Cover image: This is my very last work before leaving the advertising world. One of the Seat Ateca campaign images that I can now showcase. I'm not sharing links to avoid looking self-promoting which isn't the case of this article.
I'm not used to writing about personal stuff. I like to share experiences and all that, but I think is normal to me, and a lot of people, to keep all that fragile stuff buried deep down, and never show it to the world.
Today's story is not a story about
how to become a millionaire in a few steps, sorry. On the contrary, it's about failures. Well, some of my personal failures, but you know, failing is not that bad after all.
Four years ago, I could happily say that I had a really successful career as a designer. I worked as an Art director for a big advertising agency, mostly specialized in the automobile industry. Working with and for teams of really smart people in campaigns for Honda, Seat, BMW, Audi and other brands from Volkswagen group, and fashion too, like Mango or Tarik Ediz to name a few.
You know, working for these advertising agencies, the first thing I should've considered was those confidentiality agreements I was signing. I never cared too much. The money was good and I had very good connections, so I was never more than three consecutive days without work. Why should I worry about it? Also, because, as I said, I was lucky and I had good connections, why should I care about having a portfolio? Well, I had one, but it was an old-fashioned printed portfolio, in a cool leather folder, just in cases where I was asked to show some of my previous works, but this portfolio was full of very old work, nothing interesting in reality.
Now, coming back to those confidentiality agreements I mentioned before. Unless you are a rock superstar, you will have to sign a confidentiality agreement (well, probably not all agencies have the same practice, this is based on my experience with the few I've worked with), and you should have a good lawyer to review it before signing it. what was this all about? In a few points:
- All the work you do belongs to them and only them.
- You will not be allowed to talk about the details or products that you are working with during a period (to avoid leaks, for example, the launch of a new product or feature).
- You will not be allowed to show any kind of workpiece related to that job or campaign, online, offline, personal site or social media, not during the campaign (see the previous point) and never after. This includes mock-ups, process shoots, or final art. I will come to this point later.
- You are selling them your copyright or any kind of rights about the work you did for them, this is material for a very long post, so I'll keep it short. For me, the amount of money offered in return for the copyright of my work was enough to say yes! I'll sell you my soul! I was silly and should've considered granting a copyright license, for a limited period, but then I probably never would have worked for them in the first place.
Coming back to not being allowed to showcase your work from those agencies, the problem as a designer is that your portfolio is your presentation letter. Without a strong visual portfolio, it doesn't matter how good you are (or you think you are). You belong to an industry where
visual is everything and has a strong weight.
Some creative directors already knew me and my work, so no portfolio needed. A few of former colleagues started to craft personal web sites. They had the exact same confidentiality agreements problem than me. But they were smarter. My former colleagues, used those portfolio sites to showcase their skills instead of their work, side projects, rare ideas. A lot of excellent stuff. Me on the other side, didn't care too much.
Social media started to be a thing. The smarter ones took care of their Instagram accounts, their followers, Facebook, blah blah blah. I never cared and neglected all that. Yes, you can live with that and you don't owe shit to social media. But this is like the first industrial revolution. If you don't adapt to new times, you'll be left behind.
So, what happened to me? My mother got really sick four years ago. I don't really want to enter in details here because it is still a very hard thing to swallow, but to put you into context, she had two brain strokes provoked by a heart tumor, and now she suffers aphasia which means that she needs care. (For those wondering, thankfully she has fantastic health right now).
It was really hard to keep up my job and this situation, nearly 900 km away from my hometown. Probably at top of my career and it took me some time to decide what to do. I know for a fact, that a lot of my former partners and colleagues, in the same situation, would send her to a nursery home and continue with their lives. But you know what, I owe her too much. So, Fuck my career!
Nowadays, without a strong visual portfolio forget about getting a decent job in the design industry. You can't imagine how many times I've regretted not taking care of that long time ago. Because I don't have the same energy than a few years ago to start a job-seeking process, I thought that was a good time to start my own business. What could be wrong? I had a lot of experience in my back!
Oh my! How wrong I was! I opened a design shop. Outcome: I closed it a year ago, more or less with a lot of mistakes from the very beginning. Now looking in hindsight:
- My rates were out of the charts. I was pricing my services like I was before in a big city. The first huge mistake, not knowing the market I was introducing myself.
- Was a really awful salesman. And this was two mistakes in one. I should have hired a good one instead.
- Did a lot of free work for some clients because I liked them, very naive. I don't regret it and I even made a few friends. But from a business point of view, it was an awful business strategy.
- Never fired any of my former clients, and I should have fired a few of them. They cost me a lot of money, precious time and most important: mental health.
- Tried to copy how big agencies lick their clients' butts in their briefings and presentations. This thought was good in theory. Well, it ended being a huge waste of time. A lot of time, in fact, invested to get rejected the moment they knew about how much it would cost them. I was trying to sell the wrong product to the wrong costumers, again and again, and again.
- Started to become obsessed with bad design. True fact: we are surrounded by badly designed things, everywhere, from logos to gadgets, and you need to learn to live with it.
- I was forgetting one important thing: Life. I had no vacations, no free time or free days, for nearly three consecutive years.
A lot more pitfalls, as you can imagine. Being an entrepreneur is serious shit. No wonder that only a few really succeed.
Where am I now? After I closed my design shop I wanted a time to myself and I really needed that time.
Teaching in a small design school where I live, the salary is not something from another world but helps to pay the rent and not burn my savings fast. This also leaves me with a ton of free time that I can spend with my family or to start coding again too. I even have time to write, as you can see by yourself, not my strongest suit. But it's totally fine. I'm aware that I need to improve my writing a lot, considering that I'm not a native English speaker. But instead of letting my doubts, fears and pitfalls dictate what I'm going to do next, I simply keep going. No matter what! I don't let my demons conquer me.
There is no better school in life that your own mistakes.
Thanks for reading and happy weekend!