Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Creative co-op: Show me the money

Read Time: 4 minutes

I walked into the office and immediately realized how good the place felt. Somewhere in the back people were laughing. The doors were open to the patio and sunlight streamed though. The drapes flowed with a light breeze. Nancy, my prospect, was out there with a small group. They were sharing a tablet and chatting about what was on the display.

Nancy saw me through the window and motioned me to come out.

“Ted, we were just looking at your new site. Love it!”

“Thanks Nancy; it’s not my site you know, it’s…”

“Oh, I know, Ted. But you’ve played a role in it and in forming the co-op.”

“Yep. It’s near and dear to me. And the team is on fire with what we’re doing.”

“That’s what we want to talk with you about, Ted. Actually, we want to talk about signing with the co-op for a year of social media and creative support.”

Nancy is the CEO of one of the nation’s biggest co-ops. She’d first heard about us through one of our members, formerly a freelance designer.

I awoke this morning after dreaming I’d helped win the first major business for the yet-unnamed creative co-op I’ve been imagining. The dream wasn’t a surprise, as I’d been thinking about where the revenue would come from before sliding off to sleep.

Creative co-op: Where will the clients come from?

Why would clients hire a creative co-op? What’s in it for them?

Or, as Tracy Wald, my former CFO, was fond of quoting, “Show me the money.”

First of all, there’d be months between forming the venture and actually doing business. Why? Because we’d need to hash out the details of how we’d work together, what we’d offer and how we’d present ourselves to the marketplace. Co-ops require cooperation, after all, and cooperation takes time. And please note that I’m making this up as I write and listen to feedback from my community.

Agreements on organization, legal status, pay, profits and overhead finalized. Roles and responsibilities agreed to. Admin and account management in place. Branding in place. Site up. Social media effort ready to go. Then, maybe, we’ll be ready to reach out to clients new and old.

So, where’s the money?

The initial source of clients will be our own members. We all have ongoing clients and projects of one kind or another. And we all have networks that are our primary source of business. So, step one is sharing the work we already have with the members whose skills fit.

Existing members’ clients would be the first to be reached through our mailings and social media efforts. Some of them will have needs we can fill.

Other opportunities will surface simply because we’ll be the new team with a new approach.

But the long game will include searching for and finding like-minded clients. Other co-ops that share our values. Organizations large and small that share our values.

What’s in it for clients?

A broad array of skills. Deep, deep expertise in all things creative. Teams that are highly motivated to meet client needs and expectations as well as their own. People who are dedicated to making the world a better place, not merely profits for shareholders. People who take on the work for the joy of doing so, and the assurance that they are being treated fairly. An organization designed to make the experience of working with it truly a pleasure.

Purpose power

The creative co-op must provide enough income for members to survive and thrive. That must be Goal One. But the money can’t get in the way of the values of a co-operative venture and the people who own it.

Paying ourselves, being profitable and helping clients achieve their goals won’t be an easy balance. It never is. I’ve been asked what the secret is, many times. And I’ve worked places where management just didn’t get it. The secret is a higher purpose that people believe in. When we believe what we’re doing is in the best interests of all, it’s highly motivating.

Those same values will attract both clients and member/owners. By meeting the needs of both our clients and ourselves, the creative co-op will grow and prosper. And so will we.

Nancy smiled and continued.

“Ted, if the creative co-op can live up to the values of kindness, sustainability and level of engagement your site demonstrates, we’ll have a long and happy relationship.”

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