The Five Things That Go Right

by seansblog-admin on September 19, 2017

So we are now on the cusp of everyone being back in full swing post-Labor Day. Busyness awaits. The question is, how are you going to take everything you might have been working on — process, pricing, storytelling, client management, cross-industry work – and put it into practice? And after you use the tools, how will you evaluate your efforts?

The first is a subject I have covered quite a lot on the blog – metrics of success. I would submit to you that a successful project looks different now than from what it might have in the past. Or at least I hope so. That is what evolution as a creative business is all about.  Less about pulling it off and more about a terrific journey.  If you have really been invested in your creative business and its growth, today’s metric of success should be about how and why you did what you did and having that (ongoing) effort being supported by your clients, employees and colleagues. Supported much more than a beautiful result.

However, this is more than a personal endeavor. This is like a design statement being necessary for all creative businesses, especially Event and Interior creative businesses. [And if you do not understand why a design statement is the future of your creative business, but can appreciate its power, you really need to join The BBC Collective — Events or The BBC Collective — Interiors and be part of the change you seek.  No matter how busy you are, there is always an hour or so a week to step back and really work on instead of in your creative business].

All creative businesses need to constantly work on redefining/refining what clients, employees and colleagues should expect (and evaluate) our creative businesses on. And we want to spread the word so that the industry comes to be defined by fingerprints instead of fashion, relationship instead of branding, story instead of blind faith, integrity instead of fluff.

But but but you are all about to be busy, meaning in it, making it happen. So the strategy cannot be to institute all of these overarching changes and industry revolutions when you are in the moment. Instead, it is to make sure that you are noting the effects your new new is having on your creative business. When the time for playing the game is afoot, you play, you do not think about the fifteen things you were working on in practice. When you do play though, do not ignore the work that has come before. The easiest way to make sure this does not happen: write down the five things that went right. You can do this in the middle of producing the project, immediately after, or, best yet, as often as you can for the month leading up to the finish of the project.

Here’s the thing: you are not fixing anything, you are remaking what makes you remarkable in the first place. If you are focused on your strengths, they will become stronger.

Nobody leads with their weaknesses. Ever. We lead with what makes us great, what we are confident in, what makes us feel alive first. Why should you evaluate your creative business in the context of what went wrong on the promise that you will fix it in the future? Fine, do that, just get stronger at your strengths first. A positive sandwich as my kids would say.

When you are there and actually doing the work to write it down in the moment, you will have it forever. Not that anything will go off if you do not write down the five things that went right, it is just that they inevitably slip from memory, opportunity to build on them lost forever. The reason: most often, what went right is an intangible – the way an employee talked to the client, offering reassurance; the calm demeanor of staff; the clear communication delivered as you, the artist, would have it delivered; pacing of the work. Yet, the intangible, the ephemeral, the effort underneath the surface, is what defines you, your art and your creative business. The very thing we have been working to build on. Make no mistake, you get paid (or you will) for what lies underneath for the very reason that it is yours and yours alone.

A little safety tip: be real – no, Janey the florist did such a great job, I just love her. More, Janey showed up on time looking professional, her staff was always respectful and responsible and were flexible when some last minute minor changes had to happen. The former are platitudes, the latter the foundation of future expectations.

And, of course, figure out who should be noting what went right. If you want it to matter, it cannot be just you. Different eyes see with different lenses.

The point of the exercise is not just to collect platitudes, it is to weave what you see as your strengths more indelibly into the fabric of your creative business. You WILL do better by being better at what you are already great at first.  Leave shoring up weaknesses for another day.


Dealing With Business Upheaval — Irma and Harvey

by seanlow on September 14, 2017

Here is a post I wrote back in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy in New York City. I resisted posting this post today for fear that it might be too soon. However, talking about what to do in the wake of a massive tragedy and business upheaval caused by things like Hurricane Harvery and Irma is a theme that I think needs to discussed while the wounds are so fresh.  Hopefully, I can offer a challenge today to those who really want to help creative businesses deeply affected by Irma and Harvey chart their futures.

First, a more personal version of what I went through on 9/11. I had a business that delivered price-fixed gourmet dinners to people who worked late. Think investment bankers, lawyers, accountants. We were located downtown a few blocks from the Trade Center. I lived about ten blocks away at the time. I watched the second tower fall as I was trying to walk to the kitchen. Six of my employees were in the basement as the towers fell.

As soon as the towers fell, we were the walking dead. We had no damage to the kitchen save some spoiled food since we could not get to the kitchen for ten days. But all of our clients left for midtown. The smell of burning who knows what lingered until January.  There was no there where we were.

Oh, by the way, we had finished renovating the kitchen that August and literally just started to be busy again after Labor Day. Who knows if the business would have been successful without 9/11, but we were only at the beginning of being able to find out.

To understate the obvious, I was traumatized. My business partner and I had poured everything into the business and it was gone in a flash. Except it wasn’t when you looked at it. We were all fine physically.

This was toxic soup. Determination to rebuild, reopen, start again blinded me to the very notion that there was nothing to rebuild, reopen or start again for. So I borrowed money, took grants and did whatever it took to reopen and then to furtively search for new business.

What I would have done to have someone slow me down, allow me to endure the pain of sudden death, to breath without running to start again and to contemplate how to move on in a way that was possible. Well meaning people make this truly difficult. They want to help, provide money and encouragement to start over. You are buoyed by the largess of those who want to take away your suffering. So you fight the fight with their energy at your back.  Except some things are meant to die when the fatal blow is struck as my business was.

Despite the well intended efforts of many, the pain I ultimately did endure a year later was much more profound than the initial blow – bankruptcy, feelings of utter failure, desperation at what could ever be next. Yes, it did lead me to Preston Bailey and my journey to creative business, but, still, it was prolonged and agonizing suffering I would not wish on anyone.

While I have not walked in the shoes of those who have lost their homes and are enduring tremendous personal suffering, I have walked in the business shoes these creative business owners now find themselves in.

The energy to be a “survivor”, to show that you are unbowed by the tragedy that has befallen you is enormous. You want to start again to prove that you can and that you are not broken. Except you are and so is your creative business.

I will never diminish the spirit of those who offer money, resources, and sympathy. The world can never have enough of these people. However, the world moves on and your reality of a creative business that is no longer remains. My challenge to you: be the voice that is willing to be insensitive and to ask the question if there is a there there now.

For instance, if you are planner in Florida with a significant business in the Caribbean, you are dead. Who cares if the Four Seasons in Anguilla will reopen in nine months? Your brides have opened themselves to other options and, most often, those options do not include you. Harsh? Sure. Untrue? I am probably sugar coating it.

Will everything eventually recover? Of course. TriBeca, the area surrounding the Trade Center, is among the most expensive real estate in New York City today. The new Trade Center is a beacon for commerce of all kinds. Houston, Florida and the Caribbean will again be ultimate luxury destinations and a paragon for creative businesses. That day is not near though.

I appreciate the difficulty to truly assess the physical, emotional and, yes, business, damage your colleagues now find themselves in. Do it anyway.  Spend the time being the rational, realistic head in a sea of well meaning determination. Frame what the world looks like so that you can help creative businesses make decisions about what, if anything, can be done. Some can be saved, others will have to die. For those that can and should be saved, do all you can to help make it so. However, while others are refusing to allow death to be a possibility, if it is what should happen, be the voice that gives permission. Be the voice so that opportunity for what can come next gets a chance to live.  Today.

Hope is not the idea that you will be what you once were. Hope is the idea that a future awaits even if you cannot see it yet. Now, more than ever, we, as creative professionals, all need to start there.


Sunk Costs, Budget Plummet and Houston

September 1, 2017

Although it might not appear parallel, the unbelievably horrific events that happened in Houston and surrounds and reducing budget for a creative budget all center around a firm understanding of sunk costs. As every finance course will teach you, any investment analysis of a future project has to begin with ignoring sunk costs. Easy enough […]

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Owning Who You Are Today Is Everything

August 22, 2017

I was having a fascinating conversation with Maria Bayer last week. If you are in the wedding business and do not know Maria, you should. Her sales techniques are terrific as they are based on selling your intrinsic value as both an artist and creative business. Fantastic stuff. We were talking about The BBC Collective […]

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Foundational Pillars Under All Creative Businesses

August 2, 2017

It is August. Hopefully, time for a breather before a busy Fall is upon you and your creative business. While you are moving a little slower, perhaps it is a great time to reevaluate, perhaps even redefine your foundation as an artist and creative business. What follows is a discussion of the pillars of the […]

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Incremental Change Is An Oxymoron

July 25, 2017

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if you want to fix it, you have to break it. Every time I hear a creative business owner say that they are going to raise their prices ten or twenty percent a year and hope to make fifty percent or so more five years from now, […]

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July 21, 2017

As a rule, I am underwhelmed by the presentation process most creative businesses undertake. The willingness to ask a client to invest sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Pinterest-type mood board and simple samples astounds me. Shame on any creative business for letting clients believe that this is, in any way, acceptable. We all need […]

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Interior Design Archetypes

July 12, 2017

As a consultant and overall student of creative business, it is my job to understand and develop archetypes for the types of creative businesses I work with. I have been incredibly fortunate to have consulted with a wide variety of creative businesses from many different industries, luxury event and interior design in particular. So I […]

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The Power of Story And Client Management

June 27, 2017

I have touted Bill Baker here for years. All the links to my five previous posts about what Bill is all about and my thoughts on why he is just so so important to creative business are here, here, here, here and here. I just re-read all of them and each are still completely relevant […]

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What Is Luxury?

June 20, 2017

I have recently returned from Engage! 17: Grand Cayman, THE conference for luxury wedding professionals. At this point, if you consider yourself in the luxury wedding business and have not attended an Engage!, you are doing yourself, your art and your wedding business an incredible disservice.  I have also just completed my second post for […]

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