(last updated on April 29, 2014)
Summary: I outline the essential element of clarity over planning for its own sake, and establish my next slightly-mad steps in moving ahead in my design business.
I was thinking about what I wrote just a few hours ago regarding the choice to deliberate not plan too diligently, and instead trust my ability to improvise on-the-fly. It seems so counter-intuitive that I hesitated to even post the idea, and now I know why: it doesn’t work when you are leading a group. If you are working independently, as am I, then it’s perfectly fine. It doesn’t work with a group because if you’re the one leading, the people who are following you need to know what to do. They can’t read your mind. The purpose of planning, in the group context, is to establish several things:
- To find the best solution by tapping into a multitude of brains. “Two heads are better than one”, says the common wisdom.
- To ensure that everyone is working toward the same goal. By creating a plan, we all have a common point of reference.
- To allocate resources in the most optimal manner, which contributes to efficiency and speed.
- To assign specific roles and responsibilities, so people know what they’re supposed to do.
- To establish channels of communication and hierarchies of oversight that maintain positive momentum on the project.
- To define common metrics and standards of excellence, so people know whether they’re succeeding or failing.
I think that I could simplify this entire list by just saying that the point of a plan is to establish common clarity. With clarity comes sureness of aim, and with that come confidence in execution. The actual execution of the task is much easier when you can “see” what you’re supposed to be hitting. Leadership, in this context, is the ability to create clarity so your people can figure out what they can do to get there all by themselves.
In my case, working as an individual, I don’t need to plan as completely as I would if I were leading a team of designers and engineers. I know that if I make anything, I’ve created something that becomes part of my arsenal of success-building tools. However, it is still my responsibility to also ensure what I make is clear in its application; that is, people need to be able to look at what I’m making and intuitively understand how it applies to them. If I can bridge the gulf of understanding and break into the inner chamber of genuine needs/desire, then the sale becomes possible.
If you truly have clarity, I suspect you don’t really need a complex plan. You already know what you need to do. The planning is merely one way to establish clarity. If you plan with clarity in mind, you’ve created a plan for leadership. If you fall short of that, at best you’ll have a good management plan; it probably will work with a little adjustment and hands-on monitoring. If you have people who are possessed of their own clarity, and they can soar within the confines of their allotted resources, you might get lucky and create that home run. At worst, your plan will be a muddy checklist of poorly-rationalized conjecture that people push through to the bitter end.
Clarity. Single-mindedness. Focus. In this case, focus refers to a reduction of scope to the fundamental belief that X leads to Y, and ensuring that the scope of work contributes directly to the actualization of that belief. So, in the context of my Dave Seah is the only designer that does XXXXXXX musings, I’m going to declare my next step and go for it without bothering to outline the overall plan I was going to write out. Why? Because I already have the clarity I need:
- Create a Design Agency + Design Practices. Fully documented. – This will be documented on a separate blog I’ll set up. It will cover everything, and I’ll be making all source code for projects available. Utter transparency. The gist of my “expected benefits” is that I’ll be forced to relearn and reestablish a lot of what I already know about starting a design shop, from the basic offerings to pricing to marketing. It will be good for me, and I think that others will find it interesting. My goal is education, not world-class design. It turns out that a lot of people just want stuff that works at a good price. There may be a market there. I will find out.
The very first offering is Making a Simple 1-Page Website. In the past, I’ve assumed that there’s a certain value for a website; the general market rate in the part of the country I’m in seems to be around $1000 to $2500 for a basic web site with 5-10 pages based on a single master + two sub variants. For someone just getting started on the web, this is too much money. Most web agencies won’t touch a website for under $1500, so the sub-$1500 market pretty much belongs to freelancers on Craigslist, relatives of friends who “are on the web”, and monthly hosted solutions. Although I’m not a web developer, I know enough about design and programming to put together something simple that works well enough for my purposes; while this is not the sort of thing that is newsworthy in the web development world, the mom and pop shop that just wants a simple web page doesn’t care. They just want to be on the web, and they have a speculative advertising budget that is probably less than a couple hundred bucks a year. They think they need an all-in-one boxed solution, but they really also need a guide to gently deposit them on the web. After making that first 1-page website, there’s a natural expansion tree of related products that derive from the base. If you’re a gamer, you can think of this approach as a Realtime Strategy Technology Tree. You start with the basic bit of technology (say, a wooden wagon), and then with that you earn additional capabilities until you get to armored personnel carriers. The single-page website is sufficiently complex in its needs: well-formed cross-browser compliant CSS, W3C validation, semantic HTML and SEO-friendly markup, basic stats, a nice bit of text CSS, hosting, and ease of updating by the client. The next stage is probably the multi-page website, which introduces navigation and menus and their best practices. And from the multi-page website, we start to get into dynamic solutions based on content management systems. And that’s not even getting into banners, Flash, mailing lists, CRM, ecommerce…you get the idea. I need to establish best practices in ALL of those things.
The behind-the-scenes element of this phase is Posting source code and engineering documentation for what I’m making. This is the educational aspect of what I’m doing, gathering what I’ve learned from the various people on the Internet and my own experience, and packaging it in a easy-to-deploy form for others to benefit from. There is no direct benefit to me in terms of revenue, but it’s something I want to do and I believe it will lead to different opportunities. I’m sick of simple tutorials that do not explain the higher concepts. I am sure that many people will tell me that posting my sources and revealing my techniques is not a good business move; if people can download what I do for free and deploy it themselves, they can either take my business (by doing it themselves or starting their OWN business from my hard work), or they will assume that the work is not very valuable and therefore will not want to pay for it. This is true, but one thing I’ve learned is that the best clients pay for the quality of work because they don’t have time to do themselves. And I am not really afraid of people who download my work and secretly repurpose it for their own ends; they can’t take away my competence, after all. In the best case, I will find allies among people who appreciate what I’m doing. If 100 unethical moochers profit from my work for every new ally that I meet, I will be way ahead of the game.
p>So that’s the plan at this moment.
Let the game begin.