Before I ventured out on my own as a business owner, I spent eight years working in a corporate environment and then another year for an agency environment. During this time, I learned SO much about how design and business work together. Now that I’m my own boss, I still follow many powerful lessons I learned while working in an office 9-5.
Here are the top nine lessons I still implement in my daily life:
1. Re-read your emails.
No, I’m not the grammar police and I’m definitely not perfect at this, but the quickest way to bring your professionalism into question is by sending out an email that’s full of typos. Before you hit send, read through your email to double check that there aren’t any misspelled words or errors.
Pro tip: Consider installing the Grammarly extension in your browser for a powerful, automatic spell and grammar check when you’re drafting emails.
2. Organize your design files.
It doesn’t matter whether you prefer to organize by date, color, or file type… just organize! Wowie! We spent a lot of time and energy on this topic in a corporate/agency environment! Remember: several designers may touch a particular file throughout the process of concept to production, and several managers may email the .PDF back and forth for approval. The key here is to keep things clean for efficiency purposes. So create a system that makes sense, and stick to it. Consistency is key.
3. Make a daily checklist.
A daily checklist will keep your mind focused and show you your availability at a glance. This comes in handy if saying no is hard for you. When someone makes a time-sensitive request, simply look at your list. If your plate isn’t too full, you can take it on. If you don’t have room in today’s list for the project, just say so and then jot that to-do down on tomorrow’s list so you won’t forget.
4. Get to know your co-workers.
Your team members are people too - with hobbies and pets and children and grandkids and cars and favorite shows on Netflix… So treat them well and invest in your relationships with them! When we know the people on our team, we do our very best work. Go on... schedule that happy hour or lunch break!
5. Add some of that bonus $ to your 401k.
A good friend mentioned this while I was in my mid-20's and thankfully I remembered to do it while I was young. Now that I am married and have a kid, there are more life expenses to think about. I’m so glad I started saving when I could! Some companies will match your contributions to a certain point and if you have the chance, take them up on their offer! I can see this so plainly now that I work for myself. No 401k matches over here.
6. Respect your production team. If you help them, they will help you.
In my first job out of college, I had a manager who had a great relationship with the company's print vendor. I learned very quickly that in such a fast-paced environment, that person would become someone I would call every day to learn from and to stay on schedule. Real. World. Experience. If you are lucky enough to have a production team on your side, let them teach you how to work more efficiently - so they and you can get the job done and step away from the computer for the day.
7. People who coordinate the process are the backbone of the company.
I’m ashamed to admit it… but I once thought process management was annoying and the bane of my existence. Since then I’ve understood their true impact and have spent many conversations praising their jobs! This is just a guess - but I think most days, they probably deal with someone who is angry with them. If you don't have your process managed, mistakes can be made and that can lead to a lot of trouble. So be kind to your process managers, okay?
8. Someone will always ask you to make the logo bigger.
There are songs about this on the internet. Decide if it's worth the fight. If it’s not, let it go and don’t become emotionally attached. If it is, say so, kindly but assertively. They booked you as their designer because they needed your guidance. You’re the expert. Act like one.
9. It's okay if a spit-fire brainstorm session in a meeting room is not your style.
I'm an introvert. Sitting in a room for hours trying to come up with the next best idea with people shouting and pressurizing the room is my least favorite way to brainstorm. And that’s okay. I know that I need to be in a calm, quiet area with a sketchbook (and maybe a little music) to come up with my best ideas. After experiencing both settings I've discovered why working from home is my style. I like using my brain to create something but need the calmness to do so. When you operate according to how you work best, you’ll come to your greatest ideas a whole lot faster.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my top 9 lessons I learned from working a 9-5! Did any surprise you or give you a fresh burst of motivation? Tell me in the comments below!