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.