Recently I’ve moved the Instagram app to a folder on the second screen of my iPhone. Just like many of you, I feel growing social media fatigue. Then again, I’ve never felt envious, sad or any of the other emotions so many news sites report to be the everyday reality for many. Personally, I do believe social media has been a great enabler for all of us creatives. My TEDx talk on how to use social media in a non-toxic way is finally live. If you have 15 minutes to spare, I’d love to invite you to listen to my thoughts.
March was my third month in a row of having almost no paid projects. The beginning of the year is usually quiet. Yet, I wasn’t expecting things to be quiet for that long.
For the sake of transparency, I should probably explain what’s been going on in that time.
On one hand, and right at the beginning of the year, I started talking to a Berlin-based startup about taking on a full-time job. After seven weeks, four rounds of interviews, and me handing over a strategy deck I’d usually charge almost €3,000 for, they declined and decided to look for someone who fits the profile of a social media manager. It was disappointing because I said in our first conversation (and after I was recommended to them) that I don’t believe social media is how one should attempt to build a business-related community anymore. In my opinion, social has turned into a one-way street and people are getting tired of it.
The second reason why I didn’t have much paid work was my TEDx talk at the end of February. I know that on the video, it always looks so easy. However, the reality is that it takes a lot of practice to get to that point. One (me) completely freaks out about the importance of TEDx, as it’s probably going to remain on the first page of Google forever and ever. I was stressing out about my talk for half of January and most of February with no mental space to try to do anything else but talk to that one company.
At this point, I’d really like to share something about practicing for speaking at TEDx.
A couple of weeks before the talk, I stumbled upon the famous TED talk by Amy Cuddy who explains the importance of body language. It does come with logistical challenges because how is someone supposed to go about trying to do the power pose while sitting in the audience and doing literally what they’re not supposed to be doing - reading the speaker notes.
As I was sitting there, I realized a musician was on stage and he started performing. I immediately got up and went to the back to join the team. Everyone was slowly moving to the melody of the songs, so I joined in.
The music got wilder. We started dancing faster.
The music stopped and it was my big moment to go on stage.
At that time, there was no more fear. Just joy. And relief. That soon this will be over.
But back to what was happening in March.
People always ask me, what one does as a freelancer when there are no paid projects.
In the past whenever I didn’t have any paid projects, I used the time to write the books that I published.
Now I know it was the right thing to focus on projects that filled my soul more than my pocket, as it’s thanks to these three books that I got a number of my clients, press coverage, and the reason why I was asked to speak at TEDx in the first place.
For years, I’ve mostly been following my curiosity and trying to make sense of things I wanted to know more about. Since last year, I’ve been working on a book about social food gatherings, which seems to be much more challenging for me than the three books I’ve published so far. It seems like the more experience one has, the more effort it takes to work on projects without having a preoccupied mind. It’s still in progress and I’m still not sure where this journey will lead me and who’ll help me collaborate on this, but I know writing these stories is filling my soul and helping me practice a different style of writing.
Not having much paid work also gives me the necessary mental space to re-think my habits, analyze what I consume, and implement changes.
Last year I decided to go vegan, which is easy to live by at home, but not so easy once you leave your door. If you’re wondering how someone goes from meat eater to vegan, it was mostly thanks to Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals that made me decide to quit animal products. But of course, implementing changes isn’t easy, so it took until the end of the year for me to buy a container to make my own lunches in the morning. I got one from Berlin Eco Brotbox and I’m so in love with this decision. It’s really been life changing and money saving at the same time.
I’ve also finally bought a can for organic trash and have been feeling incredibly happy every time I’d go downstairs to empty it. I realized most of what I consume can be recycled and I don’t actually make that much trash, given I buy most of my groceries at the farmer’s market (a change I implemented in 2016) and try to avoid regular supermarkets as much as I can.
I’ve also experimented with solid bar shampoos and found the most amazing one from Rosenrot Manufaktur, which was first gifted to me by Sarah Reindl from Das Gramm in Graz, who I met during the TEDx event. I also no longer use shower gel. Instead I’ve bought a soap bag made out of sisal, which helps soaps foam.
I’m sharing this here because reducing one’s trash and opting in for the more sustainable options is hard, takes effort, and often needs role models to even understand what’s possible. And of course, because it’s not that one doesn’t do anything when there are no paid projects. One can take the time to pursue personal passions and try to work out how one can live up to one’s values.
It’s been good.
But it’s not like I had nothing to do in March. It was the month I started teaching social media again at the New Design University. I’ve recently published a case study on how I’ve designed the curricula, so before going into much detail, I’d love to invite you to read it if you’d like to learn more about my approach.
Additionally, I’ve also helped the team at Vollpension submit a funding proposal for an exciting project they’re currently working on.
And of course, I was looking for projects, which is why I’m currently fully booked for April, but happy to take on new clients from May and June on. Last but not least, I’m currently looking for remote projects for the summer as I’m planning a bigger trip around Europe. But on that another time! Thank you for reading to this bittersweet end.
First and foremost, I’m still looking for projects. In the past, I’ve worked with online services, financial services, agencies, hospitality-focused businesses, design studios, and social businesses, and I’d love to find projects in those fields to help build their communities. If you know of someone who wants to create interesting formats to engage their customers and community members, please get in touch.
I’ve mostly spent February hiding in my home office. Given I’m teaching at the New Design University again in March, I’ve launched another small Kickstarter project to get an idea of how easy (or hard) it is to have people click on links shared on social media channels. I want to set up my students for success, so I like to test what’s realistic to ask them to accomplish within the short period of time I spend with them in the classroom. While last year I still thought having them launch a project on Kickstarter was a realistic option, I’ve decided not to do so this year. There were only about 240 views on my latest Kickstarter campaign within the two weeks it was live, which, compared to my first campaign that had over 4K views and was live for three weeks, is really close to nothing. The campaign was successful nevertheless, but it’s no longer something I’d say is as easy as I thought it once was.
However, I do need to recognize that it’s my continuous effort of creating and making that eventually got me on the TEDx stage this past month. Giving a TEDx talk was a great honor and gave me the opportunity to share my story and encourage others to create, regardless of whether one produces a best-seller, but just to give someone the necessary motivation to learn something new. With this latest side project of mine, I can at least say I know a lot about Berlin’s architecture having watched countless documentaries and written 50 short summaries to pass on some of the knowledge to my Kickstarter backers. Writing those descriptions was most certainly a really good exercise, making me think really hard how to tell a story with just a few sentences.
I’d also like to mention at this point that giving a TEDx talk is an incredible team effort; I got help editing my speech from the wonderful Rebecca Burton. As the TEDx organization provides everyone with a speaker trainer, I was fortunate to have worked with Tim Cox who trained me on intonation and the delivery of the speech. Most of all, I was very grateful for the teleprompter the team at TEDxLend provided me with, given there were some brief moments when I stood on stage and my mind felt quite blank. Luckily, my best friend said it was really good and no one noticed. We’ll see that in three months when the talk will be live on the TED website.
One of the highlights of the month was my trip to Helsinki. I went there to see where Restaurant Day started. I’ve been obsessing about community building and what role food plays in that, and have also slowly edited five stories for the book I’m currently working on. I should have them ready soon to publish on this blog too. All I can say is that there is a lot one can do to program interesting gatherings at about any sort of space or even within a company. Maybe also something that we could do together. What do you think?
December is not the most charming month to be in London; nevertheless, the projects I worked on were so exciting I didn’t have time to bother about the weather. During the weekends I was in pubs testing StaRating, drinking draft-beer and chatting to guys about football.
I spent the evenings skyping with 23 incredible women to ask them about the early days of their now successful careers for This Year Will Be Different.
I also delivered a brand audit for one of Badger & Winters global clients. I’d love to do more of that sort of work in the future.
Then, just in time for Christmas, I moved back to Vienna where I finalised the copy for This Year Will Be Different.
I really enjoyed being the driving force behind my own project and assembling and managing a remote team. It’s not a surprise that the month was filled with inspiring meetings; some online, some offline.
I finally met Alejandro Masferrer from the Pop-Up Agency whose path I’ve been following for a couple of years on Twitter; I met Matt Trinetti, one of the great people behind Escape The City, who I ran into at the London chapter of Creative Mornings. Before CM, I’d only known him from his incredibly inspiring TEDxTalk. It was great to chat in person.
Virtually, I got to know Diana Joiner, who’s going to be the editor of This Year Will Be Different and Ewelina Dymek, who I found on Behance and who started illustrating the book literally five minutes after we agreed on the deal in order to meet the tight deadline.
I cannot wait to see what January will bring.
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If you think there is a secret to networking I am going disappoint you. There is no special way to approach people, nor are there general tactics to help break the ice between you and a stranger.
I personally believe that networking is a mind-set where you have a genuine interest in other people’s work and the willingness to help them whenever they need your advice or your resources or a bridge to the people who they want to meet. What I think helps too is the knowledge that you have something to give, just as the person who you’re about to approach has something they can give to you or help you with. You are equals!
One of my strongest beliefs is there are no hierarchies between people. You are a human. The other person is a human. They have as much respect for you as you have for them. If not, they’re not worth your time.
Generally speaking there are two ways to meet new people: networking events and conferences or approaching people directly via social networks - the easier one.
The best way to find out about networking events in your area is meetup.com and eventbrite.com. It’s easy to do a keyword search and try to find a group of people with common interests. If you cannot find any events there, you might want to look up events at co-working spaces in your area. My favourite events are hosted by PechaKucha, TedX and Creative Mornings. In case you live in a small town, you could start a monthly meetup yourself.
The other way to meet people who you’d like to have in your network is to approach them online. I prefer to use Twitter or Instagram to approach people I don’t know. Mostly it’s enough to just say “Could we have a coffee sometime next week?” If you feel uncomfortable about it, ask someone to introduce you to the person who you want to meet yourself.
When you meet with others, always offer your help. People might not need your help immediately, but it’s always good to let them know in what situation they should best approach you. If someone approaches you, ask them clearly how you could help them.
Everyone needs some help from time to time. Don’t be afraid to pay favours forward. Make it clear to people that it’s your general interest to help them on their way up. Don’t ask for favours in return. Treat your network as a favour network. Give to someone and trust that they will help someone else.
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