Monday, July 19, 2010

Invitation: Creative Collective

I have an idea, but it requires your help and contribution for it to become a reality.

As I have been building my networking base for On The Vine, I've met so many cool cats with an awesome skill set within their respective niche of the creative field. It is those said niches that are the basis of my idea -- the formation of a creative collective.

The Working Definition
Creative Collective is a network of independent creatives who: 1) all have expertise/experience in a niche or complimentary facet of the design/marketing/business disciplines, and 2) share resources and partner/collaborate to benefit each other's businesses.  
The Three-Fold Vision for the Collective
The Creative Collective could be one of the many possible future paths for On The Vine; or it could the first OTV spin-off under the guise of something like Pgh Indie-Creative Collective. At this point, I'll leave those details TBD... regardless, I foresee it having three features/components:
  1. Expanded Blog -- Call for Contributors
    Fostering community in the virtual realm: a) industry news + trends, b) current events/happenings and c) how-to's via tutorials or best practices advice, etc.

    Since the Pgh design community is an awesomely tight-knit group, we already know each other... for the most part. Chances are that you don't know some of the extremely creative and talented local freelance peeps that I know. Likewise, I don't know some of your amazingly talented connections either.

    Here's the thing: for each of us to be wildly successful in our respective businesses, we need to know each other and be familiar with the resources/capabilities we each possess. It helps with best practices, strategic partnerships, new business referrals, overall venting sessions (particularly if you are working in isolation as a lone freelancer), etc., etc.

    The easiest way to create awareness and get to know each other is through our work... ie: our thoughts, interests, obsessions that innately come through our blogging. I'd love for this blog to become a resource for the local design community. Re-posting your blog work or publishing original articles on anything and everything happening in design and all those related disciples.

    There's are a ton of successful online communities to use as models in creating a Pgh freelance design community resource & base of knowledge. Think, the freelance designer equivalent to such great benchmarks as: Social Media Examiner, Young Entrepreneur, Mashable, Tonic or Freelance Switch. Or, great local sites like: Pop City and Kestone Edge. As well as Pgh bloggers/groups who are doing it well like: Only In Pgh, I Heart Pgh, Steeltown Anthem, ecoDesigner's Guild, etc.

  2. Forming Partnerships
    Strategic collaborations = full-service consultancy (flash-mob style)

    We all want to be full-service, but the reality is that it's tough to bridge each and every gap -- especially as the design discipline continues to fracture into more expert-level silos. We've all faced client situations where we basically flat out lie responding to an existing client's request with, Sure we do (fill in the obsecure client request here).

    And what happens? We subsequently spend countless (non-billable; educational) hours trying to learn as much as possible to pull off said request. We usually wish death would come quickly -- to save us from the deadline -- or pull out our hair in the stressful process. Once making it through the fiery hell, we chalk up the process to experience, update our consultancy's offerings on our blogs/websites and move on to the next obscure request. All the while secretly wishing we could just focus on our unique passion/interest/niche.

    Wouldn't it be great to partner up with the other independent creatives who specialize in that client's obscure request and who are both knowledgeable and easy to work with/project manage? Wouldn't it also be great to get more qualified biz referrals from such partnerships? Don't I sound just like an infomercial or pyramid schemer trying to sell you the next latest/greatest thing? I promise that I'm not trying to sell you worthless junk:)

    It's just an idea. I've been partnering with other freelancers -- writing them into OTV proposals, having OTV written into the proposals of other freelance professionals.These partnerships have been really successful and helped to give OTV a jump-start, so I think these strategic, short-term collaborations hold some water. But, I'll let you be the judge...

  3. Fostering Community in the Physical Realm
    Hosting informal networking gatherings, sharing best practices, highlighting member capabilities/specialities, facilitating project collaborations, etc.

    I'm involved in two networking groups; one category exclusive (Sewickley Prof. Referral Exchange) and one that's open to any women's small business group (WSBA - Women's Small Business Association). I love both and have benefited from meeting an eclectic variety of entrepreneurial-minded folks. However, I don't meet many creatives with complimentary specializations in these groups. Nevertheless, these groups are great models for a freelance specific group.

    AIGA Pgh
    is another great place for networking, but they've got a whole series of goals/initiatives that benefit the design community at large; a huge undertaking. They currently do not have an outlet or mechanism in place to utilize those individual networking connects for freelance business growth/partnerships. Maybe it becomes a collaborative effort with them; maybe it's completely independent.

    The closest-related model that I have stumbled upon is the Pgh Craft Collective. I recently became a member which is super cheap to do ($35/yr). In exchange, you are granted discounted access to events/resources focused around sharing knowledge & best practices for selling your handmade wares, building community among like-minded crafty entrepreneurs and providing outlets/opportunities to sell said wares at vendor fairs.

    It's a fairly simple & informal system and it works because those who are involved are engaged, they actively participate and they create the dynamic community. I think an independent creative collective could benefit from the ideas of all of these aforementioned groups.

The Ask...
This idea has been kicking around in my head (forming, sprouting, growing) for a few months. Refinements have been made as I've been test-running portions of it with peers; trying out the project partnerships for my own client work (which are working better than expected); and adapting the conversational messaging to my networking audiences via the old 30-sec business commercial/elevator speech.

Now, it's time to go live with it.

If you're in... awesome!

If you've got some reservations, share them. I'm at the point where I want some feedback, suggestions, critiques from my creative peers since this will essentially be your community, your creative collective.

Okay, okay... now what?
Let's start with the easiest deliverable... contributing to a collective blog. Right now, let's talk about becoming a contributor here on On The Vine's. As more people get on board, we can evaluate whether we need a separate entity to better serve the cause.

You're already blogging, I'd love to repost your work here. I'd love for you to repost some of mine, too. Cross-promotion = greater exposure, yo;)

Email me or post a comment below and let's talk about getting this thing off the ground!

Many thanks in advance,

Stephanie Rexroth
Principal & Senior Consultant

On The Vine: A Creative Collective
Design | Events | PM
c. 412.576.8221

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  1. I'd definitely be down, especially with the blogging and cross promotion. As far as client work goes, I may or may not be able to help with freelance projects. With the baby on the way, my time is limited and I dont think I'll be taking on any freelance clients any time soon.

    That being said, I'm all for learning from others and all of us helping each other out!! :)

  2. Cool, Josh. Glad to hear you're on board and to put some more details to our Fb conversations about collaborating w/our blogs.

    You can be as involved as little or as much as you'd like. Life comes first, always:)

  3. John Craig's been working to create a photography community in Pittsburgh. It's largely been an in-person endeavor, but it's sort of educational + networking. He leads photo walks, and we have meetups every month. Sometimes there's a guest speaker for a specific skill or idea, sometimes we just have conversations.

    And I remember thinking, when I started going to these, wouldn't it be great if we had a community like this for design? I've been doing more photography work than design lately, but I think this is a pretty great idea.

  4. Cool... thanks, Caroline!

    I think what's super cool about it is that it can become a resource for freelancers w/in the creative community. Kind of like how the Craft Collective brings together people in every medium (wood, fabric, jewerly, paper, etc).

    That group does a ton to support their members who are just getting their businesses started, who are growing their businesses and who are taking their businesses to the next level.

    Thanks for sharing the ideas & inspiration from John Craig's photography community. Sounds like we're all on the same page... just need to bring it into reality.

  5. Yes please.

    I got nothing but time and rolled up sleeves. I will however need a bit of direction. What's first?

    [it might be a bit slow going until I get this whole move thing done]

  6. Yay! Glad to have you on board. I'll send an email with next steps.

    In the meantime, feel free to determine/dictate how much and in what ways you'd like to be involved. The theme that's unfolding is that everyone is going to have a different involvement level -- based on preference, type of business, promotion strategy, personality, life situation, etc.

    PS: I just subscribed to your blogs... super cool.