Sitting in the auto mechanic's waiting room, I spy a coffee station against the back wall. Figuring that I’ll be waiting a few moments, I decide to grab a cup. Before I even get up, I already knew what kind of quality coffee was sitting in that pot. It was going to taste some level of burnt, be extremely weak, and make me question if they just watered down some used motor oil. But I also know why it’s going to be so bad: I’m in an auto mechanic shop.

I don’t expect auto mechanics to be good at making coffee; I expect them to be good at fixing cars. If I want a good coffee, I’ll go to a cafe; because that is what they specialize in. Mechanics don’t have the proper equipment or training on how to make a stellar beverage; that’s not their area of expertise. The same applies to cafes; they are not equipped to read my vehicle codes or give it a tune up. Businesses are amazing at what they do because they have the proper training and equipment to get the job done. It is also their purpose.

I've seen many businesses in my career that are phenomenal at making their widget or providing their service, but they suck at designing a logo. Because that isn't what they specialize in. Does every small business owner balance the books every week, or write and publish the company e-newsletter, or make the bread for the sandwiches, or any other multitude of activities not within their station? The answer is: no. They succeed by doing what they do best and hire people to fulfill those roles to make it all work. It comes down to what do you want to specialize in, what do you need to make those roles operate at their best, and what don't you need at all. Knowing your weaknesses is your greatest strength.

I've worn many hats for my company, but I know when I'm wasting more of my time to accomplish a task that I don't know how to do properly. I'll hire a financial advisor when I need help with my business expenses. I'll hire a marketing pro when I want to expand my company's reach. I'll hire a printer to produce new business cards. Because I know where my strengths are. I’m amazing at very specific things and I'm OK with not being able to do everything. Business owners and operators need to focus on what THEY are good at and know when it's time to hire a professional.

Everyone seems to have a nephew that took a Photoshop class in high school. Or that friend of a friend, Carla, that got really into using Canva for every newsletter and birthday card opportunity. Which is great if you want something free/cheap, but the quality might not be up to par for a business. And it will show. Your visual brand will suffer if you don't put in the money that is required to present your business in the best possible manner. That's just a fact.

I've spent many hours "fixing" or "updating" everything that nephew of yours designed. Quite frankly, he needs to pursue a different career path. He's not good at this. And that's OK. Hire a professional because it's a worthy investment to your company. Because it is so much more than just how everything looks. There is a reason for color selections, font uses, photo collections, and every facet behind a brand. Your nephew isn't aware of your market competition, is he? Does Carla know the correct file output for printing in full color? Short answer, no.

And buy your coffee from people that know what they are doing.

Staying positive in a difficult situation is tough. You know what's going on, you might not have control over any of it, and now you need to fight your emotions and stay up-beat. I've been there and it's tough. Fighting through your own emotions to mask what's really happening is just as hard as dealing with what's going on behind the scenes. But I can tell you this, perfecting the positive attitude can be your saving grace.

Story Time

I recently attended a networking and marketing event. Though I normally dress more professional for these I went in my casual clothes, as 8a.m. was never my favorite time of day to dress up. When I arrived, I was the only one dressed in a t-shirt and capri pants. Everyone else was business casual or in a suit. I've long gotten over feeling weird about walking into a room and feeling like the beginning of Pretty Woman. I found a friend in the group and said hi. She introduced me to a gentleman named Jim, who was dressed very smartly I might add, and we had a lovely conversation. I was happy to talk about my business and how well things have been going this year. He seemed keen to see my work and possibly run into each other at other networking events. We exchanged cards and took our seats for the event.

After the talk, there was another designer chatting to Jim. While she was dressed much better than me, her attitude as pretty bad. Nay, deplorable. She talked at length how terrible things were for her. How she had just gotten into the freelancing world but was woefully unprepared. No online portfolio, no fall back savings, no clients or contacts, just jumped in because she didn't like the company she was working with before. While I can attest to the work situation, I tried to share some of my years of wisdom playing the freelance game. She was closed off to anything I said. She kept holding back tears, or screams, at how she went into a business venture with two other people and how the bank was screwing them over. Jim was visibly uncomfortable, but was stoic and professional. When he asked for her card she didn't have any. Jim gave her one of his and excused himself. Before he left, he gave me a vigorous hand-shake and said it was lovely to meet me.

After Jim left, I tried to get this other designer to say something nice about herself or her work. Aside from being a print designer, she had no excitement. Her situation was obviously tearing her down. I started to feel uncomfortable so I said good luck to her and left.

Be Aware

All I can say is attitude is everything. It's a skill worth devoting time to as it could mean the difference of a good or bad reputation. Cincinnati is a little-big city and the creative field is very much a close community. I've gone to various networking events, hosted by different organizations, and met a lot of the same people. As a freelancer, you must be aware of how you behave. It sounds nerve-wracking (and it is) but it is far more beneficial to stay positive than to be a downer. Leave your personal issues at home and step outside with your professional face on. That doesn't mean you have to be in work/selling mode. Behave as you would in a professional office you're visiting for the first time. People don't want to hear about your sob story. They might sympathize, but they didn't come to an event to feel sad. They won't be interested in it and will be turned off from talking to you at length. You'll also be forever pegged as the one with the sad story or bad attitude.

What do you do then? Ask people more questions. Everyone loves to talk about themselves (admit it, you know you do). You give them the opportunity to lead the conversation and that will reflect well on you. You'll be seen as inquisitive and a good listener. People will take notice and thank you. And if you're still not feeling up for it, fake it.

Fake it till you make it. Cliché yes, but it works. Hence why it's a cliché.

It's difficult sometimes to push myself through a networking event. Somedays I'm not up for it, or I'm stressed, or I'm just feeling anti-social. It's rare that I skip an event if there's any chance I'll make one connection. So when I do go, I don my positive mask and try to keep a good attitude. Trust me, it's worth the effort!