At The Margin

by seanlow on 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.  Plod along and we will keep on using our paper planners and Excel spreadsheets because, hey, they work.

Here’s the thing:  you have to put aside your bias about how you see the world and get down to fundamentals. The concept of margin is all that matters.  Margin is the incremental value (cost/revenue) of the next project and/or opportunity.  In economics speak, if marginal revenue is greater than marginal cost you should do the project.  If not, you should not.  This works for all businesses.  Our world of creative business, however, has a special twist.  Margin has to include brand equity and opportunity cost.  The twist exists because most projects last a long time and have implications beyond the project both during and after the project.

Let’s boil it down.  If you have booked several projects for 2018 already but feel like you are shifting or that you would like to shift, then taking the next project as you have the ones before means that you have ignored opportunity costs and/or real costs associated with doing business you no longer want to do.  Likewise, the revenue you are going to receive for the next project you book in the context of margin is not enough relative to the revenue/workload you already have.

I know I know, but what if business does not materialize, if the great client never calls, a bird in the hand is a bird in the hand.  Worldview, not margin.  Math does not care about your fear.  Margin lets you evaluate where you are today in the context of what has come before and what you would like tomorrow to look like.  It also makes you think beyond the fact that you have a client willing to say yes to you and your creative business.  Yes can only work if it is on your terms.  Margin defines the terms.

Does this mean there can be dry spell?  Watching real money, real projects leave?  Of course.  Who said margin was easy?  I only said it did not have emotion.  Reality always does.  Then again, reality is based on your worldview, margin is not.  Having the discipline to look at what each project will mean to you and your creative business keeps you on the straight and narrow.  Why? A series of effective micro decisions  almost always adds up to a powerful macro impact.

Here’s what I would love to have see happen: Appreciate and understand how margin works when you are looking at the next opportunity in front of you.  Will this project fit into where your creative business is just now?  Where you want to take it?  Will your client get your best?

The moment matters and the best way to appreciate the moment is to evaluate it as it is, with its own value and expense.  Each moment is different and means something different.  This is the concept of margin.  And the more you learn to love it, the more it will love you back.

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The 21 Day Challenge

by seanlow on September 25, 2017

So much has been written about changing habits, developing good habits, mapping out how you are going to sustain good habits.. The entire self-help industry is built on the notion that change comes from intention, intention to habitual practice, practice to success. Some people tip toe in, I will cut back to 2 hours of Netflix binging a day; others go further – I am going Amish.  No comment on what works for you personally. However, for your creative business, change has to be much more radical. Two reasons.

Incremental change – like raising your prices just a little bit or shrinking your packages from five to three only serve to raise up your competition. Incremental change can almost never be justified as intention to serve your client better. It almost always looks like a money grab, or worse, a reaction to an unfortunate situation (i.e., a nightmare client). Incremental change is based on a desire to prevent history from repeating itself and not on what the future ought to look like. Big difference. So your competition almost always gets to say, “She is only doing this because….” And the “because” is the start of a dig – too busy, too big, too too, with they, the competition, being the rose who is not too too.

If you are really going to grow, really going to evolve, you have to leap into the abyss. Leaping into the abyss means doing the things you are terrified of – not knowing if what you are about to do is at all possible.

If you charge ten but need to charge twenty, you cannot inch to twenty, you have to do it today so that you can get to the business of why twenty is the right number. If you are not throwing up in your mouth a little when the outrageous comes out, you are doing it wrong.

The thing is though that you cannot leap with everything at once, be radical everywhere. Going from Luddite to all things tech. Ironically, upending everything (or way too much at once) is your excuse to make no change at all because a complete overhaul is impossible to sustain. Baby out with the bathwater and you will inevitably go back to what was.  With no thought of an oxymoron, the goal is to be comfortably radical in the notion that there will incrementally radical positions to take. Translation: jump into the abyss with the knowledge that you will be making another jump into another abyss tomorrow.

For some of you, living to your design statement, why you do what you do when you do it, will be enough. For others, it will be about pricing and timing of payments. Others will be about communication and decision-making. It makes not difference what the abyss looks like so long as your stare into it and leap.

My challenge for you and your creative business is to find the one aspect of your creative business that you are most scared of, the one that needs the most attention and evolution. Imagine what the evolved state looks like without any sort of filter. I want to charge a $50,000 design fee. I will not work on projects that do not have a budget of at least $250,000. Now live there for 21 days. Face the fears, doubts and fumbling that comes along with being desperately uncomfortable.

On the twenty-second day, choose your next challenge. And like the Golden Gate bridge painters, you are never done. Once you think you have met every challenge, it will be time to start again since your very first challenge will likely be stale at that point.

The point of the exercise is to live in the notion that being radically different from where you are today IS your future. Refusing to be bound by the limits you have allowed to constrain your creative business with is itself freedom. Doing it all at once though is a certain exercise in futility.

If the challenge is something you are up for, please find support to help you through the process. This means those who are willing to support your efforts into the unknown. What it does not mean is to surround yourself with those who secretly (or not so secretly) are rooting for you to fall down, either because they can say “I told you so”, be there to pick you back up or, worst, show you the “right” way. You are going to fall down. This will be uncomfortable until it is not. Find those that keep you in your discomfort until YOU see your way through it. Of course, this is what The BBC Collective is all about and please join us if this is the kind of support you need for the evolution of your Event or Interior creative business (separate groups). However, regardless of whether you join or not, do not deprive yourself of having the voice of your creative business heard. Find the support you need and take the challenge.  The world needs the best version of your art and creative business, now more than ever.

One caveat: if you accept the challenge, please live it. Stick with it and do not mark time until you get to undo it. Twenty-one real days. My promise to you is that you will find satisfaction in the effort no matter the result. Why?

The voice of your creative business (as opposed to your creativity) is heard when you are willing to be radically authentic; to say and do things ONLY because they are what is best for you, your art and your creative business. When you tap into this eternal truth about your art and your creative business, stripped to its essential nature, you will discover its power.  This is the power your clients yearn for you to have so that they can, in some small (or not so small) way, take a piece of for themselves through your art and your creativity.  And we are all transformed in the process.  What can be better than that?

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The Five Things That Go Right

September 19, 2017

So we are now on the cusp of everyone being back in full swing post-Labor Day. Busyness awaits. The question is, how are you going to take everything you might have been working on — process, pricing, storytelling, client management, cross-industry work – and put it into practice? And after you use the tools, how […]

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Dealing With Business Upheaval — Irma and Harvey

September 14, 2017

Here is a post I wrote back in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy in New York City. I resisted posting this post today for fear that it might be too soon. However, talking about what to do in the wake of a massive tragedy and business upheaval caused by things like Hurricane Harvery and Irma is […]

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Sunk Costs, Budget Plummet and Houston

September 1, 2017

Although it might not appear parallel, the unbelievably horrific events that happened in Houston and surrounds and reducing budget for a creative budget all center around a firm understanding of sunk costs. As every finance course will teach you, any investment analysis of a future project has to begin with ignoring sunk costs. Easy enough […]

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Owning Who You Are Today Is Everything

August 22, 2017

I was having a fascinating conversation with Maria Bayer last week. If you are in the wedding business and do not know Maria, you should. Her sales techniques are terrific as they are based on selling your intrinsic value as both an artist and creative business. Fantastic stuff. We were talking about The BBC Collective […]

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Foundational Pillars Under All Creative Businesses

August 2, 2017

It is August. Hopefully, time for a breather before a busy Fall is upon you and your creative business. While you are moving a little slower, perhaps it is a great time to reevaluate, perhaps even redefine your foundation as an artist and creative business. What follows is a discussion of the pillars of the […]

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Incremental Change Is An Oxymoron

July 25, 2017

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if you want to fix it, you have to break it. Every time I hear a creative business owner say that they are going to raise their prices ten or twenty percent a year and hope to make fifty percent or so more five years from now, […]

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Presentation

July 21, 2017

As a rule, I am underwhelmed by the presentation process most creative businesses undertake. The willingness to ask a client to invest sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Pinterest-type mood board and simple samples astounds me. Shame on any creative business for letting clients believe that this is, in any way, acceptable. We all need […]

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Interior Design Archetypes

July 12, 2017

As a consultant and overall student of creative business, it is my job to understand and develop archetypes for the types of creative businesses I work with. I have been incredibly fortunate to have consulted with a wide variety of creative businesses from many different industries, luxury event and interior design in particular. So I […]

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