I like talking about 15 years ago. Why? Because the creative business icons we look up to today, for the most part, hit their stride (or made their first big splash) right around then. Whatever creative business you are in, just think of who you adore and admire and, in all likelihood, they were busy building their businesses fifteen years ago. The lessons they learned then are what they share with us today. Understanding how those that have come before and blazed the trail did what they did is invaluable and, often, timeless. Principles of integrity, artistry, vision and unyielding desire to share their gift with the world should be in the very fabric of every creative business and branded into the psyche of its owner. No matter where the world evolves to, these principles, nee ethos, will never waver. However, the world has indeed evolved in the last fifteen years and in particular the last ten. Seismic shifts have happened literally under the feet of almost every creative business I can think of. The response has been, well, a response, trying to shoehorn new technology into the old model. Such is the inertia of change. But in the paradigm shift, the old model is, at best, limited in the growth it offers and inevitably unsustainable. Better to create a new model that is a deep reflection of the world as it now is.
Here is what I am talking about. Think about how you as a consumer would compare musical acts, photographers, any kind of designer, florists, etc. fifteen years ago. If you were lucky enough to live in a major urban area, you could spend the day visiting each and seeing what they could do. If not, these artists could mail you a DVD (remember, not everyone’s computer could read DVDs in 1997) or a portfolio for you to look at. Clearly, if you were going to do a lot of research, it was going to take a long time and a lot of effort. The result was a somewhat closed circle where those in the position to refer you had tremendous power as did the size and breadth of your portfolio. There was a premium on working. The more you were seen, the more you were likely to be seen. So no wonder the focus was on the product and not the process. Clients drew comfort from the portfolio and had to trust that they would be similarly pleased. Clients knew how expensive a presentation was and did not expect much beyond a rudimentary understanding of what they were going to get. Not shocking that the world was a “trust me” world, 50% deposits and all.
Fast forward to today. The same comparison that was virtually impossible fifteen years ago, takes fifteen minutes today. Thank you Google. Not only does everyone have a website, blog, etc., your work is online almost instantly thanks to Facebook, Twitter, etc. Try as you might, you cannot control your portfolio. Clients often know as much about your recent work as your employees do. So now how powerful are the gatekeepers? And how about just working to be out there? Do you really want to just be out there with sub-par work (i.e., working for too low a budget or for the wrong client)? With the virtual sea of work out there for consumers to evaluate, how are they to know how much better (or different) your art is to your competitors. Especially if you are all about the end-product? Even if your work, to use a technical term, sucks, technology can make it suck a lot less. Pretty pictures that were once the lifeblood of creative business are now but a mere baseline. Still want to have a “trust me” business?
What is more, your clients know the cost of presentation is approaching zero and what is certain to follow is the expectation that you show (i.e., awe them) with your creativity before you deliver the final product. The spotlight has shifted to design as apart from the result of design (i.e., products) because technology has made it inevitable.
While some icons understand the paradigm shift and relish in the idea of living in (and getting paid for design), others less so. And why should they? At a certain point, their base became so broad and their work so good, they can get away with it. But you cannot and copying their model is a sure way to oblivion. Instead, see that the spotlight has shifted and know that the premium is now on your ideas above and beyond all else. (Re)construct your creative business to get paid for those ideas specifically. Live in the paradigm shift. Relish it for what it affords you: the opportunity to get paid for your vision and see just how far that vision can go with your clients. Or you can choose to believe that the inertia to change is permanent right up until it is too late to do anything about it.