Incremental Change Is An Oxymoron

by seanlow on 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, I want to scream in my pillow. At the top of my lungs.  Aaaaacccccck.

Art is about breaking things – rules, standards, norms, culture, even laws. We, as patrons, so often want to be shocked awake, transformed by the experience. Sure, guilty pleasures, fluff, is a distraction and fun for all, but at the end of the day candy will never be a meal.

We live in the age of disruption where technology has changed just about everything from taxis ( to hotels ( to retail shopping ( Do you think the folks running these businesses thought that it would be a home run if they just tweaked the way taxis, hotels and retail worked. Of course not.

So why oh why are the most creative, innovative artists on the planet, owners of businesses capable of imagining a world we do not yet inhabit, act like timid little mice afraid of the big bad business elephant? It is just silly. You get paid to dare for a living. Please dare with your business.

Just because you cannot imagine charging three times what you do today or running a business ten times as big as the one you run now, does not make it any less possible. What does make it impossible though is incremental change. You cannot triple your price unless you can prove to clients (employees, colleagues, even spouses) why you are worth it. This means changing your model, getting paid for what you REALLY want to get paid for.

And that is the best part of creative business. There are no rules and the more you constrain yourself with the fiction some other (not very smart) creative business owner made up as THE rule, the more you live the lie you were never meant to live. Break the rules not because you can, but because they were never rules to begin with.

I love Blue Ocean Strategy as much as the next person. We should all chart our own course. However, what I am talking about is much deeper than simply a strategy to find uncharted territory. I am talking about being true to your soul as an artist, where there are no boundaries of possible only the imagination of what could be. What would your creative business look like then?

The beauty of the world we live in today is there is an audience for everyone. If you own your voice as an artist, a creative business owner, those who care will find it. Do not disappoint them by looking exactly like the next creative business in all ways except for your art. Be iconic as a business with the understanding that you actually do not have the choice not to be.

As if all of the above were the most insidious part of incremental change. No, the most insidious part of incremental change is it creates the illusion that change, even incremental change, is reversible for a creativ business when it is not.

If I raise my price ten/twenty percent, I can always lower it if nobody pays it. A) If your creative business is that price sensitive, you do not have a creative business, you have a commodity. B) if you are established, raising your prices incrementally without doing anything else, only legitimizes the competition below you. (Shameless plug: if you do not understand how B) works, you need to join The BBC Collective to find out). And C) if you raise your price incrementally, all you will do is anger those expecting your former price and create confusion as to what your actual value is. Hey, if $8 was good enough yesterday, why do you need $10 today?

You can charge a little more, tweak things, put lipstick on the pig all the way into oblivion. Or maybe, just maybe, you can look inside to the artist you actually are, the one who had the courage to start in the first place, and live that truth. Be fearless in the notion that, if you can imagine the possibility, it exists and will be valued as you need it to be. Live the fantasy we pay you to dream for us. In your world, let “creative” rule “business” in the context of creating your business. Be disciplined in the outrageous and confident in its value for your business above and beyond your art. Let this be your voice.

The place for incremental change is at the bottom (i.e, in the abyss) of your very own blue ocean. Leave it there.



by seanlow on 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 to raise the bar here if we are to move the business forward.

Mailing in a presentation sucks. We all need to do better and be better. Imagine, for a second, you wanted a custom home built and the architect showed you a mood board and some rough floor plans for you to decide if this is the home you wanted. Oh, and had $30,000 of your money before they did this “work.” You see my point. And do not get me going on all things that would not be considered “design” – catering, entertainment, custom furniture, photography, textiles, florals, etc. They have to present their vision for their art just like any other creative business and they, as a rule, do not. Awful.

If you consider yourself an artist, have a creative business and get paid to create for a living, you need to present.  Period. Just because you do not call yourself a “designer” does not mean you are not one. The responsibility is yours.

Presentation is the very moment any creative business translates senses. Whether you do it as a series of building statements (like a Shopper interior designer) or with a single grand statement (like the Power Presenter interior designer) makes no difference. Presentation has to be appropriate to the moment, but still has to honor the moment of translation. Think about it – up until presentation, you might have been listening, maybe visiting, even experiencing. With your presentation, you and your creative business take that information and say to your client, “this is my intention, here is what I want to create for you in the sense(s) I will do it in.”

Business. Presentation is a value point – meaning something has to happen to move the process forward. That something is that the client says yes or no and/or pays you money. There is no going back once the presentation is done. What done looks like is up to you. I tend to be in the power presenter category and believe in very little choice. If you are a power presenter, in fact, I do not believe in choice at all. Here is a great post about why you should only show one option. That said, if you are a shopper, certainly there has to be more than one option, but not twenty. Your opinion matters. In fact, it is everything. You are not a diner, so do not act like you do not care what the client chooses.

Effective presentation then requires three things:

An Understanding Of The Gravitas Of What Is Being Asked Too often I see or hear about presentations as if they were an afterthought, an inconvenience or an apology along the way towards completion. Designers literally do not want to face rejection so they offer so many back doors to a presentation (“well, if you do like this, we could do this” and so on and so on) as to make the presentation meaningless. Any great presentation says, “This is what I want to create for you. Period.” Will there be tweaks? Sure, but never redesign. If you get it wrong, you deserve to lose and be done. Only the most forgiving client will (or should) allow you a second shot. But, make no mistake, there is always a price for getting it wrong. After all, you are paid to get it right. If you can appreciate the seriousness of the moment, the importance of taking a stand and can communicate that there is no “I changed my mind” after a client says yes, your whole approach to presentation will change.

Presentation Is A Separate Investment — Here is an example from the wedding business, but it can be applied to just about any creative business trying to sell a product in the end:

A florist has an awesome opportunity to do a 200 person wedding for$100,000. She gets a $3,000 deposit (which goes against the cost of the flowers) then proceeds to put on an over-the-top, incredible presentation: she has it catered with champagne and canapes, there are renderings, tablescapes, even a Cellist. The clients love love love everything but then Dad steps in and starts to question every line in the florist’s proposal. Why $500 for a centerpiece? Do we really need 10 people on site? The florist is stunned. They LOVED everything, so how come Dad is going so nuts? They have the money and I came pretty close to their budget. Can’t he see how much time and energy AND money I put into the presentation? How much I actually care?

Then, of course, the $100,000 job turns into a $65,000 job, still a good job

just not a great one. There is a bitter taste in the florist’s mouth and she

vows to never put herself out like that again.

All of you might relate to the florist with your presentations and think what a jerk Dad was. And maybe he is, BUT BUT BUT not in this case.

Here is the deal. The air in your creative business is not free and clients know that. To be alive, you need to be paid for your effort — whether that is press, money, effective decision making, does not matter, you need to be paid. SO when the florist did her amazing presentation but did not charge for it, the money, the return, has to come from somewhere. Dad knows this. Since the only place it can come from is the cost of the flowers (this is the only money the florist is charging), the more ornate the presentation, the more Dad will question the prices BECAUSE the money has to come from somewhere. So he starts to think of the $500 centerpiece — $100 is to pay for the presentation, $400 is for the flowers. I don’t want to pay for the presentation and I think a fair price for flowers given what else I can see online is $350. And so the negotiation begins. Except Dad is better at negotiating than the florist (it is what he does in some capacity every day) and the florist has no mechanism to separate out the cost of presentation from the cost of flowers so no way to stop this negotiation conversation from going down the rabbit hole.

The solution — charge for presentation or, if you are unwilling to do that, be specific about what part of the price of flowers is for the presentation. Or the florist can keep thinking her client’s Dad is a jerk. The cost to create, the cost to present that creation and the cost to produce the creation are three separate items. Mix them at your own risk.

Overinvest In Presentation – How many of you own a 3D printer? How many of you use it for presentations? None of you I suspect. Presentations today are based in an analog era. Today’s technology allows you to move into scale and virtual relationship effectively and far better than anything that used to exist before in analog. If you can appreciate one and two above, you will overinvest in what is available to you to present your ideas – whether you are a power presenter or a shopper.

Of course, there is value in the physical item, a rendering does not smell or feel wonderful (yet). However, that day is coming soon with virtual reality. The point is to see presentation as an opportunity to build your story; to establish and earn your trust with clients and the value it alone can deliver.

The shift is complete. You will all do a great job in the end. The images and testimonials will be ridiculous. Who cares? When the project is finished, there is no more investment to be garnered from a client. Counterpose the end with presentation. Effective presentation creates unyielding anticipation and enthusiasm. It makes success of a project that much more inevitable and the journey that much more pleasant. So make the time to present well and overinvest.

As I said during my conversation with The BBC Collective this week and on Facebook, there is a college student (or thousands of students) who is/are currently a social media maven (like every other college student), totally into virtual reality and 3D printing For fun, she creates amazing immersive experiences for her friends. Yes, she is the designer of the future and her ability to present her ideas is already insane. What do you think it will be in seven years when she is ready to challenge your creative business? You can rely on your reputation and the ability to get away with little or no effective presentation for only so long. She is coming for you whether you like it or not. So here is a thought: invest in presentation. Be intolerant of ANY creative business who does not ask clients to pay for the creativity alone. Or you can get run over. Your choice.


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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Introducing The BBC Collective

May 23, 2017

The Highlights I get asked often – what comes next for you, Sean? A book? A video series? Something where creative business professionals can get a more pointed experience from you without having to go all the way to working one-on-one with you. No matter how hard I tried though, I could not get excited […]

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What Makes You Remarkable?

May 17, 2017

What makes you remarkable? So personal. Like asking, who are you really? Why do you matter? Why should I care? Do I believe you? Do you believe you? We all spend our time pondering these questions. At least we should.  We are meant to live remarkable lives. To live with purpose and drive; to bring […]

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Breaking The Model Vs. Redecorating

May 9, 2017

New website, new prices, new contract. Some creative business owners believe that when they embark on these missions, they are breaking the model, not just redecorating. They are wrong. The IPhone really is not all that different from cell phones that came before. Cooler and more functional sure, but not that different. Add in apps […]

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The History Of Whys

May 2, 2017

I had the very good fortune to spend some time talking with Vicente Wolf this morning. He was gracious enough to let me and a friend pick his brain about his thoughts on the current state of the interior design industry.  For those of you who do not know who Vicente is, he is a […]

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Ask The Right Questions

April 25, 2017

This is not school. The unasked question is not the only bad question. Worse, far worse, for creative businesses is asking the question that is designed to categorize a client rather than reveal more about what you and your creative business truly care about. Literally, your question shoots you, your art and your creative business […]

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