Strategy Starts with Honesty

I always make a point of encouraging my clients to have a strong vision and a strategy for achieving that vision before they set out to design their products.

I need to start practicing what I preach. It’s been 11 months since I went solo and the past year has been a whirlwind. I’m fortunate to have had opportunities present themselves from all directions, and I’ve eagerly pursued most of them. As a result I’ve become overextended, feeling anything but “independent”.

A few months ago I realized that my excessive commitments are due to a distinct lack of business strategy. I don’t have a clear sense of where I’m going and how I plan to get there. But I’m at a point now where I no longer have a choice but to cut a few ties, take a deep breath, and start making some long-term plans.

My first step is honesty. I have to be truly honest about what I want and what I don’t want before I can figure out how to make the magic happen.

I wanted to share my initial thoughts with you in the hopes that this will force me to commit to myself. It’s too easy to stay on the same track for the benefit of everyone else around you. I’ve made big life changes before and I plan on making them again. For me. It all starts now.

My new motto

There is nothing I’m supposed to do. There are only things I want to do, for myself, for the short term and the long term.

What I want to do

  • I want to work with companies who are thinking strategically and truly value their customers
  • I want to make this blog a valued resource and destination
  • I want to write for publications that reach broad audiences
  • I want to write a book
  • I want to run my own workshops
  • I want to hold office hours
  • I want to present to the greater tech and business communities
  • I want to participate on panels
  • I want to read more
  • I want to have less planned
  • I want to clear space for things to come into my life

What I don’t want to do

  • I don’t want to do meaningless work
  • I don’t want to work for companies that measure the value of work by the number of hours spent working
  • I don’t want to write for publications that don’t have an impact
  • I don’t want to make work commitments that don’t further my goals
  • I don’t want to agree to unrealistic deadlines
  • I don’t want to be affiliated with the echo chamber
  • I don’t want to do things a certain way just because everyone else does them that way
  • I don’t want to waste time worrying about how others see me and who they want me to be

These are things I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Just having them written down makes me feel like I’ve made a huge stride forward. As new opportunities come my way, I will evaluate against them against these lists in order to make better strategic decisions about how I spend my time and energy.

For those of you who’ve found yourself in similar situations, what has worked for you? What recommendations do you have for me to continue to find fulfillment as I grow my business while staying true to myself?

I know it won’t be easy, but I’m determined to try.

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  1. says

    I love it. I have always felt this way, preached and lived it. This is a real barebones approach to doing things the way you know they should be done. Not only will you feel better about yourself for doing it in a more real and intimate way, but your passion, honesty and character will be seen through your work and your clients will love and appreciate you for it.

    One piece of advice I would give you (and seems like you've already been employing it based on your 2nd paragraph) is to not be afraid of letting clients and/or opportunities go.
    Just because there is an open door, it doesn't mean you have to walk through it.
    Peak inside, have a look, if you like what you see, walk on in- if not, walk on by.

    Another piece of advice is to develop more relationships with people who can do nothing for you. It's not just about being in touch with buzzy experts in your field who stroke each other's ego. Develop relationships with others in your industry who may be of a lower profile. People who are from other parts of the world, newbies, friends of friends, strangers with similar interests. This will help you to see your industry from the eyes of others and not just your friends, or the people who you think can benefit you.
    This will keep you grounded and real forever as you try to stay real for yourself.

    Your writing is the kind of writing that writers need to get back to.
    Nobody cares about the latest technology write-ups anymore.
    It's all about people and relationships.
    This write-up will help others to look within themselves to become more honest and real and be more thoughtful when they leave a reply, rather then encouraging readers to leave an ever so smart comment that expounds on things and technology rather then self-awareness and areas of improvement.
    Keep it real.

    • says

      Brett, it means so much to me that you took the time to leave such a lengthy comment, and your words were very kind. Accepting that I'm “allowed” to let opportunities go has been tough, but I'm working on getting better at it.

      As for your advice to “develop more relationships with people who can do nothing for you,” I think you're spot on and it's sort of a wake up call for me. A year and a half ago, *no one* knew who I was outside of my office cubicles, but I was still a completely valuable designer, team member and friend. It's important not to forget that there are a whole LOAD of amazing people in the world who don't put themselves in the spotlight, and they're just as much worth knowing.

      Thank you.

  2. Martha Mihaly says

    Hey Whitney,
    Inspiring and inspired. It sounds like you are looking for more work/life balance and simply more balance in work.

    I agree with Brett completely. Not every door needs to be walked through. If you have the luxury of turning down the opportunities that no longer fit your plan then you should be able to.

    Again Brett is right on the mark with surrounding yourself with a huge range of people. Not only will they keep you grounded, and help you to keep perspective, but some of them may also inspire you to learn more, to explore avenues that you may never have considered otherwise.


  3. designdaddy says

    Thanks for the inspiring and honest read. I don't know that I have any words of wisdom to add but I do appreciate the fact that you are taking the time to self-evaluate and that you are being real about your needs and wants as you grow your business and your self.

    I so appreciate you sharing your experiences freely and am inspired as I continue to consider my own career path.

    You are making a difference! Thanks Whitney.

  4. says

    Chad, I really appreciate that you got something out of this. Being so forthcoming isn't always easy because I'm never sure how people are going to respond, but it was incredibly cathartic for me and perhaps will be helpful for others to follow suit.

  5. says

    Great post. I think the truly inspiring thing about writing a post like this is that it sets up a “filter” of sorts that you can run decisions / opportunities through before you make them. If stuff passes your list of items you know it's in line with what you truly want. Having a list like this empowers you to take the guesswork out of stressing over each and every opportunity that comes your way. It's like a personal manifesto for the foreseeable future.

    I was interested by one thing in your “I don't want to” list in particular: “I don’t want to work for companies that measure the value of work by the number of hours spent working.” My question to you is how frequently do you find this is the reaction you get from companies and how do you deal with trying to promote the value in the service you provide and disconnect it from the number of hours it takes you to do so? This seems like a hard thing to do and I've been trying to figure it out myself.

  6. says


    This new whole new direction you are taking is very fresh and necessary as an independent guru. I have been thinking over the past 3 weeks that I must take the strides you have placed down however due to my lack of clarity I could not articulate in detail what I need to do. You are an inspiration and please keep us updated in your progress.


  7. says

    Hey Whitney.

    Great post.

    Having never gone solo, I don't speak from experience, but it seems like this is a very natural transition at this point in your career.

    I can imagine when one first strikes out on her own, just the fear and uncertainty associated with starting a new business would be enough to drive her toward every opportunity — ideal fit be damned — that could lead to more revenue or potential work.

    But you're getting more established, and more seasoned. Maybe it's your own maturity as a business owner that's now allowing you to quit sprinting, and settle in for the marathon.

    So good for you!

    One thought. . . have you read Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Work Week? That book suggests a number of tactics for getting rid of meaningless work, some involving ignoring it when possible and some involving automation and outsourcing. I'm trying to implement them myself.

    I think the two strategies can work together to keep us from overextending: choosing fewer opportunities that will occupy our time, and minimizing the mundane ancillary tasks associated with the opportunities we choose.


  8. Sameer says

    Hello – I stumbled upon your blog and am very glad i found your article above. I am curious – Nearly 2 years later – have you been able to abide by your want to’s and do not want to’s ?

    Any lessons in hindsight ?


  1. […] goals. I’ve been meaning to do this for a few months, but I’ve been inspired by one of Whitney’s posts to sit down and write […]

  2. […] Whitney’s post may have inspired me to write, but I know I have tons more to learn and practice before I ever consider becoming an independent professional. And that’s okay. So, while I don’t have a list of things I want to do (since there isn’t always the time or budget) and things I don’t want to do (part of the deal that comes with working for others), it’s time to make a list of things I’d like to learn and do in the meantime. […]

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