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Creative business owners get into the profession because they love design. We all come to this work from the creative side. And many of us, whether we’ve been in the industry for less than a year or more than a decade, at last come to a sighing admission: “I’m not really good at the business stuff.” It’s the design we love, not the numbers and the administration and the marketing. We wanted to do creative work and then discovered that the business stuff is unavoidable.
If running your business is a struggle, why not use the same creative thinking you apply to your design work?
But business work is creative work, and can be just as fun, exciting and fulfilling. You can approach the business work in the same way, using the same set of talents and insights you use on the creative side.
You just have to make your business development a creative project. Whether you’re about to begin work on an advertising layout or a year-long marketing plan, ask yourself how you’d apply the same principles and the same thought process, approach and execution to the business project that you would to the creative project. Here’s how:
Be yourself. Your creative work is a reflection of who you are. When you start a creative project, you bring your true self to the task. The outcome wouldn’t be authentic if you didn’t show up fully. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. If you’re a solopreneur, don’t be afraid to say it. Don’t try to seem more corporate than you really are. Stay true to yourself and your brand and ultimately you’ll attract the right clients. “As a solopreneur I’ve found that embracing my small yet creative business is far better than trying to make it seem larger and more corporate,” says Kimberly Dow of Frederick, Maryland-based Kalico Design. “I’m able to get more personal with my clients because they deal directly with me as the creative guru and business owner; they feel more comfortable because they actually get to know me and respect my advice because I can relate to their small-business needs, fears and triumphs.”
Do your homework. If a client asked you to create a brand for a new product, you wouldn’t start the design work before doing your research. Sometimes that’s the most fun part of the project. In business development, that’s your market research phase. This discovery work should be scheduled, documented and well-organized. Reserve the time on your calendar, decide which research tools you’re going to use (from information-gathering phone calls to networking to competitive reviews) and have a good database program to track your leads. Sufficient time spent on investigation and analysis will reveal new marketing opportunities for your business—just the way research sparks new ideas for your creative projects.
Get out of your comfort zone. It may feel safe to create the same work again and again, but it’s only when we push ourselves that we see new ideas emerge. Remember the times when you took a risk with creative projects for your clients and saw your design rise to a whole new level. Do the same with your marketing activities: Begin writing a blog, for example, or contact a publication in your niche and offer to be a source for an article. That will force you to break from your routine promotional plan and step into a new territory where growth can happen.
Principal Rochelle Seltzer of Seltzer Design Intelligence in Boston hosts quarterly breakfast forums for her clients and prospects as part of her marketing activities. Public speaking wasn’t natural or easy for her, but by committing to these events on a regular basis she’s reaping the positive results of presenting herself and her firm as experts in a way that people remember. “I had done some speaking before, but not as routinely as I have been as part of these breakfast forums,” Seltzer says. “They’ve been getting easier and more comfortable for me as we do them.”
Pursue many options. You know how fired up you get when you’re working on a project and you present more ideas than your client asked for? You hope that among all of those ideas lies the perfect solution. The best design option is different for every one of your clients, and you won’t rest until you explore each one. Similarly, your marketing materials can be as abundant as your ideas. Using different methods to touch different prospects is key. The greater the variety of tools, the bigger the chances that your prospects will think about your agency at their time of need. Using the same method you use to decide how many ideas to show your client for a design project, decide on how many marketing tools you can manage and stick to them. And don’t be afraid to try them all.
You can apply the same skills and passion that got you into this profession in the first place to growing your business.
Create an experience. When I was designing CD packages and showed cover concepts to my clients, I noticed that when I presented the cover inside a plastic jewel case, the artwork was approved about 50 percent more often than when I had just shown it printed and mounted on a board. Holding the box in their hands helped my clients connect to the experience of holding the real thing and thus generated an experience-based decision, not merely a visual one. Create an experience so your prospects can feel what you’re all about and you’re halfway to winning their business. From leading workshops to public speaking, give your prospects the opportunity to experience you and your genius work.
Present with style. You’ve worked hard to get your ideas together; you’re about to pitch them to your client and get the approval so you can execute. You wouldn’t want to show anything less than work that will wow them, right? Present yourself to your clients at the same high level as your creative work. Many creative agencies neglect their own branding and position themselves poorly using outdated materials. Your identity and brand speak volumes about what a new client can expect in working with you. If you do incredible work, show it off. Put the time and energy into keeping your brand and presentation at a stellar stage consistently.
You can apply the same skills and passion that got you into this profession in the first place to growing your business. And when you do, your studio will develop as naturally as your concepts do, and you’ll own a creative company you can be proud of.
Peleg Top is a business development coach and professional mentor to creative entrepreneurs. He specializes in helping creative agency owners improve their business and marketing skills and become better leaders. www.pelegtop.com
Excerpted from the September 2010 issue of HOW magazine. Used with the kind permission of HOW magazine, a publication of F+W Media, Inc. Visit www.howdesign.com to subscribe.