Daniel Titus: The Importance of an Honest Business Image
Friday, December 12th, 2014
I am always telling people, "Trust your designer." Even if your designer is not me, trust your designer. However, it occurred to me recently that not all designers are honest. Not all creative people are honest about who they are or what kind of work they do or what kind of price they charge or ... whatever. It's shocking; I know. There are creative professionals who claim to care about content but just wow everyone with bells and whistles. There are those who claim to specialize but undercut every dog walker in town just to get a job. They are not honest about what kind of a business they run. So, what is my advice to those who have a designer (or other creative professional) who is not honest? This is not something I say often because I think that one's work should speak for itself, but my advice is this. If you your creative professional is not honest fire him, and hire one you can trust.
I know that sounds harsh, but I have drawn that conclusion after much thinking and debating. The truth is, I have a concern and care for my clients. I can safely say that I love my clients and am therefore protective of them. If a creative professional is not honest about his own business, he quite simply cannot be trusted to be honest about yours. That's a big deal. It is extremely important to be honest about what you do and who you are through the image you portray. Trust is often what creates new clients, and it's almost always what keeps lasting clients.
The Problem with Honesty
Being honest with your clients can be problematic. What do you do when you don't like who you are? You don't always have the power or authority to change a company or its culture. Consider the poor marketer who has been hired to represent a bad company, or an organization that doesn't have much to offer. What do you do then?
The answer is not to be dishonest. In fact, the answer is still to be honest about who you are. Why? Dishonesty leads to distrust, and distrust stifles cash flow. Honesty leads to trust, and trust encourages cash flow. It seems too obvious to elaborate, but so many companies miss this!
If you've ever served on a board of directors you probably have a good picture of how this plays out. When you have an honest and trustworthy team, you let money be spent with just enough oversight to (that's right) "keep 'em honest." However, when you have a team you cannot trust, you scrutinize and call into question every dime. "Why have we been spending so much on whistles?"
How to be Honest Even When Its Hard
Even when you have the best of intentions, it can be difficult to be honest. It's difficult to be honest when you are in the process of changing your business culture. In fact, many times the creative image of the company acts as the flagship for where that culture or personality is headed. Can you be honest about who you are even if you are not there yet? Good news: the answer is yes, and it's more natural than you might think. It's a lot like romance.
I remember when my wife and I first fell in love. We were in a parking lot. I was standing on the back of a flatbed truck baring my soul and casting my vision of the future. Nothing I was saying was about me, really, but it was a "moment of human honesty." That sort of thing is irresistible; we love it when people are honest with us. It doesn't always have to be who you are now; you can be honest about who you want to be. Here are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind.
- Don't hide behind a mask. There is a big difference between putting on a mask and putting on a smile. A mask is meant to hide what you don't want people to see. A smile is meant to showcase what you do want people to see. I recently started working with a client who does not like the entity she represents. It's her inclination to try to make it look like something it's not. How can I make her happy and still be honest? My goal is to do it with pictures—real photos of her real entity—that show what her entity could one day be and already sort of is. Professional photography rather than stock photography conveys something honest about who you are. Though it can cast a vision of what could be, it does so honestly by showcasing what is. Professional photography is like a smile.
- Don't be dishonest about the past. Let me return to the romance idea. When I first began to woo my wife, I didn't do so be blurting out all of the bad things about me. However, when they came up through the course of conversation, I was honest with her about them. Did that scare her off? No, she was already aware that I was a flawed individual. In fact, seeing who I had been in the past gave her a better idea of who I could be in the future. A great way to find out where someone is going is to see where they've been; people rarely turn. How can you provide this level of honesty without being painfully forward? Consider a History section on you website. This allows those who care to see without having to focus on the past.
- Do continue the conversation. Don't you hate it when people start a conversation talking about themselves. It's kind of self-absorbed. I think that some folks shy away from talking about themselves or their company because of this; it just seems rude. The good news is that if someone is on your website, they've already started the conversation. If they've navigated to your About Us page (by the way, have an About Us page) they have already asked about you. The better social analogy is this: Have you ever asked someone about themselves and all you get is vague, short responses? It may not be rude, but it gives you the impression that they are have no confidence or, worse, they have something to hide. Either way, they have lost an opportunity to make a new friend. Without continuing the conversation through an About Us page you might lose the opportunity to make a new client.
- Do encourage communication. Your potential client has started the conversation and asked about you. You have continued that conversation and told them all the great things about yourself. What do you do now? Why, you ask about them, of course! This conversation isn't a one way street. You want to open the lines of communication and to hear about them, their needs and how you might actually be able to help them. There are a lot of different ways to do this. I would suggest doing it through a Contact page and through Social Media. These are both great avenues to encourage communication between you and your clients. I'll quote Aaron Sorkin again: "Information breeds confidence; silence breeds fear."
The more honest you are about who you are, where you've been and where you're headed, the more comfortable and confident your clients will be. The same is true for us creative types. Hold us to this high standard as well. If your clients can't trust you, they will find someone else. If you can't trust your creative professional, find someone else. Remember: Honesty is always the best policy.