Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


Give it away!

I often tell my clients that if they want to build their reputation as a knowledgeable, results-driven consultant, they need to get over their fear of the F word - Free.

I am often amazed how many of us working in the professional services and consulting industry live in fear of giving away too much knowledge. After all, information is our bread and butter.

Now I have encountered hoarders - You know the type, the pack rat who owns every bit of material goods they've had since childhood, or the rut-stuck professional, unwilling to take the risks that would enable business growth. [Hoarding is the manifestation of our cultural fear of not having enough. I will follow up to this particular thought in another post.]

But there is an especially puzzling breed of hoarders out there that I am encountering on a daily basis - the knowledge hoarder. Terrified of losing prospects, they refuse to write columns, give workshops, or offer free assessments. They sit on their "brains" believing that their ideas are fixed, static, and as precious as a diamonds.

If this is you - guess what? You're hoarding yourself out of new business and fantastic opportunities. Believe it or not, your great ideas aren't the first and they won't be the last. That knowledge you paid for in university isn't worth anything unless it is disseminated and built upon through good will, interaction, and sharing.

That implied notion of "the more you give away, the more that comes back to you" is so true. 98% of the truly successful entrepreneurs I encounter have built their business through collaboration and association. They have established a reputation as an expert in their field, not because of their material possessions or degrees, but through being "out there" and sharing their never-ending energy and passion through networking, lecturing, and writing.

As a consumer, I have always been drawn to the service provider who is willing to share their knowledge in an open forum or workshop. Sharing wisdom doesn't belittle - it builds credibility. It leaves an indelible impression on the audience, namely that the information provided is truly valuable.

I see professionals that are willing to put themselves on the line and pass on worthwhile information as passionate about what they do. And their passion almost always leads to better, higher quality services.

So what's your excuse? Get out there!



Chocolate for anyone willing to warm the pews

Apparently, in a desperate attempt to rebuild dwindling congregations, about 160 churches in Manchester are passing out chocolate bars in bags marked, "Missing You" to would be lost souls...

Church woos reluctant worshippers with chocolate

Now, this interests me on a couple of levels. First, well, it's kind of funny and it has me wondering what communion will entail, and what gourmet treats will replace the traditional body of Christ? Pate? A gingerbread man?

More importantly, this provided an impetus for some creative brainstorming at our firm. What have we been doing to entice prospects and bring back old clients with whom we've lost touch? What can we do to inspire new business?

During our morning meeting, a lot of great ideas transpired. Some of them include: throwing an Open House reception with food and drink, sending "care packages" with coupons for new services/products, hosting an evening workshop for brand building (among other relevant topics)...the possibilities are endless.

Taking our cue from the Church of England, it's time to fill some of those "pews" by getting prospects and clients excited about the benefits of our services.

What is your business doing to solicit new business or generate interest?



Open House

We're having a bit of a debate at our firm regarding our office space and interior design. Rick argues that the look and layout of the office greatly impacts the productivity and creativity of the design team. My focus, being the non-designer of the firm, is more on the bottom line and practical (i.e. cost, locale, neighbors).

So I thought I would open the debate up to you. What makes your office great? What's your ideal work space? Share photos if you have them.



Take a leak, er, look at my Brand

This caught my attention this morning...

Making a Splash
The world's first interactive urinal is coming to a restroom near you.

Personally, I live in fear of the day the toilet starts talking...


Dealing with tough clients as a service provider

Ever have one of those clients that cause your well oiled machine to come to a grinding halt? You know, the type of client who wants the moon and stars delivered yesterday, yet claim poverty when billing rolls around? Hmm...I promise, I won't tell.

Dealing with difficult clients is a part of business. One of the ways you can protect yourself is, of course, through a well defined contract. Another way is through ongoing, consistently good customer service.

This is the part that's tough. There are times when "grinning and bearing" it can be hard, especially when projects are being stalled, waylaid, or kybashed altogether. Fair, probably not, but part of being a successful entrepreneur is to know when to take a risk and when to cut your losses.

Dealing with a tough client as a service provider presents many obstacles. First off, the definition of services needs to be very clearly laid out, as well as client expectations. Feeling out the situation is not enough, get everything in writing. Sound distrustful? It's not. It is simply good business. Anyone serious about retaining your services will expect to sign a contract. It's for their protection as well.

One red flag to watch for is the prospect who wants you to provide services at cost (or free) in exchange for potential business down the road. You know the type; they start their pitch out with "I have a proposition for you..." Chances are, if they don't have the money up front to pay for your time and services, they won't later. I rarely see these "big opportunities" develop. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Further to this, as a matter of good business, I believe that mutual respect calls for paying someone for their efforts. As a matter of personal ideology (yes, ideology has its place in even business), I have real problems with haggling. Don't get me wrong, deals are cut that mutually benefit both parties, but beware the haggler. They won't respect you or your services.

If you place value on the hard work and services another provides, you will likely receive the same treatment in turn (the "what goes around comes around" principle). Contrary to popular business figureheads out there - ahem - you can be a successful entrepreneur without the cutthroat cliches.

But these are preventive measures. What do you do once you are mired in a arduous project that's rapidly getting worse?

My advice is this: Maintain a positive attitude and continue doing everything in your power to provide the best service you possibly can. Maintaining a friendly disposition may be one of the most difficult things you have to do in the face of another person's behavorior, but trust me, this is your best bet. While keeping a level head helps to ensure payment down the road, it also saves your reputation. You don't know everyone your client knows, and therefore it is best to always keep a professional demeanor. Good customer service, even in the face of the extremely tough to please client, is remembered. Make the rest of the project as easy as possible by using good judgment.

Once all is said and done, and your client has received their finished project, don't hold grudges. Call together a team meeting and assess the situation. Make the best of it by learning from the experience. Finally, do something to reward staff or associates involved in the project. It's likely they are as drained as you and need an afternoon pizza party or creative respite.

Tell me what you do to deal with difficult clients / customers.



Blogs as catalysts

With the tragic passing of Uppity Negro blogger, Aaron Hawkins, I am pondering how blogs are changing the tempo of online relationships. Aaron's death caused a tidal wave of reaction and emotion in people who only knew him by his words. His blog, it seems, embodied him and created a synergistic relationship with his readers that will always be remembered.

This said, I wonder how many of you have considered the effect of your blog on readers? Are you currently involved in business relationships with fellow bloggers? How conducive has your blog been toward creating meaningful, mutually successful relationships? Or do you prefer a distant, yet educational approach?

Personally, I have developed quite a few, dare I say it, friendships with likeminded folks. If not friendships, certainly kinships. I have exchanged thoughts and opinions with countless folks, and always end up amazed at the sincerity of this information forum, where personal and business growth transpires.

As tragic as Aaron's death has been, it is obvious that he has gracefully touched so many readers with his knowledge, convictions, and progressive spirit.

That is the power of words.



Keeping chins up when the chips are down

Keeping team morale high is challenging during especially difficult projects. Often times, companies create mini-retreats to encourage team building and renewed spirit. For small offices, however, the chance to go out and kick around a ball is, well, impossible.

For a small business, each minute counts and every person available is often working overtime. During these high stress times, team building exercises never come to mind, as only the looming deadline matters.

Poor morale can mean less productivity. When staff are feeling overwhelmed, or pressured, little motivates and your end product suffers. Obviously this is something to be avoided at all costs.

Morale building exercises can, however, be accomplished by small businesses. Something as simple as a breakfast brainstorming session can prove valuable. Arrange to share a meal together and encourage staff to discuss their concerns and ideas.

Most people don't really need something elaborate to feel as though their efforts are appreciated. While kicking a ball around can be fun, managers often forget that basic positive reinforcement is where it's at.

Spend some time with staff hashing out ideas, and invite their feedback. People need to feel their input is being received. Make some room for feedback from everyone, including entry level staff.
During project crises, maintain a level head and encourage staff by emphasizing a problem-solving approach to difficult clients or set-backs.

Team building is just that simple. What you put in, you get back. If you want more motivation from staff, be a motivator by involving simple, team building strategies.

Good luck.



New technology surfing...

Just when you think it's safe to answer that phone call from...the White House switchboard?

Website offers Caller I.D. falsification service

Caller ID is fast becoming obsolete.


RE: Rick's conundrum on how to get rich

So who needs Google ads to get rich? A little dumpster diving is where it's at...

Britney's Trash Sold on EBay

What can't you sell on Ebay? I mean, really.