Whenever I talk about dark art on my blog, some people ask me if this aspect of their work will hurt their career, and someone even mentioned sticking with a pen name to appease their employer.
Everyone’s situation is unique. People who work in public education are more vulnerable to prejudice than those of us who are self-employed, and are able to choose who we work with. Of course, you’re responsible for the choices you make, and my idealistic view may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Still, I want to share a story of a recent experience I’ve had that really helped me drive home the fact that showing up in my business with the full intensity of my creative voice brings more benefits than drawbacks.
Of course, I have many stories about clients who chose to work with me specifically because of my “dark side”, but this one is interesting because the client’s didn’t even consciously realize it.
Hiring you “in spite of” your quirks might mean they’re really hiring you because of them
I was in a meeting with a new client to discuss the details of the branding project they hired me to do. We seemed to get along pretty well, and I was glad to hear their reasons why they chose to work with me. To paraphrase the client, the price I offered was not cheap, but not too expensive, and the quality of my work convinced them that I can do the job well.
(I was especially glad about the “not cheap” remark. “Cheap” is definitely not one of the words I want people to associate with my work. I wrote more on the topic of cheap brands here.)
But the client also mentioned how he felt that my website wasn’t working in my favor because of the art that I feature on it, which might turn potential clients off. He said that he looked past the surface and was able to appreciate the skills and effort, so it wasn’t a problem in our relationship.
And therein lies the twist.
What the client didn’t realize is that he self-selected himself, and my art played a big part in that process.
I don’t want to work with people who aren’t able to look past their prejudice.
The basis of great collaboration with clients is a match in personal values. If someone isn’t sharing some of my core values, our relationship will be strained because of the tug-o-war that both parties play in the creative process.
If someone is disturbed by my art and cannot appreciate that I’m in fact a warm, open and fair person, I’m far happier for them to find someone else who will fit their picture of professionalism.
This is not a judgment on my part, either. I don’t think people who don’t like me are bad people. I don’t think they “don’t deserve to get a piece of my creative genius”. We’re just not ideal for each other, and there’s a better match out there for them, and I sincerely hope they find them.
But the story is not over yet.
On my way home from the meeting, I was chatting with one of the employees who initially contacted me to request a proposal. We discovered we have some mutual acquaintances, and that about 10 years ago we both spent a lot of time on the same design websites. He mentioned using deviantART, and how he remembered my work from back then, which is why he recommended my services to his boss.
My art, the same one the client didn’t particularly enjoy, was the very reason they looked up my services in the first place.
If there’s any moral to this story, it’s this.
Don’t water yourself down so more potential clients will like you
The right kind of client, the one you’ll adore working with, will accept you as you are. This goes especially for those of us in a creative industry – creatives have a reputation for being eccentric, so let that work in your favor.
You don’t have to try hard to appear more quirky than you really are. Trust me, everyone around you is so inhibited, that the mere audacity to be honest about your true values and motivations can be shocking for some people.
You don’t have to be hypey at all. You don’t have to yell from the rooftops. In fact, a strong message delivered in a calm tone will be even more effective. You can do “branding” in any way you want to.
And another thing...
Don’t listen to what people say – pay attention to what they do
My client’s words were implying one thing, but their actions were exactly the opposite. If I were to go by the words alone, I’d better clean up my act and appear more professional, which would mean hiding my personal creative expression.
But I know better than to trust people’s words.
Compliments are a dime a dozen, because words are free. Your friends, your family, your former co-workers may all say wonderful things about your work, but few of them will pull out their wallet.
I’m not saying that money should dictate your actions, but when the money happens to go right along with what you’d want to be doing anyway, that’s a good sign. Kind words may soothe our souls, but unfortunately they don’t pay our bills.
If the clients had concerns, yet they still ended up working with you (and they told you specifically what pushed them over the fence), that’s even better than clients who just bought into your story impulsively. A decision that was well thought through is a decision that people are invested in, and that they tend to stick with. (If you’re interested in some psychological geekery, I recommend Wikipedia’s article on Choice-supportive bias.)
Being extraordinary is a choice
I decided for this type of representation online because having to maintain a separate “professional” persona was exhausting, but it appears that it was also a good strategic decision.
Funny how things work out like that sometimes.
If you appear vanilla to your potential clients, no doubt you will attract a more diverse audience. But if you choose to polarize your audience instead, the people who stick with you will be more loyal, and your community will be more harmonious because “birds of a feather flock together” and all that.
Rallying your right people around your core values is a powerful way to build a community that will support you in your decisions – even the unconventional ones.
If your goal is to remain palatable to the masses, you might get a lucky break and end up a household name on the lips of Mormon stay-at-home moms and big city business women alike.
But if your goal is to be extraordinary, your choices have to be bold. This means not everyone will like what you do, and you will face criticism from those that aren’t brave enough to stand out on their own.
When it happens, celebrate it – it means you’re doing something right.