Recently I was invited by an instructor from the Arts Institute of Fort Worth to speak to his Professional Practices class about the business side of becoming a freelance artist and how to start their own business.
I get excited to share about the business side of well frankly, business. I love the business of doing business. Contracts, agreements, tax strategy, client management, project management, liability insurance are all areas that I love to learn more about as well as utilize in our daily work. It is definitely not the “sexy” side of any business.
For example, in the creative world, designers, like the tremendously talented Paul Sirmon (my business partner and creative director at Buzzbomb Creative), have higher visibility. This is because at a creative agency, the product is the visual communication, or the brand identity, or the web design, etc. are the most “visible” result of our efforts. This is the “sexy” part of our biz. I am a creative person but I am definitely not a designer.
So it was an honor to have the opportunity to share my experience in starting a successful business and detail our efforts to grow another company from a design studio into a full-service branding, design and consulting agency. The word “experience” is key because I only share lessons learned from things that I did well as well as mistakes that were made that led to finding solutions to correct those mistakes.
Let me add a disclaimer, I am definitely not a CPA nor am I an attorney. Simply, I have been blessed to have these two opportunities (so far).
This post is the prelude to a multi-part blog where I will share not only these experiences as well as practical tools to help a start-up or small business owner find success but also the journey to this place. The three primary topics are Learn, Protect and Simplify.
Next week, I will dive into the work experiences that have landed me where I am today.
I’m looking forward to putting these thoughts and experiences in writing. See you next week.
Filed Under: Business, Clients, Strategy
“Should I give the client what they want or what they need?”
This is a question that comes up a lot in my work as a creative professional. It was a huge topic of discussion within the in-house environment I worked in previously. To really tackle the ins and outs of in-house will take a separate post on another day. I think to answer the question at hand, or just theorize, we need to analyze both sides of the equation.
In order for any business to succeed it must have a continuous stream of clients. To have and keep clients they must be kept happy. So how do you keep those clients happy? Customer service, quality of work, relationship, trust, timely delivery, etc.
Let’s start with customer service because this seems to be at the center of every conversation I’ve ever had debating this topic. Customer service is paramount in any business. The old phrase, “the customer is always right” consistently comes up in discussions about customer service. Only sometimes the customer is not right.
The Team Want side of the argument tends to rely heavily on the surface aspects of customer service. For example, approaching it in the following manner. “After all, if the client hired me to do something and they want it done a certain way then I accommodate them and they walk away happy lauding my efforts to all their peers. This in turn brings more clients. They are paying after all and essentially become my boss.” Anyone that’s ever had a job knows it’s not always a good idea to oppose your boss, instead choosing to comply and be praised for it. The downside to this mindset is that you could land in a situation where you are constantly the button pusher just doing what you’re told.
The Team Need side of the argument says this: “If I’m a professional and a subject matter expert in my field, then I am best serving my customer by delivering what I know they need, rather than want, in order for them to have a successful project.” When hired by a client you must act as a partner with them to see their goals accomplished. The client is challenged, but sees success and lets their peers know you’re the pro and they should use you if they want the same. I think that in most cases a client approaches a professional to help them with something they are not able to do on their own. As such, you must assert your expertise. The downside to this scenario is that you could possibly turn away clients and lose business.
Here’s a black and white example of Want vs Need. You visit the doctor to check out a problem you’ve had. You’ve done your research on WebMD and feel you have a pretty good handle on the situation. So you go in for the visit and tell the doctor to test for a, b and c. She does and the results come back with nothing, however, you still have the problem. Team Want loses. So you return to the doctor and he says, “Well, your assessment was way off and we really needed to check d, e and f.” So d, e and f are tested, problem identified and solved. Two bills later you’re back to normal. Team Need wins!
There is a third option though. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where a client demands that your work be done a certain way. When this happens you have a choice to make: A) Do what they ask, have a happy client, be annoyed, and sometimes end up not achieving the project goal(s); B) Politely decline and send them on their way; or C) Find a middle ground. I always opt for the middle ground, but err on the side of need most often. Obviously you have to pick your battles and determine whether the relationship is worth the work or not, but generally need outweighs the want.
In the age of the internet, with a breadth of knowledge at your fingertips, anyone can research everything. However, like the Tower of Power song, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Regardless of the profession, let’s assume that all clients have a limited or dangerous knowledge of the subject, but it doesn’t make them the pro. A pro typically has years of experience failing and succeeding. A pro has discovered along the way what works and what doesn’t and applies that to their work daily. By dictating to a pro how to approach his or her, work a client can actually hinder the process, lengthen the project and ultimately end up without a satisfactory solution to their problem.
So let’s get back to our avenues of customer satisfaction.
- Customer Service - I believe that the best way you can serve a client is to solve the problem they approached you about.
- Quality of Work - Exercising your expertise and pushing yourself within strategic boundaries births innovative, creative solutions.
- Relationship - A relationship is a two-way street. Give and take. This is where the middle ground comes in. Mutual respect is fostered and partnership is created. This creates trust, but must be handled with respect at all times.
- Trust - Getting to a place of trust with a client unties your creative hands more and more.
- Timely Delivery - The fewer speed bumps hit during the project leads to a more timely delivery. Less reworking and more creating.
I think that relationship with clients is paramount to long lasting and fulfilling successful work. Again, respect from both sides is key to creating a meaningful relationship. Similar to a close relationship with a friend or in a marriage, sometimes difficult conversations need to be had, but can ultimately tighten the bond. Picking your battles and being honest are important factors too. I think of our work more like a covenant than a contract because of the give and take.
Having said all that it’s extremely important to me that we not become monkeys pushing buttons for our clients. You can train a monkey to do whatever you want. In the end we like to believe that our clients want us for our brains, work and expertise. We’ve had clients approach us with a common opener of, “I already know what I want. I just need you to make it on the computer.” In those cases we politely decline and sometimes recommend peers in our field that are happy to do that kind of work.
Either way, there is no successful way to land completely on Team Need or Team Want. Instead, it is a balancing act to land in the sweet spot between both. Also, since there is no standard sweet spot, we must immerse ourselves in the project to understand exactly where such a spot will be found for that particular job.
Filed Under: Clients, Strategy
Many of us claim to be perfectionists in some area or possibly in multiple areas of our lives but what do we really mean when we claim to be that? Perfection both as an idea or in reality is a standard that impossible for flawed humans to ever achieve or master. Seeking to attain perfection in any area we pursue (work, school, parenting, singing, basket-weaving) will only result in frustration and a feeling of not achieving or accomplishing our goals.
My grandfather, Wallace A. Reid, Sr., (rest in peace Grandad) seemed to be a perfectionist so working with him was a very trying experience for myself and his other 5 grandsons. He had a ready-made workforce in us to help replace the roof on his house, mow his lawn, repair a vehicle, tape & mud sheetrock and even digging the trench for the concrete footing for a new brick exterior on one of my aunt’s houses. Wallace was a decorated WWII vet with a Purple Heart that lied about his age to join the U.S. Army. After leaving the military, he raised 4 kids while working as an electrician in the Civil Service at Fort Sill in Lawton, OK. After “retiring” from that job, he opened up his own electrician shop in my hometown of Grandfield, OK while also serving as the city inspector, all around handy guy for his church and farming with my uncles. Basically, he was a jack-of-all-trades and could take apart complex items like engines that would perform better after he reassembled them. What my fellow cousins and I didn’t understand was that Wallace truly pursued excellence because he didn’t believe in doing anything halfway. He lived the mantra of “measure twice, cut once” rather than hurrying through any project. This attitude lives on in me today and I am thankful for it. Ask my wife what it is like to simply hang pictures in our house and she will tell you it involves much measuring, calculating, laser levels, bubble levels and other necessary tools to get it done right.
Obviously, excellence is a much more fruitful pursuit when compared with chasing perfection. According to Dictionary.com, excellence is the fact or state of excelling and excelling is to surpass others or be superior in some respect or area; do extremely well. I don’t see excellence as a competitive mindset, rather I identify more with the do extremely well portion of the definition. In speaking to some leaders that are part of the technical arts staff at my church, I asked what their driving motivation was when working in the audio, video and lighting areas of church production. They all told me without fail and without hesitation that their goal is always to strive for excellence and not perfection. They all stated one way or another that seeking perfection only led to frustration, disappointment and feelings of coming up short of the finish line. With excellence, they ask of themselves, their paid staff and volunteers to put forth their very best effort in learning and executing the production standards for every service, large or small. This is subjective to each person’s level of technical prowess and knowledge allowing each to be held to a standard that is in a way customized to them alone.
This attitude of excellence is what we integrate into every client project or long-term client relationship. We cannot be perfect but putting forward our very best effort, sharing the best of our knowledge and experience is the price of admission for us at Buzzbomb Creative. Our process begins and follows this practice of excellence through the completion of each and every project. From the initial meeting with the client, presenting the design and copy options through the delivery of final files we want the experience to be one that makes a client feel part of the process and that their business or organization’s expectations are not only being met but exceeded.
How are you striving for excellence in your personal and professional life today? Leave a comment and let us know!
Keep challenging yourself,
Filed Under: Strategy
What is a strategy and why does it play such a crucial role in our process? Dictionary.com offers up this very applicable definition of strategy:
“a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result: a strategy for getting ahead in the world.”
Simply, it is having a plan. Everyday, plans are formulated for routine tasks such as what to cook for dinner, how to get the kids up and sent off to school, navigating traffic to get to work or for more complex issues such as starting a new business, or a new product launch.
Presidential candidates have their campaign teams develop new ones to either attack or defend a position. Corporations create one to launch a new product or for damage control. Armies, navies and air forces create strategies to meet a new challenge or to engage the enemy. A start-up business, newly launched non-profit org or a fast-growing church might have missed forming one.
Strategy is part of our everyday lives whether we realize it or not. However, having a great strategy is many times not part of the process. Sometimes this is due to time constraints or not understanding why having a great strategy is important for finding success. We aren’t suggesting that you need to over-think a meal (although we often do when considering a place to dine for lunch each day) but taking time to understand the problem or challenge, formulating a plan and executing said plan will mean the difference between success and failure.
At Buzzbomb Creative, strategy begins the moment we meet a prospective client and is tightly intertwined throughout every step of our process. We want to understand 4 key elements: who, what, why and how. The story. This is because, a brand is actually the story. What was the reason for creating the company, organization or church? What purpose or audience will it serve? The story is what we want to understand, to learn about. Only then, can we begin the journey of creating or refining the brand so it leads to a successful launch or re-launch. We want to get the who, what, why and how moving in the same direction, pulling in unison rather than each part moving in different directions and failing to advance the goals and success of the client.
One example of an established client wanting to update their branding can be found on our work page.
Please read more about our process with clients. We would love the opportunity to create a strategy for your brand whether already established or just a vision that you would like to make a reality. Invite us in so we can hear your story and learn about where you want the story to go. Give us a buzz so we can talk soon.
Filed Under: Branding, Strategy