Open office hours chats
After a great Open office hours last weekend, I wanted to summarize two of the main topics discussed. It always surprises me that most of the open office hours chats revolve around career and business questions. Here are two of the general things I end up telling folks.
Find a niche
Clients are easily confused. It’s typical for people in our field to want to do everything. We want to do architectural work, live concert visuals, interactive stores, festival installations, galleries, and everything else under the sun that sounds cool. The problem is that it’s hard for most agencies and firms to relate to our field. In most other fields, companies do a few things and they do them well and they try to corner those niches. Once they’re powerhouses in their niche, they begin to grow into other niches. When you talk to larger agencies and and firms and say “we can do everything!”, you lose a little bit of credibility compared to another similar partner that says “we specialize in X & Y.” You’re almost always better off choosing 1-2 areas to specialize, dominate, then slowly expand into other things.
It also makes marketing your work much easier. Consider trying to explain your do-everything services quickly to someone who doesn’t know what interactive installations are (which is frankly most clients). What would you say? The faster and more understandable your explanations are, the more likely you are to get work. If you have one or two areas of specialization, it’s much easier to explain what you do so people outside of our field can understand. Clients understanding what you do is a key step of a sale.
Start a company as a last resort
I ask everyone I talk to “what is your favourite thing to do?” I think this is the most important place to start when talking about career paths and business advice. No one has yet to say “I’d really love to run a company”. Oddly enough, starting a company is everyone’s first thought when trying to figure out how to get more work or what to do when they’ve finished school. I always ask people to really think long and hard about what they like doing and then figuring out if they can do those things while working for another company. Most people love making things, and the reality of running a company is that you often spend most of your time in meetings, on phone calls, dealing with clients, organizing staff, managing minor disasters, trying to get people paid, sorting out schedules, and trying to sell more projects. It becomes difficult and tiring to run your own operation AND be the person who’s making the projects.
I’m a firm believer that there are tons and tons of really great companies who’d love to hire interactive developers or creative individuals if you present yourself properly. For example, if you’re interested in architectural installations, you don’t need to go find an interactive studio that specializes in architectural installations. You can go present your work to a real architectural firm and sell them on the idea that you can help them expand into the interactive niche. Architects are willing to experiment! Normally they’d go and hire an interactive firm, but if you give them the option of hiring you, you can skip the middle man. This way you’ll get to work with architects on tons of architectural projects and you didn’t need to start a company or join another interactive installation company.
This doesn’t just apply to architects either. Interior designs, lighting designers, Audio-visual rental companies, landscape architects, record labels, advertising agencies, event companies, and many many more kinds of companies all want to get involved in interactive installations. Show them what you’ve got, and avoid the hassles of starting your own company.
- Find what you like doing
- Inside the niche of what you like doing, choose 1-2 specializations
- Setup your career path/business decisions to focus on #1 and #2
Sounds simple, but everything is always more difficult to do in practice. Leave a comment if you’ve got any questions or thoughts on these thoughts!