Engage!13 Recap :: On Flexibility, Evolution and Perfection

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

At each Engage! conference, unofficial themes seem to emerge. In the Summer of 2011 it was the role storytelling plays in your business. The year prior to that, it was the importance of creating with velocity, not just volume, and last December it was the fact that you can make all the plans and strategies you want, but you have to be prepared to play the cards life deals you regardless.

One overarching theme this year seemed to be the need to embrace flexibility and evolution and that perfect is what you make it.

David Stark talked about this by sharing an analogy of how we dress for the seasons: in the Winter, we're bundled up with a sweater, coat, hat and gloves. In the Summer, we're in flip-flops and shorts. Both are appropriate and right for the season they belong to. To try to wear one outfit with no regard for what month of the year we're in would be wrong. He likened this to design and events: what's perfect for one may not be perfect for another. There is no one size fits all formula or process to creating art or to working with clients.

Harriette Rose Katz discussed creating perfection out of imperfection. She shared examples of how she's had to roll with the punches while keeping a sense of humor (and don't let her polished demeanor fool you -- she is hilarious). She reiterated that perfect looks different for everyone and the responsibility that comes with helping people create memories that encapsulate the perfect moments they felt. In addition, she mentioned that they change the photos on their non-blog website every week.

On the media panel moderated by Jill Meister, artist Kristy Rice discussed having to make changes to her team when it became apparent that not everyone was on the same page nor willing to get on the same page. She talked about the importance of collaborating with artists who are willing to grow with you and work together towards a goal. One person's refusal to evolve or grow can damage everyone.

Carley Roney talked about the need to evolve with technology and refusing to allow it to be a crutch that damages your business. She also brought a heart that had been created with a 3D printer. The possibilities for artists in the event space to show prototypes with 3D printing are numerous and this technological advance will change the way client presentations are done. In the next 5-10 years, the way people experience your process will be completely different than it is today.

Cindy Novotny, widely considered one of the top sales trainers in the world, talked about developing staying power through sharpening your skills daily and keeping up on how the world is changing. Direct quote: "When you are a true professional, you know how to stay." Lots of people come and go in this industry, but a true professional knows that "it's about a lifetime of success" and that to get there requires being adaptable in any situation.

Sean Low hosted a panel of three women (Harmony Walton, Xochitl Gonzalez and Anne Chertoff) who have made the tough choices of evolving when it seemed unnecessary. Direct quote from Sean: "They didn't have to change, and that's the harder work." Xochitl shared that when she and business partner Mayra Castillo were starting out, getting office space was a necessary goal in legitimizing their company and being able to charge what they needed to. After years of having office space, they recently decided to get rid of it because where they're at in their business now no longer requires it. She shared that the extra client they had to book each year to cover the cost of the space always ended up being the joyless client that sucked the life out of them. Keeping the space at this point in their careers would have been a decision based on impressing their colleagues, not their clients. The decision may look like they're going backwards or not doing well, but in reality it allowed them to grow their business in the way it needs to. Healthy evolution often requires surrendering the ego. Basing your decisions on what you thought success looked like ten years ago is a quick way to stagnate.

Colin Cowie talked about how his business model had to change during the recession and how he's changing again now that luxury spending is coming back. He is not, however, changing back to how he used to do things pre-recession, but rather has brought in new ideas for his team on how to do things going forward. Just because spending may go back to pre-2008 levels doesn't mean the processes that worked back then will work now. The recession served as a time to reevaluate and adjust and help map out a new route in order to grow.

Michelle Rago spoke on using your expertise to anticipate areas in which you'll need to be flexible, even if the client insists otherwise. One example she shared was a groom insisting during the planning process that they wouldn't need air-conditioning for the tent, but her experience made sure she had a generator reserved when he showed up sunburnt from a round of golf. Your job is to give your clients what they really want, not what they think they want. Being a true professional means developing the expertise that allows you to turn on a dime and make decisions on the fly.

Flexibility is not a new concept, but it is one that gets dropped quickly in the pursuit of the shiny. Flexibility and evolution is impossible if you don't have a depth of knowledge and expertise to go along with your business cards.

Photos by Jeremie Barlow, Allan Zepeda, Carla Ten Eyck and Andrew Henderson
Engage!13 Recap :: Insights from Marcy Blum

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