Too many professionals buy the story that expertise is a commodity: Hire an expert, tell them what to do, and get the job done. Experts are experts because they know more than you do about their professional discipline. Experts are not there to amplify your incompetence. Hire an expert and ask them to tell you what to do.
After pitching her services along with four other studios, Jane was awarded the contract to redo the visual branding for a sizable new client. This was a big win for her small company—a chance to do work that would produce results, get noticed, and attract new clients.
She researched competitors; interviewed executives, team members, and clients; created a new logo; and carefully documented a set of identity standards that conveyed the spirit of the company’s brand.
Jane walked into the presentation meeting confident and proud…
And then everything collapsed.
“I’m not sure about this red,” said the CFO. “Red is the color of debt.”
“And we’re on the Internet,” said the VP of Marketing. “Shouldn’t we have a globe in our logo?”
“And I don’t know about that font,” said Marcy the CEO. “Don’t you think Comic Sans would convey our informal, personal, friendly style?”
“How about a big swoosh?” suggested the CEO’s secretary. “Amazon has a big swoosh in their logo. Wouldn’t that make us look big?”
“I’m sorry said the CTO. I know you worked hard on this, but I just don’t like it.”
Jane listened patiently while the various executives voiced their doubts and objections. This business would be so much easier if I didn’t have to deal with clients!
When the critics had finished weighing in, Jane spoke. “If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, you’re overlooking the most important value I provide.”
Marcy shrugged. “Go ahead, Jane.”
“Why did you hire Ed to be your Chief Technology Officer?” she asked.
“Because he has the background and training to make important decisions about systems, databases, the skillsets we need to hire…”
“Exactly,” interrupted Jane. “And Carla, why are you the CFO?”
Carla spoke defensively. “Because I’m an experienced accountant with twenty years of experience managing money and making financial decisions for businesses in this industry.”
“Don’t worry,” Jane reassured. “I’m not here to question anyone’s qualifications. I’m just concerned you’re not confident of mine.”
“What do you mean?” asked Marcy.
“What’s the purpose of a logo?” asked Jane.
“To set us apart,” suggested Ed.
“To create a unique look and feel that people associate with our company,” offered Ed.
“Good,” said Jane. “And…?”
Marcy thought for a moment before speaking. “To create a sort of ‘visual package’ for the friendliness, high standards, and other values we spoke about at our first meeting?”
“Yes,” said Jane. “All of those things.”
Jane continued. “If you just wanted a design—a logo—you could have gone to a crowdsourcing site for a lot less money than you’re paying me. Why didn’t you?”
“The option was discussed,” said Ed, “but we figured we’d rather have a relationship with a local professional.”
“Thank you,” affirmed Jane. “You didn’t want a logo; you wanted a relationship. And what’s the most important element in any relationship?”
“Trust,” said Marcy without missing a beat.
“So Marcy, you have an MBA. Carla, you’re a CPA. Ed, you probably have a raft of technology certifications. I have an MFA in graphic design and I taught design at the university level for over a decade. What’s wrong with this picture?”
“I can see why a finance professional might object to red. All your suggestions—globes and swooshes and handwriting fonts—are sensible … but these are the same design elements—the same obvious solutions—that millions of businesses land on. I could smile and take your money and give you whatever you ask for, but you’re not going to look distinct and unique. You’re not going to communicate your values, build relationships with customers, make your employees proud, and grow your business … and who are you going to blame for that?”
“But what if you make a mistake?” asked Carly.
“I’m sure I will sooner or later … just like all of you have.”
A chorus of nods went around the table.
“But my job can’t be to facilitate a ‘design by committee’ process. You won’t always like my work. You may think you have better ideas—and sometimes you might—but unlike a crowdsourcing site that sets up people who know nothing about design to be the judges of a design contest, I’m here to be that person who actually knows how to judge the contest. I’m not here to sell you a logo; I’m here to help you make sound aesthetic decisions that produce better outcomes for your business.”
“Are you saying you don’t want to work with us?” asked Marcy.
“Actually, the opposite.” Replied Jane. “I want you to work with me. I’m not just a technician who knows how to use design software. I’ve studied typography and color and the history of design. I know how to avoid design clichés that people repeat over and over because they’ve seen them before and they make them feel comfortable.”
Marcy raised an eyebrow.
“You can teach a monkey to produce a logo—I did it every day when I taught design school—but real professionals don’t produce projects; they produce results. Of course, I want your input. Of course, I want you to love what I do. But mostly, I want you to trust that I have the expertise to create designs that accomplish your business goals.”
It could be that Jane lost a client that day. Perhaps Marcy and her team sent her on her way and decided to crowdsource their design work. Not only did they get exactly what they asked for, maybe the design they chose did what needed to be done, even if it probably wasn’t revolutionary. Fortunes are made every day on “good enough.” Who needs experts?
Or Jane could have shrugged her shoulders, and said “Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.” She’d have gotten paid and at least for a while, made her client happy. Numerous contractors manufacture plenty of mediocrity for clients who “can’t tell the difference.” Many of them end up changing to careers where their ideas are appreciated and listened to.
Or maybe Marcy decided to trust Jane and treat her as a valued member of the team. Over time Jane would have invested hundreds of hours in getting to know the company, its people, and its offerings. She would have spent even more time thinking about, “How do we craft messages that convey the true value of what we have to offer?”
What would be the value of having a trusted partner who really gets what your business offers? Would such an expert deliver more than a cheap logo?
Beware of so-called “experts” who happily do whatever you want. They’re just trading time for dollars. Find a trustworthy partner and then trust them! Don’t hire experts and then tell them what to do.