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What is turnkey?

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About 2 weeks ago we held another round of open office hours in which anyone was able to sign up for a 30 minute time slot to speak with me 1-on-1 about whatever they wanted. The topics ranged from open source to LEDs to turnkey products! In this post I’m going to pick out one topic from the sessions and talk more in-depth about it. That topic is turnkey. Let’s dive in!

What is turnkey?

This topic came up when I was discussing possible ways of pitching projects to clients or getting new clients. You may have heard the term turnkey before, almost certainly in some uncool setting in a dusty office somewhere. Turnkey business projects/products are ones that are developed with the goal of being sold multiple times to different buyers with little-to-no customization (ideally) between each purchase. This is different from what most projects in the interactive technology and immersive media field, where each of our products are usually build-to-order or custom developments from scratch. I think most artists and creatives love the freedom of a clean slate on every new project. It’s refreshing and keeps the creative juices flowing for a lot of people. Turnkey products can often seem like a jail that you have to commit yourself to as you try to sell your one project over and over again. But there is hope!

Why would I want to turnkey?

Over our career of pitching projects and doing presentations for potential clients, one thing is always true: the client will never know as much about this field as you, and that makes them worried about the amount of risk. In some markets, where ad spending is high (such as New York), there’s enough money to gamble on getting that next great viral thing, but in much of the rest of the world, lack of knowledge can heighten the amount of risk to the point where projects don’t go through.

Now I’m not saying you have to commit to a single creative idea for the rest of your life, but I think there’s a lot of power in choosing a few ideas that you’re interested in developing and really presenting them as a product. This is different to me than presenting your ideas as concepts. Concepts has a lot of leeway in their descriptions, and really rough or no costings, lots of caveats, lots of room for interpretation and client-inserted creative, etc. Presenting your idea as a product means doing some detailed cost-estimates, doing a few mock ups, maybe even putting together a prototype of some sort, writing out a bullet-point feature list that you’re not presenting as up-for-grabs, writing down the installation footprint/setup time, travel costs, etc. It may seem like semantics but if you think so, then you’re thinking like an artist and not a client.

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Think like a client

There are some clients that respond well to the unknown. They like the wiggle room in the creative that I just mentioned. As interactive technology and immersive media become more and more popular, the type of clients that enter the field will on average be more conservative than those we’re used to. If we approach them in the way we’ve been approaching clients of the past, they get quickly frightened by all the uncertainty, wiggle room, and unknown. They also aren’t as ready to gamble their budgets as the more adventurous clients. So wrapping back to turnkey…

Turnkey products provide a sense of stability and familiarity to less adventurous clients. If you take your concept, do the deep down digging I mentioned earlier, and present then as turnkey products with readily available pricing and setup information, new clients are going to be ready to jump on board. This may seem like semantics, but it’s important to think like a client.

Wrap up

So what’s the morale of the story? If you’re looking for more work or having trouble pitching your projects, try the turnkey approach. Take the time to go a level deeper on all the information in your pitch. Present your idea as a product that you already have in the works and not a pie-in-the-sky concept. Remove a lot of wiggle room and uncertainty so that to a client there’s less unknown and risk. I think you’ll be surprised by the change in attitude by many clients and you may find it easier to finalize and close on deals.