and chat about work and how things are currently. They tell me in so many ways "You aren't missing anything." For the first few months after departing I missed only the people, not the work. And a few months after that I missed the paychecks, still not the work. Another reason I didn't drive out and patronize local coffee huts; money.
Over the summer, my boyfriend and I took a once in a lifetime trip to Alaska. It might sound like I was making oodles of cash in order to pay for that trip, but I'm still feeling the sting of the cost four months later. It was worth every penny I spent but it knocked me back in a way I wasn't prepared for. I had work coming in but it wasn't nearly enough income to pay all the bills. After a few weeks of sporadic clients, I started looking for a "real" job. Something part time that would get a little cash in during the lull in design work. Believe me, I tried every avenue I could before I made this decision. After a half dozen interviews and some time gone by, new clients started coming in and I no longer had to find extra work. Did I luck out? Maybe. None of the jobs I was interviewed for wanted to hire me, even though the interview went spectacular. If nothing else, it was good practice for when I interviewed for a freelance in-house position with an agency downtown.
Like most new businesses, there is very little show in profit for the first few years. I was expecting that but I didn't plan ahead like I needed to. This past year has been an incredible learning experience. Everyone at every creative brunch or happy hour says the same thing, so at least I don't feel quite so out of place. Even this far in, I know I'll never stop learning. My methods are becoming more streamlined and my file of resources steadily grows, making my interactions with new clients much smoother. I know how I want to present myself and have gotten a stronger back bone when I need to say "no" to someone or something. And when I say no, it isn't immediately scoffed at by a potential client. They walk away and later come back with more understanding that I don't sell myself short just because their project is important to them and they think they're special.
Here's to another 365 days out in the wild. And many, many more.
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I want to chat about something that is still something of a hands-off topic and causes a little bit of discomfort. The issue of money. The thing we work years of our lives for in order to get by in the world. I don't want to delve into the social complexities of what money means to individuals or what it represents, let's just keep this to the very basics in regards to freelancers.
While most clients have their own office jobs with steady income, freelancers do not have this luxury. In fact, there is so little security in working for yourself in any field that it can be quite stressful. Speaking only from the viewpoint of a graphic designer, I have to remember that most of the people I work for aren't creative in the same way as I am. Hence the reason they approach me and/or hire me in the first place. But in our modern world of bargain shopping and price matching, clients might forget that when working with a freelancer they are only working with one person (for the most part). There is little overhead and the rate a freelancer sets is based on several important factors: education, experience, and expertise.
When a freelancer gives you a quote for a job, there are so many hidden factors involved beyond the three big E's. You only see the sticker price and wince at how many zeros are on that number. But the end result is aimed to bring you and/or your company more money after its implementation. While that's another discussion altogether, freelancers that know their stuff don't price things lightly (at least I don't). Websites that offer cheap and quick logos are often created by a team of designers that get paid only if their design is chosen. Or they receive a bonus and are still paid a phenomenally low rate. And offering "free exposure" in exchange for work is a down right insult to established designers. Please don't do that. No really, don't do that.
I hate to have to say this, but I don't haggle my prices very often. I don't have a featured item menu for people to look over and pick the package they want for the job they need. That, in a word, is asinine. Would you consider your project to fit into a nice and neat little category where it's easily defined and sorted? No, of course not. Your needs are very specific and you want (and deserve) is to be treated as an individual. While your project might be similar to others, your end results will be worlds apart from any other client's. I prefer to work one-on-one with new clients, get a deeper understanding of their company, their current issues, their current and future needs. That way everything I create will benefit only you and your project.
Don't expect people to work for free or for favors. Freelancers work for themselves for many reasons, but like everyone else, they have bills to pay. It is 100% certain that the people they owe money to won't be so understanding when the freelancer tells them they worked for exposure or for favors. While I personally would love to help out people by doing work for free, I cannot. Period. I might take on a job at a negotiated rate to fit a budget, but not always. If the current work is paying well (and on time) I might do someone a quick job for free. But that is a rare occurrence.
To wrap this little tangent up, please don't expect people to work for free. Especially if you want an amazing product as the end result. If you spend a little bit more to do it right the first time, you won't spend a ton more to fix it later.
Trust me. I'm an expert.
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