There are two ways to approach any kind of professional event: Show up and see what happens, or create a strategic plan for what you want to accomplish during and take away from the event.
For an event as comprehensive as HOW Design Live, with five programs and nearly 100 sessions, planning ahead is essential. Yes, there’s serendipity in drifting from one session to another. But taking the time to consider what you aim to get out of the conference experience (whether it’s creative inspiration or strategies to grow your business — or some of both) and choosing sessions intentionally makes sense, particularly since these big industry conferences aren’t cheap to attend.
Jenny Poff, who manages a solo design studio called Presque Isle Designs in Erie, PA, says she attended her first Creative Freelancer Conference in Boston in 2012 without much of a plan. At the time, she was trying to manage her business through a series of life-altering events including the deaths of her parents. She didn’t know what she was doing with her business, she says. “I felt I needed to go to CFC to figure it all out. That first year, I had no plan. I attended as many sessions as possible and I got overwhelmed fast. Still, I left feeling completely empowered and full of momentum. I came home with all these great ideas and spent the next year implementing them.”
Attending the 2013 CFC in San Francisco, she says, “I knew I wanted to grow my business, but I didn’t know how to do it. So I went to the conference to learn what I needed to do to grow in a way that made sense for me. I walked away feeling more educated, like I had the tools I needed to make sound decisions about growth.”
This year, Poff says she’s more confident in the direction of her business, and she’s shifting her approach to the conference. “I’ve invested in the Big Ticket, because I’m craving more design and creative topics. It’s like ‘choose your own adventure.’” As she’s focused her work, specializing in helping small businesses figure out their positioning and branding, she expects to gain valuable expertise in branding at HOW Design Live. (Branding-related sessions include Karl Heiselman of Wolff Olins on “The Changing Relationship Between People and Brands,” P&G’s Elizabeth Olson, and Scott Lerman on “Building Better Brands.”) We asked Poff to outline her top must-attend sessions at HOW Design Live:
- How Design Enhances Business Strategy and Total Value: How to effectively collaborate with non-designers and bridge what seems like a cultural divide
- Design as Idea: Cultural brainwash, original work, exciting creative experience
- Is Your Work Eating Your Life Alive?: I want to support my Designers Roundtable peeps Jill Anderson and Jenn Connolly (who will be presenting), not to mention I haven’t figured out what work-life balance is.
- 35 Things to Avoid When Building a Design Firm: The optimal mix of roles and personalities for a design firm
- The Sky’s The Limit for Fearless Freelancers: Champion Ilise Benun on letting go of the fear
- Common Mistakes Designers Make with Branding: Dissect the common mistakes designers make with branding and how to avoid them, build your design business with a powerful tool, the strategy and rationale needed to educate clients on the process of branding
- The New Mainstream: Changing Relationship Between People and Brands: Creating a new kind of relationship with companies
- Marketing Strategies for Attracting Your Ideal Clients: Creating unique strategies
- Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is: Contexts outside of your comfort zone and discovering opportunities for impact and transformation
In addition, Poff plans to connect with members of the Designers Roundtable group for solo creative professionals that she founded after the 2012 CFC. The group has 30 members, who meet monthly via Google Hangouts and who keep each other accountable for making progress toward their stated goals. A dozen of the group will be attending HOW Design Live, sharing a rented house and meeting for dinner.
Having a plan for attending HOW Design Live has, for Poff, yielded not just the knowledge to manage her business, work with her clients and balance the demands of her young family — but also the creative inspiration and connections with peers she needs to thrive in this field.
Going to HOW Design Live? Keep an eye out for Jenny Poff — and look to make connections like she has. Registration remains open (though some sessions are filling up quickly), with a $100 discount available before May 11.