In the moments before your potential client contacts you for the first time, their perception of you is all they have. This is marketing. Everything from your website and all things social media to your reputation among past clients and vendors alike makes up what your potential client knows about you, your art and your creative business.
Except they cannot possibly know you. The actual you (including your art and creative business) is vastly more diverse, nuanced and, hopefully, interesting than the illusion you have worked so diligently to craft. So why is your first conversation almost always about the details of what you will do for your potential client rather than talking about who you are and, more important, listening to who they are? You do not sell things, you sell creation.
Creative business is fundamentally about the construction and maintenance of meaningful, trusting, intimate relationships. Your past art is not a short cut to that relationship. If you are to be successful, you are going to have to reveal yourself to your potential client and have them find comfort in the revelation. It makes no difference whether you design hotels or weddings, photograph a product or babies, style flowers or chocolates, your art is meant to transcend the vision and ability of your client. Why else would they need you? So the first step has to be to move beyond the objective “here is what I will do for you” and into the subjective “I understand you, see you and am the one to bring your vision to reality”.
Practically then, how about working to ask questions that shake your potential client’s understanding of who you they know you and your creative business to be? For instance, if you are a florist, instead of first asking your potential client’s budget, favorite flowers and colors, what if you started your conversation with a discussion about her nail polish or shoes? Can you disrupt your potential client’s perception of you so that the actual you can have the opportunity to come through? Real conversation allows you to show (i.e., not tell) your client everything about you, your art and your creative business. Or you can rely on the illusion your marketing effort has generated. Live by your resume or die by it.
Every artist I have ever known lights up when they start talking about what drives their art and what they hope to create. Past work is a point of pride, but the future is infectious. It makes ultimate sense to me that you would start your conversation in a manner that draws upon your enthusiasm, your bubbling passion for your next project. If your potential client engages your enthusiasm, then the logistics will take care of themselves. Yes, your willingness to start with the implicit truth, the fabric of who you are and what drives your impulse to create will open the door for iconic process. The wrong client will reject your enthusiasm out of hand no matter how much they like your work. The right one will be inspired and will inspire you to do your best work. Such is the foundation of trust.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether you want to allow your clients to see beyond the illusion you present to the world. Trust has to be based on faith in the relationship, not that you will deliver in the end. Start there.
*Special thanks to Kate Harrison Photography for the lovely image.