What Makes A Great Client?

by seanlow on May 17, 2018

Great clients are made, not born.  This, to me anyway, is axiomatic.  You have to have a fantastic process that is intended to serve and enrapture those clients that care about you, your art and your creative business.  The more you guide your clients, embrace their fears and fulfill their visions, not just at the end of the project but every step of the way, the better the work will be.  To be specific, if you are practiced in the art of transferring power, willingly, from your client to you and your creative business you will have earned the trust to overcome requisite obstacles and earn the permission to do what you do.  Before a client signs with you, they have all of the power (and money).  You want their business and it is theirs to give.  As you move through though, clients will hopefully make narrower and narrower decisions (and payments) until they are left with an ultimate yes and a zero balance on your fees.

All of that said, great clients also have attributes that make them great presuming there is a fit in your process with who they are.  There are three primary attributes you should be able to assess: 1) Motion In Fear; 2) Resolute Decision Making; and 3) Patronage.

Motion In Fear

All clients of creative businesses are scared.  The result you offer is uncertain no matter how many times you have done it before.  Ahem, that is why it is called creative business.  Some clients want certainty where there is none and drive you and your team crazy when they cannot remove the fear of uncertainty.  Unless you have a business built to deal with these clients who want this kind of access (this would be the one place that hourly fees might work), you need to appreciate the difficulty this client represents and actively seek to avoid them altogether or place strict boundaries around your unwillingness to deal with their active and ongoing uncertainty.

On the other side of the coin are those clients who embrace their fear but look to you, your art and your creative business for solutions to their concern.  If you are powerful in your ability to communicate your ideas, these clients will find solace in your vision.  They will still have fear but can live with it as they have intention for how to resolve it.  These clients embrace where you are heading and can live with the uncertainty that you may not get there.  All of this said, if you are not a good presenter, these clients will run over you as they will likely try to take over design to allay their fear.  If yours is more of a collaborative process, these clients are not for you.

Regardless of how a client moves through their fear, the one thing you and your creative business cannot do is to tell the client to not be scared.  Yes, you are confident in your ability to design and execute and the client wants to believe in your ability, but fear is not rational and needs acknowledgement before it can be resolved.  Not, “don’t be scared” but rather, “I see your are nervous, here is what we are going to do.”

Resolute Decision Making

Resolute decision making is a natural offshoot of how a client moves through fear.  You might think the client that says, “I trust you, do what you want.” is the dream.  More like a nightmare since they trust you until they do not and then they never will again.  You and your creative business are not mind-readers and your path is always informed by those who you are meant to lead.  Instead, the dream client is the one that can make decisions as you would have them be made.

If you enjoy a ton of collaboration, these clients can work with you to build a decision on top of the last decision until design is completed.  However, if you think “too many cooks kills the broth”, the collaborative client is not for you.  Again, for those with deep and powerful presentation skills, having clients who are capable of making large, permanent decisions is the dream.  These clients see what you see, say yes and allow you to move on without ever looking back.  The clearer you are with all that you do (when, why and how), the better these clients will be.  Options for these clients is a non-starter — they want to be guided and if you refuse to guide their fear will explode and you will literally get nowhere until you finally choose.  Resolute decision makers demand confident exposition.

Patronage

Clients who want to own your work as their own are of value if, and only if, you can see your work as it is without need for acknowledgement.  Being truly comfortable behind the scenes is, of course, possible, but you have to appreciate the strength it takes to be there.  We all know those clients who refuse to call your work yours and instead seek to marginalize you at ever turn.  Ultimately though, we should all seek acknowledgment for the art we put into the world.  These are patrons who endow your creative business and do so in the effort to find the fantasy they seek.  When the fantasy manifests, they deeply acknowledge the craft, talent, experience and wisdom it took to make it happen.  Patrons come in all forms — they can be complete collaborators and demand an absurd amount of attention, but then turn around and celebrate your work to whoever will listen.  There is even a certain amount of redemption in PIA clients if they can see their way to patronage.  Not that it is ever an excuse to be awful, by the way, just that it can be a modicum of humanity.  In the end, great clients show respect, professionalism and integrity that is given to them by you, your art and your creative business.  Success is in the relationship and candor as to what it means to be an artist for someone who cares.

The entire point is is for you, the creative business owner, to figure out the characteristics of what makes an amazing client for your art and your business.  Then share it with the world so that the world knows who should show up.  Much better than just hoping and praying that Mr. or Mrs. Right will magically appear.

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What Is Your Responsibility As An Artist?

by seanlow on May 10, 2018

I have danced around this topic for a long time.  I am of the firm belief that art changes the world and creative business owners are the stewards of that change.  Whether someone’s home, a wedding, a visual design, fashion, food, the work of creative business owners is transformative and influences how we all think and act in the world.  As artists, your principal role is to create something that does not yet exist and, by extension, teach your client (the world?) to see with fresh eyes.

So then what is your responsibility as an artist?  Last week’s post was on diversity and talking only to the right client.  And, sure, that is part of the conversation.  However, this week I want to go further and say what is your responsibility to move into an ever purer version of your creativity?  To own the evolution and presence of your projects as equally temporal? In short, how do you get your clients to think while at the same time serve their fantasies for what the project will bring them?

I am perpetually fascinated by the mind of an artist and how they become compelled to create as they do.  I also enjoy those that envision their work as having a larger meaning in a micro context.  Check out David Chang’s Netflix Series, Ugly Delicious,as an example of what I am talking about.  Of course, there is a window into what drives David to invent the food he does and why, but equally important is the cultural underpinnings he is poking holes into.  In the Fried Rice episode, the discussion of Chinese food as dirty, unrefined and substandard relative to other ethnic cuisine is awesome.  Just the scene talking about MSG as the group eats chips and snack foods loaded with MSG is worth the time to watch.

Of course, David Chang is, well, David Chang.  He has earned permission to make cultural statements with his food after years of doing the unexpected starting with his very first Momofuku in 2004.  What about the local florist?  The newly minted interior designer out on her  own just last year? The lifelong design employee?  The old guard architect?  The very artists next door who know how we (whoever wemay be) live and, perhaps, ought to live. What about them?  And if you are this creative business, what about you?

I can be hyperbolic and say that if you are not willing to make a statement with your work, you will not be relevant for much longer.  I can also say that I believe this to be fully true.  It does not matter.  What matters is if you, the creative business owner, sees the value of being iconic, willing to act with purpose and intention without specific regard to consequence.  The essence of art is it might not work and also that you may not (probably will not) be able to figure out whether it will work or not BEFORE you create it.  Once you create it, we can all be confident in its manifestation; that is called being a professional.  However, the edge of creation is always fraught with risk and is what you truly get paid for.  This edge of uncertainty, the risk of failure, or, worse, sameness should be what drives you as an artist AND as a businessperson.

So my position is this: you as an artist and creative business professional are responsible for the moment, whatever that might be for you.  This moment lives in the context of your client’s desires, your vision of the world, your culture and the perspective you bring, and most of all, the transformative element.  Your responsibility is to make us think, to challenge notions of what is as ever being real beyond perception.  Your responsibility is also to do it every day with the singular purpose that your voice as an artist matters like ripples in a pond.  Some ripples are bigger than others and that is ok, collectively though they become the waves that shape us.

Doing great work is not enough then.  You must do great work with intention for those that care.  The intention is ephemeral and is also sacrosanct.  To find your intention, ask yourself, “To what end?  Why does your work matter to YOU?”  If you, your art and your creative business both embody and are responsible for your intention, the work will move us.  Where it will move us is uncertain and mostly irrelevant, simply moving is enough.  I remain hopeful that when we can dwell more in art’s uncertainty we will live more comfortably in a brighter possibility.  Let this be your responsibility and embrace just how much the effort is the reward.

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The Power Of Inclusion And Saying No To The Wrong Client

May 3, 2018

At first blush, you would not think that a discussion on how we can improve diversity in all kinds of creative business would be related to finding the right client for your particular creative business.  And yet nothing could be more profoundly linked. The point of asking for all aspects of creative business to be […]

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All Creative Businesses Sell Luxury

April 30, 2018

A BBC Collective member shared this article from Entrepreneur Magazine about selling luxury.  The article was written in September 2015 and is based on the author’s (Vincent Bastien) book, The Luxury Strategy. Even though it is a few years old, Bastien’s premise that the strategy to sell true luxury is different from selling luxury as fashion […]

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The 80/20 Issue and Being An Expert To Get To The Next Level

April 23, 2018

The 80/20 Issue The 80/20 issue is from Vilfredo Pareto and dates back to 1906.  He was writing about wealth and said that eighty percent of the wealth is held by twenty percent of the people.  FYI, in the U.S. today it is closer to ninety percent, but that is a topic for another day. The […]

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Style Me Pretty Goes Dark

April 12, 2018

Just when it seems are moving along to move along, the wedding industry gets huge news that  Style Me Pretty is going dark in a few weeks.  AOL (now OATH) has announced that they will not be archiving the site but will instead be shutting down. Of course, there are marketing and SEO concerns from […]

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Commissions Are Not Kickbacks

April 5, 2018

I have heard for years that commissions are devil-spawn.  Nobody should take them or give them.  They give all creative business a black eye.  Nonsense. Kickbacks, hidden vendor discounts, and all things under-the-table, these are devil-spawn and give all creative businesses a black eye.  Why? Because the client does not know what they are paying […]

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How Do You Approach Your Busy Season?

March 29, 2018

Chop wood, carry water. Head down.  Just get through it all. Maybe farmers enjoy getting up at four in the morning to milk cows.  Every day.  Or maybe they just see it as a sense of duty and responsibility. Not much emotion either way. We are fast approaching the time when all creative businesses are […]

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Is It Ever Okay To Fire A Client?

March 15, 2018

The issue of whether it is ever okay to fire a client was the topic of my bi-weekly column for Editor-At-Large this week. Here is the link. All I can say is that nothing pushes creative business owners’ buttons more than this topic.  My thoughts in the column were no exception.  I have received comments […]

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Chicken or The Egg? Self-Confidence or A Solid Foundation

March 8, 2018

The idea of The Impostor Syndrome has gotten a lot of presence of late.  You feel like no matter how much you have done with your art, your creative business, that you just do not belong.  The table was not meant to include you.  The feeling then goes that the intimidation prevents you from manifesting […]

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