Laura Foley – Founder of Laura M. Foley Design

I would take business courses before starting freelancing so that I would be able to negotiate more effectively and create solid proposals and contracts.

As the Cheater of Death by PowerPoint, Laura Foley provides training and presentation design services to help people communicate their ideas and be better presenters. She has worked with Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, General Dynamics, Juniper Networks, Harvard Business School, DST, Eloqua, EMC, TE Connectivity, and VMware and has conducted training sessions at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Simmons College, the Central Mass Business Expo, and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. Her speaking engagements include HOW Design Live, the largest conference for creative professionals in the world.

A graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Laura has over two decades’ experience in presentation design, marketing, and copywriting. She lives in Central Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. Laura serves as Cubmaster and Den Leader for Hubbardston Cub Scouts Pack 12. It’s like herding cats, but more rewarding.

Learn more about Cheating Death by PowerPoint at, like Laura at, connect with her at, and reach her directly at [email protected].

Where did the idea for Laura M. Foley Design come from?

I started my freelance career the way many people do: I got fed up working for the man and thought I could do a better job on my own. For the first ten years, I combined freelancing with part-time jobs. The idea was that the part-time jobs would be the steady fall-back for income, while the freelance clients would provide interesting work. In 2005, I finally let go of that safety blanket and became a full-time freelancer, which allowed me to take on more challenging, long-term projects. Things really changed, though, in 2009 when I redefined my business model to focus exclusively on PowerPoint design, consultation, and training.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

After sending the kiddos off to school, I start my workday by retiring to my office in the basement (it’s more cheerful than it sounds) and going through my email. I categorize the email by urgency, then start slogging through it to empty my inbox. After that, I’ll cruise on over to LinkedIn and Facebook to see if there are any contributions I can make to relevant conversations. Once I’m done with that, I’ll start in on any client projects I may have or work on my self-promotion if it’s a slow period.

Like many people, I do find myself goofing off from time to time on Facebook, Failblog, or any number of distracting websites. When I sense that happening, I turn to a photo of David C. Baker, a past HOW Design Live speaker, that I taped onto my monitor. There’s a word balloon that’s making him say “Are you making money on this?” If the answer is “No, David C. Baker, I am not,” then I get back to work!

On slow days, I usually pack it in about the time the kids come home at 3:30. But if I’m busy, I’ll just come upstairs to greet them, then work until about 5:30 then call it a day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m usually starting with a lot of source material, so it’s rare that I have to completely come up with concepts of my own. I try to visualize a way to translate what my clients are trying to say into something relevant and exciting for their audiences. My goal is to enable them to communicate a dry subject or something that’s very confusing in a simple, memorable way.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Flat design. That’s how I started out and it’s interesting that it’s making a comeback.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am a member of a marketing accountability group that meets once a month. We keep each other on track with our self-promotion efforts. It’s a great way to stay focused!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I worked prepress at a quick-print shop whose owners was more focused on making money than on creating a positive work environment. We used a time clock, which I hated, and had to account for every minute of every day. As much as I disliked the owners, I learned how to use a LOT of software and developed the ability to work very quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, it instilled in me an “hourly rate” mentality that I’m still fighting to this day.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would take business courses before starting freelancing so that I would be able to negotiate more effectively and create solid proposals and contracts.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Never stop self-promoting!

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I specialize in what might seem a narrow niche market: PowerPoint design, consultation, and training for engineers, scientists, and high-tech professionals. In fact, this is a huge market! Because I position myself as the expert for this specialty for this group, I become that expert. All of my marketing efforts support that message.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I was trying to decide upon a niche and I came up with wedding invitation design. I had designed my own wedding invitation and had received a lot of positive feedback. After investing about a month in designing a product line, I took it on the road to gauge the response. What I hadn’t realized is that much of the time it is the bride’s parents who purchase the wedding invitations, and they were definitely not interested in funny, snarky invites! Rather than try to investigate whether or not there was a market for what I created, I decided to drop it and try something else.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use Brainshark to create videos out of my PowerPoint slide makeovers. I send links to the videos to my newsletter subscribers and post them on my website. It’s a great way to both show people how to redesign slides and to demonstrate my abilities.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

1984, because it will really make you think about the kind of power designers can have on the masses.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Marcus Sheridan at transformed the way I approach content marketing.