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.

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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“Stepping back from the day-to-day business activity refreshes your brain, offers fresh perspectives and opens your mind to new ideas and creativity.”

Last month I had the honor of leading a four day team-building retreat for one of my favorite clients - the team at Enrich Creative in St. Louis, Missouri. We rented a gorgeous house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and in a span of four days we dove deep into improving their creativity, leadership, communication skills, marketing and business development. It was a poweful experience for us all. 

Gretchen Schisla, the firm's principal, reflected on the experience in her monthly newsletter. I thought Gretchen captured a lot of important ideas on the value of having a company retreat and gave some great tips on how to prepare for your own company retreat.

Thank you Gretchen for the insights!


Retreats are good for business
by Gretchen Schisla 

Corporate retreats are considered by some to be an unnecessary expense or event, but in reality, they offer huge benefits. A well-planned retreat presents a company with precious time to strengthen the business core, while allowing employees the time to reflect and build their best personal selves. Many have found these events to be life-changing.

“Retreats help us to break away from the mechanical life and move into a space that helps to discover and reestablish oneself to grow mentally. It releases one’s limitations, fears and takes us to a world of new possibilities.” This quote from Retreat Network reinforces what I believe — a retreat not only acts as a catalyst to propel a company forward, it also reinvigorates individuals on a personal level.

Last month, our Enrich team headed to Santa Fe for a 4-day retreat. While 2014 had been an exciting, action-packed and productive year for us, I realized that we had spent very little time connecting, reflecting and setting the tone for what’s next in our business. In addition, I wanted to dedicate time to rediscovering what’s important to each of us — in both our personal and our professional, Enrich lives.

If your company is on the smaller side like ours, a retreat can be especially advantageous. Stepping back from the day-to-day business activity refreshes your brain, offers fresh perspectives and opens your mind to new ideas and creativity. It communicates to each person in the firm that they are not only valued, but acknowledges through actions that they’re a key part of what makes the company thrive. Company leaders claim that they support happy, healthy employees, but how often do they 'walk the talk' by creating this type of experience for them?

One month after our Santa Fe retreat, we’ve put much of what we’ve learned into action. The retreat has had such a powerful impact that I’m already setting a budget for our next retreat in 2016!

Here are my recommendations for hosting an awesome business retreat:

  • Choose a well-planned destination. The location should be one that everyone can get excited about and view as an escape. Remember, the idea of a retreat is to leave the office behind, so turning off technology is a must.
  • Select a facility that’s special. Retreat centers or larger, VRBO homes with enough sleeping accommodations, ample space and common areas can offer the perfect setting.
  • Hire a coach or facilitator that knows your team. If you choose to work with someone new, Skype with them beforehand so everyone can introduce themselves and establish a baseline relationship.
  • Evaluate what topics you really need to cover most, and create a supporting agenda. Before you leave, share the agenda with the team, so no one’s left in the dark. This will give everyone an opportunity to agree on the topics and offer their input.
  • Make time for relaxation. Once at the location, plan to begin with an activity that allows everyone to ease into the situation and let their guard down. Indulge in a massage, take a walk in nature, or participate in yoga or meditation to set the tone of slowing down. Make sure you factor downtime into the schedule throughout the event.
  • Stick to the planned agenda and schedule. While new things may come up, don’t wander too far off the schedule — so you can get the maximum value from this time and touch on all the points you wanted your team to cover.
  • Share meals, and if time permits, prepare a meal together. This allows time for the team to reconnect and check in with one another. Nothing is more powerful than a shared meal.
  • Encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone. Two of our designers were handed a mystery box of ingredients and given a one hour timeframe to create lunch for the team. They enjoyed the challenge, and while they cooked, the rest of the group maximized time by meeting on an alternate topic.
  • Learn new tools and practice them, both during the retreat and afterward. With the help of our facilitator, we focused on leadership, enneagram personality styles, crucial conversations and blind spots, all of which have helped us to become more aware and effective in our jobs.
  • Commit to putting things learned into action, once you’re back in the office. As with conferences, we get inspired, but once back, we lose the fire and commitment to create change. Make an agreement among the group that this won’t happen when everyone returns to the daily grind. Create the space to follow up and revisit what you’ve learned.

Here are some takeaways from the Enrich retreat:

Gretchen: In setting up the retreat, I had a combination of business agenda items and internal areas to focus on – to help strengthen our company core. The result included a tight focus on who we are as a firm, where we want to go, and how we can serve clients better in 2015. We’re a tight group that really supports each individual's contribution. The retreat gave us a chance to celebrate this, it gives me great satisfaction to demonstrate to each person how important they are.

Suzanne: One of the most impactful parts of our retreat was the study of our enneagram personality styles. Prior to the event, we had been asked to complete a short questionnaire, which was then analyzed by our coach. Understanding how I operate internally and how I interact with those around me, especially my co-workers and prospects, is an invaluable tool. It will allow me to become a more effective communicator within my team.

Kory: When you work for a small company, you really do become a family. The retreat not only strengthened this bond, but helped us improve it. The fact that we had dedicated time to reconnect, recharge and focus only on ourselves, was such a powerful thing. Learning about each of our personalities was also key. Such insight not only helps your relationship with your team, it also helps you become a better communicator with your clients.

Bruce: There were many powerful things that I took away from the retreat. The retreat allowed us time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the coming months. We wrapped up the event with a creative activity that gave each of us the opportunity to intuitively collage, while thinking about a theme to guide us through the upcoming year. The collage sits on my desk and is a constant reminder of what I took away from the retreat and what I want to my year to look like.

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The invisible bubble that keeps you safe (and limits your potential)

Every moment of every day, whether you realise it or not, you are surrounded by an invisible bubble.

The bubble protects you from the world outside. It keeps you safe. It helps you cope with reality, maintain a sense of normality, and manage your day-to-day business.

And it limits your potential.

The bubble is created by your beliefs - your ideas about yourself, about the world, and about reality. Many of these beliefs are useful and harmless. But some of them are misguided and limiting.

Limiting beliefs are with you at all times. But because they are so close and familiar, you don't even see them. You have forgotten they exist.

Only when you see your limiting beliefs can you truly wake up and be motivated to make a change. A wonderful thing happens when you ‘pop the bubble’ of your beliefs. You see things as they really are. Possibilities open up. You trust and take new action. You grow.

I've met people who have been victims of their own beliefs for years. They've been stuck in one place in their career and the fear of failing or not knowing what to do next keeps them from taking a risk and making a change. Generally, the sooner a person sees their limiting beliefs and starts to think differently, the better chance they have to get what they really want in life.

But just because you see your limiting beliefs and start thinking differently it doesn't mean that change and transformation will happen quickly. Each of us has a lifetime of limiting beliefs to unload and that process will take time. I promise you.

People hire me to coach them and what mainly happens in our process together is that we ‘pop’ the bubble many times, until limiting beliefs and fears disappear. Instead, they become inspired and motivated people who live their lives coming from love.

When I coach someone, a very special bond develops between us. Because we spend so many hours in deep conversation, it's sometimes hard to see immediate results as we're still inside the process.

But once in a while, at very special moments, I get to watch a person's life transform and feel the pride and joy in doing what I do. That's a big part of why I love to coach. I love the ability to wake a person up, show them their own limiting beliefs and guide them towards living a life filled with love and integrity.

One such person is Rochelle Seltzer, a powerful woman I’ve coached for a few years now.  I want to tell you why you need to know about her.

I met Rochelle while presenting a weekend seminar to a group of creative agency owners in Boston back in 2009. At the time Rochelle had been running a medium size design firm for many years. I remember how engaged Rochelle was during that workshop and how excited she was to learn from me.

Soon after that weekend, she hired me as her coach to help her grow her agency. What she didn't realize was that she hired me to help her grow herself.    

Rochelle's own limiting beliefs were getting in the way of her growth. She wasn't motivated to grow her design firm much and was feeling pretty burnt out. Her heart wasn't in it anymore. She was clueless to what she could become outside of being a designer.  She felt stuck.

It wasn't until Rochelle let go of her old beliefs and started believing in herself and her creativity that transformation started to happen.

After about a year of coaching, Rochelle decided to sell her firm and follow her heart to discover who she wanted to become. She gracefully said farewell to a career as a designer and creative agency owner, and became a student again. She slowed down her life enough to be able to listen to what her heart truly wanted. And she fell in love with coaching - and trained as a coach herself.

Today Rochelle is in a whole new place. A bigger place. A place where she is working in concert with her mind and heart. A coach and creative healer with special talents and gifts that serves our creative industry in a whole new way.

I have tremendous respect for Rochelle, for following her heart and going through the rough parts to get to where she is today. I am sure she will agree that her journey of transforming wasn't always easy, but was well worth the hard work.

This is a proud moment for a coach. A moment where I get to witness an evolution, a healing of a person, and to celebrate their contribution to the world. I'm humbled at the power of coaching and want to celebrate it with you too. I invite you to take a few minutes and visit Rochelle's website, read some of her articles and do some of the creative exercises she created for you.  

How to identify (and change) your limiting beliefs

There’s a very good chance you’ve created a limiting belief that is stopping you from doing what you think you can’t. But how can you detect that invisible bubble?

Your self awareness is key. Start listening to yourself talk, and notice where in your life you find yourself saying “I can’t…” or “I don’t know how…”

The more you catch yourself saying “I can’t”, the more you can start seeing the bubble you’ve created. And when that happens, challenge the thought.

Ask yourself: “Really? Says who?”

You may be surprised at the insight that comes up in that moment.

If you start doing the things you think believe you ‘can’t’ do and stop doing the things you believe you ‘should’ do you’ll start experiencing life on a whole new level.

What beliefs have YOU overcome?

Have you ever become aware of a limiting belief and let go of it?

What happened? What did you learn?

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Getting clients vs. enrolling clients

Getting clients will only get you more projects but enrolling clients will create programs that lead your clients to places only you can take them.

Most marketing and sales programs will teach you how to "get" clients. That's what every business owner wants, isn't it? Without clients you have no business.  A successful business requires that your attention always stays focused on "getting" the next client.  Right?

But "getting” clients feels like fishing from a leaky boat. It is very unpredictable. You cast your net hoping to catch a client while praying that the client you catch is actually a healthy one.  Meanwhile the bottom of your boat is filling with water.

I meet many agency owners who continually cut bait and cast lines desperately trying to "get" a client. Some even give their work away just to prove they are worthy to do the work. Proposals become auditions and RFPs feel like the next request for a dog and pony show.

No one wants to work like this.  And no client wants to be "caught" either.  Healthy clients want to be led, guided and served. So rather than trying to "get" your next clients, change your mindset.  Look for clients who you can enroll in working with you.

When you enroll a client the relationship shifts immediately to positioning YOU as the expert.  You become the attractive commodity the client needs, not vice versa. Your client’s thinking shifts from hiring you to engaging with you. You call the shots of how much it costs to work with you, what the results will look like and how long it takes to do your work. In other words, you get to truly lead.

The idea of "getting" anything comes from fear-based business thinking that, sadly, is rampant in our creative industry. Fear stops us from truly leading and is ultimately the core of all our business development problems. Fear based thinking is not only destructive; it’s contagious. Not only do we manufacture it ourselves, but we can catch it from others. Just attend any design conference and you can sense the fear in the room.

Getting clients is a reactive approach and reactive thinking is the hallmark of fear mode. If you are "getting” clients you have to persuade them that you are the best choice for the job and often times you have to compete for the work. Your marketing becomes reactive, desperate, and unfocused.

Fear-based sales and marketing is what most creative people know and it is the chief reason that business owners hate selling and avoid marketing. When you "get" a client, you are positioned as a vendor, someone who can be replaced at any given moment. Your fear of being replaced then causes you to work in people-pleasing mode leading to stupid decisions that ultimately cost you more than you bargained for.

So how do we get out of fear?  Fear is simply the absence of love. When you love your business, love your clients and love yourself you work from a totally different, love-based, approach to your business development and leadership. Your sales and marketing stops being about you, your accomplishments and your awards and starts being all about serving your clients and transforming their world.

 When you create programs for your clients to enroll in you become one of a kind. You show up as someone with unique expertise and a whole new playing ground for you to lead your clients into. You now have something different to offer, something unique and valuable. And oh, yeah, you also have the wherewithal to charge a lot more for your work.

Enrolling clients becomes an invitation not an audition.  Now, what you sell is not simply the outcome of your work but the experience of working with you and your unique point of view.

It's a simple distinction to remember: "getting" comes from fear; "enrolling" comes from love. Projects become programs and clients become your followers.  Bring more love into your business and create the next big program for your clients to enroll in. 


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