Friday, January 29, 2010

If You Are A Small Shop, You Will Take The Heat. Do It Better.

Obviously, we don't set out to make mistakes in our work.  We don't want to hit rough patches, low traffic times, factual errors, planning errors, or even typos but they happen.  They always have happened and they always will.  Sometimes it's small like a number typed wrong and sometimes it's an idea that seemed really good but turned out not so good (United not responding to United Breaks Guitars).  In social media there's a lot of room for the latter type because to be perfectly honest there's a lot of new things every day that someone is trying to find a way to use to their benefit that no one has tried before.  
One of the things that comes along with being a small shop, freelancer, or CEO is that basically everything is personally your fault if it goes wrong. People who do well running their own business have to have no problem sticking their neck out for ideas (good or otherwise).

In larger companies there are whole departments that can shoulder blame.  For example: "Oh, the marketing department thinks we should put some more videos on our YouTube Channel" and when no one watches those expensively produced videos it's the "marketing department" that is blamed.
When I personally tell a client that I think we should spend more time / money in a certain place and it doesn't do very well I get phone calls asking me what the hell I was thinking. 
What I'm saying here is that small shops really have to get behind their ideas more, think them through more, because they are going to be held more accountable if it fails.  (This is also why I think a lot of larger companies are so interested in hiring smaller shops these days).  We don't have nebulous scapegoats to blame or whole departments of interns to throw things at.
So how do entrepreneurs deal with the fact that they are front and center?  
One of the best ways is not a quick or easy way but it's to thoroughly check your work before it goes out. As in, yourself.  Not an intern.   If I have a question about how something will work then it will usually be the undoing of the project.
Ask yourself every single question a client would ask.
Even hard ones like "Why do you think this will work?" and "What will this look like in 2 weeks if it's not going well?".  Being able to answer ALL of those will not only help you think an entire social media endeavor through but you also won't look like like a moron when the client asks it a week after launch.  
Manage expectations and be clear.  Really, really important for freelancers and small shops to be to-the-most-minute-detail clear about deliverables. I notice a lot of small shops not even writing up contracts for projects.... this is not a good idea (and probably a whole other post).  Sometimes I feel like a total type A insisting on timelines and contracts for everything but the reason I do that is because it's very easy for you and your project partners to have very different ideas on what's being delivered and when and it's not fun to have to straighten it out once it's a mess. 
Become Ok with the fact that you will be on the receiving end of fingers pointing, laughing, ridicule, questions, and praise.  Because it's simply going to be part of your everyday life.  You will be the ultimate comment box and the end of the line so get ready.  It happens with larger companies too it's just not so concentrated.  Just take a moment and know that it's not the end of the world to have to fix a mistake or clear up a question (laughing is a bit harder).  
Don't Pass The Buck.  You can never tell a client (or anyone) "well, that was done by so and so, not me".  Your clients won't care who did what they will want solutions.  I try to move very quickly past the "who came up with this" and "how it happened" and onto "how we will move forward" part.  That's all most people want anyway, an answer or solution not a head to put on a stake.  
You Can Say "I Don't Know".  This is a hard thing I think for entrepreneurs.  It's easy to think that the person running the place should have answers but sometimes we don't. I have found that clients can respect it if I say that I'm not exactly sure how this community or site or project will perform.  A lot of the trouble is with online, maybe no one has done it before and if you march in claiming that you KNOW exactly how it will turn out you will be wrong.  Getting comfortable acknowledging limitations with people is a big step towards taking the heat better.  

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Blogger Royce said...

Phenomenal post, you are completely right about the responsibility of being the go-to person for a project or campaign and the diligence that needs to accompany that.

I also think you are 100% right about the reason companies hire smaller firms to shoulder responsibility for specific projects. There is a big developer in my office who does this exact thing, explicitly so that they have a specific company to go to and ask "why are sales down, what the heck is going on with this campaign, why aren't you doing X". In fact they fired their previous marketing/sales firm and hired a new one because they didn't like the answers to those questions. Firing and re-hiring firms is muchhh easier than the inertia of re-doing your own internal company makeup to change directions, you know?

Finally, speaking as someone who often interacts with smaller groups or independent contractors, I definitely am going to ask a lot of questions and I end up coming back to the vendors/contractors who I can tell have put a lot of thought into what they are doing. I am repulsed by people who have slick ideas but not a lot of depth of thought behind them - I consider them snake oil salesman and cut ties as quick as I can.

January 29, 2010 at 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Isao said...

These are very bold yet realistic comments, thank you. I haven't had a chance to shoulder all responsitiblities on my shoulder yet, but have rather worked with people who did so.

They were always pleasant to be with, kind to others, has sense of humor, humble, yet showed a deep confidence and assertiveness in every action. Heck, I always try to work with them just for the sake of being with them.

By reading your entry I think I am getting to understand why those attractive, independent people were the way they were.

January 31, 2010 at 5:27 PM  

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