Forget about your process

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If you think that your clients care about your process, or value you having a process, or if you think that displaying your process on your website will justify stronger positioning and lead to higher fees, think again. Your process is not a business development or a marketing tool.

Many design firms (and design firm owners for that matter) spend way too much time trying to define their process and then use that process as a business development tool or as part of their marketing. If you looked at ten agency websites and compared their process side by side you wouldn’t find too much difference in how they do what they do, but would find sophisticated words describing each part of their process. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that your process isn’t important. It is important and should be well defined. But your clients really don’t care about what your process is. Only you do. 

If I was going to eat at a high-end restaurant, famous for its chef-owner, do I care about his process? Not really. What I care about is how the food is going to taste once I bite into it. The chef can have the most defined process of all chefs but if his food doesn’t make me feel like I’m falling in love every time I bite into it—the process is pretty much meaningless. 

You are the famous chef of your agency. Your process is how you do what you do and your focus in getting clients to come through your doors is not to tell them how you cook but to let them taste your food. 

What does your client care about? Themselves and their success. The problem is that your clients generally don’t really know what to look for in a design agency so they sometimes will ask you to tell them about your process. Don’t fall for it. They really don’t care. If a client asking “what is your process?” they are really asking “tell me what my business will look like after we work together.” 

Your process is different for every one of your clients because every one of them is different. You’re not selling cookie cutter creativity, you are selling focused attention and guidance that is individually tailored to each of your clients. Don’t confuse your process with the stages of your work. The stages may be similar but your process isn’t.

When you meet with your prospect for that pitch meeting, don’t lead with your process. Lead with asking as many questions as you can so you can find out where your clients want to go. The more questions you ask, the more clarity you will gain on what process would work best for your client. Talk about results. Paint a picture to your client of what their business can look like after you’ve worked together. Get them excited and enrolled in working with you. 

Focus on the benefits and results of working with you, and you won’t need process to convince the client to make the decision to hire you. Show them what’s possible—and how your creative thinking can take them where they want to go.

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The most successful marketing tool my design firm ever had.

The year was 1993 and I was a young designer, eager to succeed and hungry to grow my design firm. But I was feeling stuck and scared.

It was painful to even flip through the pages of any graphic design annual. My self-critic would always kick in and all I would be thinking of is how much better everyone else’s work was than mine. By the time I put the magazine down, I felt frustrated knowing that I wasn’t marketing my firm well or creating any special self-promotion pieces that were winning me clients—or awards. That frustration led to shame. And the shame would stop me in my tracks.

In search of direction, I attended my first HOW Design Live conference, and I walked away with two very important insights: without marketing, my business had no serious future; secondly, the essence of marketing is to stay in conversation with your clients and prospects. 

I returned to my studio with a simple self-promotion idea that would become the pillar marketing piece for my company for the following 14 years. As my business was just starting, I didn’t have a budget to devote to marketing and there were a lot of people I wanted to stay connected to. So I had to get creative. I approached the local print shop that was printing most of my work (in those days printing was a major expense for every design firm) and convinced them to trade services to create a joint marketing piece we both could use. The printer jumped on the idea and we became each other’s marketing partners for years to come.

We created a calendar to send to our clients and prospects. But rather than send it all once, with the entire year bound together, we sent a single sheet each month, to create 12 points of communication instead of just one. It was important for me that the piece had value and that it wouldn’t end up in someone’s trash bin after they received it. So it had to be useful, it had to be beautiful and it had to be on time. I often used to joke that our calendar sheet was the only piece of art some of my corporate “suit” clients would have in their office.

The calendar was a hit with the people who received it—to the extent that they’d ring us if they missed a month, asking what had happened to it. The calendar was a true promo piece as it demonstrated what to expect from working with us: loyalty, consistency, expertise in marketing and our personal approach to developing business. It kept our clients and prospects connected and happy to hear from us.

There was a lot of love put into every single mailing, from the overall design to the handwritten addresses on every envelope to the love clients felt when they received it. This was definitely a “love-creation” piece.

The simplicity of this marketing piece and the intention in which it was sent supported an ongoing conversation with our clients and prospects. The calendar, which we mailed every month, was by far the most successful and cost-effective promotional piece our studio produced in a span of 18 years in business.

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