Ask The Right Questions

by seanlow on April 25, 2017

This is not school. The unasked question is not the only bad question. Worse, far worse, for creative businesses is asking the question that is designed to categorize a client rather than reveal more about what you and your creative business truly care about. Literally, your question shoots you, your art and your creative business in the head before the answer is ever given.

Need an example? A potential design client just bought a 5,000 s.f. vacation house on the beach for 5 million dollars (you looked it up on Zillow.com). Your first question is “What are you looking to spend on décor?” Not, “What Drew You To The House?” or even “What Drew You To My Work”. Now, for some clients, budget goes first, but for others, budget is relative. For those where budget is relative to the art you are providing, talking about budget first is alienating to say the least. Of course, budget matters, just not first, at least not for this client. By asking about budget first, you demonstrated a disconnect – you do not care about what the potential client does. Maybe you can overcome the disconnect, but I would bet heavily against it.

Some of you (okay, all of you) should have an eyebrow raised. Hidden in my example is the assumption that budget is a selector. If the potential client has a 1 million dollar budget, you will treat them differently than if they have, say, a $200,000 one. The budget question is designed to categorize the client, not be a reflection of the business you are actually running. Unless your mantra is bang for the buck, more for less, the question sucks. Here’s why.

Clients have to care about what you care about. They have to see value where you do, else you will never ever find success. The problem with asking sorting questions is that, by definition, it conveys that there is more than one category. Except for you, your art and this aspect of your creative business, for this client, there is only one category. Note I am not saying your creative business cannot have more than one area of business (i.e., high end and low end). What I am saying is that you cannot ask your client which language they would like to speak. Your language, how you will best communicate, is up to you, not them.

To be specific, if you are asking questions that exist to sort a client, stop. Instead, ask questions that affirm the values you know will drive the process that will, in turn, produce great art.  Please, please, please only speak the language that matters most to you, your art and your creative business.

You can tell me all day long that clients do not know what they want and so you have to try to “figure them out.” To which I have to say, build your business on the continued ignorance of your clientele at your own risk. Your clients may not be able to do what you do, but that does not make them stupid. They know the transformation they seek and it is up to you to confirm the transformation you provide, not redefine their sought-after transformation. Amplify is not redefinition by the way. The ideas is to ask questions that convey connection, to set expectation of what is to come, to allow creativity, your creativity, to flourish.

Here is another way to think about it. No conversation with a true artist starts as a mystery. However a client found their way to you and your creative business, they are drawn to you. Sometimes, they are drawn for the wrong reason (a topic for countless blog posts), but most often they are where they need to be. The goal of the questions you ask then has to be to tell them they have no other place to go. Or you can continue to try to put your clients in a box with your questions. Good luck with that.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Sam Jacobson April 26, 2017 at 8:01 pm

I like the idea of finding ways to connect on the first client meeting. I agree budget is a bad place to start. Perhaps the best place to start, based on your last couple of paragraphs, might be for the creative to ask, “What drew you to me?” and go from there. Seems really simple and meets all your points.

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