One of the core purposes of your business is to help your clients. The way you help will determine your culture, your relationships and the future of your company. Creative people are generally giving people. But sometimes the generosity can become a trap. This month I address the helping energy inherent in a creative business and the kind of structure that needs to be in place so that the helping becomes effective for both you and your clients.
This issue also features "Session Mentoring Notes" - a visual narrative created by David Michael Moore, one of my mentoring clients, who took what he learned in a coaching session and illustrated it in a fun and creative way. David also agreed to share a recording of part of a coaching session that inspired this illustration. Now that is fearless! Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading!
Love to you,
It was 7:00 pm and I was at my office catching up on a few things. The staff had all gone home and I was enjoying a few moments of solitude. The phone rang and the caller ID displayed the name of a company I would love to work with but was not yet a client. I allowed the call to go to voice mail then listened, eagerly, to the message.
"This is Margaret Jefferson calling. I'm the senior marketing VP for (name of client withheld to protect the innocent). We are looking for an agency that specializes in creating ad campaigns to work on a cause-related national promotion we are running. You come highly recommended so please call me back to discuss a time we can meet".
My immediate reaction was to pick up the phone and call her right back. Ideal client. Ready to buy. Why wait?
Instead, I took a deep breath. I knew if I called back immediately I would send the wrong message about my availability. (That’s why I hadn’t picked up the phone in the first place).
I waited until after lunch the next day to call back. When we finally spoke we had a lovely conversation that led to a face-to-face meeting. But towards the end of the conversation Margaret asked a troubling question. "If we work together, how can I get a hold of you or your team after 7:00 pm?"
I wanted to work with her, but her question gave me pause. I answered, "We all go home at 6:00 pm so there would not be a way to reach us until the following morning. Our studio is very efficient so we manage to get everything done on time. There hasn't been a reason for us to work late on projects and we keep our working hours sacred.” It wasn’t what she wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to say: our time is valuable and we have a structure to how we use it.
In order to help your clients and serve them well your must have clear structures about HOW you help. Your best clients will be the ones who are willing to respect your rules and work together in a healthy partnership. Take a look at any philanthropic organization that gives money on a regular basis. They help but they structure their help. They have a clear mission and rules around how they help. If you want to be helped by that foundation, you must follow their rules. So do your clients.
We all want to help. We work in a service-based industry. Helping is what we do best. Unfortunately, a healthy desire to help can lead to an unhealthy compulsion to over-help, unless we’re clear about our limits. Generosity without boundaries, or generosity that comes from the wrong motivation can create a trap. When we give from a position of deprivation and fear instead of giving out of a sense of fullness we get in trouble.
The "helping energy" that is a natural part of any creative business needs to be managed in order to work effectively. Compare a firehose putting water on a fire to a firehose flopping around with no one holding it, or a firehose filled with holes. Creating containment structures around your helping energy will keep the energy flowing in the right directions at the right speed, instead of spinning off in ways that damage your clients, your business, or yourself. Ultimately, structured help will help you help your clients better.
Here are three examples where structured help can benefit your business. If you don't have a clear answer to the following questions create a structure around that area.
1. Hours of Help: What are your hours of operation? And are they clearly displayed on your website? You are a business. Businesses keep business hours. Get clear on when work starts and when it ends or your clients will decide for you. This important structure can save you lots of stress and filter out the crazy clients who may call at 10:00 pm.
In my business, I always insisted that we don't work overtime. There wasn't time for people to screw around too much during work hours so we got get very efficient and got a lot more done. And knowing that work had a clear ending time allowed us all to create a healthier work/life balance.
2. Share the Help: How do you empower your staff? What information do you give them? If things tend to bottleneck with you too often chances are you made powerless employees. If your employees are powerless, then they will insist that you make all the decisions. Empower your team to solve problems along the way. When your employees know you trust them they will grow in their skills and work satisfaction and free you to create bigger things in your business.
3. Help the Whole Person: How do you nurture and care for your staff? Studies show that people will stay in their jobs longer and be more loyal to companies that care and nurture them even if their paycheck isn't all they would like it to be. Create structures that show your employees that you care about their physical, mental and spiritual health. Create a wellness program for your company that will nurture and support the growth of your staff.
Remember Margaret Jefferson who called after 7:00 pm? Turned out she became one of our biggest client bringing over $280,000 in business in just one year. She wasn’t an easy client to work with but having a structure in place on how we help made things work. I'm glad we could help.
Every year I award one mentoring grant to a rising creative entrepreneur who is launching a business and seeking support and guidance along the way. This year, the grant went to David Michael Moore, a young designer from Chicago who attended a talk I gave last year at the HOW conference.
David and I have worked together for the past few months. We've had some powerful coaching sessions that inspired him to take fearless steps with his business. Being the talented illustrator that he is, David took some of the ideas we discussed in our sessions and created illustrated narrative posters to drive the message home.
Currently, David has launched his new creative business, Well Designed and is applying the things he learns in our sessions into his life. I’m proud to feature the first “Mentoring Session Notes”. David’s poster, Becoming a Fearless Creative Entrepreneur, came out of a conversation we had about fear. Watch this space as I will feature more of David's inspiring work in the future as he continues his fearless journey in growing his business.
David also agreed to share a recording of part of the mentoring session that inspired this poster. Listen to the mentoring session here (7:45 Minutes).