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Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, Marketing
Do you ever wonder how creatives at ad agencies come up with new ideas on a daily basis? What type of brainstorming processes do they use to stay relevant to attract the viewers’ attention? At its heart, this overused buzz term is essentially that really focused, results-driven sister to daydreaming. Brainstorming generates ideas, challenges conventions, and brings about new perspectives to the status quo. 
This is usually the best part of the design thinking process. Everyone involved in the project gets together to harness their diverse viewpoints, knowledge, and interpretation of the research. The team is one supercharged brain of collective intelligence. Now it’s time to unleash their ideas through a structured and repeatable process that drives creative thinking around your users to create more value for your company. Successful sessions should produce multiple options to look at, and from those, you will be able to select a few for further exploration. 
While it might seem logical to jump right into brainstorming when presented with a new problem or challenge, the pro’s know you can’t start the game until you’ve warmed up. This is why we’ve talked about How To Start Journey Mapping and Understanding Users Through Interviews in previous articles because they lay the groundwork in your mind to prime it for idea generation. You have probably noticed that when you are Journey Mapping or conducting Interviews, ideas have already started flowing. Now is the time to focus those ideas and harness them into truly productive thoughts that can go on to become viable concepts.
If you have the right research groundwork laid out, brainstorming becomes the Goldilocks equation of creative thought; too early in a project and the ideas are underdeveloped and uninformed, too late in a project and momentum has stalled or information is stale and the world has moved on. Unfortunately, too many executives and founders rush into execution with what seems to be the easiest solution in hand without brainstorming based on the collected knowledge that can guide ideas and flag potential pitfalls. 
Starting at Zen
Clear your mind, block out the distractions and focus on your breath. Buddha taught about the philosophy of Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action. This is the ultimate goal of every marketer, so how can we take this and apply it to brainstorming? It’s all about using the right mix, processes, and structure to generate user-focused, research-backed ideas and prevent the whole exercise from becoming a potential idea bacchanal.
Only those involved and immersed in the research and data should be in the room, at the start. If there are stakeholders who will eventually need to sign off on part or all of the project, or you need them to support an idea, bring them in later on in the process so that you establish the right conditions for the later stage idea refinements that come along. This will also give them a chance to have personal involvement in the idea generation so if they need to sell it up the chain, they now have a personal stake in it.
In advertising, we would normally have three to ten people involved – usually the Account Director, Art Director, and Copywriter. Then Strategic Planners, Media Planners, Creative Directors, Production Managers, and other creative teams would join as needed and based on the scope of the project. For small businesses and startups, it’s best to rely on the company leadership to drive the process.
It is also possible to conduct a session with a few wild cards thrown in. Customers, impartial third-parties, the accounting division… anyone that the team has identified who could provide additional value based on their experiences. Cross-pollination can produce wonderful ideas, the key is to keep the group small. Get a large group together and it becomes a party with ideas flying everywhere and eventually the goals of the session end up passed out next to a keg. 
Agencies usually have small, whiteboard walled rooms for brainstorming specifically to keep the groups small because they know that multiple small group sessions produce more value than one big group in one session.
Before the group starts, everyone needs to agree on two principals. First is, ‘what are we solving?’ Second is that everyone adopts the mindset of a creator, not a critic. 
Everyone should know why they’re there, so agreeing on ‘what are we solving’ should be pretty obvious. But with a brainstorm, our minds get pulled all over the place. Writing the goal at the top of the page will ground the session, and help anchor thinking. This is a good time to write or post key elements from the creative brief, or problem at hand as well. These little management aids can help the team refocus their thinking when they inevitably get pulled down a rabbit hole. 
No tearing down of ideas, only structured blue sky thinking is allowed. This is all about turning the little critic inside each of us off, and only listening to the dreamer. In this case, the educated, goal-oriented dreamer. To help keep this on track, simple ground rules should be applied to everyone:

    • Don’t judge
    • One speaker at a time
    • If you see a good idea, build on it
    • Everyone is equal 
    • Show sketches, mind maps, whatever
    • Don’t engage in oneupmanship 
    • Have fun
Rewarding courage is one of the most important approaches in creative brainstorming. Encourage your team to take big leaps with their ideas. If it sounds crazy, it just might work. So don’t be scared of thinking beyond the norm, foster the right type of courage in your team so they are comfortable pushing their perceived boundaries. This could just spark your company’s next big thing.
If only we could jet away to live with our users and brainstorm around their lives. So in place of that, it’s best to create an environment that has all the right stimuli to elicit new ideas from the team. 
When you’re preparing for the session, not only is it good to have key lines from interviews, completed Journey Maps and vision boards lining the walls, it is important to have designed the right framework for the session as well. This includes using the right triggers to spark ideas, but keep them within the right box. Basically, this is structured blue sky thinking. Good triggers define the box you’re working within and they focus energies to a specific area. 
Building triggers off of ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions can help free your mind, then pad it with the right structure to effectively generate successful new concepts. To help build out effective triggers, consider trying some or all of the following approaches:

    • Use catalyzing quotes or stories
    • Challenge assumptions
    • Push the boundaries
    • Switch roles between team members
    • Look at trends
    • Put yourself in the user’s shoes
    • Think to the future, then look back
The session is almost ready. Now is time to prep for your role as the session leader by figuring out how to effectively run it. Keeping everyone motivated, confident and on time are the critical functions of the leader, but the actual tactics for how the session is run is up to you too. 
Steve Jobs had a famous technique that was derived from what his friend Lee Clow, the legendary Creative Director at TBWA, Apple’s longtime advertising agency. Everyone in the session would fill the walls with great ideas within a set timeframe. When the time was up, all but three ideas were taken down and the process was repeated. Again, all but the three strongest ideas survived on the wall. After five sessions, the ideas left standing lived to leave the session and move to concept development. This is the technique the team here at Method uses primarily, all taught to us in our junior years in the big agencies.
Quick detour to talk about Apple, Jobs took this process one step further, and it’s not for the faint of heart. When the session was done, and the teams went off to develop the concept and then ultimately the product, he was known for outright rejecting the final product when it was presented. He would send his teams back to the brainstorming session stage and restart, throwing out everything they had done before. If it wasn’t for this process, the first iPod would have looked like the Zune, and if you’re asking what is a Zune, that just shows how well that product was designed.
Back to our brainstorming process, we’ve just completed five rounds of ideation. The first round tosses out the low hanging fruit that has kicked around the team’s heads for a while. Once the clutter is gone, then new ideas start to form. Once the easy new ideas are out, the team is now really thinking through the triggers, the research (stimulus in the room) and goal(s) to dig deeper, not being satisfied with the easy answers. By the time the team has mined their minds, the ideas generated will have depth, backed by knowledge and will be unique AF. 
This approach can be done out loud, with one writer recording the ideas on whiteboard walls, chart paper, sticky pad, index cards, whatever can be stuck to a wall that everyone can easily read (ie: use markers and write LARGE). Or it can be done in a quieter version where everyone has their own marker and index cards and they write out ideas within a couple of minutes per round. The main goal is the collaborative conversation that is generated once the ideas are on the wall and the team is able to build upon them. 
Using this proven tactic builds the team’s confidence in one another and ensures that the one loud extravert doesn’t end up dominating the process. It has the effect of breeding competition between team members that gets the creative ideas flowing from some of the most unlikely places. 
The last consideration in managing a brainstorm session is the timing. Keeping everyone on pace, keeping momentum and staying on track. You’re essentially a creative referee for your team monitoring the time between rounds so people don’t get burned out trying to generate new ideas. If the session runs too long it can have a negative effect causing people to feel anxious and ultimately releasing their inner critic. Switching between quiet and loud rounds can keep stimulation up, as can changing the view. Literally, switch rooms or go outside for fresh air halfway through the session can provide a much-needed shot of creativity to the process.
Mental fatigue will inevitably arrive, but if you’re prepared for it through savvy management you can keep it at bay longer and help foster some really incredible ideas. 
At this point, you and your team have generated 50, 100, 200+ possible ideas and/or solutions. There should now be two or three killer ideas left standing that are ready for further exploration. It is important to remember at this stage the ideas are not full concepts yet, nor have they identified what resources and methods will be required to execute them. Sure, you have a rough idea of what comes next, but it’s important to make sure the follow-through is done correctly. 
The ideas have the potential to become concepts, but as they stand right now they are simply raw ideas that haven’t been fleshed out. You wouldn’t want to stake your company’s next marketing campaign on a raw idea, there are simply too many unknowns and untested assumptions at this point.
Ideas need to move into the Concept Development stage now, where they are tested against assumptions and the unknowns. This is accomplished by small teams (we use teams of Art Directors and Copywriters) after the brainstorming sessions are complete. Their task is to research the unknowns and start testing assumptions while tweaking the idea to fit the current realities. From there, the right resources, tactics, and methods can be deployed to see the idea through execution.
This is the creative advertising secret sauce. How we come up with killer ideas, regularly and at scale. 
Final Thoughts
To give you an idea of the volume of ideas that are generated by the creative pros in the ad world lets consider the elite level of brainstorming used to create new campaigns for one of the most heavily marketed brands of all time, McDonald’s.
If McDonald’s runs a new campaign monthly, in every region across the globe, that is over 119 different campaigns running at once. Each region has it’s own unique creative campaigns, which would represent over 1400 different sets of ideas that actually make it to production, globally, every year. Now, remember that this brand has been producing this sustained level of advertising for decades. Understanding the process that creates this volume of ideas paints a picture of the challenge ad execs face when creating original, unique creative content.
For every winning idea that becomes an ad, about 50 other ideas have to be born, then quickly die. Globally, just for this brand alone, that equals over 70,000 creative ideas generated yearly. So when you think about Mad Men, Don Draper and all the cool kids working in advertising, you can now see behind the (faux) glamour of the job and understand the mental Olympics that occur every day to keep the ideas coming. Now that is truly Design Thinking.

Entrepreneurship, Startup
Some people are better at founding and starting companies than running them.
In the startup world, there is an undeniable myth that founders make the best CEOs. This myth was probably started by founders looking to retain their control over their baby, which is usually supported by only telling half of the story of the heroic founder-CEO.
It is commonly forgotten that founders like Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were either ousted as CEO or stepped down to allow a professional to lead their companies. In their time off, all reported on having the same humbling experience, understanding self-reflection and taking the time to learn the skills required to become effective leaders.
As the world now knows, all of these founders returned as CEOs and their company’s fortunes skyrocketed. By stepping down (or being ousted), these titans of tech have proven that the Founder-CEO is a myth.
Fortunately, we now have real data that shows that founder lead companies are less productive, have higher turnover and are generally poorly managed than those being lead by a professional CEO who did not start the business.
Researches from Harvard, Duke and Vanderbilt universities collected data from the World Management Survey which reviewed over 13,000 medium through enterprise size companies across 32 countries. Not surprisingly, they found that companies led by founders were 9.4% less productive, on average, and had consistently lower management scores on average. 
“Founder CEOs were by far the worst type of CEO,” said Victor Bennett, an assistant professor of strategy at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and a co-author of the paper. “We found that some managers opt for less transparent management practices—nepotistic hiring, et cetera—partially because that’s the reason they got in the game,” Bennett said. “They might be fully aware that this is a less efficient style of management, but that’s the reason they got into being a CEO.”
Not only does the Founder-CEO struggle building the company they envision, but the dual role can also threaten one of their primary functions, securing investments. Data has suggested that Investors typically don’t want to invest in companies with a Founder-CEO with limited to no executive experience. They will often require the Founder to hire a CEO as a condition of funding. This really comes down to the issue of skill set; the traits and talents necessary to conceive and launch a product are often very different than those that help a business expand.
During my second and third startup I experienced this directly – my lead investor immediately placed a condition on financing that we had to hire a professional CEO before going forward. At first this felt like a shot to the ego, but upon realizing that it was just that – sore ego and nothing else – the idea was quickly embraced and we ended up finding incredible talent to lead us onward. Upon seeing first hand what a professional manager can do, versus my founder skills, it was clear that the path to success must be paved by a leader who knows how to build companies. Thinking back on those days the comparison would be like taking a cross-country road trip in a beige 2004 Toyota Corolla versus a 2020 Mercedes-Maybach. 
It is important to remember that one of the core reasons founders’ fail as CEOs has to do with the kind of person who is crazy enough to start a company in the first place. People often start companies precisely because they want the freedom to run things as they wish, and have the risk profile to take big leaps – which sometimes includes poor managerial decisions. Taking big risks is encouraged when starting, but when dealing with investor’s cash the risks taken must be carefully weighed and considered. Unfortunately this type of introspection and quite frankly lack of experience leads to less than stellar results when helmed by founder. 
Not surprisingly, most founders are shocked when investors insist that they relinquish control, and they’re pushed out in ways they’re not prepared for. But understanding one’s own limitations is what makes a great CEO. They know when to call in help, how to delegate and how to build an inclusive corporate culture. 
Corporate culture is one of the most important roles of a CEO – if not the MOST important role. Without a strong corporate culture, you cannot build a strong company. The Virgin Group is living proof of this concept in action. Each and every one of Virgin’s companies starts with the focus on the employees. 
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” This is probably the best management quote from Richard Branson, and explains how Virgin consistently breaks customer service records across all industries. By building the right culture, the team will preform at their best, in turn bringing happy customers along for the ride.
One needs to look no further than the toxic ‘Bro Culture’ associated with tech startups. Not only is the frat mentality an anchor to growth, but it is one that actively discourages women from joining the ranks. In a time that the startup ecosystem is trying to support women in tech and as founders themselves, we are still lionizing founders who have never developed a big tent culture to lead a diverse group of professional employees. This is a recipe for dissatisfied employees, higher turnover and can potentially lead to the company’s failure to find traction. Does anyone really want to work in the poisonous culture that Mark Zuckerberg perpetuates? 
So how can this founder dilemma be solved?
Hiring a CEO is by far the easiest solution. Sounds pretty challenging? There are a surprising amount of very senior executives in the later stages of their careers who are looking to try out entrepreneurship for the first time. And why not? This is the golden age of startup and they want in on the action. Startup networks like AngelList and CoFoundersLab are good resources for networking and finding a leader. If your startup is already talking with investors, they have large networks of talented professional managers who can be introduced to your company. The investors most likely have an idea of who they believe would be a good fit and will help facilitate the introduction and planning. However, it is important to establish a hiring process to ensure that the founder and CEO will make a good team before making a commitment. And don’t forget to include the one year cliff on the CEO’s options incase they don’t work out.
The other option is to bring on a COO. Someone who can be tasked with running the day-to-day of the company. Building the culture, establishing the corporate structure and overseeing corporate governance. Having an operations leader can free up time for the founder to focus on fundraising, and/or leading product development. After all, the product is their baby and allowing the founder to focus on what they do best while leaving the operations of the company to a professional manager gives everyone the opportunity to shine in their own light.
Final Thoughts
Most founders actually don’t want to be CEO; their passion lies in the product or another area of the business such as sales or marketing. In these cases, they are better off taking the role they want and hiring smart people to do the rest.
Founders often refer to companies as their babies. If that’s the case, they should remember that knowing when to relinquish control and let a child grow on its own is one of the most important decisions a parent can make. 

Design, Entrepreneurship, Marketing
Designers are visual people, creating for the eyes and in-turn, the mind.
With incredible skills developing colour pallets to fonts, tactile objects to expansive spaces, stunning images to coveted fashions, designers truly live in the now of visual creativity. Designing the interfaces on our phones and buildings for our offices the universal language of design is user interaction – how to simplify or enhance how people interact with everything they create.
Visual design touches the eye first, but it is created to stimulate the mind.
If a designer is already creating successful pieces, they have the inherent tools to become a strong, detailed writer. While beautiful designs get noticed, written messages persuade much deeper. So why not take the time to build out this critical skill set?
Fast Company uncovered how writing is a designer’s unicorn skill in March 2017, ‘Forget Coding: Writing Is Design’s “Unicorn Skill”’ however, few designers have really pushed themselves to write. The trifecta of successful design leadership tends to be:
– Design
– Copy
– Code (or; Production, Modelling, Prototyping, etc…)
Each contributing equally to a successful creative execution. Even if your method is not digital, the same thinking applies. When the final product is in the users’ hands, a nice layout is appreciated, but the content is where they connect.
When I was starting my career in a large advertising agency, I worked with copywriters who would supply me with the lines to place and I’d go about my merry way making something look pretty. Words were simply another shape to be manipulated into place. While the copywriter and I would have discussions about how to use it, my influence over the development of it was limited. This was a missed opportunity.
Most studios and design firms are smaller operations and do not have the client budget for copywriters, so those tasks tend to fall upon account managers and the client themselves. This is where the designer who writes becomes the unicorn. Taking the time to proof and double check the copy as it is placed in the design, making edits and suggestions can help create a stronger end product. The designer is the one who has the full 360-degree view of all aspects of a project. So much so that with the significant rise in micro-copy (all those little lines guiding users in apps and help sections) it has become essential that micro-copy is part of the overall creative and brand strategy.

Lorem Ipsum
What designer can’t recite lines of the glorious Lorem Ipsum!? Ever since Adobe automatically started filling it into new text spaces with the release of Adobe CC2017, filling in Greek copy has never been easier. And yet, at this stage on the design industry, it comes 10 years too late.
Greeking in copy worked for print design decades ago, and still has its place in very early, internal concepts. Beyond the concept stage, it’s usefulness has dried up. It’s great as a placeholder and should be used for that – getting the design into a working place where you can start to define and refine it. Advancing the design by adding in the real words, forces the designer to approach the layout with equal consideration for the content as well. Without the context of real words, the design may not be as easy for the end user as originally intended.
Working with the content versus Lorem Ipsum allows the designer to see the final piece, grasping the critical links behind the visual and written to guide the user along. Allowing a designer to work with, and develop, the copy can additionally provide another layer of proofing with a detail-focused set of eyes that can provide valuable insight and feedback on the words themselves.

Get Writing
It’s time to get started! You don’t have to create a website from scratch to start writing. Start small, try out platforms like Linkedin, Facebook or Medium. You could even use Evernote and start a blog (like this one!).
Top creatives like the lead UX designer at Bannersnack, Gery Meleg, uses Medium to publish his thoughts. He also guest blogs for DesignModo, but he republishes the same article to connect with different readers through his Medium account. He doesn’t have a personal website, so he uses his social platforms to communicate his messages.
While we all have the capacity to become writers, I don’t think every designer should write or have a blog. Some may be better off with a podcast, or maybe play around with video and learn After Effects at the same time.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter the type of content you create, it’s more important that you create it and get it out there for the world to embrace (or reject, because the internet is why we can’t have nice things). At the end of the day, you have to want to write to do it successfully. Forcing yourself to polish off and evolve this skill isn’t easy, but even just a small monthly writing habit can be a good start.
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

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Entrepreneurship, Startup
Demographics, a cornerstone of marketing, is quickly being replaced by Customer Personas. Marketing theory has traditionally said that customers all fit within prescribed demographics; age, gender, socio-economic status, education, profession, hobbies and more. While the traditional way of segmenting customers might have worked in the past, the theories can only serve to act as a lesson on what not to do.
These profiles sound nice, but they’re nearly worthless and provide next to no valuable insights into a market. Empty descriptions that might describe one customer, but completely fails to recognize all the secondary and tertiary opportunities that exist. This failure to connect can leave vulnerable startups missing out on early adoption and a greater understanding of their product-market fit.
The reason so many company’s marketing fails to connect is because teams never leave this flawed approach—they think they know what their customer should be, but they really have no clue who their customer is.
Stale approaches like, “Do you want to increase your productivity?”, “How would you like to try out product X?” or, “Want to lose weight, click here!”
This 👏 Doesn’t 👏 Work 👏
Marketing Fails Because it Isn’t Speaking to The Customer
Forget the tired demographic stats.
Customers are not age ranges, job titles or salaries. They’re living, breathing, active people. And they can see through marketing BS instantly. Just like you, they have a fine-tuned sense of marketing BS and are not going to fall for a weak message.
Countless marketing and advertising executives trip all over themselves to make messages easy to understand and in the process dumb down marketing for the lowest common denominator. This completely overlooks that they’re selling a complex product to a discerning market who want to be treated like an intelligent adult.
Customers are people, speak to them in the way you would want to be spoken to and magically a conversation can start. The brands winning on social media didn’t learn this, they intuitively knew it before they even started.
To really connect with your customers, ditch the latest shiny thing, drop the marketing speak and start to focus on them, as a person. This requires more research and digging to fully understand the ‘why’ embedded in everyone’s thinking. Instead of knowing that they are 24-55 years old, urban, completed post-secondary education and make between $75k and $90k, ask yourself, why do they do things, what do they feel, what would they think about this?
Why do they do live in the city?
John works for a big bank downtown and hates the thought of losing three hours of his day commuting.
What do they feel about it?
Living in the city isn’t who he is, a small town is more his speed.
What do they think about it?
Living in the city is short-term pain for long term gain. He hopes to open a financial advisor business in a small town.
By asking questions of your customers you can start to learn what makes them tick. Drop the pretense and assumptions, they’re most likely wrong anyway. Start asking questions, listen and understand what your customers say. By understanding who your customer is, the easier it will be to build a customer persona. Then set you up in a stronger position to start the marketing conversation. Knowing their motivations is a far more successful sales approach than grandiose promises or bait techniques.
The best way to understand your customers is to build out a customer personas for each segment. A customer persona is a snapshot of who your market is—a fictional character with a name and face who embodies all the traits of your typical customer. This allows you to visualize who you’re speaking with and connect in a direct way to them.
Personas help everyone in your company; marketing, sales, product, customer success and service can all lean on a well-crafted persona to see if their work is aligning. It is someone you can lean on and relate to as a real person. Having a deep connection to your customer personas is a major part of creating the right content for them, developing the right features or services for your product, devising sales strategies and follow-ups, really anything that involves outbound communication and sales. Instead of asking, “will this work?”, you team can now ask, “what would (customer persona) John think of this?” Having the right personas can take out some guesswork of marketing, just look at these stats to show the positive shifts it produces (source):
  • Companies who exceed lead and revenue goals are over twice as likely to create personas than companies who miss these goals.
  • 71% of companies who exceed revenue and lead goals have documented personas.
  • 47% of companies who exceeded sales and revenue goals consistently maintain their personas.
  • 37% of companies who simply meet revenue and lead goals have documented personas.
With a clear understanding of who your customer is as a person, and not a demographic representation, you and your team are ready to adjust your marketing messages so they can now connect directly with them. In turn, you can now expect to see your marketing picking up steam and starting to work for you.
So, who are your customers?
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.
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Entrepreneurship, Startup
Every founder is an investor because founders are the first to place a bet on their company. These investments come in a few forms; seed capital, sweat equity, partnership or in-kind contributions. Regardless of the structure, one truth remains – if you want to grow your business from a side hustle into a scalable, full-time operation, you need capital. You’ve put in the sweat equity to-date, and moved your idea from notes on paper to a business plan or working prototype. Now is time to show investors you’re serious by putting your money where your mouth is. 
Why smart founders invest in their startup
You need to put money into your startup if you want to build your product, land critical sales and grow into a sustainable business. After the initial idea-inertia, founders tend to run right out to fundraise, assuming that with their shiny deck they are ready to chase investment. However, few are equipped to present investors with more than just an idea. If you’re standing up there, tossing out a business without fully costing it out, or even ensuring there’s a product-market fit, just wastes the investors time. Usually, It ends worse the founder. If you’re pitching without something concrete to present, like a prototype, your chance of landing an investment is basically shot.
As talk with investors, they’ll want to know how much cash you put in. Making the commitment of putting your money on the line shows investors that you’re serious about this idea and you are willing to take the risk as well. When you put your own cash in, you’re demonstrating that you expect to see a return and you have faith that other people will invest. Bottom line; if you plan on asking others for money, you have a far better chance when investors know that you invested in your startup first.
When I was actively fundraising for my businesses – meeting with private equity investors and doing the well-rehearsed dog and pony show – without fail one of the earliest questions was, “what’s your investment?” Proving that you have skin in the game, that you’re not only working off the sweat equity, is a critical component to securing investment. That’s not to say that you can’t pitch sweat equity alone, simply that you should be prepared for a tougher raise and to see a higher equity requests from investors who are taking the larger risk. 
Should you find yourself in a sweat equity position, it might be in your best interest to carve off a larger employee option pool and have it written into your term sheets that the founders get first shot at the options (up to X amount) to help top up their shares should the company reach its initial stages of success and is proceeding towards a Series A or B. This route allows you to give up more at the start, but saves the opportunity to gain back some equity once the agreed upon metrics of success have been proven. 
If you are ready and capable of making an investment then you’ve already planned out the initial growth and know how much you should be putting in to give yourself enough runway to reach either initial sales, MVP, government grants or fundraising. When investing one big cheque into your new bank account remember the business plan, and make sure you have build a strong set of financials so you know exactly where every dollar is going, and when. As long as spending doesn’t get out of control and threaten cash flow, the business should grow along.
It would be wonderful if every founder was already independently wealthy and could self-finance their startup but short of that, there are other ways to get your proverbial skin in the game. 
Credit Cards/Line of Credit
Google’s founders, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin, famously maxed out their Amex cards racking up over $15,000 in credit card debt. Just like you at the start of your company, they didn’t know they’d be building Google, they simply had a vision and used what limited resources they had to bring it to life. This is not to advocate racking up unsustainable debt or putting yourself or your family in a precarious position. If you are in a stable enough position to start drawing upon credit – with a plan to pay it back – then credit might be a solution for you.
Friends & Family
Imagine having a network of friends with deep enough pockets that they can drop five digits (or more) into your startup to get you up and running? Not so far fetched as most serial entrepreneurs run in circles with other serial entrepreneurs who would want to invest in the next big thing. Even if you’re not rolling with an exited friend or two, it’s always worth practicing your pitch on friends and family and asking for a small sum to help get up and running. If you can match to make it a ‘friends & family & founder’ round, you’ll look more committed to potential investors down the line. If you’re not willing to take the risk with your friends and family’s money, why should an investor take the risk?
Everyone’s favourite counter culture party game, Cards Against Humanity, launched via an incredible  Kickstarter campaign that showed how bang-on the creators knew their product-market fit, along with a complete understanding of their end users. With crowdfunding platforms the name of the game is marketing. If you or your co-founders have a marketing background, especially advertising, this is where you can let it shine. Crowdfunding is great for smaller scale prototypes and favors more physical product-based startups.
In-Kind Contributions 
Your startup is focused around what you know, and how to do it better. Chances are, you have some equipment or other types of contribution from your previous career or hobby that you can give to the company. Whether its computers, machinery, lab space/time, vehicles, etc… these can all count as an investment. Your accountant will need to know about this, so they can track depreciation and factor that into your financials. Vice’s three founders made their initial investment in thirds. Co-founder Suroosh Alvi spoke on NPR’s How I Built This. “I borrowed five grand from my parents, Gavin borrowed five grand from his parents, and Shane got $5,000 worth of computers from his dad. His dad worked in IT or something. And so it was with the ten thousand dollars Canadian that we started Vice.”

At the end of the day, you’ll need to keep track of your investment to show for tax purposes initially, but to also use as a point of reference as you go forward. This is where your accountant comes in. Don’t have one? Now would be the time to find someone trustworthy and affordable. If that really isn’t an option, using software like Wave Accounting or QuickBooks is a bandaid alternative. Your accountant will structure your business using the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to ensure that you’re not only set up with the Canada Revenue Agency (or your national tax collector) but that you are following standard business practices that can be showcased when fundraising. When it comes to taxes, your accountant will thank you for keeping track of where the money is going so that it can be correctly reported to maximize your returns (and save you hours on your accounting bill). Additionally, with funding allocates in streams, you might be able to claim additional tax breaks, or apply for government grants, loans, and incentives. When approaching investors, having the ability to show them where the cash went and a full accounting from day one will be a requirement from you and absolutely part of their due diligence. 
When you’ve reached the point that you’ve brought on other investors, it is good to have a plan on what to do with your investment as the company grows. Most founders will roll their money into their existing equity stake to grow their ownership back up to stem the tide of dilution. Others offer the cash as a loan and treat it to similar loan conditions. A note of caution with the loan route – this is something you’ll want your lawyer involved in. They can make sure you have the proper terms regarding repayments and consequences of a default. These term sheets will need to be included with your investors due diligence package so there is a clear understanding that their investment dollars could be used to pay you back. Expect this to come up during negotiations! Either way, if the business does not succeed you will not get a return at all and either have to write off the loan or write off the investment. Make sure your accountant has a plan for either scenario when tax time comes around.
How much to put in depends on your personal situation and your tolerance for risk. Some companies have gone on to incredible success, launching will as little as $10,000.

Startups are risky. If you don’t want to bet your own (or your friends and family’s) cash, your prospective investors might not want to either. The bottom line is, if you want your startup to be successful, you should invest in it. However, like any investment, don’t just roll the dice and hope for the best. Know what you’re trying to do, understand the market and the chances of success. This is an investment into yourself, so plan diligently and make a smart investment.

Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

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Design, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Startup
Think of all the great creative work we see on a daily basis. How the right image paired with the right words evoked reactions. How a new interface felt like a friendly piece of software that you were able to use with ease. Or a new product that came in such precise packaging that you wonder if you should keep the box as well. 
All of these pieces, products, and designs came to life from a creative brief. A creative brief is the foundation of any design project, UX product, marketing campaign and really anything produced by a creative team. In essence, a brief is a roadmap outlining the journey that the creative team is about to embark upon. The brief shows the team where to start driving to discover ideas but also how to evolve those ideas into fully formed concepts that complete the journey. 
One of the biggest challenges multidisciplinary teams face is getting, and keeping everyone on the same page. The creative brief is the proverbial shepherd herding all the stakeholders together. It provides a central point of reference to clarify the project goals, details, mandatory elements, timelines and budgets for creatives and clients to reference throughout a project. It also has the added bonus of acting as a cover for scope creep for creatives and a deliverable list for clients. A creative brief also provides a way to navigate the messier parts of collaboration on big, complex projects with multiple moving parts and people.
In the blog, 5 Ways to Keep Revision Costs Down, one of the key elements for cost control is a detailed creative brief. By capturing all the project elements in one place, both client and agency teams can be held accountable allowing for a more accurate quote and fewer revisions in the final stages.
A 2017 survey of over 1,200 international advertising executives by Ad Age asked them to rank clients on topics including integration, procurement, compensation, and consolidation.
Specifically, regarding creative briefs, their response was, “Agency assignment briefs were a major problem area, highlighting the old ‘garbage in, garbage out’ mentality. Most agencies reported some level of frustration regarding the quality of assignment briefings: 53% found briefs complete but lacking in focus; 27% found them incomplete and inconsistent; 20% found them complete and focused most of the time, and zero respondents found them complete and focused all the time.”
Now, more than ever, teams need to orchestrate and distribute brand campaigns that include multiple media options, timed deliverables, and collaboration efforts with creatives located all over the globe.
At the start of a creative project, it is important to answer some essential questions from the key stakeholders.  
      • What problem needs to be solved?
      • Who is the target audience?
      • What product, service or solution will solve the core problem?
Clarity around these aspects is at the heart of any project success. These questions work for any project type and help get everyone on the project aligned with the main objectives.
At its purest, a creative brief is like building a house; a strong foundation will ensure everything else stays together. So, how do you want to build your house? Here are some tips.
1. What Are Your Goals?
Before diving into the details of the project, try focusing on a few details. This will allow you to keep the project manageable and your brief focused. However your project is structured, it is important to lay out individual goals that will comprise the steps required to complete the project. 
Having a clear vision of who you are is critical when communicating your goals to the team, so they can amplify your amazing qualities. If you have a brand guide, you’ll need to attach it to the creative brief to reinforce who you are and give the creative team a reference they can look to when questions arise. If you do not have a brand guide, now is the time to get one (warning: self-promo ahead) from Method Creative Studios; user experiences driven by simplicity. 
2. Who Are The Key Stakeholders?
Ownership drives accountability, on both the client and agency side. Having someone, or team, listed as the decision makers for the client and main point of contact for the creative team allows each group to identify the project leaders. The brief should clearly outline who’s driving the car and who is the senior leadership that can provide guidance if problems arise.
Selecting stakeholders who will play an active role in the process will leave the teams with a clear understanding of who they need to turn too when questions arise. However, be sure to not overload already busy staff who might overlook important details. Realistically, this isn’t always possible, but it’s nice to dream, right?
3. Who Are We Talking To?
This should be self-explanatory. If you don’t know who you’re talking to this project is far too embryonic for a creative brief. At this point, you should know who your audience is and what their customer person looks like. This needs to be clearly communicated to the creative team. If you have research and detailed persona outlines, put this in an appendix. The agency teams love having a detailed understanding of who they’re talking to.
4. What’s The Deal With Your Competition?
Who’s the competition? What are they doing? Where are they finding success? When are the right market conditions? Tell us your ‘why’ statement. This information will help inform the direction that your product, service or brand will go to stand out and help focus both client and creative teams towards a clearer picture of the destination on the roadmap that is our creative brief.
5. What Is Our Key Message?
This is the biggie of the project, everything created is in service of this message. To help point the creative team in the right direction try to position the tone and style around the brand’s voice, mission and/or values. 
Thinking about the overall goal, try to distill it down to one sentence, or even a few words if possible. If this is presenting itself as a challenge, try using the Golden Circle approach to simplify your message to its core elements. From there, both teams will be able to focus on the best way to communicate it with your audience. 
6. How Are We Communicating Your Message?
Let’s get into the specifics now. What channels are you using to push your message? On a screen in a conference hall is a far different screen than your phone playing on Instagram. By narrowing down where your message will be placed, the creative team can design it to cater directly to your audience.
7. What Are The Deliverable Details?
Now it’s time to dive into the details. This is where you document exactly what needs to be developed, what mandatory elements are needed, what size the final product needs to be, how it will be produced, who’s responsible for completing a phase and who is it being passed onto. 
Let’s get a laundry list of what MUST appear on your piece. Things like logos, selling lines, legal copy, phone numbers, web address, etc. You can also help us out by identifying any possible legal pitfalls or regulatory issues. Do you have a branding guide? What are your corporate colours and fonts? Does it need to be bilingual?
This is also your chance to have some fun and join us in the creative process. Please share with us the idea you have in the back of your head, let’s call it a ‘bad ad’ or a ‘jumping off’ point. We know you have an idea of how you see things ending up, it’s time to share. Pull out the crayons and get started. If you have samples of images, brands, ads, apps, websites, or anything else that inspires, this is the time to share it. By knowing what styles, UX’s, tones, etc. that you like, the creative team and focus in on delivering your vision.
Don’t be afraid to get really into it here, the more details on the final deliverables, the more focused the creative team can be thus saving you revision costs in the long run.
8. How Is Success Measured?
Before the creative team goes nuts building the next great app, do we have tangible metrics to track that will determine growth and success? Do the current analytics account for multiple campaigns and outbound sales activities so this project can be isolated and measured on its own? 
Establishing metrics in advance for reporting data helps facilitate stronger client-agency relationships in the long run. It builds trust upon everyone delivering their tasks, and allows for insight into problem areas as they arise. Just make sure there are agreed-upon metrics so everyone knows whether goals have been reached.
9. What Are The Timelines?
Let’s face it, some projects are far simpler than others and some are multi-agency, multi-disciplinary complex projects that require a lot of detailed specs. Understanding where this project falls within the marketing mix, content calendar or marketing strategy can help outline the appropriate timeline for completion. 
Timelines are the backbone of your project and should be laid out plainly in the creative brief. Try to focus on time windows and then narrow them down to specific days after working with your creative team to fit your project into the production schedule if possible. Ultimately, each deliverable needs to have a due date, as well as a sign-off date. These timelines let the teams know what needs to be done to hit the deadline and how things may be delayed if something is not completed for the next phase.
Remember, if every job is a priority, then none of them are a priority. 
10. What Is The Budget?
Let’s talk money. What is your budget? We can tailor the job to your budget? Does your budget include hosting, media buys, delivery, and/or printing and production costs? Have you factored in translation costs, audio production, stock image/video purchases, transportation, location fees, licensing, permits, etc.?
In most cases, you’re working with a set budget based on the complexity of the project – a 15 second motion graphic ad for Facebook has a smaller budget than a live action 30 second on-location spot that includes digital and print ads to accompany it – this needs to be included in the brief and part of the discussion with the agency team. They will want to know where the flex points are to see if new ideas or techniques could be applied. 
If the agency’s quote is above your budget, talk it over with them. Quite often we’re willing to tailor a job based upon budget and needs. Through this dialogue, we can figure out realistic expectations and deliverables before jumping into the project and discovering that the budget has been burned two-thirds of the way through. 
Final Thought
Taking the time at the start of the project to think through these 10 tips, and reviewing the brief your agency sent, you’ll be able to build a creative brief that is not only thorough but effective and focused. Now armed with your creative brief, you and your agency team can build the right project for your business. 
If you would like a sample of our thorough creative brief here is a copy of Method’s that you can use as a starting point (here is our additional website brief to compliment the main brief). Now go out there and create something beautiful.
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.
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Entrepreneurship, Startup
The bags under your eyes betray the forced smile on your face. It takes twice as long to get ready in the morning, picking the right clothes feels like a monumental chore, and in the end, you’re dressed in black anyway. Stress has overwhelmed you, hampering your ability to simply pick an outfit and now you need to come up with creative and innovative ideas.
While we’ve all experienced burnout and have developed solutions to survive it, there is added pressure if you’re in a creative field, or are faced with developing a creative solution. Unfortunately, burnout can hit when you need the clearest focus to be creative. 
Some people live to work towards a deadline, crushing items off the list and squeezing a project out just in time. Others prefer to manage their time in chunks so they can methodically proceed through their days in a comfortable manner. Some people believe that their work is better when it is produced under pressure while some know their output is best when they can dedicate days on end to the task.  But there are times when no matter what your style is, it feels like stress is winning and your creativity has been zapped. During these times of creative block, it is great to be able to turn to some proven tactics outlined here to help keep your head in the game, and your creativity flowing.
Set Deadlines
Waiting until the last minute to start a project was a terrible idea back in university, and it’s even worse as a professional. But that’s never stopped any client or boss from last minute requests. One of the best time management techniques is to break big projects into smaller pieces and this can help stimulate creativity every day – taking baby steps or breaking a project into the sum of its parts. By driving yourself towards daily deadlines, that rush to hit the goal can inspire new and creative thoughts on how to complete the task. Smaller steps help you to focus as you reach each milestone and once it is achieved you can then think and concentrate on the next step.
Collaborate With Others
Stress is usually caused by other people, so it might seem like working with others is the antithesis of calming stress to be creative but it can be the exact opposite. Gathering a small team of your co-workers can help you increase the opportunity for those breakthrough moments of innovation and ideation.
Allowing yourself to listen to other ideas being generated fuels your own mind. It also comes with the added benefit of removing your head from your personal situation which is causing the stress. This gives your brain a much needed constructive distraction that can help realign your thinking. Sometimes listening and seeing what others are doing – or have done – can lead you to your own innovations and creative solutions. 
Reduce Distractions
Loud office, text messages, emails, aggressive music and more are all competing for your attention. While you might have one eye on your work and the other on the clock counting down to your deadline, distractions sneak in and become productivity vampires. Distractions pull you away from the task and pull your mind out of the zone you worked so hard to get into. 
By focusing on a single task (sometimes easier said than done while under pressure) you can improve your creativity. Giving yourself a spotlight on the task at hand can open doors of thought that you might not have expected to see. Adding in some ambient music like low-fi beats or classical have been proven to increase brain activity and also lower blood pressure, thus reducing stress. When you’re able to block out distractions your anxiety and stress go down and your mind is prone to be more creative with your thoughts. 
Take a Break
Go for a walk. Seriously, get up, grab your jacket, leave your phone and go wander for 15 minutes. Doesn’t matter where, simply get outside, breath the fresh air and soak up all that is life in your part of the world. Walking is consistently touted as one of the most underrated exercises – it is low impact, improves circulation, steadies breathing and burns those extra lunch calories. 
By leaving your workspace you get to leave your stresses on your desk for the time being. You can bring your thoughts along and take the time to untangle the problem without distractions during increased cardio activity where your brain is alert and firing on all cylinders. Walking is the perfect exercise to wake the brain and keep it clear enough so you can focus on one problem at a time. There’s truth to the CEO’s who constantly say, ‘walk with me’.
Immerse Yourself in Inspiration
Does music evoke emotions, photography inspire dreams, written verse transport you into new worlds? As we know, inspiration is supposedly everywhere, but when faced with a creative block due to stress, inspiration needs to be strategic and selective. Not just any song or playlist will do (Throwback Thursday might be fun to dance to in the shower but it might not inspire writing a pitch deck), and not every visual stimulation will connect to a dream. Being selective about your stimulation can help break down the walls of stress and lead to productive solutions.
In our modern connected world, keeping a selection of inspirational stimulants on our devices has never been easier. Finding opportunities to save playlists, images, verses, dances or more can help you build an inspiration library that you can turn to in times of stress. Think of it as another tool in your kit to stimulate creativity and innovation. 
Stop Beating Yourself Up
This one can be the hardest, especially if you’re a perfectionist. Simply the thought of missing the mark on your tasks can send you into a tailspin of negative thoughts which can become a millstone pulling your mind down into the darkness. Get in front of the negativity before it creeps up on you. While this might sound a little like a self-help TED Talk, it is important to remind yourself that you are doing fine, strike a power pose in the mirror, find a quiet corner to practice calming breathing or simply look at some cherished memories on your phone. 
The important thing is to get out of your head, to stop questioning your abilities and punishing yourself for simply being stressed. Remember, stress comes from events and actions outside of your control and while you can’t change the past, you can choose the attitude you carry into the future. Go a little easier on yourself and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your creativity and clarity of thought come back.
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.
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