To What End Gatekeeper?

by seanlow on September 13, 2018

This articleabout how a Maui venue, Haiku Mill, is redefining the fees and obligations it requires of its preferred photographers.  Photographers have to pay a fee to shoot there, keep the venue in the loop on all email conversations, get approval before posting images and include venue required shots in their shot list.  While this is about the event business, this post applies to all creative businesses.  Gatekeepers matter if those validating are worthy of the role and maintain their commitment to get narrower and narrower in supporting what matters about those they speak of.

The article talks about calling the strategy by Haiku Mill a commission by any other name.  Ok, I guess but the issue is so much bigger.  This venue is actually seeking to control the photographer and standardize the images that are produced there.  The venue is also trying to control the release of the images.  What is missing is the promise of the venue on the other side to promote the photographer and their work at the venue.  Go to the venue’s site and the only way you see credit to the photographer is if you click on the image to get to the venue’s Instagram page.  You will not see the preferred photographer list anywhere despite the fact that only preferred photographers can work there.

I just love every part of this discussion.

On the one hand, Haiku Mill is an iconic property where weddings are certainly high-end.  They have every right to control how the property is presented.  On the other hand, photographers having to pay to effectively market for the venue is a valid point, especially when the photographer themselves have an almost equivalent social media reach.  On the one hand, Haiku Mill is controlling the photographer by dictating shots and distribution.  On the other, they are creating a standard by which they are confident that the venue (and image) will be appropriately high-end.  And I could go on forever.

The point: for those who still have student loan debt or belong to any kind of club that you pay to be part of, you paid for the right to be associated with an organization that would have you, so that you can reap the rewards for being incorporated into such an association.  This is Duncan Hineseverywhere.

My specific issue with the article is that it does not point out what Duncan Hines and every other validator worth anything does: why do they belong on the list beyond their willingness to pay money and do what you say?  Do existing preferred photographers get to evaluate potential photographers?  What are the evaluation criteria?  If you want to run a TEDx conference, hereare the standards to which you need to adhere.  If you want to be a Leading Hotel of The World, hereis the standard you need to meet to even be considered.  And, yes, you have to pay TED and The Leading Hotels Of The World to be associated with their organization.

All of which to say, I have absolutely no problem with any venue charging a fee to vendors (it is a whole other conversation about the extent to which clients should be informed of these fees).  My problem is that the fees really mean nothing if there truly is no validation of “preferred” other than a willingness to meet the criteria of Haiku Mill.  What it says is that if you are willing to jump through hoops, you can play.  It says nothing about whether you are, in fact, good enough to play.  Assuming those who meet the criteria are good enough is the heart of the issue.

The answer is not to cry foul over Haiku Mill’s practices, but to encourage things to go further.  The proof would be in the pudding – if Jose Villawith his 366,000 instagram followers (vs. Haiku Mill’s 15,000) got hired to shoot a wedding at Haiku Mills but refused to meet the criteria set by Haiku Mill, are they really going to turn Jose and the wedding away?  If they do not, then all they are talking about is a sham and it really is just a vendor shakedown.  But if they do?  What would everyone say then?  The purity of a validator is what matters regardless of money exchanged.  That is what makes Harvard Harvard.

If we are to solve the age old commission problem, we have to redefine it.  The hidden money is a ruse.  The issue is who should have the right (obligation?) to set the standard and why?  We all seek validators when there is overwhelming choice or we are just plain scared about getting it wrong (or, in Duncan Hines’ case, dying from getting it wrong).  This is the very definition of most creative business — how to evaluate the artist asked to create on a client’s behalf?  If we start there, we can create a much more interesting and significant conversation.  To what end gatekeeper?


Compromise and Accommodation Are For Suckers

by seansblog-admin on September 6, 2018

Negotiate, be flexible, make the deal, do not let the client go. Or, better, these are friends, relatives, colleagues of your biggest client.  If you want to impress the real client, best to take care of these associations.

Amateur hour.

Why? Because amateurs have not done the work of understanding who they actually are as artists and creative business owners. Their story is a permutation of the same story every other amateur is telling:  I do pretty (and easy, stress-free, customer-service oriented, blah, blah, buh blah).  Professionals, on the other hand, know that on which they stand.  Professionals know who their art is for and, more importantly, who it is not.  Professionals align everything to signal to the right client that this is their home: price, process, budget.  Price is a reflection not just of value but relative scarcity — how many projects will it take to earn what is necessary. To the client, how big is their group matters more than just about anything.  Do you have the time to give me the attention I require?  Process is the idea that there is never a time you do not know where you have been, where you are and where you are going.  Oh, and why.  Budget is knowing that it can ALWAYS be done for less, just not by your creative business AND that it can ALWAYS be done for more, just not by your business.

If you can appreciate the foundation above, how exactly would you compromise that foundation and still expect it to be structurally sound?  Of course, you cannot.  That said, compromise is not flexibility.  Flexibility is like a slinky.  You can stretch it, twist it, smush a slinky.  It looks completely different each way you move it, however, it is the same toy.  So too with your creative business.  You can complete projects in record time or extended time, work at the top of your budget range or the bottom, this style or that, but the structure, the ribs of the slinky never change.  Bend or break a rib and you destroy the toy and your creative business.

All of which leads me to a situation I see all too often.  You have a fantastic client who values and appreciates everything about you, your art and your creative business.  An association of the client — relative, friend, colleague — shows up and trades on the relationship you have with your amazing client.  You assume (wrongly) that assisting these associations will serve your relationship with your amazing client.  So you go down the road of doing what you do not do in the name of supporting your client.  It almost never works out.

Unless associations are clients who, themselves, care and value what you and your creative business offer, they will never give you what you need to be remarkable for them.  Simply, they do not care about what you (and your amazing client) care about.  And because they do not care about what you do, they cannot appreciate what you built (ahem, you did not build it for them).  You will then be caught in the middle — trying to serve your amazing client through their association, which association is working with you because of the amazing client but is not, in fact, an amazing client.  A disaster waiting to happen since you will likely fail with the association and alienate your amazing client because of that failure, all in spite of the fact that you were doing what you were to impress them.  Complete backfire.

The solution? Evaluate each client on their own merits.  If the potential client does not fit — budget, style, sophistication, etc. — then simply allow them to go and acknowledge that any anger that may come from your amazing client will quickly dissipate as they remember why THEY love you.  The frustration of failing their association, however, will linger for a very long time.  Understand that not serving the association creates exactly zero risk that the amazing client will go to those that would.  And if they would, a) they were not so amazing to begin with; and/or b) they will be back when they realize how much THEY do not fit with the association’s selected creative business.

Being ever more true to you, your art and your creative business is its own reward.  Leave compromise and accommodation to the amateurs.


What You Need Really Matters

August 30, 2018

In my Business of Home column this week, I talked about when it might be time to call it a day.  On Facebook, there was a ton of conversation about how a baker decided to stop making wedding cakes because she just could not make a living doing it.  Unfortunately, she took down her post describing […]

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Expanding Your Creative Business

August 23, 2018

Before we jump into the conversation about expansion, let us first define some terms.  Expansion as we are going to talk about here is going into another line of business, hopefully based on your current line of business — a wedding planner doing day of coordination, an interior designer doing styling.  An entirely other conversation […]

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Managing Production

August 16, 2018

Here we are in the dog days of summer and out comes the, well, outliers.  People behaving badly, meaning those clients who look for cracks, find them and turn on the jackhammer. Whether it is a client refusing or just plain ignoring the necessity of having to make decisions to move your design process along […]

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To What End?

July 26, 2018

Seth Godin had a great post on Wednesday about the power of productivity talking about business/busyness.  It really is a conversation about intention.  Are you able to move towards the goal you set out for yourself with singular purpose?  Yes, I am a powerCapricornso this everything to me.  However, even if moving towards an intended goal […]

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July 18, 2018

Change sucks.  The only reason to ever change anything in your creative business (or your life for that matter) is if the (potential) benefit outweighs the pain you will have to go through to get there. The part to remember is that there is never change without pain.  Necessarily you will be giving up something […]

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Pricing In The Luxury, Power Luxury, And Ultra Luxury Market

July 12, 2018

All luxury is not the same.  We as creative businesses need to better at saying what area of luxury we inhabit.  There are three categories that come to mind: luxury, power luxury and ultra luxury.  Each of these markets demand a different business model to reflect the needs of the clientele who inhabit each level. […]

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DNA of Pricing For Creative Business

July 5, 2018

With all of the noise out there about how to make money in creative business, charging what you are worth strategies (well, really tactics but is there really a difference ?:( ) and everyone out there with an opinion on the “right” way to do things business wise, we need to take a moment to […]

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June 28, 2018

The coming recession. All things Trump.  Unyielding competition. Slowing business.   Upheavals in the industry. All of it, intentional or not, is meant to strike fear in your creative business.  Meant to cause you to act from a place of temerity and over-inclusion to avoid the perils of being left out of the bomb shelter when […]

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