Sunday, July 29, 2007

Another reason I enjoy operating a design business in Charleston

Besides the endless vistas across water (just the drive across the James Island Connector to the peninsula makes it all worthwhile), the nearly winter-free climate, my choice of dozens of atmospheric, tasty eateries, the French Quarter Art Walk, a historic downtown like none other in the nation...

Okay, enough of that, you may be saying. Right.

I've been holding onto an issue of the Charleston Regional Business Journal almost since I wrote my last blog entry, which was shamefully long ago. It centers on law firms, but I saw much in the article that's applicable to me as an entrepreneur and business professional as well as a graphic designer.

Written by Kathleen Dayton, it's headlined, "As market expands, some law firms choosing to stay small."

It begins, "First there were boutiques: small stores focused on specialty merchandise. Then boutique hotels came along; smaller, more intimate versions of the giant flagships but with the same upscale flair."

Call me a boutique kind of girl. Every word in that paragraph rolls off my tongue with ease and enthusiasm: small, intimate, upscale, flair.

The concept applies to designers as well as it does hotels and law firms. Dayton goes on to say, "...[S]ome say there is something about Charleston that is downright boutique-y."

They're right.

"'I would say one of the reasons Charleston supports so many small firms is that the bar and the local lawyers are very supportive of each other,' said J. Rutledge Young III, a partner with Brian C. Duffy in the newly formed practice Duffy & Young LLC.

"Many Charleston lawyers want to help their clients find the right type of lawyer, as opposed to taking every client they can possibly get, Young said.

"'I think that's unique to Charleston,' he said."

His partner is later quoted in the article. "[Duffy] said he senses a different atmosphere surrounding the legal profession in Charleston. 'I would say it is the respect for the lawyers in this bar. It is a much more professional environment, and it makes it a more enjoyable practice.'"

At first glance, the average reader might think this a lot of blather, staged for the benefit of a local reporter and the potential PR value, and maybe it is; who knows? I can't speak for the legal profession. I can speak for myself, though... and with very few exceptions, for me the concept is true.

It's seldom I find a cold shoulder inside Charleston's marketing profession, even when it comes down to other firms offering graphic design. Probably my closest "competitor" (if I were to think of things so coldly) at the moment and I enjoy a warm relationship, have worked together on one client project so far, and are currently serving together on a committee for the local AMA chapter. She has referred at least one party to me; I've referred potential clients to others when I feel I'm not the right designer for them and feel certain I will soon be returning the favor to her. I respect and enjoy her company and her talent, and we both end up with a great deal more by sharing than we do fighting.

I think of an old friend who works in the upper King design district in the commercial furniture business (and some stunning commercial furniture at that!). Maggie purchased a sporty little scooter when she and her colleagues first relocated to their upper King location, and could be seen regularly scooting around to neighboring businesses and shops, sometimes just to chat, sometimes for a second opinion on a thorny issue, sometimes to help. "We all support each other," she said at the time, and there was a light behind her eyes and smile.

But before I go on too long sounding like Pollyanna, I'm not saying we're all handing each other every bit of potential business that comes along. We're each thriving, though, and the idea that there's enough business to go around is much more attractive to me than a scarcity mentality. Suffice it to say that it's much more enjoyable working in a city where the professional atmosphere is "boutique-y." Here's to everyone who makes it so!