Business – Barry Watts

The days of clients indulgently putting up with creatives going over budget are long gone. What’s more, looking after business isn’t just a question of short-term survival – it’s about building a viable future. Job management has never been so important

A blasé attitude to managing business and understanding the figures in the banking industry has changed the economy forever over the past 18 months. It has affected our industry, but offers design teams the chance to get a grip and build a framework for success, to ensure stable growth as we emerge from the recession. Managing the design process effectively is dull.

Managing the initial contacts, the sales process, estimating, scheduling, supplier management and invoicing – all these things will send a true creative to sleep. There’s no denying it, managing an effective and stable design business is not exciting. Nor is it easy. But in the short term, it might just save your business, while in the long term it could provide a foundation for future success

Old realities no longer hold true
Design is packed with the people who come up with the ideas that improve lives, who find better ways, who see the problems and create solutions to them. That mindset requires a passion for providing great creative work and considering the options and issues, before providing the magic. Even more importantly, every consultancy does it differently, with a special flavour.

As business-owners, you can probably remember the days of arriving at the office with your only concern being whether today’s thoughts would be better than yesterday’s – whether you would ‘wow’ the client with your lateral thinking. Now, though, you may be less involved in the creative process and more in having to justify financial performance at the end of the year, quarter or month.

Previously, that was all you really had to do, to make sure that in a growing market you could account for the profits made. It sounds crude and naïve, but in many cases it is true. I know that personally, as many of the consultancies on my prospects list a year ago that had a seemingly rock-solid team of 40 staff are no longer here to tell the story.

Clients are under pressure, too
The difference is that now there is no excess of work from clients willing to endure over-running projects as long as the output is right. Clients are being pushed within their own companies to offer true accountability to their peers. In turn, they need projects delivered on time, that have been executed with guidance and status reports along the way.

Business is changing and consultancies must embrace change to remain attractive, profitable and, to put it bluntly, alive. This requires processes to manage all stages of the job cycle:

  • Consultancies need to contact the client at exactly the moment they have agreed in past conversations – in the current climate, several groups have lost the business by the time they remember to call.
  • They must provide repeatable, clear, interesting documentation to get deals signed off – with procurement teams playing a more pivotal role, they need to see the relevant data.
  • Consultancies have to provide internal structure and schedules to make it all happen and prove to the client they can be relied on to manage their project.

Keep the client in the loop
Clients need to know as soon as a project threatens to run over budget in order to take the appropriate action. Failure to do so can preclude future work from nervous clients.

Consultancies also need to invoice as effectively as possible. Failure to invoice when the job completes and to provide the data to get it paid promptly is strangling the industry at a time when clients may look for any chance to avoid or delay payment.

In reality, consultancies are not equipped to deliver these functions overnight without some help. One route is to bring in business consultants, but while they’ll define processes at a large cost, as soon as they leave, the processes may lapse.

Luckily, there are solutions that enable you to remain focused on the creative side of the business. Quark, Photoshop and Adobe have long proved that software can enhance the design process. The reason for the success of these programs is that they enable designers to design more accurately and quickly, and also work the way a designer thinks.

Systems can provide structure
Job-management systems work by tying all of the data together in one place. This means you don’t actually do any more than you always have – for example, you have always estimated, invoiced and recorded time anyway. However, in a system you keep all the data together which, in turn, can add the structure needed.

The traditional problem has been that some of these systems force design businesses to work in an abstract way. For more than ten years, Coefficient has developed and honed the solution to work in the way a design business thinks and functions.

We like to think of ourselves as funky software nerds. We appreciate the environment that design businesses operate in, and provide a solution and service that complements the processes that they must adhere to.

We therefore provide a solution that covers all aspects of the design cycle and allows consultancies to focus on great creative, but with a repeatable and manageable structure underneath.

So, as design groups emerge from the recession, they have the same great creative, but with a framework to build the business and ensure their stability as they move forward.

Latest articles