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.
Next time; Lessons from Failure, Part 2