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Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 3 of 7

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My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

Ok, wow. I’m pumped.

Today was better than I had expected. Knowledge is power. At least, it feels like I’ve just acquired a super power and I’m ready to lift Go Media over my head and carry it up to the promise land. Here are a few brief thoughts on my first day of classes:

The course is very aptly named. As you’ll read shortly, they are really teaching us new ways to look at our business. These new perspectives empower you to have radical insights into how you could improve your company. So, they don’t tell you: “Here is the formula for your business, now go apply it.” Instead they say: “Here is a new way to look at your situation. What do you see?”

The information is incredibly pragmatic. I had a few fears coming into this course. One was that they were going to be teaching us highly theoretical concepts that were not easy to apply at Go Media. Not so. Not only was the information incredibly applicable, they were even very respectful of the realities of life. For instance, they might follow up a concept by saying: “Of course, business is a constantly evolving science. This concept might be applicable now, but fall apart in a year. You need to be constantly vigilant in listening to the market and finding what works.” Also, they frequently said: “This is the concept you’re working towards. But I don’t have to pay your bills. We understand that this is a process.” I appreciated that level of humility and candor. They gave many examples of failed businesses and would say: “And these were well funded, incredibly intelligent people!” It’s just nice to hear a Yale professor basically say: “Hey, business is tough.”

The professors are amazing. They’re brilliant, funny and experienced. Another fear I had was that these professors would be “academics” with no real world experience. I was wrong on that too. Our two professors today had vast experience in the business world. Our second professor today, Barry Nalebuff, was the co-founder of Honest Tea (which he sold to Coca-Cola.) He was an adviser to the NBA in their recent player negotiations and he’s written six books – among other things. Basically, these professors are no joke. I wonder if I would have been an even better student if I had such brilliant professors growing up. I certainly appreciate them now!

The accommodations continue to be first-class all the way. Thank God I’m only here for a week. With food this good I’m sure I’m packing on the pounds fast. How can you pass up chocolate-dipped strawberries, organic brownies and chocolate mousse in an egg-shell. I mean seriously, this is ridiculous. Not only that, they continue to gift us. Today I got an embossed leather notebook. Even if I hated the lessons today (which obviously I didn’t) I would owe them a nice review based purely on the gifts they keep giving us!

I do have a few pictures, then let’s get to the stuff you REALLY care about – the knowledge!

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yesterday I posted a picture of the outside of this funky building. Yes, those are translucent marble walls. Let me say it again; r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s!

This is the Yale Commons dining hall – used in the Harry Potter movie!

This is a mirror in The Study Hotel. I SWEAR they put these flattering mirrors in hotels. They are warped just enough to make the viewer look taller (skinnier) than they actually are. It’s brilliant. Every time I’m waiting for an elevator I’m staring into the mirror thinking: “Well, alright! I think I’ve lost a few pounds.” But deep down I know it’s just a lie.

Now, before I share this information with you, let me just say; There is no way I will possibly be able to recap all the wisdom that was taught to me today. I won’t even try. Also, I need to have a certain respect for the work that has gone into this course. It wouldn’t be fair for me to publish all the slides I’ve been provided or copy the text verbatim. So, I’m going to do my best to sum up some of the concepts in my own words. And hopefully, you’ll be able to explore them further and put them to use.

Some wisdom from my classes in no specific order:

There was a great emphasis put on getting to know and understand your customer. What is actually valuable to them? Why didn’t they hire you? I know we all THINK we know what our customers want. But do we really? When a client does not accept your proposal do you offer to take them out to lunch so you can ask them what specifically made them hire a different firm/designer? It’s not always easy to get this information from clients. So, that’s your challenge. How do you do a better job getting feedback. Why do they hire you? What are their needs? How can you improve your company? It is the CUSTOMER that determines what the business is.

You can decide who you want to work for and target them. But do you really know who you want to work for? Who is your ideal customer. It’s easy to think: “Well, I want to work for NIKE!” But in the real-world what are the true implications of working with Nike? Will you get to do branding? Will you have lots of creative control? Will it be a bureaucratic free experience? Probably not! Maybe a small start-up is actually a better customer. Do a pros and cons analysis and think about who your true ideal client is, not your perceived ideal client.

Keep your value proposition short. It’s called “resonating focus.” You determine 2-3 of the MOST IMPORTANT values to your customer and focus on those. Creating long lists of benefits or attributes of your company or product will only dilute your sales pitch. Again, this requires research! You have got to get to know your customer.

When making decisions, you should always consider the lifetime value of a customer. If you’re focused on the profitability of one project, you’ve got the wrong perspective. You must identify your very best customers and treat them like gold – even if that means losing some money in the short term.

When trying to build your customer base, don’t waste your time trying to sell your services to non-customers. Instead, try to focus on selling more to your existing customers. It’s always cheaper to up-sell an existing client than it is to get a new customer.

When thinking about growing your business, it’s easy to focus on trying to steal a bigger piece of the “pie” from your competitors. Here’s another thought: make the pie bigger! Sometimes your competitors are also your complementors. It’s a grey world! Don’t assume you need to defeat your competitors in order to grow your business. A good example is two bars located next to each other. Are they competitors? Of course. But they also complement each other. Bar goers like to “bar hop.” They can’t bar hop if there is only one bar! These bars might want to get together to open a third bar. Now people can bar hop even better. The net result is that more people will come to their bars because they’ve build a bar district. They’ve worked together to increase the value of both of their bars. They’ve made a bigger pie! Consider what businesses complement yours. Figure out how to leverage that to grow the pie!

Suggested reading:

Professional Services marketing by Mike Shultz and John Doerr

Co-opetition by Barry Nalebuff

The Art of Strategy by Barry Nalebuff

Ok, so, I think I’ve given you enough to think about for one day. Find a dark room and ponder these questions. I better get some more reading done before I hit the sheets.

About the Author, William Beachy

I grew up in Cleveland Hts. Ohio and was drawing constantly. As a child I took art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and eventually became known as the "class artist." I graduated from The Ohio State University's department of Industrial Design. I have always tried to blend my passion for illustration with Graphic Design. Go Media was the culmination of my interests for both business and art. I'm trying to build a company that is equally considerate of our designers AND our clients.
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Discussion

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  • http://www.gomedia.us/ Jeff Finley

    Sounds like a great first class! Did they give any ideas on how to get this type of feedback from your customers? What if your customers each hire you for different reasons – like Arsenal customers vs clients?

    • http://www.facebook.com/william.beachy William A. Beachy

      No, unfortunately, they are not giving us a lot of specific ideas for our industry. The courses are more general than that. Which is good to a degree. This way we can apply this knowledge to any situation. How we get feedback from Arsenal Customers for instance, may be radically different than how we get feedback from our design customers. What’s important is that we’re getting feedback – even though that still leaves the work of how we do that. But we’re smart. I think we can figure something out.

      I remember a show about home sales. When a home wouldn’t sell, they would hide a camera to record potential buyers as they walked through the home. The potential buyers would mutter under their breath: “These shag carpet covered walls are hideous. And it’s so dark in here.” So, how did they sell the house? They ripped the carpeting off the walls and pulled the blinds up to let some light in. In that case they used a hidden camera. We’ll need to figure out what our “hidden camera” is.

      • http://www.gomedia.us/ Jeff Finley

        Ahh yeah that’s a good idea. I’ll see if I can dig anything up.

  • Anonymous

    The part about the Customer deciding who your business is flies in the face of the “ad man” and beatnik snob culture so often pervasive in our industry. The way designers will be dismissive of client feedback and assert their dogma with an almost take it or leave it attitude. I’d imagine there needs to be a balance struck with the need to let the customer drive the solution and give the creative people their prowess.

    • http://www.facebook.com/william.beachy William A. Beachy

      This is a great point Wilson. Design firms and freelancers alike certainly need to make decisions. How much are you willing to sacrifice financially to do the work you love? What’s it worth? Will you design funeral home websites if you’re making one million dollars a week? Probably. But will you accept substantially below market rates to design independent movie posters? That’s a little tougher.

      I think one core belief of Go Media is that we CAN do the things we love AND make them highly profitable. I still believe that. But we’ve got some work to do.

  • Anonymous

    The course sounds great Bill! As do the gifts and the food :-)
    I’m curious as to what changes the company will make based on what you are learning in the course. I see a big meeting in our near future…

    • http://www.facebook.com/william.beachy William A. Beachy

      My plan is to hold my ideas back a little and start by sharing the information that I learned. Then I’d like to brainstorm with the staff a bit on how they think we might apply the principles. But I don’t necessarily think these new perspectives will cause a massive shift. I think it’s more about tweaking things. Of course, small changes can have a large impact on our bottom line.

  • http://twitter.com/EKuentz Eric Kuentz

    I can’t wait to hear what fantastic information you return with if this is how the courses are run! Very inspiring!