Built to Sell:
Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You
By John Warrillow
Published by Portfolio
Copyright © 2011 by John Warrillow
“Alex unzipped his portfolio, wiped his brow, and settled in for the long haul. He unveiled the first design and John didn’t flinch, waving Alex off the moment he began to explain the designer’s vision for the piece.
“Let’s see the next one.”
After Alex presented all eight concepts—several weeks’ work condensed to less than thirty minutes—John took his time before selecting a design and then gave his instructions. He wanted another illustration, the font changed, and the red to be more orange-red instead of the pink-red selected by Alex’s designer. John droned on with more feedback, and Alex felt as if he were back in elementary school. Despite being woefully unqualified, John seemed to relish his new role as art critic. Alex left the meeting room promising John another round of mock-ups by Monday morning. He pulled out of the parking lot feeling broken.
If John Stevens had been an atypical client, Alex could have lived with it. Unfortunately, John represented the bulk of Alex’s clients: marketing managers with crappy jobs who seemed to like pushing around their marketing agency.
Alex had started the Stapleton Agency eight years before, after moving up the ladder at a multinational marketing agency. Once he’d gotten as much out of that job as he felt he could, he decided he needed a new challenge and ventured out on his own. He started out designing logos and brochures for small businesses and gradually moved up to becoming an approved vendor for MNY Bank. Having approved vendor status meant that the bank paid their bills and kept the Stapleton Agency on a short list of alternative suppliers to their agency of record. When the bank’s main marketing agency rejected smaller jobs, the bank summoned the Stapleton Agency.
When Alex started the agency, he dreamed of working on important campaigns with large budgets. He imagined directing models and actors between booze-soaked lunches with chief marketing officers. He wanted to be part of the scene. Instead, he was trying to figure out how to explain to his designer that she would need to work through the weekend because the client—a middle manager who had never taken a design course, doing a job he was completely unqualified for—insisted on what amounted to a design overhaul.
The Stapleton Agency was located in a funky part of the city just west of downtown. Alex paid $4,000 a month for more space than he needed with the hope that it would impress clients. The office had all of the requisite touches befitting a creative shop: exposed brick walls, glass-encased boardroom, twelve-foot-long boardroom table, and a permanently mounted overhead projector. Sadly, it rarely served its purpose—MNY Bank insisted that Alex come to them.
Upon returning to the office, Alex tried to slip into his office without his senior designer, Sarah Buckner, noticing, but she heard his keys jangle. She looked up from her computer.
“How’d it go?”
“Pretty good. He had a few changes, but nothing major. I’ll come see you in a few minutes.”
With that, Alex went into his office and shut the door. He needed caffeine. The day’s mail was on his desk and he quickly scanned it for the familiar blue-and-gold logo of MNY Bank. He was expecting a check.
Alex collected his thoughts and prioritized the next few hours. He needed to get Sarah working on the MNY Bank changes, go across town for lunch, get back to write a proposal, and find time to call his banker.
Sarah rolled her eyes as Alex delivered the news. He knew how hard Sarah had worked on this project—and how much she’d hated doing it—so he tried to present John’s instructions in a way that wouldn’t squash her motivation. She accepted her sentence, donned her sound-canceling earphones to shut out the sorry world she found herself in, and set out to find the proper shade of orange-red that would appease Lord Stevens.
Alex kicked himself for not standing up to John. He felt weak, but the reality was the Stapleton Agency could not afford to lose MNY Bank as a client. Last month, the bank amounted to $48,000 of the Stapleton Agency’s $120,000 in total billings. Alex, Sarah, and the other six employees of the Stapleton Agency needed MNY Bank.”
part three of ‘Built to Sell’ will appear here tomorrow