How to Take a Creative Approach to Business Development


Illustration by: Caroline Hwang

Creative business owners get into the business because they love design. We all come to this work from the creative side.  And many of us, after we’ve been in the business for a year or a decade, at last come to a sighing admission:  “I’m not really good at the business stuff.”

It’s the design we love, not the numbers and the administration and the marketing.  We wanted to do creative work and then discovered the business stuff is unavoidable.

But business work is creative work, and can be just as fun and exciting and fulfilling.  You can even approach the business work in exactly the same way, using the same set of talents and insights you use on the creative side. The key is to apply the same principles, thought process, approach and execution to the business project as you would to any creative project.

Here’s how I do it.

Be Yourself. Your creative work is a reflection of who you are. When you start a creative project you bring your true self to the picture. The outcome wouldn’t be authentic if you didn’t show up fully. Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Do your homework. If a client asked you to create a brand for a new product you wouldn’t start before doing your research. Sometimes that’s the most fun part of the project. In business development that’s your market research phase. The research has to be scheduled, documented and well organized.

Get out of your comfort zone. Remember the times when you took a risk with the creative work you do for your clients and saw your work rise to a whole new level.  Do the same with your marketing activities. For example, designer Rochelle Seltzer in Boston hosts quarterly breakfast forums for her clients and prospects as part of her marketing activities. Public speaking wasn’t natural and easy for her but by committing to these events on a regular basis she is reaping the positive results of presenting herself and her firm as experts in ways that people remember.

The magic is in the touch. When I was designing CD packages and presented cover concepts to my clients I noticed that when I presented the design inside a plastic CD jewel case, the artwork was approved about 50% more often than when I had just shown it printed on a board. Holding the box in their hands helped my clients connect to the experience of holding the real thing and thus generated an experienced based decision, not merely a visual one.  Create an experience for your prospects to feel what you’re all about and you’re half way in. From leading workshops to public speaking your client will have an opportunity to experience you and your genius work.

You can apply the same skills and passion that got you into this profession in the first place to growing your business. And when you do, your studio will develop as naturally as your concepts do, and you’ll own a creative company you can be proud of.

Quick Tips

Turn the research you do in the course of client work into writing (via your blog or articles you pitch to industry publications) that demonstrates your thought leadership. Document trends in your clients’ industry, note business developments relevant to them and showcase successful marketing efforts in their category.

Bring your clients together for roundtable discussions where you share your research and expertise with them.

Treat your firm like a client. Allocate 20% of your time each week to business development, and have the discipline to create a brief and timeline for your own marketing projects. Apply your firm’s creative process to your self-promotional work.