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That’ll Do and Good Enough

In the creative design agencies where I worked during the last quarter of a century, there was one phrase that was banned from all the studios: “That’ll do”.

If the management ever heard it mentioned, you were invited into the boardroom to hear a few choice words about the importance of “craft”, “quality” and “attention to detail”.

Because our clients, all big companies paying handsomely for our services, demanded perfection.

At least that’s what we were led to believe

I realise now, however, that the perfectionism that our agency bosses drummed into us was not all about the pursuit of excellence or quality. It was more about avoiding the risk of losing high-fee-paying clients by making mistakes.

Some of our interminable rounds of checks, internal proofs and amendments, and the meticulous attention to detail that we put into our print projects would practically double the billable hours we spent on them.

It wasn’t uncommon to spend hours in internal discussion about moving a graphic a few millimetres one way, and then back again.

Fortunately, large customers with big retainer budgets could afford to pay for that sort of nonsense.

Perfectionism = Low Productivity

Today, I work at the SME level, and budgets of that size just aren’t there. That means you can’t add 50% production time to a job, just to improve it from 95% complete to perfect.

The reality is that nearly every client at the small business level would never notice the extra effort.

Most would happily say, “That’ll do”, if it meant their bill was smaller.

And, for someone like me who spent 25 years agonising over the finer details of print projects, that took quite some getting used to.

During my agency career, I became a consummate perfectionist with a keen eye for tiny details. As a recovering perfectionist, I now see the same traits in some of my clients, and I realise it’s holding them back.

The Perils of Perfectionism

Do you endlessly tinker with projects, or find yourself unable to make a decision? Then welcome, fellow sufferer, to Perfectionists Anonymous.

Perfectionism is not a good thing in business, unless you can turn it into a USP, like the chef Heston Blumenthal has done.

But for the rest of us, once you get past a certain point, every tweak and adjustment to a project contributes less and less to its overall value – yet it sucks up just as much time and resources.

This is the Law of Diminishing Returns – not just a theory but a practical challenge faced by many small business owners. Unrestrained tinkering and micromanagement of projects leads to overspending and missed deadlines without significantly doing anything to improve your customer satisfaction or sales.

Another symptom of perfectionism is Paralysis by Analysis. Have you ever found yourself unable to decide what to do, weighing every possible option and scenario to the nth degree?

It’s a common trap for businesses overly focused on perfection. This indecision will stall vital projects and throttle growth opportunities, leaving you motionless while your competitors plough on regardless.

This obsessive attention to detail can cause you to lose sight of your strategic goals. It’s like trying to read a book by staring too closely at the words – the story gets lost.

Fixing this trait requires consciously stepping back and focusing on the broader picture of your business objectives.

Prioritise Impactful Details

So, how do you decide which details are worth sweating over? It’s all about impact. Focus on the elements that genuinely enhance quality, strengthen your brand’s perception, convey your key message and resonate with your core values.

Start by identifying the aspects of your business that matter most to your audience. What are the unique selling points that set you apart from competitors? Highlight these in your marketing materials.

Pay attention to details like customer service, product quality and brand consistency – these are the elements that leave a lasting impression.

Don’t sweat over details like whether or not to make the font size a quarter of a point larger.

Embracing Good Enough

“Good enough” might sound like you’re settling for mediocrity, but it’s a strategy for agility and resilience, and it’s a concept we’re all used to.

Pick your favourite piece of software. When it was first launched it was a game-changer. Then, a while later, version 2 was released, and you realise that version 1 was some half-finished hack in comparison.

But this new version 2 is the Real Deal – right until the launch of v2.5. And so on.

Software developers embrace the concept of “Good Enough”, and so should we.

It is a great skill to recognise when further refinement offers minimal added value. This means your marketing campaigns can be rolled out swiftly and efficiently, capturing opportunities without the drag of over-perfectionism. 

What really matters to SMEs is generating persuasive and genuine marketing campaigns targeting their potential customers rather than getting all caught up on achieving flawlessness.

Practical Tips for SMEs

Maintaining high standards without getting bogged down in detail requires a blend of tools, practices and changes in mindset. Here is some actionable advice (that I sometimes follow):

  • Set yourself clear priorities: Know what really matters to your customers and focus on that.
  • Embrace iterative processes: Launch in stages, gather feedback, and improve. This keeps you moving forward and responsive to feedback.
  • Use project management tools: Apps like Trello or Asana can help you stay organised and on track.
  • Encourage a culture of decisiveness: Support quick decision-making in your team and focus on progress, not perfection.
  • Celebrate learning: Treat every launch and campaign as a chance to learn. Valuing growth and learning over perfect execution makes your team more productive and innovative.

By marrying high standards with strategic pragmatism, perfectionist business owners can thrive, turning potential obstacles into stepping stones to success.

In fact, “high standards with strategic pragmatism” could be my USP!

And if I can do it, anyone can.

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author avatar
Keith Barker Designer & Marketing Consultant
I'm Keith, the driving force behind Keefomatic Marketing & Design. With a career spanning over 35 years in marketing, design and advertising, I offer a comprehensive, results-driven service tailored to the needs of small business owners.