Although I prefer to lurk in online groups as a rule—unless I run them—I recently saw a thread about a publication I used to love and it’s offer for cheap design services so I found myself chiming in. It started out interesting and potentially educational but like a lot of online talk, a couple of complaint lovers took the lead. I made the mistake of trying to be helpful and then left the conversation because I thought it was over, only to discover a stream of exhausting and inciting comments had followed mine. Because I like to keep my people ahead of the curve.
First, this notion that HGTV and Houzz have damaged the industry is a conversation that comes up ad nauseam among some designers and in certain online groups. If you have a beef with Houzz and lead potential, don’t list your services there. Although it strikes me that a free listing a homeowner can use to find out about your services is useful, that is if you’re specific about whom you want to work with. If your minimum job is $100K or $250K, say that. Have a tight in-take process for the looky-loos and if someone shows up who has no idea what your services really cost, educate them. But don’t make them wrong for not fully understanding your process or for being naive with excitement. For those of you with kids, would you be that impatient if they didn’t know what you really do?
If a user is asking you for free advice in the comment box, you have one of two choices. Answer them, or don’t. You can also respond with your newsletter URL and mention you talk about your process there. If they don’t use it, somebody else might. If you feel like throwing them a paint color, not out of guilt but because you feel like it today, go ahead. It doesn’t diminish your value. They can’t afford your services, they’re not your client anyway, but your client may notice that kindness.
Oh and about HGTV, which was founded in 1994. Are we still complaining about it 21 years and 90 million eyeballs later, really? Do you need me to pull out the study by Scripps Interactive again, which says that 4 out of 5 viewers don’t trust themselves to keep a contractor honest and would hire a designer. These platforms have both generated a huge appetite for design, and yes the industry has been changed by them, but it has also grown exponentially because of them and I’ll go as far as to say that some designers wouldn’t be in business without them.
Coincidentally a couple of decades worth of design experience was the reason another designer felt her complaints were justified and that she would never listen to someone (that would be me;)) because I hadn’t walked in her shoes or been in the arena, “getting my ass kicked”. One look at her marketing told me why.
Snarkasm aside. Let me put in context why I know that diving in is more useful then resisting what is. Back in 1998, my industry–film and television–also got hit by technology so the fallout that designers are experiencing now is familiar to me. It started with something called the digital camera, which you probably use on your phone? And which we all take for granted now. To cut to the chase, it’s why Kodak, that ubiquitous film leader, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2012 because it couldn’t find its way. This combined with the rise of non-linear editing meant that making movies was democratized and suddenly everyone was doing it. Jobs disappeared and people were scrambling to embrace change or become obsolete. I was relatively new on the scene, having started producing in 1996, and so my career grew through all of the change.
Then I moved to Los Angeles in 2006 where suddenly, everyone was a producer. In fact, they came from generations of producers and I had to start from ground zero. My experience and awards and international screening history didn’t mean a whole lot because some people, without the experience I had, were better at selling themselves then I was. At the same time, the digital landscape went wild and suddenly, youtube and online video were disrupting television. Now EVERYONE was calling themselves a producer, in spite of the fact that they’d never had to adhere to the standards of television production delivery, schedule or quality, you name it, they were being hired left, right and center.
Did that irk me? Sure. Did it get WAY more competitive? Oh yes. But how much time did I waste complaining? Not much. Because I knew what I was called to do and I was set on figuring a way to do it at the highest level possible.
But enough about me, disruption has happened in every creative industry, publishing, music, graphic design, you name it. Basically, what I’m saying is that the business of being creative is different, more different than it has ever been, and it will continue to disrupt as people figure out what’s missing and how they can offer it, especially as those Millennials get older.
So you can either keep complaining or you can figure out how to impact your industry and the direction of the conversation. You can learn how to develop your brand and leverage it. That should be a relatively easy process if you’ve been in business a long time because I’m sure you understand that the only constant about being an entrepreneur is change. And if those changes scare you, you better get some help to navigate them. Otherwise, step aside for the rest of us who are excited about doing and leading in this industry in the next decade and beyond.