So, you’re thinking about starting a new business--maybe a new graphics company, a new line of gear, or even a new band. Actually, you’ve been procrastinating about starting it for some time now, unable to pull the trigger and finally make it happen. Well, fear not—the following article by Caroline Moore, a successful artist/entrepreneur who has channeled her punk rock energy and ethos into something substantial, has some highly subjective, in-your-face, punk-injected advice for you—exactly the kind of tough love you may be needing right now.
Just this once
Don’t half-ass it. Don’t ever. Not even if you’re on a deadline to get something out, or you’re working with a difficult client and it is easier to just do whatever is asked of you, even if you know it’s a bad idea. It’s easy to think at the time that it’s just one client, just this project, just this once. But you can’t ever know who’s going to see that one thing. That one project may be the only thing a potential client sees before making a decision about what kind of business you’re running.
People talk, make sure they’re saying something good
Word-of-mouth is a huge deal, especially if you’re just starting out. It’s important to put your best work out there, because that one kid who showed up to a show might be your biggest fan. Maybe that kid comes to all your shows, buys all your records and tells her friends. But she’s only going to do that if you put on a show—a real show, not one you’re half-assing because there are only five kids there or you think playing VFW halls is totally beneath you. Blow those five kids away. Make ‘em talk.
You don’t get to speak for your work
People will find your work independent of you. Maybe someone finds your illustration on a billboard, your article in a magazine at a doctor’s office or a post on your blog through a Google search a year from now. You have no idea who is going to see your work, and you won’t be there to explain it. They see your work all alone, without any of the excuses for why it’s not entirely up to your standards. Do work that can stand up for itself.
What you do, how you do it
The way that you treat people is just as important as the work you do when it comes to building a reputation. One of your past clients might tell a friend about the quality of service you provided. To them, that’s who you are. They don’t have any other context for you—as a person or a business—and they’re not obligated to give you the benefit of the doubt. That’s who you are to them, that’s the kind of work you do. If those impressions are negative, that friend will just find someone else.
Set your bar higher
If you’re in a position where someone is contracting you out, have personal goals that you want to accomplish. There’s a thing I learned when shooting for newspapers. It’s that you always get your editor the shot. Always. Don’t mess that part up. Whatever you’re being contracted to do, make sure you meet those base expectations. But think about what you want to get out of it, too. Set higher standards for yourself than other people set for you.
You’re only as good as your last job
In the photography business, the saying is that you’re only as good as your next job. I’m not knocking that. You should always strive to do better, not just rest on a really cool thing you did a few years ago. But your reputation comes with you. I’ve had a lot of repeat business I likely wouldn’t have gotten if I’d turned in a boring shot that I didn’t put much effort into, or been a pain to work with, or been late delivering the proofs. Your last job and, just as importantly, the attitude with which you handled that job, can make or break you.
Laziness hurts your business
Not researching clients before you email them the same generic pitch that you’re sending to every game in town will hurt your business. Bad customer service, like not returning phone calls, not keeping your customer in the loop or sending out poorly timed surveys will hurt your business. It’s much easier to half-ass customer service, but you will absolutely pay for it in relationships, client retention and ultimately money.
Take an extra minute
My husband’s car broke down, and the company called to ask him to do a customer-satisfaction survey just minutes after they’d picked up his car. This is the worst possible time to have contacted him. Take one literal minute to think about your customer’s point of view when you’re figuring out how you handle things like follow-up calls or booking. Give a bit of thought to your customer’s experience. There will be plenty of times that you are busy, stressed or tired and just want to get something done. Take the extra time anyway, instead of half-assing your client interactions. It always comes back to you in a positive way.
Do what you say you will
If you commit to something, get it done. If you commit to playing a show, you suck it up and play the show, even if you have to get up early the next day. I’ve shot sick, I’ve shot injured, I’ve shot with pneumonia on top of Lyme disease. I’ve worked when I had some valid reasons to cancel, but cancelling can be poisonous to your business. Every time you cancel, that might be one less client or venue who wants to work with you, one less person who cares when you put on an event. This is the exact opposite of what you want.
Sometimes you only get one shot with people, and if you bail, it gets around. Thanks to the Internet, people have a huge platform to complain about your shoddy product or bad customer service. If you’re not putting the effort in, that’s how people will view your business.
Other people are doing your work for you
Be nice, be competent, and you’ll be ahead of half your competition. Most people have been burned by lazy businesses before, and consider it a feat of greatness if you just deliver something when you said you would. This is also why a simple apology when you have screwed up—when you under-delivered, went over the deadline or forgot to return a phone call—goes a long way.
People are used to cable companies not showing up during the installation window and never apologizing for it, or airlines cancelling flights and shrugging when asked, “Well, what do I do now?” Lazy businesses are making your job easier. Just meeting those basic expectations can make your customers blissfully happy. So can you imagine how excited they’d be if you DID go above and beyond? If you exceeded those expectations? You’d have yourself some devoted fans. Set your bar higher.
CAROLINE MOORE is the author of Punk Rock Entrepreneur, out now from Microcosm Publishing. A photographer and designer, she has honed her business sense through years of involvement in the DIY punk scene, and has spoken on the topic at Weapons of Mass Creation Fest and Dare Conference. Her photos have been published in Alternative Press, the Vinyl District and BIE Media, and she’s designed for the CREATE lab under Carnegie Mellon University, Denis Leary and Green Day.