I just finished two lectures in the past few days to 3rd-year graphic design students who are graduating in 9 weeks on things that need to consider marketing and new business-wise if they're planning on starting their own agency either.
At the start of the year, I resolved to give something back in some way. 2020 was a big challenge to many people but (once nursery reopened, resolving the challenge of how to work whilst looking after a two-year-old!) I really thrived in the knowledge that I had added value to the businesses I work with through the year's back end.
So, mindful that there is a trend towards people deciding to start their own agencies earlier on in their careers, and knowing that marketing and new business probably wasn't being addressed in university courses (because it certainly wasn't when I did a creative arts degree) I thought that guest lecturing on the topic to final year students might be useful.
So I went to The Times Higher Education website, I looked at the top 10 graphic design courses in the UK, and I got in contact with the course leaders to say, "Hey, look, I can offer a 30-minute deck plus 15 minutes q&a for free. If you'd like me to guest lecture to your students, I'd be absolutely privileged if you'd have me."
Most of them came back to me immediately and said yes, which I didn't expect and was thrilled about.
I tell you this not to bask in my own glory, but so you see how simple the process is. Because I think it's something that everybody should be doing for multiple reasons.
Not just because "once you've achieved your success, you should send the elevator back down" in the words of Jack Lemmon, Edith Piaf, Kevin Spacey et al. But for selfish reasons too. Pointing the next generation in the direction of lessons that you wish you'd learnt sooner is something both sides benefit from.
I should clarify that the time investment I put into this was minimal: I forced myself to spend less than 90 mins putting together a deck and 1 hour tops to each of 5 different student cohorts, in total 250 students.
And the unexpected benefits to me of doing this were eight-fold:
#1 It made me realize the most powerful parts of my own methodologies.
Talking out loud about what I do helped me realise in a very pure sense what to focus on if you had an entirely clean slate. The things I know are really gonna move the needle for a fledgeling agency.
#2 Spotting the most common detrimental problems that many agencies face.
Spelling out these areas to focus on inadvertently helped me to crystallise the main challenges most agencies face. Of course, I'm aware of them; this is my day to day work. But rarely am I forced articulate them in a straightforward way that is easy to understand to those who haven't experienced those challenges for themselves yet.
#3 Which in turn forced me to offer simple solutions to each
Yes, if you're starting from scratch, it's easy to go in to avoid a problem, but if you do encounter it, what is the first step, a quick fix that'll help you move towards a solution.
#4 The push to keep it clear
It's so bizarre, but sometimes it takes us talking to an entirely new audience to digest something verbose and difficult to grasp into something simple and clear.
One of my favourite adages is, "If I'd had more time, I'd have written a shorter letter". And that really holds when talking to a new generation of professionals because they don't have the experience and context you are used to.
#5 Which makes it easier for me to communicate with my clients
Point 4 is so powerful because it makes it much easier for me to communicate with my own prospective clients. Because everybody appreciates simplicity and clarity of thought: discussing these fundamental topics with the students has actually made it easier for me to write content that I know addresses the concerns that my prospective clients share.
In fact, after I got off the call this morning, I spent the next three hours writing content, which wasn't actually what this day was earmarked for, but I was in the zone.
#6 Listen to your own advice
It's easy to dish out the advice, but it's tough to heed it yourself. But the exercise of sharing wisdom with people at an earlier stage in their career reminded me of some lessons I need to take on board myself. Namely (and this is something many bosses have said to me in the past, because of the pace at which I want to get things done) that life is "a marathon, not a sprint."
I came out of the lecture reminding myself that sometimes we feel under pressure to get everything done all at once. But seeing people so early in the stage of their career made me realise how far I have come professionally. And what lies ahead doesn't need to be achieved in the next 18 months to five years, which would is what it feels like regularly when I'm within my own business.
#7 Not much changes
I came off the call with the distinct feeling that not much has changed in the decade and a half since I left uni. Graduates still have the same concerns, the same fears, the same confidence challenges. Although that makes me sad in certain ways, it's also a good reminder that these problems are human and universal. These are the things that unify us, particularly in an industry that can be highly subjective, like its judgment. Something to bear in mind when working with your colleagues, particularly the younger ones.
#8 Do it for the ego trip.
The number of 'thank yous' and delighted messages that I received following these two presentations has really boosted me these past couple of days. I've been floating on a cloud of self-confidence that some might say is dangerous. That's not to say do it just for the ego trip boost, but I think it's good to remind ourselves that what we offer is of value to other people. Sometimes a solution can feel so obvious to us that we assume it feels obvious to everybody else. Herein lies your professional value, your service.
There you go some selfish reasons that you should think about who your life experience would appeal to, and do something similar. Remember what it felt like when you were in further education and just how much you appreciated it when people in the 'real world', aka working in the industry, came to talk to you.
I appreciated it back then, and I appreciated it on the other side of the digital lectern these past couple of days as well. Thoroughly recommended.