Blair Enns joins me to discuss how to take back your power in the client-designer relationship, how not to sell, how to deal with mindset issues, pricing and much more. Also, find out what the “flip” is and why it’s vital in the client-designer relationship.
- Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
- Sunk cost bias
- Loss aversion bias
- Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play
- Pricing on Purpose
Blair Enns is on a mission to change the way creative services are bought and sold the world over. He is the founder of Win Without Pitching, the sales training and coaching organization for creative professionals, and the author of two books.
The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, published in 2010, has sold over 30,000 copies, with annual sales increasing every year for nine years straight. It is available at Amazon in hardcover, Kindle and audio editions.
Blair’s newest book, Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour, published in January of 2018, is a comprehensive guide to value-based pricing for creative firms. It is available in multiple formats at pricingcreativity.com.
Blair also hosts, with David C. Baker, the podcast 2Bobs: Conversations on the Art of Creative Entrepreneurship. According to the UK’s The Agency Collective, 2Bobs is the second most listened to podcast by agency owners, after The Tim Ferriss Show.
Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Blair! I’m so excited to have you here.
Blair Enns: Thank you, Colleen. It’s my pleasure to be here.
Colleen: Is it “kaz-lo” or “kahs-lo?”
Blair: Well, we call it “kahz-lo.” I was hiking with cultural anthropologist who does a lot of work with the first nations around here and he says they pronounce it cost “kahst-low.”
Colleen: Oh, ok.
Blair: So those of us who live here, it’s “kahz-lo.”
Colleen: A colleague of mine posted in my Design Domination Facebook group a pic with you. She just recently met you in Calgary. She wanted to know if you remember that “shameless” girl who asked you for a selfie?
Colleen: And that’s her word, not mine!
Blair: I remember her very well.
Colleen: Okay, great. She’ll be happy to hear that. You know, I’ve heard so many designers say—and I’m included in this myself—the Win Without Pitching Manifesto has changed our lives and how we do business. I have to first make my own proclamation about that book, and that is that there is no filler anywhere in this book. Every sentence is important. Every single sentence.
Blair: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. Shortly after it came out, I got an e-mail from somebody saying, “You’re not a very good writer. You ramble on a lot. If you would like to hire me, I could help edit you.”
Blair: And I thought, “I know I ramble a lot, especially when I speak, but I thought I did a pretty good job of being succinct in that book. So thank you. I appreciate that.
Colleen: Oh, yes, absolutely. Well, you know, I noticed in the dedication of the book that you say “and for Colette, habibti.” I know that that’s Arabic and I used to know how few Arabic words. Do do you speak that?
Blair: No, that’s the only word I know. But when I was in the UAE doing some work, many years ago now, somebody had described that word to me, and I don’t know the meaning behind it. The way he described it was—he may have been bringing some extra meaning to it—but I just thought it was one of the most lovely words I’ve ever heard. And the way he described it, he said it means “my love, my world.”
Blair: Is there a better word than that? I don’t know.
Colleen: Yeah, I’ve heard it a lot in Arabic music.
Blair: Oh, really? Yeah.
Colleen: And the other thing I really liked about your book, and this is totally trivial—
Blair: The random stuff.
Colleen: I noticed right away that you used Mrs. Eaves. And I always liked that font.
Blair: Yeah, I when I conceived of the book, and I hired a designer, I thought, “Well, this is for designers. So it has to be really well designed or it has to be just about the words.” So I hired a designer whose second business is designing typefaces for bibles.
Colleen: Oh, wow.
Blair: Yeah, so he selected Mrs. Eaves. There are some hand-drawn fonts in there that he drew himself. Then he told me the story of Mrs. Eaves, which looks a lot like Baskerville. Do you know the story behind Mrs. Eaves?
Colleen: If I did, I don’t remember it.
Blair: Mrs. Eaves was Mr. Baskerville’s housekeeper and lover?
Blair: Yeah. So if I’m doing a presentation or something and for whatever reason, I can’t access Mrs. Eaves or somebody else doesn’t have the font, I just have to switch it to Baskerville because they’re very close.
Colleen: Oh, interesting. Well, the only thing I don’t like about it is that it doesn’t have a long enough em dash.
Blair: Oh, yeah. Right. Yeah. That may have been on me because I think that book came out in 2010. When I didn’t understand that there were dashes, en dashes and em dashes. So maybe… Is that true, though, the em dash isn’t long enough?
Colleen: The em dash… Well, when I look at the em dash in that font, it reminds me of an en dash—a normal en dash—in another font.
Colleen: So I just think it’s kind of short. But you know, I’m picky about that kind of stuff.
Blair: Here we are geeking out over em dash sizes. We’ve lost everybody. Colleen.
Colleen: I did a whole podcast episode about that. It was quite popular.
Blair: Oh, really? Well, I’m gonna listen to that. Yeah.
Colleen: Yeah, it’s funny. I would like to know first, was there a defining moment that caused you to take on this mission of helping creatives in this way?
Blair: Well, the defining moment was I wanted to move to this little village in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia and I needed to find a way to earn a living. So I decided to launch a consulting practice. Today, 17 years later, Win Without Pitching is a training company, but in 2002, when I launched it, it was a solo consulting practice.
Blair: Thank you. I wanted to launch a new business development, a consultancy, and we use the S word: “sales.” But I know in the creative professions, we don’t like to use that word. We use “new business.”
So I wanted to launch a consultancy, and the name came to me. I don’t remember how it came to me. But it was an aspirational goal for me. At the time, the previous job I had, where I was doing new business for a firm out in western Canada, I had become fed up with the pitch and I had started to push back. But I hadn’t validated much beyond… I hadn’t come up with a lot of the principles and methodologies and frameworks that I use in teach today.
But I had validated the idea that you don’t have to just say yes when the client asks you to do something ridiculous. You can push back. You can ask to be treated differently.
Blair: You can suggest an alternative way forward. So the big idea was validated. I had the point of view. Then when I sat down in 2001 to launch the consulting practice, I started by writing. I think through my fingers. I’m a writer.
So I wrote everything I knew about new business from this point of view. I ended up in with a book that I published on my website. It was self-published. It was simply called The Win Without Pitching Manual, and I sold it for $995 a copy.
Blair: That was available on my website from 2002 until 2010, when the Manifesto came out. Then I took it off, took it off the market.
I don’t even own a copy of it anymore. There are copies of it out there. I don’t have the electronic files anymore. It’s been essentially wiped from history, although, again, I know a few people that have a copy. David Baker has a copy, but he won’t give it to me.
Colleen: Wow, that’s amazing. $995!
How Graphic Designers Can Demonstrate Expertise
Colleen: You’re talking about sales. Many designers, I find, are still trying to sell like a salesman instead of actually demonstrating expertise. What do you think are the best ways to demonstrate that expertise?
Blair: Yeah. Well, there are different ways to demonstrate expertise at different points in the sale. Ideally… We talk about in our training, we talk about the four conversations. This idea that you… It’s helpful to view the sale as a series of four discrete linear conversations. Each conversation has a different objective and a different framework to navigate to that objective. So you simply ask:
- Where am I in the sale?
- What conversation is this?
- What’s the objective of this conversation?
- What framework should I be using to navigate to the objective?
In that model, the first conversation that we have, we call it the “probative conversation.” The objective of the probative conversation is for you to move in the mind of the client from the vendor position to the expert practitioner position. We talk about this moment. We call it “the flip.”
The flip is the moment when you move, in the mind of the client, from a vendor with little power in the buy-sell relationship to the expert practitioner with some power to push back.
So your question, how do you prove expertise… The key to the probative conversation is it happens without you present. It happens through your agents of leadership and referrers. So those clients who are referring business to you and then also the content you’re putting out in the world. The stuff that you put out in the world: your portfolio, if you’re a designer or creative.
You put out the the finished product and say, “I did that” and you also publish. You write, you podcast, you do YouTube videos, whatever the medium is. You create content marketing or thought leadership, and you put that out into the world. That’s how you begin.
Then once you get into the sale with a client, and they’re asking you to demonstrate expertise, that’s when you start to use case studies. Then the methods and the tools that you use basically change as you go through the arc of the sale. If you want to think of how can you communicate your expertise in the closing conversation without giving your thinking away for free without pitching, you can offer a guarantee as one way.
You could offer to break up the engagement into small steps and just take a small first step with you and then guarantee that first step. Just some sort of satisfaction guarantee, pay us work with us, and if you’re not happy after the first step, then we’ll give you your money back.
There are all kinds of different ways that you can do this, and they essentially change as you move through the sale.
Colleen: What if you do good work for them with that guarantee, and they’re just, “Oh, well, I just don’t like it. So I’m just not going to pay”?
Blair: So the great thing about that scenario is you have to ask yourself the question: “What happens if I do good work and somebody doesn’t like it, they don’t personally like it or they’re using the wrong criteria?”
Blair: Or they’re not that honorable. These are all great questions that you have to ask yourself. One of the one of the reasons that a guarantee is so powerful is it forces you to ask yourself the question, “Should I really be doing business with this person?” Because if you think this person is going to take advantage of that guarantee clause or just dismiss your work based on a sense of personal preference, and maybe an uninformed or low-level of sophistication, when it comes to judging work like yours, then that’s not a person you should be doing business with.
So a guarantee is a very helpful filter or purifier of your client base. Usually, you have to ask yourself that question, “Well, what happened? Do I trust this person? Do I trust this person to pay me to appreciate to know good work when they see it, to value the fact that I’m the expert in the room here to respect my right to do this my way? Well, getting to an outcome that they agree with or sign off on? Do I trust this person with all of these things?”
These are questions you should be asking of yourself about your clients, whether you’re offering a guarantee or not. Considering a guarantee just just brings those questions to the forefront.
Colleen: Yeah, and sometimes they might have their act together, but there’s another decision maker that you’re not necessarily getting access to. And that person might, you know, make a decision later and say, Oh, we just don’t want to pay for that. But this other person you were talking to might have been kind of honorable and upfront, but somebody else might have you know, nixed it.
Blair: So there’s another. A guarantee forces you to do other things that you really should be doing anyway.
Blair: And one of them is identifying all of the decision makers who has the authority to say yes. Who has the authority to say no, and then include them in that conversation before you decide to offer a guarantee.
So many problems in the sale happen because you’re not getting to the right decision maker.
Blair: You’ve chosen to not ask the question, make the request, and you’ve chosen to just do business with a gatekeeper or intermediary.
We’ve all seen that movie, we know how it ends, right? So if you want to get better at the business side of your creative practice, whether you’re running a small or medium firm, or you’re a solopreneur, one of the things that you need to be get comfortable with is getting to the ultimate decision marker—asking to get to the ultimate decision maker.
Graphic Designers’ Superpower and Selling
Colleen: Right. Now, you say in one part of Win Without Pitching Manifesto that:
Our highest value offering is our ability to bring new perspective and understanding to our clients’ problems.
So many designers miss this completely. Some of them are still selling the thing—the brochure, the website—and not the result of what that is. I’m sure you’re seeing that a lot too.
Blair: Yeah, that description, that idea, of bringing a novel perspective to the problem. That’s what creativity is. Creativity is not the ability to write or draw or to use InDesign. Creativity is the ability to see…
Now those other things fall under the category of what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi… That’s a mouthful, but he’s a psychologist at the University of Chicago who studies creativity and happiness, and he coined the term “flow state.”
The flow state is the state when you’re happiest, you’re kind of lost in the task that that you’re doing, or the endeavor that you’re doing. You’re challenged, you’re pushed out to the edge of your abilities, but not beyond. You have a sense of mastery. That’s when we’re happiest—when we’re challenged, but we still feel like we’re in control.
So Csíkszentmihályi talks about the ability to write and draw etc., as as a form of personal creativity. But creativity at the highest level, is the ability to see. It’s the ability to think about the problem differently.
Just imagine that you’re working for a client and the client comes to you and they’re self-diagnosed: “I understand what my problem is,” and they’re self-prescribed: “I know what the solution is,” and they come to you. All they want from you is to procure a solution: “Give me a price to procure the solution. I’m self-diagnosed, self-prescribed.”
In a situation like that, you are asked to enter into an engagement where you’re not allowed to bring your superpower to bear because your superpower is the ability to think about the problem differently, which may lead you to a different solution.
Blair: And when the client takes that off the table, they impair your ability to do your best work.
Colleen: They’re kind of like, “Hey, you’re just the order taker. You’re not the expert.”
Blair: Yep. “I need four bids on this one very specific solution. You’re one of four.”
The Right Mindset for Graphic Designers
Colleen: Right. Well, I’m sure you’ll agree that mindset can make all the difference, you know, in your business. It can really feel like the chicken-or-the-egg scenario.
If you don’t have the right mindset, then you end up taking on any work, you attract crappy clients, you don’t enforce your boundaries and so forth. Designers need to change their mindset, get paid first, talk money and be confident so they can attract these better clients, right?
One of my listeners submitted a question, and I thought this was a great question. Cassy asked, “How do you recommend that new freelancers get into this mindset?” How do they get their mindset in the right place to do these things?
Blair: I would say read the Win Without Pitching Manifesto.
Colleen: Yes, of course, a prerequisite!
Blair: That’s the “Yes, you can” book. That book was written to get people into the right mindset.
You’re absolutely right, Colleen. Mindset underpins everything. I’ve only discovered that in the last seven or eight years. I remember I used to think I can teach anybody how to sell, I can teach anybody how to do this. I was wrapping up a day of sales training for a group in Sydney, Australia, one day and taking questions. The first question came from a woman who said, “Okay, now that I know what to do, how do I build up the courage to do this?”
Blair: I don’t remember my answer to the question. But I didn’t have a good one. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I realized it was part of my frustration as a consultant, is I really believe the client had the problem, I had the solution. Here’s the solution, go do it. You’ll have success.
But it doesn’t always happen that way. When I thought about it long enough, I realized… This woman was taught a whole bunch of things to do in a specific sale situation client does x, you do y. What she was saying is, “I can’t bring myself to do this.” The reason she couldn’t imagine herself doing these things is it conflicted with her larger general pattern of behavior.
I’m advocating that you do things that any other expert or professional would do in a situation, say what you’re thinking, pushback on things you don’t agree with, ask for concessions, ask to get to the people are going to make the decisions, and believe that you have a right to sit down with those people.
People try this on and think, “Well, I have a hard time imagining me doing that,” because it conflicts with your vendor pattern.
Blair: I’m asking you to behave like the general expert. So what I say now is those points of sales process that will teach you, you can forget them, and you’ll still be fine. As long as you behave, generally speaking, like the expert, like the expert practitioner, and not like the vendor. Underpinning that is mindset.
I think of my mindset as the conversations that you’re having with yourself. It really is the set of beliefs that you have and you build. You do that through essentially saying things to yourself with the conversations that you have with yourself.
When you’re thinking like the expert, then you will behave like the expert.
Then if you can remember to apply these specific situations, you will be more successful.
We have a Jedi mantra we have people recite. It’s a bunch of statements put together that are really just what you say to yourself to remind yourself that you have value here, you’re the expert. The client, if you end up working with the client, they would be lucky to work with you. If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. Your world’s not going to collapse.
But you’re right:
Everything comes down to mindset. Absolutely everything comes down to mindset.
Colleen: Yeah. You were talking about a pattern. You might have had a client talk to you in the past a certain way or, like you said, come to you, and they’re like, “This is what I need. I just need an estimate. I don’t need you to do anything else. I just want an estimate, and then you can do the work.”
It’s like you develop this pattern of behaving the way that you’ve been treated—put into that position—because you’re not making the change. Once you do, it feels so amazing, because, oh, my gosh, this actually works, and now I’m getting more respect.
Blair: It’s addictive, isn’t it?
Colleen: It is!
Blair: You start to push back. You start to ask for what you want. You start to get it and you think, “Oh my gosh. Things could be a whole lot better.”
The sad thing is there are some people who will go their whole careers as a designer or creative of some kind who don’t understand: a) how much value they add to the client’s business really, and b) how much power they have in the buy-sell relationship that they’ve never really leveraged. I don’t mean leveraging power for the sake of ego or for just for the sake of power itself. Leveraging power to change the way you’re services are bought and sold, so that you can be in a position to create even greater value, and you can capture more of that value for yourself in the form of compensation.
What Graphic Designers Should Understand About “No”
Colleen: The other day in a Facebook group, I was horrified because somebody posted and they said they had submitted a proposal, and it came down to just them and this other person, and the other person got picked. They asked the client why they picked the other person. The client said, “Oh, well, they showed us some mockups with the proposal, and their price was lower.”
So the designer said, “Okay, next time, I’m going to start showing mockups with my proposals and lower my price.” And I said, “No, no, no, stop, please just stop. You shouldn’t be doing spec work, and you shouldn’t be lowering your prices just because somebody else won that work.” You know, who cares? Let them go. You don’t want that client anyway.
In your book, you say,
No is the second best answer we can hear. We want to hear it as early in the buying cycle as possible.
It’s so true. And you even say, “We invite the client to say no early and often.”
Designers need to accept “no” is a good thing and a lot of situations.
Blair: Yeah. And and one of the points there was if the answer is no, you want to hear it early, as early as possible. You want to not overinvest in the sale. You want to get to the point where if you hear no, you think, “Oh, well, it’s too bad this doesn’t work out.” And then you move on. Really, that’s it.
The times when you’re floored by the “no”—the “no” has hurt you either personally or financially, your expectations were so high or your feelings were hurt or whatever it is—these are the times when we’re overinvested in the sale. We’re not pushing back.
The client selection processes are unnecessarily long and arduous. It’s to their benefit to make them difficult, long and arduous. It’s in their interest to have us invest in the sale, because then they can leverage sunk cost bias, which sees it very difficult for us to walk away once we’ve invested in something.
We feel like, “Well we’ve already spent this time on this, and you’re already invested emotionally. It’s really hard to walk away.
It also leverages loss aversion bias, which is a principle that says we value losing something about twice as much as we value winning it. So the longer you’re engaged and trying to win the business, the more you mentally own it.
You’re essentially owning it, the more work you do. Then you’re imagining giving it up. There are a couple of things going on. So you really do need to learn to push back early. And be open to hearing no’s early.
In the case of that example that you just gave my first reaction was, well, if that’s your reaction, you’re not going to be in business very long.
Colleen: Right, exactly.
Blair: That’s how you’re responding. Oh, okay. So more free work and lower prices? Got it.
I’m hoping that was just a moment of frustration. Because even as a natural tendency, if you think, well, that’s the way you win, whether you’re just not thinking creatively or strategically enough,
Colleen: Then you’re always in a race to the bottom and nobody wins that.
Blair: Yeah, yeah. It’s just all losers down at the bottom, right?
But in that situation, the designer could have said early on, “Listen, if it’s important for me to share a bunch of concepts with you, I’m not going to do that before we’re hired, but if you want to see…” So two different things. “I can show you examples of the work that I’ve done, and I can walk you through how I arrived at these solutions. Or, if you if you really do want to see what I would do, we could just break this into steps, and I could spend a little bit of time doing high-level concepts first, and I’ll charge you x for that. Then once you sign off on not the specific concept, but once I show you the small number of very high-level concepts, once you’re confident that, ‘Okay, I think this is the right designer for me. She understands. We’re going to get something good here. I feel it,’ then we can move to the next stage. You can pay me for the next stage.”
There are all kinds of different ways to deal with this. But the key principle would be
If you can think of a reason why this deal might not happen, put it on the table as early as possible and ask the client to deal with it.
Do a premortem. Come up with all of the reasons why you didn’t win the business and then put them on the table for the client to address.
In this case, it might be price: “So before we go too far, you should know that I’m not the cheapest designer around. If you’re talking to other designers, you’re almost certainly going to be talking to somebody who’s cheaper than us. How important is price to you?”
Another might be: “I don’t do free work. I don’t begin working on the assignment until I’m hired and I’ve received a deposit in advance. Is that an issue for you? Be honest, if it is, let me know.”
If you think there’s a problem, put it on the table and ask the client, “Is there a problem here?” If the client says, “Well, yeah, there’s a problem here.”
I’ve already just kind of role played it. There are ways that you can deal with them, but some of them are deal killers, right? Some of them might be you know, “My budget’s $1,000.” You’re thinking it’s 10,000.
“I need this logo for $1,000.” Maybe that’s a deal killer. There are other ways to deal with that that I talk about my most recent book Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour. But just sticking to the basics of how you navigate the sale, just go for the “no” early.
“No’s” early are your friends. When you hear them late, they are your enemies.
Colleen: Yeah. I mean, you really don’t want to get into a proposal that you spent days on and then you find out “no.”
Then the whole thing with the spec work up front… How can you possibly come up with a proper solution at that stage?
Blair: You got it. Yeah.
How Graphics Designers Should Price
Colleen: I had a couple of questions about pricing. One of them comes from one of my listeners named Chris, and he wanted to know what your take was about putting prices and packages on your website. I’ve shared my thoughts on this in the past.
Blair: Yeah, I love that question. Thank you for asking it, Chris.
There are two types of businesses for the purpose of this discussion. There are customized services business, where every engagement is a blank slate, is a creative act. There are productized services businesses, where the engagements tend to be similar.
So productized services—there are product businesses and productized services businesses. Those are built for scale.
A customized services business is not. Somewhere above 90%—approaching 100%—of the people listening to this podcast are and probably should be running customized services businesses. If you’re a classic designer, there are a small number of clients that you can work with at any one time.
What you should be doing is thinking of each engagement with that client as a creative act, where even if it’s just a logo, you know, the other things that go with the logo, the things that are important to this organization, everything is different. So you invest the time to learn about the organization and how you create value through this logo.
You spend more time in the sale in a customized services business and you put together an engagement that is more customized to the client.
You follow the first rule in my pricing book: you price the client.
On the other end of the spectrum, productized services businesses are built for scale. You have standard pricing, where you don’t in customized services business. You have standard packages. When somebody is talking to you about their challenge, all you can do is pick from the shelves to sell them whatever products you have. It might make sense to put those services on your website.
Think of a SAAS company, like HubSpot as an example. They have standard packages on the website you can buy on the website without talking to a salesperson. There’s no customized special price for you. You think of a HubSpot partner digital marketing firm who resells HubSpot. That is a customized services business.
So the short answer—I know this is long answer. The short answer is no, don’t put prices or products on your website.
I made that mistake. Win Without Pitching started as a consulting company. In theory, it should have been a customized services business. But I quasi-productized my services, like a lot of companies do. I got caught in this mushy middle of a quasi-productized services company. A lot of design firms and up there.
You can make more money and have more impact if you go to one of the two ends of the spectrum. You embrace the fact that yours is a customized services business. You can only work with a small number of clients. You price based on the value you create, not based on the inputs or the market value of the outputs.
The other end of the spectrum is you pursue scale and you build a company; you invent the logo designing machine, essentially. It’s a little bit tongue in cheek, but I know somebody on Twitter who’s just launched this service that’s basically $1,000 for logo or something. It’s all productized, and you don’t you don’t get all the customized conversations. You get a small number of revisions, etc. That company is built for scale.
You have to choose one, one or the other.
Unless you come up with really valid reasons to go productized, yours is a customized services business, and the first rule of pricing is to price the client, not the service, not the job.
Therefore you do not put prices on your website. You might put minimum prices (“Our engagements typically start at x.”) But that’s about it.
Colleen: Yeah. Because you could have a big company come along and see that on your site, and they’re like, “Oh, that’s what I’m expecting to pay.” But they could be this huge company, and they need a huge brand guide and all this other stuff.
Blair: Yeah. I ask in the book, what does a logo cost? So if I ask a roomful of designers, “Look, what’s the price of a logo?” The right answer is, “Well, that depends.” But often somebody will say “$5,000,” and then somebody else yells out “10!” They get into this competitive thing.
But the real answer is “That depends.” Then I say, “Well, what does it depend on? Is it the quality of the logo? Is it the amount of time it took?” No, it’s on the value of the logo to the company. That’s really hard to discern early on.
Blair: But then I talk about two examples. Nike paid $200 in today’s money. It was $35 in 1971 for the Nike swoosh. PepsiCo in 2008 paid a million dollars to update the Pepsi brand. One is 5000 times the price of the other, and their range is even bigger than that.
It really comes down to what’s the value of that logo to that company in that moment. PepsiCo could have been convinced to pay $20 million for their logo in that moment if it had been structured right.
So price the client, not the service, not the job. You price the client. Rule number one of pricing creativity.
Colleen: Now when it comes to pricing design work, and taking into consideration number of designs and rounds of revisions and all that stuff, you can charge a whole lot and not put a limit on it and either hope for the best, or, if it’s a client that you’ve worked with, then you know what their MO is.
It reminds me of a story where I worked with a client years ago, and it was the third rounds of revisions and she rewrote the whole brochure. Everything had to be done again.
It was a really complex brochure. I was “Oh my gosh. I’m doing the whole thing over again,” and I didn’t charge her more for that. She literally said to me, “Well, I had another round of revisions left, so I wanted to use them.” Wait, you just made changes just to make changes? I was blown away.
Blair: Wow. Yeah, there’s a reason right there why you shouldn’t price in the round of revisions.
Colleen: Right. Well, I’ve since changed my contracts to say “up to x drafts” and “of decreasing complexity.”
So what’s your take about number of designs, and then, you know, the, the number of drafts that they get?
Blair: Well, I think to get to a good outcome, you need a good client, and you need a good, transparent working methodology.
A good client is somebody who you wouldn’t have—I’m not suggesting you have to give a guarantee—but you would have no qualms about offering a guarantee to because you’ve asked yourself the question, Do I trust this person? Does she have good judgment? Does she seem to respect me, etc. That’s a good client.
Ingredients for a Good Design Process and Client Relationship
Blair: Then a good working process or methodology is you would explain to the client, “This is how it works. You’re going to hire me to do the brochure. Here’s how it works. So first, we do the onboarding meeting. I get all the basic information from you, whatever marketing materials you have, etc. Then we’ll establish a timeline, whatever it is, and then I’m going to do initial high-level concepts. Then you’re going to sign off on those high-level concepts,” like talking about working transparently and collaboratively, which I talk about in the Manifesto.
The key here is you keep the client involved. You don’t show up—
I remember when I launched Win Without Pitching as a consulting practice, I hired a design firm. I hired them to design the first book, the Win Without Pitching Manual and my website and some other things. I briefed them over the phone. Then they said, “Come see us in six weeks.” And I went, Okay. But I thought, “What happens in six weeks?”
So there’s no communication between me and them. We set up a time when I was going to go into meet them. I went into a meeting, and I had no idea what we’re going to do in the meeting. They showed me two, maybe three, different creative directions. I think it was two. I loved them both and I chose one.
But for the entire six-week period, I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know what they were doing. I didn’t know what they expected me to do. They basically made a whole bunch of guesses and said, “All right. Here it is. Which one do you like?”
They were good designers. They came highly recommended to me. But the way they worked was horrible. I was drowning in buyer’s remorse because I was left all alone.
Your working methodology should explain: Here’s where we show you things. Here’s where you sign off. Once you sign off on this, then if you change your mind after that, then that’s a change of scope, and we’re going to have to sign a change order, etc.
So you need a good client that you trust. You need open collaborative communication, and you need a working methodology that is open and trend parent, and you communicate that to the client.
It’s like, here’s how we’re going to work together. When the client comes back to you and says, Well, I had another revision, so I rewrote the brief. That’s when you say, “Wait a minute, stop. No, no, no.”
Blair: You agreed on the direction previously. So if you want me to do this, that’s another job. That’s an entirely different scope. I’m happy to do this for you. I don’t understand why. But if you want me to do it, you have to pay me to do this. “Do you want me to do this?”
The earlier in your career, you learn to have these direct conversations, the better off you will be.
Win Without Pitching Manifesto
Colleen: So true. One of my listeners, Michael says that the Manifesto book is nearly a decade old. If you were to put out a 2020 version, how would it be different? What have you learned on the topic in the past decade that you would like to share?
Blair: There’s only one thing I would change about the Manifesto.
The audio is nine years old, and the audio version just came out last week or two weeks ago, maybe. So that’s what I would do. I would release the audio version earlier.
When I wrote my first book, I had a preface it an introductory chapter explaining my use of pronouns and why I selected the male pronoun. I would always say “he” when I meant an individual. I said, I mean it as the royal “he.” I don’t like alternating between “he” and “she” and, as a writer, I abhor using “they” for the singular.
Blair: Even when I recorded the… I didn’t record, so my director of coaching voiced, narrated, this—Shannon Lee. When she recorded it, we had the question, before she went into record, do we change the gender pronouns? Because every once in a while… Do we change the pronouns to be gender neutral or alternate back and forth?
There are only two places in the book I use the female pronouns. The decision was no, let’s keep the audio true to the original text. If I had to do it over again, I would alternate “he” and “she,” as I do now, and as I have been for years, that’s the only change I would make. I would change nothing else.
Colleen: So all the content would be the same?
Blair: When you look at the book, I wrote it… It was designed to be timeless. I wanted this book to outlast me. I wanted somebody to be able to pick it up today and 50 years from today and for it to be just as relevant.
There are frameworks that I’ve developed… So there were frameworks that I still use that are alluded to in the book. It’s not a book of frameworks really. There are frameworks, like the four conversations that I mentioned to you, that have been developed since that book that aren’t alluded to in there. Probably if I were doing it again, today, I might allude to some of those more modern-to-me frameworks, but they wouldn’t fundamentally change anything, core content.
Living in a Small Town
Colleen: Well, this next question, I appreciate it, because I live in a small rural area that’s about an hour away from where my clients are. Jason said he grew up not far from Kaslo, and asked why you live there and how it’s helped or hindered your business in any way.
Blair: Well, if you grew up not far from here, he knows why I chose here because it’s a beautiful part of the world. The physical environment is physically stunning—mountains, lakes, etc. The people are fascinating and beautiful and freaky.
I always say if you feel like you don’t belong anywhere in the world, you probably have a home here. So that’s why I live here.
I think the second question was, has it helped or hindered? It’s absolutely helped me. I don’t know if I could do what I do if I didn’t leave here. I know I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t live here. My location is a massive part of my identity.
I’ve written about this, there’s an article on winwithoutpitching.com somewhere about this, and I forget what it’s called. But it’s got an aerial view of Kaslo and an aerial view of Manhattan. They look eerily similar, although quite different.
I would say when I go to New York, I can only stay for a few days, because if I’m there longer than a few days, I start to believe what people say. They say things like, “You can’t win without pitching.”
I don’t read the trade publications. I don’t read Ad Age, Adweek. I don’t read any of that stuff. I purposely work hard to keep information out. I don’t read books on selling.
I’ve read a lot on pricing. That’s an area had to do a lot of research. So there are areas where I just worked really hard to keep information out because I feel like I’ve got this valuable removed perspective that gets tainted the longer I’m in—I just picked New York as an example, London… Pick any other major market where that’s kind of a regional epicenter of the design or creative or advertising professions.
I just can’t stay there too long. I feel like living where I live gives me a point of view. It allows me to see that the industry is crazy. It’s insane. What falls under the category of standard practices for how clients hire a designer and the things that designers and design firms are willing to do to get work, they’re insane.
Blair: You don’t know if you’ve been doing this… In the beginning, you think, “Oh, this, that’s how it’s done. Okay, weird, but, okay, that way.” Then, after not too long, you’re the person saying, “Well, that’s just the way it’s done.”
I’m telling you from the outside looking in, it’s insane. Just talk to your friends who do other things for a living. Talk to them about how you sell, about what you give away, about how you give away all your power. They’ll look at you like you’re nuts.
Colleen: Right. You said in one of your podcast episodes that you could probably live in Hobart, Tasmania.
Colleen: What is it about that city in Tasmania?
Blair: So Tasmania’s in the bottom part of Australia, so it’s cold. The south down there is cold. It’s flipped, right. So it’s colder. It’s small. It’s rural, but the city’s kind of this vibrant, cool little city. I don’t know, it’s just a place where I felt at home.
I could live in Hobart, I could live in parts of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, which is on Vancouver Island, if I had to pick cities.
I love visiting cities. I would have to be able to live in a place that was still kind of somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world in some way.
Colleen: I hear ya.
Colleen: So tell us a little bit about Pricing Creativity.
Blair: Aha, so I mentioned I don’t read books on selling. I own lots of books on selling. I’ve never read any of them. I’ve flipped through some of them.
Actually, that’s not true. I think I’ve read Mahan Khalsa’s Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play. But that would be the only one I’ve read cover to cover on selling.
Pricing, what I discovered… I had a few moments where I realized, wow, I don’t really understand the subject of pricing or a value. I thought, “Well, I ordered three books, I thought I’ll read up on it and know learn what I don’t know.” I realized… The first book was a bit of a throwaway, I didn’t get much from it.
The second book was Ronald J. Baker’s book, Pricing on Purpose. It’s an excellent book, and he’s an excellent writer. So I kind of immediately fell in love with the subject of pricing.
I realized pricing isn’t… It’s part science, but it’s a lot of art. The field of pricing is really as big as the entire field of judgment and decision making. So it encompasses behavioral economics, behavioral psychology, a whole bunch of other fields. I just kept buying books and buying books. Then I would start to apply what I learned.
Then one day a friend said, “Yeah, you should write a book on pricing.” I said, “Yeah, there’re a lot of great books written on pricing.” And he said to me (and he owns a small agency), “Your clients are never going to read those books.” I thought, “He’s right.”
So I love the theory. I’ve read a lot of books on the underlying theory. They’re kind of textbooks that most designers wouldn’t read. Then, in Pricing Creativity, which came out in January of 2018, I endeavored to take all of the underlying principles and just communicate the smallest number of them. Here’s what designers need to know about the underlying principles of pricing. That was the first section of the book. So I broke into four sections: principles, rules, tips and tools.
There’re the underlying principles, so you don’t have to read all these books. Then there’re six rules that I conceived of, these six rules that you should follow every time and then there’s a series of tips for a specific situation. In the manual version, which I have here on my desk, and I really conceived of this as a manual to sit on your desk comes in a three-ring binder, there’s a Tools section.
Colleen: Be sure to save a copy of that one!
Blair: Yeah, no worries there. I have a few dozen copies lying around.
So that was the genesis of the book. I felt like I didn’t know anything about pricing, and I endeavored to learn what I didn’t know. I think that journey began seven or eight years ago now and the book has been out for about 18 months.
Colleen: Okay, cool. Well, this has been super insightful. I really appreciate you coming on.
Blair: Thank you, Colleen. It’s really been my pleasure. Thanks for having me on. I love talking to your audience. I especially like the audience of the solo creative, the solo designer early in their career.