Clarity, Catapult and Bulldozer!

Clarity, Catapult and Bulldozer!

What do these words have in common? Clarity – Catapult – Bulldozer

September 2012 with HOW Design

In June 2012, I was finally able to attend my first HOW Creative Freelancers Conference in Boston. Why did I go?

In 2007, my daughter was very sick and I had to quit working in an ad agency and become a freelancer to take care of her. The birth of Presque Isle Designs was born.

While I mostly worked for PPA Agency, I started to accumulate other clients – mostly former friends and business associates.

In late 2008, I proposed to Marsha Marsh Real Estate Services (a brand new independent real estate brokerage in Erie, Pa – where my parents lived) to hire my services as their Brand Manager. After all, I had plenty of real estate marketing experience and plenty of brand experience from working with Cardinal Health.

We relocated from Columbus, Ohio to Erie, Pa and my whole world changed. Dedicating most of my work week to the Marsh’s was great because it allowed me to work from home and still care for my daughter, Breanna. (by this time she was perfectly healthy!)

Through family and friends and the Marsh’s, I was constantly networking. Mostly for fun (after all I was a stay at home mom and needed adult conversations!).

Meanwhile, Marsha Marsh Real Estate Services began to dominate the real estate market share. Everyone always commenting on “seeing their signs everywhere”. My job quickly turned from designing their marketing materials to educating the agents of the culture this family and business has to the community and to generate more business. Some of our missions included volunteering, donating, sponsoring, etc. all to help the quality of life in Erie. Pretty profound right? More than just selling homes!

The word quickly spread that I was behind the major brand push of the real estate company. And I started getting new clients that wanted the same exposure. I’ve had numerous clients say to me, “I want you to do for me, what you do for the Marshs’. WOW! Can’t get a better referral or compliment than that!

Pretty soon I was doing all kinds of work. One minute a simple business card and the next minute a huge vehicle wrap and the next minute consulting independent business owners on inexpensive ways to get big marketing results. Soon enough I felt overwhelmed and talk started of opening an office, getting employees, equipment, etc.

Too intimidating for me. By this time, my daughter was getting bigger, I was still grieving the loss of my mother to Lymphoma in 2009 and in late 2010 my father also passed from Lymphoma – just 8 weeks after I gave birth to my second daughter, Isabella. (one of my other hats is doing a golf tournament to benefit blood cancers with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society)

When life seemed to be falling apart it was also really great at the same time.

By early 2012 I started to feel a little normal again in life and business was busy. The Marsh’s opened up 2 new offices and business was great for them too (job security). But still the question remained, what am I doing with Presque Isle Designs? Where will it be in 5 years? Hell, where would it be next year? I had no answers to the questions – and at the same time had no solid pricing structure, service packages, client care processes, etc. I was just there creating great design for some really great clients.

But as kids get older and you lose family – you start to wonder what your future holds. I knew about the HOW conference from my agency work and the AIGA association. But was never in a position to go. I got the agenda for the 2012 conference and I immediately knew that I had to make the investment to go. I was set to find the answers to Presque Isle Designs’ destiny.

I went to Boston in the hopes that I could figure out who I was as a designer and what Presque Isle Designs was – what kind of work did they offer? what kind of clients did they work for? (note: these questions I didn’t even know to ask until I went to HOW).

The speaker that hit me the most from Boston was Luke Mysse and Mark O’Brien. Luke talked about team structure – to hire? to subcontract? to have an office? to be solo? His examples made it easier for me to picture a model that worked my personal goals as well as new and developing business goals. And Mark said one statement that hit me hard, “You don’t know, what you know until you write it down.” At that moment all the different directions and thoughts I had about Presque Isle Designs and my personal life made it to paper (well, my iPad notes) and to see all the different thoughts come down into one spot really helped me organize my thoughts.

There were plenty of other great speakers that drove my motivation and CLARITY as well as great networking with other solo creative business owners. I left there feeling inspired and energized to make something happen, plus I had an accountability partner to help make sure I didn’t slack off.

Since the HOW conference, I have:

  1. Refined all my contracts, terms and conditions, proposal structure, etc.
  2. Created a customer pre-qualification survey.
  3. I really analyzed what kind of work I did and organized it into what I do well vs. what I want to do.
  4. From that, I was able to narrow down my area of specialty. I fought with this one for a while because as a designer what do you specialize? I didn’t want to say I do “just logos” or “just brochures”. So I focused on industries. Immediately I thought since I already do real estate marketing lets just focus on finding other real estate companies. But that didn’t work either. I didn’t want to work for competitors of Marsh and working for real estate companies outside of my community posed challenges such as: not knowing their community, not understanding their business culture, and not wanting to handhold on something like photography. (Listen to the podcast interview from the Creative Freelancers Blog, creators of the HOW Creative Freelancers Conference).
  5. Karma brought me a new business to help rebrand and launch their brick and mortar store. For them I not only did their logo and ads, but designed their retail store as well. Including painting a mural and 2 canvases to define their niche.
  6. I recreated my website and focused on the content (though that doesn’t seem to end – which is good because new content drives traffic!)
  7. I created my perfect pitch, “I help independent business owners take control of their marketing to generate powerful results.” Though I’m still working on that one – I think the word “marketing” is a bit vague. (listen to my podcast interview with Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor and HOW CFC)
  8. I added team members or subcontractors to my business.
  9. With this team, we have built new solutions to offer to independent business owners like: Marketing Brand Strategy Development, Social Media Management Solutions, Launching Kits for new business, products, and/or services. We’re just now working on the marketing materials.
  10. I set the goal that I want to start public speaking. I have since started some webinars and independent consulting to sm. biz owners. And I’ve been asked to speak at a women’s conference this fall.
  11. I wanted an accountability person or group that would hold me accountable – so I started the DESIGNERS ROUNDTABLE.

To name a few =)

So now what?

I’m busy. Busy with new clients, busy with previous clients, busy with family, busy being the Girl Scout Daisy Troop leader, busy with DESIGNERS ROUNDTABLE — why do I do it all? I love every part! I love being my own boss so I can control how my life works and grows.

Why am I going to HOW CFC in San Fran?

Because since my business has CATAPULTED I’m ready to BULLDOZE it forward. I’m ready to listen and digest this years speakers on how to keep things organized, keep focused, keep momentum, and most of all now that I have a plan, I’m sure I’ll leave San Fran feeling even more empowered then last year.

So brace yourself!

about jenny poff

Meet Jenny Poff

Jenny an independent consultant who specializes in marketing, branding, and graphic design. She partners with business owners and nonprofits as their out-of-house marketing manager to relieve their time and stress of DIY marketing by amplifying their advertising with expert strategies for unparalleled results


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