The Career Building Power of “No”

I was chatting with some friends this week, and we got on the topic of how hard it can be to fire clients.

I mean, they’re giving you their money, and you obviously want to keep a strong freelance following and your good reputation.

Here’s the thing. Keeping a client who is a holy nightmare to work with is counter productive on soooo many levels.

Give yourself full permission to fire terrible clients, guilt free.

If you’re considering firing them, one or more of the following are probably true:

#1 They suck as human beings.

#2 They’re taking advantage of you by trying to make you feel guilty about your fees/the amount of time it takes to finish their project.

#3 They’re the actual worst at communicating, which means you’re wasting time you could be working on other projects waiting for them to respond/wrestling decisions from them.

#4 They’re paying you late/refusing to pay for something you’ve already completed.

#5 You’re just not vibing, and it’s frustrating both you and the client in a big way.

Toxic clients are detrimental to ALL of your design work—not just the work you’re doing for that one client.

If any of these issues are occurring, give yourself 1000% permission to fire them, guilt free. Why? The stress they’re adding to your life is taking away from the other awesome clients you’re working with. They’re negatively affecting the quality of ALL of your work, not just the work you’re doing for them.

Keeping a toxic client will not have a positive impact on your career.

Choosing to keep a toxic client around to “keep your good name” isn’t going to have that effect. The rest of your work back sliding is going to damage your reputation, and there’s a high chance that they’re not going to recommend you to their peers anyway after the fact.

It’s always ok to respectfully fire awful clients.

When firing a client needs to happen, don’t just tell them to take a long leap off a short pier — have an open and honest conversation about your concerns.

Sometimes that conversation on it’s own will resolve the issues you’re encountering. If it doesn’t, tell them that you’re sorry, but they’ll need to find a designer who will better fit their needs for the remainder of the project and issue a refund for any project work you haven’t completed yet. That way you’re not “blaming them” for the issue, and you’re not saying you refuse to work with jerks. You’re just peacefully parting ways.

Fear of bad press isn’t worth destroying your sanity and your career.

Even if they rage out and try to blast your reputation afterward, there is a good chance that others in the industry will already be aware of how awful they are to work with. And if people aren’t aware, they will be when they see the client publicly blasting someone. Consider it a public service if that happens. Other designers will know to steer clear. The benefit of removing the negativity from your life is worth the gamble regardless.

Sometimes you can finish the current project and just gracefully decline additional work with the tried and true, “I apologize, but I won’t be able to take on this new project.” You don’t have to make up excuses, you don’t have to lie about a huge workload (especially since you’ll be looking for additional work), it’s ok to just say no.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to pay your bills. And you’ll always have clients that are difficult, it’s just part of being a freelancer.

But you need to know where you draw the line between difficult and toxic (and that line will be different for every freelancer). ID that line and stick to it. Saying “no” and firing awful clients will save both your sanity and the quality of your work (and your career) long term.

Contribution: Women in Tech Share Positive Experiences and Advice for Landing a Great Gig


Lately there have been a lot of blog posts outlining stories of battles women have won to represent themselves in the technology industry, and hurdles they’ve overcome to fight for gender equality in the workplace.

What there aren’t many of, though, are posts explaining that not every company puts those hurdles in the way or makes those battles necessary.

Continue Reading…

InVision: Design, UX & Dev Tools That Will Save You Tons Of Cash & Time

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3 years ago I worked for a startup that had been acquired by a large corporation. We were using the daylights out of a rapid prototyping tool named InVisionApp. It had completely changed the way our team designed.

Fast forward a year, and a team member at InVision reached out about a job opening at the company. I took the plunge and joined a team of dedicated, crazy talented people who loved the product, but most importantly loved having the opportunity to positively impact the daily lives of designers all over the world.

When I interviewed 2 years ago, there were 50 employees. 2 years later, we’re a team of 350+. Our weekly newsletter now goes out to 2.5 million subscribers. And our product has gone from a rapid prototyping tool, to an entire suite of tools. It’s wild, some people hear InVisionApp and think of the original rapid prototyping tool that it was when I started. We’ve had an INSANE number of additions in the last 2 years, and I’d like to highlight a couple of my favs that many people don’t realize are part of the product.

  1. Boards: We have this awesome tool called boards built right into the product. You can create gorgeous mood boards and stakeholder presentations in seconds.
  2. Workflow: There’s an integrated design workflow tracking tool. Need to keep up with your progress? Add cards to workflow and drag them to the appropriate columns as you complete your tasks.
  3. Freehand: I used to use several tools to bang out wireframes. They worked ok, but I wished there was something lighter to use. We’ve got a new tool called Freehand that lets you create wireframes in minutes. You can also pull in mockups and conduct collaborative feedback sessions with your team. (And as an added bonus it’s just really fun to play with.) 🙂
  4. Prototyping Inside Sketch: We have a plugin named Craft that lets you hook up your clickable prototypes right inside Sketch, and then send them to InVision with a click using Sync. It’s a MASSIVE time saver!
  5. Stock: You can test out images from Getty and iStock right in your design before you purchase them. Then you can purchase them with a click if you find one you love.(There are a ton of other hugely time saving features in the Craft Plugin that you should def checkout. For the sake of keeping this post shortish, I’ll stop there!)
  6. Recording Baked In: A lot of people don’t realize this, but we have recording baked right into the product! You just activate it and you can record your usability testing sessions with a click.
  7. Inspect: Once you are feeling good about your design and you’re ready to handoff to the engineering team (or to yourself if you’re a 1 woman/man show) you can fire up Inspect and it will pull all the specs out of your prototype. Automagically. It’s the best.

So there are a zillion other awesome features and tools built in to InVision & Craft, but I’m going to stop there for now. If you get a sec, I definitely recommend playing with the new features. They’ll save you an insane amount of time, as well as crazy cash since they replace a giant stack of different products in a shot. You can just stay in product and do all of the things. I think you’re going to really love it. 🙂

(Disclaimer: In case you didn’t catch it, I work at InVision now. And love my job. And we’re hiring.) 🙂

Startup Years = Dog Years

We were in a meeting recently and someone made a comment about startup years being like dog years. Definitely an accurate statement!

If you analyze the progress made by a successful fast growth startup in sales & revenue, feature additions & product growth, and staffing additions, each year is often equivalent to about a decade (or more) of large corporation progress.

One of the biggest thrills of working for a startup is the breakneck pace. It’s not for the faint of heart, but man is it ever a fun ride!

The Impossible Icon: Giving Designers Nightmares Since The Dawn Of Time

I got to hang out with some of my favorite designers tonight! One of them is working on a project for a niche company that requires them to use solely material icons. The entire project is complete other than one pesky icon.

All 6 of us took a look at it together and not one of us was able to come up with an icon selection that fit. It’s one of those impossible icons that consumes your thoughts. Because there HAS to be an icon that makes sense, right? Wrong.

It’s 3am, and I STILL can’t stop thinking about it haha—it’s driving me crazy. C’est la vie! #DesignLife


InVision Design Blog Contribution: 7 Tips To Help You Nab Your Next Promotion


A couple of weeks ago, I talked with a friend who had just left a job that paid well and had great benefits, at a company he really loved.  I asked if he was comfortable talking about why he’d made the decision, and I discovered the real reason he left: He felt he’d been repeatedly overlooked for a promotion.

During our conversation, I took some notes—and I realized that a few key moves on his part could have made a big difference in his experience. With his permission, I thought I’d share them with you…

Read the full article here:

The Powerhouse Leader Your Org Is Probably Missing

So there are all kinds of manager vs. boss vs. person-in-charge-who-you-hate posts kicking around. They define the difference between the various types, talk about their flaws and positive traits etc.

I’m going to skip all of that since it’s been hashed out a billion times, and bring a powerful leader that is often overlooked to your attention instead. A few of the initial traits I describe are going to sound familiar, but the last one is what really defines this type of leadership style.

  1. This leader is someone who naturally earns the respect of a team, by respecting the team. If a team member does something disrespectful, out of line, or just wrong, the leader handles it immediately in a manner that is fair. (Stern talking to, probation, kicking them out the door, whatever needs to be done to ensure the rest of the team culture can continue rocking along.)
  2. This leader is someone who notices when something stupid happens. They have the skill to either identify the stupid thing immediately themselves, or they listen when another teammate comes to them to point out the stupid thing.
  3. This leader can make someone realize that they’ve done something stupid without actually making them FEEL stupid. This is a rare trait. It’s possible to coach people without making them feel like morons when they make a mistake. Obviously if someone is making repetitive mistakes that are negatively impacting your business, you need to take a different approach (up to and including letting them go) but when someone makes an honest mistake these leaders can coach them to improve without making them feel small. They empower people to succeed rather than scaring them into a state of constant fear of losing their job if they do one thing wrong. 
  4. This leader can diffuse raging battles like a champ. They march in and activate their mad (and sincere) empathy skills and magically resolve the issue at hand without making any party feel slighted

This is the secret sauce I was talking about.

I say they do it magically because it seriously SEEMS magical. I’ve had the opportunity to work for several people in my life who had this skill set, and it’s mind blowing to watch.

At my previous startup, we had a VP named Patti DiSanto and another VP named Jason Coudriet with this power, and I SWEAR they could walk into the middle of a riot and their mere presence would make everyone immediately calm down.

They’d ask the people to hug, and they’d do it. Then the people on both sides would offer them their first born children and left kidneys as a token of their thanks. (I work with incredible leaders with the same skill set now, but I won’t embarrass them by mentioning names.) 😉

This skill-set isn’t just an “HR rep” thing. Putting people with this level of empathetic skill in the position to lead a team and impact business decisions is a benefit to your culture, to every employee who ever has the opportunity to work for and learn business practice from them, AND your to bottom line. These folks are an absolute POWERHOUSE when it comes to building strong client relationships that last. ($$$)

You typically can’t identify these people with a resume, “Magical conflict resolving/make clients love us skills” isn’t a common resume bullet point, but when you meet or interview one, you’ll know immediately.

Often times, the person doesn’t even realize how powerful their skill-set could be in a business environment.

If you immediately thought of someone you know when you read this post, encourage them to pursue a position in leadership if they have any interest in it—they have the potential to make a huge, positive impact.

Companies (ESPECIALLY startups) need more of this form of leadership to survive and flourish.

I really don’t think it’s any coincidence that my last 2 back to back startups have gone on to be extremely successful. Both companies had a variety of powerhouse leadership styles including this one in the mix.

Without this person in a startup leadership team, when you hit the rapid growth stage and everyone starts to freak out, panic, and turn on one another due to stress, you’re dealing with sheer mayhem that can topple an entire company.

I’m not trying to say that hiring someone with this skill-set is the only thing you need to make your startup succeed, but hiring them WILL get you to the finish line with less permanent business & interdepartmental relationship casualties than you would have incurred otherwise.

Picking the right combination of inspiring, powerful Senior Leadership team members is key to any business’s success—make your choices wisely.

Are morning people made? 

I am a night owl. I always have been and may always be. My most creative energy tends to strike between 10pm and 2am. This also happens to correlate with the hours right after my kiddo falls asleep. 

I have absolutely no idea how morning people function in life. Have you always been morning people? Is it a kids vs. no kids thing? Do you go to bed the same time each night at 6pm? Do you stop using screens early in the evening? Is there an eating/drinking cutoff point? When do you typically feel most creative? Can morning people be made or is it just part of who you are? Have any of you successfully converted from night to morning people? 

I’m mystified and would love to learn more. Pop a comment below if you’re comfortable sharing your morning person tips!