For years I've been told that art and commerce don't mix—the term "starving artist" comes to mind. From a young age we're taught that there are two general types of people: the creatives and analytical. However, this type of thinking perpetuates the status-quo and reinforces limitations I think we would all benefit from moving away from.
The more I get involved in operating and managing my own business, the more I realize how much creativity administrative work really takes. It's not enough to be artistic on the canvas—crafting your words, directing your client, and being empathetic are just three tools every business-minded creative needs to ensure daily success.
I hope that my thoughts may spark some creativity, intentionality, and new ideas in your own work.
Words Are Powerful
The smartest person in the room is typically the quietest person in the room, or so it may seem. During my time working at Apple Inc. I learned a lot about the importance of words. What you say about a product matters. What you say to your boss matters. What you say to your client matters. Similarly, just as important as the things you say are the things you don't say.
Bringing up deadlines and budget limitations when a client is concerned about quality assurance will most likely lead to anxiety and unnecessary shortcuts—some of which can be harmful to the success of a project.
Because of this, it is important that you choose your words wisely. It may be silly to you, but Twitter has been instrumental in developing my writing. Sure it may not have turned me into a novelist, but thinking about the economy of words has really given me some valuable insight to how I communicate with the world.
Words are powerful enough to ignite a fire and useful enough to extinguish them, the trick is knowing how and when to do both.
Empathy in Business
If you can't put yourself in your clients shoes, how will you create something that fills them? Understanding your clients needs are an integral part delivering a successful product. For this reason, my favorite thing to ask my clients is, "what more can you tell me?" The more you can align yourself with their vision, their goals, and the way they see the world, the better you will be able to deliver a product that meets their needs.
Have you ever been served at a restaurant by wait staff with terrible timing? They recite specials while you're being seated, ask if you're ready to order before you've looked at the menu, and refill your glass while interrupting conversation. As I understand it, in the service industry there's a term for this—reading a table. It takes observational skills, experience, and empathy.
Knowing when to approach a client with questions or demands is essential in every day work. If not done well you could cost yourself a paycheck or worse a relationship.
Number one rule of empathy—it can't be faked.
Let Your Client Drive
I am very intrigued by control. Some people like to have it, some people like to observe it, and just about everyone falls apart when there is a lack of it. When managing projects and clients it is extremely important to have a clear vision and to be able to direct according to that vision. Your clients and customers depend on you to be in control, to set the boundaries, and to lead them to success—there's one caveat, people don't like to be told what to do.
This is where letting your client drive comes into play. You are the director, you are your own personal project manager, but at the same time you need to make sure your client and direct reports feel they have enough freedom to maneuver the project on their own.
Knowing when to push your client towards action and when to await their move is skill that takes time and experience. However, if you've truly empathize with your client and align yourself with their vision, I find that it becomes that much easy to push them to action. Reassure them that you're here to help, that you have their best interests in mind, and that you don't win unless they do.
Once they know you're looking to make them succeed, they'll start to listening to you rather than talking to you.
If you have questions or comments regarding the economy of words, empathy, or letting your client drive I'd love to hear from you—email me firstname.lastname@example.org!