by seanlow on 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 florist has a $5,000 minimum, I will have a $7,500 minimum (or a $3,000 minimum). And so it goes until the “strategy” is to be different from everyone else in definable measurement.s   As if that is what will separate you from your colleagues.

Nope, strategy is an internal exercise first and foremost. It starts with what your definition of success is for you, your art and your creative business. Number of projects? Size? Style? Profitability? Type of client? In other words, what matters to you for your art and/or your creative business? For the moment, forget about everyone else around you and answer the question as if you are alone in your art (which, in fact, you are).

To overstate and oversimplify, it could be something like: “I want to do ultra modern design for really edgy clients who have ample budgets but not unlimited resources. I like to work on ten projects a year to feel satisfied as an artist without feeling overwhelmed.” Now the strategy – define the parts that really matter as only you can.

What does ultra modern design mean? Really edgy clients? Ample budgets? Once these key ingredients are established, now define how you are going to serve them. Is ultra modern available or do you have to make it all custom? Are really edgy clients savvy or do they need a lot of hand holding in your world. Just because someone is edgy does NOT mean they are necessarily educated in your art. It only means that they know they want what you do. Of course, the easiest is what should an ample budget look like to you? $10? $10,000.

Measures of success and definitions of those measures in hand, now set out building the business story to support them. All of our work is custom to create the ultra modern look we design. To generate the custom look, we will present to you in a three stage process – general ideas, specific production techniques, and, finally, formal sample designs – to complete our designs. We know that, even though you love and appreciate what we do, it is important that we educate you about what we are doing along the way. Once business process is done to support measures of success and their definitions, and only then, add the cost of your services.

We only do ten projects a year and based on our level of customization, the cost of each of our projects is $X, payable as a deposit, completion of design and delivery of product/service.

Now you have a strategy for what will best serve the art you want to create for the clients you want to create it for. With the strategy in hand, by all means look around to who might be doing similar work. Ask yourself if you would be confused if you were the client between the two (or ten) of you. If not, nothing to change EVEN if the competition is getting more business than you are. Although if you are getting your butt kicked by your competition, the premise that your clients are not confused is probably an exercise in alternate facts.

If, however, you would be confused, then ask yourself how you can make your measures of success and their definitions that much more meaningful and apparent first. Become MORE you, not less.

And that is the thing about strategy, it is about distillation, not dilution. When you start by looking at the world around you, instead of your world, you cannot help but to try to become a better version of someone else. At the end of the day, who wants an artist to be derivative? Not me, not your clients, and, hopefully, not you. Art demands your faith in being iconic. So does your creative business. Strategy starts there.

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Understanding Value

by seanlow on 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 is the overarching concept for creative businesses: absolute value does not matter nearly as much as timing of value delivery with payment. Chew on that one for a while.

I have written about value delivery many times starting back in 2013. My goal here is to set out the framework for everyone to understand why it matters so much and when you get it wrong (or, worse, ignore the concept) you literally shoot your art and your creative business in the foot. Every time.

Absolute value delivery is what you think it is. You buy a bar of soap for a dollar and it is worth a dollar and ten cents to you. Awesomeness. And for contemporaneous transactions, absolute value and timing of value delivery are the same. You pay for the soap and then in pretty short order you use the soap.   If you like everything about the soap – how it smells, how long it lasts, what it makes your skin feel like – you will probably buy the same soap again. Value cycle repeats itself.

Creative businesses do not work that way though. Why? The cycle is over an extended period of time. Most creative businesses measure client projects in months, if not years. As the value cycle stretches, timing of value delivery and payment takes over as the main driver far more than absolute value.

For those of you who live in colder climates and have young children, how much would you pay for cable/internet access during wintertime (say beginning mid-November to mid-March)? What about when the weather is nice and you want them outside and off their electronics? Some easy math. Say you would pay $160/month for the four winterish months but do not want to pay anything for the spring, summer and early fall months. Your value is $640/yr. Now say the cable company charges you $50/month for your cable/internet. You only have to pay $600/yr. Huge win, right? $40 extra dollars in value! Not so fast.

You feel amazing to only have to pay $50 to get $160 of value in January, but you are mad mad mad to write the check in July when you want everyone outside. Absolute value is outweighed by value delivery. If you have enough mad mad mad months of feeling short-changed, you forget about the overall value you have actually received. Translation: you feel ripped off more than you acknowledge the great deal you actually got.

Of course, behemoth cable companies need to standardize billing to be efficient so they cannot have surge pricing ala Uber and they rely on the fact that you are not going to give up your cable/internet when you do not really need it because you want it there when you do. They literally do not care about the mad mad mad months because they know you are not going anywhere.

Your creative business is not the cable company though and your clients are awful at assessing absolute value.

The value of creation is, ahem, creation. Once something is created the value declines precipitously. The first time you hear a song you love is way more powerful than the thousandth time. Yet, so many creative business owners try to get paid for the value of the first time after they perform the song for the thousandth time. Here is how that works: Your creative business charges a fee that is randomly collected and not tied to any value marker – say fifty percent down, fifty percent two weeks before delivery or some other permutation of randomness. Shocker of shockers clients do not enjoy the process of creation and production as they should because you made it all about the end. They do not want to pay for the road map when they are already (or almost) at their destination. Even if the road map and the journey there is what made the absolute value what it is.

The answer is simple: get paid for the value you deliver, when your creative business delivers it. The work is fundamental – you know the steps your creative business needs to take (and in what order) to create your best art. Write them down. Assign a dollar value to each one. If the steps can be batched, batch them (say the design process), add up the dollars and get paid when you are finished with the batch. Then move on to the next set until you are done. That is the secret sauce.

Each moment with your client matters. How much it matters is up to you and your creative business, not your client. If you are unwilling to do the work to demonstrate the value of the moment, why should your client care?  As every silly pop song will tell you, when the moment is gone, it is gone. So get paid for today and tomorrow and leave yesterday alone.


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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Make One Change

February 1, 2017

We all have visions of a better self. Better art, better business, better clients. We imagine that we will do what it takes to get to wherever there is. Grand statements are thought about and sometimes even made. The shiny new website, social media platform, office, even a new graphic look can be enticing as […]

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Please Do Better

January 25, 2017

As I am sure it has with just about everyone reading this, politics and what is happening in America has consumed me and made me really contemplate what is to come. Some of you see positive in what is to come, others not. I am firmly in the other camp. Apart from standing up for […]

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Fancy Words And The New New Thing

December 21, 2016

I explained what delusion was to my nine-year old son today. On the way to school, I asked him to prove to me why the grass was actually green. My daughter says because everyone knows it is green. I said I do not believe what everyone says. My son says that the UV spectrum can […]

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What Comes Next?

November 28, 2016

I have been gone from the blog for a while and I am not sure why. Perhaps it is about what has happened in America’s politics or that other business matters took over. No matter the reason, I just felt like I needed to step away to consider what comes next. For me, for creative […]

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Behind The Scenes

October 20, 2016

We have all seen behind the scenes work by creative business owners. Countless videos, television shows, articles and even books of how a particular project comes together, be it an event, a home, a show or even a photograph. We, the audience, love to see what it takes to make “it” happen. Rarely, though, are […]

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