Collaboration can be a landmine of friction, frustration, and failure. Despite best efforts from both ends, this can sometimes be unavoidable. However, this can be mitigated when both sides operate on an equally-invested set of outlooks and recognition that we are all struggling to achieve specific goals. It will certainly not hurt to make it easy for each other.
Having experienced hundreds of branding, strategy, and design collaborations with successful entrepreneurs and CEOs at varying scales, international locations—from Singapore to South Africa, Tokyo to Tel Aviv, Bangkok to Berlin, we at Design For Tomorrow have had a handful of learnings harvested along the way.
Hopefully, you, dear reader, will consider this a love letter for our reciprocal sanity.
01. PRO FOR PRO
Transcending the transactional emotionlessness of “quid pro quo,” what creative partners appreciate foremost in a client is genuine professionalism. So please be reminded that your time is as valuable as your consultants’ time. Give context behind your decisions or state clear directions so there won’t be any unnecessary back and forth because of a missing detail. The Japanese are admirable when they consider punctuality sacred: you rob someone of a precious commodity that cannot be recouped—time.
02. FAITH HAS ITS REWARDS
Someone (whose name escapes us now) much wiser once put it this way: “I know my body, I know it very well, and I know where the pains are, but I will never dare try to operate on myself. I’ll trust the expertise of the doctor.”
Ditto for your brand. Once you, dear successful entrepreneur, bestow a consultant a degree of trust, the sincerity of that trust will never be wasted. Dedicated consultants will do everything in their power to make you succeed out of recognition of their expertise, talent, and skills. And beyond that, they will demonstrate what’s possible and come back with the best creative work as a sense of responsibility for that faith. We have collaborated with numerous clients who have trusted us in navigating the direction of their brand, and it was an enjoyable experience to be able to have free rein to show our expertise in its full potential.
This was all made possible because we made an effort to gain their trust. Setting clear expectations while laying down our meticulous process from a branding, strategy, and design perspective while giving room to explore beyond said expectation made for a willing and exciting collaboration from both ends. One such serendipitous example is a client’s chance visit to La Picara, a restaurant we branded in the Philippines that led to her collaborating with us for her beauty brand in Singapore.
03. RESPECT BEGETS THE SAME
“THIS is a multibillion peso company!” A founder/CEO thundered to us during a meeting. “And YOU are telling ME how to run this business?! HOW MUCH money do YOU have in your account?!”
Our team didn’t blink. I calmly replied: “Of course, you are entitled to do as you please—it IS your company. What have we got to lose? Probably an hour and gas money going on here in this meeting. But if you consider our proposal, you have everything to gain: we will commit to helping you. Look, you are besieged by fierce competitors and need all the help you can get. Besides, design is our ball game, not yours.”
This successful entrepreneur, Mr. CEO, not only became a client but became our friend. Moral of the story: respectfully seek, dear successful entrepreneur, and you will be willingly helped.
04. MORE THAN MONEY, MUTUALISM
“We looked at your portfolio,” a top corporate honcho preambles as he slides into his seat. “You must be very expensive. We have a very small budget. Emphasis. In. VERY.” Then he lets out a hearty chuckle for his cleverness.
Before going to the meeting, we checked their published annual report with a multi-billion net profit and a firm position in the top 500 corporations in the country.
In contrast, we are a small, thriving, independent studio.
On the other side of the world, a few years ago, we fell in love with a client: a CEO of a Filipino family-led steel company. When we submitted a cost proposal, she glanced at the total figure and said: “I learned this from my father. Do not devalue your partners and drive a hard bargain. They need to thrive and succeed so they can help you better. If you succeed, we succeed.”
From that moment on, we had to calibrate our cost proposal carefully for every project with her companies to ensure we charged reasonably and proportionally to the complexities of each project.
She embodies mutualism, and we want her to be a patron saint of C-Suites everywhere.
05. MICROSCOPES ARE FOR MICROBES
Micromanagement, generally, is the saboteur of creativity and innovation. It betrays your culture, lack of confidence, immunity to groundbreaking ideas, and a colossal dampener of enthusiasm and visionary imagination. Perhaps the best example is when a brand adopts the philosophy and means of a Nanny State that infantilizes its constituents.
We all understand the stakes, and failure is not our desired outcome. But we must also recognize that we all have roles with attendant expertise, skillset, and talents. (see #2)
When faced with intelligent and creative partners, exhaling and unclenching is an option.
Successful entrepreneurs see the world as their playground. Freedom is a hotbed of excellent work. If you don’t believe it, try it!
06. RUSH JOB ≠ PROUD ACHIEVEMENT.
“We wanted it yesterday!” is one of our favorite icebreakers when a potential client responds to the question: When is this needed?
This response begs the following question: isn’t rushing a clue for either lack of foresight, clear directions, or mishandling of priorities? Of course, many consultants will take on the limited-time challenge for a higher fee. Expect also compromises on the work.
Terrific clients and CEOs have mastered the art of planning and time management. They are cognizant of the reality that excellent work takes time to reach its optimal potential. Creative consultants love them and commit to uncompromised work.
A reasonable time is a valuable tool for pragmatic people. (see #1)
07. WHEN CREDIT IS GREAT
Nothing fosters gratitude more than recognition of a job well done. It cements relationships and reinforces partnerships. Clients often bask in excellent work achievements and conveniently obscure the collaborations that realize them.
Acknowledgment is a fantastic fuel for creative consultants. Publicly recognizing their contributions engenders devotion and loyalty; successful entrepreneurs know this feeling too well.
“Please!” A potential client once asked. “Do not tell people you are collaborating with me!”
Baffled, we replied: “Oh! Why does that matter?”
“Because if my biggest competitors know you are helping me, they will knock on your door, offer you much more money, and you might leave me!”
For once, we didn’t have a snappy response.
Writer Ric Gindap
Date Published February 17, 2023