Out With The Mullet, In With The Hoodie

by seanlow on November 16, 2017

Everything that we have come to rely on for our every day lives is less than twenty years old.  Sure the microcomputer existed in the 1980’s but the dawn of the Internet age changed everything.

And yet.  The language and practices we use are straight out of the 1990’s.  For this post, I will focus on some sacred cows in the event industry, but my hope is that, for those of you not in the event industry, you will see deep parallels in your area of creative business.

For event professionals, some sacred cows that are needing to go away are: Table set ups?  Packages? Underpromise, over deliver?  Great customer service? Excel?

When we rely on language and practices that are wildly unrelated to today’s environment, at best we sow the seeds of confusion and, at worst, marginalize the entire event industry (and possibly all of creative business).

So let us take a closer look:

Packages — Oldie but a goodie that lives everywhere.  A short cut that undermines everything.  Packages focus on stuff and what will be done for the client.  It connotes sameness and choice when neither could be further from the truth.  Package is about process and what matters to you.  Use those words instead.

Live Table Set Ups and Tastings — they mean nothing as they are, most often, completely unrelated to the environment and instance that will actually happen at the event.  Yes, smelling, touching and tasting is fun, but we can do so so much better.  VR, Livestreaming, Edited Video, better rendering work are just the beginning.

Hourly Fees – When your time mattered, hourly fees did too.  Of course, there are parameters to your work, especially on the day of the event and abuses need to be avoided.  However, charging hourly fees is not the way.  Communication and mutual understanding of what is necessary to get done is.  Why a charge for 2 hours of overtime, when a $5,000 do not be a jerk escrow fee might suffice?

Contracts – Why is it ever the first document you send?  Your clients are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions and you cannot be bothered to work out a term sheet with them first?  You look like a dinosaur when you start with a dense contract that it not related to your actual work.  Take the time to lay out the 4 W’s and How in a plain language document everyone can agree on.  Then send your contract as a reflection of the letter.

Using Old SoftwareTimeline Genius will create day-of event timelines for a negligible cost.  Slack is the fastest growing work management app, umm ever.  Basecamp or whatever project management tool you enjoy is infinitely better than your Excel spreadsheet.  Information flow is vital to any project and you are responsible for it.  Not embracing technology to help you manage the flow today is like relying on fax machines and FedEx to get the job done. Not quaint or retro.  Worse than useless.

Uncurated Portfolios — Not that there ever was a time to show less than your best work, but today the very idea that you would allow an image of yours to exist that you would not stake your reputation on is tantamount to a confession that good enough is good enough.  Yeah, good enough never is and forever more never will be.

List of Services – If you have to spell it out for a client, they are not your client.  Enough said.

Things You Never Do – If you talk about things you never do and/or do not really want  to do, stop.  Be who you are and celebrate the power of niche.  We are long since past the time when did not fully embrace and understand The Long Tail and its implications.

Line Item Pricing – Completely irrelevant to the client relationship.  None of you are in the get-it-for-less business so the price of the linen only matters in context of the price to create the rest of the space.

Cost v. Investment – Cost is something we have to spend to get what we want with only the expectations we set for it.  Investment connotes a return that is in excess of the investment.

On the other side of the coin, here are terms, concepts and industry norms all creative businesses need to embrace: a design statement, the one thing that matters, cost of production vs. investment in your creative business, and, most important the promises you intend to make to earn trust and deliver your best work.  Your core, yes, is always timeless and eternally resonant; its expression, however, demands that you embrace all that today’s world offers.  Tomorrow’s too.


Fear, Panic and The Addiction To Yes

by seanlow on November 9, 2017

Change is really, really hard.  If you intend to move to another place in your creative business, as opposed to just putting window dressing on what you already have (lipstick on a pig?), you are going to have to risk the status quo.  Nobody wants to be wrong or to realize that good enough just is not.  So we invest in staying stuck, impose artificial limitations on ourselves that, ironically, keep us safe.  When confronted with real change, fear kicks in, fight or flight or in many cases stubborn resistance to anything other.  Even if you move your art and your creative business towards the change you seek, the shadow anchor is always there, ready to pull you back whenever there is a shred of evidence of “this will not work”.

It is far too easy to say you have to persist, fight through your fear, believe in the change you seek.  Like telling any addict that you have to have willpower and faith to beat the addiction.  No, you need humility and you need support from those who have been where you are and/or are willing to walk the path with you.  Again, though, too easy to give yourself over to a group or a teacher or a guide to have yourself and your creative business saved.  Nobody has the answer except for you.  Support only matters if you are ready to actually walk the path to another place.

Let’s then get real about fear.  Fear is not about losing business (you never had it in the first place), nor is it about having your creative business fold, nor about not making enough money.  No, fear is about rejection, having someone else see you and your art and say “no thanks”.  Most of us will do just about anything to avoid the raw and absolute “no thanks”.  Our response to the (potential) rejection is to hide.

Here is what hiding looks like: creating art that you are not proud of, for a price that does not work, for a client that does not really care about what you, your art and your creative business offers.  There may be sprinkles of yes in your world (with clients that truly value you and your art), but they are dwarfed by the volume (maybe number, but definitely noise) of those that do not.  Neurosis is acting out behavior you know to be destructive and irrational over and over again.  The momentary high is dwarfed by the reality and scope of the decision.  Feeling the “Yes” from any client overwhelms the notion that you NEVER want a “yes” from the wrong client.

Before you think me condescending, let me say we are ALL scared and fear bites us all at some point.  I have chased more than my fair share of nightmares, all along deluding myself that it would work out if and only.  It never did and it never does.  The wrong client is wrong for the simple reason that they just do not care about what you and your creative business care most about.

We hear all the time about letting go, focusing on your strength, having confidence, faith in yourself and your creative business.  Lovely thoughts that you cannot buy a cup of coffee with.  You need to be rooted in a foundation of why.  Why you are an artist, why your art matters, why you are worthy of the responsibility to create your art for your clients, and why tomorrow’s version of your art and your creative business will always be better than today.  All of these whys are real, tangible concepts you need to live by and forever work on.  You cannot face the fear of rejection without them.  And even with your whys, you may still be bitten by the fear of rejection, it is that strong.

The exercise is this – change happens drip by drip, detail by detail, moment by moment.  You have to go through the Dip to get to the other side.  This means when you actually need to be rejected by someone you care about and who cares about you, your art and your creative business.  You have to ask yourself in this moment if you are hiding in some way.  Then you have to become more raw, not less.  More resolute in your mission not fuzzier. You will be afraid, you will panic, you will think your world might end.  It will not, certainly not the world you truly wish to inhabit at least.

The specific work is this — what is the one thing you absolutely have to have in your creative business — maybe a minimum budget, size of project, type of project, type of client.  The one thing that you just have nothing if you do not have.  Write it down and then figure out how many places you can insert this absolute need into the fabric of your business — website, social media, contract, client conversations, etc.  Let’s say no less than five places and then do it.  Today.  Standing for something is what matters when it comes to getting through your fear only if it is front and center for everyone to see.


The Three Changes That Matter

October 26, 2017

None of you sell the thing you create.  No creative business does.  You sell the process of creating the thing.  The experience, the journey, the story of creation matters far more than the thing. Lauren Grove wrote this post about the death of the wedding industry last week.  She could just as easily been writing […]

Read the full article →

Capital Structure

October 20, 2017

Talking about taking other people’s money (OPM) is not often addressed when it comes to most creative businesses.  Of course, most creative business are considered micro businesses and are also incredibly personal to the artist/owner.  That said, taking OPM is in the air and understanding what it looks like is really useful BEFORE you decide […]

Read the full article →

At The Margin

October 17, 2017

How you see your world matters.  Do you see things in context of the immediate?  Like a puppy or a toddler who will have five different focuses/thoughts in a minute.  Distractible by the latest beep on your phone?  Or do you see the world as somewhat fixed?  This is just the way it is done.  […]

Read the full article →

The 21 Day Challenge

September 25, 2017

So much has been written about changing habits, developing good habits, mapping out how you are going to sustain good habits.. The entire self-help industry is built on the notion that change comes from intention, intention to habitual practice, practice to success. Some people tip toe in, I will cut back to 2 hours of […]

Read the full article →

The Five Things That Go Right

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 […]

Read the full article →

Dealing With Business Upheaval — Irma and Harvey

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →

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 […]

Read the full article →