Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 7 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

It’s Friday – our last day of class. Today is only a half day. Our debriefing session wraps up at 2pm. They scheduled it this way so people would have time to get to the airport or train station. The two classes this morning were about how to organize your company for innovation. Even as designers, we can improve the way our companies foster creativity.

Organizing for Innovation:

All of the classes, including this one, were largely taught with case studies. This is a new and interesting way to learn for me. I’m more accustom to having teachers give me a list of information to memorize. I grew up thinking of learning in a very black and white way. My teacher has the information and what they know is exactly correct. This isn’t how any of our classes were at Yale. These classes on building an organization that’s conducive to innovation went something like this. First, we read a case study about a company that was very innovative. Then the teacher prompted the students to break the business model down. The students would be the ones to describe the different aspects of the business and why they worked (with just a little leading by the professor.) Next we would try to extrapolate principles. Finally the professor would say something like: “So, what’s the right answer? I don’t know.” The point is – the world is grey. Businesses are incredibly complex things. A business model that works for one set of people can fail miserably for others. Studying these cases serve to give us a direction. Finding the right path for you or Go Media will still require implementation and testing. Having said all that, here are a few things I took away from the course.

Innovation is not just about technology. Innovation can be about how you market a product, structure a business system or even how you communicate. So, don’t assume you need a chemical engineering degree to be innovative.

Innovation is all about application. Most innovations take concepts or technology that are already well know, but apply them in a new way.

Innovation requires investment. If you don’t invest the time and money to experiment then you’re unlikely to make any innovative discoveries. A good investment might be something as simple as giving your staff half of a day once a month to work on their passion projects.

Listen to your staff. The workers on the front lines have a better perspective on how their own jobs can be made more efficient. So, make a point of letting them know you’re open to ideas on improvement and then create a forum in which they can share them.

Build innovation incentives into your business model. It’s not enough to simply say: “Hey everybody, be innovative!” You have to schedule time for them, build a structure for them to share and fund the ideas that have potential.

Don’t punish failure. This is a personal one of mine. If you’re trying to innovate, you’re going to have failures. It’s part of trying something new. If you punish people when they fail then you’ll only succeed at making them to afraid to try new things. So, encourage your team to try new things. When things don’t work out, let them know it’s ok.


The last class was a wrap-up and debriefing. It started with a session where we each took turns sharing our takeaways from this week. Then Steven Permut gave us his summary of the most important aspects of building and running a business. I thought this was a great guide to keep me focused on how to apply the knowledge I’ve learned this week. I will share the points that my classmates and I had, but Steven asked us not to share his insights as they will soon be part of a book he’s writing. So, you’ll just have to wait till that hits the market!

Good business decisions start with research and testing. Generally, we make too many assumptions in business. Remember that your clients drive your business! So, listen carefully to them. Apply what you learn, get more feedback and repeat. This is also true of negotiating, building your business systems or deciding how to talk to c-level management. Do your research, apply and test!

Design is valuable to business. More companies need to recognize the value of good design and integrate it into every aspect of their organizations.

Business is valuable to designers. As designers we can sometimes be too arrogant about our wisdom in the area of how to apply design to the business world. What’s ideal for design doesn’t always work in the context of some businesses. So, while we’re asking companies to better understand our value to them, we need to work harder to understand the business side of things. Only by understanding more about the business can we understand how to best contribute with our design skills.

Ask the right questions and be a consultant to your customers.

Get to know the know the language of business. Every industry has lingo. It’s important to get to know and be comfortable with talking in the language of business owners.

Humility. Listen more and talk less.

You don’t have to be a natural born business person to get good at it. These things just require study and practice. So, make the effort.

People buy holes not drills. Understand the real value of what you’re selling. When someone buys a drill, are they really buying a drill? What’s the value of a drill to it’s customer? What is the problem being solved by the drill? The customer needs a hole! The drill solves that problem. So, in effect, you’re not selling a drill, you’re selling holes. Want proof of that statement? What if someone developed a new device that used a laser to make a sharper cleaner hole at the same cost. Would anyone continue buying drills? Nope. So, obviously, people aren’t buying drills. They’re buying holes! Keep this little analogy in mind when considering your value proposition to your customers.

Be customer-centric.

Think long-term. With every decision in business, keep the long-term in mind. Keep in mind the lifetime value of a customer. Sometimes taking a loss today can turn into profits in the future.

Reframing questions makes room for innovation. This goes to the heart of this course. Your perspective on a problem will impose a structure within which you will try to solve the problem. But if you try to look at your problems from a different perspective, or, re-frame your question then you can often change the rules and find creative new solutions.

Greater value is created when you work together. A fun example of this was given in a class. Imagine an arm wrestling match where you were given 10 seconds to arm wrestle. Each time you win you get a Honda Civic. Each time your opponent wins he gets a Ferrari. What should you do? Maximize the value you can create by working together and split it! If you fight each other you might each only be able to win one car. But if you work together, you can let your opponent win 10 times in 10 seconds. That’s 10 Ferraris. Even if your opponent only gives you 2 Ferraris and he keeps 8, that’s still a HUGE improvement in value to both of you. When looking at any situation consider the net value being created. Don’t focus only on what you get.


They actually held graduation on Thursday night so we could celebrate without concern for when our flights left town, but I decided to hold of on blogging about it until the very end. That just seemed to make sense. The graduation dinner was another lavish meal. All our professors from the week were there. It was a great time to mingle, reinforce our connection with our classmates and celebrate the experiences of the week. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld gave a mini-commencement speech and then they called us up one by one to give us our completion certificates. They were very nice and included an 8×10 glossy photo of the entire class. The course didn’t have tests. Nobody was ever in jeopardy of not graduating. But it still feels good to have a certificate. A lot of hard work went into this week and will continue into the foreseeable future.

Graduation mixer

The class of 2012

So, was it worth it?

Well, I’m a pragmatist. I went through this course with the skeptical questions of: “How can I apply this information to my business today? And, what’s it worth in dollar value?” So, I’ve left with a notebook full of ideas that I plan on implementing over the next year. I think they will easily give me a good return on my investment, but, we’ll see. A better question might be: Having taken the course, would I recommend it to others? The answer to that is easy – heck yes. The experience was amazing. The teachers are the beast-of-the-best. I think the networking was powerful. The knowledge itself is invaluable and I can’t give enough praise to the level of service we received. From the food to the hotel to the attention to details by the professors, the service was legendary. If you have an opportunity to go, do it.

Me and Steven Permut – the host with the most.

Time to put this education to work.

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 6 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

**These last two posts were delayed due to the internet being out at our hotel following a big thunderstorm.**

Before I get into it, here are two images:

This is Pepe’s Pizzeria. They hold the distinction of being America’s very first pizza place.

I’ve been talking all week about how good the food is. This is actually a relatively simple sandwich bar they had available to us as a mid-day snack. Most of the meals were buffet-style sit-down meals. There was also the week opening and closing dinners that were restaurant-style service.

It’s Thursday night. We only have one more day of classes before our week is complete. I’m feeling a little sad as I contemplate packing my bags. I feel like I’m making such great contacts and learning so much that I hate for it to end. Admittedly, I could not maintain this pace of writing, studying and eating indefinitely, but I think one more week would fatten up my belly and brain to just the right amount. Fortunately, I have about a year’s worth of recommended reading. So, the value provided by this course will continue to unfold for a while. And all the professors have been gracious enough to share their contact information and encourage us to contact them. What a wonderful source of power and influence! And with that beautiful segue…

Power and Influence

I found this class really interesting and am eager to read more on the subject. While we learned a ton this week, most of these classes are normally taught over an entire semester – or two. So, really what we’ve been given in class is a good overview, some important details and some perspective on how each subject relates to “creatives” in particular. And of course we’ve been given a long reading list. So, taking this course at Yale isn’t enough. No, you can’t learn everything there is to know about business in one week; even if it’s taught by some of the smartest and funniest professors in the world. Sorry.

Power is important and you should work at building it. There is a false perception in society that the pursuit of power is inherently evil and self serving. You need to get that thought out of your head. Don’t confuse having power with how power is used. You can just as easily use power to raise money to help the poor as you can use it to take advantage of someone. And don’t be naive and think you don’t want power. We all want to get things done – guess what’s really helpful when you want to get some stuff done: POWER!

Here are some other reasons you should work to build your power and influence: People with power live longer and are happier. This is partly due to the fact that they feel more in control of their circumstances. When things are bad they take action to change them. With power, people feel a sense of responsibility for others around them, so they work harder. Power stimulates the brain. Having power forces you to develop your discipline and stamina. When you don’t build and use your power it will atrophy.

Power is not typically attained through a series of tricks and shortcuts. Most of power is accumulated over time. It takes time to build coalitions. It takes time to show you’re a hard worker that others can count on. It takes time to develop expert knowledge. So, don’t expect to read a book and become all powerful.

The key traits that make a person powerful can all be learned (or at least enhanced.) The assumption that some people are just born with “it” is wrong. So invest the time in learning and practicing how to build and use power.

First and foremost power comes from merit. People are powerful because they’ve earned it. And conversely, the fastest way to lose power is to do a bad job and let people down. Just imagine a football coach. If he wins he’s considered brilliant, everyone will follow what he tells them to do. He’s powerful. What happens when he loses? His power is diminished. The players and press begin to question his judgment. He loses his sponsorship deal with the local car dealer.

There are different types of power. Know your weaknesses and develop them. A well balanced set of power types is stronger than just one. For instance, there is direct power (also known as legitimate power). Direct power is like the power of a boss over their employees. Direct power is easy because it takes little effort to use. A boss doesn’t have to work to get their employee to do something, they merely need to tell them to do it. If the employee doesn’t do what he or she is told they might be fired. But there are also softer powers. For instance, there is referent power. That’s power derived from people admiring or respecting you. An example in the work setting might be a peer, who isn’t your boss but someone you greatly admire. They’re powerful because they can get people to do things because people look up to them.

Following on this concept of different types of power, it’s important to understand and have a variety of power types. The more ways you can exert power, the more effective of a leader you’ll be. So, your boss may be able to bully you because he has legitimate power over you. But are there negative effects for him if he’s a bully all the time? Of course! His staff might start peeing in his coffee mug! Or he might lose power because his staff might go to the owner of the company and demand he be fired. So, he can be MORE powerful if he can learn to use other forms of power. So, you too need to understand the forms of power and practice different ways to enhance the forms of power that you’re not strong in.

The optimal type of power to use is based on the situation. You need to understand the situation and select the appropriate form of power to use. In other words, sometimes you do need to be a bossy jerk.

Recommend Reading:

Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t
by Jeffery Pfeffer

C-Level Conversations

(talking to really powerful and important people)

This was a subject that was kind of important to me. Go Media has definitely reached the point where landing projects with a local start-up will not help grow our business. We desperately need to get in front of and then have effective conversations with top management of large companies. That’s what this course was all about.

First, don’t assume that they’re like you or me, or even anyone you know. If someone has ascended into a position of great power and prestige, they are likely not typical. Assuming so would be a big mistake. One common theme we’ve been getting this entire week is RESEARCH. And it doesn’t stop with C-Level Conversations. You need to get to know your “mark” before you attempt to engage them. The more you can learn about them the better. Try to figure out what’s important to them. Are they interested in making more money, building up their power or saving the rain-forests. Your research will help you figure out how to frame your conversation.

Be brief. Look – if they’ve ascended to a position of power, they’re probably busy. So, don’t waste their time. Talk fast and get to the point; unless of course they’re from Texas. Then you should take your time, tell lots of unrelated stories and generally talk very slowly (fyi – that’s a comment about understanding a person’s culture, NOT an insult about the intelligence of Texans.)

Create value for them. If you’ve done your homework, you know what’s important to them. You also obviously know what you want. So… …do I have to spell it out for you? Develop solutions to their problems that ALSO give you what you’re after.

Know what type of power to assert. A C-Level person is going to be far less interested in what you have to say if they don’t see power and influence in you. But there are many types of powers. So, what type of power do you have? As designer’s we have expert power. We have a very specific set of skills and knowledge. We’re teachers. We have knowledge that they want. Make sure you’re communicating the value of your wisdom as it relates to their aspirations and problems.

Law and Management I & II

Our legal course was another one of those subjects that will be difficult for me to distill down into bite-size pieces that you’ll be easily able to apply to your day-to-day operations. One disappointment that I had in these classes was the fact that we didn’t learn much about intellectual property. It was on the syllabus. I’m sure we were supposed to learn about it, but I think we got off topic and wasted a lot of time discussing insider trading. It was an interesting conversation, but quite frankly I’m really not worried about that subject. So, unfortunately, I’ve got nothing on that topic. I guess my takeaway is this: Intellectual Property was on our syllabus, so it’s probably important. You’ll have to figure out how to learn more about this subject on your own.

Here are a few tidbits that I did get from the legal class:

Intent matters. You can build two identical companies: same technology, same processes, same systems. And by the simple act of marketing them differently, one can be legal and one can be breaking the law. An example of this is peer-to-peer networking software. If you run ads for one that say: “Steal all the music you want!” Your business is breaking the law and will get shut down. But run ads that say: “Share your family photos more easily!” And you’re ok.

Be proactive. The earlier you can involve legal counsel on a new business idea or negotiation the better. It’s far cheaper to understand the law up-front and structure your business with that in mind than it is to get sued or have to dismantle your business and rebuild it properly. As you can see in the example above, it might be something small that can have a major impact on your business or contracts.

Operate morally and ethically. If you simply run your business in a moral and ethical way, you’re probably not breaking any laws. Moral and ethics was actually a topic that came up in almost all our classes – more than I would have thought. I know it’s a very important subject to Go Media. You’ll often hear the president of a publicly traded company explain their immoral behavior by saying: “I have an obligation to maximize the profits of our share holder.” Our professor said this is absolutely not true. There is no moral, ethical or legal responsibility of the leadership of a company to maximize profits. Certainly stock holders are usually hoping they’ll maximize profits. But their real responsibility is to the benefit of society as a whole. Their (and your) decisions about how to “maximize profits” needs to consider the full impact on society.

Be involved in your legal discussions. Lawyers are humans too. When working with lawyers you shouldn’t “bury your head in the sand.” Some lawyers may not be as ethical as you are. Just because you can do it within the letter of the law does not mean you should. So question your lawyers, make suggestions and work with them.

Ethics come from the top down. As owners of businesses or leaders in the industry, people in your organization will follow your lead. So, start with yourself.

Recommended reading:

Winning Legally
by Constance E. Bagley

One day left!

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 5 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

I’m exhausted. I really need some sleep badly. If you decide to take this course – which I highly recommend, don’t plan on blogging at night. It’s not really possible. At least, not without sacrificing something. I’ve been running on pure enthusiasm up until today. I was having a REALLY hard time staying focused in the accounting class today. So, I am going to keep this post VERY short. I still have important reading tonight and then desperately need to get a real night’s sleep.

No photos today. I’m too tired.

First the accounting. I’m really not going to be able to reasonably teach you anything here about what I learned today. However, we’ve been given some great reading recommendations. So, here’s what we were told to read on our own time:

  1. How to Read a Financial Report – free online pdf
  2. Financial Ratio Tutorial – free online pdf
  3. Analysis for Financial Management by Robert Higgins

The latest edition(10th) of Robert Higgins’ book is fairly expensive – around $100. But it’s extremely well reviewed. And is known as the book on finance that’s written for a layman. So, if you want to learn more about finance and the accounting side of your business but you’re not a “numbers” person. This is the book for you.

The second half of our day was spent on learning negotiations. I LOVE negotiations, so this class was particularly fun for me. And it translates well into practical pearls of wisdom. So, here are a few of them. Enjoy!

Negotiation Techniques

Negotiate with “friendly aggression.” Basically, most people do not push hard enough for what they want. But you must remain extremely friendly while you’re arguing for your side. Be courteous, don’t insult them and do anything you can to help them save face.

Start high. Your opening bid should be as high as possible without being insulting or completely unreasonable. This has a whole slew of beneficial effects. One is that people will perceive you as being more valuable simply because your high number has framed their perception.

Do research! This is a constant theme throughout all of the classes here. You need to invest the time and do the work. If you’re buying a new car you need to get as much information as possible before you start a negotiation. You should try to find out what the dealer’s cost is for the car. You need to find out which dealerships offer the best prices. You need to consider what other options you have available. Can you buy a used car for much less and be satisfied? You also need to figure out your walk-away price. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions getting a new car and pay well over what you really want to.

Related to that last point is knowing when to take a break. If you’re caught unprepared for a negotiation or are feeling confused – then stop the negotiation, take some time and re-engage in the negotiation when you’ve had some time to gather your emotions and your thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to ask. The simple act of asking for more will get you more. You’d be surprised what you can get if only you’ll just ask.

The person you are negotiating against doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win. Sometimes you both want the same things. So asking lots of questions is key. And telling them absolutely everything you want is important. Because maybe they can’t give you some things, but they can give you more of something else. For instance… maybe the rules a human resources rep has will not allow them to pay you a salary over 50k. But maybe they have no limit on signing bonuses. So, if you want 60k, there IS a way you could make a deal. Just take 10K as a signing bonus! These kinds of solutions can only be discovered if both parties are sharing information.

Stay quiet. Don’t talk too much. Most people reveal too much. They negotiate with themselves. That’s not good. “But WAIT!” you say. “Bill! You just told me in the previous point to SHARE MORE. Now you’re telling me to share less! What gives?” Ok, here’s what’s important; you want to be sharing information, but it needs to be equally. If you tell them: “Hey, here’s what I’m really after.” Then you should follow that up with this question: “So, what are YOU really after?”

Make equivalent offers. By giving the other party two equivalent but different offers, it will give you information about them. For instance, from the previous point – a 60K salary and a 50k salary with a 10k signing bonus are the same to you – they’re equivalent to you. But when the HR rep says they can accept one offer and not the other, you’ve learned something! You’ve learned that their constraint is only on the salary, not on other items. Great, so now you can negotiate on other points – how about more vacation? How about a company car? Basically, you’re creating more value for yourself while working within the negotiating ability of the HR rep.

Practice your flinch. Huh? Flinch? What the heck are you talking about? Well, you practice a good handshake don’t you? A good handshake is a way of communicating: I’m strong, confident and decisive! Well, a flinch is also a great way to communicate. When someone gives you an offer and you FLINCH what are you saying? You’re probably saying: Holy f-ing heck! That’s too little (or too much depending on your perspective.) It’s a great way to communicate your dissatisfaction without insulting them. And it’s read as purely genuine. Who fakes body language? I’ll tell you who; a good negotiator.

Those are just the tip of a very large iceberg of what I learned today.

Recommended Reading

Ok… That should get you started. BED TIME!!!

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 4 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

Fair warning: I’ve been drinking – a lot. AIGA and Yale’s Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders course is NOT like any educational experience you will ever have at ANY university. We’re on Fantasy Island here folks. This is a place where you drink from, then spin a giant silver cup on your head. There are Spizzwinks here. The caramel popcorn here has bacon in it. This is a place where you study manufacturing principles by building sail boats out of Bristle Blocks. Here kindly old professors make the entire class sing Who Let the Dogs Out and then suddenly start stripping in the middle of the lesson – for realism. This isn’t education it’s performance art. They need to take this course to Broadway. I am easily laughing as much as I’m learning. I would like to give a shout-out to our “Mr. Roarke” of this Fantasy Island – Mr. Steven Permut. He has the enthusiasm of a 12 year old on Christmas morning. His energy is infectious. Thank you. You’re my boy Blue! (I did say I was drinking earlier right?)

Ok, a few photos, then let’s get to the k-nowledge.

Here are the Spizzwinks; Yale’s oldest underclassman a cappella group. They sang to us during dinner.

This is Mory’s Cup – one of many such large silver cups. It’s filled with some crazy mixed drink.

Once the cup has been picked up, it cannot be put down until it’s empty. It’s passed around the table and everyone takes a turn drinking from it. I think our table drank six of them – along with our beer and wine.

Who ever finishes the cup must lick the entire rim three times, then spin the cup on their head three times. Finally, they slam the cup onto the table upside down. If a single drop of alcohol is left on the table, they have to pay for a new cup!

This is Arthur Swersey. This is him after he stripped out of his suit down to these surgical scrubs. The case study he was explaining was about a hospital’s service model. I wonder how my classmates sitting in the front row felt when he started unbuckling his pants.

I do apologize for the quality of all my photos in this series of posts. I’m only using my cell phone. I figured you’re not really reading these posts for the images anyway right?

Now, today’s lessons will not translate quite so easily into neat bullet points of insight like yesterday’s classes. Today we studied the concepts behind what’s known as LEAN manufacturing and we got started on the first part of our accounting classes. We will be finishing those up tomorrow. So… I only have a few thoughts that passed into my mind as I was sitting in class. And I’ll also recommend some reading that might help you consider the knowledge this course considers important to our businesses.

First, try to think of your business (selling design services) as a product manufacturing plant. Instead of building cars, you’re building websites. How does the project flow through your organization? Who does quality checks? Are your employees specialists or can they do several jobs? Are there bottle necks in your process? Are some parts of your company over-producing with the anticipation of need? Lean manufacturing suggests that you only do work the moment it’s needed. How can you get faster? If you’re working with vendors like photographers and copywriters, how can you shift more of the work burden onto them? Can the copywriter populate the website with their copy?

You should do some reading on Poka Yoke systems. It’s all about building systems through design that “fool-proof” the results. A good example is a camera’s SIM card which can only be put into a camera one way. As designers we have lots of opportunities to “fool-proof” our clients products and websites. But it takes extra thought.

Toyota became a great company because they had such amazing quality. It was built into their culture. Anyone on a Toyota assembly line can shut it down with the pull of a cord if they found a flaw. This kind of power put a lot of pressure on everything to be extremely high quality. Because even one defect could shut down their entire plant. But they also had great quality because they built it into their systems. A good system demands and ensures a good outcome.

Demand for your services are not consistent. Of course it would be great if you could build one website a month and each month on the first of the month a single client called you with a web dev project. But that’s absolutely not how it happens. Instead, you’ll get three projects in one month, then none for a month or two. Consider what you do when three arrive at once? What can you do while you’re idle so you can work faster when those rushes arrive? Is it possible to pre-build certain re-usable parts of a website in advance?

Suggested Reading:

Here is an article I found about applying LEAN to the service industry from Harvard Business School

Here are some other books that have been discussed amongst the “students.”

Thanks to Mark Badger for putting this list together.

I’m so tired. More tomorrow!

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 3 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

Ok, wow. I’m pumped.

Today was better than I had expected. Knowledge is power. At least, it feels like I’ve just acquired a super power and I’m ready to lift Go Media over my head and carry it up to the promise land. Here are a few brief thoughts on my first day of classes:

The course is very aptly named. As you’ll read shortly, they are really teaching us new ways to look at our business. These new perspectives empower you to have radical insights into how you could improve your company. So, they don’t tell you: “Here is the formula for your business, now go apply it.” Instead they say: “Here is a new way to look at your situation. What do you see?”

The information is incredibly pragmatic. I had a few fears coming into this course. One was that they were going to be teaching us highly theoretical concepts that were not easy to apply at Go Media. Not so. Not only was the information incredibly applicable, they were even very respectful of the realities of life. For instance, they might follow up a concept by saying: “Of course, business is a constantly evolving science. This concept might be applicable now, but fall apart in a year. You need to be constantly vigilant in listening to the market and finding what works.” Also, they frequently said: “This is the concept you’re working towards. But I don’t have to pay your bills. We understand that this is a process.” I appreciated that level of humility and candor. They gave many examples of failed businesses and would say: “And these were well funded, incredibly intelligent people!” It’s just nice to hear a Yale professor basically say: “Hey, business is tough.”

The professors are amazing. They’re brilliant, funny and experienced. Another fear I had was that these professors would be “academics” with no real world experience. I was wrong on that too. Our two professors today had vast experience in the business world. Our second professor today, Barry Nalebuff, was the co-founder of Honest Tea (which he sold to Coca-Cola.) He was an adviser to the NBA in their recent player negotiations and he’s written six books – among other things. Basically, these professors are no joke. I wonder if I would have been an even better student if I had such brilliant professors growing up. I certainly appreciate them now!

The accommodations continue to be first-class all the way. Thank God I’m only here for a week. With food this good I’m sure I’m packing on the pounds fast. How can you pass up chocolate-dipped strawberries, organic brownies and chocolate mousse in an egg-shell. I mean seriously, this is ridiculous. Not only that, they continue to gift us. Today I got an embossed leather notebook. Even if I hated the lessons today (which obviously I didn’t) I would owe them a nice review based purely on the gifts they keep giving us!

I do have a few pictures, then let’s get to the stuff you REALLY care about – the knowledge!

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yesterday I posted a picture of the outside of this funky building. Yes, those are translucent marble walls. Let me say it again; r-i-d-i-c-u-l-o-u-s!

This is the Yale Commons dining hall – used in the Harry Potter movie!

This is a mirror in The Study Hotel. I SWEAR they put these flattering mirrors in hotels. They are warped just enough to make the viewer look taller (skinnier) than they actually are. It’s brilliant. Every time I’m waiting for an elevator I’m staring into the mirror thinking: “Well, alright! I think I’ve lost a few pounds.” But deep down I know it’s just a lie.

Now, before I share this information with you, let me just say; There is no way I will possibly be able to recap all the wisdom that was taught to me today. I won’t even try. Also, I need to have a certain respect for the work that has gone into this course. It wouldn’t be fair for me to publish all the slides I’ve been provided or copy the text verbatim. So, I’m going to do my best to sum up some of the concepts in my own words. And hopefully, you’ll be able to explore them further and put them to use.

Some wisdom from my classes in no specific order:

There was a great emphasis put on getting to know and understand your customer. What is actually valuable to them? Why didn’t they hire you? I know we all THINK we know what our customers want. But do we really? When a client does not accept your proposal do you offer to take them out to lunch so you can ask them what specifically made them hire a different firm/designer? It’s not always easy to get this information from clients. So, that’s your challenge. How do you do a better job getting feedback. Why do they hire you? What are their needs? How can you improve your company? It is the CUSTOMER that determines what the business is.

You can decide who you want to work for and target them. But do you really know who you want to work for? Who is your ideal customer. It’s easy to think: “Well, I want to work for NIKE!” But in the real-world what are the true implications of working with Nike? Will you get to do branding? Will you have lots of creative control? Will it be a bureaucratic free experience? Probably not! Maybe a small start-up is actually a better customer. Do a pros and cons analysis and think about who your true ideal client is, not your perceived ideal client.

Keep your value proposition short. It’s called “resonating focus.” You determine 2-3 of the MOST IMPORTANT values to your customer and focus on those. Creating long lists of benefits or attributes of your company or product will only dilute your sales pitch. Again, this requires research! You have got to get to know your customer.

When making decisions, you should always consider the lifetime value of a customer. If you’re focused on the profitability of one project, you’ve got the wrong perspective. You must identify your very best customers and treat them like gold – even if that means losing some money in the short term.

When trying to build your customer base, don’t waste your time trying to sell your services to non-customers. Instead, try to focus on selling more to your existing customers. It’s always cheaper to up-sell an existing client than it is to get a new customer.

When thinking about growing your business, it’s easy to focus on trying to steal a bigger piece of the “pie” from your competitors. Here’s another thought: make the pie bigger! Sometimes your competitors are also your complementors. It’s a grey world! Don’t assume you need to defeat your competitors in order to grow your business. A good example is two bars located next to each other. Are they competitors? Of course. But they also complement each other. Bar goers like to “bar hop.” They can’t bar hop if there is only one bar! These bars might want to get together to open a third bar. Now people can bar hop even better. The net result is that more people will come to their bars because they’ve build a bar district. They’ve worked together to increase the value of both of their bars. They’ve made a bigger pie! Consider what businesses complement yours. Figure out how to leverage that to grow the pie!

Suggested reading:

Professional Services marketing by Mike Shultz and John Doerr

Co-opetition by Barry Nalebuff

The Art of Strategy by Barry Nalebuff

Ok, so, I think I’ve given you enough to think about for one day. Find a dark room and ponder these questions. I better get some more reading done before I hit the sheets.

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 2 of 7

My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

Ok, so this will probably be my least informative post in this series. But I want to give you the complete experience, so despite the fact that today was just a check-in and orientation program, I wanted to share it with you.

I got up at 5am and was in the air to Philadelphia by 6:46. I had a 2 hour layover that I used to work on my prerequisite reading. The small propeller plane that took me into the one-gate New Haven airport was loud and a little bumpy but otherwise uneventful. The only scary aspect of the trip to Yale was my taxi driver that seemed to think he was a NASCAR driver. At one point he gunned the motor to cut off another driver who yelled audibly “Asshole!” To which my driver yelled back: “I know!” Then he hooted loudly and said: “Now I’m awake!”

The Study Hotel where I’m staying is super modern, contemporary and swanky all at once. It’s the sort of place that makes you feel cool. This hotel is cool. I’m staying here; therefore I must also be cool. I was exhausted so I took a quick nap then ran down the street to grab some snacks from Walgreens. At 3pm we were given a preliminary tour of the campus. It’s mostly ornate stone buildings that look like well preserved 16th century castles, churches and mansions. Mixed in are a few highly artistic ultra-modern bits of architecture. And most intriguing of all was a low lying, unmarked fortress of a building that houses Yale’s secret society similar to the Skull and Bones of Harvard.

Yale’s Secret Society Building.

After the tour one of the social sciences professors gave our group a series of team building exercises. We spent some time getting to know each other in a traditional manner. Then she coached us a bit on how to really get to know someone. Basically, the conversations went from things like: “Where do you live?” to things like: “What are you passionate about?” After that it got even more personal. She asked each person in the group to share a defining moment in their lives. Boy did it get personal. It felt like a group therapy session. I think I saw a few tears. It was really powerful in helping our class bond. After a few more get-to-know-you team building exercises we were adjourned to dinner.

Dinner took place at the Sterling Memorial Library. It started with complimentary drinks and fancy appetizers on the lawn outside. They had a string quartet playing music as our class continued to mingle. I don’t consider myself the most outgoing person, but everyone here is amazingly friendly and sharing, so it is relatively easy to strike up conversations. Earlier we were provided short bios on the attendees. They’re all very impressive. That combined with the atmosphere and the difficulty of the learning I’m facing has me feeling very privileged to be here. After a few drinks we went inside for an amazing dinner and more drinks. The senior associate dean for executive programs and the executive director of AIGA gave opening speeches welcoming us and giving us a history and overview of the course.

When I returned to my hotel room there was a gift bag with an embroidered TEC running jacket. Wow. I’m really feeling special now.

So far I have been thoroughly impressed with the accommodations, treatment, food and atmosphere. It’s late, I’m tired and I still have an hour of reading to do before I go to bed. Class starts at 8am tomorrow. I’m excited!

Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders part 1 of 7

Business Perspectives for Creative LeadersMy experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.

When my partners and I started Go Media many years ago, none of us had any formal business training. What we had was a passion for design, a willingness to work hard and the belief that we could figure out the business stuff over time. And for the most part, we have been wildly successful. We’ve been featured in design magazines around the world. We’ve been building a robust community through the Zine, Arsenal and WMC Fest. And we’ve worked for many companies large and small. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. Go Media has always struggled with profitability. In 2009 when the economy collapsed we were forced to lay off four employees. And since then the company has been stagnant (in terms of annual cash flow.) And due to this stagnation in sales, our staff (including the owners) have had to accept below market wages. Last year we lost one of our very best employees to a company in California because they offered him over twice his current salary. This was a terrible blow to our company and our hearts. We knew something needed to be done.

Our strategy of “figure it out over time” business education has been working to a large degree. We have learned a ton. In fact, I’m writing a book about everything I’ve learned while building Go Media. However, there comes a time when asking your staff to “hold on till next year for a better salary” starts to get old. We realize that we needed to make a change. And after 10+ years of trying to figure it out ourselves, we’ve realized that maybe we don’t have all the answers. We need some outside help. About the time we were coming to this realization I received a flyer in the mail from AIGA for their Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders course at Yale University. In a snap-shot, it’s an intensive week long business course at Yale created specifically for “leaders” in the creative industry. It sounded like exactly what we needed.

The course has an application process and a hefty fee. At the time it seemed like more than we could possibly afford. But my partners Wilson and Jeff felt very strongly that the knowledge gained would well outweigh the costs. So, we decided to make the investment. One thing about surviving in business – you must continually fight. You must work constantly to improve your service and build more efficient business processes. If you just wait around for things to get better on their own, you’ll be out of business soon.

So, as part of my desire to get as much value as possible out of my trip to Yale, I’ve decided to write this series of blog articles. Each night after I’ve finished with my classes I’m going to recap my experiences for you. I’ll be including some useful tidbits of business information along the way. Hopefully this trip will help more artists than just Go Media.

My experience so far

After being accepted into the program, I’ve received regular correspondence from Yale. They set up a Linked In group so the participants can get to know one another. They also have a nice website that includes general instructions, class itinerary, professor information and additional registration information. The website also has prerequisite reading – tons and tons of reading. I got started last week and still have a pile of case studies to read before heading to Yale on Sunday. Lastly, I’ve received a call from the faculty program director. He asked me lots of questions about Go Media and what I hoped to learn from the course.

I’m very excited about this opportunity to learn. I’m dearly hoping to gain insights necessary to push Go Media to the next level. Our staff is amazing and truly deserves leadership that will deliver on the promises we’ve made. And I’m eternally grateful to my partners for pushing me to do this. So, keep an eye out for articles each day this coming week as I share some of my new found business perspectives with you.

More information about this program can be found here:

Next post will be coming tomorrow night!

Weapons of Mass Creation Fest 3 – Ask A Pro

Ask A Pro at the 2012 WMC Fest

This year’s WMC Fest will feature an “Ask A Pro” table where students, young designers and freelancers can have their design industry questions answered. The table will feature a number of local creative leaders that have years of experience and insights to share with you. So, bring your portfolios, bring your questions and most importantly – bring your passion!

What: Ask A Pro: Portfolio Review and Industry Insights

Where: Saigon Plaza, 5400 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, Ohio 44102

When: Saturday and Sunday June 9th & 10th

Time: Noon – 2pm. *Only 2 hours each day!*

Subjects covered: Portfolio Reviews, Design Tips, Illustration Instruction, Tips for Getting Hired, Legal/Accounting questions, Freelancer Business Questions, Layout tips, Art Direction,

The Pros

William A. Beachy, President of Go Media Inc.

William is a lifelong illustrator, professionally trained graphic designer and serial entrepreneur. William earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Design from the Ohio State University. Upon graduation he started Graphic Odysseys, an illustration studio. After two years, he took a job with Cleveland Coin, where he worked as lead designer, webmaster and assistant to the marketing director. In 2000 William re-launched his company with a focus on design services. In 2002 Graphic Odysseys merged with Next Level Multimedia to become Go Media. Over the last 10 years, as president, William has grown Go Media to 13 employees and purchased a warehouse office in Cleveland’s historic Ohio City neighborhood. Their web properties include a successful design blog, a project management system, a design mock-up application and a store of digital products which boasts over 75,000 customers. Go Media’s design clients include American Greetings, Adobe, Progressive, Jim Beam and Ubisoft.

Bill’s areas of expertise: Illustration, Branding, Adobe Illustrator, Print Design, UI/UX Design, Ergonomics, Web Design, Business Strategy, Business Management, Entrepreneurship, New Business Development, Brand Strategy, Social Media Marketing.

Connie Ozan,

Connie is the founder & creative director of Twist Creative Inc.

Todd Saperstein

Todd is the Graphic Design Department Chair, Digital Media Department Chair Virginia Marti College of Art and Design.

[He] is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Illustration. He recently completed his Master of Arts Degree at Full Sail University in the Education Media Design and Technology program, which focused on new media and technology for use in education and business communication. He specialized in virtual learning environments and social networks, both personal and professional.

Charity D’amato

A graduate of Syracuse University with a BA in Communication Design and Art Education, Charity is the founder of Chartreuse and works alongside each and every client to ensure the best experience and design outcome. “I really adore the fact that I get to come to work everyday and be creative.” If she had to pick her favorite typeface is would be Mrs. Eaves and the more glitter in a project the better. Charity is a Cleveland Bridge Builders graduate as well as the 2010 Inside Business Athena Young Professional Award Winner.

6 Essentials to Setting Up Your Illustrator Documents

A quick thanks to Josh Bunts who suggested this post on Go Media’s Facebook page. Technically, he asked for advice on “…document set up and color pallets.” I thought I should expand the post to speak generally about all things Illustrator pre-work.

1. When setting up your document specs, keep the end in mind

When creating a new Illustrator document, the very first thing you’ll be confronted by is the New Document (profile) window that asks you a bunch of questions. The important thing here is that you know what you’re designing for. Are you designing a web page or a poster? Is your design going to be viewed mostly online or in printed form? Once you know the primary way that your design will be used, here are my recommendations:



New Document Profile

Adobe has been kind enough to create document spec cheat sheets. Instead of making all the following decisions on your own, you can simply select a common-use profile. But none of these seem ideal to me, so I suggest you set this to “custom.”

Number of Art Boards

If you will need multiple art boards of the same size, go ahead and select how many you’ll need. A common example of this would be a multi-page brochure, or multi-page website design. If you’re planning on laying out anything over 12 pages you might seriously consider switching over to InDesign which is better suited for large documents. If you are setting up a document that will require multiple art boards of different sizes, I wouldn’t worry too much about this here either. You’ll need to set up those art boards once you’re in the document.


If you have multiple art boards Adobe wants to know how much space to put between them. Personally, I use lots of space around my art boards to put design elements I’m working with. So, I like at least 300pts (if not more.)


This is NOT column guides on your art boards, this is simply how Adobe arranges the art boards on your work area. This adjusts automatically based on the number of art boards. I typically leave this alone.


Obviously, this is the size of the art board. Here’s what you need to know. If you’re designing for print and require a bleed, you can either add the bleed dimensions directly to the art board or you can add a bleed dimension, and Illustrator will include the art in the bleed area when it exports. However, if you “Save For Web,” then it will not include that bleed artwork. As with the New Document Profile, Adobe has kindly provided you with a list of common art board sizes.

Width and Height

Obviously, if you’re creating a custom art board size, this is where you put it in.


Before I type in my custom art board size, I like to establish what units I’ll be working in. It’s just much easier for me to think of print dimensions in terms of inches and web dimensions in terms of pixels.


The orientation is established by the width and height you enter in. But if you decide to flip it, this is an easy way to swap those dimensions.


This is where you’ll enter in how much bleed you’ll need. For most printers this will be .125” (inches) on all four sides. Obviously, if you’re designing for the web you won’t need a bleed.

There is a little double-arrow to open the “Advanced” area, which I recommend.

Color Mode

This is probably one of the most important settings you’ll need to establish for your document. For print you’ll want CMYK. For web you’ll want RGB. If you’re doing something like branding where the design (a logo) will be used on both print and web, I would start with RGB. Of course, if you’re building someone a brand you’re going to need to establish RGB, CMYK and Pantone spot-colors for their company, but that’s another lesson.

Raster Effects

This is the resolution at which Illustrator will render its effects – things like drop shadows. Although technically you shouldn’t really need anything over 72dpi for the web, I always set this to 300dpi. I am just never sure when I might want to use part of a design for print or decide to blow-up a part of the design.

Preview Mode

Most of the time you’ll want to be in the default Illustrator view, but if you’re designing for the web and want to have a more realistic view of how your design will look once rasterized, the Pixel Preview Mode can be useful. There is also an overprint preview mode which, quite frankly, I never use and have a very difficult time imagining a scenario where you might need it, so I’ll skip trying to explain that in this article.

Align New Objects to Pixel Grid

If you’re designing for the web checking this off will force your vectors to align to the pixel grid. This helps keep your vectors pixel-perfect when they rasterize. Though you’ll also notice your objects snapping into locations that are not necessarily where you’re putting them.

2. Set up and save your preferred Workspace

When you’re working in Illustrator there are tons of tool panels (known as Windows) all over your screen. You probably know that you can open, close and move your tool Windows around, but did you know you can also save the way you arrange them? This is critical to my work flow. I know which windows I use most frequently, so I’ve systematically arranged them in just the right order. When you have your work space set up just how you like it click Window/Workspace/Save Workspace.

Then name it something like “Beachy_Print_Workspace.” You may find, as I did, that you’ll want to set up slightly different workspaces depending on the type of project you’re working on. Here is my default workspace set-up.

One item to take note of in my set-up here is that I’ve set up my own color swatch palette and called it Beachy. This is very easy to do. To set up your own custom color swatch palette just edit the normal swatches window until you have all the colors you like then open the drop-down menu and click Save Swatch Library as ASE…

The next time you create a new Illustrator document you will need to open your custom swatch palette by clicking Window/Swatch Libraries/User Defined.

You may also notice my Layers Window, which brings me to my next essential point:

3. Set up and use Layers!

Layers are one of the most important tools for managing your illustrator documents. It took me many years to grow an appreciation for Layers. But just like a computer, the wheel and fire – once you learn how to use them, you won’t imagine living without them. Here is a typical layer stack that I will create while working on a project. Sometimes I’ll get even more specific by setting up layers with names like “Header Art,” “Navigation” or “Footer.” Basically, any design element that I might want to design as a distinct unit can be put on its own layer. Then, as I work, I’m constantly locking and unlocking the layers. This allows me to easily manipulate the elements on the layer I’m working on without disturbing the elements on the other layers. You should really get into the habit of building well organized layers that have clear titles. I promise over your lifetime you will save yourself a lot of aggravation by making this a habit now.

4. Create a template.

You’ll notice that the top layer of my document is labeled “Template.” I always start by designing a template and locking the layer. I actually created tons of templates in advance and now I just open the appropriate template before I start each project. My templates for print projects look something like this: Solid black line for the exterior full-bleed area, then .125” inside of that I make a solid red line for the trimmed art area and finally, .25” inside of that I make a dashed black line for the “live area.”

When I’m working on web designs I typically start with a 960 grid template. You can download one here: I normally expand the art board from 1020px wide to 1920px. I do this because I design all my web pages for a monitor that supports 1920px width. Sure, most people will never see the entire width of my designs. But if someone happens to have a monster monitor, I want their viewing experience to be as beautiful as possible. Of course, I keep all the live content within the 960 grid.

5. Link your photos

This little piece of advice doesn’t take place during the set-up, but will occur each time you place an image into your Illustrator file. Any time you place an image into Illustrator, you have two options. You can either embed the image or you can link it. Here is the Place window that will pop up when you go to add an image:

If you don’t check off this “Link” box, then Illustrator assumes you want to embed your image. When you embed an image it means that the photo’s data becomes part of the Illustrator file. When you link your images Illustrator does not embed the photo data. Instead, it just refers back to the photo file that is saved on your hard drive. Here are the reasons I believe linking is the right way to go versus embedding. First, it will keep your illustrator file sizes down. Second, when a photo is linked you can edit the photo outside of Illustrator and it will automatically update the image in Illustrator. Lastly, but most importantly, embedded images are known to corrupt Illustrator files. I’ve lost many Illustrator files because it had difficulty managing my embedded images. The only down side to linked images is that if you move your images on your hard drive, you’ll need to re-link them when you open your Illustrator file. But re-linking files, in my opinion, is a small burden when you consider the advantages.

6. When saving, uncheck “Create PDF Compatible File”

One of the great advantages of Illustrator over raster based software like Photoshop is the ability to keep your file sizes very small.  But for some reason Illustrator, by default, creates a PDF compatible file when you save it. This essentially bloats your file size to something similar to a raster file. While you may want to use this option when saving the final file that you give your client or send to a printer, you don’t need it for day-to-day saving. So long as you’re not done and don’t plan on trying to open the file in some alternative software, uncheck the Create PDF Compatible File option when saving.

So, that’s it – short and sweet. I hope these tips will help you when working in Adobe Illustrator. It’s certainly my favorite program and the more you use it, the more you’ll love it. I promise!

Design Business | Get Your Questions Answered!

Hey Go Media faithful! I am just now one month into writing my book! If you’re unfamiliar with it, I’m writing a book about how to build a design firm. It’s basically my life story up to this point. I’d say it’s half autobiography and half how-to. Rest assured that the autobiographical part of the book focuses on life stories that pertain to building my design business. Specifically, I tell lots of stories about how I’ve failed – miserably. Hopefully these stories will be both entertaining as well as informative. Even if you’re just working as a freelance designer and have no intention of building yourself into a firm, this book will be chalk-full of design business insights and life lessons.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. I would like to answer all your legal and accounting questions in this book. I am currently scheduling time with Go Media’s accountants and lawyers. But, I don’t know what nagging questions are keeping you up at night! So, if you wouldn’t mind sharing your burning questions with me, I’ll get you professional answers! You can either add your questions as comments below this post, or e-mail me directly at: [email protected]. If you’re going to e-mail me your questions, please make the subject: “Burning Questions.”

Daily Inspiration: Patience

Daily Inspiration Videos by Go Media President Bill Beachy

Go Media president Bill Beachy sits down to give you some daily inspiration and advice. Bill shares his years of experience building Go Media into the company it is today. Topics in this video series include Getting Started, Happiness, Humility, Patience, Flow, Focus, Productivity, Business Systems, Courage, Eating Well, Obstacles, and Creativity.

For more information about Bill Beachy, check out his bio on Bill is currently accepting opportunities to speak at your event, university, or business.

View all episodes of Daily Inspiration here

Sponsored by Prooflab
The Daily Inspiration video series is brought to you by Prooflab – a client and project management app built and used by Go Media for designers.

Proolab - the best client and project management app for designers

Hope you enjoy the video!

Or download the podcast


Collaboration! Two samurai (artists) are more powerful than one.

Illustration Collaboration

Hey Go Media faithful! As Go Media has evolved over the years, we’ve learned that collaboration with other artists and designers can be a very powerful tool when trying to deliver the very best product to your client. Different designers have different skill sets. When Go Media assembles a team to work on a project some of those people may be in our firm and others may not. I recently had an amazing experience collaborating with a good friend of mine; Steve Knerem on an illustration for Cage Spawn Clothing. This article will be kind of a hybrid – half tutorial and half discussion on the idea of collaborating.

Getting Started

The design brief for this t-shirt design was fairly simple: “Make a sick looking Samurai t-shirt.” I’ve been working with Preston Bennet of Cage Spawn for a while, so he has total faith in my abilities. It’s nice to work with clients that throw you a simple concept and some ideas, and then just let you go to town. As with any illustration, I started by drawing some horrifically rough poses.

Preston selected pose #2. He liked the way the arms crossed, and thought we could frame up the CageSpawn type treatment between the tips of the swords. Here is the type treatment Jeff Finley did for Cage Spawn. It was actually a design “refresh.” We wanted to fix up their existing type treatment, which we thought could be improved upon. The existing one was just too straight and rigid. We needed to infuse it with some flow. I think Jeff did an amazing job.

Original Type Treatment

Go Media’s type treatment refresh.

Once I knew the pose that Preston wanted, I sat right down and tried to translate my uber rough sketch into a tight pencil drawing. I had plenty of Samurai images tacked up around my drawing table, was excited about the pose, and put in several hours trying to make the pose work. Unfortunately, sometimes the really rough sketches include some physical impossibilities. The exact positioning of the arms in this case were simply not working. In lieu of driving myself crazy, I decided to grab my camera and do a quick model shot. These photos don’t need to be anything fancy. I was just trying to get the pose clear in my head. I had a few tubes to use as the swords and here are the images I shot:

From those photos I was able to work out the following pose sketches:

I posted those for Preston to make a decision about which hand-position looked best to him. We agreed that it was #1.

In many regards, this is the most difficult part of the illustration process. Once I have the pose in place with the right perspective drawing all the armor and the mask/helmet goes fairly quickly. I made decisions about what the armor and helmet looked like through looking at reference photos of actual Samurai armor, and then making some of it up as I went along. Here is the illustration at about 80% complete.

Once I had the illustration this far along I planned on filling in the remaining 20% of the art while I was inking. But before I started the inking I went on vacation. And while I was on vacation I badly injured my neck and upper back. I was in so much pain that I didn’t sleep for three straight days. When I got back to the office, I knew there was no way I could spend 8+ hours hunched over a drawing board inking this piece. But Go Media had a deadline (in this case we were already way past our deadline.) I knew my injury wouldn’t go away anytime soon.

The Collaboration Starts.

Although, in this case the collaboration was born of necessity, Steve and I had been talking about collaborating on an illustration for months before this. I knew he was the guy to take over and get the drawing finished. Check out Steve’s work here: Once the ink was done, I could get it into the computer and take over the coloring and design. I already had great respect for Steve’s work, so I really didn’t give him too much direction. I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do with the bottom of the Samurai, the armor was incomplete and the flames were incomplete. I pointed all that out but basically said: “make it look sweet.” As I handed him my art I really felt like I was just giving him an inking job. But Steve decided to finish the pencils and get my thumbs up before he started inking.

When Steve brought me the finished pencil drawing I almost fell over. I was completely blown away. He didn’t just finish what I had started, he added a LOT. I wasn’t expecting the masterpiece he showed me. This is a GREAT rule in business and in life. Give people more than they expect. “Under promise, and over deliver” we say at Go Media. It turns normal customers into fans and advocates.

Here is the final pencil illustration that Steve showed me:

Meanwhile, Preston had a friend that was studying Chinese/Japanese calligraphy. He thought some original calligraphy would make a sweet addition to the design. I agreed. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to put together the growing list of design elements: Samurai Illustration, Japanese Sun, Cagespawn logotype and now calligraphy! But it was very exciting to have all these great elements to work with. Normally, I like to work out the entire design layout in advance before I start drawing, but what can I say – this project just evolved this way, and I was happy to go with the flow.

Steve Takes Over

I couldn’t have been happier to get the bullpen call from Bill. Unfortunately it was at the expense of Bill’s injury, but nonetheless our talks about a collaboration project gave birth. My part of the journey began when I was visiting some friends out of town. I read the email from Bill on my phone and I interrupted my wife who was talking with friends saying “Awesome, listen to this!” In my mind I had to fly home right away, meet with Bill and begin my part of the collab. Well once I calmed down I responded back of course accepting the job.

Here is a lesson learned when responding to an email: make sure they receive your email! After I sent my eager response, I heard nothing from Bill…uh oh. My mind was racing thinking he called in some other help, so I called a few people at the Go Media office on a Thursday afternoon, emailed Bill again and got him on the phone where I accepted the job and we set a time to meet. Whew!

I landed at 5:20pm in Cleveland on a Monday and got to Go Media an hour later. So my point with all this is don’t give up, fight for what you want. Show your clients you are eager and willing to do what has to be done. That day the hand of Crom was upon me!

So I meet Bill and we discuss the project. He showed me what Go Media already had done for Cagespawn which was out of control awesome. I felt honored to be a part of this circle of excellence. I felt at that point Bill really trusted me to finish the job. It was a very professional experience knowing I was trusted, respected and someone digs my work. So the lesson to learn is: be a professional, you never know when you will get a call. Make awesome work because you never know who is looking. Own your game because someone is always looking for originality.

The Pencil Stage

Finally I sat down and I looked over the project and thought of all the illustration I saw Bill do for the past 5 years. I’ve always loved Bill’s style and characters so the tricky part is to retain all of what he did and add my fireworks to it…no pressure. I can say I really felt confident. In the past year and a half this confidence grew on me because I owned my game. In return if I was in the same situation and had to hand a project to Bill, I know that he would reciprocate the same excellence and pride. Lesson to learn, build relationships. That’s what business and friendships are all about.

I did my research on samurai characters, garments, weapons and what the essence of a samurai warrior is. Right away I shifted into “insane detail mode” which is usually my only gear. I looked at Bill’s character as a strong foundation to build upon. I added blood, banners, costume design, smoke, flames, hair and a solid light source and that solidified my part of the pencil drawing.

Remember add your own twist to something in the pencil stage. The worst that could happen is the client won’t like a part. So what. Erase it and set it back to the original state. Lesson to learn: take initiative to present something above and beyond because it might just come to pass!

A quick example is the blood dripping from the mouth and the hand of the samurai and also the hair.

So I take this drawing to Bill. I’m a little nervous but confident. Bill was thrilled and it made me happy knowing I over delivered. Lesson learned: GO OVERBOARD!! I do recall a high five exchange between us.

The Inking Stage

The ink stage is very different. You can have a shaky hand with the pencil but this is where breathing, patience, discipline, skill, and decision making come into play. When I start a drawing I like to attack my fears head on, with the face. I keep it simple at first and outline the jaw line, eyes and nose.

I use Micron pens because they don’t bleed and they have good flow. They do dry up so keep a fresh stock. I noticed there is a lot of symmetry with the helmet so paying attention to proportions is vital. The swords, arm guards and back body armor need to look the same too. These are at different angles so there is a little leeway with symmetry but they still have to be consistent.

The good thing is you lay this out in the pencil stage. Just remember INKING IS NOT TRACING. You still have to think this through. Some parts will need a thick line and a thin line. This is what makes a dynamic piece.

Probably my biggest concern was retaining Bill’s precise hatch marks and style. Bill is very sharp and clean with his edges especially when he inks. With a collab you want it to look as consistent as possible but you can see each artist’s hand. It is a challenge and a lot of fun. I simply had to rest in my own abilities and keep telling myself to breathe, be confident in my own game and have fun. Lesson to learn: Never think that you are so good that you don’t need to stay disciplined. Personally every project I work on has its own challenges and I am always working to prove myself better than before. (It keeps your internal edge sharp!)

I wrapped up my part on time, on budget and Bill took over the color and design stages. Overall it was a great experience to work with Bill. Make those connections with other artists, build your pool of networks and always stay connected. Sometimes the element of surprise is the most rewarding.

Here is the final inked artwork I handed over to Bill:

Bill Takes over on color and design.

When I was a kid I loved to color. It was a fun, carefree activity. I can remember when the only real challenge was “staying inside the lines.” As an adult, it’s a very different story. I don’t think I am a particularly good colorist. I haven’t really spent enough time doing it. Also, I’ve been exposed to the best of the best comic book colorists – for years. On top of the belief that I’m just not a very good colorist, I have the added pressure of living up to the standards Steve set by doing such a phenomenal job finishing my illustration. So, when I considered my task at hand, I’ll admit, I did so with dread.

For better or worse, collaboration will push you to “up your game.” You have a respected peer that will be closely examining, working with and depending on what you produce. The pressure is on. Unfortunately, I’ve procrastinated as long as I can. I have to get started.

I color so infrequently that I don’t even have a good process down. I have some sense of what I need to do, but nothing concrete. For about three days leading up to getting started I kept debating about how to do it. I could put the art in Illustrator and create vector shapes for each color. I’ve done this before and been very happy with the results. But this can be a very labor intensive process. To create the illusion of a gradient I may need to draw 3-7 shapes for each gradient. Although it’s a tedious process, it’s this particular segmented look of those faux gradients that I really like. It’s almost like the coloring is part of the illustration; each color segment forms contour lines that help define the shape of the object. It’s awesome. Here is an example of a piece I did using that coloring technique:

But I chose not to do that. Instead I decided to go into Photoshop and “paint” the coloring into the drawing. I chose this route primarily because this samurai was covered in fire. Vector coloring would have forced me to define the fire in hard shapes. I just couldn’t imagine how I was even going to pull that off. It would have taken me a year. Also, Go Media happens to own a Wacom Cintiq. If you’re unfamiliar with the Cintiq – imagine a large monitor that tilts and spins and allows you to draw directly on the screen with a pressure sensitive pen. That’s right, it’s a high priced designer’s toy… er… I mean, critical piece of equipment.

A Tip to Getting Started on Something You’re Afraid of:

So, I knew I was going to “paint” the coloring in Photoshop, I knew I was going to use the Cintiq and I had the final art provided by Steve, but I was still in dread. I didn’t really know how I was going to combine all the design elements (Japanese calligraphy, Japanese sun, the illustration, CageSpawn logotype and CageSpawn mark – the cthulu). I didn’t know what colors to use. I didn’t know how to restrict the color palette so that the printer could manufacture this shirt using a max of 4 ink colors. I didn’t know how to prep my coloring so it could be easily separated. My mind was a whirlwind of questions and fears. When you’re focusing on all the what-ifs and concerns it can really be crippling. When I find myself in this situation of NEEDING to start, but being afraid of starting I employ a little technique. I focus on getting ready to start working instead of focusing on what I’m going to do once I do “get started.” For instance, I don’t know how I’m going to color this art, but I do know I’ll need to scan the final inked art into the computer. Great! I’ve done it. I’ve started! I know I’ll need to set up a layered Photoshop document where my art is on the top layer, I need to set that layer to multiply and lock it. I know it would be helpful if I created a mask of the samurai so I can fill him in easily without going “outside the lines.” Also, I’ll need to make my Japanese sun – which I choose to do in Illustrator so I have maximum flexibility later. Essentially, I get started on all the non-critical steps of the project. And what I’ve found is that most of any project is just non-critical steps. Even the coloring itself, when broken down into small pieces, are each really not so critical.

So, here are each of the not-so critical steps I took to color this artwork, and a sample image of each:

I made a Japanese sun in Illustrator using a flag image that I found on the internet. But I needed my rays to extend beyond the flag, so I just extended each line further out.

Once I finished the sun I dropped it along with the CageSpawn logotype into Photoshop to workout the layout. I thought the sun would look good positioned over the shoulder of my Samurai.

I wanted my sun’s rays to fade out, but in a kind of grungy way. So, I stared by air-brushing black around the tips of the rays just to make sure they wouldn’t end sharply. Then I used some of Go Media’s Destroy Vector Packs to grunge up the tips of the rays. Finally, I dropped in a black background. This reveals how the sun will look… pretty cool.

Now that I have the sun in place, I continue just working away on “non-critical” steps… like filling in my samurai. I’ll be able to use this shape as a base layer of art and also a mask.

I knew that the flames would require a painterly style with lots of gradients. So, I switch over to my airbrush, dial back the Flow to about 15% and start “painting.”

I thought now might be a good time to give you a look at how I have my Photoshop file layers set up. It continues to get more complex than this, but this should help you understand how I work. When I was young I tried to work in as few layers as possible, and generally didn’t appreciate the power they provide. So, if you’re new to working with Photoshop and Illustrator and you’re not paying close attention to the layers – (like locking, linking and setting visibility) START NOW!

For my flames I kind of stumbled upon this pointillism gradient that looked really good and matched nicely with the style Steve inked the piece.

Because I was working with a lot of flames and glowing, I thought this shirt would look amazing on a deep red shirt, so I swapped out my background color and sure enough – it looked great.

Since the flames were lapping up around the logotype, I decided to also make it flame-like. And that worked perfectly with the shapes of the lettering. It really came together beautifully in the end. Here is the final colored artwork.

Now of course, I’m a HUGE advocate of presenting your designs to your client in the very best way. So, I just had to mock up this design onto a t-shirt. I used one of our t-shirt templates, but you could also use

Almost done. I still had the calligraphy, and I wanted to use the CageSpawn mark that I had designed on a previous project. Sounds like I need to design a back to this t-shirt!

One last plug… to add the splattered yellow effects around the lettering, I used our Vector Set 17 which has a ton of grungy elements.

At some point while I was “getting started” my fears and concerns faded away and were replaced with fun. I’ll admit, I even forgot about how the printer was going to color separate this. Looking back now, I don’t even know why I was worried about that. That’s not my job. That’s the printer (color separator’s job! That’s why they get paid.)

One lesson I’ve learned in life, business and art is – you can’t let the unknown slow you down. Go Media is an incubator of sorts to several companies that work out of our building. We’re periodically (more frequently than I would prefer) asking ourselves questions like: “Will this get us arrested?” or “Will the fire marshal shut us down?” We don’t always know, but we press on. You can’t let your fears stop your progress. Even if you do something, and your fears come to fruition and all your hard work is for not – I still think the process of doing, learning and experiencing are better than sitting on your butt doing nothing. Fortunately, we have not been arrested for anything – yet.

AND! Last, but not least – if you would like to pre-order this shirt from CageSpawn, go here: CageSpawn Ronin T-shirt Pre-order.

Daily Inspiration: Battling a Business Lull

Daily Inspiration Videos by Go Media President Bill Beachy

Go Media president Bill Beachy sits down to give you some daily inspiration and advice. Bill shares his years of experience building Go Media into the company it is today. Topics in this video series include Getting Started, Happiness, Humility, Patience, Flow, Focus, Productivity, Business Systems, Courage, Eating Well, Obstacles, and Creativity.

For more information about Bill Beachy, check out his bio on Bill is currently accepting opportunities to speak at your event, university, or business.

View all episodes of Daily Inspiration here

Sponsored by Prooflab
The Daily Inspiration video series is brought to you by Prooflab – a client and project management app built and used by Go Media for designers.

Proolab - the best client and project management app for designers

Hope you enjoy the video!

Or download the podcast


Startup-Smackdown: Your New Apparel Line Is Not Unique.

Smack-Down Part 1It takes a positive perspective to start a new company. And as a lifelong entrepreneur, I’m the very first person to advocate starting your own business. The up-side of being the owner of a successful business is amazing. And even in failure there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained. But, before you cut a check to your favorite designer, you owe yourself a reality check. It would be my pleasure to provide you with a startup-smackdown.

Your product is not special. And your financial projections are funnier than most Adam Sandler movies. And if you don’t build your company properly you’ll destroy your credibility, health, and friendships.

Let’s assume you’ve got it in your head that your new T-Shirt Co will be bigger than TapouT. I know right, you actually believe that. Smack yourself back into reality by asking yourself this simple question. Why would anyone buy your T-Shirt? What makes you special? Does your design contain wings, skulls and chains? Smack yourself harder this time – think Tyler Turden smackdown. Guess what! Your design is not unique, compelling, or special.

First rule of Startup… Get A Story, Get A Life.

Unless YOU have a compelling story to share why anyone should care about your crappy T-Shirt and it’s lame design, you’ve got nothing.

Don’t despair. Think! Do you have something in your past or current life that you can spin into a story? Were you working out at the gym, forgot to paste on the Old Spice and repelled your future girlfriend? Then, after you got home and smacked yourself – your brilliant business idea hit you back. Bake the deodorant into the shirt. (“it’s in the computer” – zoolander) After becoming a bathroom chemist you stumbled onto the perfect scent for your new line of t’s. Thus, SmellyT’s was born. Your first instinct is to run to your local lawyer and whip up a New Co., register trademarks, and maybe even a patent. Don’t! I’ll explain why in a future lesson.

Lesson Summary: You are the story. If you don’t have one, get one.

Happy business people

Now that you have a unique story, you need to start telling it. Continuing with TapouT as our success model, understand these guys sold shirts out of their car trunk at local MMA events. If you own a car you have your storefront. Before we go further, understand selling is your next lesson. Don’t fantasize about selling a million shirts a month at this stage. Sell 100 and that is traction. You’re pretty depressed and isolated so you’ve only got two friends. That means 98 strangers bought your shirt. Success! Do you see why putting together psycho financial projections will ruin your credibility? Your excel file has you selling a million shirts but in the real world you sold 100.

Lesson Summary: Sell first, and then figure out how to scale.

Marketing is a key component to selling. So whom are you going to sell your SmellyT’s to? Make a list of five potential markets that would be interested in smelling good while wearing your shirts. Here’s my fictitious list:

– Bums
– Athletes
– Construction Workers
– Firefighters
– Garbage Men

Okay, so now you have a list of potential markets. Systematically remove each market based on the level of competition in the space. Using the athletes group we can break that into MMA and you’ll find TapouT. And they are first so you will be last. Remove the athlete’s category.

Bums! No money equals no sales. Remove the bums.

Construction workers. Now this is interesting. These guys love t-shirts and work up a killer sweat. Let’s look closer. How do we find these guys? Local unions, yes. But that seems like a lot of red tape. There must be policies about marketing to these folks. Even if you got a foot in the door you’d be spending more time talking than selling. Let’s mark this category as a maybe and circle back.

Firefighters is our next potential market. Hum! Lots of them. They wear shirts with logos and large fonts. They sweat like hell, and they just so happen to be easy to find. I think we have got something here. Long shifts, hot firehouses. They like to workout in their downtime. I bet these guys like wearing the same style shirt day in and day out. That means they will probably be repeat customers.

Let’s skip garbage men and review the lesson: Be king of one hill. Get laser focused on your customer before trying to scale.

Summary Points:

1. Every good company is built on a unique passion that takes the form of a story. Work on crafting your story. It need to be genuine, and resonate with your target market. Tapout is a great example. These guys passionately followed MMA even before it was popular, selling t-shirts out of their trunk. THAT’S a great story.

2. Don’t waste time counting money you haven’t earned yet. Focus on selling. You have a lot to learn. This is real the real work begins. Pack your shirts in your trunk, hit the streets and make one sale. Repeat until you’ve learned what process works very well. Only then should you work on financial projections, get loans and scale rapidly.

3. Mass marketing is expensive and ineffective for a start-up. In order to advertise effectively you need to first identify your market. One piece of major consideration when deciding on a market is the competition. So, you’re going to have to do some research. Once you’ve selected a market you can create compelling marketing that speaks directly to one audience that isn’t being addressed. That’s a recipe for success.

Part Two coming soon will feature:
4. Securing funding
5. Living lean
6. Scaling success

Want to learn more about winning in business? Want to smack around your competitors? Get in touch with the Startup Smackdown team.

About the Author
Mike Greeves is the creator of the Startup Smackdown and the founder of, and Mike built his technology startup using grinding persistence, making it into the leader position in a down market by outsmarting the competition. Mike serves as an advisor to a number of Silicon Valley startups.

Daily Inspiration: When You’re Down, Just Focus

Daily Inspiration Videos by Go Media President Bill Beachy

Go Media president Bill Beachy sits down to give you some daily inspiration and advice. Bill shares his years of experience building Go Media into the company it is today. Topics in this video series include Getting Started, Happiness, Humility, Patience, Flow, Focus, Productivity, Business Systems, Courage, Eating Well, Obstacles, and Creativity.

For more information about Bill Beachy, check out his bio on Bill is currently accepting opportunities to speak at your event, university, or business.

View all episodes of Daily Inspiration here

Sponsored by Prooflab
The Daily Inspiration video series is brought to you by Prooflab – a client and project management app built and used by Go Media for designers.

Proolab - the best client and project management app for designers

Hope you enjoy the video!

Or download the podcast


Daily Inspiration: Practice, Practice, Practice.

Daily Inspiration Videos by Go Media President Bill Beachy

Go Media president Bill Beachy sits down to give you some daily inspiration and advice. Bill shares his years of experience building Go Media into the company it is today. Topics in this video series include Getting Started, Happiness, Humility, Patience, Flow, Focus, Productivity, Business Systems, Courage, Eating Well, Obstacles, and Creativity.

For more information about Bill Beachy, check out his bio on Bill is currently accepting opportunities to speak at your event, university, or business.

View all episodes of Daily Inspiration here

Sponsored by Prooflab
The Daily Inspiration video series is brought to you by Prooflab – a client and project management app built and used by Go Media for designers.

Proolab - the best client and project management app for designers

Hope you enjoy the video!

Or download the podcast