What is the future for the Public Relations Agency industry? The debate started across on Forbes, continued on FIR and we add our own suggestions from an interview taken for the source material for our book, “The Creative Agency of the Future“, being written now.
Questions: What are you doing differently in the past 2 years in….
What I really dislike is things like ACC levies & holiday pay as an employer and the nature of the design business is that you might have 80% capacity one day and 100% capacity the following week and then drop to 60% capacity the week after. Because everything fluctuates so much the model of having someone who does the core work for me and a network of talented people who have specialities and freelance and they can come into the office and sit with me for the project.
When you are a smaller company the money that is saved in downtime is quite significant because if I had 6 people on my books and I had a quiet week it used to stress me out.
That’s the part that hasn’t changed. I am still the point man for the client.
The client doesn’t know where the work gets done – all they know is they talk to me (it could be in Costa Rica, the US or staff in my office). Their expectations are the same and as long as these are met they are happy.
I am going off for 2 months on a shoot and I can still manage my business in between my shooting schedule. Everything can be done on DropBox, Skype and BaseCamp and you don’t have to be in a physical location.
We still have an office in Fort Street. I outsource all my book-keeping – I hate that stuff. My biggest tip for anyone with an agency – don’t try to do your own GST or taxes, just pay someone to do it.
The way I manage the team has changed. We used to be able to look at them and talk to them over their shoulder while they worked and now you don’t always have that luxury. So you are hiring process – you need people who can work autonomously and are self-motivated and reliable.
You usually go through referrals to find people with these qualities. Every time I put an ad in Seek.co.nz for a full time designer, I get (even though I write a very specific job ad) 400-500 applicants – which is just outrageous.
Anyone who applies for a job with a cover letter and a CV I don’t bother with because they look like the other 500 people. My company is “the creative difference” – I like people who look different. When I interview them face to face or on Skype - one of my biggest lessons I hired a guy because I liked his portfolio – but he took 8 hours to do 1 task on his first day which I could have done in an hour. I had forgotten to ask him how long he spent on a project in his CV – it looked great but it took him 6 months. I will ask someone to do a quick job for me and I will give them something that should take an hour of their time – if they want the job they give up an hour and if I like it I can see if they can do it by 4pm, say.
I shortened my terms of payment from 30 days to 14 days. And I now ask for 50% up front and 50% at the end (was 30:70). The first time you get burned, you learn. It took me 6 months and a pain in the ass to get the money back. I have a small overdraft and that and my terms of payment mean I will never be worried about the money – I used to have to manage it for cashflow. I’m on top of all my bills because I know my money is coming in on time.
If they pay late they are still within 30 days. I change my terms depending on the client – if you feel worried you can ask for the whole payment up front because I’d dealt with them before and they had been very slow on payment. They came back because the work was good. It shouldn’t be our job to worry about money.
For bigger projects we use BaseCamp for project management.
It’s key – DropBox is another big one for us with a remote team getting files to and from each other – design files can be very large. Skype – face to face is better than talking on the phone.
We still use emails, have lunch together.
Our staff contracts are the same. The first time I got burned by a client I made sure all my T&C were 100% there. Whereas before I’m a nice guy and all my clients are lovely people but you do get ones who mess with you – having a solid contract is key. You can actually search for ‘graphic design contract terms and conditions’ and there are plenty out there you can use. You don’t need to go to your own lawyer.
I have become better at developing business from current customers – on the crudest level I have an excel spreadsheet with all my customers, the last thing I did for them, the last date I spoke to them, I look to see if I’ve spoken to them in the last couple of months. A phone call after 3 months ‘how are you going and what’s up’ generates more business, coupled with general word of mouth by doing a good job people with talk about you.
If you have a new staff member and it has to be instilled into them – the way we do business is a very client-focused way so we have to make sure they have our ethos. If they are going to talk to a client or face a client they need to know the type of relationship we have with the client. If you’d messed up in the past one bad email from a staff member can really mess things up.