What Does Meaningful Conversation Look Like?

by seansblog-admin on January 18, 2018

So let us get the elephant out of the room.  No potential client is at your door to be your friend.  They are there because they want you and your creative business to transform their lives. Full stop.

That said, to do the work you are tasked with doing, you actually have to appreciate who the client is and what they truly care about.  If you can value who the client is and what they care about, then you have a chance to create great art. No simpatico, no great art.  You can only do great work for people who care about your vision and vice-versa.

And yet most artists and creative business owners I know skip over the relationship part and jump into here is what we are going to do together.  They get down to business without even having drinks first. What gets communicated then is that this is a product transaction.  Give me your money and I will give you this stuff that will get you what you want. Except that is not what any creative business is selling at all.  The stuff is a means to an end.  The end is emotion, a feeling, a way to reach inside the minds and, I dare say, hearts of clients to move them to a different (and hopefully better) place.

If you begin the conversation with, “I know why you are here, so let us focus on the stuff you need”, you miss out on the higher purpose which is about relationship, a series of trust building exercises to get to the inevitable and enviable end.

While I am all about getting a client to “yes”, I am also all about getting to the right “yes”. Clients have to know what you care about and vice versa.

Try this exercise – for three minutes every time you talk to either a potential client or actual client, do not talk about either the wedding or what your creative business is going to do for them.  Just talk about them and you. Listen to what matters and share what matters to you as an artist.  Some of you might think, easy peasy, three minutes is nothing.  Except when I take away the reason everyone is there it becomes much much harder than you think.

Of course, there is more.  Once you have discovered something about your client or they about you, your art or your creative business, YOU have to relate that “something” to the ethos of your creative business.  You have to refer to your design statement, your process, your contract, your payment schedule, etc. as validation of what you heard being in keeping with why you and your creative business do things the way you do.  Real time. And when you get good at doing it once, do it twice.  For those of you with your employees, have at it with those that are responsible for communicating with your clients.

If you actually write down and track these interactions you will likely find that you will get closer and closer to the deepest desires of what your client seeks from you, your art and your creative business.  In turn, your client will fully understand why they are trusting you the way that they are.  This, by the way, is not transparency, it is uncompromised authenticity.  There is a huge difference. Transparency is a ruse, an excuse to keep hiding; uncompromised authenticity is the foundation of every creative business.

Sharing information that does not matter in the hopes of building trust is a sand castle waiting for the smallest wave to destroy it. My favorite example: if you walk into a grocery store and see that the price of organic bananas is $3/pound, you will probably not ask the manager where she bought the bananas at wholesale and for how much.  Oh, and if you did, the answer would likely be a (im)polite not going to answer. The reason is you either like the bananas for $3/pound or you do not.  Knowing how much the store is making on bananas or if they paid the right price at wholesale is completely irrelevant to the discussion.  If non-organic bananas sell at $1.50/pound, maybe that is where you find value.  Or if you go to the grocery outlet, maybe they are $/pound.  You will find value where you find it at retail.  If the high-end grocer discusses who they source from and why — fair trade growers for instance — maybe that matters to you and you pay the premium.

Therefore, if you think transparency is about sharing information that does not matter to value you are actually doing the opposite of being transparent, you are hiding. Why?  Because likely is you are not talking about what matters to you, your art and your creative business by saying this is the right banana for you and $3/price you need to pay.  Here is what I will do with this banana. Instead, you are distracting with noise and making yourself feel better by being “open and honest” with your clients so they can see how “fair” you are being. Yeah, not so much.  Leave transparency to the pretenders, be better at being radically authentic.  Listen sure, but really work on hearing.

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Hyper-Local Does Not Mean Local Yokel

by seanlow on January 11, 2018

I hear it all the time: “Well, I am not a national name like [insert sacred totem] so I could not possibly charge what they do.” However, these are the artists that routinely take on and are sought after for projects that are at the top of their luxury market — interior design with square foot prices starting at one hundred dollars; events beginning at five hundred dollars per person; architecture with build prices starting at six hundred dollars per square foot.  In short, these creative businesses really matter in their markets and occupy a place as important as those they would consider national names. There is a big reason why.

National names cannot compete with the hyper-local luxury creative business. The local player cares more, is better invested in what matters to that market and can extract the best value for clients looking to complete a project there. Of course, clients fall in love with their artists and bring them with them wherever they go.  Clients also fall in love with the mystique of a celebrity artist and want what that artist offers just because it is that artist (aka, star f…ing).

And yet.

Hyper-local creative businesses routinely lose out to national, even semi-national players all the time because they absolutely refuse to honor their place as the best of the best. They willingly cede that position to the interlopers that would come in and take the best projects because those interlopers look the part.

If Eric Ripert is going to open a Le Bernadin in Kansas City, you can bet the price of the halibut will be the same in either place.  So if you wanted to open a restaurant in Kansas City that you wished to be compared to Le Bernadin, you need to do the same, even if the price of your fish is twice that of any other seafood restaurant in Kansas City.  Luxury spend is luxury spend and if your client’s project is substantial enough to warrant attention from any artist, local or national, they you, the local artist, have to appreciate that if you are trying to sell the “I am just as good, only cheaper because I am here” argument, you will lose every time, even if you get the client.  Why? Local yokel is in the air and you can never ever give it credence else you will be dismissed as just that.

Practically, this means you need to know what those who you would consider “bigger” names than you charge and why they command what they do.  Then you have to be a comparable to them, regardless of what your market would say you are worth.  The entire point is that you are the best of the best if the project is going to happen in your market.  You have to make the point that any decision NOT to use your creative business is based on a personal decision that has nothing to do with intrinsic value and everything to do with emotional attachment.

Far too often, clients believe that, if they want to accomplish their project at the level they seek, they have to go out of market. Sometimes that is, in fact, true.  Most of the time it is not and the reason it happens is self-inflicted pain (i.e., “our market will just support it if I charged $x”). You are only a local yokel if you permit yourself to be.

Learn the metrics of national players in your industry.  Ask yourself where you fit.  Understand that your creative business matters more because you care more on just about every level.  The value of caring in your market is absolute.  Do not give it away because you are determined to play small.  A whale in the pond or the ocean is still a whale.  You do yourself, your art and your creative business a huge disservice if you do not act like it.

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Two Commitments For 2018

January 4, 2018

Happy happy to everyone.  2018 is going to be a remarkable year. More than ever, there is an ability to see the reality of what was only a fantasy a few years ago.  Things like commercial space travel, 3D/Virtual Reality everything, renewable powered cars and homes, and on and on.  Go watch any 80’s movie […]

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Legacy and Evolution

December 21, 2017

So what if I came to you, one of  my existing clients, with this business proposition:  I want you to pay twenty-five percent more for a new version of my product, my tenth version. As with all of the previous versions, the new version improves things a lot but does not revolutionize anything. More cool, […]

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Why Podcasting Matters To Creative Business

December 7, 2017

People like us do things like this.  Seth Godin focuses all of his marketing efforts here and it is the basis of permission marketing.  Permission marketing requires empathy as to who the person is and what it is that they seek from you, the artist.  Of course, you do not have to be your client, […]

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Line Item Pricing Revisited And Changing The Dialogue

November 30, 2017

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity and deep pleasure of speaking to interior designers in Boston as part of Editor-at-Large’s Launch series.  I talked about pricing and client management as I have done in New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles several times before.  Everything centers around the idea that value and process drive […]

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Out With The Mullet, In With The Hoodie

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 […]

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Fear, Panic and The Addiction To Yes

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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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