Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Transparency, are you doing it?

About a year ago I officially teamed up with my architectural firm to embark on a wonderful journey together. Our goal was to develop a company that supports and integrates all facets of design, and to help clients expedite their projects quickly and smoothly, all under one roof. Excited about this approach, I looked forward to a cohesive and collaborative effort to achieve great design success, and most importantly accountability. Everyone involved would be required to pull their weight and be responsible for the jobs successful completion. Fantastic. That means I no longer have to bear the weight and responsibility ALL-by-myself. Maybe I will get some sleep!

In mid 2009, still in it's infancy, our company seemed to be going in the right direction. At our third meeting while ironing out all the details one of the members emphasized the importance of transparency. Im sorry? Is this a new sort of vellum I haven't heard of? Or are we talking glass? What do you mean transparency? Well apparently it is THE new buzz word amongst companies. Little did I know that after that meeting I would start seeing this NEW word and concept EVERYWHERE!
Just today I saw the new business trends for 2010, and guess what was high on the list? You guessed it. Here are a few quotes that I have seen just in the past couple of months:

Consumers will demand "marketing provenance" as part of the trend toward demanding more authenticity and transparency from companies."

--Lynn M. Parker, "Branding for Real" columnist, principal of Parker LePla

“It (transparency) is the new operating standard,” Debbie Weil says.

Transparency is about being open, honest, and accountable. It’s about responsibility. People are listening to you and making evaluations and decisions based upon what you say, and as such, it’s important to take responsibility for the messaging you put out there.

--Debbie Weil, Social Media Consultant

To maintain the respect of the public, we need to provide clear and specific information and make our field (interior design) more user friendly. Young people are attracted to transparency. From the book, The Challenges of Interior Design.

--Mary V. Knackstedt, Author and interior designer

I have noticed a HUGE shift in my client interaction just in the past several months. I and my company's integrity are under constant scrutiny. Clients are questioning products, vendors and PROFITS. I have had two incidents just in the past two months of clients demanding to see numbers. I understand this mentality given our economic climate. I also understand that with corporate America crumbling it's no wonder no one trusts anyone.

"It was easy for us to see that 2009 exhibited an unconscionable corporate mentality. People were left as collateral damage due to corporate greed. I predict an entrepreneurial wave will occur in the U.S.--from cottage industries to fabulous internet opportunities and franchising.

--Cynthia McKay, "Building a Million-Dollar Business" columnist, principal of The McKay Group LCC

I think that it is imperative to have an open and concise dialogue. Consumers want authenticity and their trust has been severely broken, thanks to so much greed on Wall Street. But consumers also need to understand that small business' are the back bone of America. We supply the most jobs, and give back to our local communities. And we support other local business. I alone support my local upholstery shop, drapery shop, furniture makers, repair shops, painters, and the list goes on. When I get a job, I hire them, and we all support our city when we put our hard earned dollars back into the community with our purchases. I highly doubt the small profits we bring in are going towards a 'get rich quick' scheme. We are all just trying to put bread on the table, not buy a house in the Hampton's with a matching helicopter and Maserati.

Small business will continue to lead innovation in the marketplace.

--Chia-Li Chien, "Financial Independence" columnist, principal of Chien Associates

It is definitely a new day. But I wonder how many other companies are jumping on to this band wagon. Will it become common practice to disclose your business to anyone who chooses to see it? Whose to say what a logical profit is? Everyone's circumstances are different. And how will we keep privacy top of our list? I guess only time will tell.

Let me know your thoughts on this issue. Will you have an open book policy with your clients? Will you disclose profits, vendors, and do it with ease?

Want to become more transparent? Here are 5 ways you can be transparent


  1. transparency? does that mean I disclose everything to everyone? I am a small (very small) business just starting out. Like all of us I work hard for my money and always go the extra mile and give more than they expect. As for my books? Open my books and show them my profit? I don't think so, do house cleaners do that? electricians? beauty salons? no, they don't. I have joined your blog after reading your comment on mine. thanks and this is a very interesting subject.

  2. here is my email, I would really like to talk to you about virtual design, thanks again, Carol

  3. oh gosh, am I ever going to stop with the comments? doesn't look that way does it? you have heard of project 350, haven't you? if not go to my blog and click on the button. okay, this was my last one

  4. Reading that link you put in, it seems that I already do this! Certain things I won't do, although, this hasn't come up for me yet.

  5. My business is transparent and for what it's worth, I've been told by clients as well as business associates that I am too much of an open book as I charge only for time or a flat fee. I've tried it both ways and I think with more transparency comes more integrity - or I should say it's integrity the client can see and understand. There is no question as to why I spec a certain sofa: it's the best choice for the design and client, not because I can make the most money from suggesting it. And by no means do I believe all designers do this, it's just that too many clients are starting to believe that. And clients gaining access to pricing and trade only products via different on-line resources is going to make being anything but transparent really challenging. No, however, to opening books. Seriously no.

  6. Like a design mentor of mine once said. . . when Costco (or any other retails store) starts to show their profit that's when I will. No one questions a retail store when they buy product, but we should be 'transparent'? No. My interpretation of being transparent is about being authentic. When my dentist starts telling me how much he makes on my crown, maybe then I'll do the same. . . until then, there's too much responsibility in this business to give it away!

  7. I agree with Maria. There is only so far I would go to be transparent with money. When business talk about being transparent to their clients I believe it's about being authentic and showing them how they get their money's worth. It's not about how much profit someone makes.

    Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog. I'm so excited to have discovered yours. I have the next few hours to catch up on your posts. :)

  8. You're right--this is definitely the age of transparency. I work with an OD consultant, and from our perspective, transparency is not so much about showing your profits to people as it is about integrity. For example, if your mark up is 30 or 40%, I think transparency is about saying that upfront, and if there's a question about it, you can freely explain to the client why you believe you're worth that much. If they don't like it, they can feel free to find someone else. What I think happens too often is that people (I'm not speaking just of designers) try to mark up the cost of their service and then lie about it. I think it's wrong to say a couch is $2500, when it's really $1875. I think you should tell the client the cost of the couch, and explain that the rest is the charge for your expertise, time, and scouting fee. Again, if they don't like it, they can find someone "cheaper" (with less experience, less overhead, etc.). They should be able to make a decision based on truth. There are plenty of places I go to (like Whole Foods) where the fish (or other products) are more expensive, but I'm willing to pay that because I'm clear that while these items are more expensive, there is a tangible quantifiable health benefit. To me, the cost is worth it. That's what I believe transparency is all about.

    Sorry this is so long, but this is a great topic. :)