How to build a company – Wasted Marketing Money

July 21, 2011

Marketing is important to a newly established company. Eager to succeed, ready to spread the gospel, we went through all the steps – of old style marketing. Although we always had a clear picture of what kind of business we wanted to be in (partly thanks to a session with Bob Bloom, former Chairman and CEO of Publicis Worldwide, the global marketing services company), with whom we wanted to work, and how we wanted to operate and grow this business, even what our portfolio of services would look like, we had difficulty marketing it.

Once more, we went through the vision-mission-promise to clients-positioning statement-pitch exercise, and commissioned all the basis materials we thought were part of the deal: the corporate image and the logo, the flyers and the binders, the website and the pictures. It did not feel good, though. The multi-(or many-) syllable statements did not feel like our own but like gobbledygook and restraint us, the folders gathered dust in drawers, and the newsletters we postponed month after month.

At some point we noticed, much too late, but we noticed, that we did not get the response we expected: we had walked directly into the trap of marketer, web developer and hosting partner.
Our site dictated what we could communicate, about ourselves. Despite all the beautiful pitches about social media integration, web2.0 and such, we could not interact with our network. All we could do was broadcast how good we were. It felt like hullaballoo marketing. A digital flyer, trying to create attention.
Similarly we were trapped by our webhoster/developer MarsId who, despite pretending to be an open source focussed, networking company were of the old-fashioned kind: “give us specs, and we try to build it, pay us per hour and we will tell you afterwards how many hours we used”. Flexibility: impossible. Blogs? Not working, twitter integration: don’t know how. In the end, when we were looking for an alternative they came up with the good old copyright scam. Pay us more or die. We paid.

Meanwhile our marketer was writing leaflets and sending press releases, none of which ever resulted in an article about us. Why do we have to talk to the press? We have to communicate with our tribe: our partners, our associates, our staff, our friends, our customers and all the people who have the same drive and interest as we have, including our competitors.

Several things did work for us. LinkedIn was and is an important channel to connect and share. Links to articles we published on our site never failed to generate attention and reactions. WhatsQooking events were a success. Cooking with clients and partners, with a chef, with speakers on subjects that interest us, always led to interesting and fun evenings. Obviously, what worked best was our face-to-face meetings with people. We had numerous meetings, with people who did or did not share our enthusiasm, which led to more meetings which led to new partners entering our partnership, to customers hiring us to work with them, to associates joining our network, and to many new friends, sharing their ideas and, in some instances, making us equally enthusiastic about their businesses, ideas and ideals. But you can only have so many meetings each week.

Luckily we are avid readers of blogs and enthusiastic watchers of TED.

We came across a 2009 talk from Simon Sinek. His story about “Why” changed our view on Marketing drastically. Everything seemed to fall into place. We wanted to communicate about our why, our how, and then our what, we were convinced interaction was more important than transaction, and we started to think about overhauling our internet presence.
People like David Meerman Scott convinced us that we had to think like publishers, and share our content, our connections with anyone who is interested. David was a speaker at the European Growth Summit, where we were the guests of Kees de Jong.

David encourages companies to think like publishers, create news releases rather than press releases, and develop content based on your organisations’ purpose, your business goals. Of course to some extent, we had this content, but in the form of articles and white-papers, training material and tools. All the expertise anyone could need on Programme and Portfolio Management, on Benefits Management and Strategy Execution is available. That is not the kind of thought leadership we are talking about here, though. At least, it is not all of it. We became convinced that we had to share, with a level of transparency, authenticity and openness that scared us, all of what interests and moves us. All that goes well and that goes wrong. As we would with our best friends and a bottle of wine.

It is free, but scary. It is a lot of work, but fun. We will give away, and maybe scare away, but it fits us like a glove. This is how we want to work. We will try to have no secrets, write about the Why, the What, the How, sometimes the Who. We will learn from and work with those people who understand what we stand for: a network of experts who tie their success to the success of others; clients, partners, staff and candidates alike. We will provide value, knowledge and connections without sending an invoice. And we will stop buying attention by advertising, AdWords campaigns or airtime at events. Instead, we will earn it by our content, our successful projects, the success of our clients.

The “bug and beg interruption marketing” is out of the door. Permission marketing is more fun.We meet so many remarkable people, who share our worldview and who want to work with us. There are so many ideas to be shared, people to talk to, new developments and opportunities to be discovered. And besides: I always wanted to be a journalist and photographer.

How to build a company – Lessons Learned

July 11, 2011

We grow, we learn, we make mistakes, we do things right. Everyday we discover new things, positive and negative. Since we are working in a network the first thing we need to learn is to select our internal and external partners, as well as our staff, candidates, even clients carefully. Sometimes we are disappointed, but that never has been a reason to doubt that we are doing the right things. We have introduced resources at clients who have tried to take advantage. We could have stopped this with NDAs, contracts and lawsuits. Better not to bother and select even more carefully. We hired staff that could not be successful in an environment where responsibility and initiative is more important than the number of hours spent in the office or weekly status updates. We have accepted this and said goodbye, however painful. And we have selected external professionals to work with in areas where their expertise seemed undisputed, and also here once or twice we have made the wrong choice. The biggest surprise in this area was MarsId, the company that developed, built and hosted our website. Although we specifically picked a small company, focussed on Open Source software, on Social Media integration and in flexibility, this turned out to be one of our biggest and most costly disappointment. Once a contract was signed, they would not move an inch without signed-off specifications, Social Media proved to be a marketing buzz-word for them, not a working concept, and when we finally had to decide to further develop our website, they claimed copyright on the original site, and refused to give anyone access. Again, we could have sued, but well – the time, the money, the negativity – we paid them, we learned a lesson, and asked around for reliable partners. Of course we asked about copyrights, but rightfully they said the would not dream of claiming any rights on something the developed for a client. I am still wondering if anyone has similar experiences, if there was anything we could have done differently, or if it is just difficult, without an army of lawyers, to protect your company against greedy people.

Luckily we have also learned from successes. We share experiences, we share knowledge, we exchange ideas. Eager to share this experience, knowledge and resources with clients, we are looking for ways to store and convey. I cannot say we have the final solution for this challenge, but between Dropbox, our Google powered intranet, LinkedIn and physical exchanges like our “Whats Qooking” events we come a long way. Still, to discuss with our clients how to best help them, at some point we come to discuss people, and surprisingly, the CV still plays a considerable role in these discussions.

Like today, a Government-related organisation asks for help with Programme Management for a structural change programme. To better support their clients (local governments) they need to overhaul their service offering, but also the legal structure, governance, business processes and systems. When considering suitable candidates it is obvious that at some point the CV will come to the table, and these documents rarely do justice to the candidate.

For project or programme managers to simply list their previous clients and projects is not enough.

As we were discussing this (Marcel Ensing in The Netherlands, Tjibbe van der Zeeuw from Elba, Italy, Mario School from Winterberg, Germany and I still from Knokke Belgium) I became convinced that there is a lot companies like ours, and our resources can do a lot to improve. I will ask Tjibbe, who has spoken t thousands of candidates, and read thousand of CV to give some tips on how a CV can better reflects the character, background and experience of the candidate, rather than on how to write a CV that the candidate believes “will sell”. We are not in the Selling business, we are in the Strategy Execution, Problem Solving and Matching business.

But also outside the CV there is much project managers can do to learn, to increase their effectiveness, while at the same time demonstrating what they have done, how this has been successful (but also when there was room for improvement):

Every day of their career as a project manager the can work on building a portfolio, to display their efforts, to show outcomes, and to share Lessons Learned. A reliable portfolio enhances your reputation, encourages internal management or external clients to assign you to more challenging assignments and presents a standardized mechanism for sharing insights with your peers.

The first step: documentation

Document your contributions by generating weekly, monthly or annual status reports for project work, depending on the scope of the project. By providing one page summaries of work in progress, effective project managers keep their sponsors, stakeholders and team members informed about project risks and dependencies. Discussing status report with your peers, client, management is an excellent way to ask for help when needed, or to get feedback.

When you use a consistent format, recipients know where to look for relevant information. In our case, using MSP, we would not only look for information on scope, deliverables, timing, budget, risks etc, but also on contribution to strategy, fit in the portfolio, etc. I will shortly ask Peter Rappange to publish some of the standard reports we use.

Second step: writing

Write about what you have learned. Typically, to build a comprehensive portfolio of your project management experience, you need to collect in a standard format, the Lessons Learned from each and every project. My third promise: I will publish the Qhuba Lessons Learned Template soon. Beside this, it makes sense to start a blog to share what you’ve learned about project management processes, filled with what worked well, and what worked less well, for example: tips for defining the scope of a project, or the steps to come to a training course to increase a teams communication skills. Or describe how to interview stakeholders, or subject matter experts, conduct an online survey. Use metrics and examples.

Step 3: Talking

Talking about your experiences will help: By sharing your knowledge with your peers, you can contribute to their career development as well as build your own portfolio. Get on stage, or enter into round table discussions with colleagues, clients and consultants to discuss the best techniques for handling project challenges, setting up portfolio management, and dealing with practical things like vendor selection, monitoring ad reporting. Demonstrating your ability to explain successful approaches and methods helps to establish you as an expert in handling problems and capitalizing on opportunities to reduce costs, eliminate waste and increase client benefits.

Other possibilities are: mentoring less experienced colleagues, staff or client staff. By spending time and talking with a less experienced co-worker to learn about his career plans, you can help him establish an action plan and set of development objectives. Over time, by observing your actions in meetings, reading communications you send and listening to your conference calls, the colleague will gather important information about how to function successfully. Through this partnership, you also gain exposure to the newer employee’s perspective on the business, which may contribute to adjustments in your own attitude.

Even developing training videos or recording a podcast about how to manage projects effectively helps you establish your reputation as an expert. For example, describe how to share professional resources effectively across multiple projects. Explain how to ensure consistency and make cost-effective decisions about resource allocation to ensure quality. Interview other project managers on this subject to create engaging and entertaining podcasts. Talk about problems and how you solved them. For example,discuss topics such as cost budgeting, estimating, leading global teams, negotiating with suppliers, networking, scheduling, risk management and team building. Start with an introduction, describe a situation and then provide details on how you handled it. Summarize your podcasts with a simple but compelling call to action.

All these activities will help to establish yourself as an accomplished project resource, and will “color in” your CV, and will help you to get, keep and grow.

All suggestions in this field are welcome, and I will gladly use them for our company, our website, or this blog.