Ask The Right Questions

by seanlow on 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 in the head before the answer is ever given.

Need an example? A potential design client just bought a 5,000 s.f. vacation house on the beach for 5 million dollars (you looked it up on Your first question is “What are you looking to spend on décor?” Not, “What Drew You To The House?” or even “What Drew You To My Work”. Now, for some clients, budget goes first, but for others, budget is relative. For those where budget is relative to the art you are providing, talking about budget first is alienating to say the least. Of course, budget matters, just not first, at least not for this client. By asking about budget first, you demonstrated a disconnect – you do not care about what the potential client does. Maybe you can overcome the disconnect, but I would bet heavily against it.

Some of you (okay, all of you) should have an eyebrow raised. Hidden in my example is the assumption that budget is a selector. If the potential client has a 1 million dollar budget, you will treat them differently than if they have, say, a $200,000 one. The budget question is designed to categorize the client, not be a reflection of the business you are actually running. Unless your mantra is bang for the buck, more for less, the question sucks. Here’s why.

Clients have to care about what you care about. They have to see value where you do, else you will never ever find success. The problem with asking sorting questions is that, by definition, it conveys that there is more than one category. Except for you, your art and this aspect of your creative business, for this client, there is only one category. Note I am not saying your creative business cannot have more than one area of business (i.e., high end and low end). What I am saying is that you cannot ask your client which language they would like to speak. Your language, how you will best communicate, is up to you, not them.

To be specific, if you are asking questions that exist to sort a client, stop. Instead, ask questions that affirm the values you know will drive the process that will, in turn, produce great art.  Please, please, please only speak the language that matters most to you, your art and your creative business.

You can tell me all day long that clients do not know what they want and so you have to try to “figure them out.” To which I have to say, build your business on the continued ignorance of your clientele at your own risk. Your clients may not be able to do what you do, but that does not make them stupid. They know the transformation they seek and it is up to you to confirm the transformation you provide, not redefine their sought-after transformation. Amplify is not redefinition by the way. The ideas is to ask questions that convey connection, to set expectation of what is to come, to allow creativity, your creativity, to flourish.

Here is another way to think about it. No conversation with a true artist starts as a mystery. However a client found their way to you and your creative business, they are drawn to you. Sometimes, they are drawn for the wrong reason (a topic for countless blog posts), but most often they are where they need to be. The goal of the questions you ask then has to be to tell them they have no other place to go. Or you can continue to try to put your clients in a box with your questions. Good luck with that.


Getting The Exact Wrong Reaction

by seanlow on April 17, 2017

Most creative business owners are people pleasers. After all, 99.9% of creative businesses are in the happy business. You, your art and your creative business exist solely to bring joy to your clients. Even on the commercial side, the aim is to help a business client achieve what they seek through your work, not destroy it.

In the name of go along, get along, sometimes (well, too many times), you agree to what is exactly opposite to your and your creative business’ self interest. Delay three months without changing anything? Sure. Show another design for no additional cost? Whatever the client needs to feel comfortable. Let a vendor you do not know or trust work alongside you? What could go wrong with Aunt Jane next to you?

Even worse are those artists who refuse to be the leader for fear of being perceived as a dictator. I mean if you want to talk about the couch before we have established paint color, I suppose that would be fine. Whatever you need.

We have all been there. You feel like you are doing right by your client (and maybe even employees, vendors and colleagues) by keeping your opinions on mute. Accommodation, we all think, is the grease to the wheel, makes the process that much easier and endears everyone to us. Except it does the exact opposite. Every time.

The reason is simple. You are the artist and the expert. Your credibility is directly correlated to your willingness to stand for what you believe, educate everyone on the impact of your accommodation and resolute as to its cost. Oh, and not because it is in your contract, but because it is in your contract for a reason.  You have to give teeth to the reason, not words on a page.

Aunt Jane might be amazing but you do not know her and cannot trust her until you know she can deliver what you need her to do at the level your client demand of your creative business. If your client would like for your creative business to use Aunt Jane, it will be $10,000 for you to analyze her business. By the way, $10,000 is not made up and would be the LEAST amount of money I would charge a client to evaluate a vendor I do not know to use on one of my projects if I were in your shoes. For those that think this is nuts, value the impact of Aunt Jane’s failure on your creative business both for the particular client and beyond to your reputation, the alienation of Aunt Jane’s competitor you are not using, and the scathing review of everyone other than your client viewing Aunt Jane’s failure (i.e., potential clients, employees and colleagues). That is not even counting the amount of work you would need to do to actually vet Aunt Jane’s business.

It is not about being perceived as good or bad, accommodating or difficult, it is about being confident in your own ability to produce great art on your terms. So instead of quieting that pit in your stomach when someone throws the inevitable curveball, realize that the pit is a sign that you need to seize opportunity. The opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, share your opinion as to why it needs to go this way, AND the cost of not going this way. Because if you miss the opportunity, it is not just gone, it is its own pain. Every moment you do not act the expert is a moment that validates the idea that you are just a member of the audience, not the star (or co-star) of the show. The proverbial loose thread if there ever was one. There is no saving it for later (when it really matters?). Each time you remain silent in the name of being a team player makes it that much harder to ever assert yourself, you artist’s vision, your true expertise. Never ending pain that only ends when the project does and sometimes not even then.

Your art and your creative business exist because of your talent, your vision, your expertise, your voice. This is what your clients actually pay for, not to be their friend or to give them the power to make decisions they are not educated enough to make. So go make great art, your way with your voice heard as loudly as your expertise runs deep.  Amateurs need not apply when you are expected to be the professional in the room.


Free Is Free

April 11, 2017

So let’s lay out an all too common scenario. Your favorite project length for your creative business is four months. You happen to be slow at the moment and for the next month but busy down the road, four months from now. The same client comes to you and says they have identical projects, one […]

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There Are No Guarantees

April 3, 2017

We live in a world where there are no guarantees. No promise that if you work hard, be a person, a business, of character, integrity and purpose you will win the day, the client, the game. I suppose we never did live in this world, however, we (okay I) could always cling to the illusion […]

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What Matters To You?

March 28, 2017

What matters to you, your art and your creative business has a price. The price is vulnerability. You will be vulnerable to those that will say what matters to you does not matter. Notice I did not say does not matter to them. I said it does not matter. Wholehearted dismissal of what makes your […]

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March 13, 2017

Strategy gets a bad rap. Almost everyone in creative business goes about strategy exactly backwards. Usually, creative business owners start by looking at what everyone else is doing and then try to figure out what they should do to be different. Jane designer charges by the hour, I will charge a flat fee. Fred the […]

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Understanding Value

March 1, 2017

We only buy things if we think they are worth more (or at least as much) as we have to pay for them. For our purposes today, we will focus on money transactions. Value can be delivered with attention, timely decisions, etc., but it is just easier to make it all about the Benjamins. Here […]

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The Happy Business

February 21, 2017

Creative business is the happy business. Even if you do commercial work. You exist to transform. You transform by surprising, delighting, energizing, inspiring clients with what you intend for them. They live in the afterglow once your creation comes to life. So why oh why would you ever make the business of your creativity pure […]

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Be The Most In Your Category

February 14, 2017

So we are going to step it up today. I have offered a few challenges so far this young year – lose line item pricing, refuse to allow anyone to refer to your work as anything other than an investment. And while not easy, these challenges are specific actions that do not require a deeper […]

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When The Phone Does Not Ring

February 7, 2017

If you have been in business for a while (i.e., more than 3 years), you come to have expectations about how and when the proverbial phone will ring. For many creative businesses, that time is now. Holidays are done and we are looking forward to Spring coming next month. This is when corporations put their […]

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