A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PRACTICALITY
I was flattered recently when a client described my advice as ‘practical’. He said he’s been wary of engaging with consultants, as on previous interactions with them, he’d had useful conversations, but been left with no clear way forward.
Then later that week, I was reading a tender document for a consultancy which stressed the need for ‘actionable recommendations’. Next, there was a conversation with a colleague where we bemoaned the prevalence of apps which do diverting, interesting things but are ultimately not useful in our day to day lives.
Practical. Actionable. Useful. It seems that lots of us are looking for advice we can put into action. Give me an action list. Tell me what to do first. Show me how to get from a to b. Increasingly, it seems, we want to know how to do something to achieve a desired result.
Many of us working in a creative industry need to advise, even if you’re in the business of providing a product or service. If you’re a designer, for instance, and you’re responding to a brief, you’re really advising on the best way to achieve the client’s goals; so you give them a response and walk them through how it’s going to happen. You show them the process and make it real for them.
And in the internal management of businesses, there’s an ongoing need for leaders to emphasise the practical. Care has to be taken to tailor a management style to the personalities of staff, to avoid the trap of micromanagement. Still, many staff-management interactions can benefit from some clear, actionable guidance at the start of a given task, for the staff member to then run with it from there.
So there’s virtue in striving to be as practical as possible in executing and running a business. And to practice what I’m preaching, here are a few tips on how to go about it.
Engage with the problem at hand
Whether it’s your client’s or a staff member’s. There’s a temptation when you’re a specialist in a field to zone out a bit when you’re hearing about a problem for the 50th time. Resist that temptation; remember that for the person asking your advice, it’s the first time they’re vocalising it and there are probably fine details to this issue which you haven’t come across before.
Concentrate on what the person is saying to you, rather than mentally jumping to what you think is the solution to their problem. Let them get to the end of their story before prescribing a remedy. This is particularly tempting if you’re trying to sell a set product, but if you put aside the pre-determined outcome you’re trying to get to, and just listen, your client will appreciate the attention you’re giving.
Start with the ending
Talk to your client about the end result they are trying to achieve and understand how that will be better than the current situation. Describe that end result to the client and ask them if you’ve got it right. This is an in build self checking procedure, to see if you understand the problem correctly from your client’s point of view.
Offer not just your solution, but also how it will be achieved
It’s our old friend the action list. Or the flow chart. Or the step by step guide. It’s to give the client an idea of what you think should happen, and it’s particularly important for creatives whose work moves from a theoretical concept to a tangible results. But don’t mistake this need to walk your clients through from idea to realisation, with an over reliance on selling your own bespoke process. Concentrate on what matters for your client, not on how clever you are. And finally…
Use plain English
Avoid jargon and meaningless baffle-gab, of which there is much within creative industries. It makes life easier for everyone if your meaning is clear.
If you’ve got issues in your business you don’t seem to be able to get on top of, why not get in touch? Not only do we provide a full suite of bookkeeping and tax services here at Generate, but we’re also able to help with business coaching, strategy workshops, business plans and much more. You name the problem and I’m sure we can help.