Lessons From Failure: Part Two

Lessons From Failure: Part Two

Lessons From Failure: Part Two

In Lessons from Failure: Part 1 we talked about lessons that helped DayCreative grow by finding our unique quality as a company and setting parameters for money matters. This time, we’ll delve into some different lessons we learned from mistakes.

Lesson 3: Sometimes You Fire the Client

It may seem counterintuitive; the whole point of business is that you make money. Getting clients is good, so you should do anything to keep them, “The Customer is Always Right”, etc.

Right?

Wrong.

Sometimes you need to fire clients. Disclaimer; in the almost eight years we’ve been in business, this has only happened twice. 85% of our clients are still with us. We have satisfied customers most of the time and we prefer to have a model based on sustained clients, not just one-time customers. But there have been two cases where it was just better for everyone if the client went elsewhere.

The first instance was a client who had a corporate background, and seemed certain that he knew how long media company projects should take and how much it should cost. (Instead of believing what we, the actual media company, told him it would cost and how long it would take.) 

On more than one occasion we would tell him up front the time expectation and cost, and he would repeatedly become impatient before the deadline, or question the price. This conversation happened over and over, until once we were working on a project that was more substantial. It kind of slowed down, due to some matters on his end, and to his credit, he came to us and said, “Hey, I’ve gotten bogged down, I know this has stalled, if you want to just bill me for the time you have in it so far, I’ll pay you and we’ll shut it down.” So we did. 

It was double what he thought it should be and he wasn’t happy. This was the most dramatic instance, but it made me realize that it stressed me out to deal with him. I felt anxious, it was crazy-making, so basically I fired him. I told him I appreciated the business he had given us, but he always seemed to be upset. His expectations didn’t match the reality of what our business does and was capable of doing for him. 

Since then I’ve done it one other time and that time…I did it sooner in the journey than I did the first time. Every once in a while, it’s necessary. Your productivity is enhanced by peace. You might think you can’t put a price tag on it, but you probably can. And it’s probably not as profitable as you think to have stressful clients.

Lesson 4: It’s Okay to Lose Winning Strategies

I started DayCreative in the fall of 2012, and six months to a year in I got involved with Henry Dumas, a business coach. (An all around great guy. We’ll talk more about Henry and business coaches in general in another post soon.) I told him I wanted to grow. I was hitting a ceiling, and needed to hire people to grow, but needed money to hire those people.

We came up with a plan to get clients on retainer, paying us regularly for a variety of services so that we could project our future finances. So I did just that, I performed a variety of services for clients, on a retainer model and…I hated it.

I had a developer working with me, but it was just me at the time. What I found was that people were willing to pay retainers, and it provided regular, dependable income, but it was for doing things I hated, things I wasn’t good at. I didn’t like it, but I thought, If I don’t do this, how will I grow?

During a coaching session with Henry, when I was complaining about this, he said, “Well, what if you just do what you’re best at?” He redirected me and we worked out an alternative route, and even though we weren’t doing traditional retainer work, we ended up getting repeat business for the things that I did want to do. The things I did best. That led to the same outcome I wanted before; reliable income.

We came to know that we could put this client or that down for this amount on an annual recurring basis, and that gave us the financial ability to build a team to do the things that I wasn’t great at. Once we offered those services, done by skilled professionals, in addition to what I did best…we grew even more.

Sometimes a practice makes sense financially, and allows for growth, but the real power of a successful business is people loving what they do, and being good at it. That should be the ultimate goal, and if a strategy works on paper but takes energy away from everyone doing the things they do best, it won’t be a winning game plan long term.

And the best strategy isn’t just the one that wins, it’s the one that allows you to keep winning.

Lessons From Failure: Part One

Lessons From Failure: Part One

Lessons From Failure: Part One

In business (as in the rest of life) some of the best lessons you learn can come from mistakes.

Our next two posts will feature some ways that we at DayCreative have learned specific lessons from a few key mistakes, and how those “failures” have translated into better business decisions; moves that have made our company stronger.

 

Lesson 1: Find Your Uniqueness

When I (Matt) first started out, one approach I took early on to find clients was reaching out to business incubators. I remember making a call to one of these incubators somewhere in a different part of the state, and while I was talking to the decision-maker about who I was and what services I was offering, she asked me, “Well, who are you? Why should I use Day Creative?” No one had asked me that. I stumbled through an answer, something like, “We’re great, we’re affordable…” and her response is, “Well, we have someone great and affordable doing that already.” I fumbled a response, “Well, keep us in mind!” and that was that. 

But that was the impetus for my consideration about what makes DayCreative different. It forced a question on me that was necessary, and that helped me define what differentiated us and articulate it for the next prospect. It also gave birth to a hallmark of the way we operate; part of our discovery process for clients is helping them discover what makes them authentically unique, in order to bring that out in their design and their marketing endeavors to help them grow.

I bombed on one phone call. But it brought growth that developed my business in a big way.

Lesson 2: Set Parameters for Money Matters

Dealing with issues about payment and how that relates to creative endeavors like marketing can be tricky. Some of my most poignant lessons have to do with money, and one in particular came from a time when I quoted a prospect totally wrong. He was a craftsman, and I was excited to work with him; he did great work, and had beautiful products. I gave him a quote, didn’t really give a timeline for it, and through the course of a year, we went back and forth a little, never really going anywhere, until finally he contacted me and was ready to do it.

I was running a special at the time, and he had made his decision based on the percentage this sale would give him off of the quote I’d made initially, almost a year prior. I went back and looked at the quote and realized that for me to do the project in the present, as opposed to when I’d quoted it at the time (with what my overhead had been back then) it would actually cost me money. I had to tell him I couldn’t do it, and I also started putting time limits on quotes.

Some other good money lessons have led to changes in how we receive payment for work we do. In the beginning my contracts called for 50 percent down, and 50 percent at completion at completion of the project. Seems straightforward, until you realize that very often in this process, the client is the one who ends up holding up progress. Whether it’s reviewing content, getting customer reviews, or something else, we may have finished as much work as we can, and then end up waiting for the client to do their part.

Generally the process of our website completion takes six weeks; when we had the 50 percent down, 50 percent at completion model, we had projects that were taking 6 months. In discussions with my partner about how to mitigate this slowdown, he suggested changing to a model where 50 percent is paid up front, and 50 percent is due in 30 days. When the process is paid for, clients are less likely to delay measures to get the project finished. We get paid, the project is completed quickly…everyone wins.

Clients may not realize initially that’s what they agreed to, or get a little grumpy about paying before completion, but years of struggling to pay people (and myself) to finish projects taught me that it’s worth the grumpiness in the beginning to provide quick completion and great results. Good work finished quickly can take away the sting of paying upfront.

Another issue related to money is setting time parameters on projects. (Time does equal money in business.) Some clients have the view that contracting us means that we’re employees and they can indefinitely tweak the project without consequence, because we’re working for them. Until we modified the way we make contracts, that’s exactly what happened much of the time; we repeatedly got stuck because of not having limits on revisions. I don’t like putting hard limits on revisions (and a good process for figuring out what the client wants before you start will forestall a lot of the need for endless revisions), but our contracts do reflect that after a certain point, if it’s substantially increasing time, then they’re subject to extra cost.

Our goal is happy clients, and completed work makes for happy clients. Honing the discovery process helps streamline content creation and design, and this can reduce revisions (and cost). These lessons not only taught us about ways to protect our business and be as profitable as possible and value the work of our team members appropriately by setting limits, it also helped us refine the way we work, and increase our client satisfaction.

Everyone wins.

Next time; Lessons from Failure, Part 2