Creativity, connections, and client relationships—with Nathan Wilson of The Narrative

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Filmmaker, chief creative officer, agency leader… Like many business owners, Nathan Wilson of Portland, Oregon-based creative studio The Narrative balances multiple roles and responsibilities on a daily basis.

We sat down with Nathan to find out how he manages all that while remaining creative and agile, keeping his team engaged, and ensuring clients are happy.

Read the interview

Matt Lurie: Hey everyone, I’m Matt Lurie, Content Strategist here at Ruby. And today I’m sitting down with Nathan Wilson of The Narrative. I’m looking forward to talking with you, Nathan.

Nathan Wilson:
I’m looking forward to talking with you too. Hi, Matt.

Matt Lurie:
Hey, so first things first, can you tell me a bit about yourself and what your business does?

Nathan Wilson:
Absolutely, so like you said, my name is Nathan Wilson and I am a founder and partner at The Narrative, which is a creative agency based here in Portland, Oregon. We mainly focus on video content and production. We have a dispersed model, I guess you would call it, where instead of having a bunch of creatives on staff full-time, we have a stable of freelancers that we regularly work with, so we can scale to kind of any project need. And also, that brings our overhead costs down significantly. And we’re able to achieve similar results to traditional agencies for like typically around half their cost.

Matt Lurie:
I think what’s interesting about this kind of model is that when you have full-time employees, it’s a little easier to, or it’s thought of as traditionally easier to grow your business. And to basically say like, you know, we’re going from three people, to 15 people, to a hundred people. And when you’re working with a group of people who have independent contractor status, it’s like this person’s going to work with us for a period of time, but then things might soften a little bit, you know, they might have other projects. What do you sort of think of as the trajectory of your business and how do you make sure that the people who are on your team really feel connected to that team?

Nathan Wilson:
Yeah, connecting with the team is really important, especially when most of our workforce are freelancers. So, many ways that we get them, and some ways that we get them involved would be just transparency, including them kind of in every step of the process from our pitch through to delivery, just kind of making sure that they’re looped in and, you know, the communication is open and a two-way street and they feel comfortable with that.

The other good thing about working with freelancers is that they have a number of other clients that they’re working for. We’re not the only agency that they’re working for. So, when things slack off from us, you know, they can go and pick it up at at other places and are able to supplement. And we found that we have this stable of freelancers that we work with that love working with us because they like what we work on, they know they trust us, they have the trust that we’ve built up over these years and they just know what they’re gonna get when they come and work for us. So, I think they enjoy that.

Matt Lurie:
Excellent. Let’s talk about your clients a bit, and managing those relationships, and also the uncertainty of, where the next project is coming from? Or, how long a relationship is going to last? I know clients often come with high expectations and dollar amounts, can you talk about developing and managing those relationships?

Nathan Wilson
As a creative, first and foremost, I would rather not deal with any of the business side of things, but I do have to say that developing and managing client relationships is the most important thing that we do. Finding and obtaining a new client is so much more expensive than maintaining an existing one, so we want to do everything that we can to ensure that our clients have the best experience possible working with us, especially with the plethora of excellent alternatives that they have the option of going to in our local market here.

For my partner and I, there have always been a few core values that guide us, right? First among those would be honesty, you know, telling the truth about our capabilities, about our experience, about our excitement for working for a particular brand. You know, when you’re not genuine, people can sniff that out right away.

Second is integrity. Just the vast majority of our new clients come through referrals. Our reputation is everything. Building trust with clients by doing what we said we would do, on time, on budget, the high level that they are expecting is incredibly important to us.

And then finally, transparency. That’s really key for our market. With our clients, with our contractors, it’s vitally important that we all feel that we are on the same team, like we were just talking about. So, when it comes to budgets, or setbacks, issues, whatever, we try and be a completely open book. We like to include everyone in those key discussions so that they feel empowered and listened to, and, you know, part of the process, so. That’s really important.

At the end of the day, I think the attitude that has carried us this far is that we care more about the satisfaction of our clients than we do about our bottom line. And because we believe that if we take care of our clients first, the bottom line takes care of itself.

Matt Lurie:
What kind of experience and service standards do your clients expect?

Nathan Wilson
Typically, our clients have very high standards for the level of service that they receive from us. They’re paying a premium for a premium service. Naturally there are expectations that go along with that. And so, we do our best to set the bar right from the get-go. Besides being able to craft next level products and having highly original and provocative ideas, communication is really where our service shines, I think. From being available by phone, email, or texts 24/7, our clients can expect an immediate response and action on any question, or feedback, or comment, or concern, or whatever they have. When that open and immediate dialogue is neglected, you know, that tension can definitely be felt and it tends to have a negative, cascading effect. We do everything in our power to avoid that.

Matt Lurie:
How do those relationships change over time as clients get to know you more?

Nathan Wilson:
For us, most of our new clients are not familiar with the process of making high-end digital marketing content. Many times, it’s their first time, if not making video, then it’s their first time working on that kind of a level. Often, it’s much more expensive, and involved, and time-consuming than they originally anticipate so educating them on our process is a delicate, ongoing task. As we work together over multiple projects, we’re able to both acclimate to one another’s workflow, and each job becomes easier and more efficient, expectations are solidified. And, you know, the communication just comes naturally, as we gradually start speaking the same language. Then you can build that rapport and they know what they’re getting, you know what you’re getting, and it just becomes sort of a shorthand between you and it’s great.

Matt Lurie:
Totally, returning customers—and new friends!

Nathan Wilson:
Yeah, for sure.

Matt Lurie:
So, what do you wish people knew about the work that you do?

Nathan Wilson:
I guess I’d like the people to know that it takes a lot more time and effort than they might think it does. When that call or email comes through, I have to have the flexibility to drop whatever I’m doing, switch hats and give this person my undivided attention because that conversation might be the difference between landing a six-figure campaign or not. It can be a super high pressure job, but it’s also what makes it so interesting and rewarding.

Matt Lurie:
Well, Nathan, thank you so much for talking with me today. I really appreciate your time, where can people find you?

Nathan Wilson:
You can find us online at thenarrative.media, that’s our website. Also, Instagram, everywhere else @thenarrativeworkshop. You can find me personally, I sometimes post on Instagram @natecwilson. Those would be the places.

Matt Lurie:
Cool, well, thanks so much.

Nathan Wilson:
Of course, thank you.

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