This being the first part of the year, I’ve come across several articles that portend various trends and forecasts for 2023. Below is the most recent one I’ve read from someone within the creative industry. Please note this is an edited version of her original contribution. Emily Cohen is an avid reader, speaker, author and brutally honest operational and organizational consultant to creative teams.
Based on Emily’s consultations with clients and conversations with industry colleagues the past few years, she’s identified five trends that we need to learn from and adapt to now.
Trend 1: A new, employee-forward approach to “culture”.
The state of the world has had a real and tangible impact on many employers as they continue to evolve their understanding of the importance of addressing employees’ escalating — and more openly expressed and talked about — cultural demands and mental health challenges as well as shifting priorities. As a result, building a healthy, flexible workplace culture has become priority number one for our industry and has moved well beyond having a written mission statement, organizing “team-building” activities, and having a dedicated people operations person (a must-have for any team).
What these new cultural changes look like is something that we really need to rethink industry-wide. We need to be more transparent with our peers and colleagues so that we can learn from both our collective successes as well as failures. We need to get creative, involving our entire team to explore and build the type of culture that best fits their needs and the vision we have for our firm. We need to realize that the nature of work is shifting and take bold steps to shift with it. Beyond caring about our team’s happiness, health, and welfare — which, above all, is most important — changes to how we think about our culture are also critical to improving retention, recruiting, and even productivity/profitability.
Trend 2: Paying ourselves and our employees what we’re worth.
In order to attract new candidates, increase morale, and retain staff, many creative firms are realizing the hard way that what they’ve been paying their staff and themselves isn’t competitive or sustainable. And, given the pressing challenge of a competitive talent pool, candidates and employees have the power to demand what they deserve more than ever.
Thus, many firms have updated — and increased — their pay scales, often making them transparent to their team and, as needed, have raised salaries for their existing team to reflect industry standards. This is long overdue. In the past, we were expected to love what we do and prioritize this love over profit or money. This simply is no longer the case and rightly so. We should pay everyone — including ourselves — a fair, equitable, and livable wage.
Trend 3: Pricing based on our worth and value.
With a much-needed increase in salaries across our industry and a rise in our overhead costs because of inflation, we must increase our rates. Yet, instead, because we are working in a saturated and highly competitive industry — along with our desperation to win, often at any cost, and the misconceived “lack of work out there” mentality — our rates continue to plummet instead of rise.
We have to stand our ground and remember that the more clients pay us, the more they are going to value what we do and this changes how they engage with us — i.e. shifting from a “we need this” or “do this” relationship to a “what do you think we need” and “how can you help us?” mentality. Raising our rates industry-wide will move us from being perceived as an on-demand service to a more consultative, advisory business.
And, yes — this does mean we will lose some projects but it also means we will win more valuable, desirable ones, and, ultimately, our focus should be on the quality over the quantity of those wins. Everyone in the industry should raise their prices across the board. (Rates) that are fair and realistically reflect the true cost of running a business as well as the value of our experience, expertise, insight, time, and how our work directly translates to and positively impacts our clients’ businesses (think: return on investment).
Trend 4: Evolving and shifting partnership relationships.
Previous unresolved tensions — as well as new ones — have bubbled to the surface and forced many partners re-think how they work together and, in some cases, partnerships have crumbled. In some cases, partners have moved away physically and are therefore no longer working together in person, putting a strain on interpersonal relationships. And, in other cases, partners re-think their own personal career path and choose to leave the industry entirely or move to another, less “risky”, full-time role in-house or elsewhere.
While partnership-based relationships have always been notoriously difficult to manage (like many marriages), these challenges have escalated even more due to the current global pressures. If you are in a partnership, take the time to have honest, open conversations and resolve any challenges you do have, before they continue to escalate. And, if you’re thinking about entering into a new partnership, be very thoughtful — ensure you’re being honest with yourself and your partner(s) on personal and professional priorities, goals, expectations, challenges, etc.
Trend 5: Nervousness about inflation.
There is rising nervousness among firm owners and their teams about 2023 and the impact of inflation on their firms. We are all worried and have seen a slight slowdown of new work, but that’s because all our clients are also nervous and are in a wait-and-see mode and are therefore taking a bit longer to reach out and make decisions.
So, what can you do? What you should always be doing: having at least 3 months of overhead saved (as cash in the bank), 3–4 months of committed revenue, and signed contracts with all clients. Ultimately, those that struggle with maintaining this level of financial security have bigger problems than just inflation.
On the other hand, when our clients and companies implement hiring freezes and, in some cases, layoffs, there often is the opportunity to do the work that their reduced in-house teams can no longer handle. There is work out there but it may not be coming to you as quickly and easily as it once did. That is why firms should always be reaching out and shifting their business development strategies from being reliant only on inbound opportunities to a relationship-building mindset focused on outbound opportunities and “building the love” with potential prospects, existing and past clients, contacts, etc.
Emily concludes by saying . . .
Our industry is at a critical crossroads as we encounter new challenges, shifting priorities, and a complete rethinking of our personal and professional priorities. Change will take gumption, fortitude, and some degree of risk but, as a result, our firms will be more financially stable, our employees will be happier, and our industry will thrive.
So what do you think? Do you agree with Emily’s take? Do we alter our plans for 2023 or stand pat?
Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!
Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.