Creative Professionals have the toughest job in Advertising. Without knowing how or what they will deliver for a Client's job, they routinely commit to a deadline. Despite no formal process for being creative and that everyone at the agency is scrutinizing their work, they routinely deliver. Kudos to the Creatives!
When beginning a venture, one often envisions an ambitious goal that solves a significant problem; to develop a solution so complete, the product launch itself feels like a finale of sorts. Looking back, this beautifully positive outlook was a part of my vision when starting Openhour (formerly CreativeWorx). We were on a mission to provide something spectacular for creative services industries, addressing an issue that has plagued consultants and firms alike, for decades.
Then we got started. The path of a successful venture rarely follows a straight line.
Upon first launching one year ago, we presented TimeTracker – a platform that solved the problems of late and inaccurate timesheets by leveraging automated activity collection, big data analysis, and machine learning. Despite the appealing market size and positive reaction from clients, I couldn’t help but examing the resulting analytics and contemplate the possibility that we had built something more meaningful than initially planned.
And in business, meaningfulness ought to be pursued, when possible.
Microsoft Ventures selected our company to participate in their four-month start-up accelerator focused on enterprise productivity. Their investment and engagement became the catalyst to accelerate our development and capitalize on the much broader opportunity that we had created with our platform. The pieces were coming together.
The Openhour platform has the potential to solve many issues across industries, by automatically capturing and understanding how people consume time. We are defining a new category of personal metrics, called Quantified Performance.
This expansion of our product drives productivity improvements related to how time is spent. While highlighting something as everyday as time, our platform was beginning to feel, well, exciting.
NEW PRODUCT, NEW VISION
Given our new product developments, the need to rebrand the company became obvious; clients, partners and investors felt the name CreativeWorx no longer aligned with our vision. We needed to reflect the value we provide people and organizations.
Openhour encourages users to understand the details of how they spend their time, so they can identify and maximize each open hour; we want to encourage people to better balance their lives, through time. And at an organizational level, effective time management is imperative, improving productivity and personal satisfaction.
Those of us at Openhour realize this is a significant endeavor, but we’re pursuing it with the understanding that “significant” was one of our first collective goals.
THE FUTURE OF OPENHOUR
Time is the one resource we cannot get back. The Openhour mission is to help people save and enjoy our most precious resource, and we’re excited to see others are compelled by this vision.
Over the past month we’ve invited press to experience the new company and platform. Resulting from these efforts, Joao-Pierre Ruth of Xconomy crafted this piece highlighting our work amid Microsoft Ventures and intention to expand our focus, with Openhour.
As we continue on our path, we anticipate sharing additional stories on Openhour developments by press resources.
Above all, thank you for joining us on this adventure. We're grateful to have you with us.
Mark Hirsch | CEO of Openhour
1. Give them vague design specs What you think you are giving them: Creative Freedom. What they hear: You are going to run them through multiple frustrating iterations after the first version is delivered.
2. Give them extremely specific design specs What you think you are giving them: Clear, detailed specifications and guidance. What they hear: You don’t trust their creative insights, and trust your own a little too much. You are probably going to micro manage the life out of the project, resulting in sub-par design folly.
3. Tell them to come in by 9am To a creative pro, 9am is the crack of dawn. While you were up at 6am doing pilates or feeding your kids, creative pro were in the middle of a deep, restorative, REM sleep. If you insist on them coming in at 9am, expect crankiness, sullenness, and phoned-in creative work.
4. Tell them to wear business casual Creative Pros see business wear as a tool of oppression, quashing individuality and creative expression. Khakis and pale-blue plaid button-downs are what Satan wears in creative hell.
5. Make them sit in long meetings There are oodles of studies showing that long meetings hurt productivity, and cause deep resentment. Nothing erodes morale and productivity like listening to middle management play buzzword bingo for hours on end. If you force your creative pro to sit through such meetings, expect them to lead a covert war of verbal discontent.
6. Use fancy creative terminology Do you want your creative pros to laugh behind your back? Then go ahead and use words like “anchor point”, “negative space”, and “saturation”. You aren’t as expert in such things as you think you are.
7. Change your mind a lot It might look simple to you, but the design comp, mockup, or preview you are looking at took a lot of work, and a lifetime of focus on creative disciplines. Every time you throw their creative work in the fire on a whim, know that you are also burning your creative pro’s motivation.
8. Disregard their creative expertise Face it… you are not a design, editing, or writing expert. You might think you have good taste and a clear sense of style. But you just aren't as good as your creative pros. You hired a creative pro. Let them do their job.
9. Spy on them So you walk through the office and see your creative pros online watching videos, scrolling through Facebook and Pinterest, or perusing FastDesign.co. Let them be. True creativity is an intense, organic process that doesn’t happen evenly over time. It happens in spurts. Let your creative pros nurture their creative juices by browsing the web for inspiration, or by taking a break from the intensity of creative work.
10. Expect accurate timesheets in arcane tools A reality of being a creative pro is that you have to track your time. Most creative teams still use arcane, inaccurate methods for tracking time. Shockingly, many still use paper timesheets. Why waste your creative pros' valuable time on boring admin taste like writing timesheets when it can be done automatically?
Creating client proposals to win new business can feel like a major drag and just another distraction from your main objective: delivering exceptional value for your clients. Even worse is investing extraordinary time and resources to create a presentation showcasing your services, agency team, experiences and proposed plans...only to have the prospective client disregard it because the proposal doesn’t speak directly to them or align with their expectations. To help you create an effective proposal that highlights your agency’s strength and conveys an aligned message with the brand you’re pitching, we featured a few tips below on how to create proposals that win the right kind of business.
Align Your Proposal With Your Prospective Clients’ Goals & Brand
Brands see pitches from freelancers and agencies on a daily basis, and in many cases they are generic templates with a few tweaks here and there. In such a competitive industry, it is essential that take time to personalize your pitch to align with your prospective clients’ overall brand and strategy?
To truly partner with a brand, show why your team is the right team for them to choose. A more personalized connection between your business and your prospective clients’ business is extremely powerful.
Here are simple steps to do this:
- Reference a recent campaign they did, and how you could build off of it
- Show that you understand the company history
- Display how your work culture and goals mesh with theirs
- Cite specific reasons why your agency can help them with their problem, rather than just showing them what you have and can create
Focus First on Building A Relationship
Ultimately, business decisions come down to two things: do they want to work with a particular agency, and can they deliver?
While it’s tempting, and rational, to begin proposals with objective data, case studies and awards won, it’s actually more effective to connect on a human-level. Establish a rapport first, and then back up your people-skills with a plan and track record that will support your pitch and show you can in fact deliver exceptional results.
Your goal is for the prospective client to understand the vision and feel comfortable working with you. If you engaged immediately with data, you’ll likely bypass the opportunity to build genuine engagement and the prospective client will view you as a commodity, rather than a partner.
Focus On the Problem You’re Solving
Far too often agencies lose their focus, and unintentionally become overwhelming, making their pitch extremely difficult to understand. In your initial pitch, your goal should be to focus on the most difficult problem at hand that you and your team can solve, and clearly show how you can achieve this.
As time progresses and the relationship is strengthened, then you can explore other areas to work with your client, but pitching everything upfront will only dilute your pitch.
It’s also worth noting that while referencing awards and accolades can help in terms of social proof, it does not replace a fixation on the clients’ problem. It's essential that you highlight your firm's competitive advantage, and how that will help you and your agency address your client's primary issue. The client simply wants their problem solved in an easy-to-understand process.
Work Together During the Proposal Process
The best way to ensure you’re tailoring your proposal to a business that you’ve identified to be a great match is to ask them for input on your proposal. Rather than basing your entire proposal on the basic information provided to all competing agencies, work directly with the prospective client to show them your collaboration skills while test-driving the relationship.
The best results come when you treat your clients as partners. By working together on a small sample project before agreeing to a long term engagement, both parties will understand each other much better. You will also get a better sense if this particular engagement is poised for success, before investing a significant amount of resources into it.
(If their process forbids collaboration, you can engage with vendors and third-party influencers who already work with them. There's a lot be learned from third-parties, and this can be very easy to accomplish. LinkedIn and other social media tools make it easy to find common links...so reach out and build your network at the same time.)
Incorporate Your Skills & Creativity into the Proposal
Don’t be fooled thinking your proposal needs to look or feel a certain way. Think outside of the box. As an agency trying to showcase your work through past experiences and vision, nothing can match actually doing some upfront work to prove your worth and standout from a flood of proposals that may all essentially look the same.
For instance, if you’re a package design agency, create a thoughtful, physical package to ship along with your proposal, even if your proposal is all done online. If you’re a web dev shop, why not turn your proposal into a mini-site? Creative agencies could build a scaled down version of their campaign vision and blend in the proposal that way.
These companies you’re pitching don’t want to be sold to, they want to be blown away by your creativity and ability to execute, so do just that. You’re only limited by your creativity, and quite frankly, that’s what you’re selling. So, the more creative and effective you are in the overall experience of your pitch, the greater the chance is that you’ll win more business and cut through the noise.
Client proposals aren’t necessarily your first point of contact with interested companies (as they’ve likely already seen some of your work, your site and potentially had prior engagements with you), but it is your first point of direct contact with them to solve a specific problem. This is why it is crucial that you take the extra time to develop an experience that will capture their attention. Case studies and jargon can only go so far, but where others don’t want to go or cannot go due to their lack of creative resources, is exactly why you have an opportunity to win business by investing upfront and creating a personal connection before the engagement is even discusses. So, go out there and outdo the competition not just in the marketplace through your work, but also in the boardroom as you pitch potential clients. If done correctly, you’ll see a major impact on your agency’s growth.
In the agency world, things move fast, and just keeping up with your clients’ demands is a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean you should only focus on in-bound requests. Your clients would benefit significantly if you shifted some focus on your internal processes. Streamlining operations can improve your client/agency relationship while increasing agency profitability, employee job satisfaction and the quality of your firm's work. When you only think in terms of client to client, rather than building an overarching strategy for your agency, issues are often overlooked, such as: (1) inefficient internal processes that become increasingly more inefficient as the business scales, and (2) judging employee effectiveness on input rather than output.
However you slice it, the success of an agency relies on building the right team, over-delivering on services and working with the right clients. None of that is possible if you have faulty internal processes in place. Listed below are the most important steps to grow your agency, your workforce’s productivity and your clients’ satisfaction.
- Proper Agency-Client Communication
No matter how great your offering is, if it’s not exactly what the client was hoping for, you’ll ultimately fail. This goes far beyond just setting high-level expectations on goals and how creative should look; these discussions should be a deep-dive into proper budgeting, frequent cadences to monitor and tweak performance, and an intense focus on creating iterations throughout, rather than taking a waterfall approach where your team spends weeks or months preparing a campaign before the client gleans any insight into the progress.
In an effort to set up regular, productive cadences to ensure a solid relationships are built, agencies and clients should:
- Make sure milestones are in place, and being met
- Create and stick to an agenda during each call or visit
- Take notes on every key point, reference, objective and action items
- Follow-up religiously to avoid confusion
At the very least, those four processes should be mandatory with every meeting to ensure projects are not only done on time, but within the scope of the budget and within the scope of the clients’ expectations.
- Improve & Automate Timetracking Behaviors
We’re all familiar with the pain-points that arise when employees are required to manually track their time. From disruptive weekly timesheet reports to continual interruptions of triggering time tracking software on and off in between client work, preparations and other duties, the timesheet process can be incredibly counterproductive. Do you understand just how disruptive a manual time tracking system can be to your organization?
Because employees are focused on billable work, they are often reluctant or unable to interrupt themselves to manually enter their data. While all agencies that bill for hourly work (or that want to understand job-level profitability) must utilize a time tracking system, it doesn’t have to be an invasive solution as we’ve relied on in the past. These older systems capture everything employees do, with screenshots, and will effectively destroy the agency's internal culture by making employees uncomfortable, paranoid and feeling guilty about taking a few minutes to take care of personal matters. Nobody likes a work environment that references George Orwell and "Big Brother".
If you’ve built the right team, empower them to do their best by giving them the best tools and creating the best work environment. An automatic time capture solution such as CreativeWorx TimeTracker, with total respective for personal privacy, will go a long way to improve overall employee happiness and productivity, which is something the agency world could use more of, apparently.
- Measure Everything
Nothing proves your worth more than objective data. In modern day marketing, there’s very little room for excuses on not measuring specific objectives within a campaign to show clients where you’re hitting your targets, and where you’re not on other targets (and how to fix that).
Look at Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic and you'll see scores of analytics software ranging from Web & Mobile Analytics to Business Intelligence to Marketing Analytics:
As you can see, there’s no shortage of software for SMBs and Enterprise companies to track, measure and visualize data to stay on track and iterate based on objective data, rather than gut feeling.
- Constantly Over-Deliver (Especially) For The First 100 Days
James Altucher, who’s an investor, entrepreneur and a blogger, talks a lot about over-delivering all the time with clients, but especially within the first 100 days. James formerly founded and sold a web development agency called Reset, and he’s mentioned numerous times how he’d land a client then immediately hand that client off to a project manager while he’d go after the next client, which in the end would often cause unnecessary friction. As many of us already know, the best clients are your current clients because you can grow with them and retain business. It’s important to invest in the relationships that will allow you to earn more trust and responsibility, rather than always doing one-off projects with a bunch of different clients where you increase your turnover and can never fully focus on the project at hand.
So, how do you do this?
Go beyond what’s expected.
If you’re hired for web development, throw in extra features and offer advice on how to build better site navigation to boost conversions. If you’re a content writer, make introductions to journalists on behalf of your client for PR purposes. Maybe you could even offer to help them outside of their business, too. The possibilities are endless, and anyone who brings more value upfront will almost certainly be rewarded in one form or the other.
- Put Your Employees First
There’s a lot of talk about how to build company culture, but the problem is, company culture is measured in a lot of different ways. Some define it as benefits and office perks, others say it’s team chemistry and camaraderie, and others will tell you it's about personal respect and independence. However you define it, all great company cultures start at the top, and are built on trust and appreciation.
This appreciation could be in the form of giving each employee $1,500 toward a vacation, by having an amazing office, by implementing or eliminating systems to improve the process. The bottom line is for any business, especially an agency which is build on human-powered talent, fostering a group of talented and engaged individuals into a creative force is the greatest investment an agency can make.
Whichever direction you choose to go, you should start by:
- Regularly reinforcing core values
- Giving responsibility and acknowledge accomplishments
- Including all team members on major decisions (where appropriate) such as office layouts, perks, key hires and more.
- Leading by example (perhaps the most important)
Overall, a solid foundation within a company can be your greatest asset, as it improves every other functional area of the business. Without it, you’ll struggle to hire and retain top talent while experiencing many inefficiencies that will considerably slow the business. As a leader, investing in the right team members, technology and processes will determine the entire structure and future of your business.
Not too long ago, I visited the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) National Design Center, which is just a few blocks from the CreativeWorx office in New York City’s famed Flatiron District. I was reminded of what a treasure the AIGA gallery is when I stepped through its doors to see the exhibition, Estrada: Sailing Through Design. For those who love and appreciate design, this exhibition was an inspiring treat - a rare opportunity to see the trajectory of the creative process for an international design icon, Manuel Estrada. I was inspired by the journey, paging through some of the hundreds of facsimile sketchbooks that lined one wall of the exhibit and then experiencing how the wondrous ideas contained in these were refined and distilled to the powerful designs that appeared on the banners that hung from the ceiling.
What struck me immediately was the volume of ideas that were created and ultimately discarded. It was impressive to see the massive undertaking of the artist determined to impress the client and his fellow team members, while aligning with the brief to achieve agreed-upon business goals and ultimately satisfying his creative voice. An amazing balancing act.
This process is often under-appreciated, because so much of the effort is in the artist’s mind and cannot be seen. Worse, because the creative process often requires breaks to allow time for ideas to incubate, artists are frequently misunderstood when they do not appear to be actively working. They are not goofing off. The reality is this is an essential part of the creative process. That moment of illumination does not come without great effort.
Manuel Estrada’s exhibit accentuates the internal pressure Creatives face after committing to deliver an inspirational idea with exceptional execution by a certain date. Having worked side-by-side with creative professionals for much of my career, I continue to be impressed when a designer delivers extraordinary work despite a tight deadline, shifting needs and often arbitrary (not to mention conflicting) feedback. The process can be truly magical.