Having owned a business for the last 5 years, I can safely say that reputation is the single thing that will either make or break an organisation.

But does the relentless pace of today’s online world make it impossible for peers and potential customers to focus on, and in fact celebrate, past achievements?

Are we not being recognised for all of our incredible work to date, and instead being goaded and judged the moment we make the slightest error? And will the smallest smudge on an otherwise perfect portfolio lead to actual loss of business?

It begs the question: are you only as good as your last project?

You can replace ‘project’ with ‘sale’, or even ‘success’. The principle remains the same.

I’m going to call this way of thinking the Last Project Philosophy.

And it seems to be a particularly solid sticking point for creatives. This could be largely because many design and marketing firms that fit the ‘creative’ label often work on a project-by-project basis; once their work has been unleashed on the world, that’s it. Done. Over. They wait for the praise, or brace themselves for criticism. Either way, they have very little control over what the masses think of their ideas, and even less say in how this audience decides to vocalise its opinions.

Add to this the fact that multiple social platforms give customers the option to review and rate companies’ output in a matter of seconds, and the pressure to be continually brilliant increases. All it takes is one dodgy Facebook review to knock your confidence; a comment from a disgruntled customer, or a passive-aggressive snub from someone who you thought had bought into your business.

Though they may be masked as constructive criticism that’s designed to help you improve, these comments are not always justifiable. I’ve seen plenty of faux-negative reviews from malicious users, or pernickety client-agency disagreements that have got out of hand and been plastered all over the internet. In many cases, this feedback is not an accurate reflection of the work that was carried out, nor is it particularly useful. (By the way – if you need some help turning bad reviews into a positive way of communicating with your customers, Forbes put together a very helpful article with the help of Alison Coleman. Have a read and it might help you put pesky complaints into perspective).

Coming to terms with the Last Project Philosophy

Here’s something for you to think about when you feel like you’re only as good as your last project.

Sometimes, you’re not riding a wave that’s in your favour.

Sometimes – wait for it – it’s just not your fault.

While I’m a believer in always trying your damnedest to deliver something incredible, it’s also important to remember that project constraints and other elements that are completely out of your control can sometimes lead to less-than-exceptional results. As Seena Shah of Splash Creative London pointed out on Twitter in response to one of our recent posts, “success can sometimes depend on the client’s budget, or their ability to be flexible when faced with unexpected hurdles”. In many cases, you can only be as good as the client you’re working with.

Cheryl De Winne, Mid-weight Graphic Designer at Big Group, backs this up by pointing out that “there [are] lots of different factors and inputs in every project, [and] some are more successful than others on this basis”.

Of course, there is certainly some room for the Last Project Philosophy in modern business. Knowing that you will only be judged on your latest work may drive you to do a great job every time. But what if this way of thinking actually damaged your progression? What if it stopped you from being disruptive?

NSPCC Senior Digital Fundraiser Sam Thompson explored this in more detail via Facebook.

“If you are always held accountable totally to your last project, I think having that in the back of your mind can put you off trying untested or risker things – especially if the last thing you did was a test and didn’t perform as well as you or others had expected. This then harms your perception of being ‘good’,” he says. His advice? “Test, learn and implement lessons for your next project.”

Wise words. Preparation fuels success, and evolution leads to progress.

De Winne rightly says, too, that the use of the word ‘only’ make it sounds like there’s a limit to your capabilities. “It’s an immediate put-down,” she says. Some may respond positively to this and see the statement as a form of motivation; others, perhaps those who may be predisposed to feeling less confident in themselves or their business, will have a hard time digging themselves out of emerging feelings of frustration or exasperation if their last project didn’t go to plan.

The trick? “Remove that word and there’s a totally different feeling about the question,” she recommends. It shifts the thinking, and reminds you to look beyond something that isn’t perhaps your best work and towards something else that you are truly proud of.

Be kind to your professional self

So how do we, as creatives, marketers or business owners, combat the lingering doubts often generated by the Last Project Philosophy?

Well, remember that no-one is perfect. Even the most accomplished marketer is still capable of making mistakes. Consistency is often overlooked and should be celebrated – we actually think it’s a skill in itself!

And when all is said and done, there’s only one way to counteract low confidence, whatever the cause. Make yourself indispensable. Whether you’re running your own company or working for someone else, bring unique value to your own role and you will always be reminded of your worth. If anybody questions your ability or your success, you can quickly point them in the direction of something you’ve aced and prove to them that you are incredible at what you do. 

There’s definitely room for more discussion here. I’d be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on this topic, and how the Last Project Philosophy may have shaped your own career or your attitude towards your work.

Get the conversation moving – tweet @IndyConsultancy or email us directly on info@indy-consultancy.co.uk!