It is not what you know…

Singapore, 30th May 2010

Finding work as a start-up company can be tough with little credentials and sometimes little experience to boost of. But we all started somehow and build up the experience and project references step by step. I have always maintained that to become a good lighting designer you need to be in the “game” for at least 5 years. Projects take time and unless you have run through a project cycle from start to finish a few times, it will be hard to deliver a good end product to your client. Only when you have gone through the whole process from conceptual design to final testing commissioning you will have the essential knowledge crucial to what can be called a good lighting design.  And then only you will start to have a complete professional lighting design expertise that you can confidently sell to a potential client…or is it?

True enough we (as in my company) get about 80% of our projects through referrals or from existing clients. In other words we get recommended or the client is happy to continue using us in his next project. So that should be good isn’t it? On the outside it is, but once you look a bit deeper it is not what it seems to be as in our profession the business is not necessarily carried by the company but by the individuals in the company. We are a small community of lighting designers and many of us have a small outfit in which the principal is generally the company so to speak.

I am sure you all have heard people saying that it is not what you know…but WHO you know. And that is so true in our business. People do business with people they know. While I have been around for many years, I still get the cold shoulder sometimes with new clients. They don’t know me and even though they may be impressed with my port-folio they still prefer working with people they have worked with before.  But the other way around is true as well. There are clients that like to work with me and regardless with which company I would be they trust me, know me and would always continue to work with me regardless where I am…

30. May 2010 by Martin Klaasen
Categories: lighting design practice | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Hello,this is Octavia Herrman,just observed your Post on google and i must say this blog is great.may I share some of the article found in this web site to my local mates?i’m not sure and what you think?anyhow,Many thanks!

  2. Your theory of ‘who you know’ is bang on target, but dont you think, that this is not a very healthy way for the entire industry to function. Aspects of PR, partiality, etc play a much bigger role in this whole process as opposed to good design sense & knowledge. This vicious circle actually makes it more difficult for start-ups in our profession, as unless they have contacts from previous firms they have worked at, they have little or no chance of being awarded a project. What we really need – is a model that the IT industry has of mentorship and venture capitalism. Not only does such a VC provide you with the required guidance and mentoring in the initial phases of starting a company, but could also be a financial stake holder.

    With respect to principals being the company – I think this is purely because most lighting design firms are very small – reasonably small organisations. But I think it also upto each firm to establish a startegy for shc scenarios. We only need to look at other architecture or interior design firms, where very soon the founders of the firm are not necessarily at the forefront. This model has already been esablished before, and there is no reson why it should not work for lighting design firms. I once heard one of the vice-presidents at Gensler talk, and he was talking about the phenomenon of ‘starchitects’ and how Gensler was still successful inspite of it being a firm where the individuals were not as famous as the firm itself, and a big reason for this was that the way they conducted business. While ‘standardisation’ is very bad for the design process, I think it could do very well to help manage the ‘business’ aspect of a lighting design firm.

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