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Breaking Out of Your Creative Rut

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When a Creative Services firm is just starting out, there is usually some excitement about the possibilities of where they can go with the talents and desires. For instance, maybe they want to set out to specialize in Retro Designs for big name brands like Coke, Dell or Heinz. Maybe they want to specialize in making start-up companies look as professional as possible with clean designs and top-notch photography used in all of the branding materials. Maybe they like doing real edgy designs for sports companies or event advertising. But what usually ends up happening is, you design for the first clients you get. And if those clients don’t fall into the category of style that you are interested in, you create the best piece of work you can to satisfy the client. It’s a real good idea to sell them on a concept that might head down the road of your choice, but in the end, you need to design for their needs – not yours (that’s important).

So you are a new company and you have your first creative piece to showcase to the world. And it’s good – it’s real good because, you and your team are that good. But remember, it’s not in the style of your desires. But another company takes notice of your work and hires you to do something similar, but across different media (print, web, video, etc…). You are excited because, now you have a lot of work to do – but unfortunately, they love the style of the first piece you created and want you to come up with something similar for them. Again, you try to steer them down a path that’s more in line with where you want to be – but alas, you now have more great pieces to showcase, that aren’t anything like you wish you were doing.

And the next project leads to another, and another and yet another. Flash forward 5 years, and all you have in your portfolio is a list of great, high-level clients that are impressive to the outside world, but you almost hate to showcase your work because you know it will lead you to other work of similar styles. But it’s great work, so you have to showcase it because you need more business because you have bills to pay and your wife doesn’t want to go back to eating off of the value meal menu (except the .99¢ Diet Coke to counter the Super Size Fries). No matter how much you pitch your new clients that your desires are to do (fill in the blank) style of work, you find that it just doesn’t fit their needs. You, my friend – are stuck in a Creative Rut.

So, you are probably now saying “Tell me Mike, how do I break out of this rut?”
Hey, I’m glad you asked that – because I have the answer.

You will very rarely (if ever) get to force your style of work on your clients. Unless of course you are already designing in the style of your choice, in which case you are probably not still reading this because this doesn’t pertain to you. You can go and get some ice cream or pizza or something while I try to help the rest of you who to which this applies.

The bottom line is – you need new clients. “Wait… what?” Yes, I said new clients. And not just new clients – a different category of new clients. You need to find the clients that would find the style of your choosing very helpful for them. Hey, I didn’t say this was going to be easy. But anything in life worthwhile is difficult. You almost have to start from scratch and start hunting for the clients that are a good fit for this style, and work hard at landing them as your client.

Hopefully by now you have built your business up to be sustainable. It’s hard to go after business for design work that you have never professionally created. How are you going to showcase to anyone that you can pull that off? The best way is to create some marketing pieces for your own company in that style. Or to have your top designers create “mock-ads” in that style. Build yourself a small (teeny tiny) portfolio of that style of work so you can show those clients what you can do.

Now you will have provided an even greater service to yourself and for your future clients – DIVERSITY! And when you have a diverse portfolio, the world is your oyster! Well, maybe not your oyster. It’s more like your clam. Actually it’s probably more like a sea lion who just at some mackerels, and when you go to offer him some kelp, he declines. But I digress.

So now I have unlocked the secret (or at least hopefully I have not scared you into thinking that you got into the wrong business), and you may go forth and start implementing this action. [Or if you are a new firm, you can take these steps now to avoid getting in that rut in the first place.] Like I said, it’s not going to be easy, but if you find yourself in a Creative Rut, then bust out – in style (pun intended, but not well executed)!