Every week we invite a creative professional from our community to answer questions about their success, insights, and what they’ve learned along the way for a feature called Ask Me Anything.
This week featured another great conversation.
Clint Williams, co-founder of Clover Partners, was this week’s Ask Me Anything subject of conversation. Clint’s background in design, print, and organizational leadership provides him with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to seeing the bigger picture without overlooking all the details.
Ask Me Anything began as a popular Reddit format providing an open forum for users to ask a featured influencer, subject matter expert or any other person of note questions concerning their work. We’ve taken the same concept and host it on our #ama Slack channel every week.
This week we were happy to welcome Clint to hold the floor for an hour and open up about his secrets of the trade. The discussion weaved from views on the best pricing model, project management, a must-read book list and where Clint sees the future of Clover Partners. Catch up on what you missed and be sure to check out the conversation live next week on Slack.
I’m Clint Williams, a co-founder of Clover Partners. We are a digital branding and marketing studio that focuses on research-driven design and development.
Over the past 14 years, I’ve been a graphic designer for a non-profit, two corporations, a municipal government, and run my own freelance business. I went to school for a couple of years for graphic design, then took a few years off and ended up getting my business degree at Southern Nazarene University in 2008. I live in Linwood Place neighborhood with my wife and two kiddos (2 & 5). My daughter attends an Oklahoma City Public School, and I have become quite passionate about education in our city over the last couple of years.
When I was laid off from Chesapeake as a designer in 2013, I decided to switch gears and focus on the business side of design. Client relations, operations, finances, processes – those things were really interesting to me. So after spending 15 months at Finch Creative doing all of those things, I decided to jump out (yet again) into this roller-coaster that is owning your own business. This time though, I had compadres.
Brandi Koskie, Jeremy Sanchez, and Scott Scrivner (@sscriv) and I started the company in January of 2015, and our goal (one of them at least) was to was to offer a less fragmented approach to website design and development. Working in a more cross discipline way, to bring research and content to the center of our process. We also wanted to banish hourly billing from our vocabulary, move to value pricing, and to elevate the industry for everyone in our respective cities.
Fast forward three years (almost) and a lot has happened. We’ve had tremendous successes, worked with amazing clients, won our first Addy, continually honed our process, and managed to stay true to those core reasons that we started the company. Don’t get me wrong – it hasn’t been all fun and success. It’s hard, this business of design. But we’re in it for the long haul and can’t wait to see what the future holds.
And with that… GO! Ask me anything you’d like and I’ll do my best to answer.
Q & A
Did you always want to start your own biz, or did you discover along the way?
I think I discovered it along the way. Also, it seemed like when the opportunity presented itself (both times) it was the right decision. It’s also one of those things where if you over-think it (at least for me), it tends to get scarier moment-by-moment. Better to just dive in.
What was were the steps behind starting your own company with compadres? What was square one, and what were the key milestones that meant you guys were going to survive?
Jeremy Sanchez and I had known each other since we both worked for the City of Edmond back in 2007. We had traded work back and forth (he’s a kick-ass dev genius) and stayed in touch as we both went different ways. He had moved to Denver in 2008.
When I started working at Finch in 2013, I brought Jeremy on as a contractor for our website work. Throughout that year, we realized that what we wanted out of a company was different than what Finch wanted, so in late December of 2014, we started talking about what it would be like to start our own shop. I think we’d always known that we were on a track to own a business together.
We talked with Scott Scrivner who I’d gotten to know while at Finch, and he was on board as well (he’s the creative director for our team), and we started making a long list about the roles we’d each have to fill as we got going.
After we completed that list, there was this gaping hole – content. So Jeremy called up a good friend of his who is an amazing content strategist – Brandi Koskie, and we invited her to come on board for a percentage of ownership. And then we were four (and done offering ownership. 🙂
We also wanted to banish hourly billing from our vocabulary, move to value pricing, and to elevate the industry for everyone in our respective cities.
Value Pricing? Like… actually getting paid what you deserve for the work that you put out? What’s the catch?
When you started up with your compadres, was it preempting client work yet to come or was it in response to demand from clients you’d picked up over the years? Who was your first major client at Clover? Has what constituted a major client 2 years ago changed from then to now?
And thanks for coming on to do the AMA! Looking forward to reading through this as it goes on.
Ha! Right? Man – it’s been interesting to start trying these pricing models out. A lot of it is experimentation. For us, we just went into it saying that we’d never have a conversation with a client about how many hours it would take us.
There have been a few projects that we’ve proposed where we were really able to do a true value priced proposal. A lot of the others are more of a hybrid model.
And by that, I mean that we know internally how long it will take (we tend to estimate in studio days/half days instead of hours), and then we take what a studio day is, and do the math from there.
We’re constantly tweaking how we talk about money (also – talk about it early, every time). I also read a lot about pricing from some of my industry heroes – Mike Monteiro, Dan Mall, etc.
So what do you say when clients ask about hours?
We tell them that we don’t charge hourly, and then explain why. We fully believe that offering fixed prices increases the value of our services and allow us to spend as much time as is needed on the project. So we’re not working against the clock.
Walk us through your on-boarding process. What do you do to keep out the tire kickers and the riff-raff 😉
First, we talk about pricing almost immediately. That helps weed out the tire-kickers (I love that, btw) pretty quickly.
If the project seems like it could have a healthy budget, sometimes I’ll schedule an in-person meeting to see if we’re a good fit and go from there.
We also have learned over the last three years that if a client comes to us with a personal project, their business is essentially “them,” then we need to help them find another shop.
When a person is too attached to their money, and doesn’t count it as truly a business expense, then the odds are that they’ll micro-manage, be impossible to please, and basically derail the project from the get-go. It’s not pretty.
Ugh I was just talking to @natstronaut about client’s not budgeting for these things, so everything no matter what the price is “extra”
I’ve never had a client BUDGET for anything. Its a wonder theyre in business at all ?
Its as if they expect to pay zero dollars and are shocked that it costs them anything at all. Meh.
Can you elaborate on your value pricing more, like how do you get to $X for Y project? I find that concept very interesting.
It’s hard to make this _actually_ work in its purest form. At least from what I’d tried. But there are a few ways to get there (talking about money first is a good start). There are also some key questions that you can ask as you walk through the initial get-to-know you phase that help you start to know what the value could be.
When negotiating with a value based pricing structure, do you have any particular methods for determining a client’s perceived value or ROI on a project?
Sometimes they’ll just tell you outright if you ask. “What is your annual revenue?” “How much do you make in sales from your site on a monthly basis?”
But a lot of it comes down to asking questions. A lot of questions.
You can do some research on bigger companies using LinkedIn, etc. but that doesn’t usually yield results for the clients we work with.
Nice! It’s gutsy for sure, but that makes the most sense to simply address the elephant in the room and not beat around the bush. Thanks for the response!
How do you navigate your separate roles in the business? I run a business with @emilysmart and we find that we constantly get in our own heads and question our value in the company — but the other never questions our value. It’s a spiral of self doubt that we have to keep lifting each other out of. Is this something you guys encounter, or are you all very confident in the roles you play for the company?
Whew. Where to start. ?
Yeah. Damn. This is a good question.
Ultimately, we all trust each other. That’s where it starts. But it has gotten muddy at times, and we’ve really had to work through some issues with each other.
Sounds like standard impostor syndrome if you guys are only questioning your self worth and not each others imo.
You know, partnerships are hard, but it sure is nice to know that once something is decided or a process is formed, that three other people fully support that direction with you.
To answer your question more directly, we have _become_ confident in the roles we play. And there is overlap, and we allow that. Sometimes I want to do a bit of design, and @sscriv will let me. ?
I could probably talk all day about this question.
Writing down the roles on paper is a good place to start ? Boundaries add clarity. But you gotta stick to em.
Client can smell self doubt an take it as a sign they can get away with paying you less. Never lose the power to walk away from a project.
Such a great question @the_tiffanylea ! well said @clintwilliams — yeah, we deal with this for sure.
What’s your favorite project you’ve done for Clover? Because of the work or the end result.
Hmmmm. I think my favorite project to date was the one that won us our Addy (#selflessbrag). It was for a helicopter school, and we got to handle the branding and the site design.
It was fun to watch the design come together, but it was also really enjoyable to watch these two brothers (The Fly Brothers) and catch their vision for what they were starting. They’re young (to me, anyway) and their enthusiasm was infectious.
How is it strategically positioned in the OKC marketplace? How do you present/communicate that differentiation to your specific client audience? Who would you consider to be your specific client audience?
I would like to think that we are positioned (at least in OKC) to take on projects that are too small for large agencies, and to big for smaller shops. We’re not the least expensive studio in town, and we’re OK with that.
Sometimes they don’t need what we have to offer, and I have no problem telling them that and helping them find someone that is a better fit. We want them to get what they need, not what we try and force them into.
Right now I’d say our audience is small business (light manufacturing, businesses with a few employees, etc). We’re in the process of narrowing our audience instead of trying to look under every rock for clients.
What does your “less fragmented approach” stem from? What kind of content and research?
It really stems from years of working on projects where we had to either sub out the design or development, then just letting the client handle all of their content (writing it, editing, getting it to us, etc).
Each time we had each individually realized that the main holdup in launching a site was content. Waiting on that last piece, etc. Or the site would be designed, and then the client would surprise us with content that needed to be fit into the existing site.
So we decided that we’d handle it all. We’ll talk with the stakeholders, the customers, research the competition, handle the site audit, write the content, edit it along with the client, and the biggest part of all this – do all of that before we ever start the design.
We tell our clients that we would rather design their site around their content, instead of trying to shoehorn content into a beautiful site.
When it can happen this way, the project can just tick right along, b/c we are managing every piece.
How do you onboard contractors and employees smoothly into your process?
When we have to bring on contractors, we try and work with the same ones on a regular basis. Also, we designed the business in such a way that we can really handle almost anything in-house. So it makes it a lot more efficient for us.
It sounds like your process can take quite a bit of time to get to a finished product (talk with the stakeholders, the customers, research the competition, handle the site audit, write the content, edit it along with the client, before you even start design), do you have trouble convincing clients that taking the time to do this work up front is necessary?
Also I’m not judging your process or implying that it takes “too long”. I just know that clients can be very anxious to see progress when they are paying money for something.
That’s a good question. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve talked with a prospect, and they have told me that they already tried the quick/cheap way to get their site done, and (shocker!) it didn’t work out.
So when I tell them that it’s typical for a site to take 3-4 months to complete, they don’t usually balk.
It also helps to lean into successfully completed projects and tell them about how it all works. Educate, educate, educate! Most of these people have no idea what should go into a project.
Where do you want to see Clover in five years? Do you guys want to change in audience or size, or do you want to maintain what you are now?
You know, we’ve kicked this around a lot internally. There is a side of our business that we think could really flourish strictly on consultation with larger companies. Basically doing all of the research needed for them to get a solid RFP ready. So we’ve tossed that idea around.
We’d like to narrow our audience a bit so that we’re not looking under rocks for client work forever. That just takes time.
I think we’d like to grow a bit, but ultimately we’re just fine staying lean and doing great work. We said from the beginning that we wouldn’t grow until the pain was too great.
So there isn’t this vision of “we want to have 20 people on payroll by 2022” or anything. ?
@sscriv what would your answer be to this one?
Holy moly 20 people in 5 years would be insane
(if it’s not exactly like mine, don’t answer b/c we want everyone to think we’re constantly in sync.)
no you said it really well @clintwilliams — we find ourselves in a place where we can kind of re-imagine where we want to be — so the question is timely for sure. I think lean and agile is where we are all wanting to be for the time being. After three years of working with clients and internally on the biz — I think we have the sense that we haven’t “arrived” and the future definitely includes Clover doing thoughtful and solid work — for the good of our clients. It is exciting to us to hone continually what that work might be.
Got and good book suggestions about pricing, operations, marketing, or positioning?
Hell yes. ?
Other thank Blair Enns, Tim Williams, and Alan Weiss. Any other authors you recommend? I’ve ready their books.
This one is good, although heavy: http://a.co/czOKDUt
I’ve read both of Mikes books.
I’ll check out Ron and Dan. Title suggestions?
Implementing Value Pricing (Baker)
dig heavy ?
There’s also a short e-book called “Hourly Billing is Nuts” by Jonathan Stark. It’s a good read, but he’s in a bit of a different field.
I have ready Dans book ? All i have is the ebook, for some reason my brain tells me ebooks dont count ?
oh, they count. As do audio books.?
This isn’t directly related to value pricing, but it’s fantastic for getting what you want out of a project.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss
Cool, added to the list.?
ooh negotiating book sounds interesting
it was fascinating.
Evidently we need to coffee it up and nerd out about this crap in person at some point.
Let’s do it! I don’t meet a lot of people named Clint.?
Cool, I’ll email you.
I dig the clvrps.co tinyurl ?
If there are any people out there new to this game, I would really encourage you to watch this video ASAP:
Or if you’re not new to the game and have never seen this. WATCH it. ?
such a great video
I’m 1:16 in and I love this already
@jackson watch this one next:
I love this guy. This is everything I need to hear.
“If my lawyer was here… actually, my lawyer is here!”
This is is sooooo good!! Thanks for sharing! ?
We’re coming to the end of the hour, and wow – such great questions! I love discussing all of these things and continually learning how to do it better. The design community in OKC is strong and I love that @carabell_okc has done such a stellar job in help bring us together.
Feel free to DM or email me anytime with any questions, suggestions, etc. Or hit me up for coffee sometime. I think it would be amazing to personally meet everyone that’s in this Slack workspace.
I’m around for a few more minutes before I have to hop on a phone call, so hit me up if you think of anything else!
? Thanks everyone!
Thanks for answering our questions @clintwilliams ?
Very insightful & inspiring!
Tune in Tuesday at 10 AM to our Slack #ama channel for next week’s expert (we have them every Tuesday now, so this CTA is evergreen). You can log on to Slack by going to https://dsndevokc.slack.com and requesting a magic link, or if you don’t have an account yet, you can request one here >> https://dsndevokc.com/join-our-slack
Got a suggestion for our next Expert?