This weekend I went to a Seattle to attend the Create + Cultivate conference. For those of you who aren't familiar, C+C is a one-day event for more than 1,000 women who are looking to grow a successful creative business. From bloggers to food stylists and marketing coaches to event planners, it's a full day of inspiration, connection, and learning. Between the flower studded La Cruoix booth and fan girling over Issa Rae, I managed to fill my notebook with advice I picked up from the extensive line-up of speakers.
First, let's just say that networking on the lawn of Microsoft Headquarters was pretty inspiring. Seattle in and of itself is a city whose innovative energy is palpable. I had always wanted an excuse to travel to the Pacific Northwest and jumped at the chance to spend a weekend exploring and learning among other creative and ambitious women.
The conference was divided into two tracks - business development and marketing strategy. Since I've spent a good part of the last six months building the business side of the studio, I thought a dive into the marketing world would be an inspiring change of pace (my goal was to finish our studio marketing plan over the weekend) I was lucky enough to travel with my friend KJ of Hearsay PR who attended Track 1, so if you want her take on the experience, be sure to read her recap.
Before I go into my biggest takeaways from the weekend as a whole, here is a look at the panels I listened to (to give you a little context):
- Snackable Content: The intersection of food and digital (lots of food bloggers and stylists!)
- Tag, Snap, Story: Social Media's style icons
- Detail Oriented: The intersection of design and digital media
- Radically Creative: How to stand out online
- What Glass Ceiling: Women who won the internet
Overall summary, this is an amazing event for someone who is thinking about starting a creative business and wants inspiration from women who have successfully done the same. More of a show-and-tell than a how-to, it will spark imagination and invite big ideas so that you can go home and get to work!
Here are the 5 biggest lessons I learned during my time at Create + Cultivate Seattle:
1. Start before you're ready.
Want to know how many of the successful panelists had a full idea of what they were going to do before they did it? None.
The takeaway from nearly every conversation is that no one really knows what they're doing. The difference is that they are willing to do the work and start before they're ready (and trust their gut!! More on that later...) You must be willing to risk and improvise. You can't organize your way to creative success. At some point, you just need to hit the ground running.
If you think about it, how many apps go through beta testing and how many boutiques do a soft opening to an exclusive audience? Hollywood does early screenings of new movies and authors pre-release new books. Want to know why? They need the feedback. Getting someone to participate in your idea is the best way to overcome decision paralysis.
The key to a good initial launch is to keep your audience small while you refine your idea. Ask for feedback, advice, and ideas. Offer your product or service for free in exchange for a detailed account of the experience. Make notes of what worked and didn't work. Imposter syndrome is real when you're just starting, but just remember that the surest way to fail is if you never start.
My advice to our branding clients is to put something, anything, out there even before it's totally ready. Make sure you have an audience for the business you're investing in. Market test, improvise and improve. The internet values consistent effort more than you think - it's relatable.
2. Embrace failure.
You will not soar every time you put your creative mind to work - but you usually land on your feet. Not every idea will be a success - and that's a good thing!! When you're just starting out, you tend to think small and underestimate what might be possible in the long run. Just because your dream right now is to quit your full-time job, do you really think merely working for yourself will be the epitome of your creative success?
Every successful woman I know has her own variety of skeletons in the studio closet. Unfinished projects, unsold services, and returned products. It's the nature of business - not everything will hit just right, but it's learning to be resilient that will elevate your idea into something magical. Every time you pick yourself up and keep trying, your idea becomes stronger and your confidence builds. This makes you not only a good business owner but a fantastic human.
For a lot of my friends, they've taken ideas that didn't quite pan out and used it as fuel for a rebrand. A great brand takes both positive and negative experiences to create a powerful and captivating story.
The next time failure threatens to steal your momentum, use it as an opportunity to do it better the next time. Just whatever you do, don't quit. Learn.
3. Your perspective matters.
Just because you operate in a saturated creative field doesn't mean that you can't make huge waves by joining the party. Believe me, I feel like there's a new brand designer that enters the scene every day, but you know what? That's ok. Each new brand designer, each new wedding photographer, each new blogger brings a different perspective.
Just make sure you bring an intentional, curated perspective to your business. Otherwise, things start to look really scattered. Try focusing on a few key highlights instead of trying to follow every new trend.
As social media increasingly becomes a "pay to play" platform for businesses, your engagement and communication with your audience will be the sure-fire way to stand out from the rest and build relationships with loyal fans. They will appreciate a genuine connection over a cold established brand any day. Think about it, wouldn't you?
When building your brand, consider the non-visual ways that you will strengthen the perception around your business. This includes the way you describe your services, form relationships, and communicate online. It all matters.
4. Trust your gut and do the work.
Bottom line? There's no short cut to winning at this. It requires a great deal of risk and a greater deal of hard work. Don't let social media fool you - there are a lot of long nights, rejection emails, unpaid collaborations, and frustrated tears that go into creative entrepreneurship.
However, don't underestimate the power of intuition. If you see a gap in the market that sparks your curiosity and keeps you awake at night - pursue it. You owe it to your creative ambitions. And when your intuition won't leave an idea alone, it means the hard work might just pay off in the end!
But work hard strategically. Don't spin your wheels when you don't know what you're doing. Ask friends who have been there, hire someone to help you, invest in your idea - because the last thing you want to do is be responsible for it never getting past the idea phase. We all have had to reach out for extra support along the way - all good ideas are in one way or another combined effort!
5. Consistently seek new ways to stand out.
At an event the size of Create + Cultivate, it can feel overwhelming to stand in a sea of creative women and wonder if there is anything really new or interesting. But look a little bit further and you'll see such amazing expressions of originality. You just have to be adamant about questioning where your inspiration comes from.
With platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, it is so much more convenient to source your inspiration from the inspiration of others. As convenient as it is, it can also be a lazy art form. Don't forget to tap into creative living from time to time - and don't just #doitforthegram. Do it for YOU! It still happens even if you don't document it. The times that I have been most profoundly inspired are moments when I'm forced to absorb and process what's going on around me.
So as I enter back into my studio routine, I'm taking the inspiration from the conference this weekend to fuel ideas I have allowed to sit dormant for way too long. One of those being a way to turn an experience like C+C into an actionable experience. All weekend, I kept thinking about our Brand Scratch Pad and ideas for where we could take that content and DIY experience to new levels this year.
Are you curious about some of these tips and how you can make your own business stand out online? Go ahead and get your free copy of the Brand Scratch Pad. It's a guided questionnaire that will help you take a deep dive into how you want to be known and who you want to interact with online. Inspiration is wonderful, but inspiration with action behind it is where all the magic comes from!
Brand Scratch Pad
Get your free copy and start standing out online!
Were you at #createcultivatesea too? Let me know what you thought of the event!