Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tell Your Story and Create a Virtuous Cycle

Read Time: 3 minutes

How do you get work and, more importantly, gain a continuous supply of work with acceptable fees? Better yet, at greater than acceptable fees?

If you’ve done a few projects that have some similarities, the work makes you happy. But if from time to time you find yourself between projects and without enough to keep you gainfully occupied, you need to create your own personal version of a virtuous cycle.

Step 1. Do the Work

A virtuous cycle is a series of events that result in a favorable outcome, time and again. For creative professionals it means using your work, and the insights gained from your experience to attract the attention of future clients. The first step in the virtuous cycle is doing the work. Remember, the work you do and the perspective you bring to the work is what differentiates you from your competitors. You are unique; therefore your work is unique.

Step 2. Develop Insights and Stories

Each creative project adds to your personal knowledge base and provides the opportunity to form insights that will help future clients succeed while furthering your differentiation from other design firms. Those insights can form the base for stories that share your perspective with prospective clients. Remember, these stories must be about how your work helped your client succeed. They are about you only as reflected by your clients’ success.

Step 3. Get the Stories in Front of Prospects

Email campaigns, public speaking, article placement, new business pitches are all places to tell your stories. Your site, your blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, print and online publications are all valuable for placement. These are not case studies – case studies commodify. Your stories must be personal; heart-felt narratives about helping others to succeed. Tell them with understanding and humility.

Step 4. Respond to Inquiries

Inbound calls and emails, are proof that your virtuous cycle is working. They mean that the caller accepts you as an expert, at least to the extent that they want to know if you can help them. They have read a story, seen you speak, or been referred to you. What they know about you aligns with a need that they have. That inbound call means that as an expert fees become ‘non-negotiable’. Remember, if you do respond to pressure to reduce fees you will loose some of your power in the relationship.

Behave Like an Expert

Throughout this process you must maintain and advance your expert status. Expert behavior is characterized by:

  • Determining how to meet client needs.
  • Asking questions and creating plans.
  • Developing lists of deliverables required to achieve success.
  • Developing budgets required to accomplish the scope of work.
  • Writing contracts, not proposals

Why the Virtuous Cycle is Important

  • Learning to think of your work as only the first step in the process of gaining influence and opportunity is critical to achieving success.
  • No matter whether you work for yourself or someone else the four steps of the virtuous cycle will attract the opportunities that fit just you, furthering your unique expert status.
  • Obviously, you’ll have a much more satisfying career if you are in demand.
  • I’ve written this column to help you, but please note: it’s just a continuation of my own virtuous cycle.

A well-managed Virtuous Cycle, combined with real expertise, negates the need to negotiate.


  • Nicte says:

    Great tips, Ted! Over the years I have managed to use my client on boarding system as a way to avoid clients that want it cheap and quick. Would you say having more case studies helps give a deeper glimps into the story behind the project?

    • Ted says:

      Sorry for my late reply, Nicte! These days I counsel against case studies and for stories. The more “story like” your descriptions of how your work helps others are the more they will resonate with those you’d like to help in the future.

  • Rosa says:

    This is a great article Ted! It is really important to show the client how we can help and ask questions that go beyond what they initially need. Showing how we helped others creates confidence. Thanks for sharing your expertise and your own virtuous cycle!

    • Ted says:

      Yes, showing how we help others not only gives future clients confidence that you can help them, it also builds your confidence. Sorry for my late reply.

  • Do you have any video of that? I’d care to find out
    some additional information.

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