Tag : premium

63: Your Two Thirds of the Pie

Pie and TeaWe can’t overnight packages to Moscow on a 44-cent stamp.  Frank Lloyd Wright could never design and construct a home in the time it takes a double wide to be manufactured, transported, and stitched together.  Deep down we all know that—for the most part—”you get what you pay for.”

For just about every commercial transaction we make, you and I use the trilateral equilibrium (shown below).  The tri-what?

Let me break it down for you.  In every transaction, we make a choice about the following three criteria of that transaction: quality, price, and speed.  Of the three, we can have a maximum of two in our favor.  We can have something that’s:
fast and premium (but not cheap),
fast and cheap (but not premium), or
cheap and premium (but not fast).

Cost Speed Quality

Using graphic design as an example, Colin Harman illustrates the principle with this Venn diagram.

Using flying as an example, you can fly via:
private jet or Concorde—quick and custom but expensive,
commercial coach—quick and affordable but crowded and not luxurious, or
standby ticket/military transport—inexpensive and professional but time-intensive.

So, what does this have to do with marketing?

As entrepreneurs, we can only promise, at most, two of these spheres to our clients—with integrity anyway.  The laws of the universe say we can’t give them superlative service in the shortest possible time frame at the lowest possible cost.  You can try to break these laws, but you will only break yourself upon the laws.  So, we have a brand decision to make: which (one or) two will we wrap around our brand?

Each of the three combinations holds value, especially for niche businesses.  In the auction industry, I’ve seen all three branded and leveraged for success.  We all know of speed + quality auction companies that have large annual sales volumes on relatively few, custom, high-dollar auctions a year.  Several speed + cost firms have grown to international prominence with regular, large auctions with late consignment deadlines for lots of consignors who couldn’t independently afford to advertise their assets.  Meanwhile, cost + quality auctioneers annual or semi-annual events that have television audiences (with low/no marketing fees) and where sellers are willing to wait for a large bidding crowd.

Do you know in which (one or) two spheres your brand resides?
If so, does your marketing emphasize your side of the triangle?
Do your fonts and colors and logo match cultural norms for companies on your portion of the equilibrium?
Do your business cards and web site and other marketing collateral give the kind of impression typically associated with successful businesses that share the same strengths?

You and your firm don’t have to be the fastest and least expensive and most exclusive.  You just have to know where your strengths are and how to weave those strengths into your brand image.

My wife carries a lot of relational wisdom.  She has had to tell me more than once, “You can’t be everybody’s friend.”  I don’t know if it’s insecurity (pride’s off-stage personae); but I work too hard to impress people, to be as many things to as many people as possible.

The theme at church this week has been on recognizing what Christ’s love and acceptance look like and challenging ourselves with what life would look like, if we fully embraced that.  Could we have remorse without guilt?  Faith without tangible blessing? Acceptance without approval?  Encouragement without popularity?  Reward without competition?  Love without merit?

The answer to all of these is, “Yes!”  The Pharisee in me still struggles to fully adapt to this truth on a spiritual level.  On the relational level, I’m thankful to have friends in my life who encourage authenticity and individualism—like my wife and guys like Harney, who once told me, “Ryan, one day you’re going to realize we all like you for who you are.”

I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m moving.  If you’re on the same journey that I’m walking, how’s it going for you?  In what environments or relationships do you feel whole and alive?  What could you do to increase the frequency and or depth of those interactions?

[footer]Image(s) purchased from iStockPhoto.com © 2010[/footer]

35: Running Into My 7-year Niche

Bulls EyeSometimes, “No” wakes me up.

See, this post was supposed to include the highlights of an interview with a local aviation company on how to market yourself as a premium brand. But when I emailed a request to the Lynchburg firm that charters for the jet-set, I got a succinct reply: “We are not currently marketing our services to the general public.”

Over the weekend, I pondered where they get their hangar full of clients—enough to employ nine pilots with their “Your jet is ready” slogan. Then it hit me, when I heard my own voice telling a Yellow Pages telemarketer why biplane didn’t want a phone book ad, “I don’t pursue local clients.”

Over 90% of biplane‘s income arrives in my mailbox from auction companies, and over 90% of my marketing dollars and time head back to the same industry. That focus is narrowed even further by not using auction convention trade show booths or magazine ads, because I am searching for a select number and kind of accounts from the auction industry.

biplane‘s growth and maintenance strategies look for a specific feel, size, and inertia in an auction company. I prefer writing and conference speaking as marketing vehicles to sift new clients who buy into my approach. I also rely on my current clients’ referrals to pre-qualify their peers, both relationally and financially.

As you brand your firm toward a specific specialty or market segment, you will similarly start to thin the audience to whom you need to advertise. This allows you a bigger impact to a smaller group of more likely prospects. It might not have to get as narrow as that of biplane productions or Falwell Aviation. In fact, the geographic radius of your market might actually grow, if your core competencies are tied less to location than to asset type or skill set. Conversely, if you are the king of a specific geographic area, emphasize that dominance to its citizens.

As you get sellers (or buyers), evaluate what makes the good ones good and the poor fits so problematic. Look for common denominators; ask them how they heard about you. Focus your marketing where those answers take you; then evaluate those efforts regularly. You don’t have to abandon all of your shotgun-style efforts, if you’re not comfortable with that. If you build demand from one or several segments, though, you will grow less addicted to mass marketing.

So many Christians are focused on mass evangelism—crusades, campaigns, and broadcast media. They’re handing out Gospel tracts at the carnival on a hot summer night. They’re hitting neighborhoods door to door, mega-phoning at flea markets, or holding up John 3:16 signs in an end zone near you. They’re the devout parents or even ministers who work in a church but have lost their own kids.

Sure, some people cross the line of faith [in Jesus’ substitution] from impersonal/mass efforts. Others go through the motions only to wither without discipleship or without truly taking that initial faith step. But is mass marketing the best practice for evangelism?

In most purchasing decisions, I put more stock in a friend’s recommendation than a TV commercial. You do the same. So, why would it be any different in a spiritual context? It seems to me, while far more difficult, that our greatest life impact for lasting change in the spiritual landscape is through our inner circles first–outward through concentric spheres of influence.

Jesus’ contemporary disciples about whom we read at the end of the gospels and in Acts–the ones who changed the world as we know it–aren’t the masses who listened to the Sermon on the Mount or the sea-side message with a free dinner. They weren’t even the crowds shouting “Hosannah!” for his ride into Jerusalem. For the most part, no. Those who walked with Jesus, ate with him, felt his physical touch or healing—they took Jesus’ words and faith and salvation with them. Seems to me that should be our approach, too.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

29: Making Your Advertising Work Harder for You

Article to be published (from assignment) in January 2009 edition of Auctioneer magazine.

Marketing DollarsIt’s been years since an auctioneer could simply post sale bills around town, fax some text to the local newspaper, and wait for scores of townspeople to stand in line to register at his auction. The dynamic of where and how consumers absorb media and shop change continuously. While your firm might not yet be wondering about cell phone advertising or PDA-adjusted web sites, you’re probably wrestling with the same essential question: how do I spend my advertising dollars for greatest impact?

Auctioneers have different needs than most service and retail companies. But we’re dealing with the same market factors as the next office down your street.

Newspaper advertising sales are projected to decline in the coming year for the second year in a row (the first time that’s happened since the Great Depression) and maybe by double-digit percentage.† Meanwhile, the Direct Marketing Association predicts that for the first time ever, online advertising spending will surpass direct mail expenditures in the U.S.†† So, options are increasing; and choices are growing more enigmatic.

Just don’t let the “analysis paralysis” stunt your efforts. If anything, keep doing what you’re doing and gradually add a new media outlet to the mix. Barry Baker, CAI, AARE, president of Ohio Real Estate Auctions, suggested, “What works well is to cover all of your avenues and spend money. You can’t shrink back on spending. Tons of electronic media, direct mail, news print, great signage. You never know which one is going to bring your buyer.”

Jennifer Bryant, principal broker for Counts Realty & Auction Group, agreed, “In order to get top dollar for any property being sold it’s imperative to spend the advertising dollars to get the property as much exposure as possible. Cutting corners on marketing may cost sellers thousands of dollars on sale day.” Bryant relayed that she has found web sites to be the easiest media to add to her advertising repertoires, seeing as their targeted audiences typically cost less to reach than older media formats.

If you don’t have the money to try new media outlets, you can shift your budgets toward your most effective media. To know how to cut or adjust, poll your bidders at registration. Be specific by media or even by specific media outlets (like which radio station or newspaper). It can be as non-obtrusive as, “How’d you hear about the auction?”

At one sale I helped advertise in a new geographic area for the auctioneer, the results to this registration question revealed that 75% of the bidders heard about the sale from the signs on the property and the story generated from the press release—which together accounted for only about 5% of the advertising budget. You still have to cover all your advertising bases, but a matrix of results like these over a broader sample of auctions will show you where to spend your largest portions of your budgets.

Using an ad agency can help you discover and manage new opportunities. Cammy Theurer-McComb, vice president of United Country Theurer Auction/Realty, attributes her switch to using ad agencies (she currently uses two simultaneously for different media) as “one of the best business decisions we ever made.” She added, “Outsourcing has been a relief, actually. And it brings a lot of consistency to our advertising.”

Consistency multiplies your media impact, as the connection between the various ad formats reinforces the others. The more consistent your materials, the more value each one holds. While ad agencies can make this easy, you can manage this process carefully without one, too. Jennifer Hope of Auction Ink recommended, “Create an identifiable visual image by using the same font, color, and general layout. There’s no need to recreate the wheel–find a look and stick with it.”

Carl Montgomery, CAI, AARE, of Comas Montgomery has seen consistency turn into residual returns. “The best advertising we do . . . is network television. We have been running on the local NBC, CBS & ABC affiliates for over ten years. Charlie, Dad, and I talk about our company and upcoming auction. Our tag line at the end of every commercial is ‘Let‘s Go Sell Something.’ Everywhere we go in Middle Tennessee people come up to us and say ‘Let‘s Go Sell Something.’ We have letsgosellsomething.com on tee shirts; and people ask what it means. We tell them to check out the site, which drives them straight to comasmontgomery.com.”

Keep your contact information uniform, too. Make your web site or phone number more memorable by including only one of each within any advertisement. If you absolutely need to use more than one, qualify each, so that the viewer will know why to call each.

Make sure you know why you’re contacting them, too. “Using a database [broker] like InfoUSA® really helped us target like-kind property owners,” divulged McComb. As her company expands into new geographic territories and diverse kinds of sale items—from antique toys to rock quarries—purchased demographic mailing lists have allowed them to send larger-impact direct mail pieces to a more concentrated audience. “That’s been HUGE for us,” said McComb.

Mike Schultz, CAI, president of Schultz Auctioneers, has also adapted to this strategy. Four years ago, his firm was posting Kinkos®-printed posters in community markets. Now, “Prospective sellers are coming to us with our own brochures, saying, ‘We want our property advertised like this!’ Well, we’re happy to oblige them.”

The residual affect of premium marketing can’t be overstated. Schultz concurred, “We’re spending more thought, creativity, and resources on every stage of the sales process. It’s giving us a competitive advantage over our regional competition.” This strategy has also drawn free local media attention from press releases, as in 2008 they’ve won Best of Show at their state association’s advertising contest and two NAA awards. “We’re investing in more exclusive brand positioning. It’s paying off—and not just in awards.”

So, there’s your answer: distribute consistent, premium advertising to more targeted audiences in as many media outlets as you can afford. Poll your bidders to evaluate effectiveness.

[footer]† “Next Year Is Looking Even Worse,” Stuart Elliott, NYTimes.com (December 8, 2008).
†† “Paying More, Getting Less,” Richard Levey, Direct (December 2008, page 8).[/footer]

20: Fair Advantage

Awards StageIn the wake of winning seven more national awards, I have been again asked what makes a contest-winning piece of advertising? I’d rather answer, “What makes a brand-building piece of advertising.” But the more of the following attributes your piece contains, the better its chances for garnering a plaque or trophy:

Photogenic Property
I’ve seen template pieces win year after year. Because contest judges are usually rotating, they don’t know what’s template work and what’s custom design. I’d like to whisper like the girl on the DLP commercials, “It’s the mirrors,” as your pictures just reflect what you’re selling. If you have a beach front or signature property—and the design gets out of the picture’s way—your piece will beat the foreclosure sales, the main street real estate, and the rural acreage. If your tractors are new or your cars are classic, you’re going to trump the estate collections and consignment groupings. Pictures sell the judges the same way they sell your auction.

Quality Photographs
You can overcome a property’s lack of shine or accentuate a showcase offering with some creative and/or quality photography. If you can’t afford (by time or budget) a professional photographer, you can still get professional results with your point-and-shoot camera.

  • Take more pictures than you need.
  • Take pictures only during proper lighting hours.
  • Take pictures from angles and perspectives your competitors don’t.
  • Take pictures at your camera’s highest resolution.
  • Take pictures proactively. Spend time on the site, and plan ahead.

Premium Media
While you can’t control the quality in the production of all your media, particularly in newsprint and on niche web sites, you can control direct mail. The paper on which your piece is printed matters both in the marketplace and on the judges’ tables. Extra touches, like coatings and metallic materials grab attention, as do non-standard orientations and folds. These do not sell properties, but they do sell the piece—and your brand.

Professional Layout
Design can be a double-edged sword. You want design that draws attention to your brand but only as much as it doesn’t draw attention to itself. You want a layout that accentuates the property—which doesn’t necessarily require technical, expensive work. Your designer should be able to explain every font, color, line, space, and arrangement with intentional reasons. Those answers should all correspond to the nature of your brand and, if possible, to the mood of what’s being sold.

Self Control
Less is more. The less text and information you have on the outside panels of a direct mailer or in between the borders of an ad, the easier it is to build a captivating mood. Let the picture(s) breathe; rely on the image(s) to sell your property. Words rarely trump photographic proof. Don’t try to buck that law of nature, especially in our ADD culture and visual world. Pare as much from the piece as possible, publishing an exhaustive information package on the internet. If they aren’t sold in the first few seconds, they won’t care about the details. Neither will judges. They rarely read entries—just trying to grab overall creativity and readability.

Subjective Luck
Judges have human eyes with unintentional biases. I find politics typically NOT a factor on the contest level. (If anywhere, you’ll find sour grapes pettiness in the committees that draft the competition rules.) The prettiest piece I’ve ever printed lost this year. An already internationally-awarded piece lost this summer to a humble, white brochure. I’ve had pieces win in years past that I was embarrassed to have even entered and publicly recognized. I can’t explain judges’ reasoning; I just give them lots of options from which to choose.

This past year has been a banner year for awards granted to biplane and its clients’ work. It’s a fickle process—advertising contests—but it can be honed more predictable with a little work and an intentional budget. Advertising awards can build your company’s identity; but a professional, recognizable, and consistent brand in the marketplace is far more likely to build your company’s revenue.

Many Christian leaders motivate their American followers with the rewards of heaven. The Bible mentions crowns and compliments as potential compensation for lives well lived. As someone who has always been easily motivated by reward, I used to share that eternal retirement account view.

Then I stumbled on the irony that everything we win we give back to Jesus, laying it all at his feet. This coupled with the warning that anything done for ourselves will be consumed (rather than available to give back to Jesus), creates a symbiotic irony: the less we care about eternal reward, the more we receive.

Advertising’s success is measured by its effectiveness with its audience, not by the accolades of judges. The success of our Christianity, likewise, is not measured in how it looks either now or in heaven—but in how its observers are moved to salvation through it.

Once our sanctification becomes motivated by the amassing of personal heaven points or structured around the trappings of faith, it is religion. Religion is the largest idol used to distract mankind from a relationship with God. So, we need to guard against improper motives as much as against improper actions.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

18: Night Makes Right

Night PhotographyWhether you’re selling luxury real estate or a less-than-photogenic property, you can accentuate the positive the same way: night photography.

While in the Reno airport on my way to an NAA event, I picked up this flier† from Michael Yoelin of The Yoelin Group. With no special paper or printing techniques—and no complicated design—the piece exuded the beauty of the Casoleil condominium community.

What grabbed my attention was the same thing that catches everybody’s attention: the picture(s). The public is accustomed to MLS-style curb shots; anything you can do to shake their visual expectations will make your advertising more memorable and attractive.


In the Casoleil case, the main shot had been taken at dusk with the warm light accentuating the architecture and ambiance. While even the day time photo displays an inviting neighborhood, the nighttime image takes it to another level. Ads for premium properties in duPont Registry and Unique Homes often use this same technique.

Interior shots can also be warmed this way, too—even in the day time. Don’t forget illuminated fountains, submerged-light pools, and moonlit pond/lake/river/ocean shots. If you’ve got a hard-surfaced driveway or patio, spray it with a hose first to catch the reflected light.

Nighttime can also cover up an average (or worse) property’s foibles, make a small house seem like a cozy home, and make a commercial property look alive (If possible, illumine the signs; and don’t forget to capture those tail lights to illustrate traffic count). A farm at sunset may have a great silhouette, too.

If the idea seems too complicated or time-consuming, confidently hire a local professional. Pictures typically sell your property more than design does; it’s worth the expense, when you’re dealing with a premium property. With the advent of digital photography, there are more photographers in the marketplace and, thus, great values available.

It’s not fitting or practical to use this technique for all properties, but it can make a significant difference for the right subjects. If you doubt that, know that National Geographic‘s current photography policy rejects any landscape shots taken between dawn and dusk. Anybody can shoot in the day time, even your competitors. Stand apart from the pack; come to the dark side of the force.

[footer]†Used with permission.[/footer]

I was told during my formative years that all Christians should aspire to vocational ministry—that the highest goal of any Christian should be the pastorate or international missions or Christian education. This mind set creates castes: leaders and attendees (and stages in between). My Dean of Art at college even told me that they preferred us to design for ministries, not companies.

The Bible doesn’t present this hierarchal system, as all true believers are called priests and ministers of the Gospel. If light-shiners only huddle with other light-shiners, the only way their light can be seen is if they outshine their peers. This tends toward legalism, sectarian squabbling, and—too often—hypocrisy or catastrophic personal failure. I’ve seen it first hand. You’ve seen it on the news.

However, if we’re focused on working in the darkness of secularism and the night of unbelief, even a small, Jesus-fired light will pierce our environment. Jesus lived and dined (and worked) with the unreligious, the spiritual castaways of his day. Why shouldn’t we?

If I had taken that ministry job offered me out of college, the top half of this post would never have been written; and this bottom part wouldn’t mean as much to you. You expect a pastor to be a lighthouse of faith. A graphic designer? Probably not. That’s why I write about my spiritual journey here: because you might not choose to read about it anywhere else, especially church.

10: Projection Guides Perception

Film ProjectorI love to brag on my customers. I love being part of a small business’ growth—especially when they’re competing against larger firms. It takes courage to make the kind of risks most auctioneer’s don’t—especially in the expensive realm of advertising.

Schultz Auctioneers, a family auction company based in Upsala, MN, gets me excited on a regular basis. When I started working for them, they ordered one-sided fliers to be printed at Kinkos and then posted in restaurant windows and on convenience store bulletin boards. Auction by auction, they dared to stretch. First it was leading with pictures instead of “ESTATE AUCTION”—the local standard. Soon they moved onto professional printing, then self-mailers, then bigger brochures, then saturation mailings, and now luxury printing effects like metallic ink and cover weight paper.

Now it’s common during their sales presentations to introduce some of their prize samples, only to be shown the same pieces—by the prospect. “Oh, we know all about your advertising; we get your brochures.”

John Schultz, vice president for operations, is convinced that a good portion of their current auction contracts are directly related to the community’s perception of their effort and increased advertising prowess. “We get properties now we couldn’t bid a few years back. We’re doing fewer and fewer of the small auctions and more and more big real estate deals,” he told me. In particular, they’ve seen an exponential influx of lakefront properties. “They love our brochures! They want theirs to look like the ones they get in the mail from us.”

But they’re not just grabbing the notice of sellers. Recently, their work with a division of globally-renowned Sotheby’s garnered more inquiries on a property in its first week of Schultz marketing than it had in a year of traditional listing. And that was before a single Schultz ad hit the newspapers! SKY Sotheby’s, no marketing lightweight itself, then invited them into a strategic alliance for several more properties—before the first property even hit the auction block.

“It’s the marketing,” John said.

Mike Schultz, John’s uncle and the president of the 29-year old firm smiles about the prospects ahead. “There’s an excitement to match the hope,” he recently wrote. A small-town main street company where 91-year old Grandma Schultz still helps with office work can now stand shoulder to shoulder with an exclusive, global corporation.

That’s no accident.

In my next release of AdverRyting, I’ll point out some research findings from cultural studies that show the underlying strategy behind the Schultz story to be the rule, not the exception, for small business growth.

I’m one of the many “small business” Christians who act out of the minority. I often cower to express the Truth of the Bible, especially when it’s unpopular. The secular world holds the major media, the elite education centers, the reigns of government. It can be intimidating, when you look at the odds.

There’s a trite saying in evangelicalism: “God plus you equals a majority.” The Bible even promises that where two or more are gathered in God’s name, he will be present. When time ends, the Story says, “God wins.” In the mean time, though, he’s letting his enemy run the show.

So, I don’t expect Christian macro-voting to win elections, denominations to dominate Hollywood, or absolute truth to penetrate Berkley. The point of God’s Spirit trumping the dark side of the force is for micro transactions—eternal differences in individual lives. It’s our personal influence on the souls around us that can make the biggest change—whether the cumulative successes move a culture or not.

Just as in small business, where the point of growing is to capture a niche market (geographical or economical), God leaves us here to maximize our sphere of influence in our corner of his kingdom.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2007[/footer]

8: Upgrading to First Class

Luxury CarI had a client remind me this morning that I didn’t win any awards for him this year at the National Auctioneers Association annual advertising contest. Truth is, I typically only win awards for a fraction of my regular clients each year. It’s a fickle, unpredictable process; but I’ve been fortunate to have won multiple NAA plaques for my auctioneers every year I’ve been in the business.

I can’t and don’t guarantee awards, but I can relay to you common traits of winning pieces—both of my clients and others. Most of these require a larger advertising budget or percentage of one, but you don’t have to break the bank to make it look like you did.

Phix Photos Phirst.
Photos sell a piece more than its design does. In fact, the best designs sneak invisibly behind the photos. Template pieces from the National Auction Group have won the big real estate brochure award the past two years—outsides almost identical, with swapped high quality photos being the only noticeable difference.

Multiple large auction companies have photographers on staff or on speed dial. If that’s too rich for your blood, splurge on a digital camera capable of at least eight megapixels (allows clear, full-bleed pictures for horizontal covers). If that, too, is out of the picture, take more pictures from more angles—and take them in good light on blue-sky days. Take additional pictures of real estate at night, at dusk, at dawn. Stage equipment and personal property so there’s no other machines or sale items in the background. Don’t try to get a lot of pictures into the brochure. Too many photos distract from the few that sell the sizzle. (Put the full gallery on your web site.)

Bigger is Better.
The bigger the brochure, the more of an impact it makes. Two thirds of my winning NAA entries this year contained twelve or more pages. The winning real estate brochures are almost always at least six pages. There’s more canvas to display captivating images and professional design. There’s more content to capture and hold attention.

Put on the Ritz.
Your most expensive upgrade may be premium print effects. The most popular of these right now is UV coating, a process in which a liquid chemical is applied in darkness to the paper and then flashed with UV light to harden to a shiny shell. Aqueous coating packs less of an expense and delivers less of a sheen than UV; likewise varnish behind aqueous. A paper thickness upgrade to cover weight (hard) paper requires higher postage and printing costs (to be mailed flat), but its rigidity makes it stand out from the rest of the viewer’s mail. Metallic and neon inks prove easy additions that cost about the same as varnish coating. Embossing, die cutting, and metallic foil stamping require the most production time and a large budget hit. Most of these add-ons require at least an extra day of production—some as much as a week or two more than a typical print run.

Broaden Your Horizons.
One change that will rarely cost you more and could actually cost you as much as a third less is to rotate the orientation of the piece. Landscape fronts can take advantage of horizontal images for greatest visual impact. Most of my recent winning pieces were formatted this way.

Bend it Like Beckham.
Depending on the size of a piece, you can often change where the folds fall without incurring additional cost. Off-center folds allow you to carry front images to the inside and surprise the reader. Contest judges like gate folds (pieces that open in the middle with the folds on the outside), maybe due to the degree of difficulty and the extra production time (and costs) inherent in the finished product.

While I’d rather spend sellers’ advertising dollars by incorporating more media rather than fancier direct mail pieces, sometimes your property and/or company may need to look award-winning to get it sold. On the right year, with the right judges, that need fulfilled could reward you with some shiny hardware for your office walls, too.

I used to get more excited about the awards I won for people. They were and still are in some ways my awards. They offer a validation of my talent and conceptual approach, a validation I have at times unhealthily craved, almost needed—to prove success to myself and to others.

I still want my clients and prospects to associate me with awards, which theoretically requires that I continue winning them. But I’m slowly weaning myself of the personal attachment.

I don’t know if it’s the law of diminishing returns or something bigger, but big plaques from small ponds have taken a back seat to revenue. I’m battling less with my clients over design concepts. I’m letting them tell me how to design their stuff. As an obedient designer, my annual award counts have waned as my income has grown. My product still trumps their respective competitors’ junk mail. They’re still convinced of the value of my services. Awards have become cherries on top of our auction success.

I’m finding enduring satisfaction more and more—not in an arbitrary judge’s opinion—but in the moment when a client says, “I trust you. Do your thing,” or, “Our customers love your stuff. Prospects and buyers say they know us by your brochures.”

At the same time, I’m battling to motivate all my actions less for heaven’s tangible rewards (which I will lay back at Christ’s feet, anyway) and more for the inherent accomplishment in hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2007[/footer]