The last few months have marked a notable turnaround in the number of people who seem more optimistic about the stability of the economy. Although no one would describe the outlook as 'rosy', the fear of a 'double dip' recession seems out of sight for now. In our practice, we have definitely seen a rise in the number of people and companies who are starting or re-starting projects that were once stalled. Although navigating through the last four years has been challenging, it seems that the firms who are best positioned to capitalize on the future are those that seem to have a solid foundation in several key areas. Whether you are one person or twenty, it is important to remember that the business of Design is a creative one. If you don't put yourself in a position to be creative then all the service in the world is not going to get you where you want to go. Here is a brief checklist of the top 5 things that I believe will put your company in a position to succeed:
1- Stay relevant - At Pocono Modern, we have a great shop that sells everything from art to furniture to home accessories. Some products are hits, and some have barely sold. The most successful products are the ones that touch a nerve or that capitalize on what people are talking about. Many designers have 'niches' or areas of specialty, which is perfectly fine. However you also need to understand how to connect that niche to the practical matters that govern the basic laws of supply and demand. You might have the best fishing pole in the world, but you are aren't going to catch anything if you aren't fishing where the fish are. Stay current on websites and publications that speak to your target audience. When you network, pitch the person and not your product. Understand how to connect what you do to what they need. Don't waste your time fishing where there aren't any fish.
2- Don't rely on the Internet to sell your work - In my opinion, this is the single biggest mistake the people make with their marketing. Many people believe that if they cover all the bases (with a website and a Facebook page and a Twitter Account and an e-mail newsletter) that they will eventually connect with future clients. I don't believe that we have ever gotten a client on our website alone. However you can certainly lose clients if your website is not credible. The most important thing about all of these platforms is to have consistency in your communications. Focus on quality, not quantity. Rather than trying to be everywhere at once focus on a consistent stream of high quality communications whether it be things you Tweet or images you post. Remember that clients are hiring YOU and not your website for their project. Keep it simple. Only post the best work. Be selective about what you release.
3- Turn work down - Many Architects I know complain about the loss of work over the last few years as well as the reduction in fees that they have had to take as a result of fighting for projects. When I ask them how many projects they have turned down, the result is often a look of shock and awe. 'What do you mean, turn work down??'. I realize that this seems counter intuitive, but the truth is that every client is not going to take you to the promised land (high quality work with little interference). In fact, even your best clients are seldom going to let you run the show. The recession has bred a new string of client that wants the work faster and cheaper with you taking all the risk. To these clients, I say 'no thanks'. What's amazing is that when you say no, the clients are just as shocked. I hate to be redundant, but focus on quality and not quantity. This is your reputation after all. And in a few of those cases, the clients who really wanted to work with us came back and asked us what our terms were. Now that's the start of a good relationship. The sister rule of this is to never work with anyone you don't like (be it client or colleague).
4- Do other work - It's easy to get burnt out working for the man (or for clients). You need to do some things for yourself. Whether it's non profit work, competitions, or just doing something for your own house it's important to have a change of pace every now and again. Some of the biggest success stories I have seen came from projects that were invented out of thin air. Chances are if you make something you need or want, then someone else likely does too.
5- Invest in the dream- Every person who strikes out on their own has a dream of some sort. Maybe the dream is to design your own home. Maybe the dream is to be financially successful. Whatever the dream is, you've got to feed it. If money is what you're after make sure to put away a piece of every dollar you make. If the dream is to create a font that's going to change the world, make sure you budget a piece of your week to working on it. One of my goals is to write a particular book. I've had it outlined for more than a decade. Only recently did I set a goal for its completion. Now that I am working on it, I am feeling really good about other parts of my practice. Working towards a big goal creates inspiration and motivation. Who doesn't need those?
Hopefully the list above helps you to create some priorities in your work. There's no quick fix solution to having the practice of your dreams, but if you have some guidelines it can certainly be a lot more rewarding. Good Luck!