A couple weeks ago, I was the keynote speaker for Alt for Everyone—the online version of the awesome Alt Summit conference. Rather than talk about tips for blogging and repeating things you can already find in my book, I wanted to focus on my talk on one major thing that I think makes for a successful businessperson: Being a "goal-getter". Since I received a lot of great feedback on the talk and really enjoy the subject, I'm going to do a two-part post (a mini version of my presentation for Alt) sharing with you how I've gone about being a goal-getter in my own life and tips for you on how to be a goal-getter yourself.
To begin, I have to say that I think we often look at successful people and assume that they must be really lucky or have "connections" that have helped them get to where they are. Sure, there's often a little luck involved and knowing certain people in certain situations can be helpful, but I fully believe in going after what you want in life. 75% of the business successes I've had are ones in which I sought out the opportunities and pitched myself or my ideas in order to make them happen. It's all about knowing what your goals are, then taking the right steps to achieve them.
So for the first part of this series, I'm going to share a bit of my career history with you guys, tell you how being a goal-getter is something I learned at a young age, and show how I have applied it throughout my life…
When I was 13, my mom started taking calligraphy classes, and I eventually started going with her. I became the youngest member of the Philadelphia Calligraphers' Society, and I decided to take my new skills and make a business out of them: Calligraphy by Joy. I put flyers in the mailboxes around my neighborhood, and I thought I'd have people lining up to hire me! But then nothing happened, and I quickly realized that no one would hire me if they didn't know what I could do. So I asked my karate teacher if I could address the certificates that were given out at the belt ceremonies. He said yes, and that became my chance to show people what I could do. Soon, a few people hired me to address their wedding invitations and Christmas cards. I certainly wasn't rolling in dough, but the experience showed me that I needed to prove what I could do in order to have a better chance of getting more business.
When I was 16, I was immersed in prepping for college, getting good grades, and studying for the SATs, and I needed a creative outlet to take my mind off all the academics. So I started baking. I eventually became pretty good at making banana bread and decided to sell the loaves I was baking up daily. Thinking back on my experience with Calligraphy by Joy, I remembered that I needed to show people what I could do in order for them to want to buy my product. So my Dad suggested that he give samples of my bread to the customers at his restaurant after they'd finished their dinners (my parents owned Thai restaurants growing up). Soon I was taking orders for banana bread!
After finishing high school and college (I went to Syracuse University and graduated with a degree in Communications Design, which is the same as graphic design), I knew I wanted to work in New York City at a small ad agency. Two weeks after graduating, without anything lined up, I moved to NYC with a friend in search of my first job. After applying to a bazillion positions, I decided to simply contact companies I liked and knew I would want to work for (not knowing if they had any job openings or not). Finally, one of the companies I reached out to called me for an interview because my resume hit their desk just as they were about to put up a job posting. The timing was perfect, and it saved them from having to weed through hundreds of resumes. For the next two years, I worked as a graphic designer for a boutique ad agency with fashion and beauty clients. I got to go to Fashion Week every season, and my love of fashion really began around this time.
A couple years into that first job, I really began to crave designing products for the everyday person. I loved textiles and home decor, and decided I wanted to design patterns—except I had no real textile design experience. But I knew I could design patterns if I was given a chance, but wasn't sure who would give me a chance. So I put together a giant postcard with work from my portfolio that showcased graphics that would be most attractive to the companies I was reaching out to. I put the giant postcard into an envelope wrapped in a pattern I had created, then sent it to a handful of my favorite textile and fashion companies in New York. And finally, I got a call from Cynthia Rowley's office—they were looking for a textile designer for their Swell line for Target. Because I didn't have a ton of experience in that area, the art director gave me a test project to complete. I guess she saw enough potential in me to give me the job, and I went on to design hundreds of products for the Swell line over the course of the next year.
In 2005, I left New York to move to Philly with Bob. Having had gained a ton of product design experience at Cynthia Rowley, I decided I wanted to continue designing home products and work for the home department at Anthropologie. I again sent over some of my work in the mail to attract their attention, along with my resume. I got an interview, but sadly, the position I wanted wasn't available. So I applied for another position as a web designer at Free People. I didn't get that job, either, and was devastated. So I began freelancing to make money and started my blog—both things that led me down a path I had never expected but that ended up being some of best things ever. And years later, I still got a chance to work with Anthropologie in other ways (like this and this!).
My "freelancing to pay the bills" work ended up turning into my own full-time design business. But a couple years into designing for my clients, I realized I wanted to design products that had my own name on them. So I launched my own stationery line at the National Stationery Show in 2007. It was the first time that I had my name on items I designed, and it felt so good! My stationery was picked up and sold by some of my dream stores, like Anthropologie, Kate's Paperie, and Paper Source…but….
I hated the production part of the stationery business. I was spending more time packaging and shipping orders then I was creating new products or designs. So I decided to explore licensing. While you get a smaller percentage of the profit when you license your designs, you don't have to produce, manufacture, or sell the items yourself—which was much more in line with the way I wanted to work. And every licensing collaboration I worked on initially were all ones I went after and pitched myself. I contacted companies like Tiny Prints and Wedding Paper Divas for wedding invitations, Chronicle Books for home office products, Hygge & West for wallpaper, and Winter Water Factory for baby clothing, showing them the kinds of products we could create together and how my style was complementary to their brands without being too similar to things they already produced.
After being in business on my own for five years, I'd learned so much—both from what I had accomplished and from the mistakes I had made—that I wanted to share those things with others. Meg Mateo Ilasco had written Craft, Inc. and Chronicle Books (the publisher) was interested in expanding the series. So Meg approached me about co-writing a book, and I suggested we pitch a freelancing book. The pitch was accepted and Creative, Inc. came out in 2010. Then I realized I wanted to share all the things that new bloggers want to know about and write Blog, Inc., which was published in 2012. Both of those books were so fulfilling for me because they are the books I wish I'd had when I was starting out—so if I can help people in some way through what I've learned, then writing them was totally worth it.
In 2012, I decided to change up my business. I had Ruby at the end of 2011 and I couldn't continue to do all the things I was doing before. I stopped taking on graphic design work for clients and instead chose to focus on the work that I could schedule in on my time. I decided to go back to blogging on my own, sharing more of my own photos, and to change the way I work with sponsors. While banner ads were the main way that my blog previously made money, I wanted to focus on more creating more meaningful new content for my readers in collaboration with brands. I began approaching and pitching to brands and got help from an ad network, and now, when opportunities come my way, I make sure to only work with brands I really love on stories and ideas that make sense to me.
All of this has led to where I am now. I set some big goals for myself at the beginning of this year. I want to expand into more Oh Joy licensed products and make people happy through my designs and my work. I want to continue to tell stories through my blog with pictures, but also with video, as well. I spent the first half of the year taking steps to make those things come true, and now I am in the process of launching a bunch of new products for next year, and creating new ideas for videos to share with all of you.
In Part 2 of "The Art of Being a Goal-Getter", I'm going to share with you my five tips on implementing goal-getting in your own life…