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Episode Info: the budget, I often get people who are like, “Is that your minimum? Because I can’t …” Then I know where they’re at with budget. People who are wary that I even ask for a budget like I’m a shady mechanic, I know we’re off to a bad start. Then a lot of times I can tell if people are just going down the Genesis Developers list and copy and pasting a form letter. Or they say, “I’m looking for someone who doesn’t like just the pretty things” and I’m like, “Why are you contacting me? Like, did you look at I can tell if people are interested in hiring me specifically and when they are, it goes great. When they are not, it can still go great, but a lot of the times I’m not really what they’re looking for and I help them find that out. Brian Gardner: Yeah, Lauren did a great job when we redesigned StudioPress and updated the Genesis Developers page by showcasing a select amount, I think it was four, of the latest portfolio shots of each developer. That is also sort of our way to help in that process of filtering through people. People can just scan the visuals really quickly and say, “Ah, peach and pastel. I love beachy stuff. I’m going to check her out.” Then you know it’s an alignment already built in. Megan Gray: I totally get that. I agree with that design. I think also, I have noticed that has happened less, like the form letters, and I don’t know exactly where that comes from, but I do think there’s more of a quick visual cue now to see, “Ah, that’s not for me” or, “I love that.” Keeping Focused Among Distraction Brian Gardner: Okay, people; husband, kids, two kids now. How is the balancing work and family thing going on? I know that just recently you ended up … This was a question I was going to ask you later but it’s a good time now. You had recently cultivated your own office space, which is out of house, and all of that. I kind of wink at you here, because I follow you on social media and all that, and I can see the ups and downs as they come along with where you’re going with this. How is balancing work/life for you going right now? Megan Gray: It’s really challenging. I won’t sugarcoat it. Having two kids is more than twice as difficult for balancing it all for me right now. But, I do think that I’m able to compartmentalize it. Just like if it’s not kids, it’s something else that people have outside of their work life where drawing those boundaries and just kind of … It sounds defeated, but it’s not lowering my expectations so that I’m not the person who has no kids or no family life and I can just work at all hours as long as I want whenever I want. In that way, it has helped me be more focused about the time that I am working instead of just meandering through my day. Speaking of my studio space, when I’m there I notice that there are people who can move just at their own creative slower pace. Then there are those of us who have to pick up kids at 4 or some other commitment and we’re very heads down and focused on our work. For me, it’s just helped me be more organized. When I’m not, it’s very difficult to manage. The office space, one of the reasons definitely, I sought that out was because I needed a little bit of a clearer boundary between my home life and my work life. Also, I think that when you work for yourself, by yourself, it’s really good to get out there. My space, in particular, is a mix of other types of creatives. It’s not all designers. At the moment, I think I’m the only designer. More photographers and event planners and sign artists because Laguna Beach is a great community for that. We’ve got guys who make surf boards from agave by hand in the back. Lots of interesting things. I find that there are days where I just need to get out and be around other people making things and doing things. Sometimes somebody will say, “Hey, I need a logo to paint on this surf board” and then I’m right there. Or I need somebody to print business cards and it’s sort of a cooperative that way. Then there are days where I definitely need to stay at home and not go around all the energy and be really productive. It’s nice to have more options. Lauren Mancke: I’m a bit jealous, because I really miss my old office space. It comes up a lot, it seems like, lately on these podcasts. I have planned for my new office. There’s a new coworking place in my town, too, that just opened up that looks pretty cool. It’s their second location so I might be hitting that up more frequently. Megan Gray: Yeah, coworking is nice when you can just drop in on the days that you need to get out of your head and then retreat when you need to get back in your head. I found that coworking in some cases here, there’s a couple choices in Orange County, but I worry about my productivity where it’s a really social element. In the studio that’s over by Laguna Beach I have my own actual office instead of a drop-in desk. That’s been huge for me. Brian Gardner: All right, let’s take a quick break here for an advertisement because at StudioPress FM that is how we roll. If you are a digital business looking to elevate your brand, Infinity Pro, a recently released theme by me, was made just for you. It’s an elegant, responsive way to introduce your online presence. With all the options we’ve packed into Infinity Pro to customize your customer’s experience, it’s also one of the most flexible StudioPress themed releases to date. Did we mention it’s compatible with WooCommerce? Find Infinity Pro, along with more than 50 other great themes, at StudioPress.com/themes. Experience Gained While Working in a Traditional Agency Brian Gardner: All right. Let’s turn back the clock a few years and discuss your tenure at 10up. For those who don’t know, 10up is a brilliant WordPress high-end agency led by Jake Goldman, a friend of mine and friend of Megan’s. They do high-end client’s work such as Microsoft, Google, Entertainment Weekly, to name a few. As an independent creative, how did you end up in a situation where you’re working for the man? Megan Gray: The man Jake Goldman? Brian Gardner: Yes. Megan Gray: Jake actually, I think, discovered me on Twitter, if I remember correctly, and reached out to me. I hadn’t been seeking out an opportunity like that, but I was immediately interested when we discussed things. I thought, “Take a shot, level up my skills, learn from some really great engineers” and that’s pretty much what happened. I started there as a project manager, which I think that became clear pretty quickly that that was not the best fit for me. I moved into a design role and worked on some of the internal products that they were developing at the time. That’s how I found myself there and it was a great experience. Brian Gardner: What did you learn while you were there? I had been following you and we had known each other before you went to 10up and I was actually a little bit shocked because, first of all, there’s creatives who need to work. In other words, they’re the breadwinner of their family and they have to just make decisions that sometimes aren’t necessarily what I think they would love to do. This was one of those cases where I was like, “I don’t think Megan has to take on a full-time job in order to live and eat and all of that.” I was somewhat confused, almost, in a sense because I was like, “She seems like such an open creative.” I was curious behind the rationale as to why you would have taken that. I think we’ve had a few people on this show who have also done that too, where you get to a point where you’re kind of done, and Lauren, we’ve talked about this before even with you in your own agency, that you get to a point where sometimes you’re just so tired trying to generate business and sometimes it’s just easier, or maybe your family situation warrants it, where you need something more stable and whatnot, so you make that call. For you, it just didn’t seem like that was the case. Megan Gray: It wasn’t the case that I was forced into looking for a stable thing. It certainly helped and I benefited from it, but for me the drive was, and this is maybe a little crazy, but when something scares the crap out of me, I make myself do it. For me, at the time, where I was in my career, 10up was the gold standard of tough agency gigs to get into in this space. I did not feel like I was up to the challenge so I made myself do it. When I got in there I was very intimidated, because then and now I think some of the best people in the business work there and they were good at their jobs. I was coming from a place of being a freelancer who just didn’t have that agency experience or tons of experience in general. I got good quickly. I guess what I learned from there is just how to be a smarter designer and consider things more from an engineering perspective. When I got there I was making pretty things. I think that after leaving there I made smarter things and I made better decisions and I thought about the whole picture of web design and product development more than I did before. I made some great friendships and people I trust who I still call on today and say, “Hey, this is an idea I have. Is it crazy?” They’re still some of the people I lean on constantly. Lauren Mancke: I think, for me, choosing to leave the agency that I had built was a big decision because it was not really the stress of generating leads. It was almost like there were too many leads coming my way. It was hard to turn everything down to make time. I knew I wanted to start a family. I couldn’t spend 80 hours a week working. What are some things in your current situation that cause you stress? Are there any things that get in the way of your productivity that you’ve been able to work out a way around those things? Megan Gray: I think what we touched on before, the family thing, with two kids that I really want to build my life around, the idea that I can be there for them when they need me at school or when they’re sick or when they’re having a bad day. That’s been a big challenge. Also just, I would say I’m my own challenge. When I get burnout or I feel uninspired or just not into it in the moment, trying to reinvigorate that creative energy that I have. Other challenges of just life stuff honestly. Life in southern California makes inner things chaotic and challenging. Taking that time away in my studio and just kind of re-centering and reflecting on what I’m doing has really helped me maintain that focus. Brian Gardner: Yeah, hanging out at Disneyland every other week also does that. Although I haven’t seen you post pictures of that lately. Megan Gray: Yeah, I don’t really do the Disneyland thing anymore. It’s a little too much for me. A little too much. Brian Gardner: That’s not too far from where you’re at, right? That’s in Anaheim. Megan Gray: Yeah, it’s like 20 or 30 minutes. We used to have that annual pass and then it was just like, “Hey, I don’t think we’re having fun here anymore. It’s super overwhelming to come every week. Why do we keep forcing ourselves to do this?” The Onboarding Process of Custom Projects Lauren Mancke: What is the typical process you have for bringing a new client on board? You touched on it a little bit earlier about some of the things, they’ve already seen your work, they like what you do. Is there any other criteria that you specifically look for when you’re talking to a person about a potential project that’s the right fit for you? Megan Gray: Yeah, I tend to now book a couple months out and it’s usually a pretty big red flag when somebody cannot wait at all. We just talk a little bit about money and timeline and the standard housekeeping things. I really whittled down the number of email exchanges I go through before I either close the deal or move on. One of the ways I’ve done that is just a really simple pricing PDF that I have that goes over simple packages that I offer, the prices for everything and the process and what it does and does not include. That’s been a friendly little barrier to entry to working with me. Then, when I bring them on board, I know it’s really popular to automate a lot of that process now, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that because I really like the personal connection. I like doing things similar but differently a little bit every time. So I just kind of walk them through and onboard everyone just a little bit differently because no two projects are the same. Yeah, and it’s pretty clear process of designing and building out everything from there. Brian Gardner: Speaking of projects, are there any in particular that stand out to you as being Megan’s favorite projects and whatnot? Megan Gray: I didn’t prepare for that. You know, I don’t think so at the moment. I’m just doing a little bit of everything. One of the projects I did earlier this year was for a pop-up dinner company that had services. Their first pop-up dinner was actually in Lima, Peru and I got to be involved in the logo, the branding, the messaging. I actually threw up a quick site with a Café Pro theme for that. Then we actually had videography, photography. That was a really fun and meaningful project for me, although it had a smaller reach. It was really hands on, a big collaboration with different creatives and videographers. That was just called Salt. That’s in my portfolio. That was an exciting one for me and it has a little video with it. Brian Gardner: What is your favorite element of design? You just talked about how some of them you’ve done multiple elements of the whole process. Is logo your favorite part? Is overall site design your favorite part? What part of design in general do you think is the thing that brings the most joy to your life? Megan Gray: Right now it’s actually just the strategy and the messaging, with the copy writing, so it’s kind of going back to my roots as a writer. That’s something I’m actually helping WP Site Care with right now is just re-strategizing or re-branding their messaging, all their on boarding materials, the customer messages. Everything that is less the production design and actual visual design and more of the whole brand experience and all the little touch points from social media to just all the interactions that they have with the customer, which is new for me to be really, really engaged with that. Creative Outlets Beyond the 9 to 5 Lauren Mancke: So outside of designing, if you’re anything like me, I have a Halloween costume problem. Basically, I just spend way too much time creating costumes and it’s just really something I enjoy. I just like to do things outside of my regular medium which is digital. Designing things that are interior design or designing labels for my hot sauce or stuff like that really, really brings me a lot of fun, enjoyment, just to do a design for myself. Is there any other types of design that you like to work on? Megan Gray: I do a lot of those little personal projects that you were kind of describing as well. Nothing as cool as that mini Hamilton costume that you shared. It’s just little things where … I definitely am into interior design and everything in my house being my way. Brian Gardner: Not Ron’s way. Your way. Megan Gray: My way. Little things like I put a blend of essential oils for my kids when I was gone and I printed labels and made a whole packaging thing for them. I guess that’s not something that normal people do, now that I think about it, but it’s something I enjoy. Lauren Mancke: The Hamilton costume really everybody is impressed because that photo is so good. My friend is a photographer. Everyone is impressed I think with the photo more than the costume. Megan Gray: No, I don’t think so. I was interested in the gold buttons. Lauren Mancke: Those were just brads on white duct tape. Not super time-consuming. I think we did it in under an hour. Megan Gray: I think it’s the idea that’s impressive. The brads and the duct tape instead of buttons. Just the creativity. But, the photo is great too. Lauren Mancke: The kid has really long hair, so that makes it too, I think. Megan Gray: It’s perfection. Brian Gardner: All right, so outside of being creative, I know even when we’re not being creative we’re still being creative, because that’s just sort of our human nature. What are the things, Megan, and I want to hear from Lauren too on this one. Megan, what are the things outside of even being creative when you’re not being creative that you do to pass the time? I like to run. Even in that, I find creativity but I don’t exercise creativity in that. I just, I run. What are the things you do that are completely creatively agnostic that take up your time or just help you decompress and get your mind off things and whatnot? Megan Gray: Yeah, I’ve recently gotten into podcasts and I just consume them like crazy. They just give me all sorts of ideas and weirdly make me a better writer to listen to. Then I’ve gotten into yoga, which, I used to laugh at people who did yoga, but I really like it now. I find that, this is probably not the answer you’re expecting, but I find that when other people like to do creative things … Like at my son’s school people DIY a lot of cool stuff. They’re making an adventure playground. I feel like I just want to do accountant, data entry stuff because I feel like I use up every bit of creativity I have at work. I feel like I want the antithesis of that when I have down time. I guess I do like to consume other people’s creative work, but when it comes to DIY or anything like that I feel totally tapped out. It’s easy to be creative digitally, because you can easily undo or reproduce or replicate things. When I go to DIY something I’m like, “Ugh, command Z”. I have to start over. Lauren Mancke: Undo that glue. Megan Gray: Yeah, undo that. “I want a copy of this, so I’m just going to keep cloning it. No? I have to make more myself? Huh.” It’s just interesting, because I found that I tend to like to enjoy other people’s creativity in my downtime, but as far as making things like crafty Lauren I just, I don t know, I don’t have it. I don t have it. Lauren Mancke: I think I’m crafty to a certain extent of, that it’s something that s not … takes patience. Like painting or anything for me that has to be very meticulous, I don’t have the patience for that. If it can be something done quickly, duct tape, you know, add duct tape to a sweater, I got that. If I had to sew that, that would take too much time. Megan Gray: Yeah, I hear you. Following Your Own Path Instead of Looking to Others Brian Gardner: All right. What else does Megan Gray stand for, outside of design, being a mom and a wife, and all that kind of stuff? What else would you be defined as, in terms of leaving a legacy? What are the things in your life, when you find time and can fit them into a crazy and chaotic schedule, that you want to be known as? Megan Gray: I like to sort of be a champion for the little guy to the extent that I can. Part of my tagline, “Design for the people,” that’s kind of what that’s about as well, which is that I have never had the interest that other designers have to work on something that everyone will touch. That doesn’t inspire to me or call to me to be a big name or work for big names. I’ve always really liked to work for the small businesses and the people trying to make it. I really like to reach out and share or be vulnerable with something, like whether it’s a postpartum experience or a growing up a certain way experience. I like to write and speak to those people. Not that I think I’m so impactful that I can help thousands, but I always believe if I can help one person make a leg up in their business or one person who is struggling with something postpartum or one person who thinks that they don’t deserve to be a designer, then to me that is something I’m really interested in. It really drives why I work independently so that I can do that. Lauren Mancke: What advice would you give, because you’ve touched on this a little bit just a second ago and before in the podcast, about when you’re a young creative that insecurity that you feel? What advice could you give any young creatives out there listening right now? Megan Gray: I think they key is to just go in the direction of what you love. That might not always be the popular thing or the thing that everyone else is doing. But, if you start early doing what you love and you just keep at it, you’re going to be the best person who does that thing. You are going to be happier than the people who are doing whatever is trendy or popular or lucrative at the moment. I think it’s really easy to get distracted by someone else’s podcast or someone else’s e-course or someone else’s new theme or product. I think if those things interest you or speak to you, yes, chase them. If you just feel like you need to keep up with what everyone else is doing to stay relevant, I just think no. Do what you love if you have the position to do so. Just be who you are and that will always, I think, win out and catch up with … You would be your biggest success. Filtering Out The Noise Megan Gray: To expand on that I guess just a little, to maybe keep it going is, I struggle. I think we all struggle. Anyone sitting here on a podcast in a position to offer advice, even those people, we don’t know. I don’t think anyone has it figured out. I think there’s so much noise now with social media and constantly seeing what everyone is doing or one-tenth of what they’re doing, like their good spots. I think it’s really hard to, on the one hand, consume what other people are creating to inspire yourself, and then also to block out the noise and filter it to be like, “That’s great, but this is who I am, and this is what I am doing and that is enough.” It’s a real challenge to pay attention but filter out the noise. Brian Gardner: Yeah, I guess where I was going with that is, in my life, when I came up for the idea for this show, kind of a chaotic world, I think of people who are getting on a train or a bus or driving in traffic and doing what the world sees as being busy and chaotic. In my mind, I work from home and I get into my office, sit in my chair, like at 6am and do some things. I spend a lot of time online in my chair doing stuff. I’m not necessarily busy externally. In other words, I don’t have things to do and errands to do and all that kind of stuff. Thankfully, Shelly can take care of a lot of that stuff. In my head I am very busy by way of things you mentioned, things, people you see online, the noise, the emulating that I want to do when I see something on Dribble from guys like Bill. That is, in it’s own sense, a way of being mentally busy where … This leads into my next question which is who are the people that you look up to and the ones that … When I ask that question to myself I’m like, “Well, who do I look up to? It’s the people who I wish I could emulate.” People who I want to rip off and in fun and tongue in cheek say, “I love that design. I’m going to steal it.” Who are the people in the creative space, they don’t have to necessarily be designers, they could be musicians or whatever, that bring to you a breath of fresh creative air and some inspiration and things that help bring you down from the business rather than add to it? Megan Gray: Yeah, a designer specifically that I’ve just always admired is Jesse BC or Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain. He used to be 31Three and I think he’s with Shopify now. I’ve always loved how he is just so absolutely masterful with his craft. His designs are how I found him. I always thought, “Wow, that’s a real designer. That’s real stuff.” Back when I was just doing whatever. Then I met him at Circles Conference and I was just blown away by how quiet and reserved and humbled he was. I introduced myself, and then awkwardly like I am, I said, “Oh, I don’t mean to keep you” and he’s like, “No, talk to me about what you’re doing, what you’re working on.” I was like, “What? What is this?” I’ve always just loved how he’s not particularly self-promoting. He’s not particularly out there trying to be the biggest and the best. He’s just quietly, comfortably kicking all kinds of ass in this way that feels really genuine and authentic to me. Then on a more of a business perspective and somebody who is doing what they do, I still continue to think of Jake Goldman, former boss at 10up, as one of my mentors who I still reach out to who is somebody who just does not care what other people think of him. Or he does, but it does not influence his decisions. He is just everyday, everyday he is the same person. He is consistent and true to himself. That is really inspiring to me because I struggle with that. A lot of us struggle with that. Those are two people that I think I can look to when I need a little inspiration or a fresh take. Lauren Mancke: That’s some really good advice. We’re really happy you were able to come on the show today, Megan. Thank you so much for all of the wisdom you’ve imparted. Do you have any other words for our listeners? Megan Gray: I don’t. I think the closing is just to block out the noise and keep doing you and it will get you wherever you’re trying to go, I think. Brian Gardner: There we go. Words from Megan Gray. Everybody at StudioPress FM. Thank you so much for listening. In the show notes, on the show page, we have all kinds of great links to Megan so you can follow her, you can look at her work. If you’re looking for someone to design something for you and you don’t mind pastels and beaches, then check out Megan’s portfolio. Megan Gray: Thank you so much. Brian Gardner: Until next week. Thanks again for listening. .........
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