When should you work for free?

One of the biggest challenges launching MATAGI, has been convincing people to “work for free.” I’ve had some missteps and disappointments when folks failed to show. Those failures brought me back to the drawing board and made me question if getting folks to work in mini-collaborations was possible? (Spoiler: It is.)

Many folks think it’s crazy to expect people to collaborate without a guarantee of compensation. Those “what’s in it for me” folks, aka Takers, aka Defectors, aka Non-Cooperators, aka Evil Gits* were never going to be MATAGI-ers.  MATAGI-ers are artists, creatives, cooperators and collaborators. 

However, there are countless stories of folks taking advantage of and/or undervaluing those same creatives. Complaints of online magazines only paying professionals with “exposure” and Clients From Hell stories of freelancers being undervalued. So before I attempt to write my thoughts on how to get folks to work for free, I wanted to share my (beta) decision tree for how I way the cost and benefits of volunteering.

I do think that it makes sense for folks starting out to give free samples and/or test drives in order to gain experience, recommendations, and insight.

That said I would also urge everyone to start charging for their services before they are ready. Folks tend to value work the amount they pay for it, and you need to gain experience with clients that value your work appropriately as soon as you can.


* My Game Theory professor was British can you tell 😉






Do you want to be right or do you want to be liked?

How to Win Friends & Influence People was recommended to me by a well-intentioned sycophant. At least, I want to assume they were well-intentioned. At the time I found that person to be an enormous brown noser, but an effective, enormous brown-noser.

I didn’t like this person and I am pretty sure this person didn’t like me. And yet the book’s kind of famous. According to Wikipedia:

How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published. Written by Dale Carnegie (1888–1955) and first published in 1936, it has sold over 30 million copies world-wide, and went on to be named #19 on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential books in 2011

It was, I figured, worth a shot so I picked it up.

I found it had a lot of “old-timery” advice in it, that doesn’t sit will with me initially. For example, Carnegie kicks it off asking the reader to acknowledge.

“My popularity, my happiness and sense of self-worth depend to no small extent upon my skill in dealing with people.” ~ HtWF&IP p.xxi

Dude, what the fuck.

Creatives have to learn to ignore external validation. My sense of self-worth depends on my ability to show up as my authentic self, live by my values, and make cool stuff. Screw other people, um except you, of course, dear reader.
Seriously though, it was a not a good beginning. In fact, I almost threw the book away after reading the first chapter’s principle.

“Don’t Criticize, Condemn, or Complain.”

Mother—, was this why that brown-noser recommended the book in the first place? Was that passive aggressive shit trying to shut me up?


Ok so a bit more context, my job had shifted to a process improvement role. Which meant in an already matrixed organization, I had even less direct authority. I had also recently been given feedback along the lines of, “Yeah you are right, but Person X, was butt hurt, and now certain people think you are difficult.”

Sidenote: To save you from googling me, this is where I point out that I am female, and there was some gender bias bullshit happening, but that’s not the point. The point, which Carnegie was trying to tell me, most people suck at realizing much less admitting when they’re wrong.

As much as I hate to admit, he had a point. (Ha see what I did there). However, I wasn’t totally wrong either and in fact 200 pages later Carnegie gives tips for “criticizing when you must”, in part four “be a leader”.  It was both a relief and frustrating getting to that part, and demonstrates why HtWF&IP needs to updated.

Real collaborators are both leaders and followers.

Carnegie doesn’t seem to think of everyone as a leader. Respectfully I disagree, everyone can and should be a leader. Carnegie is writing from a time when business models were constrained by limits, what others have referred to as “scarcity” or a “factory” mind set. Some of what he says is still very relevant and useful, but as we move to digital economies, successful companies need to change. The model needs to shift from focussing on competition to co-opetition and collaboration.

If I asked Carnegie, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be liked?” I’m betting he would say it’s more important to be liked. He’d likely turn it around on me and ask, “Do want to be right or do you want to be effective?” My answer in an enthusiastic, both.


Three Surefire Ways of Overcoming Fear

Awhile ago* I came across these three SUREFIRE ways for overcoming your fears and doubts.

  1. Friends
  2. Facts
  3. Faith

Starting a new business venture is a risk and I’ve had far more gut clinching moments than expected. A lot of entrepreneurs gloss over how taking on new risks “feel” and I think that is a mistake.

It’s not just me

As I work to build a community of creatives, I have met so many people with enormous creativity and enthusiasm. Entrepreneurs with great ideas, but when I push them to take those ideas to the next level, they get scared. I get. We call this pushback, resistance and we all feel it. I remind folks that:

Success is only obvious in retrospect.

That’s why we make things, test, prototype, and manifest the vision for those that don’t “get it” (and yes that includes ourselves, on occasion). It’s part of the reason I created MATAGI.  It’s a community and resource to help creatives find friends, facts, and faith.

True Story

Once I was selected as a new manager to help build a new internal site. I was three months into my job and part of the first wave of folks trained up on SharePoint. It was so new our IT professionals weren’t even up to speed on it.  The microsite had 20+ difference permutations (with an ever expanding scope) and it was clear we needed a centralized database. Instead of puzzling out how to centralize the process, the project director was hell-bent on just getting it done. I knew that if we built it the “wrong way” it would be a logistical nightmare updating the content and reconciling the reports on the back-end for whoever was charged with maintaining the site, in addition to taking at least twenty times as long to set up, and likely longer given the scope creep. Fortunately, I had enough faith (and admin rights) to figure out how to architect the site, but even once I figure it out I had to “prove it” -demonstrating the efficiency of the solution to the director who still refused to accept the solution. It was only after I convinced the other site builders, and the IT project manager to confirm that the solution was a best practice that would be replicated throughout the firm – that the director agreed to the solution.

The moral

Even with facts (figuring out the technical solution), faith and friends (IT professional and teammates) backing me up, convincing leadership to accept the solution was still difficult.  I pushed on because long term I knew it wouldn’t be the director who suffered from a poorly architected site.  Sidenote: the eventual site admin came to me months later and confided that I had saved the project.

Anyway, I hope that story gives you a bit of courage.


* I was doing a survey of a bunch of coaches on-line services and honest I can not remember which on said this, if you know, please tell me, I would to give it the proper attribution.


“Get out of your mind”

I like the double meaning of the tagline “get out of your mind.” It’s meant to imply both a designer’s “bias to action” as well as an element of craziness. The day of my first MATAGI event certainly was crazy but not for the reasons anyone might expect.

Looking back in ten years, I suspect it’ll be almost funny that on the same day we launched our first event, I was witness to my first and hopefully last, mass shooting. Since my car and the contents of my trunk along with my meeting materials, were stuck in the crime scene, there was certainly an element of “winging it.”

My prepared agenda went out the door.

That morning I had arrived at Swing’s when they opened at 7 AM. I go there to work for a few hours each morning on my novel. Ten minutes later, I would see a bullet hole in a black SUV across the street, realize that the “firecrackers” were actually gunfire and be laying out flat on the ground calling 911. It all seems so bizarre even now, two days later.

I think all writers write, a least a little because they don’t want to die with stories inside them.

All creative are like that, we don’t want to die with ideas inside us. That is what I thought about in those minutes that seemed to last an eternity.

That’s why I created MATAGI. I wanted to create a space and a community, for creative people to collaborate and manifest their ideas, to do the work that only they can do, the work they were meant to do.

There are a lot of reasons and benefits for creating MATAGI, but really what it comes down to is TRUTH. I’m manifesting my truth, my art by connecting and collaborating with others and also giving them the space, the opportunity, and encouragement to do the same.


Not Being Nice.

I’m great at customer service, and by “customer”, I mean nearly everyone in my business ecosystem, internal and external. For most of my career, I was all about going “above and beyond”, anticipating needs, and “being nice.” (This makes sense especially given research out there that suggests women especially benefit from being perceived as nice.)

As I’ve launched MATAGI, I’ve had to “cut back” on over-serving customers, and set boundaries to preserve my and my team’s time and priorities.

To tell you the truth, I’m actually thankful for the constraints, in the past I may have overcommunicated with a customer, in the process delaying my response and been over concerned that they might take offense at my “brusqueness.”

It helped when I realized that I don’t want to work with people who are going to be easily offended. There are other high touch companies and people who prove value by coddling their clients, MATAGI just isn’t one of them.

File Under: Strategic Decisions

MicroIncubation Kicks Off June 2017!

We’re very excited to announce that our first in-person event kicks off Wednesday, June 14th. We are partnering with the TechShop-DC, for a networking happy hour to discuss entrepreneurs’ and makers’ projects, businesses, and successes.

This will also be an opportunity to network and meet other doers, designers, makers and folks generally interested in getting their work and ideas out into the world!  Learn what you need to do to submit a project idea, get buy-in, organize a micro incubation project, and get access to the MATAGI mastermind.

For ongoing event notifications join the MeetUp

Register for the June 14th event.

Hope to see you there!


Ignoring good advice: Focus

“Distraction and Indecision are Dream Killers” ~ said every Self-Help Life Coach Guru ever (and probably even Warren Buffet at some point.)

I recently went over my goals with my writing coach for finishing The Secret Life of Caroline Bingley. Currently, my goal (which I’m on target to hit) is to finish up Part 2 by Mid July and Part 3 by end of August – giving me a 90K word first draft.

“That’s pretty ambitious.” She told me, especially balancing my client projects. I grinned and kept my mouth shut. The truth is I was downplaying how much time MATAGI is taking, or that sometimes I sneak in work on other writing projects.

I’m deep in the “start-up” phase of things and right now getting the MicroIncubation workshop is taking a lot of energy.

I tell people ALL THE TIME, that they must focus. And yet it’s the best piece of advice, I consistently ignore. I have no good excuse. Here’s the thing, as long as I finish what I start – I tend to give myself a pass.

Admittedly this is insane and risky from one perspective.

But not when you consider that my real priority is to manifest my calling, which is to listen and manifest my ideas. I have a lot of ideas and the more I ACT, the more ideas I have. I also believe that if you don’t take the muse’s dictation when she swings by, she’s gonna stop coming ‘round. To me that is too valuable a gift to squander.

So, my advice is when you CHOOSE not to limit your focus, is to get leverage, find and pay for support. I also recommend practicing a ton of self-care, to stay strong and energetic both mentally, physically, and emotionally.  You do need to work FAST and get stuff done. When you finish and manifest your vision for others to see it, others can support you and help get you to a place where what you do is sustainable.

Fire it up baby! You got this!


Resilience – Dealing with loss and grief

A few weeks ago, I lost an important member of my community, to cancer. This is the second time this year that I’ve lost a dear bright soul, taken far too young. Maybe it’s age, or yoga, or meditation but I am really mindful of how grief feels, in my body and heart. The truth is I feel strangely resilient and at peace. Instead of grief at their loss, I feel mostly an abundance of love and gratitude to have known them at all.

Part of me feels guilty for feeling almost – happy? It’s like I did not love them enough or that I wasn’t close enough to them. And even though I know comparisons are often a source of suffering, I can’t help but note that there are many, many others who cared for them more. Other who are more worthy of grief and I wonder:

What’s the right amount of grief? The right amount of suffering?

I don’t have the answer. I suspect both my friends would be a bit embarrassed for the number of tears I have shed, touched but mostly embarrassed. Which got me thinking about if I die.  Here are some of my thoughts for when my friends feel sad that I am no longer physically with them.

  • Read my stories and novels
  • Tell the people I love that you love them.
  • Tell a story from that time when we… (Please also delete all digital records)
  • Turn on a cheesy song (rec: Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You) and dance
  • Make Art
  • Make Love
  • Do Good
  • Be you, be the best you that I love or that you love

That’s all. That’s enough. Sending love to my friends, in this life or another. Grateful for your love, light, and inspiration.

Ave atque vale.


Get your monkey mind under control

Most of my yoga classes begin with a few minutes of meditation. It gives folks a way to clear the “gunk” of the day. I urge them to notice the “Vritti Chitta”, or monkey mind– those stray thoughts that bubble up. Thoughts like “What do I need to do after class…”, “Did I write that email to…”, “My boyfriend is…”, “My wife wants…”, “How can I afford…” and so on and so forth.

It is important to acknowledge those thoughts as they form. I like to think of them as leaves falling from a tree, and then, let them float away. In class, I remind folks that they can also use their breath to focus, connect with the now. I remind them that they have access to peace, anytime, anywhere they need it – not only in yoga class.

Focus is essential for getting down to work.  Many writers swear by turning off wifi, or programs that remove internet access. When that is not an option, I find techniques like the ones describe above useful for bringing awareness to distraction. After all, what are email, texts, and tweets, other than the intrusion of another’s thoughts? We live in a world with open access to the Vritti Chitta of billions of other minds and if we are not careful those thoughts distract us from our own priorities.

The Tl;DR

Just as you do in mediation, notice the pull of distraction against your focus, the impulse to check mail, your phone, or your feed. Use your breath to find calm, balance and gently bring your focus back to your work. When checking email and social media, do so with intention and mindfully engage. Set limits, perhaps note the time and set a timer to avoid getting lost in the maelstrom of other’s vritti chitta, their urgency pulling on you either through social media, email, texts, or even IRL.

Now get to work. Xoxo

Featured Image: Public Art by Jun Kaneko in Chicago’s Millenium Park.


The first 1,000 Readers

I read once that an author should have at least 1,000 readers. That sounds like a lot, especially since as of April 18th, 2017, I have two (Hello! Mary and Dave).

Now’s your opportunity 

I’m just at the beginning of my writing journey. Actually. that’s not true, more like I’m near the beginning, I’ve been writing for years and now I’m working on getting my art out there. Which is where you come in – maybe, fingers crossed.

Step One. Read something and see if you like it.  Here are two pieces in two genres for you to check out.

Step Two. If you liked what you read, sign up:

Step Three. Wait for the magic.

Why would you sign up?

To be entertained of course.

Which bring me to the first and last rule.  Only sign up if you enjoyed what you read. Don’t sign up to be nice, or because you like me or to be supportive. If you want to do any of those things, awesome, thank you, please sign up for my newsletter or follow me on facebook, or twitter or something.

If you sign up to be one of my first 1000 readers- my intention is to send you updates, offers, and freebies relating just to my writing in that genre. For example, if I have a free or cheap promo on Amazon/Smashwords or VIP tickets for a book tour – I’ll let you know. Think of this as an OPPORTUNITY to support an early stage writer, with your attention and enthusiasm. Like investing in Google or J.K. Rowling pre-IPO.

All that to say, I have no idea where this train will take us, but you are invited to come along for the ride.

Hipster Bonus

Eventually, I will assign numbers, first come first serve — and if I become cool you can brag about how low your number is. Full disclosure: I should warn you that I will never, ever be cool – but sometimes “massively uncool” becomes cool, which is both annoying and true, so you have that to look forward to.

Best regards,
H.C. Ingram