Many of us in the creative industry would have faced similar situations. You come up with a proposal for your client. They like what they see. And then they throw you a curve ball and ask for your track record.
The Creative Industry Fraternity
Whether you’re a graphic artist, photographer, web designer, fashion designer, branding consultant, and to a certain extend – models and talents too, you’ve all faced similar situations. You come up with a wonderful plan that meets or exceeds the client’s request. You present it to your client, and see them smile, their heads nodding in agreement. You’re ecstatic at that moment, just waiting for the client to sign you up. And then the world crashes down on you… They ask you if you can provide a historical track record of your “success”…
Your smile wanes, and your happy thoughts of dancing under the bright sunshine in a meadow full of flowers, suddenly turned into a barren rocky desert under thundering storm clouds. You ask yourself why your client suddenly turn cold on your. Did they not like your proposal? Was the proposed charges not justified to them? Was it something else that you missed? Did they have a change of heart? Or is there an unknown competitor who offered something similar for a lot cheaper?
For the most part, we’ll never know for sure what the reason really is. But more often than not, it’s them… Not you…
So What Exactly Are Clients Looking For?
In most situations, it’s usually the client who are second guessing themselves. They believe they’ve found a solution for their needs within your proposal. But they’re also answerable to their bosses, directors, shareholders (take your pick), and they also want to be sure that they’ll achieve their objective results if they engage you to do the job.
However, as we all know, there’s no such thing as an objective result in the creative industry. There’s no way for artists to say that if they pay you X amount of money for your services, they’ll be able to achieve Y amount of profit within Z amount of time. In other words, there’s no way for them to commit to a Return On Investment (ROI) to their bosses. And that’s when they throw the ball back into your court. Perhaps you can commit to your ROI to them instead? So if things don’t work out, they can always point their finger at you…
They’ll ask for historical data from your past jobs with other clients. They want to know how much your previous clients profited after engaging your services. What’s the percentage of conversions from potential to clients? How much did their sales increase over the year? How high did their SEO ranking climb?… They’re looking for absolute values in numbers…
The problem is, there’s no such thing as an absolute number to that question. If artists and designers were number whizzes, they would have been accountants, balancing your corporate accounts instead, not trying to sell you their creative services.
Is Track Record Really That Important?
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), there’s no real relationship between your past track record with the outcome of your current proposal. While a positive historical data with your past clients may make your proposal more attractive to your current client, there’s simply no guarantee of it repeating with any new jobs.
That being said, simply showing them what they want to see sometimes makes it easier for them to commit to engaging you for the job. Past jobs that you have done, and are publicly available are your best references for your current client. It doesn’t really matter if they are “successful” or otherwise. Just the fact that the results of your work is available is often enough to convince them of your ability.
What If You Don’t Have Any Past Work References?
This is a very real scenario. You may be a very capable web designer, and you’re approaching your very first potential client… Or a branding consultant that hasn’t landed any clients just yet… In situations like these, you have literary no track record to speak of. And hence, no references of any kind for your current potential client to refer. This may make your potential client pretty wary of engaging you. But then again, if you don’t land any jobs, how can you even begin your track record for other clients to see?
It’s your typical chicken-and-egg situation. You need positive track record to land you a job. And you need an actual job for you to create a track record. So which one goes first? How do you break this vicious cycle?
The Surprising Answer To It All Is…
Whether you realise it or not, we all already have started our own little track record when we first embarked on our creative journey. If you’re a web designer, there must have been several websites that you have created in the past. Even the ones that you created as exercises, or even your own website. And if you’re a photographer, you must have shot dozens, if not hundreds, of similar works that you’re now proposing for your potential client. They may not be commercial works, but at least they’re publicly available for potential clients to appraise.
As for me, a corporate branding consultant, things are not exactly as clear cut as the examples above. Corporate branding is all about creating awareness of one’s brand, and ultimately elevating the visibility of the brand. So without an existing client, it’s pretty difficult to show exactly what you can do for your potential client. Even then, all is not lost. As the examples above, I already have my own website (this one), and my social media channels. Throw in some of the statistics available on the page visits, and the number of followers on my social media channels, I can already quantify the “visibility” of my own brand. In short, I can use my own brand as an example for my potential client to refer to as my track record.
And once you land your first job, things will slowly pick up from there. You’ll have your existing client’s track record that your future potential clients can refer to.
If you haven’t already started it, you should build your own brand. Photographers and models will need to update their portfolios regularly to reflect on their skills and currency. Web designers and graphic artists need to continually create new works of art, and have them available for potential clients to view.
And if you’re a corporate branding consultant like me, you need to keep your website updated regularly, and continuously build your own brand. After all, if you can’t even maintain your own brand, how can your potential clients trust you to handle their’s?…