The Distance Yet To Go

by seanlow on November 14, 2018

We only have $25,000 for our project, will that work?  So sorry, no, to do what you are asking would be at least ten times that. Oh ok, let’s do it.  In the end, they spent $850,000.  High fives and smiles all around.

When anyone asks me what is wrong with creative business today, this is it. There is an unknowing, trusting client on one side and a hungry creative on the other.  Trust is manipulated, preyed upon so that the desire for the emotional return overwhelms the benchmarks set to get the process going. Here is the thing —a $250,000 project is NOT an $850,000 project and to convince anyone that they can get what THEY want for $250,000 when what they want is $850,000 is criminal.  Maybe not in the legal sense, but in the business sense. And no it is does not matter how awesome it all turned out.  The relationship was built on a lie and deception.

If only this isolated to one creative industry or a few bad apples in each industry, then we would be able to say so sorry for the bad actors.  Nope.  Literally, I see it celebrated just about everywhere I go.  The client did not really know what they wanted so I gave them what they wanted and they went for it. The reality though is that you promised them one thing but sold them another.

The counter is that the client does not know what they want and if you told them the real number they would go to someone else and you would never get to convince them of the value of you, your art and your creative business.  Better to get them in the door and then work on the budget.

So you lie because you know someone else will if you do not.  Oh how far we have to go.

Owning your own power, the integrity of what you do and what matters to you is priority number one. The manifestation is to know what you are selling and to stand firm in that light.  Anybody that will trust you with their profound hope for transformation, the deep desire to express themselves as the best they imagine themselves to be, deserves to know what that will cost — within a 10-15% range of the number you quote.

Here is where the rubber hits the road.  If you say $250,000, you cannot show anything that would make the total production cost more than $287,500.  If this underwhelms your client, then that is your own fault.  You get paid to know what your client does not and you do not get to be manipulative with that power imbalance.

We can, as creatives in our respective industries, demand better of ourselves.  We can shun those who would be unwilling to own their space and see the opportunity in candid conversations upfront with our clients. And when a creative business owner celebrates his bait and switch, we can call him on it instead of applauding it.

It is time to stop apologizing for who we are and what we do.  Pride of authorship is owning the cost of authorship.  The tools available to artists and clients alike warrant the conversation. Integrity will demand it.  The future awaits if only we shun those who refuse to move forward.  Hold trust as sacrosanct and the rest will take care of itself.


The Stories We Tell

by seansblog-admin on November 8, 2018

In many areas of our lives, we make decisions based on emotion, tribalism, community and intuition, anything other than logic. Often, we make illogical, irrational, counterintuitive decisions because we are, well, human.

63% of North Dakotans voted for Donald Trump. North Dakota is solidly Republican. Yet, because of his trade policy (war?) with China, North Dakota’s soybean farmers have been decimated (one of North Dakota’s principal sources of revenue). Some may lose their businesses because of the President’s decision. In the next presidential election, will these North Dakotans vote Republican? A pretty sure bet.

Is your iPhone the most advanced out there? Arguably not. Yet, you will buy it anyway because you believe in Apple.

Switch to creative business and somehow the emotion switch gets inverted. We talk about budgets, affording, costs with clients all the time, as if that is how decisions get made.  We talk about value in an absolute sense: “buy this because it is better. Here let me prove it to you.” Then we are shocked, shocked, when the client says, “how come we can’t have this one? It looks close enough and is half the price?” Then you proceed to try to defend it logically as if the client cares — you talk about quality of construction, service, etc. of the production partner.   What you do not do is simply say that this is the right one for the project, the one you care most about, the one that works.

In no way am I suggesting that you sell anything other than what you completely believe in.  The emperor’s new clothes belongs to snake-oil salesmen and the like. What I am suggesting is that relationship, trust and conviction matter as much, if not more than logic when it comes to the business of creativity.

So then how will you spend your time? Will you be working to create rational solutions to irrational problems or will you be focusing on reshaping how you define value? Will you appreciate that words matter, characterizations matter even more.

Stop and think about it. Every dollar your client spends on your projects is discretionary. Talking about what they can afford is an insult. They have the funds, it is just whether they choose to spend them on you, your art and your creative business or not. Same thing with budget and cost.  Simply because a return cannot be measured rationally does not mean it does not exist.  Emotional return is a real as financial. And yet no designer I know of works in that vernacular.

Other consultants loathe talking about investment and focus on price and cost as determinative of value. Stone age tools in a digital economy.  Good luck with that.

The buzzword of the day for all creative businesses is being properly paid for their work, to unlock and receive adequate, sustainable payment for the effort undertaken. Hmm, perhaps redefining how to calculate and discuss value would be the place to start. Instead, we see an effort to standardize, marginalize, normalize. This is the last bastion of an age gone by.  Zombies are zombies for a reason.

Instead, ask your clients to appreciate that true value is a feeling, a desire to be transformed a deep investment in the transformation. The goal is to make trust real, to embrace the future as illogical and manifestly hopeful, even spiritual.  The clarity of story is not its logic, its perfection, its defensibility, it is the ability to move the recipient, to compel investment in its power. Do you know how to sweep your clients up into the ephemeral, electric that is your journey? To demonstrably prove that emotional return is far greater than rational?  Or will you stand tall convinced that if you define why you do what do, facts will win out?

Today, faith and courage of conviction is the foundation for success. Start there.

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