Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Secrets of Selling Design - a quick primer

One of the great benefits of living in a world of mobile technology is the ease with which you can get new and interesting things served up in a moment's notice.  Not a day goes by that I don't find out about some new project or Designer who was previously unknown to me.  Websites, blogs, e-zines, and trade feeds serve up an ever changing buffet of media on which to dine.  We have seen first hand how our little shop at Pocono Modern has gone on to grow each month as new buyers find us in different ways.  

As technologies evolve and new platforms emerge it is hard to know where the best place to spend your time and money will be.  Some designers have created products and projects that go 'viral' when fans use sites like Pinterest or Twitter to spread the word in a rapid fire pace that can turn a product into a legend overnight.

Take the story of the 'Field Notes' journal.  Graphic Designer Aaron Draplin co-founded this little company that makes cool little notepads and books in different colors, themes, and variations.  What is even more amazing is that most offerings are 'sold out' despite the fact that I have never seen any of them in a brick and mortar store.  Raving fans scoop up these little books almost as fast as Aaron can crank them out.  Presumably, these little journals get shipped out from some unknown location in the mid-west although I can tell you that they are absolutely everywhere.   This kind of market penetration is what Designers dream of and would not have been possible twenty years ago without spending a  small fortune on marketing.  

As a Designer, it's hard to know how you should be marketing yourself in order to find new clients and buyers.  I think it's important to remember that the Internet is just a tool in the same way that Adobe Illustrator is just a tool.  Illustrator is not going to make you a better graphic designer since you need the ideas first in order to execute them.  The Internet is not going to make you more successful unless you have the talents and the foundations in order to be able to have something to promote.  The first step in any marketing campaign should be to decide who you are targeting and what you want to tell them.  Once you have that decision made, it becomes easier to make follow up decisions.

Once you have identified who your target is, now you have to sell.  I am always amazed how many Architects and Designers have no idea how to sell themselves.  It goes way beyond an elevator pitch or a demonstration of competence.  In fact, it's not about you at all.  It's about your client.  What is your client going to gain by hiring you?  Are you going to make them more money?  Will they gain prestige or popularity by working with you?  Does your product make their life better or easier?  There's an old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink."  That is absolutely true.  It's not your job to get them to drink.  The salesman's job is to make them so thirsty that they WANT to drink.  Fortunately, the Internet makes people really thirsty for Design.  There are an unlimited amount of apps, sites, and 'likes' that make people want things.  The trick is to be visible.  

Below is a very short cheat sheet of how we have gone about marketing in the 'digital' economy.  It may not be exactly the same for you, but it has had some success for us:

1- Invest (time and money) in a simple, concise and professional web site.  It doesn't have to have a ton of content, but it has to look great and function seamlessly.  After all, you are selling Design.
2- Identify a core group of 'raving fans' (basically people who support you and want to see you succeed) and ask them to help you.  Have them endorse you on Linked In, 'Like' your Facebook page, 'Tweet' about your blog posts and 'Pin' your work.  You have to have some buzz on the Internet if you want to get more.
3- Blog about what you know.  Be as specific about a topic as possible.  The most popular blog post I ever wrote was about Ikea Cabinets.  It has been read tens of thousands of times and I have received e-mails from around the world in thanks.  Although the subject has nothing to do with me, the fact that I wrote it gives a certain amount of visibility to me and my company.  Become an expert in something.
4- Monitor and adjust.  Get Google Analytics and follow where your site traffic is coming from.  Try to get re-tweeted often.  Do a Pinterest search on you and your work to see if others are pinning it.  If you don't see much happening, change your strategies.  When we wanted to promote our Vintage Pyrex Poster, we started 'favoring' shops on ETSY that sold vintage Pyrex.   The shop owners took notice and started buying our poster.

                                        Vintage Pyrex Poster in Blue (available on ETSY)

5- Start a conversation.  No one is going to just wake up and decide to work with you.  You have to start a dialogue.  This is the part where you 'make them thirsty'.  Connect with people who have similar interests as you.  Join a Chamber of Commerce.  Write letters to those you admire.  Ask your Linked In contacts for a referral to someone who might need your help.  Everyone you know has the capacity to give you ONE referral.  Each of those referrals might lead you to other referrals.  Marketing is not a one time act, it's a continuous conversation.  Also be generous to refer other people you know.  If you help others, they are more likely to help you.

Hopefully, you can employ some of the above strategies in your own business.  Drop a comment if you need some advice or assistance.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The 5 Best Questions to Ask when hiring an Architect

In our office, we get alot of phone calls from people who are in the midst of a project gone wrong and ask us to step in and help them out.   Often these kind of situations can be avoided by asking the right questions of your prospective team prior to hiring them.  Asking the right questions will ensure that you will be prepared for the realities of the project. I have put together a short list for those of you who haven't been through a construction project.   

1- - Who will I specifically be working with on a day to day basis?  

It is often the case that a Principal will be responsible for winning projects and making the pitch while subordinate staff will be responsible for actually doing the work.  If you want the Principal to be the one working on the project, make sure that is clear from the start so the job can be priced appropriately.  Architects and Designers are so conditioned to be competitively priced that the Principal's time is not factored largely into each project.

2- Have you completed any recent projects on a budget similar to mine? 

I was once asked if I ever had a project where there was no budget and the Client gave me total freedom to design.  I assumed it was a joke. Every client has a budget and if you have a tight budget, you want someone who is used to working with tight budgets.  

3- How much of my involvement will be necessary or allowed?

I have never had a client without an opinion.  Clients like to be involved, and you are probably no different.  Some Architects are great collaborators, and some liked to be left alone to work their magic.  If you are hiring an Architect or Designer with a specific 'style' they may not take kindly to collaborating so make sure you know where you stand up front.

4- If the project goes over budget, what responsibility do you have?

This is the single biggest problem I have seen in the Design industry.  Designers and Architects don't have control over the construction pricing but have designed something that is far from the reality of the Client's budget.  Often it is late in the project when this is realized and then the Client has to pay for additional services to 're-design' to the budget.  I might be in the minority here, but if your Client is relying on you to Design to a budget then you have to take responsibility for the pricing.  As a Design professional you should be familiar enough with relative costs to present options that the Client can afford. If your Architect doesn't want any part of this, it may be a red flag when the change orders start rolling in.

5- Can I call your previous clients?

No matter what any of us say about our own work, the words of our Clients form our reputation.  Speaking candidly with previous clients will give you a sense of what to expect on your project.   If possible, try to contact clients that you may be aware of rather than the ones that are given to you.  

Any large project brings its own stresses with it, but by asking the right questions up front, you can be prepared to deal with what lies ahead.  Good Luck!