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    Learning from mistakes


    By Jes Egan

    I’ve made some errors in my career, believe me. Some of them I’ll call mistakes; some of them I’ll call a steep learning curve that took many directions (not always upwards); and others I’ll blame on my madly creative upbringing (at least one of them has to be someone else’s undoing!).

    Although at the time most of these mistakes were either painful, stressful, financial or just pure embarrassing, I don’t look back at them in as much horror as I probably felt at the time. Because making mistakes aren’t always a bad thing. Yes, the dictionary definition of a mistake is something misguided or wrong in the context of what it was intended, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Maybe, just possibly, a mistake can that intention into a new (maybe better) direction or as a result you might simply know what to do differently in the future.

    Mistake: not understanding a creative brief
    Lesson learned: let the experience go and re-do the work (paying careful attention to the client’s needs/wants this time and next)

    Perhaps you have spent hours (or days) working on a project, to then sit with the client and realise before anything is said that you’ve made a mistake in the direction or misunderstood part of the brief, and that it’s back to the drawing board. The heart sinks, the fear pops it’s little head up, and then there is the frustration of ‘I should have asked this question/not assumed that/clarified their needs’. I’ve done this enough times now to know that these feelings, although totally genuine at the time, will pass and I’ll get something out of this experience in the future. I will think about it again, in time, when I’ve processed and I will learn from it. Sometimes an experience like this lead you somewhere you may never have got to before and sometimes it’s just extra work (that you will have to do. For free.). My importantly, hopefully you learn how to better understand a client’s wants and needs for a project before diving head first into the solution.

    Mistake: under-quoting for a job
    Lesson learned: ensure your quotes are always detailed and that the client is aware of what is covered and what is not

    I know that I’m not the only one who has made mistakes when putting together a cost estimate for a job. Simple things, such as not including enough detail about the tasks to be completed, or quoting a ‘fixed price’ and not telling a client when they increase the scope from the original brief the price will increase. These are easy mistakes to make. (Once, when I was starting out in the advertising industry, I was tasked by my boss to put a quote together. Before sending it to the client, I consulted with a senior member of staff to check the numbers added up and that there was an appropriate amount of detail. The thing I didn’t explain to the staff member who kindly checked it was the full brief detail, which I also didn’t put it in the quote. The next day my boss told me the quote I had sent should have been closer FIVE TIMES what I had estimated. Way off track. Fortunately for me, I had a great boss – and client – and they agreed to let us resupply the quote that better reflected the project brief. Phew…).

    This is where a mistake can put you in a poor (or even dire) financial position. If you work for yourself, this is often the part that can hurt the most. As I’ve written about before, when it comes to quoting, the devil is in the detail: be very clear about what is included and not included in the cost, it allows you to more successfully negotiate more when it is needed.

    Mistake: Saying something silly
    Lesson learned: It’s good to have a laugh at yourself sometimes!

    A few years ago now I was sitting in a big creative ad agency meeting. There was much discussion and different ideas flowing, everyone was on a different page. To end the meeting and action everyone into gear (as was my job), I said, quote, ‘Let’s all go and get our pigeons in a line’. To which everyone went silent and the copywriter (naturally) said, ‘Jes, I think you’ll find it’s “let’s go and get our ducks in a row”’. Yep. That was where I was trying to go with it.

    I am notorious for getting my metaphors wrong and just as I think I’ve got them all straight, I let another doozy slip and there I am again, back to the beginning. (That one I’m going to connect to my madly creative upbringing, because I heard a family member do just the same thing recently, to a metaphor that I have in the past been corrected on, and it made me smile).

    Mistake: Making an error in your creative work that can’t be ‘undone’
    Lesson learned: Adapt to the change in direction and see where the work goes from there

    These days, my creative work sees me spend many hours cutting intricate designs out of paper. While I try to me methodical (and careful!), in the past when I’ve cut something vital out of a work, instead of a total ‘re-do’, I ask myself – ‘Did anyone else know that was supposed to be there? Nope? Well, what they don’t see they won’t miss”. I always continue with what I’m doing and find a new / different direction, which might not be what I initially intended, but I’ve found that being adaptable is sometimes creatively more challenging and rewarding at the end. However the nature of a commission means there is certain expectations, and this if I make a mistake is when my perfectionist self will kick in and it is a start again. But I don’t throw it out, I carefully put it away and one day I may pick up again and repurpose and reuse for something else.

    Over my career thus far, what I’ve learnt from my experience (or lack of) is the pain associated to a ‘mistake’ at the time is sometimes worth it. We can’t always get it right the first time or be perfect in each and every transaction. And it is totally okay to not to be. I encourage you to think about the mistakes you’ve made, and consider how you can use them to find a new direction and earn from what you have done wrong. What doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger (or should I say, better?). I believe so.

    Jes is a ‘practical creative’ and a very busy lady, doing the business in a digital agency, being an artist, a university lecturer, and small business owner who can creatively be found cutting up a storm at paperchap.com. Follow Jes on Instagram and Facebook.

    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: business tips | Comments Off
    Posted on

    Regional Creative: Melanie Muddle of HoutenPlank

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle1

    By Christina Atherton

    With so many of us are searching for that illusive work/life balance it’s refreshing to see someone who has been able to achieve that while creating a thriving small business from her passions. Based in Redhead, south of Newcastle, Melanie Muddle of HoutenPlank has managed to create an inspiring business that combines her love of food styling, woodwork and Dutch heritage while allowing her to spend precious time with her family. Here she shares an insight into her fledgling creative business and how she got to where she is today.

    Tell us a bit about your background.

    I’m a small town, big family kind of girl. My dad, a scientist come oyster farmer, moved the family from Sydney back to my mum’s hometown on the Tillegery Pennisular when I was young. I spent a lot of time outside, building bush cubbies, riding repurposed bikes from the dump, eating wholesome food and hanging out at the oyster block.

    I’m a third generation ‘Dutchy’. My Oma and Opa came to Australia in 1952 and have been a big part of my life. It was my Opa who started the family oyster farming business and even in his nineties, he continues to demonstrate that working hard is in our genes. My family heritage is something I cherish and it was important for me to incorporate this into my business.

    Inspired by a 1980’s food styling video at school, I decided I wanted to be a food stylist. After chatting to my science-loving dad, I shifted my focus to becoming a dietitian and took myself very seriously at uni. Soon after graduating I was surprised to find that typical dietetics wasn’t for me. I spent the next decade working in corporate dietetics, I enjoyed a stint in private practice, I met my husband at ‘The Worlds Biggest Disco’ and eventually returned to a management position in the Health and Wellbeing division of Sanitarium. And then came our babies.

    What made you want to start your own business?

    I loved my corporate job but motherhood has a way of changing your perspective (often without your permission). I tried to balance everything when baby Eve arrived, but it was impossible. I found myself without work and I knew that I had an opportunity to rethink and reshape my career, a moment to pause and contemplate.

    Like many mums, I wanted to find the elusive balance between work, mothering and life in general. I wanted to do something was fulfilling and fun, that was aligned with my passions and that positioned me to continue to learn and grow.

    How did you come up with the idea of HoutenPlanks?

    I have always loved food. I think about it A LOT. I find food photography mesmerising and adore quiet time with food literature. I had watched that the ‘serving board’ trend become entrenched in food styling. I noted that recipe books, food magazines and cafes where using serving boards frequently. Food commentators were talking about the popularly of share-plates and the decline of entrée-main-dessert dining. Jamie Oliver centred his styling on painted serving boards and people couldn’t get enough of it. I knew that with time, the serving board trend would permeate households, generating demand for such products. I knew that ‘fashion for food’ was on the agenda and that HoutenPlank, which is Dutch for ‘wooden board’, could meet this growing market need.

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle3

    How did you get started?

    My husband Brad often scoffs at the depth of my research and detailed documentation. He’s a ‘get-in-there-and-get-stuff-done’ kind of guy. I’m the opposite and don’t mind generating a spreadsheet or trying to articular market insights. My second baby Esther arrived and I’d spend nights dreaming and working on my business plan. On weekends, in between breast-feeding, I’d slip down to the workshop to start prototyping. Brad was incredibly patient and supportive. He had a few doubts about my woodworking capabilities but nonetheless allowed me to use his tools. He always believed in what I was trying to achieve. He collected discarded workshop furniture from construction sites until we had built a functional little workshop. One sleep-deprived year later, I finally had a plan and the confidence to launch my business.


    What are the pros and cons of running your own small business?

    HoutenPlank provides me with a platform to do what I love. It seems that I’ve finally found my ‘groove’. After previously struggling with work-life balance, I’m happy to be able to control my workflow and how work impacts my family life (well, most of the time). More recently, I’ve relished the freedom to support my friends and family when they’ve needed it. I’ve enjoyed connecting, supporting and being inspired by local creatives. I’m also thrilled that spending hours on Pinterest and Instagram is now considered productive market research!

    Business administration is my foe! Lauren Hung from The Black Line penned my new motto “face it or face-plant in it”. Bookwork, quoting and filing are not my favourite things but I’m learning how to effectively manage these tasks. I also find it difficult to manage growth with limited capabilities. There’s a constant re-evaluation of how to increase production without stepping outside my brand values. Growth is exciting, but also anxiety provoking. Most of the time I am ‘one-girl-in-my-garage’, both a pro and a con on many levels.

    What has been your proudest achievement to date?

    I wish I could tell you about my proudest achievement, but it’s still under wraps. What I can say is that I have won an unearthed competition and have developed a collaborative product, which will be available Australia-wide later in the year. This is groundbreaking for my business and I am preparing for a crazy, busy, exciting few months. I can’t wait until I can share more about it.

    Has social media played an important part in growing your business? If so, how?

    Social media has been an essential tool to create buzz about HoutenPlank. It’s been a cost effective way for me to increase brand awareness, encourage word of mouth, expand my reach, share my story, show my products, develop my style, engage in conversations and build relationships. I’m constantly amazed at the connections, opportunities and friendships that social media can forge. It’s a daily thing for me and I’m now at the stage of developing a social media strategy and calendar to help ensure it’s easy for me to reap the benefits of this medium.

    Regional Creative_Melanie Muddle4

    What advice would you give someone thinking about starting their own creative business?

    I’ve mentioned that I’m partial to research and planning. I believe that a well thought out business plan is an excellent launch pad for a creative business. I’ve recently looked back at my initial plan and while much of it now seems irrelevant, it was critical in the beginning. Don’t make the mistake of planning yourself in circles. There’s a time to plan and a time for action. A good business plan forces you to think differently, to stretch your ideas, to anticipate the challenges, to understand the market place, to be realistic in your financial forecast, but most of all it gives you confidence to take a chance to be successful at doing something that you love.

    Now that I’ve rabbited on about planning, I’ll sum up a few other thoughts…be open-minded, invest in building relationships with stakeholders and customers, embrace collaborations, have a ‘roll-with-it’ attitude, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and never forget your raison d’être (reason for being).

    On a quest to live a more creative life, Christina loves any type of crafty project and has tried everything from watercolours and flower arranging to paper craft and calligraphy. She has an unhealthy obsession with Instagram and when not working in freelance travel and lifestyle PR, spends her time as a mama, wannabe photographer and magazine junkie. She currently coordinates CWC events in Newcastle.

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    Posted by: Tess McCabe
    Categories: conversations with creative women, interview, regional | Comments Off