Say yes. Be free.

Not long ago, I wrote a post on saying no that got quite a bit of traction. It was about taking back your freedom and feeling secure enough to set comfortable boundaries.

Once you get good at saying no and setting boundaries, it’s easy to take it too far. It’s easy to turn your nose up at regular work and say, “Poo. No thank you. How pedestrian.” You can go from the most generous business owner to the stingiest in a heartbeat… if you let yourself.

I’ve been writing quite a bit on boundaries lately, since it’s a big problem for service providers all over the map (not just designers and developers).

No is uncomfortable, until it isn’t. Then yes is uncomfortable. Then everything makes you squirmy and you decide that maybe it’s time to throw in the towel to let someone else make the decisions for a while.

Quitting isn’t the answer. (Until sometimes, it is.)

The Art of the “Yes And”

A lifetime ago, I was a stage actor, where I spent a good chunk of my formative years. My favourite part of theatre was theatresports or, as it’s more commonly known, improv. Improv is a practice where you learn to say yes. It’s not just about saying yes – it’s about learning to add your spin to the yes.

When I first dove into improv, I was barely a teenager – fourteen, maybe. I was awkward and strange and didn’t want to make an ass out of myself. My acting teacher taught me something that I’ll never forget:

“Improv will make you look silly and weird and strange. The best improv actors are the most confident people in the room.”

It’s not something you develop overnight. It’s an openness that is sharpened and learned. And it’s up to you to determine if you’d rather be cool or be successful on the stage.

Sure, being cool has its fringe benefits – you look great on paper and your visage is coifed to perfection – but I’ve determined that sticking to the coolness is the best way to stagnate.

There is an art to the “yes and” that requires you – the creative, the artisan, the business owner, and entrepreneur – to be open enough to possibility, no matter how uncomfortable it seems.

During contract negotiations, I often find myself saying, “Absolutely we can do that, and it’ll cost you X monies in order to execute your vision.” Or, “I love where you’re going! And we can improve that even more by doing XYZ action.”

The power of the “yes and” ripples from your client relationships to your team as well. When you’re brainstorming, every idea is awesome and no one should feel like they aren’t smart enough or talented enough to contribute.

“Yes! That is an awesome idea and I think that we could incorporate it in XYZ category. Write that shiz down and put it in the brainstorming file!”

The Insidious Nature of No

There’s a paradigm or two that states that you should say no three or four or twelve (I can’t remember which) times for every yes you say.

For one year, I followed that. During the course of 2013, I said no to more and more while saying yes to less and less. I thought that the no was opening me up for the bigger yes.

In some ways, it did. In many more, it didn’t.

All it did was show potential clients how inflexible I could be, which contributed to a serious and incredibly troubling lull in my business.

Boundaries are incredibly powerful measures to cultivate, especially for we lovers and givers; if left unchecked, “yes and” can make martyrs of us. But there’s an equal insidiousness to “no” that we don’t tend to question.

We have to tread that fine line that encourages us to be firm and steady, while still being flexible; to be the bamboo or willow tree, instead of the firmly rooted oak.

Say yes to generosity and opportunity.

Tweet: Say yes to strange and wildly improbable possibilities. - @AmandaJFarough yes to strange and wildly improbable possibilities (Tweet that.)

Say yes. Be free.

Photo by JD Hancock

How generosity shaped my business

I’m rounding the corner into my fifth year of entrepreneurship — a significant milestone, considering that approximately 30% of small businesses (in Canada) fail in the first five years.


(Ahem. How I Met Your Mother reference + Rumi quote = winning.)

But it’s not just me that requires The Highest of Fives.

I’ve built my whole business on mutual generosity for generosity’s sake.

In 2009, I built my first website under violetminded’s umbrella. I did it absolutely and 100% free of charge.

I didn’t just do it because I was looking to build a portfolio (though that was part of it, I’ll admit) — I did it because I genuinely adored my client. Her writing set my soul on fire. She pulled back a veil on motherhood that I didn’t realize I was hiding behind. And, ultimately, it was her writing that changed my mind on becoming a mother.

And her website sucked.

So, I made my offer, fully aware that I was running the risk of coming off as a complete stalker. (This was still months away from Brene’s TED Talk on vulnerability, which broke me open all over again.)

She agreed. We built a website. She quit her job to go full-force with the writing thing and referred all of her business contacts my way. I forged ahead and started to build a little somethin’-somethin’ that slowly formed into a viable business.

Over and over and over again, I repeated the same pitch ‘n design prospect. If I really and truly adored the person and/or the business that I was pitching, I would do my best to make sure that I did the work, no charge.

But I didn’t do it for free.

I generously donated my time and expertise to folks that didn’t have the budget for a beautiful website (yet). I did it out of love, not out of a “barter” system that would put them in my debt.

In spite of folks saying that doing work for free is the absolute worst of the worst, donated work is not the same as free work.

Donating your time, your expertise, and your personal resources is generous — generosity paves the way for generosity in our own businesses and lives.

Folks will argue until they’re blue in the face that doing work in exchange for “exposure” is bullshit. If a company approaches you and pitches YOU the “exposure” bit, they’re likely being disingenuous. Or, at the very least, they need to be educated on the dangers of spec work.

But if it’s YOU — the service provider, the artist, the artisan, the creative — that makes the approach, it’s on your terms. You make the rules. You give of yourself and your craft to the betterment of your community. And that. That is beautiful.

In the last year, especially during my haze of PPD, I brooded a lot. I felt desperately unfulfilled by my work and was beginning to lose my creative edge.

It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that it dawned on me.

I wasn’t generous in my business anymore.

I built my whole business on generosity and somehow in the midst of that haze, I lost that. All I could do was survive. There wasn’t any notion of thriving at that point. I was just getting through my work, month after month, deliverable after deliverable.

As 2013 came to screeching halt (thankfully), I decided that I would actively invite in generosity once again into my business. I would do giveaways, much like the one that just ended. I would put on a few free workshops in my city, just to help out my DIY and bootstrapping entrepreneurs. I would write content more frequently, especially if it helped people make the hard decisions. 

I would give it all away.

And I would rebuild my business with the generosity that started the whole damn thing.

Give it all away. Watch it come back a thousand fold. Build a business of generosity. Tweet:

27 Lessons I’ve Learned From (Almost) Five Years of Biz

November 8th, 2009: I launched my very first client website under my shiny new business, violetminded Design. It was magnificent. It was creatively exhausting. And, more than anything, it was the first in many lessons that I’ve had to learn since starting up on my own.

I’ve got twenty-seven of them for you that cover pretty much every aspect of being a digital business owner.

  1. Never do work on the cheap. Instead, work for free and from the heart if the cause (or the project) is too delightful to pass up.
  2. Implement systems to take care of your people.
  3. Be kind and expect kindness in return.
  4. Collaboration trumps competition. Every. Single. Time.
  5. Inspiration is fleeting. Deadlines are not.
  6. Determine whether you’re the visionary, the processor, or the operator in your business.
  7. There’s no wrong answer, just different approaches to a problem.
  8. Check your baggage at the digital door before you go into a collaborative partnership.
  9. Contracts. If you’re a service provider, you need one. (We have three.)
  10. You can do all the coursework, legwork, and masterminds in the world but if you don’t launch your shit, you’ll effectively remain at square one indefinitely.
  11. Creativity requires deep vulnerability and the utmost trust in yourself and your collaborators.
  12. Always trust your intuition. If a project feels wrong, it will end nastily.
  13. Be courageous, loving, and audacious.
  14. For new designers: your skills haven’t caught up to your tastes, yet. Keep experimenting and don’t lose heart. (Or hope.)
  15. Burnout happens, so learn what your limits are and respect them.
  16. Rest. Deeply rest. And then throw caution to the wind.
  17. Risks and mistakes are necessary.
  18. Apologize for breaches of trust quickly.
  19. Don’t apologize for standing your ground.
  20. Find or create a community that you can trust with your fears, dreams, and unabashed enthusiasm.
  21. Always be reading. It keeps you sharp.
  22. Hype is hype. Jargon is jargon. But love letters are forever.
  23. Create an amazing team as early as you possibly can. Then get ready to get into the trenches and lead by example.
  24. Hone your bullshit detector.
  25. Know your tools and be open to new technology.
  26. Any motion is good motion. (Even if it’s backwards.)
  27. Don’t be a dick.

Got any you’d like to add? Post ‘em in the comments or hit me up on Twitter: @AmandaJFarough