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Spartan Conversations: Makeshift Society's Rena Tom

Today we're excited to pick the brain of Rena Tom of Makeshift Society, a shared workspace for creative professionals, freelancers, and small teams.

The physical spaces are anchored in San Francisco and Brooklyn, but the impact of Makeshift Society extends much further. As Tom explains, "Everybody is at a different point in their journey: some people are exploring new careers, trying to learn new skills, improve their existing business, or looking for help on a dream project. Our goal is to give you tools, resources, and permission, and then get out of your way."


Spartan: do you have any advice for people who are looking for creative collaborators? what are some strategies for finding your creative place in a city or community?

Rena Tom: Join mailing lists, take a class, ask questions of shopkeepers and gallery assistants and anybody who interfaces with a lot of different people. Check out to see what people are interested in, where they tend to hang out. If you’re shy, Twitter and Instagram are actually great places to scope out like-minded people.


SP: are you a list-maker? If so, can you share some specific items/tasks on a recent to-do list

RT: See images!


SP: you are a consultant to creatives and small business owners — are there any pieces of advice or guidance you find yourself giving to EVERYONE? 

RT: I generally tell people that they already know the answers to the questions they have. Maybe not the tactical details, but the big-picture questions…when I sit down and have people explain those problems to me, during the act of telling me, they tend to unravel or reveal the problems. It’s a little like therapy for small business owners!

Also, being really aware of externalities - whether that’s the buying habits of an actual customer, or the time constraints of a buyer you want to reach - is important. Research and empathy are so key to being able to do business efficiently yet in a non-icky way.


SP: What are some of your favorite books? 


RT: I buy non-fiction and craft books, and I get fiction from the library. Shop Class as Soulcraft was a good recent read, and The Flamethrowers was pretty electrifying fiction about a woman artist in the 70s.


SP: What are some favorite websites you have bookmarked or visit daily?

RT: Oh, very few consistently anymore—there’s been a shift to only reading things recommended to me by others, usually via Twitter. That said, if I need a visual pick-me-up, I usually check out Present & Correct’s blog or Sight Unseen and In the Make for some process stories about artists.




SP: what are some of your favorite organizational tools?

RT: I use Todoist on my computer/phone. It’s a fairly lightweight to-do list that has just enough features, but is not totally baffling to me. However, I do tend to make paper lists when I stress out. There’s something very satisfying about physically crossing something off that can’t be replicated on a screen.

I also have a ton of Google Docs, when I need to share information with my staff and partner. Incoming, larger files live in Dropbox, and I use Evernote for ideas, cool links for cities I travel to, and websites I want to go back to. When I want to share image files, I put them in Dropmark, which lets me drag them into the order I like to see them, like a pinboard.


Images: top image from SF magazine, all others by Rena Tom