Around this time last year I read an article about why women in Tech tend to get less funding than men do when they go out to pitch investors, and was astonished and appalled when I read that women tend to be extremely prepared, which comes across as “rehearsed”, while men tend to “wing-it” which somehow gets interpreted as being more able to “roll with the punches” and “confident”.
I found this so interesting that I started reading more about it and found that this same “winging-it” approach that a lot of male executives have is responsible for them speaking up more in meetings, getting more promotions, and making stronger professional networks for themselves. One study written about in The Atlantic found that women only apply for jobs when they feel 100% qualified, while men do so when they are only 50% qualified assuming they will learn on the job. In an effort to do everything perfectly, it seems a lot of us women have potentially been shortchanging ourselves: of time, money, and even opportunity.
So I decided going into 2015 that I was going to work like a man for the year and see what happened. What did this mean? Well, I did a lot more reading on what men and women do differently at work and distilled it to one main thing that I would try: consciously being less prepared. I starting prepping things about 20% less than I used to- presentations, meetings, pitches, etc. This was so against my nature that I actually would just force myself to do work in certain time periods so that I wouldn’t be able to micro-focus on things. Then I decided to not feel guilty about what thing I was neglecting/delegating/not doing to perfection.
Professionally speaking, it was a remarkable year for me. First, I was amazed at how much more receptive people were to my broad strokes presentations and how much credit for being creative I got with my “off the cuff” ideas. I discovered that even if I didn’t think I had “figured something out” before I meeting, I actually almost always knew what I was talking about… something that as I moved through the course of the year reinforced my confidence in a way that I believe led us (in part) to ask for more money for our work.
Further, this approach relived a lot of my anxiety about releasing the proposal/presentation to the world, or going to meetings. But more of all, this approach freed up a ton of my time to expand and build on my professional network, volunteer more and enjoy my personal time more.
However, the biggest change was the decision to not feel guilty about not putting in the extra 20% effort…It took a bit of time, but when I realized that my 80% was still pretty awesome and effective, that quickly went away.
Many of us take pride in our perfectionism, so it’s bizarre to think that preparedness doesn’t always work to our advantage… and yet, a look at our Presidential race this year and pin the tail on the candidates people ding for seeming “rehearsed” and “stiff” because they know their policy and those who have gained fans by being “off the cuff”.
Inspiration of the Week: Ghetto Tarot, a project from award-winning documentary photographer Alice Smeets and a group of Haitian artists known as Atis Rezistans. They recreated Tarot Cards from the Rider Waite deck in Haiti and the results are just amazing.
I had a chat with a colleague recently about a challenging interaction with a client that they had had. We spent a decent amount of time breaking down what might be causing them to be so… challenging. Was it pre-marital stress? Was it financial woe? Was it a parent giving them behind-the-scenes grief? Possibly.
But then I posed the other theory, the one that we don’t like to consider that often, because it runs counter to why many of us are in this business (to create joyful moments for lovely people), but maybe this client was just a Jerk.
Every day, especially if you live in a big city, you are likely to encounter jerks. Maybe it’s the person who is rude to the Starbucks barista, or the girl who snags the cab that was clearly for you, or the person yelling at the waitress or the bank teller or whomever, or the person talking down to their spouse in public. You may see them, and you may think “Wow, what a jerk.” and move on with your life… perhaps passing along a prayer for the people in that poor Jerks’ life.
But sometimes those Jerks are married, and guess what? That meant that at some point they were engaged and planning a wedding.
Our groom who told his bride she looked like a fat princess on her wedding day? Yeah, he was just a jerk. Our bride who asked the makeup artists to make her bridesmaids look like bright red piggies… kind of a jerk. I could go on and on, but that isn’t the point….
The point is a PSA reminder that as you assemble your fresh crop of Brides and Grooms this season and you get to know them, your “troublesome” client may not just need more TLC or a more efficient spreadsheet or tough love and rigid deadlines… they might just be a Jerk. So rather than beat yourself up about what you could do better, or allow them to beat you up for what they perceive you don’t do well enough, you can accept them for who they are and measure your energy and your responses accordingly.
Inspiration for The Week, Janus Miralles
Last week we got such great feedback and so many questions from our post with Brooke Keegan about PWM (Percentage with Minimum method of charging that we decided to have a google hangout to answer all of your amazing questions including: how to position this to the client? How much do you give away? Could this be applied to designers or florists? Can it scale to less big budget events? What made us switch and how do do it… All answered here!
I LOVED doing this, so let me know if you are interested in more posts OR more google hangouts on topics digging in under the hood of business ideas that work! And thank you again to Brooke!
The best part about that click-baitish blog title is that it’s more or less actually true, provided that you keep on reading and then actually implement some of what I’m about to share with you, which Brooke Keegan shared with me late last year while we were on a Fam trip together at the Andaz Maui. You don’t need to offer a new service or launch a new product or do a single thing extra that you aren’t already doing… except to change the way that you charge for your services. (Warning: This post is particularly geared towards planners/designers but any of you out there in the industry may find that this gets your gears turning….)
If you aren’t familiar with Brooke just yet, she is a very accomplished Luxury Planner/Designer based in California, but focusing on destination celebrations. During a dinner another guest asked her what she charged for her services and she said “I charge a percentage with a $30K minimum.” Overhearing her, and having been charging a flat fee for the past forever years, I had to stop and ask her about this because all of the following ran through my head.
- How does she do this in Cali, a nororiously saturated market where fees are by what we would consider by East Coast standards “depressed” (I know this only because we are frequently called by Cali based clients who have expressed to me how much more expensive we are than our West Coast counterparts).
- How does she manage the client relationship without them thinking that she is trying to increase the budget in order to increase her fee (again, we had moved to flat fee years ago largely to help establish a sense of trust with the client).
- How does she establish this budget with the client when so often what a client thinks they want to spend and what they spend vary so greatly?
- How do you establish this budget when you don’t know exactly what you are planning/ designing?
- How do you sell it… Really?
For those of you who don’t know me in person, when something genuinely intrigues me and I don’t totally understand it, I’m like a dog with a bone and won’t let go of the topic until I’ve completely devoured and comprehended it…. And so I dominated the rest of poor Brooke’s evening, while she thoroughly won me over not only with this way of charging, but with her generosity and open-ness of information. Something that she further enforced by giving me the O.K. to share this information with all of you. I am going to run through now, more or less how this works while addressing the questions that ran through my mind (which Brooke was so kind as to answer).
- First, Brooke doesn’t really market herself as a California planner…and the truth of the matter was, when I thought about it, very few people who serve the Luxury wedding market are truly exclusively regional. By positioning herself as a specialist in destination who happens to be based in California, she was automatically separating herself from a number of her local colleagues AND also opening their minds to understanding why her fee structure was different from some of the other people that they may have already contacted or planned on contacting.
- The key to what I’m going to call the “Percentage with Minimum” or PWM method is that it requires you to change what most of us use as our “Order of Operations”. Most of us (especially the Flat Fee chargers out there) sell on our Portfolio and Personalities and, like a Geisha, tease a bit about the amazing experience we can provide clients (maybe throw out some mood boards or prospective amazing locations) while saving the actual hard work for the paying customers… We dig into the nitty gritty of budgeting (like, really budgeting) for when they sign on. To really make PWM work, budget comes first… And not just any budget…
- To make PWM work, you need to get a very strong sense of what the client is looking to do, dig into the numbers of it, and flesh out a pretty realistic budget. The trust factor comes in two parts, the first one is that it isn’t just a budget that the client arbitrarily picks or on one that you arbitrarily put together… It’s a mutually agreed upon number based on your assessment of what they are looking for AND hard numbers from a venue, or tent co, etc. BEFORE YOU ASK “But what happens if they spend more.. How do they not feel you “led them to raise your fee?” The second part of the trust thing is that your fee stays the same within a very generous window of that mutually agreed upon budget.
- Again, while you may not know the specific, specific of what you are designing, say with a wedding where we had a custom macrame drapes made…. We didn’t know we would do that exact thing when they signed on… BUT the intelligent budgeting for everything else would have been spot on and that unique idea was well within the “cushion” of budget increase.
- Honestly, once you answer these questions, it actually is so transparent that the harder part of selling this way becomes convincing yourself that people will accept it… But trust me, they do! In fact, rather than have your fee seem arbitrary, it seems like an amazingly transparent line item that logically scales up with the size of the project you are envisioning. AND, if your minimum scares people away, they weren’t your client anyway and you got that out of the way right away! Probably the best part is that if you do want to be negotiable- say to book a job at a location you would like to work in or to extend a sort of discount to someone with whom you might have a long standing relationship, deducting a percentage point or two off of your fee is much more cut and dry than agreeing to an arbitrary dollar amount that usually never leaves either party feeling amazing.
So, of course, if you are thinking about this now your next question is “But how do I set my minimum?” … Well your minimum should be your ideal base fee under Flat Fee, with no discount… Let’s get excited and do some math… Which I usually stink at, but in this case, it gets me going…
Let’s say you ideally get 30K per wedding, but you know that you can’t really work with budgets under 200K, and most people that hire you are working with budgets of 250K. Sometimes to close a deal now, you might go down to 28, or even 25, but 30 is your ideal flat fee… Under PWM that’s now your minimum and your percentage is 18%, which on a 250,000 budget is $45,000… Which is 15K higher than your old flat fee… Even if you wanted to negotiate to close a deal and dropped your rate to 15%, you are still making 7.5K more than your old Flat Fee.
The crazy part about this is that when you think of it this way, and in context of the amount of work you and your company will put into this event, it seems crazy that your compensation doesn’t vary with degree of expenditure… AND when you think of your labor and impact on the experience in terms of percentage, it doesn’t feel like a crazy amount to ask for oneself. Not surprisingly, I’ve of course figured out that lots of women whose businesses I admire (Amy Zaroff, Lynn Easton… I believe Calder Clark) have been charging this way for a long time.
I came back, talked it over with Mayra and we immediately began using the PWM model and trust me, I wouldn’t be posting about this if I didn’t actually find it both a more pleasant selling experience for us and our prospective clients BUT also a more accurate method to arrive at our compensation level.
To me, the hardest part about making the change is that it positions you (for now) as the only person on the block playing the game this way… But I think it’s a lot harder to knowingly make less revenue than it is to explain an unfamiliar fee structure, don’t you?
WOULD LOVE YOUR THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS!
Inspiration for the Week: Saw this amazing Cornelia Parker installation at the de Young museum in San Francisco… It’s called Anti-Mass and is made form the charred remains of an Alabama Black Baptist church burned to the ground by arsonists… Powerful and I love that something beautiful rose from the literal ashes of something ugly (as it always does…)
Vince Lombardi famously said “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” For years, there are few sayings I would take more earnestly to heart than this and I think I can speak for Mayra as well. From a workout to a relationship to a job, I’ve never had an easy time calling it quits, even when things were clearly not working. This was true in my personal life, but it was especially true at work…until recently.
Last June we were at Engage having drinks by the pool with a colleague we really love and respect and she was telling us a tale as old as time: the horrible client who didn’t like any of her ideas and was utterly uncooperative. We were exchanging sympathies when suddenly she said “You know what? I don’t want to spend the rest of my summer like this. I actually think I’m going to just quit. I’ve never done this before, but I think I’m going to do it.” In weddings, tales of quitting a client are nearly urban legend. But, our colleague went back, found some potential replacements for herself, buttoned up all of her loose ends and called it a day with her bride. A couple of months later she emailed us one Saturday afternoon with a photo of the beach and the caption “She’s getting married today and I’m celebrating at the beach!” She became our hero.
Fast forward a few months and we took a job that we shouldn’t have taken. It was a short turn around and very intense and a nice piece of unexpected business and rather than weigh the fact that it seemed like not the best fit stylistically, we were swayed by the quick and unexpected project and said yes. Immediately, the error of the decision became inherently clear. Erratic messages and missed meetings and a number of other things that all screamed “A HORRIBLE FIT FOR YOU, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? THIS IS NEVER GOING TO GET BETTER.”
And for once, rather than cram a square peg into a round hole so that we wouldn’t feel that we weren’t strong enough to win, we stopped to think about this. We already lost. There was no winning here; we’d been around the block long enough to know that this was going to get worse before it got better because it wasn’t a good fit. So rather than stay and beat ourselves up (or allow ourselves to be beaten up) better to respectfully and responsibly part ways. Financially we could afford to do it and emotionally we couldn’t afford NOT to do it.
Work can be challenging, but we are actually only in competition with ourselves. We can’t “win” a wedding or an event. The only way that we can lose is when we allow ourselves to feel trapped in a situation that makes us miserable. Working with a client is a mutually agreed upon situation, no one is trapped. If you can run your business with enough room to financially give yourself the room to be know you could walk away (not from EVERY client, but from the occasional client who was a mistake in the first place.)..that’s a liberating feeling.
Since we quit that job at the end of last year, I can honestly say that I’ve never gotten along better with clients, because this served as a reminder that we are in a mutually agreed upon relationship. In a funny way, it reminded me at work of a lesson that I had learned during my divorce: the failure wasn’t in not trying to “make it work”, the failure was in not allowing myself the room to realize I had made a mistake. The real failure would have been to stay unhappy.
Business is business and no one should just quit anytime work is hard.. don’t get me wrong about that. But, sometimes suffering through that draining or abusive client isn’t just a “buzzkill” for a few months, it’s the thing that takes all that energy you were going to put into redoing your website, or training a new staff member or other forward moving things to grow your business. Or, it’s simply the energy to just be happy and wake up excited to go to work….. Sometimes that’s better than money.
Inspiration for the Week: None other than the legendary David Bowie. The world is a less creative and interesting place today than it was yesterday, but WOW what a gift!