Freelance Boost: Help Build Credibility

Part of owning your business is protecting your knowledge and information. But protect it too hard and no one will know you have it. That’s not a successful step in being successful.

One of the biggest leaps in understanding how to run a good business happened when I was employed in an ad agency as the creative director in an ad agency. A client called, asking for a process we did not do. At all. I was pretty sure that if I asked one of the designers, she could have created something pretty good.

Trouble was, the big client was used to excellent work, and our work was not going to be excellent. Having worked in the advertising community for a while, I suggested another company that did that process very well. Yes, they were a competitor. Our client was grateful.

The ad agency president didn't really look like this, it just felt like it.

The ad agency president didn’t really look like this, it just felt like it.

At the next staff meeting, I reported what I had done. The company president was livid. I was sending business to our competitors, he yelled. I was costing us business we could have used. We could have done something, he screamed, banging his fist on the table. And then he fired me. In front of my colleagues.

What hurt the worst in that story was the complete missing of the point exhibited by the company owner. The point of a good client relationship is to help people, even if it means sending them somewhere else. It builds trust and credibility and that beats any marketing plan you may have.

How do I know this is true? Because, those many years ago, the client heard what had happened. They moved the business to the company that became my new work home. They did it because I had helped them honestly when they needed it, focusing not on my own company, but on the client’s needs.

I still follow that rule today: offer the best help you can, but when someone else Free-Vectors-Crown-GraphicsFairy1does it better, tell your client the truth. Make the introduction. If the client leaves your company entirely, the relationship was not as strong as you thought. Almost all the time, the relationship will grow stronger, and you will become trusted and a credible resource. And when you own your own business, that is a crown you can wear with pride.

—Quinn McDonald teaches writing to individuals and to corporations. And she’d still send clients to the best provider of services.

What I Learned: Watching Videos

After watching several hundred art how-to videos on You Tube, I realize that not everyone is a videographer. We learn by doing. Fine. But if you want to keep your audience, you need to concentrate on what your audience wants to see, learn, or do.

An old movie camera.

An old movie camera.

We are a culture of story tellers. We love telling them, and most people love listening to them. How-to videos are not, however, a good medium for story telling.  You don’t have to be a professional to do a good video. Here are a few steps to make your video successful:

Two basic questions to ask before starting your video

1. “Who is my audience?” Experienced? Beginners? Age? (Related to both vocabulary and software explanation choices). Geographic region? (We still call the same item by different names). If your answer is “my video is for everybody, everywhere” stop and re-think your range. No video can work for everybody everywhere because people have different expectations, experience, patience, words, and backgrounds. You’ll lose too much of the “everyone” audience.

director_chair2. “What is my objective?” Showing a skill? Doing a how-to? Explaining? Selling your classes? Getting someone to agree with you? Each one of those is different outcome and needs a different kind of video. If you don’t know exactly what your objective is, ask yourself, “What is the one thing I want people to do immediately after they watch my video?” Everything in the video should support that one thing. Again, too many objectives will confuse your audience.

Once you are clear on who you are talking to and what you want them to learn, do, agree with or buy, some other tips to make the video work:

1. Show the finished project right at the beginning. Your audience wants to know what the finished project is and will look like. Tell them and show them. Too many people want to start with a background story of how they go to this point. Right then, your audience wants to know what the outcome looks like.

2. Show the supplies needed to create the successful project. Be specific. If you use a brand name (and that brand only) name it and say why. “Because I like it” is not a well-explained, specific reason. “This pen writes on acrylic paint smoothly and without skipping,” is a specific example.

3. Do not give your background, how you came across this idea, or the fun

lol cat is not interested.

lol cat is not interested.

alternatives till the end. Unlike a story, a video starts with the most important point for your audience first. Your background will be more interesting when the audience sees what you can do. . .for them.

4. Your favorite music may not be your audience’s favorite music. Any music that you purchased on a CD or MP3 was written by someone else and your using it violates their copyright. I’m sorry about this, but YouTube takes down violators randomly and without warning. There is a lot of music that is not under copyright, use it. Make sure it suits the video, though. And if it is a loop of music, limit the loop to three times before you move on. If you are narrating the video, don’t use music when you are talking.

5. Watch the music volume. Particularly if you are narrating. A big jump in sound level from explanation to music is jarring.

6. Edit your video. It’s no different than a how-to article. Your first take will be too long. Edit for your reader, so they can do the step and then move on. Most videos I see could be cut in half the length and still be effective.

-Quinn McDonald watches videos. Sometimes she smiles, and sometimes she rolls her eyes.



Leaving the Studio Ready to Go

One of the tricks I teach my creativity coaching clients is to leave your studio ready to continue work. Yes, I actually suggest you don’t clean up and leave it neat and tidy.


Tom Humber’s studio, ready to work.

A tidy studio with everything put away requires work before you start your real work. You have to gather supplies, plan your project, find the parts you need. During all that time, you can find excellent excuses for things that have to be done first. (See yesterday, under “dust bunnies.”)

Here’s how you leave your studio: as if you were coming back in a few minutes.

Yes, you rinse your brushes or secure the needle and thread. Of course you save the file and remember where you left it. But stopping before you are done leaves the door open to yearning for more.


  • Leave something open and ready to be worked on
  • Leave your tools ready to pick up and get back to work
  • Leave yourself a note of what work you want to start
  • Write something encouraging about your work and leave it where you can see it
  • Turn on a light so when you pass the studio in the evening, it will look inviting


  • Leave a long list of what needs to be done to make your work perfect
  • Write a list of everything you dislike about this piece, so you can “fix” it when you come back into the studio.
  • Pile up supplies to be put away before you start
  • Leave old coffee cups and plates in the studio, that encourages you to pick up the dishes and leave and maybe not come back

Whatever you leave out, create an atmosphere of wanting to return, something that will welcome you. That way, when you perform your ritual, something will be calling you to the studio.

Two other articles in this series: Create a Studio-Ritual to Jump-Start Creative Work and Rationalizing Yourself out of Studio Time (with Dust Bunnies).

–Quinn McDonald has overcome studio fear several times.

Studio photo:


Cutting Short Studio Time

Yesterday, I mentioned having a ritual to get you into the studio. Today we are going to take a look at why we leave the studio before we are done–emotionally or physically.

20130303-211539Whether you write or draw, paint or sew, at some point you put down your work and leave the studio. That instant is significant in your creative building. What happens in your head and heart just as you leave the studio defines how easy it is to come back and work again.

If you have trouble returning regularly, and you think of the studio fondly while you are in a meeting or watching soccer practice,  you have a priority conflict. But if you find yourself doing laundry, dusting or making the bed, it’s not a priority problem, you are putting off going to the studio.

There are many reasons we put off going back in. The first thing my coaching

Fully realized dustbunnies.

Fully realized dust bunnies.

clients usually mention is fear of failure. But I don’t think so. I think we fear success. If we do something wonderful in the studio, we are responsible for it. We have to own our own creativity, our creation and the power of being a creator. Better to search for dust bunnies than be powerful. Owning our own power is often hard, even if we want to be famous or recognized. Because once we have created something, there is responsibility in creating more. Doing it again. Competing to outdo ourselves.  Explaining success. Easier just to let it slide.

Sometimes we leave the studio right before a breakthrough, before that Aha! Moment changes our lives. It is so much easier to cut short the revelation, the hard truth, the secret we hide. Ah, but what we resist, persists. And then refusing to return seems like a good idea. We need to “take a break,” or we need to “work it out.” Take your break in the studio. Work out your truth in the studio. Because no place else is your studio–the space dedicated to your own creation, your own growth. That’s where the magic happens–right after the sweat and fear. Stay. Wait for the magic. Give it a chance.

Tomorrow: Tips for returning to the studio with anticipation.

-Quinn McDonald has experience studio reluctance. That’s the only time her house is clean.

Dust bunny image:
Comfort zone image:


Rituals Work

If you work in an office, you have a morning routine. Whether you get up and shower or get up and exercise, have breakfast and then shower, you do the same thing every morning. You probably have your moves timed down to the exact second, either by a clock or your TV.  You get out of the house and to the office on time.

children-3Creating a ritual for art is exactly the same thing as a routine for work. A ritual legitimizes your effort, eliminates distractions and assigns a top priority to your artwork. As long as your artwork doesn’t have a priority higher than the laundry or watching TV, it won’t get done. And you strengthen the priority every day of your life, by repeating what you did before.

Your art work is powerful, but not powerful enough to overcome your resistance and drag you into your studio. You have to do the work. And that means shifting priorities. To art. Why is that worth it? Because art makes meaning in your life. It helps you understand yourself, your world, your journey. It’s also sometimes uncomfortable  to face the meaning you make in art, so it’s easy to shove it aside. The art you make is not always the way it’s portrayed on Facebook, elegant and surrounded by a glowing light. Art can be messy, painful and revealing–of thoughts you wanted to bury.

The ritual doesn’t have to be complex. Decide ahead of time when you will do art.Green-Art-Studios-Weaving-Studio-537x368 Choose a whole hour. Set a timer to ring 10 minutes before you want to go to the studio to give yourself time to quit what you are doing. Make a cup of coffee or tea, grab the cup and head to the studio. No excuses.

Once you start your new habit, it will first get much harder to meet your ritual. The phone will ring, the kids will demand your attention, a crisis will erupt. Keep to your schedule. In about a week, it will suddenly get easier.

Your morning routine works because your job brings in money and you have given it permission to take over your life. Give your art a chance, too. It brings meaning to your life. And as my mantra says, “you don’t find meaning in life, you make meaning in your life.” Give meaning a chance.

—Quinn McDonald has her own ritual for getting to the studio. Some days it’s still uncomfortable.

Journal Words That Trip You Up

images1Writing in a journal, especially when you write by hand, leaves you open to making mistakes. One word sounds a lot like another. And before you know it, you’ve said the wrong thing. Here is a list of words I’ve seen misused frequently (not just in journals, but in newspapers, on TV, and spoken by people who should know better.)

Simplistic. Doesn’t mean easy or simple. It means oversimplifying by leaving out important factors. Use “simple” instead.

Podium. A riser. You have to step up on it. Comes from the Greek for ‘feet,’ as Podium_of_2009WAGC_Beamdoes podiatrist. The tall piece of furniture you stand behind to deliver a speech is a lectern.

Pacific. Means peaceful. The ocean on the West side of the U.S. is called the Pacific. If you want to talk about precise or exact, that’s specific.

Disinterested. Fair or impartial. Does not mean “used to be interested but not any more.” That word is uninterested.

Towards: No S. It’s toward.

Actionable. Not an action item on a list. Much worse. Something that will get you sued. “Patting the tushy of my boss not only is actionable, it got me fired.”

One off.  Short for “one of a kind,” not “turn this one off,” or even “off the last ‘f’ in this word.” So it’s “one of.”

For all intensive purposes. Words that got squished together by sound. It is For all intents and purposes.

Chomping at the bit. Nope. The sound is not a big bite (chomp) it is a noisy grinding (champ). So the phraseimages is Champing at the bit.

Rain, reign, rein. The first is water, the second is the rule of a king or queen, the third is how you control a horse. So you give someone free rein, so they can go wherever they want, not become a dictator, which happens with free reign.

Sherbert. No R for the ice-cream like treat. It’s sherbet.

Restauranteur. If the person owns a restaurant, it has no ‘n’ in it–it’s restaurateur.

—Quinn McDonald loves the English language and occasionally fears for it.



Map Your World

The newspaper had stories on  The Cape Verde Islands. I couldn’t remember if the Seychelles are close to Cape Verde islands (they aren’t.)  The story didn’t have a map,  but it would have made for a clearer story if there had been one. A map adds context. But we are no longer used to maps. We rely on photos for emotional food, but we dieted away our spatial-relationship food.

We may not need paper maps as long as there is a GPS system to tell us how to get where we want to go. But don’t we need to know where we were and how we got here? If life is a journey, don’t we want a map of the trip?

My dirty secret is that I hate using GPS systems. They make me feel dizzy and disoriented. I have the same problem as digital clocks– I need to know where I’m not as well as where I am. I need to have a sense of connection, of space, of logic on the freeway as well as downtown. A few days ago a friend and I were driving to the airport. She had mistakenly programmed her GPS system for someplace else. And while we could both clearly see the airplanes landing a few miles away, she headed in the other direction because her GPS system told her to. I don’t own a GPS and don’t miss it, either.

My favorite three reasons to use lots of maps:

desert_portraits1. Maps help us figure out the world around us. Most people who don’t live in Arizona think the entire state is desert, with saguaro cactus and drifting sand, like the Sahara. (The Sahara doesn’t have saguaros, but that’s another blog.) When they hear it snows in Flagstaff and that the road to the Grand Canyon is closed due to snow starting in November, they think I’m making it up. A topographical map, showing elevations, helps explain why that is.

2. Maps help us figure out where to go next. This isn’t necessary about physical geography, this is also true in writing. I use a mind map to organize almost everything I write, and once I organize the studio, I can complete the map of where things are. This is a goofy map I’m making because the room is small and doubles as the guest room, so I often have to disappear things in a closet. Astrict rule of putting things in the same place every time and an Excel spread sheet (I can search for items in different ways) helps me locate gesso, spray bottles and sponge brushes once the guests are gone.

3. Maps help us know what’s beyond the horizon. We usually care about our houses and our back yards. It’s also important to know what’s in your back yard, what’s in the next state, the location of the nearest earthquake fault, water source, and windbreak.  A good map can do that, particularly if you add to it or draw it yourself.

Which reminds me. Draw your own maps. They don’t have to be elaborate or even exact. Drawing a map helps you think spatially, locally and globally. And that has to be a good thing.

–Quinn McDonald draws her own maps of everything from city streets to location of bathrooms and water dispensers in places she teaches.






Choosing a Book by its Cover


The journal as it was originally

Digging through my piles of partially-started journals, I found one I really liked. Why didn’t I continue using it? I liked the paper inside–heavy enough for sketches and light washes, provided they don’t require a lot of scrubbing. The top paper layer did dissolve, but I generally don’t soak my journal pages.

Why had I abandoned this journal? After staring at it for a minute, I realized the cover was too busy, the paint stencil over the newspaper-print butterflies didn’t suit the delicate swirls on the cover.

Most of my journal covers are dark brown or black. If I make the journal myself, I use a dark color–it shows less wear. Even when I loose-leaf journal, the covers or carriers are usually dark.

The big circle is much greener, but color correction can only do so much.

The big circle is much greener, but color correction can only do so much.

Yep, I was that shallow–judging a book by its cover. And not using it because I didn’t like the cover. Milliseconds later, I grabbed paper and collaged the cover, leaving the pretty purple color and swirls in space and covering the butterflies with geometric shapes.

Some color richness is missing here, too, but you get the idea.

Some color richness is missing here, too, but you get the idea.

Since then, I’ve been using it regularly. Who knew that such a small thing could make such a big difference? As an artist, I should have. But I was embarrassed at 4972f961f1e56b004aaa0323977ed746my own “shallowness.” Until I thought about it. We buy by preference–color, texture, shading.  I wouldn’t buy the shoes on the left, for example, although someone did. And wore them with great flair.

My experiment of book-cover altering bring up another idea: the things we use have to fit our hands, our hearts, and our pleasures. Or we won’t use them. It’s not always about practical and usefulness. Sometimes it’s about sheer pleasure.

-Quinn McDonald judges a book by its cover. She tries not to do the same for people.



Writing Sympathy Notes

Sooner than we want, we need to write sympathy cards. Not all cards available at the drug store work well. It’s far kinder to write your own note. Nothing is more comforting than a hand-written note to a friend in mourning.

Knee-jerk reaction reaches for “I am sorry for your loss,” and while there is nothing wrong with the thought, it’s been overused so much that it’s a threadbare hand-me-down from your heart.

Other things not to put in a sympathy card:

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

“I know exactly how you feel, my _______ died last year.” Even worse is when you are comforting someone who is mourning the death of  a human and your pet died.

“Your loved one is with God now.” You don’t know what happens after death, and if you don’t know what the other person’s religious beliefs are (or aren’t), leave predictions out of it.

“You can be happy their suffering is over now.” The word “happy” or “glad” or “relieved” should not appear in a condolence card. Ever.

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

“Everything happens for a reason.” Maybe that’s what you believe, but it cheats the other person out of mourning and demands that they cheer up.

“It could be worse. This friend of mine. . .” This is not the time to share drama in your life. It will not make your friend feel better about their loss.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Again, this makes a person in mourning feel that they should handle their grief better. Everyone mourns in their own way.

Things you can say:

“May your memories comfort you.”

“Our thoughts [or prayers] are with you and your family.”

sympathy-card-sage“With thoughts of comfort and peace for you.”

“Our hearts go out to you in this sad time.”

“We remember [the person who died] with loving memories.”

“May you be surrounded by the love and comfort of friends and family.”

Use a soft-color stationery–cream, gray, blue. No pink or  yellow, and nothing with a bright floral theme. No typing and printing it in a handwriting font. Use a pen and hand write the words as if you were speaking to your friend. It’s more comforting.

And your friend will stay your friends and be there to comfort you when you need it.

-Quinn McDonald is comforting a friend at the sudden death of her husband. Some of what she hears said is odd, bordering on strange.



Alone Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Neither literally  nor figuratively. “Alone” is an experience fast disappearing from our culture.  For an entire generation who grew up in sports teams, group after-school activities, study clubs, and went from that to living in college dorms, parties and more sports teams, there is a big surprise. When you have graduated, when you are done with work, you’ll find yourself alone. I know that people now have roommates instead of a studio apartment, I know that work is now a 24/7 activity, largely to avoid being alone, but sooner or later, you will find yourself alone.

One of my friends is terrified of being alone. She will do almost everything to avoid that evening spent alone. Call friends, spend four hours on Facebook, go on a date with someone she doesn’t like. All this because it’s better than being alone.

For some of us, alone is a time to recharge and regroup. After I’ve taught for eight hours, I need to spend time alone. But I’m in the vast minority.

Food52Whether it’s divorce, or death,  a fight, or just life, at some point you will be alone. And you can love it. You don’t have to live in dread or fear, being alone can be a delicious break from having people crowded around you, talking all the time.

Some early steps to comfort yourself when you are alone:

1. What do you like to do? Read? Cook? Hike? You can do almost anything alone that you used to do with friends. Except this time you can do it your way. An activity really can be all about you. You can hike at your pace, turn on your music, cook what you like. Take a deep breath and think–do you remember your preferences? Or are they blurred by what all your friends told you was right?

2. Quit looking at the clock. Instead, choose an activity and plan how to savor it. Decide which book to read. Spend some time choosing it. Decide where you want to read it. Outside? Inside on the couch, stretched out? Decide what is best for you. Then do it. Read till you are tired. Fall asleep. Wake up and keep reading. What did you like about the book? What didn’t you like?

3. Decide what you will eat. No more junk, on the run. Choose something you like that’s good for you. Make a grocery list. Go buy groceries. Cook it thoughtfully. Set the table. Sit at a table with candlelight. Play music if you like. You choose. The joy of preparing food and choosing what will nourish you deliberately is a deeply refreshing experience.

Those three are enough for now. Life alone is not something to be rushed, or avoided. There is much to learn when the journey has only your footprints along the path.

Note: When I searched for photos for this blog, all I could find was people alone, crying at dinner, or eating out of cans. Not even Google sees the joy of alone-ness.

–Quinn McDonald loves people, but she also loves being alone. Particularly after spending 12 hours on airplanes with 560 strangers this week.