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Making the Business Case with Lauren Stefaniak of Victoria's Secret

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Summary

There is an art form to asking your company for money or resources, and while business lingo changes and evolves all the time, right now that art form is called making a business case. It might not be a surprise to you that this skill generally doesn't get taught in photography school nor is it wisdom passed among stylists while setting up the next look. It's a skill that really gets developed on the job, and the opportunity to practice doesn't always come up before your thrust into the hot seat. Lauren Stefaniak joins Daniel on the podcast to help you learn how to make that compelling business case, and hopefully prepare you for a new phase of your career.

Key Takeaways

  • What does it mean to make a business case?
    • At its simplest: preparing, developing and presenting an informed point of view in an effort to persuade decision-making in your favor
    • They can seem daunting but on a micro level we do these every day
    • ("what do you want for dinner")
    • Most people focus on the presentation, but that's the smallest part of the whole
    • Iceberg metaphor
      • Preparing - 70%, 10 hours
        • Research the hell out of what you're talking about
        • Look internal
          • Who is your company today, tomorrow, yesterday
            • Can you tie your request to the company's mission or values?
        • Look external (same & different industries)
      • Developing - 20%, 3 hours
        • Distill it down into the most relevant & compelling info - 1-pager
          • Format that works best for me:
            • Current State
            • Request or the Change
            • Benefits
            • Requirements/Key Enablers
            • [Short-term Recommendation]
            • [Long-term Recommendation]
            • Known Open Questions
        • Use language that a friend or family member outside your industry would understand
        • Try to predict what questions you might be asked based on your information; assume someone will ask something you're not prepared for
        • It can be hard to temper the desire to "show your work" but the details will drag you down & make your presentation less effective
        • Put the most relevant details into an appendix, 2 pages max
        • Make the document simple, use visuals as needed (must be pretty)
        • Present & gut-check your work with mid-level partners for their feedback & buy-in ahead of the formal presentation
        • SEND A PRE-READ 48-24 HOURS IN ADVANCE
          • Remember: you've spent many hours in this detail & even more hours living this; for some of your key stakeholders, this will be entirely new info for them. Your presentation could fall apart if leaders are caught off guard when they'd prefer to be prepared
      • Presenting - 7%, 1 hour
        • Enter the room with this mindset:
          • This is not life or death
          • This is not personal
          • These people are someone els's family & friends
        • Ask to hold questions until the end - some questions will be answered in your presentation & Qs won't derail the whole thing
        • Speak slowly & leave time for your audience to digest the info & what you're saying (silence is okay)
        • Allow time for questions & be open, honest in your answers
          • It's ok to not know the answer - you can say "that's a great question, i'll find out that information and get back to you"
        • If you're doing it right, the best metaphor to describe you is a duck gliding across a pond (graceful on the surface, paddling like hell under the water)
      • Commit to following through - this is when the real work begins
        • Send recap notes & next steps following the meeting

Links & Resources

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester:

From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester, and this is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast.

Daniel Jester:

There is an art form to asking your company for money or resources. And while business lingo changes and evolves all the time, right now that art form is called making a business case. It might not be a surprise to you that this skill generally doesn't get taught in photography school and it isn't wisdom that's passed among people on set when they're setting up the next look. It's a skill that really gets developed on the job. And the opportunity to practice doesn't always come up before you're thrust into the hot seat. Lauren Stefaniak of Victoria's Secret joins me on the podcast today to help you learn how to make that compelling business case and hopefully prepare you for a new phase in your career. Lauren starts by breaking down exactly what a business case is.

Lauren Stefaniak:

When I think about a business case at its simplest, the way I would define it is preparing, developing, presenting an informed point of view in an effort to persuade your decision making. And so we do that every day, right? You think about something as small as, "Oh honey, what do you want to eat for dinner?" Well, I want sushi for the third day in a row." And your partner's like, "Come on, I don't want sushi anymore." And you go through all these business cases in your head small, but like, "Well, vegetable rolls are healthy and we have a membership program so it's 20% off." You know, on the super micro level, you're doing it all the time, but it feels like the stakes are so much smaller than if you're doing it for something, for your business, for your department on behalf of other people, but it's such a critical skill.

Daniel Jester:

From here we dig into the process. And spoiler alert, you win your business case in pre-production. In other words, preparation is critical and it's where you spend most of your time. This episode got a little long. So if you're one of the listeners who loves the 30 minute length, maybe think about hitting that 1.5X button on your player for this one. Now let's make that business case.

Daniel Jester:

This is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. I am your host, Daniel Jester. And joining me for this episode of the show, Lauren Stefaniak, Director of Creative Operations for Victoria's Secret. Lauren, welcome to the podcast.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Thanks so much. So happy to be here.

Daniel Jester:

I am very happy to have you here. I was blown away by your presentation at the Henry Stewart's New York event for photo studio operations. I think I probably embarrassed myself after your talk. You had this great slide where it was like, here's the things that people say in our industry, in our business, and here's what they actually mean. And that really hit close to home for me, because on this show, we've talked a ton about fluency. What I loved about it, absolutely loved about it, is it took the LinkedIn-speak that we sometimes get and is like, "Work faster." Here's the LinkedIn-speak of what they want. And what they're actually asking you to do is like, reduce headcount or do it better for less money, whatever it is. I loved it. I thought it was amazing.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Oh thank you. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Daniel Jester:

So we got together after that event and we brainstormed a topic to have you come on and talk about. And I'm really excited to introduce this topic for our listeners, because I think this is going to be a very functional episode. This is going to be a lot of good information in particular for people who are wanting to kind of develop some skills for their career that we were just talking before we started recording that aren't intuitive always. And what we're talking specifically about is how to make the business case. I think the title of this episode's going to be like Making the Business Case. This is not something that a lot of people just have an opportunity to do to make a business case, to pitch something to somebody in order to get something they need for their studio. It's a skill. It's a skill that you develop, right Lauren?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right. Yeah. I mean, what's interesting about it is that it's traditionally a left brain thing that we think about. You hear business cases are made by MBA students, a consultant MBA that comes in to make a business case and it's about math and numbers, science, all that type of stuff. But for those of us who are more right brained, and I would argue that as creative ops folks are right brained, creative marketing design, we don't really get the opportunity to do it. Numbers aren't really our thing. But it's so critical. It's really what can push you over the tipping point for being an individual contributor to a management level, which is what most of us want to do. So having the opportunity to do an effective business case is so pivotal for your career. And it also shows for your leadership, "Not only can I do the work, I've thought about ways to make it better. Here's how."

Daniel Jester:

At its baseline, making the business cases about you knowing that you need something and needing to convince somebody who doesn't know a lot about what you do or what your department does or what your studio does, that this is the right thing. And even for creative people, they know in their gut that this piece of equipment, this change to the studio layout. Whatever it is, they will know, they're professionals, they've worked in a long time, that this is the right thing to do. Making the business case is about finding the right data and the right points to hit on to convince the person, to convince Chief Moneybags, who we've talked about a lot on this podcast, to whoever Chief Moneybags is that's got the checkbook, which maybe half of our listeners are wondering what a checkbook is. It's a pre debit card, pre-credit card. But it's just about convincing them that this is the right thing to do and backing that up with data.

Lauren Stefaniak:

When I think about a business case add its simplest, the way I would define it is preparing, developing, presenting an informed point of view and an effort to persuade your decision making. And so we do that every day, right? You think about something as small as, "Oh honey, what do you want to eat for dinner?" Well, I want sushi for the third day in a row." And your partner's like, "Come on, I don't want sushi anymore." And you go through all these business cases in your head small, but like, "Well, vegetable rolls are healthy and we have a membership program so it's 20% off." On the super micro level, you're doing it all the time, but it feels like the stakes are so much smaller than if you're doing it for something, for your business, for your department on behalf of other people, but it's such a critical skill.

Daniel Jester:

What people need to tap into, and I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that other people have the same experience that I have, is the business case you make to yourself when you're trying to convince yourself to spend a gift card that somebody gave you. I don't know why. And I don't know if you're like this Lauren. But when I get a gift card someplace, it's not enough to just use it in the normal course of how I buy things from Target or whatever. I have to get the most bang for my buck out of that gift card because it's free money and it has to be something that's going to fulfill that in some way. And I go through all this mental rigamarole of like, "What's the right thing to use this gift card for?" and trying to convince myself. And that's kind of a little bit of what you're trying to tap into, is ways of thinking about helping somebody else understand what's the value they're going to get out of this investment.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, absolutely. And it's so funny that you bring up the gift card example because it feels like it's this piece of gold that is so much more valuable than it actually is even though there's a dollar mark literally on it, but that's how it [inaudible 00:07:05].

Daniel Jester:

Right. Yeah.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Like, you know?

Daniel Jester:

It's worth so much more. I don't know the right literary or psychological concept that ties to this. It feels like a Schrödinger's cat kind of thing. And I butchered that name. Don't make fun of me podcast listeners. But it's one of those things where it now has exploded beyond its actual, like you said, actual printed value and it's worth so much more than that. So much so that I have several of them that have now expired sitting in a drawer because I was crippled by my own anxiety.

Daniel Jester:

But yeah, this is something that we need to learn how to do as we grow in our careers. And it's not an easy thing and it can be pretty daunting. It's not always that you have an opportunity to sit in a room with... Sometimes it goes beyond your direct manager. Sometimes you got to convince your skip-level or their manager. And depending on the size of your organization, sometimes you find yourself in a room with the C-suite needing to present some piece of information that can be pretty scary in some cases.

Daniel Jester:

And so I want to dig in a little bit. Now we laid a good foundation for the conversation. And I think I'm just going to ask you the question. We've touched on some of these points. But what does it mean, even deeper than we touched on already, what does it mean to make that business case?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. So I love this question because it's a big one. I think when you ask people, they'll say, "Oh, it's the presentation." It's getting in the room, making the presentation, but that's really not what it's about. It's about the preparation and the development of getting into that room. Because if we look at it, I made a business case for making a business case. In preparation-

Daniel Jester:

You shared it by the way. For the listeners, Lauren sent me pages of notes with multiple levels of indentations. It's remarkable. It's pretty amazing.

Lauren Stefaniak:

It's funny. So inside of the preparation, if we think about it, the 10 hours, Daniel's looking at this outline that is four pages. It was probably 40 before we got to this point, because I put all the information out there.

Daniel Jester:

There was more than this?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Oh, yeah. It's a lot. This is edited.

Daniel Jester:

And you edit it back?

Lauren Stefaniak:

This is edited. But that's what you have to do, right?

Daniel Jester:

Yeah.

Lauren Stefaniak:

It's get all that information. Research the hell out of what you're trying to talk about. And it means looking internal, right? So who is your company today? Who are they yesterday? Who are they going to be tomorrow? These are all relevant pieces of information when you're looking to develop a business case. Because if you're looking at just a snapshot in time, that doesn't really tell the full story and doesn't really get you where you need to go when you're making the case. It's also beneficial for you to look external, right? So what are other people in the industry is doing? I thought it was so beneficial going to that Henry Stewart conference myself, being in the audience after my session, hearing what are all these other companies doing inside of their studios? What are they doing inside of their ops orgs? And how can I apply that here? Even further outside of that, what are different industries doing?

Lauren Stefaniak:

I work in retail, but a car manufacturer may be doing something interesting, unique, innovative that I can apply in my use case. It doesn't have to be a one for one translation. So I'm looking at all these things in the prep work, which typically takes me about 10 hours a time, 70% of the work will be here. If we move into developing, I would say this is a two parter that takes you about three hours. So the first part's distilling all of that information down into the most relevant and compelling information. For me, it looks like a one-pager which can feel painful for people who love to show their work, right? Like you've been in school for however many years and they're like, "Show your work. Don't just show me your answer. Show your work." It doesn't work in this case. You have to show the answer and then bury the work and only give the most relevant piece of work inside of an appendix in two pages later.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So that top sheet is really what's going to be most compelling and relevant. And the format that works best for me, which I want to share with the audience is start with your current state. So this ties into knowing your audience, which we'll talk about a little bit later, and understanding the altitude of people in the room, right? You live and breathe your current state, but the people that you're talking to may have zero idea what you're talking about.

Daniel Jester:

No clue whatsoever most of the time.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:11:12].

Daniel Jester:

It's probably safe to assume that.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right. It is. It is. It's safe to assume they don't know anything about what you're talking about. So give them the current state, just like a quick two sentences of, "This is where we are today. This is the landscape where we're operating in." Ground them in the information before you make a recommendation. Then detail the request or the change. So if it's a business case where the business says to you, "Be faster" and you're like, "Okay, I'm going to cut headcount." Or you come up with a business case yourself and you say, "I want to reduce headcount to then be faster." This is like the one sentence you give them here. So, "Cut headcount by 50% to promote $50 million in savings" or whatever it is. One sentence here.

Daniel Jester:

50 headcount for $50 million. I'm coming to work for Victoria's Secret right now.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. I didn't prepare an example.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. No. Okay. Sorry. I'm a little slap-happy. Let's move on.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. So from there, I would say give the benefits. So this is the top three or four measurable, actionable things that you can give them. Use percentages, use dollar amounts, reduction in cost, percentage saved, that type of stuff in the benefit section. And then give them the requirements or key enablers. So when you're doing that prep work, you will undoubtedly uncover that this whole thing can fall apart if these four things don't happen. And you don't want to bury that in the details, because if you do and you get this approved and then one of those things happen, you're dead in the water and you fail. So put that all up front.

Lauren Stefaniak:

And then put it onto the leadership team to assess whether that risk is something they want to take on or this is a necessary component of the business case. "You want to do this? Well, we have to do this." They may say, "Great. We'll do that." Or they may say, "You know what? We're fine with not doing that." But at least doing that in this way gives them the visibility to the fact that you've thought through all the different things that can tear this thing down. And you're aware of it so it's not going to surprise you.

Daniel Jester:

Let's take this format and really quickly kind of do an example business case. With my background as a photographer, I'll take the lead on what the change that we want to see is, because this is one that I've been involved in at more than one studio. Depending on your organization. CapEx can be not a big deal or it can be kind of a big deal. And it just depends on how big your organization is, how big the budget is, what the efforts are going on.

Daniel Jester:

And so we'll say that in this case current state is we shoot handbags and our handbag shot requirement is three shots tabletop with the camera looking into the bag. So it's like a front 3/4 back and a side shot. And then we do an overhead shot into the bag. My favorite shot, I'm a bag guy, I've said it a million times on this podcast, there are no less than seven bags at my feet right now in the studio that I'm in. And the inside shot is critical because I'm buying bags to solve a problem. And I need to know what pockets are in there. I need to know what kind of space I have.

Daniel Jester:

In some studios, especially younger scrappier studios, it may not occur to who built that studio or who requisitioned to the equipment initially that a handbag set should probably have two cameras. It should probably have a front camera and an overhead camera that are both permanently locked off. They sit there because your photographer can shoot every shot that they need for that bag and that bag is done. If you don't have a set with two cameras and you need to do that inside shot, you're going to have to do one of two things. Move the camera every time a bag comes on set, which is burning a lot of energy and is really irritating, because photographers, if there's one thing that they love more than taking photographs, it's moving equipment around for over and over to the same place constantly. Or they have to batch. They have to work in batches where they shoot all of the front shots and then change their equipment up and then shoot all of the inside shots.

Daniel Jester:

There's pros and cons for both of those. I don't want to litigate them. But none of them are good solutions when you could just have another camera. You can just have a second camera. So current state is, we are opening ourselves up to potential mistakes or missing images by only having one camera on set. Do you think that's a fair current state, Lauren?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. So I think for the current state, you start super simple and say what is actually the case. So what I would say is we have two sets, one camera each for our handbag situation. And leave it at that because you don't really want to lead the witness yet and tell them what it is you're trying to solve for.

Daniel Jester:

Mm-hmm. So literally it's just current state, it's not even necessarily the problem. It's just like today we have two handbag sets that each have one camera on set. I mean, my instinct still wanted me to be like, "This causes a problem instead of just letting them discover the problem." But I think that's probably part of it, right? It's not shoehorning your problem down anybody's throat. It's trying to help them lead and discover the problem themself a little bit.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right. And remember, you're talking to people who probably don't even know that you have a camera in there, right?

Daniel Jester:

At all. Yeah.

Lauren Stefaniak:

They're like, "What's the set?"

Daniel Jester:

What's the studio?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So to ground them and-

Daniel Jester:

Do you have one of those?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. To ground them in the most basic information to wrap their heads around it, I think helps set the tone and give them a second to be like, "Okay, yeah, no, I'm where you are."

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. So then the request or the change would be, for our two handbag sets we need $12,000 for two camera bodies and two lenses.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right.

Daniel Jester:

And a handful of peripherals to help support building that out. And that's it. That's pretty basic. Do I have that one right? Request or change.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah.

Daniel Jester:

"Here's what we want." Maybe you don't even need to detail out the equipment. You definitely though, I think... And Lauren, you tell me if this is right or wrong. You want to be prepared with that information, but you don't necessarily want to not... I think the thing with the one pager is like, you want to still have all of that research and data behind the one pager because you want to be able to answer those questions. But what you're giving them is just, "We need $12,000 for equipment to build these sets out to be more functional" whatever it is.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Correct. Yeah. And then I would say to that point on your second page, you have a table that details out the line items that gets you to that 12,000. But you don't have to mention it or do anything on this first page. It'll just bury them in detail.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. And for a little personal win, when you're in the room, somebody will ask, "What's this going to be for?"

Lauren Stefaniak:

They will.

Daniel Jester:

And you're not going to say, "I don't know, it's just a number." You're going to say, "Well, if you turn to appendix 2, here's a detailed line item list with current prices from bandbh.com or Adorama. I don't care who you use. It's fine." We're going to come into benefits. And you tell me if this is the right place for this, but my mind again, as like a studio level guy who wants to solve this problem for my photographers on set, one of the things I need to know is one of the benefits is going to be, "We're going to reduce time potentially of shooting these bags depending on how we've been doing it. Whether we've been batching or moving a camera, we're going to reduce time. We know that much."

Daniel Jester:

You can go so far as to spend a part of a day with your team on set doing some time trials, how long does it take you on average to shoot an entire bag with one camera? And then if it were me in my studio on a slow day, I'd grab the camera off of handbag set number two and test it to see how much faster it is with two cameras. I already have that information. We can be X percent faster.

Daniel Jester:

The other thing you're going to probably want to find is how many instances of missing images have occurred because of this current workflow. Hopefully you have a way to track that. How many times has somebody made a request that this product is missing an image or whatever? You're not going to totally eliminate that with the two camera workflow, but you have a better idea. If you're working with two cameras and you can shoot all variants, you need at one time, you're less likely to miss an image. I think that one's a little bit harder to sell, but you definitely want to find the data behind that. And I'm assuming Lauren, that lives in the benefits part of this presentation.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I would say to go one further than that. If you were to say, "Oh, we've reduced time," which reducing time in any way is amazing, your leader may think, "Oh, what? And then you go home early?"

Daniel Jester:

Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So you'd want to say, you'd want to turn it into something that actually makes sense back to them. So we're reducing time, which means we're increasing our shots per day from 20 to 30 or whatever it may be. So you're more effective, you're saving money, you're showing true benefit to them not just in a way of like, "We're faster."

Daniel Jester:

Well, I think one of the areas that people might get hung up on that part of it also is that you can tie time and even dollar amount. I've done that before at Amazon making a business case for something that you can tie a dollar amount to it. You always want to do this in good faith, but most of the time, I don't think anybody's going to come to you and want to make absolute sure that you saved that amount of time or that amount of money. People, I think, get really hung up on that, like, "Look, here's the fact. Right now it takes six minutes and 36 seconds to shoot a handbag. We can reduce that down to four minutes flat by using this workflow. That means our throughput is higher." There are a lot of things that impact throughput. I don't think anybody's going to be like, "I bought you two new cameras. I want to make sure this throughput is higher." I don't think you need to get that worried about whether that outcome's going to come to fruition necessarily. It's more about the good faith effort of doing it faster.

Lauren Stefaniak:

100%. I think you have to remember that the good faith went into your baseline numbers, so you can apply that good faith into your future state numbers, right? So we can say, "Oh, we shoot it in six minutes." But that's not every shot every day. You know? Shit happens.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. You get that patent leather Moschino handbag that reflects everything. Yeah. I've shot a lot of hands shot.

Lauren Stefaniak:

A lot of six minute shot.

Daniel Jester:

I shot a lot of handbags in my career and I have a lot of baggage around it, that "Whoa, okay. Baggage. That was a couple of ways there."

Lauren Stefaniak:

It's good fun. Yeah.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah, pretty good. The bottom line there is like, it really, really helps. It really helps to have put in that 70% section with that preparation to have done some testing potentially if you have it within your capacity. I don't think anybody, I don't think any reasonable studio manager out there would have a problem approving a couple hundred dollars expense because you rented an extra camera for a couple days to test this idea. These are all of the types of things that you want to have prepared for. You want to come in knowing inside and out current state and what those benefits are going to be. So if you can test your idea, even better.

Lauren Stefaniak:

I think if it's something straightforward where it's like, "Oh, cut headcount" where you can't really test it without actually doing it, it's a different story. But any way you can test it in proof of concept to yourself before you get to a business case, it'll just give you the information that you need. And also prove that you can do it. So it's like riding the bike with the training wheels on. Before you take the training wheels off, you're still riding the bike.

Daniel Jester:

Right.

Lauren Stefaniak:

And you can do it before you get in that room.

Daniel Jester:

Absolutely. So let's move on to the next one, requirements and key enablers. I think I understand what requirements are, but I'm very interested to find out what you mean by key enablers and how this ties into the previous bullet points.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. So key enabler for us is just a nicer way of saying requirements. This goes into speaking the language.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. Right. Okay.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Some people don't like hearing really harsh terminology, like "This is a requirement." They get stuck on that.

Daniel Jester:

Sure.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So you can say things like key enablers or potential challenges, things that are kind of soften it a little bit based on who your audience is. But for me, I think of requirements in this case as like a photographer who knows how to shoot overhead and into if that's something that you struggle with, like let's say you have two different photographers doing it. I don't know if that's relevant. But that might be a requirement in this case. Or, "This one's pretty straightforward so I don't think your requirements would be that many."

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. I mean, I guess, is requirements where we would start to list out specifically or is that still just part of the request? Like the equipment changes that we need or the other things, does that continue to feed into those requirements? Like the benefits we're going to achieve is based off of us getting this equipment?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. I think this whole thing assumes you get the equipment. The requirements are more like, what are the external factors that aren't tied to the specific request that needs to be handled?

Daniel Jester:

Got it.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Like for example, let's say your one set that you're thinking of moving to is in a building or in a room that the ceiling height doesn't let you do an overhead camera into.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. Great.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So that would be a place where you'd be like, "Well, we have to do set two, not set one because if we build out set one, that camera's not going to fit."

Daniel Jester:

Maybe a requirement or a key enabler for this would be like some couples of hours of training for your photographer teams over the course of however long it takes for you to train all of your freelancers who don't come in every day in how to now op. Because there will be some operational differences in how that set functions and your team may or may not be familiar with working that way.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, absolutely. I love that one.

Daniel Jester:

A lot of this is just proving to people in the room that you've thought a lot about this. And so you've also thought about, "Are there training requirements or training needed to get your team up to speed once this change is implemented?"

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. 100%.

Daniel Jester:

So short term recommendations is next once we've outlined the requirements and key enablers. So what are we talking about with short term recommendation versus long-term recommendation? I think maybe we have to tackle these both to kind of delineate what they mean.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. They go hand in hand and I think these are optional depending on, once again, who your audience is and who you're talking to. Some leaders can't handle a really big change. So in the example that we're talking through, it's the small change. They can probably swallow it in its largest form. But if you ask for something wild and big. Even if you-

Daniel Jester:

A second studio.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. A second studio. Even if you can prove it, it may just be too much for them. So in these cases where you're asking for something big, I've found that if you give them a short term smaller recommendation that gets you part of the way there, that then also leads you into your long-term recommendation that gets you all the way there, it's easier for them to commit and sign up to that short-term recommendation. And then you come back after you do that in a few months and you say, "Great, look, I proved this out this works. How about we reconsider this long-term recommendation? Because instead of going from zero to six, we're already at three. So it's just another three forward. How do you feel about that now?"

Daniel Jester:

I love this. I'm getting actually goosebumps right now. You can't see that on the camera. Which is a weird response to work stuff. It happens to me all the time, I don't understand it. But I think I did this yesterday, Lauren. Talking to my wife, we have an espresso maker at home. We have a Breville that has an included coffee grinder thing. The coffee grinder thing hasn't been working. And I was already like... Listen, it was really hot in the house yesterday. It's been very hot in Southern California. I was working on this coffee grinder trying to look at it, see if I could clean it. I was sweating and I was kind of irritated. I tried to call their customer service because I couldn't fix what was going on. And they were closed already.

Daniel Jester:

I just got it in my head that they were going to be like, "It's out of warranty. It's not..." Breville is like a brand that is known for high quality products. I haven't even talked to them yet. Again, this is all in my head. I'm building this up that they're going to be like, "No, you have to buy a new one." The solution that I came up with that I told my wife was like, "Okay, if that's the way they're going to play this, if they're going to play hardball, in my brain about this thing that I'm making up, I'm just going to buy a separate coffee grinder and continue to use the espresso maker that way. And then when I have enough money to replace the espresso maker, I'll get a nicer Italian one that doesn't have the coffee grinder because I only bought this one because it has the coffee grinder included and I needed that part of it."

Daniel Jester:

But that's kind of the idea, right? Is like breaking things into more manageable chunks. You don't have the budget for this big ask today, I don't have the budget today to replace my year and a half old espresso maker, but I have a plan in place to break that up in a way that is palatable to me and that I can manage.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Exactly. And also that ultimately takes into account your long term goal, right?

Daniel Jester:

Right.

Lauren Stefaniak:

It's not just like one or the other. It's one and the other if you can get it over the finish line, which I think is a nice way to get on the path to where you want to go.

Daniel Jester:

So that's short term/long term recommendations. Item seven under this format is known open questions, which I also like. Just anticipating... This is something I do in my head all the time. I think a lot of people do it. Anticipating the questions you're going to get.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. Or even this one is about uncovering what you uncovered in your research that you couldn't answer, that you need somebody else to answer or you don't know if it's relevant or not, but it seems relevant. So we'll put things in here like, I don't know, questions about things that out there in the universe surrounding your problem. And then the leaders can have the opportunity to say, "That's irrelevant or I don't care" or, "Oh wow. That is actually good that you thought of that. Let's consider that as part of this." But it's an opportunity for you to say, "I thought of all these things. I could not figure out this one piece, but let's have a discussion about it because this isn't like a dog and pony show only. This is an open dialogue and conversation."

Daniel Jester:

The signal that that sends also is that I don't have all of the answers. And I think that that's a really respectable position to take when you... People often feel like when they have to get up and make a presentation like this in front of a group of people asking for money or whatever it is, that you do have to have all the answers. And that's not a reasonable expectation.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Not at all. And then once we get further into the presentation part of this, my 7%, I do talk about when questions are being asked and there is the ability to say, "You don't know," you know?

Daniel Jester:

Right.

Lauren Stefaniak:

"I don't know. That's a great question. I'll find out the information and I'll get back to you," which is so much better than making something up on the fly or lying and then it comes back and bites you two months down the road and they're like, "Wait, but I asked you about this and you said X."

Daniel Jester:

That covers the format of this. And there's a lot more to get through. I want to make sure that we get through at least this section. So there's a few more bullet points under developing that if you can just take like a couple of minutes to touch on. I won't ask any questions and derail the conversation so that we can get into the presenting piece of this and make sure that we cover it in the time we have.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Awesome. Yeah. Sounds good. So I think once you got that format in mind and you're working through it, there are some key insights that I've discovered throughout my time doing business cases that I would love to share. So first is using language that a friend or family member outside of your industry would understand. So I'm sure most creative ops professionals feel this way, but if you're trying to tell great aunt Barbara what you do for work and she's like, "But you take the photos?" And you're like, "No, I don't take the photos. I help them take the photos." "What do you mean you help take the photos? You hold the light?" And I'm like, "No, I don't do that." So it's figuring out how you can describe it in a way to people who know nothing about what you do and using that language without being patronizing, without putting them down in a truly informational information sharing way, that'll be the way that you get this over the finish line with your presentation. That's the first one.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Second one we kind of touched on this, but try to predict what questions you may be asked based on your information. But you have to assume that someone will ask something that you're not prepared for. And that's okay. You just have to have the awareness that somebody's going to ask something you're not going to know, but you have to know how you should react in that moment even if you don't have the answer. From there, it can be really hard to temper the desire to show your work, but don't do it. Do not do it. Your leaders don't want to see it. Put it on page two.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. I know I said I wasn't going to interject, but this is one that I feel like this really... I feel very seen and also attacked with this one. Because for me, and I'm going to... Vulnerability is one of those things that I like to trade in. I think it makes me more relatable in some ways. One of the things that I do is that like, this is my opportunity to show people how smart I am. And I want them to know how smart I am and how much I thought about this. It's really hard to let go of that for a presentation like this, but it's vital because everyone... Lauren, I've watched it happen in the room. Everyone will roll their eyes at you. Yeah.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Or they fall asleep, you know? It's like they're-

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. They just don't care that much.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. So after that one, I would say put the most relevant details into your appendix. That's where you could show that you're smart. Make your document simple and use visuals as needed. So I've seen business cases where it's dense and that's like the only word I can use to describe it. It's so hard to even know where to look. There's no flow throughout the page, but it's like, "Here's all my information and take it." But if you really pull back and you say, "It has to be a pretty document," that's what we say internally, "Make it pretty," I spend a lot of time making my document pretty. And it matters, because people, if they don't see a pretty document, they fall asleep.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So once you have all of your information there, there's two things that I think you should do before you go into presentation. One, present and gut check your work with your mid-level partners. So find somebody between the level that you're presenting to and your own level and just get their POV, get their insight. They're going to have different opinions and a different point of view than you that might help influence what you're doing. And it also helps to get their buy-in before your presentation, right? If you can convince somebody else who's completely irrelevant to the situation that they should do it, then you're better served once you walk into that room.

Daniel Jester:

For sure.

Lauren Stefaniak:

And then the last thing, and this is so critical, is send a pre-read. So also going into knowing your audience and speaking the language. Some leaders don't do well with people walking into the room, cold, giving them information and then being expected to make a decision.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah.

Lauren Stefaniak:

And it's not really fair for us to expect them to do that either, right?

Daniel Jester:

Right.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So if they're the type of person who likes to prepare ahead of time, send them that document that you're looking to present max 48 hours, minimum 24 hours. Give them the opportunity to read it if they want so that they can then come to a better point of view and decision inside of that room once you get there.

Daniel Jester:

This is another one that I want to point out that can be counterintuitive for a lot of people, is because I think there might be an underlying fear that if I send this document without me there to provide the talking points or the context, that they may jump to a conclusion. And I think you just need to give your leaders the benefit of the doubt that they understand that they're not intended to take this pre-read and come to a conclusion. They're intended to have some baseline of information and ideally will come with questions. At the end of the day, if they do jump to a conclusion and they do decide for that pre-read that the answer is no or whatever, then the answer was likely no anyway.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right.

Daniel Jester:

You're not going to do a lot of damage to your... I don't think you're going to reduce your odds of getting what you need by sending this pre-read. And in fact, I would trust you Lauren, to say that this is, like you said, one of the most critical steps.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Daniel Jester:

So that brings us now to presenting, which on your outline here is a mere 7% of the entire process. We've done all this work and now we're in the room. We're probably sweating. We've filled up on donuts and coffee, which was a bad choice, but they were in the room. They were in the room there to take. So what are you going to do?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. They're there. You were there. So this is the actual tip of the iceberg in my iceberg metaphor. You're there. You made it. You've done all the work that's sitting underneath that ocean. And so how do we set ourselves up for success? I think it starts with entering the room with a very specific mindset. This is what I remind myself all the time, not just when doing business cases, but in general life. This is not life or death. It's really not. This is not personal. It's not about you. And these people are someone else's family and friends. So remember back when you're preparing and you're thinking about how would I describe this to my family or friends? How would I talk to people like they're my family and friends? The people you're talking to are somebody's family and friends. They're people like we are. It's not that scary. It may seem scary, but this will help you get over some of that fear.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So once you prep yourself for that, I love to do this one. It tends to not go over very well, but I always like to say it anyway and see how it goes. But ask the people in the room to hold their questions until the end. It makes it seem like you really want to get through your dog and pony with them, but really what it will do is it'll help keep them from derailing your whole presentation, which will then get you off topic.

Daniel Jester:

Right.

Lauren Stefaniak:

And if a leader's saying something, you're not going to feel like you want to interject. But most likely the case if you do a good job in preparation, you're going to answer at least some of their questions that they're going to ask. So it'll cut down that noise by the time you get to the end.

Daniel Jester:

This is another tough one, because it can feel really bizarre to go into a room depending on who's in the room. But if you're in the room with like a C-suite, a chief operating officer to be like, "Hold your questions till the end person who signs all my paychecks," one thing that can really spell doom for making a business case is getting caught in a hypothetical and then using up all your time trying to fight a hypothetical, which is impossible. It's impossible to do that. You have to get through the information that you've researched and shared.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right. I think that this pairs nicely with having your one pager really solid and fairly short, because it won't take you that long to get through it. And then you can move into the question section.

Daniel Jester:

Right.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So it's not like slide page after slide page, 10, 11 pages deep, where they're like, "I forgot my question from an hour ago."

Daniel Jester:

Then you can fight the hypothetical about what if you buy 16 cameras and they're all duds, then what do you do? Which is like... But the hypotheticals are always so random depending on-

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right. Right.

Daniel Jester:

It's always Chief Moneybags too. It's always the person who actually has to pay that asks the bizarre... "What if we buy these cameras and then the studio gets hit by an asteroid?" I don't know, man. Talk to the insurance guy.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right. That's that one question you're not prepared for.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. Right. "Well, actually I do know what'll happen. The body of this camera is titanium. Therefore..." You have on here, speak slowly and leave time for your audience to digest the info. This goes back to practicing with people. Because you're going to get in there and you're going to... And it's going to probably feel like you didn't make any sense at all.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. Especially for people, like I said, who know nothing about what you're saying. For them to not only know what you're saying and then for you to speed read through it, that would be difficult for even a subject matter expert to fully get what you're saying.

Daniel Jester:

For sure.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So speak slowly. Silence is okay. They're taking things in. Remember you probably spent a lot of silent hours by yourself as you were taking this information in, they're doing the same thing. Let it really soak in.

Daniel Jester:

Ah, that's great perspective. I really love that perspective, yeah. Because people get... It's awkward. We aren't good anymore. We aren't conditioned after years of technology and social media to just sit in silence for a moment.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. Yeah. But it helps.

Daniel Jester:

It does.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So then allow time for questions and be open and honest in your answers. You don't want to get caught in a lie. You don't want to get caught in something that'll bite you down the road. Tell them what you're feeling.

Daniel Jester:

Don't make up an answer.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, do not.

Daniel Jester:

If you don't know the answer, do not make up an answer. And don't speculate. It's really hard not to, but an acceptable answer is, "I need to look into this and get back to you."

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. That's important. You can say, "I don't know," but tell them that you will follow up with them. Yeah. And that's really it. If you're doing it right, you'll be like a duck lighting across a pond. You'll be calm on the outside and screaming on the inside paddling under the water like hell. But that'll get you to the finish line, right? It's only one hour out of all this work that you've done and you've done it.

Daniel Jester:

Lauren, I don't know what to say. This was incredible. Just for the listener, I'm torn because we are already well over the time for a normal episode for this podcast. I know many of you listen to it while you're jogging and refuse to jog past 30 minutes. So I don't want to go too much longer, but that was incredible. And that's only half of the notes. It's only half of the notes that we got through. So I don't know if this needs to turn into a two parter. I don't know if I want do that to you Lauren.

Daniel Jester:

But is there anything else on this list? I mean, I think this is a great place to stop this conversation for now. We got through, I think, arguably like what we committed to, which is how do you make this business case? But you have a lot of other bullet points on here. Maybe let's spend like a couple minutes on understanding your audience because I think that's a really important one. I'm looking at some of the other things we wanted to outline to talk about. I think that's one that is a skill that really people need to develop is learning who's going to be in the room, what are they interested in and what are they not going to tolerate.

Lauren Stefaniak:

First, starting by diversifying your conversations on a regular basis will help set you up for success. And what that looks like to me is in your day to day life, you're speaking to people on an X and a Y axis, right? So I'm a director, I'm talking to directors in other departments and teams. Or I'm in the creative operations team so I'm talking to my boss or I'm talking to the people below me, right? We're not often swimming around in this access of people that we talk to. But if you talk to people outside of your department at all different levels, it really helps you get a diverse perspective of what do they care about? What are they thinking about? How do they speak and communicate and really gives you good insight?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Try talking to the VP of finance. Have a conversation with them and see how it goes. You may not even be speaking the same language, but at least starting at that baseline level of understanding we are entirely different people, we communicate in entirely different ways, that'll help set you up for success when that VP or that EVP, CIO are sitting in that presentation room and you're like, "I don't know who you are and what you do," but it'll help get you there.

Lauren Stefaniak:

So I think from there, understanding your audience looks like three main things for me. One, knowing the unknown really is the key headline of this, but the familiarity of the subject matter level varies by the level of people in the room, right? So the C-suite will not know the detail, but if you're talking to a photographer, they will. So understanding what their familiarity level is will really help assume they know nothing.

Lauren Stefaniak:

The second thing is that priorities vary by department. Daniel., You had a great example earlier about the finance person will care about this one particular thing. If you know there's somebody financial in that room, take that into account when you're building your business case because they'll care and that question will come up. If you're the only creative person in the room, they don't care if it'll make the image look better. Keep that to yourself.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. Yeah.

Lauren Stefaniak:

And then the third thing is capacity to focus varies by person. So leadership time is limited. Make it count. They have a million things they're thinking of so their ability to focus is very limited and you have to make sure that what you're sharing with them is the most relevant, salient information that'll get your point across.

Daniel Jester:

One thing that I've learned on this one because I've been sitting in the room trying to convince somebody to give me something and then they started just reading a Harvard Business Review article on their phone, it can sometimes feel insulting. But that person is in that position for a reason. And the reason could likely be that they've made their decision and probably in your favor, honestly. Like if they start getting distracted by emails coming through on their phone or on their laptop or whatever in the meeting, it's entirely possible, and probable I would argue, that they have made a decision about what you're asking for and they're now on to the next thing, even though you're 45 minutes isn't up yet or whatever it is.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right. Exactly.

Daniel Jester:

Okay. Lauren, this has been absolutely incredible. This is easily going to be a top five favorite episode for me because we really, I think, outlined some important skills for people and I can't wait for people to listen to this episode. I want to just ask one quick question for you because I suspect based on what I know about you so far, we had a question that we discussed maybe talking about on this episode around mentorship and you only put two bullet points under mentorship. I have a feeling there's a lot more underneath the water level. That's just the tip of the iceberg on that one. Is mentorship something that we should have you back to talk about on a future episode? Mentorship in our industry, do you have strong enough feelings about that to carry another episode sometime down in the future?

Lauren Stefaniak:

I could do a week long seminar in mentorship. I would love to come back for that.

Daniel Jester:

Excellent. Lauren, this was incredible. Thank you so much for your insight on this. I really can't wait. I feel like this almost needs to be something that we package and send out there as like, I don't know, a downloadable ebook or something, because this is extraordinarily valuable information for people when they will inevitably in their career need to go ask somebody for something to do their job better.

Lauren Stefaniak:

I'm so glad you find it so helpful. I'm happy to share.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. Thank you so much for coming on and can't wait to have you back.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Thanks. Me, too.

Daniel Jester:

What an incredible episode with Lauren. We absolutely have plans in the works to bring her back on the show sometime soon talking about the topic of mentorship and what it has meant to her in her career. Many thanks to our guest Lauren Stefaniak and thanks to you for listening. The show is produced by Creative Force, edited by Calvin Lanz. Special thanks to Sean O'Meara. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time my friends.

About the host

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.