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Celebrating a loss

I love reading all the success stories on LinkedIn. All the pitch wins, awards and accolades. It’s a tough world so it’s nice to see friends, colleagues and clients doing well. It’s not often you read about the flip side of that though. The pitch you didn’t win or the award you came in second place for. So I’m here to celebrate a loss. I’m going to shout about a bit of business I didn’t win. And here’s why...

I learnt a couple of very valuable lessons. Firstly, to stick to the plan and secondly, not to go after the shiny things!

When I first decided to move away from agency life I spent a lot of time thinking about what my business strategy should be. Having worked at a fair few design agencies over the years I had plenty of experience to draw on. The good, the bad and the unprofessional. Top of my list - no free pitches. In my experience, no good comes of free pitches. I could write 50 reasons why I think they are wrong but there are so many excellent articles on this subject, and I don’t have any new insights to add. They are just not for me or my business strategy.

So fast forward to a couple of months ago when I got asked if I would like to tender for a piece of business for a well known global brand. A crazy cool project with a good budget. Now given that I work out of my home office in the wilds of Essex, can’t say I wasn’t a little flattered to be asked! I just needed to send credentials and an outline of how I would tackle the project. I would be mad not to go for it right? But that annoying little voice in my head kept piping up ‘this is not the project for you.’ I ignored it. And that was mistake number one. The voice in my head talks way more sense than I do.

And hold on to your hats because here comes mistake number two... the credentials then became a formal competitive tender requiring budget breakdowns, client references and free creative work. And still, I ignored the voice in my head. The one which was telling me to walk away because the brief was not really suited to my design strengths. The one saying the delivery deadline was too tight. The voice shouting you’ll be putting other business at risk by chasing the shiny new thing. I felt like I was already invested; a bit more effort and I could win this thing. I don’t have that gambler mentality, but I imagine this is what it feels like. Just one more roll of the dice.

So, when I finally got the news this week that I didn’t win the work, I can honestly say I breathed a sigh of relief. Someone else presented designs that pushed the brand further and you can’t argue with that. I’m very happy to lose out to better design. Can’t say there’s not a bit of disappointment that I don’t get to work with the brand as it would have been great for the ego and the portfolio. And the money would have been nice, but it was definitely a win for my business. I now get to concentrate on what I’m actually good at. Branding and print design for a whole bunch of lovely clients that I have built up over the last couple of years.

But there is another upside to this sorry tale. As part of the pitch process, I had to ask clients past and present for a reference. If you were one of those who were kind enough to put pen to paper on my behalf, thank you! Reading what others have to say about working with you is both humbling and a really good way of seeing if you live up to your own expectations. And it turns out I do. I know I have the design stuff handled. I wouldn’t have lasted this long in the industry if I didn’t know how to create something compelling that looks good and communicates well. But to read comments about my professionalism, calming personality and project management skills is great. It’s the areas I concentrate on most to set myself apart from all the other good freelance designers out there. It’s what gets me recommendations and repeat business. My brand promise is ‘design without the drama’ and it seems I am staying true to that. 

I might have lost the pitch, but having it confirmed that I’m doing a good job and clients like working with me, that’s a definite win. So, if you could do with a little more design and a little less drama in your life, turns out I now have more time on my hands than I thought.


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