Building Business Relationships With Institutions You Don’t Trust

By Bethany Johnson, Contributor, on November 27, 2017

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Confession: I naturally don’t trust most conventional institutions or methods. I can still clearly remember the moment my doubt took root. As a young professional, my first enterprise employer became obsessed with taking out the competition. Instead of building business relationships, we were encouraged to think of creative ways to sabotage our biggest competitor. There was so much that needed to be done for our own business, yet the entire company seemed focused more on hurting other businesses than advancing our own cause.

I’m not alone in my mistrust. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, people trust businesses less than ever before. CEO credibility has hit an all-time low. “The growing storm of distrust is powerful and unpredictable,” Edelman himself writes in the report. “Trust in institutions has evaporated to such an extent that falsehood can be misconstrued as fact, strength as intelligence and self-interest as social compact.”

My beef began when I witnessed a company obsessed with a vendetta. But maybe your mistrust stems from something else entirely. Luckily, as freelance creatives, you and I are inherently free from many of the stigmas and practices that business cultures maintain.

Honestly, I can be downright skeptical when getting to know a new client. There are so many things that can — and sometimes do — go wrong when building business relationships. On the other hand, I don’t believe in the starving artist label either. You know, where brilliant creative minds don’t get what their art deserves.

The answer lies in balance. Use your art to both exercise your freedom and make a living. Here’s how.

Get a 360 View

First, shift your perspective. Recognize the big old brands that come to mind as “institutional” make up about .3 percent of the companies out there, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Use that to inspire you, and start finding unconventional marketplaces.

  • Get local. Ask artistic shops in your community where they buy their services and whether or not they outsource overflow demand.
  • Craft for sale online. You don’t need a big enterprise-level corporation to sell your homemade art. Doodle your heart away and post your products on CreativeMarket, where buyers can select and download their choice. Don’t bend to the limitations you may find yourself under when in contract with a client. Instead, cross lines into photography or fonts to try out some new skills. That way, consumers and large institutions are both able to nab your stuff without an ongoing formal agreement.
  • Writers can sell short books. While experts may recommend jumping into the popular fictional short story scene, I say try your hand at a short self-help or business book. Yes, the masses are used to seeing more meat in these genres, but a quick, inspiring read is the perfect small gift for managers to offer their own teams for encouragement or perspective. And if they’re buying one for every team member, the lower price tag of a short story is bound to be more enticing.

Build Business Relationships

If you choose to work with corporations like I do, there’s a creative way to do it. First, build your own brand. No matter what happens, your friends and followers will know you as you — not as a spokesperson.

Then, diversify. Did you know that, as a freelancer, you maintain the right to work for your own client’s direct competitor? That’s not to say it’s always a good idea, but you do have more control over your brand than you may think. Use your freedom to explore the most unconventional companies you can think of. Trust me, there are some strange ones out there. Go after one to advance their cause, express yourself and earn a living.

Finally, focus on the views you do have in common with your clients. Are you interested in giving back to the community? If your clients have a philanthropic outreach, get behind it and help others get creative.

Unconventional Benefits

Surprisingly, you don’t need to work for a company to benefit from its existence. There’s no reason to avoid all big businesses. Many of your life choices will involve a brand’s products and services that help you and your family, despite your philosophical differences. Here are a few things to consider.

  • You can use your mobile phone’s productivity apps without letting every default push notification interrupt your day. Set some boundaries so you get the best of both worlds.
  • Set up a simple retirement savings account to prepare for your unique financial future. Let the big economic market machine work for you while you sit back and watch your money grow.
  • Stop at the free stuff. So many companies today “provide value.” It’s either a free private browser (believe it or not, people used to go to a physical store and dole out cash to buy an internet browser), useful training or productivity tools. Whatever the freebie, enjoy it, but remember you’re in a funnel. Enjoy the lead magnet you scored without becoming a paying customer to every company you visit online.

Creatives like you and me are free by nature. And we’re not alone in our mistrust of traditional institutions, stigmas and methods. But flying solo while building business relationships can be done. All you need is a good perspective, a smart strategy and actionable ideas.

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