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Archive for the ‘One-Man Band’ Category


When I was a sweet young thing I worked in a design studio with three nice men. As the New Kid, I inherited the job of picking up second lines when first lines were engaged, and functioning as Person B on big projects. One day I was working on a couple of my own projects and serving as Person B to just about everybody else. Those were the days of slow processors, and we had an extra workstation, so I had opened up projects on two computers. I’d give a command on one, and then go give a command on the other while I waited for the first computer to finish processing. In between I was returning phone calls, sending faxes, printing proofs, and building a “comp” over on the drafting table.

I didn’t think anything about it until one of my office mates started to laugh. “I can’t even answer the phone when I’m working on something,” he said. “And you’ve got every machine and the drafting table going down there.” A discussion ensued among the three men about a PBS show someone had watched about how women are better at multi-tasking than men are, but I don’t remember details; I went back to circulating through the computer, computer, phone, fax, drafting table, computer, computer.

I’m not sure that the ability to multi-task is gender-linked. I know it’s something I do well, and I know that when I’m doing it I tend to focus more intently on the jobs in sequence than I do on a single job, done separately. There’s something about bouncing between different types of tasks that seems to keep my gain more closely engaged for longer periods of time.

Now that it’s just me in the doghouse, I find myself using multi-tasking not only as a tool to get client work done, but to advance my own writing and design projects. I can only edit effectively for a couple hours at a time. Then I stop editing and go draw something. When I get a few sketches polished I put them aside and paint, or do creative writing. Each task seems to take a different sort of energy–and in some cases doing a different kind of task not only allows my batteries to recharge, but actually seems to help the process along.

For instance, in the time I devote to my own work each day I’m working on three books right now. I’m proofing Benchmarks, the memoir about single mothering that I’ve talked about here before. I’m also editing and typesetting a collection of short stories that grew out of some past-life regression exercises I did. And I’m writing on a YA book about a girl who discovers that her alter ego is all too real.

The mixture of projects not only helps me keep each of them moving ahead, but also energizes me for my “real” work–the design and illustration work I do to pay our bills. So here’s the thing: instead of waiting for time to work on the projects you love, try getting them out and working on them a few lines, a few stitches, a few paint strokes, at a time, as you’re passing by doing other things. It’s a great way to ensure that your personal goals, the ones that feed your soul, keep on track right along with the goals you meet on behalf of others.

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Okay, this is for all the talented people in the room. You know who you are–the ones who can plumb a bathroom, design a cathedral, take a rocket to the moon, and negotiate peace treaties. Or, in my case, write, paint, illustrate, design all sorts of things, and take books from concept to completion. It sounds less vainglorious after that first list, doesn’t it?

You’d think that having a range of skills from which to draw would be an asset, and sometimes it is. It certainly keeps the workload more interesting. But sometimes it works against me, too.

Picture this: I’ve gone in to talk to a potential client about a design project. “We need a good writer,” he says.

“I can help you with that,” I respond. “I have considerable experience in writing for advertising and marketing, as well as for communications and reports.”

“But aren’t you a designer?”

“Yes, but I write, too.”

“Well, that’s good. Let’s talk about that later. This project also needs some illustrations. They’re nothing fancy–just have to look like this.” And he shows me.

“I can help you with that,” I say.

“But I thought you were a designer.”

“I am. But I am also an illustrator.” And I show him my portfolio. It’s full of names that drop with a heavy thud.

“But you’re helping us with the writing.”

“Yes…”

“Well, you’re just a one-man band, aren’t you?” I don’t get the job.

This interview has never happened, mostly because when I was first starting out in business my smart business woman older sister told me, “You have to focus. Pick one thing. Don’t tell them about everything else you can do, or you’ll come off sounding like a one-man band. They’ll think if you claim to do everything, you don’t do anything well.”

And so, throughout my career, I’ve had three resumés, three portfolios, three cover letters. When I went into business for myself I have conducted client discussions wearing a single hat–and I keep the others tucked firmly out of sight. Occasionally, when a job is well along and the client trusts me, I’ll spill the beans about other things I can do. My client is often delighted. And every time I do, I worry about looking like a one-man band.

The one-man band theory was behind my decision to have multiple websites, each isolated from the others. It allowed me to market myself as a Designer. Artist. Writer. Illustrator. It did not allow me to market myself as a person.

I’m forty-eight years old. I’ve been designing, illustrating, and writing for the last twenty of them. It’s ridiculous to sneak around pretending I can only do one thing, when I actually have a whole range of skills from which my clients might benefit. But the one-man band theory is real. And now that I’m thinking about what my new site needs to be to serve my clients–and me–best, I’ve got to grapple with it again.

On the one hand, I could build a single unified site, one that presents me as a person with multiple assets to bring to the table. Such a site could be a reflection of the central truth about me–I am a person who thinks in pictures and concepts, and can use both verbal and visual means to create and convey them. It would be a lovely site. And it might be too unfocused to convince potential clients that I can and will function in whatever capacity their project demands.

On the other hand, I could build a network of interlinked sites, each of which addresses one facet of my professional portfolio. Such a site might be more accessible to the linear mind. But it would also be less effective at conveying my range of skills, and I might lose out on projects that demand the very range of skills I’ve been concealing.

So, here’s the question: Which do you think is the more effective design from a business perspective? And why?

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