The Happy Studio
We’re definitely not the biggest studio in town. But we’d really like to think we’re the happiest. Like all businesses, we make lots of decisions every day. It’s been that way from the start, but a couple of years ago we made a shift in our decision making process. We started to consider happiness rather than just earnings, and productivity.
We’ve decided to create a series of articles about how we factor happiness into our process. We’re calling the series “The Happy Studio,” and we hope you find it useful, or interesting (or both!)
Advice is a tricky thing
When you need advice there’s nobody to give it. When you don’t want it people are lining up to give it to you. This series isn’t about telling people how to live. We wouldn’t begin to know how to do that. Nor does it tell the story of the countless things we probably do wrong. This story is about some of the things we think we do right. Or better said, the decisions that have led to us being happier to come to work every day.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s dive in to our first article…
If you haven’t learned it, you better.
Ear-ache, over there. Broken arm, over there. You’re appendix burst? Right this way sir. Some days it seems like every client is having a coronary. You can’t fit a baseball through a garden hose, so you better find a way to prioritize your workflow and keep everyone happy.
First Thing’s First
We think a workflow crisis is usually the result of bad planning, and bad client training. You’ve said “yes” too many times, or you haven’t given accurate deadlines. Either way, you could have avoided it. We always try to keep a percentage of our schedule free for client emergencies. Additionally, we usually give clients time estimates 2-3 times longer than what it actually takes us to do it. It’s not lying, it’s just overestimating. No client has ever complained about having their project done early.
Clients need to know that good things take time. Even when you can get something done in an hour, -never promise it in an hour. (Talking about scheduling, not billable hours) It’s imperative that you account for occasional computer crashes, staff miscommunication, illness, and anything else that might come up. When a client is trained to expect a reasonable turn-around from you, they’ll adapt. You might think it won’t work, but it will. If you promise the moon, and deliver, they’ll expect it every single time, and rightly so. You’re setting an expectation for your brand. Make sure that its a sustainable one that you can deliver on. Then when you are forced to create a miracle, it won’t require divine intervention just to make it happen.
Customer Service Must Be Scalable
We want to run the kind of business that clients can depend on. We want every experience with our company to be a positive one. For us, that means we have to have less clients, and less projects. We want every client to have the studio equivalent of a spa treatment, and a lettuce salad. That perfect experience that feels good, and like you did something good for yourself as well. We’re not a cheeseburger with chocolate ice cream… Too much of a good thing means that you’re either lying to your clients, cutting corners, burning out your staff, or charging too little. Either way, it’s unsustainable.
Respond Fast, But Do the Work In Order
Just because you’re too busy to do the work doesn’t mean that you can’t reply to the email. The client needs to know that the work has a place in your flow, even if it’s not that minute. Be succinct, and as accurately as possible tell them a time they can expect the work to be completed. Your speedy response to the request will let them know you’re on top of it, whether you’re doing it right that minute or not.
Ask For Deliverables Before Starting
One of the biggest changes in our business happened when we started asking for deliverables up front. It’s a simple thing, and it’s amazing that we didn’t do it sooner. Time and again, we would start working with the few items we had, just so we could get a start on things. Inevitably, once we had all of the deliverables, the project changed so unavoidably that we had to rework a significant portion of it. It fouled up our scheduling, our attitudes, and our client relationships. Just because we weren’t assertive enough to say what we needed before we would start the project.
Use Cost as a Throttle
You have a very simple throttle control for your business. Price. If you’re getting too busy, raise your prices on the next few proposals. If you lose them, you’re still plenty busy with the work you already had. If you get them, maybe you can eliminate some of your less profitable clients. Being busy means you have flexibility to test the market. You should always be looking for your perfect price that lets you keep the right amount of work on your plate. If you’re too high, you’ll go broke. If you’re too low you’ll drown.