How having the right people around you can boost design business

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One of the things about being a freelancer is you end up spending a lot of time alone. After all, you work at your computer, at home, or in cafes, and only you and your expertise are required in order to have a fully-operational business.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

For a long time I bought into a lot of self-help guides and motivational speakers who said, “You only need yourself. Other people are nice – but really you only need yourself.” I now see that not only do I need people – but that this applies to everything. I need the people who prepare the food that winds up at the grocery store. They grow it and harvest it, and without them I’m afraid I just might starve. I need the people who manufacture cars because otherwise I spend 90% of my time walking around town.

And in business, I need my partner.

She balances me out, and together we come up with ideas that are twice as big as anything I could come up with alone. And when we get in a rut, and I feel like everything is sliding downhill at avalanche-like speed, we get through it together. I’m telling you these things about me today because maybe you also feel like you have to do it all yourself. I’m here to tell you that while it’s okay to do everything alone…

Things get done faster, better, and are more fun with others.

You already depend on people

Whether you like it or not, you already depend on people! And they depend on you. So you might as well get used to it.

Your landlord depends on your rent – and you depend on their shelter. Your gas company depends on you paying the bills – and you depend on heating and air conditioning. Your clients depend on you for great design – and you depend on them for income. It seems pretty apparent that having lots of people around makes life even better. Even if you never meet them in person.

I mean, it’s either that or we all chop down our own trees, build our own homes, make our own fires, grow our own food, and defend ourselves from attackers. Oh, and by ourselves we’d have to do that all the time. Every day. Every year. Until the day we died. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

A preposition

So this is what I propose: Today, invite one more person into your life. It can be a fellow designer who you can bounce ideas off of, share tips, or offer each other advice on getting and keeping clients. It can be a business owner who could benefit from your services. Heck, it can be a kid on the street playing catch with his friends.

The risk

Now, when you do this you face the risk that the person won’t invite you back. But that’s okay. Because just like with everything – it’s a numbers game. In direct mail – we go crazy when we get a 10% response. That means for every 10 people who told us “yes”… 90 others told us “no”! Invite enough people and some will let you in. As for the ones who said no, thank them. Without them it wouldn’t feel so good to get a “yes”.

A story

My journey to learning how to let people in started one day when my phone rang. The caller ID said “Mom” so I picked up. “Hey sweety, how are ya?” she asked in her almost-New-York-accent (even though she’s never even lived up north, she still managed to pick up a New York accent somehow). Then she told me about a networking mixer that was happening at a restaurant in midtown that night.

“Hang on, let me ask Lou,” I told her, and put the phone against my chest so she couldn’t hear Lou say “no” – which is what I thought the inevitable response was. “Sure, let’s go,” Lou said. I stared at her for a second, and then blinked. Really? “Sure, let’s go”? We never went to these kinds of things! And now she was cool as a spring breeze going to one tonight. “Okay – we’ll see you there,” I told my mom and hung up.

That night, two things happened. And one was very strange.

The first is that both of us felt uncomfortable. This was way out of our comfort zone. 99% of our clients live in other states, and even in other countries. We were good on the phone, and in e-mail, but in person, well, we can be a bit shy at times.

The second thing that happened is we met a lot of people – and we really liked them!

Sure, we didn’t click with everyone. But we ended up setting up meetings with two groups of people. One group became our friends – and we were able to help them re-shape an aspect of their business. They may also end up doing business with us – but either way we’re happy. It was just nice to meet some passionate, awesome people.The other became an acquaintance of ours, and we may very well do business together in the near future. Since then we’ve gone on to invite even more people into our lives. And every time – even if people don’t become our friends or clients – something good comes out of it.

We grow.

And also, we get better and better at communicating to people exactly what we do. This is really important – because even though we know why what we do is so important, not everyone else does. These mixers and meet-ups are a great place to practice saying what we do – and why people should even care.

Add your thoughts.

Okay, so now here’s the part where I stop yapping (or writing, I guess would be more accurate) and listen to what you have to say. So what do you think? Have you had similar experiences? Am I completely out of touch? Learn anything new? Have something to add? I want to hear your thoughts! So go ahead and leave a comment. I’ll reply to what you have to say, and we can have a talk about it.

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About David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.


logoMore about David’s business: David is co-founder of Reliable – what happened when a group of designers got fed up with PSD to Code companies… and created their own. Check them out, and see what makes them so unique.


  1. David,

    This is a great article. In the past, it’s been easy for me to just rely on myself and no one else, or just a very small amount of people. I think for many people, including myself for a long time, different life experiences shape us to be weary of people and keep them at a distance. But I think when you allow yourself to really open up and let your guard down, whether in business or in your personal life, amazing things will happen. Of course when you do that there’s always the chance you’ll get hurt, but the amount of opportunities and great relationship will stem from this openness I think outweighs that possibility.


    • @Lou Levit,

      Hey Lou :-)

      I think you brought up a really huge point, which is that when you open up – it doesn’t mean everything is blue skies and sunshine. You also open up to the “bad” stuff too. But unless you take that risk – you don’t even give yourself the chance to figure out if something… or someone… could be a really great addition to your life.

      Thanks for sharing,

  2. David,
    Thanks for contributing this great article. I have found that most entrepreneurs tend to be more “do-it-yourself-ers” and many people (myself included) have a hard time bringing other people in to the circle.

    I think, for me anyway, that this is because I have a hard time trusting people to do a good job at something. Or I am afraid they might take advantage of our friendship/relationship. It’s something I have to get over.

    Thanks for inviting us all to invite more people into our lives. So what do you think is the biggest fear people have to overcome in order to successfully grow their circle?

    • @Preston D Lee,

      Preston, I feel the same way. And a lot of times I realize that I don’t just feel that way in business – but in other parts of my life, too.

      Great question… Hm… I would have to say, at the risk of being extremely reductionist, that the biggest fear people have to overcome is the fear of rejection. Or actually, I don’t know if you ever have to even overcome it. I honestly haven’t met a single person who has.

      But I have met a lot of people who go out and meet people even when they feel afraid of rejection. So I think it’s the willingness to go out and open up and give people a chance even though in the back of your head… or maybe right up in the front of your head… you feel scared / untrusting.

      What do you think? And thanks for your insights :-)


  3. This is an exceptionally insightful article. I think that fear/shyness has probably been my biggest enemy in growing my independent creative efforts… but I’m learning. It’s hard (not to mention scary) to not want to feel in control of everything, but you’re right in saying that letting go if even just a little helps you grow. Thanks David!

    • @Rondal,

      Hey Rondal, thanks a ton for your comments. I’m really glad you found this to be insightful.

      Also – your gravatar absolutely rocks man. lol. Did you make that yourself?

      I know what you mean about control. The thing is, when I think about it, I realize feeling in control never actually makes me any closer to being in control… But it’s still hard to let go of that feeling. As if somehow holding on to that feeling is what makes things work out or not work out lol…

      But like you I’ve found that being able to lighten my grip on that even just a little always leads to something good. Even if it’s not a direct increase in business, or a new friend… somehow something great happens.

      What kinds of things do you do to “let go”?

      Thanks again for sharing,

      • @David Tendrich, Haha, thanks! Yeah, I did an “animated” version of everyone at the office of my daytime job and this one was for me. Surprisingly, after 3 months, little has changed. :)

        As for “letting go,” I have been trying to proactively build channels of communication with individuals whose work I respect. Building relationships online with social media is slowly but surely making it easier for me to find genuine collaborators with whom I feel there is a trust.

        Trust is definitely a big thing for me. If I can’t trust someone, then I can’t completely give up control. Luckily, I have been able to meet a (growing) number of people who share my passion and work ethic and who are willing to put themselves behind a common cause.

  4. I got your point and I agree with you. YOu must be surrounded with people who has impeccable work ethic.

    • @Maria,

      Hey Maria, thanks for your comment :-)

      You know… I’m not sure if surrounding myself with people with impeccable work ethic is the most important thing for me. I think people who are really open and honest and supportive mean a lot more to me. Even if they’re the laziest people on the planet ;-)

      What do you think? And what’s your definition of work ethic?

      Would love to hear your thoughts,


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