AIGA Los Angeles presented “Best Practice Strategies with Emily Cohen” on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at the Pacific Design Center. Geared towards studio owners, principals, managers, and freelancers, this event offered an in-depth overview of business practices that every design firm should know.
Emily Cohen, of Cohen Miller Consultants, is a business partner to creative professionals who consults on effective staff audits, proposals evaluations, process management strategies and more. She is a frequent speaker on business-related issues for the creative industry and has spoken at the HOW Conferences and numerous AIGA events.
Cohen crafted the speedy and information-intensive session around factors you should think about when working with staff and current or new clients. She gave very detailed and proven guidelines to create sustainability and growth in creative business. The topics fell under three main categories: leadership and organizational structure, client management, and business development.
Cohen pointed out that every firm needed both a leader and a manager, and that both of those roles are different. Leadership envisions what the business looks like in the future and where it should go. Management takes leadership vision and makes it happen. The expression “a fish rots from the head down” sums up what happens when a leader is ineffective. In order for a firm to function properly, she pointed out the core functional areas to be fulfilled. Each role should have a detailed job descriptions and an employee handbook that describes guidelines for every part of the culture within the studio. Once these tools are in place, Cohen strongly recommended to develop procedures for performance reviews, and to create process documentation for responsibilities and collaboration scenarios.
Process documentation can be created for clients to strengthen relationships too. “After the project is finished, send out a client satisfaction survey,” Cohen urged, “on every little project, from a small banner ad to a full campaign.” Ask clients to rate the experience on a scale of 1 to 10.
Cohen made important distinctions between social media and real relationships when developing new business. The number of social media followers you have doesn’t matter. “You should know everyone on your list.” New business takes time, and patience. “Make it a habit,” Cohen says, “and talk to people who inspire you.”
The more Cohen discussed new business, the more engaged the audience became. There were immediate questions about how to connect with people when you’re not meeting face-to-face. She recommended writing a letter to 10 different contacts, and attaching three case studies to each. Then, call each contact to follow up to make sure they got the letter. A conversation might start at that point. “People want to get personal. If not, you don’t want to work with them.”
And finally, the money talk. Send a proposal and then call them up asking to walk through the proposal in person. Make your pricing as simple as possible. Bill actual hourly rates, not blended. And Cohen is a big believer in “contracts that are not written by lawyers.” Contracts should be written in friendly words. Why? The project begins on an agreement, not a contract. Writing the contract in casual terms helps to communicate clearly so clients understand your expectations. “Seriously, a contract is not meant to protect you in court,” Cohen states. “It guides the relationship so you don’t go to court.”
About the Author: Rachel Elnar is a partner at Ramp Creative+Design in downtown, and a producer of typography education at TypeEd. She believes that design makes doing business a pleasure. You can disagree with her at @rampcreative or @typeed on Twitter.