What's your zipcode, baby?

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photo by monamiclea

Someone threw an interesting question my way last week. I was birthday shopping for my in-laws at this little restaurant supply place in downtown Greenville, when I struck up a conversation with the owner. Nice engaging guy, friendly, helpful, etc. After a few minutes, we started talking about what I do, and of course, I brought up f360, which is my little pet project of the moment. (Yes, BrandBuilder is only a small piece of the puzzle.)

The first thing that he asked me in regards to f360 was this: "Where are you guys located?"

And it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks: We don't have a fancy looking studio downtown (or close to it) like most established creative agencies in Greenville. We don't have a lobby with a coffee bar. We don't have a pile of awards three-feet deep shoved under our spiral stairwell. We aren't renting space in one of downtown's skyscrapers. We don't have our own building and our own parking lot and giant signage visible for miles. We don't even have a conference table. (Oh, the horror.)

Sure, we have an address, but mostly for practical purposes... like... snail mail and package deliveries, and doing actual work. It's a space designed for production rather than a space designed to impress potential clients. Other than that, we're mobile. We're virtual. Our address is wherever our laptop happens to be at the moment. From 8:00am to 10:30am, we may be at client ABC's offices to talk about their next project. From 11:00am to 1:00pm, we may be at client XYZ's store, working on their website content and interacting with their core customers. From 2:00pm to 4:00pm, we may be at any number of locations directing a photo shoot. From 4:30pm to 6:00pm, we may set up shop at a coffee shop to catch up with emails and get some real work done. From 7:00pm to 9:00pm, we may be at the office or at home, working on designing a print ad or a proposal, or sorting through 900 images for a 10:00am deadline. Or we might be in St. Paul. Or New York City. Or Verona, Italy. (Air travel isn't a weekly thing for us, but it happens every couple of months or so.)

Being mobile makes us efficient. We don't need a receptionist. We don't need a secretary. We don't need a janitor. We don't need an IT guy. We don't need to hire green account executives every six months to throw at our unsuspecting clients in the hopes that they'll sell them more services so we can pay for it all. We keep things purposely small. Our size and low overhead allows us to select the kinds of clients we want to work with and always produce exactly the kind of work they need without fleecing them. It already works really well for the consulting side of our business, so we thought we would try it with f360. We never expected to work as well as it has.

Ten years ago, the technology required to be able to function this way wasn't there for the kind of work f360 does. It's here now.

We're talking about laptops with big battery life and fast software tools. We're talking about wi-fi and USB ports and cell phones. Home offices and email and airports. We're talking about eliminating overhead and focusing instead on convenience and efficiency. In our world, a trendy looking office in posh downtown building would be nice, but is completely irrelevant. We'd never be there during business hours.

Think speed and flow.

Think new digs every few hours keeps our minds fresh.

Think spending all day in our own offices is hardly the best way to immerse ourselves in our client's respective cultures. (It's more of a recipe for getting stuck in our own.)

One of my favorite thoughts dealing with what f360 is all about comes from Bruce Mau, and it's this: "Creativity isn't device-dependent." In other words, you don't need the latest and best word processor to write the Great American Novel. You don't need the latest and best digital SLR camera to shoot awesome photos. You don't need a two million dollar studio to become the next Picasso, Dali or Matisse.

Following the same vein, the quality of an agency, studio or consultancy's work isn't fancy digs dependent.

... Or at least, that's what I thought until last Friday. The question, as I mentioned before, hit me like a ton of bricks: "Where are you guys located?"

The truth is that your image, as a business, does have a lot to do with where you are located. Locally, saying something like "we have a studio downtown, just off Main Street, in the West End" means a whole lot more than saying "in Simpsonville, in that little brown building right behind the McDonald's" (not that it's where we are, but you get the point).

Our address may be irrelevant to us, but yes, it is bound to be relevant to lots of people whose experience is different from our own. It matters. Just like the design of your business cards matters. Just like the design of your website matters. Just like the clothes you wear and the way you answer the phone and the way you smile matters. It all matters.

Luckily, we do have a space downtown, so we can give potential clients the answer they want to hear, but I guess we will have to break down eventually and get our hands on something bigger, more spacious, trendier, hipper, more in line with our identity as a company. As a studio. As a den of creative mayhem.

Yep, we're going to need sexy digs before long. Maybe even an intern or two. I guess we should have known it would eventually come to this.

But first things first: Finishing our website, which should finally happen sometime this week. (Thank goodness for small miracles.) I'll post a link when it's all done... (or if you're super curious and impatient, you can always try to Google f360 and see where you end up. Tip: We're not a Ferrari dealership.)

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