Some lessons never change. And some lessons can be applied across mediums, from design firms to film freelancers. The common mistakes of “creative service firms,” according to David Baker, principal at ReCourses, Inc., were republished as a white paper. (You can view all 12 at AIGA.org.) Three of the 12 are especially relevant:
Rely on Referrals: Enough good work does not come from two traditional sources: referrals and repeat business, but rather from new leads. The problem with referrals and repeat business in a growing, changing firm is that a prospect’s perception of you will not keep pace with reality. Many firms look for work. Some look for work that pays. Few look for work that pays…and that they enjoy.
Use Wrong Positioning: Most imply (though they seldom say): “If you come to us, we’ll do it quick, cheap, and you’ll get to work directly with a principal.” Instead, emphasize (in descending order of importance): category experience; a defined, proprietary process; strategic focus; leadership; and that you are fun to work with. It’s about generating stuff that works, and if it looks good, it’s gotta look good because looking good works. Results are too measurable anymore to get away with decoration and/or sloppy work, whether it’s PR, advertising, or design.
Stay a Generalist: Specialization occurs in every area of life. We stay a generalist, not because the marketplace demands it, but because we get bored easily and because we don’t have a marketing plan and thus feel compelled to cast the net wide. Firms that specialize thrive, especially in larger cities. We can focus in up to two areas (in terms of our own mental capacity). In cities that will be two specialties. In rural areas that will mean a general local provider, and a niche regional provider. What will this do? It will make it easier to find business, to service it without learning on the job, and to find employees.