What Humility Can Do For Your Career
The ministry I work with recently printed out an ad to pass out at a local jazz festival. As usual, things came down to the wire and the design was awaiting it's last minute approval process before going to print the next morning.
Just a week beforehand our facility over-went some massive remodeling. We wanted all our new material to show new pictures of our new building so the marketing department hired a freelance photographer. He came in and took some shots in and around the place, and we were excited to use them in the ad.
When I emailed the photographer to ask for a few of the images at high resolution he told me he wasn't willing to release any of them until he'd been paid first.
Because this was his first time working with us he felt the need to draw the line so we would all know where he stood. He wanted to make sure we knew he wasn't a pushover. But what he ended up communicating instead was that all he cared about was his money. I instantly felt disconnected from him and realized he wasn't concerned with any of our needs but only wanted to do a job and get paid.
I wasn't really shocked because this kind of attitude is not out of the ordinary by any means. However it did put me, the designer, in a tough spot with a problem that needed to be solved.
I knew there was no way his invoice would clear accounting in the next 5 days but I needed those images in the next 12 hours.
Instead of calling accounting first thing in the morning, making them rush a check off and hope to get the images by lunchtime and send the ad off to print by the end of the day I decided instead to email the photographer again.
I had to ask a special request for those couple of select images so the ad could go to print on time. He told me that he'd have to confirm with someone that his invoice had been approved and he would indeed receive his money. A few hours later he obliged to give me the four photos I wanted to use.
Why did it have to be like that? Why did our photographer feel so needy to draw that line and not want to budge?
A Better Way: Break the "Rules"
There is a better way, and it involves breaking the rules.
Suppose you are working for a client and all they've ever known were distant designers with minimum personality and a major case of cold-shoulderitis? So what if you didn't look out for number one and instead constantly kept your client's best interests in mind? They would notice and they would realize that you were different than the rest.
Different in a way that would make them cock their head to the side, raise their left eyebrow and go "hmmm." Different in a way that would make them whisper to one another when you weren't in the room. Saying things about you that they wouldn't quite be able to put their finger on but things that they would like about you.
That difference between you and everyone else would be humility. And the reason it would make you stand out so much is because humility is a character trait that everyone possesses. And when you treat others with sincerity and humility and make them valid and important they will want to respond in the same way.
When I was a kid I thought "humility" and "humiliation" were synonymous. I figured that if I didn't stand up and fight my way to the top then I would be looked at like some sort of idiot that didn't know the game.
In 15 years, the game hasn't changed. And now that in the professional world there's this feeling that the only person watching out for me is me - and the only person watching out for you is you. Where's the love?
It should be your job as the designer to watch out for the client. To honor their opinions and requests and work with them so they feel valid. In time, they will begin watch out for you.
Let Your Guard Down
Swallowing our pride is one of the first steps to actually connecting with our clients on a personal level. When we can let our own guard down, they will let theirs down. And that is the place where true business is done. Not with suits and ties around the strategy table, dry-erase marker in hand; but with comrades - sharing ideas and working with one another.
By operating in humility as a designer you make the client to feel genuinely important. They will catch on to your sincerity and be much more open to your ideas, suggestions, creative license and even your invoice.
Don't Take it Personal
One of the most difficult things to handle as a designer has got to be a rejected concept.
You and I both know we often put our heart and soul into our work and try to only produce things that are a representation of our professional taste. But when they don't like it, man that sucks. The best way to handle it though is to not take it personally. To try and detach emotionally from our work when possible so that the client's needs and desires can be met.
When our ideas get shot down, or re-arranged, the most impressive thing we can do is to go with it. Deferring to the client and making their ideas and opinions feel valid while working with them to get something that still looks clean and professional.
There's no guarantee or contract that once you're done with a job that same client will hire you again. They have dozens - if not hundreds - of other designers they could call next time, so what you do and how you act makes all the difference in gaining repeat business.
I promise you that more important than the product you deliver is the personal connection you make.
Humility is a character trait that touches each person in his or her core. Each person you meet, big or small, will be touched and impacted by sincere humility. And that is what will help you get repeat work from a client.
Your design may get outdated and irrelevant after time. But if you can make a lasting impact they will never forget you, and they will look forward to working with you again. Because a positive experience will sit on the tip of their memory and simmer in the back of their mind much more than a stunning design. I recommend you do both.