Support Our Kickstarter Campaign: Make Shift Happen in Brooklyn

A scene from our video.

Without You We’re Nothing

The clubhouse in Hayes Valley turns one today. I am so proud of everyone involved, and getting to see our members truly blossom, personally and professionally, is a daily gift.

There’s an old Sandra Bernhard movie called Without You I’m Nothing and that has been rattling around in my brain for many months as we prepare to expand Makeshift Society to the East Coast. I like to insert We’re into that phrase, though. Using the first-person pronoun feels completely wrong because Makeshift has always been a team effort (giant hugs to Victoria and Suzanne) and is even more so, now that we are a year old and so many people have joined our ranks, visited the clubhouse for a class or event, or simply watched what we do on this blog, our newsletter or through social media.

So let’s embrace the we, and extend it even further. We ask you to support our efforts to bring Makeshift Brooklyn to life. We invite you to take a look at our Kickstarter page, to listen to our story, to read about our plans, to admire the rewards our friends are generously providing, to spread the word about what we’re trying to accomplish for creative freelancers and independent workers, and yes, to back our campaign with your dollars, if you can.

We want more Makeshifters in the world. Why? Because they are delightful people who know how to work hard and play hard, and are willing, active participants in the Society. Their generosity is evident every single day. More locations mean more members who will be your friends, peers and mentors. More members equal more opportunities to make, learn, teach and think – together. Starting with Brooklyn, we’re ready to expand the network and unite creative communities, at least online.

The Past and the Future

The genesis of Makeshift San Francisco was really a love of books. I wanted to create a library of beautiful and inspiring books for designers and artists to share. After countless conversations with friends and strangers, it evolved into so much more that I expected, *and* I got my wish – we have a great selection of books and magazines for people to check out.

With our new location in Brooklyn, we’re going to take it one giant step further. Our campaign will fund a library, not just of books, but of creative tools that people need to bring their projects to fruition. Need to borrow a camera and light kit to shoot your new collection of jewelry? Want to use After Effects to edit a video? Try out a Wacom tablet to see if you like it? Borrow a microphone for recording a podcast? The more you help, the better the library becomes.

And, the more you help, the stronger the community becomes. The funds will also go toward our Maker-in-Residence program, so we can support people who have a project they’re passionate about with a three-month membership, the wisdom of their fellow Makeshifters and the tools they need to make that project happen.

Please spread the word, and thank you for being part of our community.

— Rena, and all of us at Makeshift

Go to our Kickstarter page >>

All Things Office Hours

We’ve been holding office hours here at the clubhouse pretty much since we’ve opened. From accounting, to small business consulting, to social media, to helping you get unstuck, folks have reserved their time and received 1 on 1 help and feedback about their business question at hand. In addition, office hours are a great way for members to reach out to their community and pass along some knowledge and expertise.

Meighan O’Toole, who has held office hours relating to all things social media for your business, had this to say about her experience:

  • I get to give back to my community and offer help, resources, and skills to a project that maybe can’t afford to hire someone for social media. They’re just getting going so they do not have the marketing cash to use. This fills me with a great feeling of camaraderie, and connection to help other like minded small businesses out and give them a hand. It really is important to give back and this is a great way to do it.
  • It’s also given me fresh perspective on what people need within my business. I get to hear questions and concerns that help me refine my business and tailor my work.  It has also helped me discover new resources or uncover new research if an attendee has a new, and unexpected question.
  • Office hours also continually reinforce my self-esteem around my expertise. I constantly leave these twenty minute minute meetings with a with a super warmfuzzie feeling of gratitude and a “hey I can do this” attitude.

Betsy Cordes is new to the office hours scene, and has them lined up for the first Wednesday of the next couple of months.

  • Office hours have been a fantastic way for me to meet and support creatives who are interested in art licensing. I’ve just started offering consulting services in this area, so the office hours give potential clients a sense of what it would be like to work with me. It’s also just super gratifying to see how much I can help someone in a free 20-minute session!


If you are a member interested in holding office hours, let us know! And be sure to sign up for some before they fill up.


Rena’s TYPO SF Presentation

At long last! This is a talk called “Like Work, But Not” that I gave at TYPO SF in April 2013. I will readily admit that it wasn’t the smoothest presentation, and I ran out of time, even though I had 45 minutes to speak. It’s important to put out there what I think about, though (my members sometimes ask “what do you do all day?”) so here it is. I think most readers of this blog are familar with what we’re about so I removed a bunch of the images, and tightened up the text to make sense. 

It’s a long, long read about some of the more esoteric aspects of this field, but for the process-loving people out there, this is for you. 

– Rena

Why Makeshift, Why Now?


In September 2012, I started Makeshift Society in San Francisco. It’s a coworking space, primarily for freelancers, but from the beginning we’ve referred to it as the clubhouse. Why?

A clubhouse implies activity that is not just work. It has members who choose to participate in something bigger than themselves. In different ways, it supports its community, and the feeling of belonging that everybody craves. For a freelancer of any type, that’s important. For a creative freelancer, who may never sit in the same room as her clients or peers, that’s critical.

I haven’t worked for The Man for 13 years. (Last full-time job: I helped launch Banana Republic’s first website in late 1999, and quit soon after.) Since then, I’ve been a consultant, on and off, in between stints of makerhood and small business ownership.

Working for yourself has evolved incredibly in thirteen years and has been fascinating to experience firsthand. Altogether, this has led to my interest in work, creativity, and the relationship between the two. Specifically, I want to talk about what ‘work’ means in today’s world, the design process behind a physical and mental space that supports that kind of work, and how we use this space to encourage someone to really advance their career, and shape their own destiny.



I believe in agency: the capacity to act. Sometimes people are afraid of doing things ‘wrong’ and so they emulate other people a little too closely in an attempt to duplicate that success. This isn’t acting with agency, it’s copying.

Copying is necessary in some fields when you are starting out; there’s nothing wrong with learning from the masters. But every person has their own unique path to follow that is absolutely right for them and them alone. What I’m trying to do with Makeshift is construct an environment in such a way that our members feel free to take a risk and be original. We’re here to provide support for people’s projects and experiments, but we don’t do the work for them. They still need to make shift happen, all by themselves.

What Does Makeshift Look Like?


We spent a lot of time thinking about the interiors and branding for Makeshift – the look and feel. We think our values are truly reflected within our visuals and make us instantly identifiable in the larger coworking ecosystem.

Victoria Smith helped connect us with brands you wouldn’t normally associate with coworking, like Anthropologie, Restoration Hardware and Schoolhouse Electric. This establishes our vibe from the moment you walk in the door. We’re comfortable and grown-up. We’re neither clinical nor fussy. We’re chill but inviting…and our ability to communicate that feeling has been an important part of our membership growth.

Suzanne Shade, Victoria and I went through several rounds of exploration to figure out what we wanted to say, both to and about our members, through our branding. First, the name: Makeshift Society is about the society of people it serves. A lot of shared workspaces emphasize “work” in their name but our feeling is that you come for the work, and stay for the community.

We agreed that play and a sense of discovery was paramount – this translated into messing around with language, in both words and pictures. We took care to keep the language from being too buzzwordy, so instead of promising innovation, incubation or anything like that, we just suggest, via rebus, that you Be Amazing.

Designing Makeshift was way beyond collaborative, it was practically neglectful on my part. I literally shoved tasks at people and said “go.” I handed over major decisions to others and that was very new for me. I had to give up control, and the clubhouse is better for it. *I’m* better for it. It’s like a see-saw; if I’m not the one in charge, somebody else has to be.

What Is Coworking?


Here’s one definition: coworking is for independent workers who inhabit a shared workspace. The key words, “inhabit”, “shared” and “work” point to three concepts that all coworking spaces try to cultivate.



Inhabit is a great word. It implies intimacy, ownership, and commitment. These are all necessary to pull a motley band of people together into a community. In a workspace, habitation with strangers is kind of a tricky dance; there’s definitely etiquette involved, but the end result is absolutely worth it.

People are hardwired to need the company of others, even the introverts among us. A General Theory of Love popularized the notion of limbic resonance – physiologically and emotionally synching and connecting with someone else. We gain deep understanding about and create empathy with others when we connect with them face to face. As a result, we’re also usually more polite with each other because we’ve removed that safe, anonymizing screen that can get in the way of an actual conversation.

Shared points to a major shift in how people spend money, allot their time, and think about the world. Coworking spaces are great examples of the sharing economy in action. The utilization of resources like desks, office equipment, and water and trash, etc is higher so automatically it’s a more sustainable way to work (and freelancers themselves are the original shared asset.)

Finally let’s examine work and what it means at this moment in time. Go to any coworking website and the word “collaborate” will be there, somewhere. For all the talk on this topic, not all work is or should be collaborative. There are studies that show people are more effective and productive when there are other people around, regardless if they are actively working together or not. Proximity can stimulate productivity.

Open-plan offices are partly the result of organizational consultants trying to foster collaborative instances and creativity with physical space. This can indeed happen, but one of the challenges of an open office is that sometimes you just need to crank it out, which is best done without distractions. That definitely should be accommodated in some fashion, while keeping in mind that different kind of thinking gets done in different environments.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Work


Let’s look at another definition of coworking by a woman named Nina Pohler who wrote her thesis on the subject. “Coworking spaces are the result of a quest for strategies to deal with the risks and problems of new, flexible types of work.” If coworking spaces are designed to help alleviate the risks and problems of modern work, what is this work she’s talking about?

How we work today, and who’s doing the work, is pretty different than in the past. It’s varied and mutable. The practitioners are split almost 50/50 men and women. It requires specialized knowledge and training, but in a practical sense, it’s less expensive to be an independent than it used to be. And, more of the workforce is truly location-independent because the new tools of work enable that to happen.

Modern workers have multiple clients and projects instead of joining one company and staying there for an entire career. Teams may be comprised of different sets of people on every project; the needs of each project may differ as well. It’s a fractured way of doing business, and more people are working like this all the time, both freelancers and those within large organizations.

Thinking about this, it makes sense that the space you work in should be able to adapt to how you need to work on a particular project, with a particular set of collaborators, at a particular moment in time. The environment needs to be as fluid as the work itself.

Where you work can influence not only how you work, but who you are. Modern workers, who are always on, still need to learn how to be. If we provide different kinds of spaces so that at any given moment you can choose to sit by yourself at a desk, on a couch with one other person, in a conference room with a group, or coffee shop-style at a communal table, that can help shape the texture and the output of your day.

What Is Coworking, Redux


Designing for today’s freelancer, independent, part time or contingent worker, 30% of the workforce in the US and 35 million people strong, is hard. The only commonality is self-employment: the desire, or need, to work for yourself.

At Makeshift, we have members from all backgrounds. The clubhouse is home to a hundred and ninety or so different micro-businesses. The thread that binds all of them together is slender, but strong: simply do the work, then find more of it. That’s it! I’m not saying that some of our members aren’t following an entrepreneurial model, with a business plan, a growth strategy, an exit strategy. It’s not as if they don’t have other goals, around influence, education, happiness or altruism. However, if you pare it down, that’s what you come back to most of the time.

Knowing this, how do we respond? A coworking space is not just a convenient provider of desks and WiFi. With Makeshift, I’m trying to influence behavior, much like designers of theme parks, casinos, or video games. Those are some of the most immersive environments around, all trying to find the sweet spot between control and agency, and we’re very delicately trying to doing the same.

In the retail or transactional space, you’re both stoking and fulfilling desire. In hospitality, you play with familiarity and novelty. In a workplace, you’re balancing productivity and sociability. But, the unforced and genuine interaction between people is that lovely, elusive and ephemeral element that takes it to the next level, and that’s really where my job gets interesting.

Why do we gather, at permanent activity hubs like Makeshift, or temporary ones like TYPO? Let’s go back to limbic resonance. The talks at a conference are just a framework, in a way, and provide fodder for further conversation. The shared experience of ‘being there’ – the time and interaction between sessions, coffee breaks and waiting in line for lunch – is the true value. There’s power in meeting people in the real world. Magic happens.

Navigating The Analog World


Navigating the analog world is a skill that, when practiced, increases serendipity, diversity, trust, and accountability. These are all values of openness that are critical to modern work. They’re values that complement and intertwine with community and productivity, and they’re what we’re advocates of at Makeshift.

Serendipity is one of the wonderful outcomes of talking to lots of different people. It’s rather trendy right now but there’s really no other term to describe it. We learn to look out for it, to accept luck into our lives, and even try to plan for it, that’s how valuable it is. Being in the right place at the right time helps, but so does just being around for a long time and being open to talking to people. You can take either a slow tortoise or a fast hare approach.

At the clubhouse, we try to make room for both. We have tortoises who, by virtue of being around a lot, get to know everybody’s business. That’s the idea behind the entirely open workspace and our residency program. And for the hares, we plan events; we engineer lots of opportunities for people to bump into each other. That’s the idea behind the classes and lectures, and lunches and mixers.

Another benefit is diversity, which brings about better understanding of other people. Freelancers don’t always work solo. Learning to work with, or for people who may not be like you takes practice, and Makeshift gives people a safe place to do so. We practice formally, at success squad meetings and workshops, and informally, when you’re just sitting in close proximity to others all day. Even if you aren’t working with someone or forming a team, cooperation can still be learned.

And then there’s trust. People at any gathering are continuously involved in an exchange. What is a conversation but an exchange in which you give up some level of privacy in order to receive information, or support? Hopefully this is a voluntary act, but sometimes even involuntary exchanges can be beneficial. I think of this as the nosy neighbor syndrome.

An example: When I lived in Brooklyn, I knew someone who would complain about the people living across the street. They never said hi, but were always watching who came and went, and he felt it was invasive. One day, though, there was a knock on his door. It was his neighbor. The street cleaning truck was coming and he forgot to move his car and it was in danger of being towed. Because of all of the watching, they knew it was his car, knew where he lived, and came to tell him about it. So, it works both ways; anybody can learn to be a good neighbor, and trust one another, even if you don’t have a lot in common.

Finally, when you see somebody on a regular basis, it’s hard to hide what you’re doing…or not doing.

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For a freelancer, having other people around, even if they aren’t directly involved in your business, can offer the accountability that a traditional workplace provides. If you normally work at home, coming in to sit with other people is a deliberate act – of spending money on a membership, of putting pants on that day and getting out of the house, of doing what you said you’d do. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Helping Make Shift Happen


While people need to learn to negotiate the analog world, there are also many other skills necessary to build your business. As a independent, you have to figure things out yourself. There’s no set career path and no obvious guidance. It can be a little scary. So how do we help our members, who all have different desires, different skillsets, and different styles of working? How do we create an environment where it’s okay to learn, teach, play, and think?

ENGAGE THE SENSES. Physicality matters – literally. What we’ve designed hits you from all directions, in a way you can’t quite replicate online. Sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste. When you come to Makeshift, it’s quite different than being at an office or a café or a business center. These choices shape our member’s experience.

MAKE IT WELCOMING. I had no idea, when I started Makeshift, that my role would include learning how to throw a great party. In the past year, I’ve been honing my curatorial skills and the empathy that a good host has. I need to always be aware of the scene, checking the mood of the room, speeding things up or slowing them down, and making introductions or leaving people alone to do their own thing.

It’s important to get this right, because it’s the blend of social cues plus those physical factors I just mentioned, that help put people at ease, and when they’re at ease, they want to return. Someone coming in will always see old faces and new, because it’s that blend of structure and fresh energy that’s so intriguing. We love our regulars but we really, really love our irregulars too.

DON’T CODDLE. This is probably not right for every space, but it works for us. It has more to do with keeping people off-balanced rather than taking a stance about privilege. We want to provide comfort, but not be absolutely comfortable. We think our style, for example, is very welcoming, but really it’s not ergonomically sound. We don’t have fancy task chairs all around the table, we have mismatched vintage pieces. They aren’t great to sit in for 8 hours straight – but you know what? You’re not supposed to do that anyway!

Also, we may be the only coworking space I know of that doesn’t serve free coffee. We do have really great coffee in the neighborhood – at least 5 places I can think of within 2 blocks, so people can get up to stretch, grab a neighbor and go for a short walk – and they do.

What’s not in short supply, though, are things to look at and think about. There are always new magazines sitting out, a new pop-up to shop from, a new survey on the chalkboard wall in the bathroom.

We also try to inspire a little mystery before a member even drops by. We use our Instagram feed quite a bit to document our days, and to give others a chance to share in our most fleeting moments. It’s working; we have 3300 followers who are looking at small, blurry images of people on their laptops.  There are so many people with full-time jobs, people who don’t live in this country, responding to what we do. Why do people who aren’t members care so much about Makeshift? They look and say, “That looks awesome. I want that for me.” We get requests to open more Makeshifts every week – and that’s why we have our eye on the Brooklyn market, since most of the requests are coming from there.

SAY YES. There’s a website that’s been around since 1999 called Halfbakery, and it’s still active. Halfbakery is where you list your half-baked ideas, and people can leave comments, some serious and some snarky. It’s nerdy fun. The site is a place for ideas – things that will never be produced, or marketed, but nevertheless *are*. Sometimes ideas just need to get out of your head and into the light of day, even bad ideas. Especially the bad ideas.

Makeshift is also a place for you to air your ideas, good or bad, without judgment. The community becomes your Greek chorus. I think that freelancers especially need this, since they are often making decisions by and for themselves. There are other places online to solicit feedback, but these sites are often too serious, too focused, too portfolio-driven. People often just upload their best work, because there’s something really final and permanent about putting things online these days. They don’t dare to show the process, the sketchbooks, the failures.

Bringing an idea up in the real world, though, means instant feedback, off the cuff reactions, and empathy. And somebody knows immediately if you’re messing around with them or not.

Like Work, But Not


I feel that creativity and anarchy are best friends. When you are a child, you are a pure creative being. There are no rules, there’s just testing, failing and learning. It may seem like an oxymoron but I think good leadership allows for and even requires anarchy. That word is a little scary when thrown around the workplace so let’s call this ‘directed discovery’.

I have a great job. The most important thing I do is to say yes. Some of the most useful ideas about improving the health, wealth and happiness of others have been suggestions from members. Our much-sold-out series of classes on calligraphy was a member suggestion. A panel about finding, hiring and managing interns was entirely member-organized – they moderated, found panelists, recorded it, put it online and blogged about it on our site. I didn’t do a damn thing except wonder out loud, a month beforehand, why so many people needed an intern but were afraid to hire one.

For freelancers, speaking up about what you know is critical to help move your creative career along. ‘Speaking up’ can take the form of a blog post or a pinboard or a tweet, but as always I encourage face to face interaction. We lead our members down the path as painlessly as possible, starting out by holding office hours, and sharing what they know with one person at a time. When they gain confidence from that, I nudge them to teach a class or appear on a panel. As is always the case, they gain as much knowledge through teaching as the people they are helping.

Here is how we make shift happen: We treat you like an expert, then help you become one. We solicit suggestions for classes, and ask you to teach them. We remind you that learning is fun, and that being present is still important. We invite you in, and entice you to come back. We encourage you to ask for what you want, then help you go get it.

Our members already know how to do their work. I can’t teach them that, but I can support them in doing their best work. I can remind them of the joy they find in what they do, and direct their attention to other people and activities to create more of that joy, for themselves and for others.

Posted by on June 7, 2013 and tagged with: Musings

The Importance of Photography and Your Brand

Are you suffering from a rare combination of headshot shame with a fear of taking pictures? Oh, you know who you are Mr. iPhone-selfie-webcam-lover.

Hi, I am Sarah, owner of Portraits To The People, a photography business that specializes in not-so-corporate headshots and I’m collaborating on this blog post with the fabulous, Nicole Delger, who helps growing businesses with their branding and marketing. Today, we are here to talk to you about the importance of having fabulous photography on your website and we have some examples to show you as well.

Nicole on why you need great photography to help build your brand:

If you are a small business owner, YOU are the face of your business. And because most of us are incredibly Googleable (sorry to the Smiths of the world), it is important to have a stunning photo (or photos) that reflects who you are as a person, your gorgeous products, or your brand.

You might think that the photo your friend took of you at that bar the other night or the self-portrait you took with your iPhone in the mirror will do a great job as the “about me” photo on your website. And it will…. if you’re promoting a hobby. But, I know you’re not a hobby. You’re smart, talented and looking to build your business and make a name for yourself.

Here’s why this is hard: photography that represents your products clearly and effectively isn’t so easy to pull off on your own. But hiring someone can feel like a big investment among the thousands of other things on your plate. But I believe beyond your website, great photography is the next most important aspect of your brand. I know from experience. My client, artist Todd Sanders, works with neon. Neon is gorgeous in person, but incredibly difficult to shoot. And for my own brand, my company is my name.

But it’s not just about a getting a gorgeous photo. Using a great photographer in all aspects of your business creates consistency in your brand, too. Just like your logo, font, and colors help establish your brand, professional and stylized photos of both you and your product can amplify your brand’s presence.

Sold on why you need it?

Here are Sarah’s expert tips on working with photographers, and how you can get the most out of your photography:

The gift of a great eye, fantastic cameras/lenses, and Photoshop prowess are reserved for a select few. So be savvy when hiring a photographer for your business and make sure you look through their portfolio and see consistency in their work.

Once you land on the right person, you can negotiate usage upfront. Images can then be used beyond the website in press materials, on business cards, and for archival purposes. They can also go to work online – on your website, LinkedIn, Facebook business page, as your Twitter profile, added to business cards, or speaking engagements and press. Heck, I have clients send hard copy prints to their moms & grandmothers!

When is the last time you Googled yourself and checked out the images that are linked to your name? You should be among the top results. I make sure to embed metadata in my client’s images, so that when they are posted online, they will immediately appear in Google. If you post your photo on your site and use that link when you post online – both to your blog or on others – you’re lovely new photos will rise to the top of those search results in no time. Cool, huh?

And I will let you in on a secret, a good professional photographer will make sure to really get to know you before meeting up for the shoot. I send an extensive questionnaire to my clients, so that I can fully understand what they need in terms of photography and get a sense of their personal style. I’ve taken photos of individuals, entire offices, jewelry, products, office spaces and lately I’ve been doing a lot of personalized photos that small companies are using for stock photos on their websites.

My clients are small business owners, dancers, musicians, lawyers, owners of a PR companies, non-profit consultants, therapists, massage therapist, start-up founders – the list goes on and on. But the thing that is consistent? When you’re the face of your business, it’s important to step up how your present yourself to potential customers.

So that’s the cure for your headshot-idis. It’s treatable, and we’re here to help.

Sarah + Nicole



Back to the Future

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At long last, we’re blogging!

Let me back up a bit here. Makeshift Society was always intended to be an in-person, not virtual, experience. We’re a physical workspace and clubhouse, after all, and we like it live and loud over here. I often have to be coaxed into toeing the line regarding best marketing practices, and *not* having a blog seemed really radical and liberating. Could we convey the essence of what Makeshift is through the eyes of others alone?

What we’ve found over the last few months is that there are many more people interested in our goings-on than anticipated. We get email from all around the country about how Makeshift was formed and how it operates. We have visitors (both academic and corporate) drop in from time to time, curious about our practices. And then there are the amazing things our members are up to; we are proud of our people and want to promote their good work. We can do a lot of good storytelling visually, via our Instagram feed, for example, but some things need a little more explanation.

So here we* are, blogging – maybe not every day, but from time to time. We’ll update you on what happens within and without the clubhouse. Our Makers-in-Residence will fill you in about what they plan to achieve with our resources. We’ll spotlight members and class instructors. And, we will write summaries about the week that was and the weeks that will be. Deal? Deal.

– Rena

*We = me, Christina, Ashley, and assorted members. All contributions welcome.

Posted by on January 28, 2013 and tagged with: Musings