From Creative to Client and Back Again
What would happen if you decided to stop working in advertising or design and attempted to start a business of your own? How would it feel to sit on the other side of the table and ask for help selling your product? Would you know how to talk about what you need when everything is on the line and the wrong decisions could mean the loss of your life savings?
In the fall of 2013, I decided to find out when I started a winery. Like most passion projects, it began small. The year before I completed an internship, learned the ropes and saved up to buy one ton of Pinot Noir, brokered through my mentor. It was enough to make roughly 50 cases, or around 600 bottles.
During the 10 months that the wine was in barrel, I set out to create my brand. I decided on a name, bought URL’s and immediately started making things infinitely more complicated than they needed to be. I spun my wheels on a half-baked (or possibly over-baked) concept.
The problem wasn’t my team. It was me.
I realized after a bit that the idea was lacking because I had surrounded myself with some very talented illustrators that could turn coal into a diamond if given the chance. What I’m saying is, the problem wasn’t my team. It was me. Luckily, wine is a waiting game, so I had time to learn from my mistakes, work on a new concept, execute it and finally move forward.
What if my time was more compressed though? What if I needed to make decisions quicker and had even less experience with the process of creating a brand? Would I have crashed and burned…even with a good product?
I think this is where creatives can find empathy and inspiration. At its core, our work supports our client’s. What if that support could go deeper than just a deliverable though? What would we provide in a perfect world? Because of my experience as a small business owner, I think we could always give more of these four things to our client relationships:
Yes, people know more than they used to about design and advertising, and not just because they’ve watched Mad Men. Documentaries such as Art & Copy and Helvetica gave clients a glimpse into the reality of the creative studio. Instead of saying “this equips people with just enough information to be dangerous”, I think we should be using these interests as a springboard for even more education.
We all have our favorite books on our discipline. Some are basically text books. I say share them. Even if they don’t get read, they build trust because you’ve taken the time to say “I was informed by this and by extension you might want to be, too.” Not only will it lead to more fluent conversations, it will help you understand your client’s needs in a more meaningful way.
Grace & Council
Starting a business is not the same as creating a brand. There are mounds of red tape, paperwork and financial decisions to work through. It is not in any way creative. In fact, it is often times a total drag.
Starting a business is not the same as creating a brand.
This is why your clients may go from lively and micro-manage-y one meeting, to seemingly disinterested the next. The reality of these situations often goes from “happy to do something fun” to “I really wish that farmer took American Express. How am I going to pay this bill?” For creatives, these interactions require a certain amount of grace—a period of trying to understand and empathize with your clients day-to-day.
At the same time, it might be wise to consider being of council. If you feel like a client is coming in with an idea that might not launch, I think it’s ok to suggest a creative session to take that idea to its logical conclusion. Not only is it possible that a new idea will be sparked from this session, but it might save both of you time and frustration. As an added bonus, I believe it shows a certain amount of wisdom, and that you have your client’s best interests at heart.
More often than not, we tend to submit our work and run to the next client without giving much thought to the project we just finished. Before you start studying that new brief, for your client’s sake and yours, pour your drink of choice and toast to their success. And yours. Starting a business (and keeping it running) is the challenge of a lifetime, and being a part of that success is an honor.
Even if you aren’t starting a business, you’re a part of one. Try thinking like your client in that respect, and see what happens. Suddenly you’re a piece of the whole, striving for both parties’ success, and preparing for the next celebration.
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