9 Habits Of Successful Creatives
Having previously been a business consultant for the last few years I had the opportunity to see deep into creative businesses and what makes for success. Here are the 9 habits I think make them a stand out business (a creative business can be anything from a micro-business up to a large scale):
Most of these habits affect creatives whether they are good at what they do, those that are mid ground in the market, those that are nice people who mean well although missing the mark somehow, those that are not so nice and good at what they do – every kind of person or business that there is. These are common traits for those who have the knack of making it and who continue to grow and develop in the market.
1. Know Your Brand
Understand what it is that people come to you for. Listen to the feedback from your clients but also from the people that don’t work with you or those that work with you where the pain between you is obvious. Have others talk about your business on your behalf and get the honest feedback. I’ve seen creative directors with high hopes of doing larger, better budget jobs but they are so stuck on their processes and the way they think that they’ll never get there. That’s fine really. If this is your brand then be happy and stick to it. Immerse yourself in who you are and be more of it to attract more like-minded. Where the lack of growth comes it seems to come from those that are not matching their ambition authentically, or at times the marketing material does not do their true brand justice. Getting aligned is really important – and from this position the business can move one step at a time to a new vision or goal.
2. Be The Brand Your Customers Need
If you want to be something you currently are not, then some massive re-adjustments may be needed to become the brand you want to be. For example – if you seek to move into more premium advertising work when you have only done station promo type work, or retail with poor production values, then you will be considered off the mark in the new market unless you start playing at the level expected and follow the processes that are typical in that market. If the work isn’t coming it could be that it is off brand for you. If you are not stepping up into the wider role easily then you may not be ready for it, and may not have the skills to do so. Here is where the biggest limitation to a creative business’ growth is – fighting against what it takes to play at a higher level and that includes firstly getting your own marketing collateral to a higher standard. If you can’t make time for a new website, showreel or new credentials document as the first priority then you wont get there.
3. Think Business
It is obviously so important to produce a highly creative product in our business, however if you miss the basics of business it is unsustainable. Basics come down to delivering a creative solution to the client’s budget, producing the job within the budget constraints internally, and producing work that the market wants and not necessarily what you feel like doing. If you don’t have basic time sheets, or track job costs and time in some way to produce jobs within budget then you wont make money as a business – this is black and white. I can’t tell you how many creatives deny these basic limitations and resist them. An open ended slate is the most unprofessional a professional creative can be. Don’t forget that time you have booked on a job that is not used for anything chargeable is also a cost to the job. There’s no point having a massive team sitting there doing nothing just to be available for the odd few days or hours here and there. This seems obvious to some of us but I can’t emphasise enough how often this happens and how much some inexperienced creatives fuss and resist accountability like this. I’ve learned there are businesses that love a freeform, fluid kind of management structure and in some cases it works and in other cases it doesn’t. I’ve previously felt that this kind of business doesn’t work, although 100% sure a chaotic one certainly doesn’t. I do feel you can have self managing teams by contrast providing they are actually accountable for reaching certain milestones and budget targets themselves. They can still ‘think business’ by having the individuals accountable for the results of the team, but that starts by being able to measure properly what they are doing. Even a simple handwritten time sheet or day count for jobs is a basic ‘must do’.
4. Communication Skills
If you cannot speak your mind clearly, and when it is timely, you will have no end of trouble, both with your team and with clients. Having deep thinking internally and expressing only a slight hint of what lays deeper will not represent the extent of your issues or needs and get any results for you or the team. Likewise if someone tells you something in simple and plain language and you’re not taking this on board then you’ll have a day in the future when the problem is much greater. You will even think this is the first time you’ve ever heard a thing about it – often when it is too late! I also find there are many that communicate with a condescending tone at various times and I personally feel this is a very cowardly method of getting your own way, and it is often because of the fear of others rather than whether you have a good point or not. Silence is one of the biggest problems, as people often take your silence as condoning something. If there are problems in your team and you don’t say a thing, then everyone will take it that you support that behaviour or issue. One of the worst communicators I’ve seen is a creative leader who spoke in half sentences, didn’t stand up for issues that needed his support, was silent too often, spoke in a negative tone and bullied his way through by passively ignoring and writing one way lengthy emails. This individual also spoke in quite global and vague terms when the specific detail was often left to guessing and at the end of the day would blame others for not hearing him properly. Say what you think, and be respectful about it. Listen to others and stick to what is agreed. Some clients enjoy a lack of communication as it means they can get away with their own poor process and expect blood from a stone also. Have clear and consistent boundaries, guidelines, agreements above all else – internally and externally.
5. Actions & Words Match
I’ve seen so many creatives talk about their high ambitions of doing world leading work yet fail to do the actions in the business that are going to allow that to happen. One of the big ones I saw recently was a creative that swore by the importance of accountability and for working within the constraints of the budget yet did everything he could to resist counting the hours spent, resisted any systems that were introduced that allowed for the accountability, resisted the processes that allowed for the company to be more efficient and therefore meet deadlines and control clients, resisted the responsibility for creative decisions that affected the execution and therefore the cost over-runs, and resisted involving key team members who could give valuable input into managing the whole process. So, the words were of no value. To be ultimately trusted we need what we say and what we do to match. When we are trusted by our team and our clients we get results.
6. Look Beyond Your Limitations
We all have limitations. No one is perfect and no matter how good we are, there will still be differences in how we think, how we work, and misunderstandings. There are a few aspects that successful companies do well – appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses and team up to compliment each other without judgment, put in systems or processes to catch any shortcomings. Additionally there are two things to remember about our personal limitations – there are those we know we have, and those that we have no clue that we’re lacking. The most dangerous are the shortcomings we don’t know we have and unless we listen to feedback, get regular reviews, be guided with specific and actionable steps to rectify them we will be stuck there for eternity. Those that push themselves beyond their own limitations do so with listening and re-education. Keep learning!
7. Be the Leader the team needs
This is about, both, leading from behind and leading from the front. Leading from behind is less considered and we often wait for the boss to tell us what to do or to follow some established process. Thinking ahead and initiating solutions to present to your manager is equally important in every business if it is to succeed and for us personally to succeed. Those stuck in their role are often the first ones to be complaining that a promotion or opportunity is not coming their way, yet they don’t initiate what it takes to get there. Think about the wider business and how you can find opportunity to help it move forward and be of value. Those that lead from behind don’t have to have big aspirations and may even be happy to stay in their role ongoing. However, they do help the business move forward and become an invaluable staff member. Likewise I have seen team leaders who are not comfortable having those difficult conversations a leader needs to at times. Failing to handle business and personnel issues is a sign of someone who may be masterful at their own job but should not be leading a team. Be pro-active from behind, step up into the difficult conversations from the front.
8. Have Clear Boundaries
The most successful businesses I have seen have really clear expectations about how to work, how to work with others, and clear agreements between suppliers, staff and clients. Two basics often forgotten are – job descriptions and a communication or organisation chart! With clear rules in place then everyone becomes accountable to work within these and to have some benchmarks to raise issues if they are outside expectation. Some clients may make a fuss about having rules in place or firmer processes if they are not used to it but that is their own strategy to get what they want and to abuse the relationship. Rules are there to re-negotiate at any time but unless there is a starting point it can be chaotic. I’ve not seen one business that is succeeding well to run with chaos and lose agreements with clients. Clear boundaries can be set and managed in a respectful, friendly, accommodating style so don’t be mistaken that clarity equals a lack of creative freedom.
9. Get the basics right before play
Many creatives expect and demand a certain amount of creative freedom on some projects and in their day to day work environment. Yes, absolutely creative play and time for innovation is a must. However, those businesses that do well are really buttoned up with their everyday jobs as their first priority. Recently I had contact with a business that each creative expected open ended freedom on every project that came in, whether that be a ‘bread and butter’ type job or a massive award opportunity however this is certainly going to run the business broke if it continues. Yes, every job needs to be produced above client expectation but that can be done within the budget and the time frame allocated. Getting the day to day jobs out the door to a high quality, on time and on budget must come first. Play and experimentation comes later as the icing on the cake.
All these basics apply to any business and not just to creative people and businesses.