Promise Tangeman didn’t wait to have all her ducks in a row before taking the plunge and launching her own creative business. Then again, creativity and entrepreneurship have always been in her blood. She’s what you might call a go-getter, and her enthusiasm is infectious. See what she has to say about working with clients, working with other designers, and knowing if you’re ready to make the Big Leap. This is our conversation with Promise Tangeman.
Well, I grew up loving art, and I had a lot of lemonade stands and all kinds of small businesses as a kid. So I guess you can say it was in my blood from the beginning. After I graduated from college—I double majored in fine art and graphic design—I got a job at a church as part of their design team. I learned a ton about working with teams, sending projects to print, planning, collaborating, and all the nuts and bolts that come with collectively working toward one goal.
In the meantime, in 2008 I started blogging about all of my creative projects, and I put myself out there online. Over time, I started getting a good amount of freelance work from my blog readers. At that point I felt ready to take the plunge, start my own thing, and see where it would go. I was really nervous, excited, and scared, but it was that feeling of I just gotta do it. I didn’t have all my ducks in a row, and I didn’t post a large NOW OPEN sign on my site. I just kept doing what I was doing and accepting more projects.
Since then I’ve had to refine and focus my business in different ways. I’ve had to identify my target market and figure out my sweet spot in the industry. It takes time. And I feel like my business and career are always in transition. I guess that’s the way it should be—always evolving into something better.
Good question, and I totally agree. For some reason I’ve also talked to a lot of folks who think everything needs to be perfect in order to launch and step out. Like they need to have the business cards, the website, the invoices, and contracts perfected; the design process nailed down; the assistant ready to rock; etc. And I feel like I can totally relate with that. Because I am a perfectionist, I could see myself never stepping out because it wasn’t “quite there yet.”
But you’re totally right about the other extreme, too. I think you have to use wisdom. At the time when I decided to take the leap, I was getting about half the amount of work that I needed in order to go full time. I knew that if I quit my day job, I could dedicate that extra time to building and growing the business, which would, in turn, bring me more work. And that seemed to be true. There is a lot of work out there. You just have to have the kick in your step to go out and get it if it doesn’t come directly to you. I am also a sucker for business and marketing books.
Yeah! These are all very simple and easy reads. My favorites are Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job by Jon Acuff, which gives advice on when to quit your day job. Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands by Marty Neumeier, which is about positioning yourself in the industry. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson has some simple, practical tools and advice for owning and running a creative business. And EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey, which is pretty much a summary of everything you need to know. Oh, and I’d also recommend Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters, which is also by Jon Acuff.
You know, actually, that hasn’t been something I’ve had a hard time with. I mean, I get a client every now and then that I’m not super-inspired to work with. But I don’t really see myself as an artist who wants to create only what I want to create, if that makes sense. I love the problem-solving aspect that comes with a creative project—combining the message, the vision, the concept, the craftsmanship, the style, and aesthetic. It’s a challenge, and I love the process of “will this work?” When it all comes together, it’s like a paycheck in itself sometimes.
I also love using my creativity and abilities to help others. And, in a sense, this is just a small way that I can contribute. At the end of the day, I guess I’d rather get paid to be creative for someone else than just do it as a hobby and have a cubical day job. So on those days when it seems a little painful to get on board with other people’s visions—I just think of that.
Designer Vaca is an annual female graphic designers’ retreat in Palm Springs. A friend and I put our heads together a few years ago, and we thought it would be fun to email all the graphic designer girls we know all across the country and set up a time to meet up, hang out, relax, and learn from each other. At the time, we were both really tired of working at our computers alone every day, and we just wanted to be around some other ladies who could relate. It was a toss-up, though. We didn't know if anyone would come because, in a sense, we are all each other’s competition, and some people might not feel comfortable with that. But we were pleasantly surprised. We all really needed this. And it turns out there is plenty of work to go around.
This year we doubled in size, and we had more energy and excitement behind it. I think we’re discovering that this type of event is really needed in the industry. And it just felt right to be together! We had a few Q&A sessions with different panelists, two community dinners, and a creative challenge.
Everyone returned home with new ideas, encouragement, new insights, and a creative network that we can now refer people to, etc. And it was refreshing to come home knowing there are 49 other graphic designers on your team . . . rooting for you. We are already brainstorming new ideas for next year, and I couldn’t be more excited!
See what I mean about infectious enthusiasm? Promise Tangeman is a great example of someone who has not only made a name for herself in the industry, but is now helping turn the industry inside out.