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Amy Balliett

Amy Balliett is the founder of Killer Visual Strategies. They’re a design studio in Seattle, Washington helping clients efficiently and effectively create meaning through design.

From ice cream parlor to design studio
From ice cream parlor to design studio

From ice cream parlor to design studio

Ep
90
Jul
06
With
Amy Balliett
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From ice cream parlor to design studio

Amy Balliett is the founder of Killer Visual Strategies. They’re a design studio in Seattle, Washington helping clients efficiently and effectively create meaning through design.

Amy got a head start with entrepreneurship by owning her own ice cream parlor at age 17. Since then, she’s gone on to work as a video editor, film trailer marketer and—after several pivots later—founder, author and public speaker.

She and Chris discuss how to know when it’s time for you to make that big pivot with your business and the risk of not doing anything. They also get into the impact of COVID-19 on the creative service industry and what they are both doing to prepare for the future.

Before there was Killer Visual Strategies, Amy ran Killer Infographics, where she and a team of designers created infographics for a variety of businesses. As Amy put it, her agency was comparable to a fast-food spot. If a business was hungry for a design, Killer Infographics would make them full, yes, but it wasn’t entirely good for them.

Over time, around 2012, Amy decided it was time to make a pivot and hone in on visual communication as a service. She and her team had gone from being reactive to proactive, reinvented the company, and changed the name to Killer Visual Strategies to reflect this shift.

So, how does running an ice cream parlor at the age of 17 fit into running a creative agency? Well, this unexpected entrepreneurial journey actually jumpstarted Amy’s creative career path.

She found herself creating promotional material and expanding profit opportunities for the parlor through posters, t-shirts, and more. Creating these physical pieces of content exposed Amy to the possibilities of creating visual content for businesses.

Now, at Killer Visual Strategies, Amy leads a team of designers specializing in every aspect of visual content. Her story is an impressive one, and if you’re curious to learn more about her entrepreneurial spirit, you’ll just have to listen to the full episode.

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Episode Transcript

Amy:
So I learned very quickly about how to properly communicate expectations and manage those expectations. I had to also learn how to be a service provider, massage some egos without having to be in a position where I give up any authority over my domain.

Greg:
(Singing) Hi, I'm Greg Gunn and welcome to The Futur Podcast. Today's guest is the founder of Killer Visual Strategies, they're a design studio in Seattle, Washington helping clients efficiently and effectively create meaning through design. Now she got a head start with entrepreneurship by owning her own ice cream parlor at age 17. And since then, she's gone on to work as a video editor, film trailer marketer. And after several pivots later, founder, author and public speaker.

Greg:
She and Chris discuss how to know when it's time for you to make that big pivot with your own business. They also get into the impact of COVID-19 on the creative service industry, and what they're both doing to prepare for the future. But enough of my rambling, please enjoy our conversation with Amy Balliett.

Amy:
I'm Amy Balliett. I'm the CEO and founder of Killer Visual Strategies, formerly Killer Infographics. What I do is I spend my days just really helping to get our clients to find the best ways to communicate with their end audiences through engaging visual content. And we really focus on visual communication as the key driver of the content that we create. So as much information delivery through the visuals as possible versus forcing people to have to read blocks of text to comprehend and understand the information in front of them.

Chris:
Now you make a point to use that word, visual communication. And I think this means a lot of things to a lot of people. So why don't we start there? Why don't you tell us what visual communication means to you?

Amy:
Visual communication is about efficiently and effectively creating meaning through design. When necessary, limited text can be used to explicate that meaning. But ultimately, it's about letting the visual speak louder than words because we're all inherently visual creatures. We communicate visually through our base instincts, honestly. So given the fact that we are such a connected community, connected culture, it's become very clear that if we can deliver with visual content, if we can connect with visual content, people engage faster, people are more interested in new ideas and more open to learning when they're met with visual content first versus blocks of text. So sometimes I often say we work to create really great book covers to get people to crack open the book and learn more about a client or brand or service.

Chris:
Great. So let's say I'm a graphic designer, am I a visual communicator? It says on my business card.

Amy:
For the most part, you probably are, but at the same time, there are graphic designers out there that don't necessarily marry form and function. They're more focused on creating an absolutely beautiful design but not necessarily carrying meaning forward with that design. And so there are ways that you can do graphic design without visually communicating information, and therefore you're not a visual communicator at that point in time.

Amy:
There are also graphic designers out there who tend to put together let's say, an infographic as an example, infographics where they rely heavily on the text to explain the visuals that they're designing. And that's the opposite way it should be. The text, if you could turn all of the text into Lorem Ipsum text and still understand what you're looking at, that's true visual communication, in my opinion.

Chris:
Now I believe you had said this at the onset, that you were previously known as Killer Infographics. So you yourself have made that transition from Infographics to Killer Visual Communication. When did that happen? Why did that happen? Tell us about that.

Amy:
So that happened last year in June. It was actually a long time coming. When we launched as Killer Infographics, it was actually a pivot from a different company. It was a very reactional pivot. It was following a trend because it was 2010, and honestly in 2010, you could slap the word infographic next to any piece of visual content and it would succeed. A lot of the content that was being produced at the time was pretty low quality. And to be entirely honest with you, we were a part of that. We were burning and churning infographics without taking a lot of time to truly think about how to do them right. How to ensure that we weren't just creating eye candy, but we were instead truly visualizing information in a way that was effective. In a way that helped people understand the content versus making it more complex.

Amy:
So for the first couple of years, we were an infographic shop that I would compare to a fast food restaurant. We weren't pristine, but we got the job done. If you were hungry, we made you full, but it still wasn't healthy for you. So as we started to look at what we were creating, and what we wanted to be doing, we wanted to be really proud of the work we were producing, we really started to shift our entire thought process. We had gone from being reactive to finally having this opportunity to be proactive and reinvent the company.

Amy:
So around 2012, actually, was when we started to really focus on visual communication as a service. And that meant that infographics were just one piece of our services that we could offer. They're one product of visual communication. But motion graphics were a piece of it, and interactive content was a piece of it. And the list goes on. And so we had evolved to this company that was delivering so many different types of visual content and our name was pigeonholing us to say the least. It was also forcing the wrong lexicon for all of the type of content we produced. We would have clients coming to us, where they would really need a motion graphic, but they were calling it an infographic. And we wanted to also educate our clients that not every solution is an infographic. An infographic is just one piece of the puzzle.

Amy:
So we always knew we wanted to change our name. But we weren't really ready to do it because we were known as Killer Infographics. And we had so much new business coming to us based on our name as well. And so what we wanted to do is find the right partner company before changing our name. And at the end of 2018, we were acquired by Kelton Global, we became part of a portfolio of amazing creative companies called the LRW Group. We actually have a new name coming out soon, to explain that portfolio of companies.

Amy:
So once we were at a place where we had the support of a company that knew what it was like to change your brand, and could really sherpa us through that entire experience so that we didn't just disappear from Google and we didn't put ourselves into a bad position, then we decided, "Okay, now we can change our name." We also wanted to make sure that the name change was representative of who we are with our portfolio of companies.

Chris:
Okay. I was looking at your about page and I was looking at your work life history or mostly your work history. Seems like you've changed and pivoted quite a few times. I think you were, what was it? You had this business before college. What was it? A lemonade or something. I don't remember it.

Amy:
Candy store artist.

Chris:
Candy store artist. There it is. You did a Candy Store, you went to college and then you were in SEO, and then infographics and now visual communication. And now you've sold your company or you're acquired. What is going on with you? Tell me about this person that decides, "Okay, today we're this, tomorrow we're going to be that." Because that requires a lot of courage.

Amy:
Well, I appreciate that. I mean, part of it's just being a millennial. But the reality of it is when I was 17, my vision of life was that I was going to be in LA as a film director. That was what I always wanted to do. And one night I'm sitting at the dinner table and my dad says, "I need to find a new owner for this ice cream parlor and candy store," that's in the middle of a little vacation resort. Nobody can see that I'm doing air quotes right now, but it's in Ohio, on Lake Erie. So it's not really a vacation resort or resort of vacation area.

Amy:
And my dad was on the board of the resort and needed a new owner. I joked and said, I would run it. That I would own the ice cream parlor. Because I didn't think he'd take me seriously. I was 17 and in high school, but it's a summer resort that's only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. So it didn't impact my high school life. So my dad woke me up the next morning, took me to the bank and I got a business loan. And suddenly I was owning a candy store for a couple of years.

Amy:
Through that experience, what I find interesting is one of the very first things I did was look at ways to productize the resort within the store, create t-shirts about the resort, create posters about the resort. But it was all about what are the physical pieces of content that I can be selling to people to create a new profit line within this store? So that was the first time I really jumped into this idea of designed content as a product. I went from there to film school-

Chris:
Wait, wait, before we go to film school, I have to spend some time in the ice cream parlor. I'm craving ice cream all of a sudden, I don't know why. Okay, so you're 17 years old.

Amy:
Yep.

Chris:
Your dad says, "Hey, there's an opportunity." There's something inside of you that says, "I want to do this. I can do this." Now I have two boys one is 16, one is 14. I don't think that's even part of what they would consider fathomable. Why were you so brave to say, "Let's do this."? And then this loan that you took out, did you have money at this time?

Amy:
I did not have money at this time. My dad had to cosign the loan. But honestly, there were a few different reasons for it. First, I had a love of the place. This was a candy store that when I was a kid, I would be given 25 cents and I could come back with a whole bag of candy. And so it was a big part of my own childhood experience in growing up. So the idea to be able to be a part of it and reinvigorate it because it was really dying at that time was exciting to me.

Amy:
But also, I was raised by an entrepreneur. I was raised by two entrepreneurs. My dad didn't come to owning his business until I would say he was I think in his late 50s. But when I was born, my mom started a fabric store that was actually a huge competitor, Jo-Ann Fabrics, just this little mom-and-pop shop. The first 16 years of my life, my mom was running her store every single day and my experience would be, come home from school and go to her store and hang out.

Amy:
So I spent a lot of my life seeing what it was like to be your own boss and run your business. My dad was a commission based salesman, which is honestly the same thing. I mean, if you don't have a base salary, and you're just strict commission as a salesman, that is running your own business. And so while my dad didn't necessarily have a legal entity under him, or employees at the time, he was still very much that self starter entrepreneur. So I think a lot of it just had to do with watching them. And the seeing the bars that they set and wanting to meet those same exact bars.

Chris:
There's one thing about growing up in a family of entrepreneurs or salespeople, and it's another thing to actually have any of those skills. So the question is, did you do your due diligence? Did your dad know this was going to be a good investment? Because there's a reason why somebody else doesn't want to do it anymore. And that means that there's some things that are either not doing well or the market's changing. And then here he is letting his daughter who's 17 years old, so, "Yeah, I'll cosign a loan." What do you know about... I still can't figure this part out. So talk me through some of the juicy details here, please.

Amy:
I think a big part of it was my dad wanted a project too.

Chris:
I see.

Amy:
So-

Chris:
This explains some things.

Amy:
Yeah. My dad saw this as an opportunity to also start to have his say with what this store could be, and to teach me some responsibilities. To teach me not just how to hire employees which I hired three employees, but to teach me how to run payroll and taxes for those employees. For him it was a place he could go on Saturdays and be in control of the music that was playing. So that was something he had a lot of fun with.

Amy:
But he also knew that it wasn't something where he could attract a more mature buyer. Because it wasn't a big profit driver by any means. On a good day, a really good day, we made $500. That's a good day for this place. So he knew that it would be something attractive instead, to somebody who's looking to pay for college. To somebody who's looking to make some extra money and have that that spare change around when needed. So that's really why he saw it is a great opportunity for me, but he also knew the security of it, which is the way it was set up was when I was done with it, I could just give it back to the park. Sell it back and move on to my next thing. So that was a big piece of it, was that agreement. So I only had to run it for two years. And honestly, my only risk was the money I put into it, but not a risk of having to keep it going for the rest of my life.

Chris:
So two years later, you sell it, you gain all this business experience. You learn things that work, you learn things that don't. Some days you make a decent amount of money, some days you don't.

Amy:
Yep.

Chris:
At the end of the day, two years later, how much money were you able to turn into profit?

Amy:
I ended up with about $15,000 in profit. After I had to buy a car as a business expense to get to and from the place. So after the car. So about 15,000 in profit and a car.

Chris:
That's great.

Amy:
Yeah.

Chris:
Yeah. Okay, so now tell me about the next phase here.

Amy:
So I went from the candy store to film school. Was really excited about getting into the world of film, when it became very clear. It was 2001. Actually my very first day of college was 9/11.

Chris:
Wow.

Amy:
Yeah. So needless to say, school didn't start that day. But in 2001, there was a gigantic shift going on from film to digital. And so what I started to realize was I was getting really excited about the world of digital experiences, and that aspect of film. And I also started to realize what I loved about film the most, was I've never really loved to read stories. Stories always have to have a visual element to them in some way. Whenever I've imagined stories in my life, for instance, it's always been how does it play out as a movie? So I've always thought in that way of visual storytelling and there's a marketing aspect to that.

Amy:
And so as I'm in film school, I started to realize I like marketing as well. I like how a story can drive action. I like how you can really inspire people to create change with the right visual metaphor on top of a great narrative, and really carry somebody through an entirely new experience just within a movie. So I minored in marketing, because I saw this connection between the two. And from there, I honestly graduated college realizing I don't want to do film. So I go through all of this and I just, I didn't want to move to LA. I didn't want to even try that world.

Chris:
How come?

Amy:
It just didn't resonate with me.

Chris:
Really? Because you said that was one of your dreams, is to be a director and live in LA.

Amy:
It was-

Chris:
What happened to that dream?

Amy:
I had a lot of teachers from LA.

Chris:
Okay, what happened?

Amy:
I just don't-

Chris:
I don't know what that means.

Amy:
I started to see all the politics of it. And there was this sense of having to be fake all the time. Having to play the game all the time to constantly be selling. Everybody you meet could be the connection to the next big thing that you have. And so that was my concern. I didn't want to go to a city to basically make every new connection a business connection and not a true friend. So that was a big part of it.

Amy:
Another part of it was I loved documentaries at the time. And so LA wasn't really the place I wanted to go if I was going to do any type of documentary work. And Seattle was really calling to me. Seattle was calling to me for a variety of reasons. But one of the reasons was, it has the highest population of female filmmakers in the country. And so I thought, "This is a cool opportunity to learn more, if I want to pursue this, but it's also a great place to pursue marketing." Because I was really starting to get excited about marketing. And so I moved to Seattle.

Amy:
In Seattle, I got my first job, was being a survey person at a movie theater, asking people to watch trailers and getting their feedback on those trailers. And then we would go in and re-edit those trailers until it got to a point where the trailer had people understanding the premise of the movie enough, but also excited to go to the movie. And so doing that was also something where I started to see there's this opportunity to tell succinct stories so easily in the visual format and I really loved what we were doing with trailers. I loved the ability to change somebody's perception, just by moving a scene around. Just those small little tweaks and seeing how that would drastically impact how somebody viewed the information in front of them, was really exciting to me.

Amy:
So these are just like small things that honestly, I didn't even notice at the time. I just knew I liked them, but I didn't know why yet. It hadn't become clear to me at all. I went from there to doing video editing for mobile video on demand, which basically meant videos for flip phones because the iPhone didn't exist yet. And that meant really horrible pixelated videos that were primarily downloaded by boys aged 17 to 22. Which also means the content tended to be just anywhere from muscle car content to geez, there was this whole section of content that was like jackass videos. So after a while of doing that, I realized, "I don't like doing this." And I pivoted into SEO. Did something completely different. I never thought I was going to move into SEO at all.

Chris:
Yeah, that seems like a pretty strange departure.

Amy:
Yeah. So that happened because of a failed attempt at starting a business. I was doing this mobile video work and everyday I was just getting more and more burnt out by it. Because in the end, I was just producing fluff content that didn't really have any purpose. So it just wasn't really that rewarding. And at the time, Facebook didn't exist. Myspace was where everybody went to show off who they were. And everybody's Myspace page was almost like an epileptic seizure inducing page.

Chris:
I remember that, yeah.

Amy:
Right. And I started to think, at the time, there was no central site online where artists could show off their work. There was DeviantArt, but DeviantArt still had that Myspace feel. You couldn't really have a lot of confidence showing off your work or have a lot of ways to customize how you're showing off your work. And at the time, my cousin who is still to this day, the best designer I've ever met in my life. He's also a full stack developer now. But he was an amazing Flash developer, because again, the iPhone wasn't here. So Flash was still alive, it was still a thing. He was an amazing Flash developer and he was developing these 3D worlds in Flash.

Amy:
So I came to him and said, "What if we create a 3D world where everybody can create their own avatar, and they can create their own art studios? And you can walk around to these different art studios and their profile page is an art studio, but it's an actual 3D physical space." Second Life didn't exist yet. This was all something we thought, "Yes, let's jump in. And let's do this." And what I realized during all of that was I had the idea, but I didn't have any skills to execute on the idea. I was reliant 100% on my cousin to do all of the execution work.

Amy:
So what I started to do to try and be able to be a part of it to make sure that I wasn't just the idea man, woman, what I started to do was learn marketing, learn SEO. Because I had learned marketing, but I had learned a very traditional form of marketing that was quickly evolving into the digital realm. So I bought SEO for Dummies, I learned what meta tags were and all these other things. And really just started building our online presence, building our user base, and just cutting my teeth with a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes when I was doing it. I actually had a lot of people calling me out telling me that I was marketing wrong and that I was being spammy.

Amy:
So I learned a lot. And then we never launched the site. Because six months later, Facebook appeared in the world and Second Life appeared in the world and all these things that were way far beyond us and far better than what we were even perceiving came out. And so at that point in time, based on my experience and what I had learned, I was offered an SEO job and moved into the world of SEO.

Chris:
Why were you offered that job with SEO?

Amy:
Because I had been talking about it to such an extent and learning so much about it, that one of my co-workers connected me with a company that was looking for an SEO manager. I happened to know all the right things to say in the interview. And after six months of making many mistakes in SEO, I suddenly had a job as SEO manager. And luckily, I have learned how to do things right by then.

Chris:
This explains some things about you. Because I went to search your name on YouTube, and all these videos come up about visual communication. So those lessons that you learned about man, if you want to own a lane, a category, create a lot of content around that so it's hard to not find you when you're searching for those words. And also the reason why I think when you did Killer Infographic, if you were looking for infographic, it's in the name.

Amy:
That's exactly why I chose the name. Yeah.

Chris:
Being very strategic there. Okay.

Amy:
Yeah.

Chris:
I have, just because it's on my mind right now, I wanted to ask you, what did you learn from running that candy store and ice cream parlor that you've been able to apply in your adult business life? I'm just curious.

Amy:
Yeah, no, that's great. Honestly, I learned a lot about customer management. As odd as it is, since it was in the middle of a vacation resort, what would happen would be parents would just drop off their kids and their kids would be at that candy store all day, because there was an arcade in the candy store. It was a big space, there was a lot for kids to be entertained all day.

Amy:
But when you're put in that position, you then end up with parents that have certain expectations of you, that they haven't actually explained to you. So in a sense, parents expected me to be the babysitter of their kids. So I learned very quickly about how to properly communicate expectations and manage those expectations. And I think that was probably the biggest lesson, especially in a community like that. Because the people who vacation their vacation there every single year. So it's like their second home. And as a result, there can be this feeling of being an outsider when you suddenly come in as more of the help, in a sense. And so I had to also learn how to be a service provider, massage some egos without having to be in a position where I give up any authority over my domain.

Chris:
That sounds great. So the whole experience was perfect. It was setting you up for a lot of the things you have to learn in life because my business coach told me, he doesn't care what business you're in. It doesn't matter what you make, what you do. It's like we're all in the same business. We're in the business of marketing and sales and customer service. So it seems like at 17 to 19, you've mastered one of those two principles. Okay, fantastic.

Chris:
So you're very open, malleable with what direction. Like first you wanted to beat this filmmaker in LA, you're, "No, I don't want that. Film? No. Let's go digital. But let's do marketing." So how do you know it's time to make one of those big pivots?

Amy:
That's a really good question. For me when I make a pivot, it's typically because I'm in a situation where I've got two paths in front of me and I just have to weigh out which path is going to be the one that takes me to my ultimate end goal. I think everybody's ultimate end goal in life is just to be able to enjoy life and experience as much time as you can with the people you love to build great memories.

Amy:
When we pivoted into Killer Infographics, we were a completely different company. It was my old business partner and I, we had about 20 websites that all had affiliate relationships. And we were marketing those websites. My role in that was to build and design the websites as well as to do all the marketing for them. And so for the marketing of them, I started creating infographics. And the infographics started driving all of these back links back to us. About six months in, we had people coming to us asking us to design infographics for them because they were seeing all of ours out in the ether and seeing all that success, and they wanted that same success.

Amy:
And so the pivot was a mix of so many things. In that exact moment when we had our first request, which it was September 28th of 2010, that was our very first request for an infographic as Killer Infographics. When that happened, we were also at a point where the original business model was flatlining. We were making money every month, but we weren't growing. So that was flatlining. I knew that there were algorithm changes coming from Google, that would honestly ruin some of our websites, because we were utilizing these hub-and-spoke content practices that Google was actually trying to push against at the time. So I knew that was coming and that resting our laurels, resting our success on Google's algorithm is probably not the smart thing to do.

Amy:
But also, I saw an opportunity to empower my old business partner, because he was great at sales. And I saw that this could put him in a sales position and give him a little bit more pride in what he was doing. And for me, there was an opportunity to get all of my out of work design friends some work. Because it was 2010, the '08 financial crisis took until about 2010 to really hit Seattle. And so all of these designers were out of work, and suddenly, we have this opportunity to get them work.

Amy:
But ultimately, it took another six months or so, for me to really realize that what I had stumbled into was the culmination of all of my past jobs. It was marketing and visual storytelling combined into one and I just realized how much I love it. But I also started to realize that we were doing it wrong. Because we were just honestly... If you look at our infographics from our first two years, they're horrible. They're absolutely horrible. And I mean, if you read up on any comments about me in those two years, they're nasty. Rightfully so. Rightfully so. There were so many designers who were so offended by the work that we were putting out. And they had every right to be. At the time, I was more looking at it as a marketer, and thinking, whatever, the content's working. It's-

Chris:
Right. Do whatever works.

Amy:
Yeah. It's driving what clients need. And what I wasn't thinking about was how much it was devaluing design thinking. And devaluing the idea of really putting great intent behind your work. And so we were contributing to the commoditization of design. And that just didn't feel good. So that's why we really made that big shift in 2012. We were working with freelancers until then. In 2012 we said no more freelancers, everybody's in-house under one roof. We really got amazing designers to help guide us, to help teach me and ultimately I taught them as well. And as we taught each other, we formulated our vision of visual communication.

Greg:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with Amy Balliett.

Ben Burns:
Hey, Ben Burns from The Futur here. If you don't recognize my voice, you might know me from our YouTube channel as the friendly guy with a big beard. Yep, that's me. Listen, The Futur's mission is to teach a billion creatives how to make money doing what they love, without feeling gross about it. And let's be honest, historically, we creative types are great at producing the work but not so great at running the business, especially when it comes to things like sales, marketing, and money. I know. Personally, I used to struggle with all of those.

Ben Burns:
Now fortunately for you though, we have a slew of courses and products designed specifically to help you run your business better. These are tools like The Complete Case Study and The Perfect Proposal. These things are there to help you attract new clients and then wow them with a thorough and professional presentation. Now you can go even deeper with one of our business courses like Project Management - How to Find Clients and the intensive Business Bootcamp. Check out all of our courses and products about running a creative business by visiting the futur.com/business.

Greg:
Welcome back to our conversation with Amy Balliett.

Chris:
I'm just curious, in 2010, where are you going to find all these negative nasty comments that people are making about you? Because I know there are some about us, I don't even look. It's like where do you find these things?

Amy:
Honestly, it was actually one situation but it was so many comments. I wrote an article for Smashing Magazine.

Chris:
Okay.

Amy:
And I went back and forth with them for six months writing this article, because they kept pushing it in a direction that really was more about design fluff. If you read this article, it goes against everything I say today.

Chris:
All right. All right.

Amy:
I talk about dressing up charts and graphs in the most horrible ways. They're inexplicable, the way that I direct people to do it. So-

Chris:
Give me an example.

Amy:
Oh, geez.

Chris:
What did you say? I want to see how these designers got so offended at what you said.

Amy:
So I can't even explain one of them. I will say, if you google Amy Balliett, Smashing Magazine, you'll see one of them. It is a visualization of planes and seats on planes that makes no sense at all. But one of them that I can explain was showing a simple bar graph that showed the growth of Twitter. And I suggested that instead of that being a bar graph, it should be a circular bar graph on an odometer. Don't ask me why. I mean, it's incredibly illegible, you have to tilt your head to even start to get an idea of how the bars compare to each other, you have to keep looking at a key to understand it.

Amy:
But from a visual fluff perspective, it was fluffier than any fluff you could think of. And that was really what the article became. It became more about how to create visual fluff and eye candy, how to properly execute information. And so rightfully so, some really talented people came back wrote an article in response-

Chris:
Oh, my God.

Amy:
... on Smashing Magazine. And it's a great article in response. I very much agree with everything in that article. But if you look at all the comments, there's hundreds of comments and there are comments talking about how I know nothing. And at the time I really knew nothing. I really thought I did. It was so bad.

Chris:
Well, this is the beauty of having your thinking captured in some form.

Amy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:
Because you can look back on it. And some people will look back and say, "Oh, I'm such an idiot." And just beat yourself up and never get over it. And it will just take one of those things to end people's careers. But the healthier way to look at it is like, "Oh my God, I've grown so much."

Amy:
Right.

Chris:
"I don't recognize that person anymore. I don't even know where that's coming from." But at that time, it was your whole world and that's what you thought. That's just a measure of growth in my opinion.

Amy:
I heard the other day that the only person you should ever compare yourself to is you in the past. If you spend your life comparing yourself to everybody else, you're never going to be happy. And so that very much has been how I've moved past that. At the time, I think I was pretty darn embarrassed for a good six months or so.

Chris:
Yeah.

Amy:
And I just kept powering through because it wasn't impacting my business, it wasn't impacting my clients. But I'm really glad that those points were brought up, because it helped me start to realize the mistakes I was making and start to learn how to properly do this work.

Chris:
Did it emotionally scar you for a little bit, those six months?

Amy:
It did for a little bit. For sure.

Chris:
It did.

Amy:
Yeah-

Chris:
And did you have anybody you can confide in like, "Oh, man, I just got my butt handed to me by the internet."?

Amy:
Yes, yes. That's the thing I've always been incredibly, incredibly grateful for, for the entire decade of this business. I've had my wife as my sounding board. And she has so much wisdom in her that it's crazy. So I focus on small, petty details sometimes. And she's able to bring me out of that and put things in a much better perspective so that I can look at the world with a much cleaner set of eyes.

Chris:
And is she a designer?

Amy:
No. She works in business insurance.

Chris:
Perfect.

Amy:
Which is also very helpful when you're starting a business.

Chris:
Because I can only imagine two designers, "Look, no, you must get that right." But it's like, "No, no, honey, step back. Let's look at this. This don't matter. Let's move on." In the bigger scheme of things, it doesn't matter. I see that you you do a lot of public speaking.

Amy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:
You're producing and turning out a lot of content. And you said... What do you do? 20 keynotes a year, something like that?

Amy:
Yeah, that's what I-

Chris:
That's a lot.

Amy:
Not this year because of everything going on.

Chris:
Right, of course. This year we too. Whatever you finished earlier, that was it.

Amy:
Right.

Chris:
So do you love public speaking or why do you do this? What's the idea behind it?

Amy:
I love it. I love it. So that is my other passion. I didn't do any type of sports in middle school or high school, I did speech and debate. I was a huge-

Chris:
Oh, wow.

Amy:
And I loved speech and debate. And the arena that I competed in, in speech and debate was called original oratory, which is the equivalent of doing a TED talk. So I would spend my Saturdays throughout all of my high school career doing TED Talks, as opposed to going out and having fun with friends. Because that was my fun. That's where all my friends were. So I loved doing that. I actually never thought at the time how it would translate into my career. But what ended up happening was a couple of years into Killer, Adobe reached out to us and asked if I would speak at Adobe Max. And I said, "Well, hell yeah, I'll speak at Adobe Max. That sounds like the best thing ever."

Amy:
And the minute I did that, and got back up on stage, right from there, we said, "Let's get as many speaking gigs as I can possibly get." And that's really how we've grown the bulk of the company. It's how we've landed the clients that we've landed, just by being the authority on stage talking through all of this, but especially for me, what's really been important is trying to explain to marketers the value of design. Why a marketer who doesn't necessarily know design should not be the one using a DIY tool online, designing something. Instead, having somebody who actually has an eye for layout, an eye for typography, somebody who has great illustration skills. Trusting somebody like that, to bring your great marketing initiative to life, in my opinion, is the right symbiotic relationship.

Amy:
And what I see very often, especially in my own career as a marketer, there is a bit of a devaluing of designers and a lack of understanding of what good high quality content can bring. And the fact is, you get a much better return on investment if you actually produce something really high quality than you do if you slap some crummy design together, especially these days. Today's consumers have much more discerning tastes than ever before. And so what I love when I do public speaking is I really try to speak specifically to marketers, to communication leaders, to the non designers out there to try and unpack what good design is so that they can learn how to speak to designers properly and how to recognize good design.

Chris:
So it sounds to me like you're doing public speaking because A, it rekindled a love that you had from an early age, but it's also a fantastic way to tell people, "This is what I've learned. This is what I know." Share that knowledge with people and turn it into regeneration. So that year that you went to speak at Adobe Max, when was that?

Amy:
2013.

Chris:
Okay. So you were on the speaking circuit a bit earlier than me. So this is professional curiosity has gotten me now. So now I need to talk to you about this, okay. Most creative types, [inaudible 00:43:12] what? 99% of us would rather die than get on that stage. You're the person who's like, "Wait a minute, put me on 20 more. Because I'm ready to do this." Because that was part of you. Do you have any advice or tips on how to make that less scary for somebody?

Amy:
Yeah, definitely. It's about your confidence in your topic. So for me, one of the things that makes me scared is if I have to memorize what I'm saying. Or if I have a slide deck that I have to read. Either of those two things, they'll never set a speaker up for success.

Chris:
Right.

Amy:
Because at that point, you're constantly thinking, "Did I remember this? Did I say this right?" So you might come across robotic and you're putting so much pressure on yourself to have a memorized speech. If you're having to read your slide deck, the minute you are in front of a bunch of people, and you turn your back to them to look at that slide deck, that's the minute you're having all of these thoughts in your head like, "Oh, crud, now they're only seeing the back of my head. But I have to read this because I don't remember what this said." And those experiences can really throw you off.

Amy:
So for me, I make sure that I'm speaking to the things that I'm really passionate about, because as long as I'm passionate about it, I know the subject back and forth and I can speak to it with any question that comes up. I also make sure that my slide decks are only showing statistics and not showing long sentences or paragraphs of text. Because what I don't want to do is have to use my slide deck as a crutch. I only want it to be there as something that reinforces what I'm saying. But I want the audience to listen to what I'm saying more than anything else.

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). There's a gentleman who gave a talk. I think it's a TED talk on the Death by PowerPoint, and he said, "You are and have always been the presentation. What you see behind you is the visual aid."

Amy:
Yeah.

Chris:
And to not mix those two things up. So okay, I get it. Now I saw a video on YouTube because I was searching you. One of the higher viewed videos has you talking about what visual communication is and the advantage of visual communication. I think you did that all in one take. I didn't see an edit point in there. So I was looking at your eyes. I was like, "Is she reading a teleprompter? What's going on there?" Because it was flawless. Is that rehearsed? Is it scripted? Tell me. Give me the juice.

Amy:
I would say it's a little bit of both. It's not rehearsed or scripted, it's more I've talked about it so much, that I know what to say with certain questions. For instance, the definition of visual communication, you will always hear me say it's the graphic representation of information to efficiently and effectively create meaning. Because that right there is the definition we live by at Killer. And so I know that it's just part of-

Chris:
I get it.

Amy:
... me at this point. That being said, I primarily, I'm a one take person. Again, it's because... There are a lot of things that I don't remember in my normal personal life. I mean, if I am in any type of an argument with a friend or family member or my spouse, I'm going to be the one who's wrong. Because I'm remembering things wrong. But I remember statistics really well. I remember facts as they relate to my industry very, very well. And so I'm able to just jump in and talk about those things.

Amy:
Now, if we were to change the topic entirely, I don't know if I'd be as poised. But with my LinkedIn learning courses, for instance, every course that I do, they'd been doing a lot recently without teleprompters. One time they came to my office, for instance, and filmed this whole vlog type series. Those are always one take, they usually have two cameras. So I've gotten used to just delivering in one take as much as possible.

Chris:
Hey, you are some weird anomaly for sure. Because I think most people struggle with the facts and figures, where we could tell the stories, because there's room for embellishment. The fact that you remember the facts and figures, that's where I struggle because I'm like, "What year was that, 1974? No, it was 1922." It gets scrambled up in my head. So you have a skill there and I'm glad that you're utilizing those gifts. Okay, that's fantastic. Now, while we're on the subject here, everything is funky. I can see that you're not at your office, if I may presume.

Amy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:
And you're not public speaking, neither am I. They all got canceled, everything's canceled, we don't know when it's going to return. How is this going to impact your business?

Amy:
Honestly, that's also such an interesting experience that we're having. We definitely had a lull for a little bit of time. And I think a lot of creative services firms are seeing that same exact lull. As you have a lot of customers out there uncertain of what's next, they stop spending.

Chris:
Naturally.

Amy:
Exactly. In previous recessions, what I've seen is the value of content goes down. People look for quicker churn solutions. They look for ways they can do it themselves. So I do think we're going to see some brands moving more towards DIY, and trying to take advantage of tools like Canva, and things like that. But we're in such a different world than we've ever been when it comes to media. And so I do also see that the major brands are valuing media more than ever before and they needed to pause to understand how to readjust their communication strategy for the year. And now that they've figured that out, we're seeing just this huge influx of people coming to us saying, "Okay, we're moving digital. We've cut all of these plans that we had. Killer, now, we need you to make a motion graphic commercial for us because we can't get the live action actors anymore."

Amy:
And so we're starting to see this really cool shift. Everybody is, especially over the past two weeks, we're seeing a lot of people start to wake up again and come to us. I do think that we're going to have an interesting set of fluctuations in the market for the next year or so. I feel very grateful to be a part of the LRW Group and this just great team of companies, because we're all service firms. And so we're all seeing this impact of what might happen as service firms and we're adjusting together. And what we're finding is we're just creating new product offerings for our clients and new service offerings for our clients to meet the moment.

Amy:
And our clients are super excited that we're able to pivot that quickly. I fear the smaller shops that honestly are project by project might not have big retainers and things like that. I fear how they're going to weather this storm. And I'm just really hopeful that people are going to be able to all come out of it still strong, if not stronger.

Chris:
Okay, so a couple of questions for you.

Amy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:
I think many of my friends who are in the service design space have seen as much as 100% of the business fall off to 40% or so. And it's a massive change. And I think they're all sitting around like, "I wonder when the clients are going to come back." So they're not in the driver's seat, they're reactive to what's going to happen and in a way that you saw your business taper off for a little bit, and then it's coming back with a vengeance. But if things don't change, let's just presume that nothing changes, we're still living a fairly limited mobility life, and it doesn't change until 2021 maybe. What changes could you make that are independent of clients saying, "We're ready to go digital now, we're ready to do stuff." What can you do? Because I'm hoping that by sharing that, it'll spark some ideas in other people.

Amy:
Yeah, definitely. I would definitely encourage agencies to find complimentary agency partners, so that they can go to their clients and say, "Hey, we can do so much more for you than what we used to do. Now we can offer all of these additional services so that you're not having to shop around." So that's one thing.

Chris:
Okay.

Amy:
One thing I said to my team at the start of this that I think is very, very important to note, right around now clients are going to be penny pinching in some areas and spending a lot of money in other areas. And it's going to be very unpredictable, which is which. And so if a client has a low budget, I think it is our job to always find a solution within that budget and guide the client to how the scope is being reduced and how we're going to hit that budget, but really protect our scope in the process. Rather than, I know that there are plenty of firms out there where they have a minimum threshold where they say, "Well, I'm only going to work with a client that's going to spend at least 50,000 with us." Or something like that.

Amy:
And the fact of the matter is some of those great clients who would normally do that can't do that right now. So if you can go out and show that you're going to be a partner with them, regardless of budget, we say partnerships over pocketbooks. That's our big phrase at Killer. If you're going to be a partner with them, regardless of their budgets instead, if you're going to be the one who helps find a way to make their budgets work, then when those budgets open back up again, you'll get a windfall.

Amy:
So now is the time to show clients that we are here to protect their end goals as much as possible and to protect their spending. And if we can do that, and be that partner, we're going to maintain those partnerships for the long haul. So I think that's the real key right now.

Chris:
Interesting. Okay. I'd love to share something with you. Because I get to talk to lots of people and sometimes I share things because maybe this isn't the idea, but then it begins a new idea, and then somehow somebody has to answer. So what Amy was just talking about was just teaming up with other people so that you can ease the pain, the frustration or just lower the threshold of the workload that your clients have to go through in order to get something done. You're trying to make it as frictionless as possible.

Chris:
I won't say who this is, but I talk to a person whose business fell off 40%. And he told me, "Chris, I envision planning right now what my business is going to be in five to 10 years, this was a huge wake up call." He's not looking to make small adjustments, because he's seeing the impact. And he got caught flat a little bit. And we're sitting here having to adjust too because we have this giant space in LA, 13,000 square feet. And we can't even use it. And it's expensive.

Chris:
And so everybody has been working from home. And at first it was like, "Okay, I'm going to see productivity dip off," and it sure did. And then we adjusted. This is the beautiful thing about human beings, we will adapt, we will evolve. I'm finding now that people are even more productive than they used to be. So the big question for us is, what's a business like for us that doesn't have a giant central hub for people to gather?

Amy:
Yep.

Chris:
What kind of business model is that? What are we going to do? So it's asking or it's forcing us to ask lots of questions, and to innovate. And one of my biggest challenges is, I see education, they're not figuring it out, they're too big, they're too slow. And we're seeing all kinds of weird things happening in terms of people, a whole bunch of people getting furloughed, laid off, teachers, students postponing taking a gap year. And Ivy League schools loosening their requirements for enrollment. So we're seeing weird stuff happening.

Chris:
So my challenge to my team is, how do we create the most lifelike engaging classroom experience with virtual students? We can do this and they're starting to think now. So that's the challenge for us. And if we could do that, then hopefully, we've created a blueprint for anybody that wants to teach the way we teach.

Amy:
That's awesome. That's really awesome. And I also feel your pain on that. We just moved into a new office right before this happened.

Chris:
Yeah.

Amy:
So nice seven year lease on a brand [crosstalk 00:55:50].

Chris:
Oh, that you just get the pleasure of paying for that you can't really use.

Amy:
Exactly, exactly.

Chris:
Do you have any plans on how to adjust with that?

Amy:
We're lucky because... So we've always done a four-day workweek at Killer. And part of our four-day workweek, we say you work 10 hours a day, you don't have to be in the office 10 hours a day. So you just have to be in the office between 10:00 and 4:00, those are the hours that are the most important. So the rest of the time you can work remotely. As a result, the switch to work remote was easy, because we had everything in place already.

Chris:
Yeah.

Amy:
So it became just literally flipping a light switch is what it felt like. So in any event, we've adjusted, but what's hitting us is simply our culture has been such a big part of our company, we don't get to see each other every day.

Chris:
Yeah.

Amy:
I will say, I mean, my team is my tribe. In hiring all of these amazing people, I've also pickly chosen, who I want to surround myself with every single day because I spend so much time with them. And I missed them so much. Everybody's just such good friends. We all enjoy each other's company. And so that's I think the hardest part or the biggest struggle of this, is just everybody misses each other.

Chris:
Yeah. But what about the space? The space that you're paying for that you're probably not utilizing anymore?

Amy:
Yeah, we don't know what's going to happen there. Our landlord has been amazing. Our landlord knows we're not there. So our landlord has agreed to not charge us rent while we're there. I mean, that's phenomenal.

Chris:
Wow.

Amy:
And we've been really lucky to have a landlord that is really considerate about all of their tenants in that way. That being said, we established it so that once we're back in, we're just going to up our normal rent costs so that we can pay back this time. So that's going to happen, we'll make sure of that. But we don't know if we're going to be back in a month. We don't know if we're going to be back in four months.

Chris:
Right.

Amy:
Especially being in Seattle and the way weather shifts, our office is on the Amazon Campus, so it's a very populous neighborhood. So we're not 100% sure what's going to happen if there's a resurgence of COVID in Seattle or what. So we're just playing it by ear. But it'll likely be we're big open office, so it'll likely be something where people come in if they want to, once we get to a point where we're confident and ready to open back up, and the people who don't want to can work from home, or maybe it'll be every other day certain people come in. We'll figure it out at some point, but we're pretty darn confident that we'll be back in that office, at least by next year. But yeah, we're not sure what this year holds.

Chris:
So one of the things I've been thinking about is, "Do I need all this space? What should I do with this space?" So I'm going back to the drawing board and rethinking and making my five to 10 year plan. But as I was dreaming up of new ways to use the office, there is no better time for us to do construction than right now. It will disturb zero people. So that's one advantage. I'm always trying to find, "What's the silver lining in this?"

Amy:
Right.

Chris:
Because usually it's messy, it's dusty and everybody hates it. The noise and nobody can concentrate. But this is a different opportunity. Okay, I probably have a gazillion more questions for you. But I'm also realizing we're at hour point here. So what is something else that I should have asked you that I didn't, that you feel like, "God, I just wish he would have asked me this so that I can tell people this."?

Amy:
Well, I would love to plug my book that's coming out-

Chris:
Okay.

Amy:
... if I have the opportunity.

Chris:
Okay.

Amy:
On June 30th, I'm releasing my book. It's called Killer Visual Strategies. Wiley publishing is the publisher behind it. It's all about everything I've learned over the past 10 years. The target audience is any business leader, anybody who's looking to just shift the way their business is communicating with audiences. So brand builders, marketers, comm leaders, you name it. At the same time, it is a book that designers can read and take in knowing that these are the items that really matter for marketers.

Amy:
So in reading that book, I do feel like a lot of designers can walk away saying, "Okay, I know how to better manage a client going forward." The middle of the book has eight rules of visual communication. And that part of the book is really focused on designers. So if nothing else, that's going to give designers a really good blueprint into just how we view visual communication and certain mistakes to avoid.

Amy:
So yeah, and at the end of the book, I dive into pricing. So if there are freelancers out there trying to figure out how to charge for their time, there is a table at the end of the book that shows exactly how they should charge for their time. So we did try to make sure that everybody could be empowered by reading the book. But ultimately it is a decade of lessons that I've learned, all put into one great book. It comes out June 30th, Killer Visual Strategies. We are going to have a pre-order page on our website in a couple of weeks. And with that pre-order page, if you pre-order, we're going to give away some nice extra add-ons as well.

Chris:
Great. So what's the website?

Amy:
Killervisualstrategies.com. And the page that we'll have up is killervisualstrategies.com/book.

Chris:
Oh, okay. I thought that was going to be double, like killervisualstrategies.com/killervisualstrategies. Because that's the name of the book too, right.

Amy:
Yeah.

Chris:
That would be crazy.

Amy:
I learned really quickly that the publisher decides the title of your book. So I had all these lofty titles in my head for years. And then they came back to me and they were like, "Oh, yeah, we're calling it the same name as your company." And I said, "Oh, okay."

Chris:
No, that makes a lot of sense though, business wise, doesn't it? SEO wise, everything.

Amy:
It really-

Chris:
So will this also be released on Amazon and other booksellers?

Amy:
Yep, it's already up for sale on Amazon right now.

Chris:
Oh, it is?

Amy:
Yep.

Chris:
Okay, so you can pre-order right now.

Amy:
Exactly.

Chris:
Fantastic. Did your firm design the book?

Amy:
Yes.

Chris:
Okay.

Amy:
That was also a big key. While we were negotiating the contract with Wiley, I made it clear that if we're writing a book all about design and visual communication, then we're the ones executing on all of the design and the visual communication in the book.

Chris:
That does make sense, because sometimes the shoemakers kids have no shoes, and you just came and designed it yourself because you've got so many things going on.

Amy:
Right.

Chris:
Okay. The book is for anybody that wants to work with creative people and have more effective strategies. And it's also for creative people who, I mean, let's be honest, don't like to read a lot. So there's the meat part in the center of the book and also some pricing stuff. So that's great because I'm a big champion for let's have transparent, open conversations about what people charge, what they don't charge, best practices, so that we can learn from each other. But as you know, so many creative firms hold on to this stuff so tightly. So we never learn and we're always competing against each other to the detriment of our own industry. So I'm glad that you're doing that. It was wonderful talking to you today Amy, thank you so much for doing this with me.

Amy:
Definitely. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it Chris. My name is Amy Balliett, and you are listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Thanks so much for joining us in this episode. If you're new to The Futur and you want to know more about our educational mission, visit thefutur.com. You'll find more podcast episodes, hundreds of YouTube videos, and a growing collection of online courses and products covering design and business. Oh, and we spell The Future with no E.

Greg:
The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. This episode was mixed and edited by Anthony Barro, with intro music by Adam Sanborne. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor and review us on iTunes. It's a tremendous help in getting our message out there. And let's us know what you like. Thanks again for listening and we will see you next time.`

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