The Happy Studio – Do Great Work at All Costs.

You can stop reading this series of articles after this one if you like. It’s the single biggest item that can make your studio happier, and it outweighs all the others by tons. It’s also however despite being deceptively obvious, -the toughest thing to do. Do great work at all cost.

The important thing about graphic design is that it’s work made for hire. If we don’t please clients, we don’t get paid. This is how sayings like “the customer is always right” got started. It’s also how phrases like “can you make the logo bigger” got spray painted on the walls of the collective consciousness of our industry. We’re going to go out on a limb and tell you, -our clients are frequently wrong. If they knew everything about marketing and design, – they wouldn’t need us. We say “no” to them (carefully) quite often.

Every project you have is an opportunity to build an amazing portfolio. There is no better way to grow your business than sitting on top of a pile of work that people respect and admire. But just because your studio has great designers doesn’t mean that your work goes out the door looking great.

Imagine the worst client that haunts your dreams. The one that says people won’t scroll websites, won’t allow anything but black body copy, requires a huge logo, has bad taste in color, pattern, and concept. The kind of client who continually interjects themselves into the process, forgets, changes directions, and makes your life miserable. Now let’s pretend this client is your biggest client. The kind of client you absolutely can’t afford to lose at any cost. Let’s say that you cave on everything they ask with a smile, and an admirable “Yes Sir!” Of course the final work would come out looking like a mess. No awards, no referral work, -you would be ashamed to show it to anyone in your portfolio. All you got was the money the client paid you, and the pat on the back for constantly saying “yes.”

The next thing that happens is more hidden, but it happens none-the-less. The piece you just completed winds up in the hands of your clients’ potential customers. Of course it’s a mess, and they’re turned off by it. Instead of the hoped for sales increase, -the client gets a fat goose egg. Sales drop, advertising budgets drop, people in the marketing department lose their jobs, management decides to look for a new design studio to pull them out of the slump.

It’s an extreme example, – but hopefully an effective one. The results are usually not that concrete, but they are there. When you say “yes” to a bad idea, it’s not a mark in your favor for being amiable. It’s the first crack in the already fragile wall of why your client hired you in the first place. To make them money, to make them look great, and to do it cost effectively. Despite what it feels like in some meetings, clients do not hire you to stroke their ego. It just never pays to do anything less than your best work…

Here are a few of the little gems we’ve learned over the years to keep things on track:

  • Show your clients examples of other companies who have succeeded by following the course you recommend. If you haven’t written books on marketing, and don’t have your name on a Madison Ave. agency, – then you must prove yourself to your clients. You have all that great instinct, and passion, and knowledge that your other clients have come to trust, – but with every new client you start from scratch earning that trust.
  • Be excited about your work. Passion is infectious. If the client understands that you are excited about the work, and that you have conviction, they are more likely to believe your first draft.
  • Take time to think. Admit it, -you’re not always right. Even if the idea your client has sounds awful, – let it sink in for a day before you answer back. If it truly is a bad idea, the best thing you can do is redirect it in a good way. It’s 100% better than saying “no”, and it carries momentum towards new work, rather than stopping the process. Sometimes you’ll realize it’s not that bad of an idea after-all. Either way, giving it some time to gel assures your client that you’re taking their input seriously, and not just reacting arbitrarily.
  • Calculate the risks. Despite us sounding so firm, – it is ok to make concessions. When you cave in, make sure you cave on the things that won’t drastically effect the final product. Give in on the small stuff, and fight adamantly about the big ones. A project is sum of its parts, but you can afford compromise on a few small details and still have an amazing project. Learn to recognize the details that will make or break a project.
  • Don’t get too clever, figure out what you can get by with. When you’re trying to push the boundaries, -you’re more prone to failure. Never try out a risky project with a brand new client. In baseball terms, -try for a single up the middle until the game allows you to hit a home run.

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