Promise Tangeman

We are so excited to chat with Promise Tangeman, a graphic designer, certified digital marketing strategist, style curator, and owner of the webdesign firm, Go Live Hq.

Promise helps creative girlbosses KILL IT online in a simple, stylish and strategic way. Her clients include the original #Girlboss herself, Sophia Amoruso, of Nasty Gal, TLC star Randy Fenoli of Say Yes to The Dress, Fashion Blogger Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What, Jaclyn Johnson of Create & Cultivate, Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess, and many other inspiring small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. You may also know her from Designer Vaca, which she co-founded.

We loved learning more about her intentional yet flexible business growth and hope you will to! 

Promise Tangeman | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance graphic and web designer and eventual creative director of Go Live.

After marrying my husband, Brian in 2009, I decided to skip out on the corporate world and go out on my own as a freelance graphic and web designer. Following the high demand for custom design, I assembled a design team in 2012 and we began hosting in-person events to help creative entrepreneurs by the masses to build, design, and launch their own websites in two days flat.

Now, in 2018, the business has transformed into a Template Shop, custom website design, and we create more and more resources and education for entrepreneurs and small business owners on our blog, through webinars, and through one-on-one skype calls.

In the beginning of your freelance career, how did you attract your first good clients?

When I was first getting started, I did what a lot of people do when they are starting out and designed for friends and family. BUT, what I did that a lot of people miss out on the opportunity to do is to actively post about what you are creating or what you are doing.
When you post about what you are doing, even when you are just starting out, it looks like your business is active and thriving, and people are more likely to talk about you, refer you, and hire you just from that. If you have no proof on the web or on social media that you actually do what you say you do, no one is going to hire you.

From your solo beginnings, how did you decide to take the leap, grow your team, and become Go Live?

It really came down to time and talent! In order to be successful, you really have to think about making your business scalable, and utilize the time you have to dedicate to the things that really need YOU and your unique skills or talents to get done. For me, the demand grew so much for my design services that I wasn’t able to keep up on social media, or my blog, or even just managing my flooded inbox. I knew that I didn’t have the time, or honestly the desire, to spend on things that did not allow me to use my unique talents for my business. So, I figured out what I didn’t want to do and hired a team to help me out!

What is your primary role at Go Live?

I am the CEO and Creative Director at Go Live HQ, and I’m most often managing my team as they kill it from all corners of the continent, and that can look so different depending on what we’re working on! If I’m working with my Brand Strategist, Danielle, we are working with our custom clients and our designers and moving them through our onboarding and branding process. If I’m working with my Communications Strategist, Hunter, we’re working on blog, social media and marketing content for the whole year!
I also take on consulting calls with people who need more direction in their business, so I block out one afternoon a week to take those calls to talk design, marketing and business strategy. Oh, and then of course, I’m always working to whittle down my email inbox to zero.

Your team has totally turned the normal 4-8 week website design process upside down by offering your clients a 5 day turnaround, what was the inspiration behind this new structure?

There’s really 2 big reasons that we offer the 5-day design process. First, I really value the customer experience. What I learned early on is that the longer the design process and the relationship with a client carries on, the more you lose momentum with both the project and with the client relationship. Your timeline keeps getting pushed back. You rethink things that were all set to go a week ago. I’ve found that keeping it in a short sprint keeps the momentum, energy and excitement up.
Second, we really believe in launching quickly and refining later so that you can open the doors for business as soon as possible. We’ve heard people who go through a year or more of branding and design and then don’t even end up loving the final product, or by the time the final product is finished, it already needs changing. We believe in the words of Amy Poehler, “Great people do things before they are ready.” We believe in launching quickly so you can actually get to running your business and doing what you love!

Do you have any advice for handling communication as the leader of a design team?

Our team works remotely all across the continent, so we use a lot of different communication tools to stay in touch and make sure that we are all on the same page. But generally, the two things that I try to do with both clients and with team members is over communicate and set expectations early.
We want to give as much information as possible to each other on the team and to our clients so that nothing ever comes out of left field, so that everyone is tracking with each other, and so that we all know the full scope of a project.
As far as setting expectations, it is vital in both a team setting and in serving clients to do this well and to do this early on in the process of a relationship or a project. I’ve found, in most cases, that it avoids any potential pitfalls before they even arise, and that’s the key to a successful working relationship.

As Go Live, how do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

That’s a good question! I will say that it’s actually been fun to see our ideal client change and evolve. And I think that’s also key to a good business - recognizing that your target market has changed and take the steps to move with them.
Originally, we did start off working with a lot of photographers since that was the niche I came in on when I started off. Now, we’ve grown in a huge way working with small businesses, bloggers, coaches, authors, you name it! And that’s really just because the internet has expanded to be able to create online businesses for just about anyone.
Now that our audience has changed, our offerings have changed. Our Website Templates are not just geared towards photographers anymore. We have Website Templates for creative entrepreneurs, speakers, bloggers, online shops and more. We also target all of the resources and blog content toward our ideal client so that we are speaking directly to them, and speaking their language.
Promise Tangeman | Freelance Wisdom

You are also the co-founder of Designer Vaca. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for this retreat and how you'd like it to grow and flourish moving forward?

It all started with a phone call to my business partner for Designer Vaca, Alyssa Yuhas, when we were trying to chat out handling a difficult client situation. After talking it all out and having each other to bounce ideas off of each other, we realized that we really wanted and needed to be able to do that more often with more female designers in our industry.
In 2012, we put that into motion and decided try and create that space in the design industry - a space to give designers a chance to step away from their computers, learn, share experiences & recharge alongside influential women.
Since the first year, we have sold out the conference (or retreat!) within a matter of days each year. We still love putting it on and keeping it centered around that mission of giving fellow female designers a chance to get away, breathe, get inspired and connect with other women in the industry.

You are in charge of so many different things! Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I know myself well enough at this point to know that I am not a multitasker!! I do not thrive in that and I do not do well getting pulled into different directions all at once. I am a huge believer in batch working. That’s where you group all of the similar things that are on your to do list together into one time chunk. So, for example, I spend Mondays dedicated to answering emails and doing any major administrative tasks. Or for another example, Wednesdays are dedicated content creation days where I’m writing and editing helpful content for the blog and social media all day. It keeps each day interesting and different, but also keeps us focused on the one task instead of the 50 that are ahead.

What has been your greatest struggle as a business owner so far?

My greatest struggle has been accepting the fact that there will always be constant change in my business. I used to say, “I can’t wait to get to the place where my business doesn’t feel like it’s in transition and everything is just smooth sailing.” However, I’ve now come to realize that’s never going to happen with an online business. When technology and the internet changes CONSTANTLY, your online business has to be constantly shifting and changing with it. So, I’ve learned to embrace change and transition as it’s proof that we’re going places. :)

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

I outsource the details of those things to the experts as much as I can. But owning a business still has its fair share of tasks that I HAVE to do and don’t like doing. As far as dealing with things that seem hard, not in my wheelhouse, or just a pain to do, one of my mentors has always said to “eat the sh*t sandwich as fast as you can.” It’s cheeky, but that’s the same principle I follow. I aim to deal with the situation head on, right away, and get it done as fast as I can. Otherwise, I know I’ll put it off. If you do it slowly, it’s going to taste yucky for longer.

What are your favorite ways to stay creatively inspired?

One of the things I have learned and am still learning is that it’s important to have creative hobbies outside of your business, and - even further - that these hobbies don’t have to be made into a money-making business model for you. They can simply remain hobbies that bring you joy and creativity and inspiration.
I think creative entrepreneurs often get trapped in the thought that the ultimate dream is doing absolutely everything you love and getting paid for it. But, everything you’re passionate about does not have to be part of your job description, and everything you love doing does not have to make you money.
So, I have different creative hobbies and interests like painting, interior design and fashion that I love investing my time in that keep me creatively inspired.

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Integrity, hustle, and having an intentional customer experience.

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Your work inspires us daily, so here is round two of our recent favorites from #fwportfolio

Thank you for sharing and we hope you will enjoy!

You just saw a new colorway of Serena Blossoms by @kate.couch, a discussion of studio process by @maisieheatherstudio, Abiding Citizen by @cloverandcrow, Day 43/100 of #100DaysofDrawingKJ by @kerciajane, foil stamped business cards by @melissayeags, illustration by @thealchemyofdesign , branding for stylist Melissa de Leon by @foxwoodstudio, mark making by @maayanalperswan, "is terrazzo the new marble?" by @well_kerned, flashback to a logo from @meglambertdesign's #logoaday project, watercolor teaching prep by @dearannart, and typography inspiration found in Rome by @palindromecreativeco

Kate Pugsley

Kate Pugsley is an illustrator, painter, and surface designer based in Chicago. She earned a BFA in illustration from RISD and her clients include Penguin Random House, The New York Times, Tundra Books, Red Cap Cards, Lazzari and many more. 

We love her whimsical style and appreciate her honest insight particularly regarding agent representation and attracting ideal clients. Enjoy!

Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator, painter, and surface designer.

I decided to go to art school because drawing and painting were always my favorite activities as a child and my focus in high school. My understanding of adult life and work was really limited, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else as a career. Although I studied illustration at RISD, my early work after school was closer to fine art; I mostly worked with oil paint and presented work in some gallery shows. I had a few different day jobs while painting nights and weekends. I finally decided a few years after college that illustration was what I really wanted to do, so I made it happen. I started working with materials that translated better to illustration, like gouache and watercolor on paper. Once I felt like I had some pieces I was happy with I put a portfolio together and started reaching out to art directors and sharing my work on social media. It’s not always an easy or secure job, but it can be very fun and rewarding.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

Most clients found my work online or through something I’ve published—I think clients often prefer to find you rather than to be contacted by illustrators looking for work. My first illustration jobs were editorial pieces for magazines, then I slowly started to get more clients over the years for publishing, surface design and advertising.

You balance working with many different clients and illustrate/paint for different mediums, do you have any tips for being your most productive?

My best tip for being productive is to be strict about setting time aside for deep focus on the actual creative work; time for emails, contracts, social media, etc. must be separate, as it can be very distracting. Making time to sketch and paint freely also opens me up and helps me stay more consistently focused throughout the week. I always keep a few sketchbooks of different sizes going. I record my thoughts and ideas through notes, lists, drawings and small paintings—otherwise, I'll forget them. When I neglect to do this, I tend to get bored and restless easily, and that slows down my productivity. Tidying up my workspace in the morning before getting started always helps a lot too.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

Can you tell us a bit about your process for getting a book & publishing agent and/or how you connected with Red Cap Cards? How have these partnerships improved your work flow?

I connected with Red Cap Cards over the course of a couple years. We emailed a few times and eventually, we made a collection together for 2016. It’s been one of my most rewarding client relationships. The most satisfying work comes when clients give me a lot of creative freedom and trust me to make good work, and Red Cap definitely does that. We’ve also become friends, which is a nice bonus!
The process of getting an agent for children’s books was rather long and, frankly, a little bit discouraging a lot of the time. I reached out to many agents and agencies, talked to a few, and was rejected every time. I couldn’t find a way to get jobs in children’s publishing without an agent. Then, in 2016, Anne at the Bright Agency contacted me about becoming one of her clients, and now I’m working on my first book (writing and illustration) with Tundra Books. I’m still not really sure how to get an agent, actually. I think putting out consistent work that connects with people is the most important step.

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance creative so far?

Working alone can be isolating. Negotiating the appropriate fee and timeline for a job can be challenging sometimes too. I love working freelance though, so I don’t have too many complaints.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

If you could share one piece of advice to your "just starting out" self, what would it be?

It took me a long time to build up some confidence. I used to be very shy and insecure, it held me back a lot. My advice to my younger self would be to work more on understanding my fears and weaknesses instead of just avoiding them.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I think it’s important to keep working on personal projects to show your own creative vision. Client-based work usually involves compromises, and my voice can sometimes get a little lost underneath a creative brief. I’m trying to find a balance between client work and working on pieces that are completely mine; with that in mind, I try to attract good clients who want to work with me based on my concepts.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

This language on your website is very wise: "I work with clients interested in forming an ongoing creative partnership." Have you found that this specification does indeed help generate ongoing partnerships?

To be honest, I’m not sure that it’s had much effect in terms of client relationships yet, but that is still my goal.

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

I have templates for invoices, and I keep track of expenses and income in simple spreadsheets. Keeping it as simple and organized as possible takes some of the stress out of end-of-year tax stuff. Organization doesn’t come naturally to me, but over the years I’ve learned that it saves me a lot of time if I put in the effort. Another thing I recommend to illustrators is to thoroughly read contracts and agreements, and to push back on terms that aren’t good for you!
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom
Kate Puglsey | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I can’t say I’ve achieved a great balance yet. I really love my work and always want to be creating, but running my own business basically means I never stop working. Since I make my own schedule, I try to not work much on the weekends, and I go for walks every day to get outside and let my mind wander. I also love just enjoying the perks of working freelance, like going to the beach, a museum, or a yoga class in the middle of the day if I have time and need some inspiration or a break.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?

I recently started a company called Formal Dept. along with my husband, where we’re developing lifestyle goods and housewares that combine my illustration and his product design work. We’ve talked for a long time about working together, and it’s finally starting to come together. Our first product launch is a series of bags, and we’re expanding into tabletop items later this year. And we have a lot of other ideas that we can’t talk about yet! I’m also ruminating on some ideas for illustrated books, some for children and some for adults. I always have more ideas than time!

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Curiosity, enthusiasm, and a unique perspective on your particular creative field.
Kate Pugsley | Freelance Wisdom

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