Monday, January 28, 2013

Speaking in Tongues

by Jennifer Roberts

No matter what your business, at some point you will likely have to engage a professional to help you with something. Traditionally, this has meant accountants and lawyers for most. In the past ten years, we’ve added design and technical professionals who help us create websites, manage social media, and conduct e-commerce.

But, the jewelry artist and the accountant/lawyer/website designer are often birds of a very different feather. Talking effectively with each other can be a serious challenge. To be your own best advocate, remember that communication flows in two directions and you must be an active participant in any discussion. Some thoughts on both sides of anyconversation:

How the Professional Talks to You

You: This is not the time to profess that you are a hapless artist and could never possibly understand a contract or basic accounting principle. Engage and pay attention. Ask questions when you don’t understand something and ask more questions until you do.

Them: Half of the professional’s job is to complete the task you have hired them to perform; the other half is to help you understand where you are and where you need to go. Phrases like “it’s too complicated, you wouldn’t understand” are huge flaming red flags. So is overuse of acronyms without explanation. Unless you are talking about string theory, there are few concepts that can’t be concisely explained in a sentence or two, even if application of those ideas gets very complicated. If your website designer starts talking at you about PCI compliance and doesn’t bother to answer your puzzled look with a clarification that PCI compliance refers to a set of industry standards for credit card transaction security - move on.

How the You Talk to the Professional

Your participation in any conversation will vary substantially depending on the circumstances. Accountants and lawyers need different information than people who help you market your work or create your packaging. You’d think artists could talk to other artists about just about anything, but start talking about the color scheme for a phone app and many artists clam up.

The conversation I had with our website team is a perfect example. When it came time to create a new site, I started with the Pantone color book and a list of words describing how I wanted using the site to feel. I looked at the results of my first effort and thought “meh.”

So when I went to my first meeting at Pumphouse Creative, I walked in carrying a shoebox. I’ve know the guys at Pumphouse Creative for a long time, so I felt less inhibited than I might have with a new firm. Odd or not, this was the best way I found to show them what I had in mind.

What was in that shoebox? Stuff from my house. Rocks, a paperweight I love for its deep red color, sticks and bamboo, papers, textures, pieces of jewelry. I later asked my friend Mark Roberts about it and he explained, “When you walked in, I couldn’t figure out what you were doing. But when I looked in the box, I knew exactly why you brought it and what you were looking for.” That shoebox and its contents have guided many of our conversations since then, about the site and other projects.

Here’s what Pumphouse Creative had to say about our process and how they approach their work:

"As marketers and designers, our goal is to provide a successful product from every angle. Some clients approach marketing from a business perspective, with a focus on business goals and measurable results. Others may be more interested in the design process, in look and feel, in style and color — the details that make their brand beautiful as well as functional. Both of these approaches are necessary. However, it is rare to find clients, especially in the small business arena, who have taken the time to fully examine these very different views of a project.

"Jennifer's box of rocks, ribbons and doodads was a great way to convey the contrast and texture she was looking for with her website and her brand. Juxtaposed against Jennifer's well articulated vision of the architecture and flow of the site, our job was to pay attention and bring her vision to fruition utilizing our skills. We laid all the items in the shoebox out and tinkered with them as we discussed the design concept for PMC Connection. As a matter of fact, the shoebox was rattling around our office even while we were coding and completing the technical challenge of launching an e-commerce of that size. It was of great benefit to keep in mind the aesthetic of the site, while tackling the technical.

"In the case of PMC Connection, the creative approach has seen clear business results in Google Analytics – site visits up 69% and pages per visit up 497% since the relaunch. We're continuing to add content, to improve site functionality incrementally, and to enrich the visual language of the brand. Of course, we're also continuing to listen, and to ask questions about how we can improve on our current success."

Here's what I take away from all of this. It pays to find the right person for the job and to be sure you can talk to each other. Too many people ignore the second half of that test. Hiring a professional can be an expensive undertaking. But if the lines of communication are open, it can make your business.

1 comment:

Lora Hart said...

What a great post Jennifer! Thanks so much for sharing your expertise from a legal aspect (PMCC's President Jennifer Roberts is also a lawyer for those of you who may not know), and from the perspective of a client.

Knowing what you want and how to convey that information is important not only when hiring a professional to do a specific job for one's business, but also when dealing with your own customers regarding a special commission.

I particularly love the box of bits you brought to your meeting. Words are useful, but sometimes misunderstood. A tangible facsimile can add so much to the conversation.