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.


Two Commitments For 2018

by seanlow on 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 if you want to see just how far we have come to the future we now inhabit.

So in the spirit of setting the right tone for what creative businesses need to be focused on to be relevant in today’s future, let us all now commit to two (not a hundred) practices that will reshape all of creative business.  These commitments I have not said (many times) before but always worth retelling:  live and die by your design statement and lose line-item pricing.

Design Statement – This is the ethos of why you do what you do. It is not about pretty, it is about what you think about when you set about your creative process. Your design statement is THE thing you care most about as it defines why you do what you do and how you do it.  Your design statement is meant to be raw and real and profoundly you.  If it happens to look like someone else’s then it needs to be a complete coincidence else you have not gone far enough.  Whether you put your design statement on public display (website, social media, etc.) or share it after you first talk to a potential client is up to you. But share it you must.  What would the world look like if the decision to hire you and your creative business or not was truly based on not just on what you envision (or have envisioned) but on why and how you envision the world you wish to create for your clients? Let us make 2018 all about having clients choose based on who they most relate to and make that choice front and center.  Leave the choosing on price, amount of stuff or services delivered, and false fluffy promises to the amateurs.

Line-Item Pricing – Line-item pricing connotes a world gone by.  A world where absolute and relative value could only be communicated by dollars.  We can all do better than that today with all of the tools available to us.  No more training wheels please. Clients do not know they can get better value from artists until determined artists show what that value is.  Communicating value through depth of feeling and relative feeling is here to stay. No doubt, it is more work.  However, short cuts are just that: they ending up cutting you, your art and your creative business short.  So do the work of having a harder (not because it is, but because it is different) conversation and deliver better value to your clients. Lose line-item pricing to help them trust you more, not less. There will be many that will disagree with the last sentence. Let them. They are wrong. The bastion of those who just want to get to the next step is the crutch of pricing.  Yeah, so not good enough. Teaching clients to demand more will just serve to expose the mediocrity for what it is.  Given the choice to be mediocre or remarkable, I would hope is not a choice at all for you, your art or your creative business.

Why focus on the Design Statement and No Line-Item Pricing? Because they will both force you to be better and by being better I mean more authentic, more exposed as the artist you are and the art you most wish to create. Scarier for everyone?  Sure. More valuable?  Not even close.

With a design statement in hand you will have to own your process.  When you own your process, your contract will tell a story and be a living breathing guide to the journey you will take with your client. Definitive process supported by a vibrant contract sets the stage for profound moments of trust and compels you to do more than just mail it in with line-item pricing. With trust in hand, deep value is delivered BEFORE you ever show up with your finished art. Then, of course, the magic of your finished art is inevitable. Rinse, lather, repeat.

With the new year upon us and selling season close at hand (or, in many cases, already started), be better by refusing to entertain short cuts as anything other than cutting you short.  Rather, do the hard work of speaking a language that matters with today’s future; a language that starts with a Design Statement and No Line-Item Pricing.


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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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.  […]

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