After six amazing years, the founders of Hexanine have moved on to other independent design work and creative endeavors. Read more
Concrete brand talk in an ephemeral world

Business Thoughts For Creative Minds

Business Thoughts For Creative People

Very few in our industry get into the design profession to run a business. For many creatives, business is the dirty word you have to use in order to keep doing the “fun” stuff — the creative and strategic acts of a design firm. But get far enough down the road, and you realize that managing a firm or business (whether you’re a designer, developer, marketer, or otherwise) is a great path to doing the kind of work you really love. Business stuff isn’t bad, and in fact, we’ve learned tons working closely with clients, managing teams, building relationships, and chasing down new projects. Along the way, we’ve found bits of hard-won wisdom that seem unrelated to design. But it’s crucial stuff — the kinds of knowledge that applies not only to design, but also to life in general. We have a lot of lessons to share (both good and bad), but here are a few worth repeating.

People Are People

Clients are people. Vendors are people. So are business leads, printers, payroll specialists, and telemarketers. Everyone we encounter during our business day is worthy of respect, courtesy, and kindness. We believe it’s so key to treat others as we want to be treated — because in the end, is there truly any reason not to? Do we want to be known as people who do otherwise? Reputation certainly influences how we deal with others, but most importantly, why not add a smile and joy to someone’s day (or at least follow the oath of Hypocrates and “do no harm”) rather than add to their challenges?

Follow That Lead

Leads and projects come from the least expected places, so do your due diligence, reach out to people, and make connections everywhere you go. You never know what will occur — get and stay involved in the communities around you. Start and join interesting conversations with business people at cocktail parties and events. It might be a short, unsolicited email or the thread of a conversation that unspools to something big. Our first book was borne of a couple emails, a phone call, and a budding friendship of likemindedness. Totally unexpected, but in some ways, also totally according to plan. You never know. Keep nurturing these relationships as well — some sprout overnight, while others take years to mature.

Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

This has been recast in a number of ways, but bears repeating: Whether it means being a “(wo)man of your word” or “underpromise and overdeliver” this might be an element that makes or breaks your business. The world is full of people who will say just what you want to hear, or will quickly assure you that they’re the best fit, before even hearing your needs. But a carefully considered suggestion, offer, or initiative becomes a promise the moment you say it aloud. If you don’t deliver on the little things you promise, your successes in the big things are diluted. Failing to follow through on the small stuff — emails, phone calls, arriving on time to meetings — will eventually erode the crucial trust that clients need to have in you.

The best possible scenario is to make good on your every word, giving others no reason to doubt what you say — whether it’s a deadline, an email, or a followup call. If there’s any doubt in your mind, it’s best to hold back on the promises, and say nothing — or remain tentative for the sake of your reputation. But this isn’t just about your rep, it’s more about setting expectations and showing that you wisely will finish what you started.

Keep One Eye on the Road And the Other on the Horizon

This is probably true in any business, but maybe doubly so in running a design firm. It’s frighteningly easy to get wrapped up in the moment, the day-to-day of responding to emails, project proposals, and getting work out on time and on budget. But then you finally look up from the urgent, pressing concerns to realize your firm or department has been heading in a direction you never planned — or at best, you’re off course a little bit. That’s why we’ve found it’s crucial to have regular, planned vision and goal setting times, to recast and confirm where we’re going in the long term. This helps us make sure the work we do today will take us to our intended destination tomorrow. And of course, the opposite is also dangerous. It’s possible to spend so much effort and time on strategy, planning, and mission statements that you don’t have the mental, financial, or practical bandwidth to keep your business running. Both the present moment and the future destination are necessary, and that constant tug-o-war between them is at the heart of any great endeavor — design, business, or otherwise.

Keep Learning

This might be a memo right out of the Obvious Department, but the designers (and firm owners) who drop out of the leading edge and stagnate are often the ones who’ve ceased learning new things. The day your curiosity dries up and hardens is the moment you begin a countdown to irrelevancy. Whether it’s advances in technology, software, trends, better processes, or exposing yourself to new viewpoints and work, we all feed our creative souls on a diet of change. To ignore that hunger and starve ourselves of the latest and newest, will keep us from developing creatively and professionally. That soon leads to recycling the same old formats, solutions, and approaches, which will quickly show up in your work, studio culture, and the rest of life.

Clearly, the above nuggets are just tangentially related to our work of design, but ignoring them means ignoring the intangibles that let us be successful creative professionals in the first place. What creative business advice would you pass on to others?

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One Response to “Business Thoughts For Creative Minds”

  1. suba suba says:

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