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Business

"The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows."

The woeful art of data collection is tedious, time-consuming, and not necessarily fruitful. For every strategist out there, data really is the name of the game. It comes in all shapes and sizes, different formats and forms, analytics, reports, whitepapers, press releases, and on it goes till there’s too many to name. Compiling data is a hard pursuit for information analysts and data specialists, so what’s the average agency team member to do when they find themselves drowning in a sea of data? Paddle back to shore…as quickly as possible.

I’ve always felt like strategists are a rare breed. They have to think about their clients, their client’s’ users, the competition, the market trends, social trends, industry influencers, disruptors, shifts and more. Then, hopefully, get in front of it all and find that one tidbit of information that will lead to a successful client interaction. Hard, yes? YES!!

To find the insight that leads to an opportunity to capitalize on objectives before the next wave or trend hits is really hard to do. Then the cycle starts all over again.

Capturing the data landscape

From a strategy standpoint, there are 3 questions you’ll need to answer:

  1. What data will be useful to both the short and long-term objective?
  2. What data can actually be collected?
  3. What categorization will make the data more manageable?

Or you can look at it like this:

  1. Identify and establish
  2. Collect and aggregate
  3. Sift and categorize

The collection process has become a huge problem, hence the recent shift into machine learning, artificial intelligence, and algorithms to help categorize or cluster lumps of information. Businesses, organizations, and (specifically) strategists are suffocating beneath it all. And if you have the money to invest in AI – by all means – do! But many of us do not, and don’t even really know how it could help (don’t worry – I’ll write a post on that too!).

If you go even deeper into the data collection world, there are a multitude of techniques and tactics including exploratory data analysis, descriptive statistics, lambda architecture, data cleansing, data transforming, data modeling, and mining. WOAH!!! Hold up – here’s the reality: there’s a simpler way to identify, collect, and sift the data that won’t leave you submerged in a pool of data delirium.

Identify…

The first step in the data collection process is to identify what’s important. Obviously, this is going to be dependent on the problem you’re trying to solve, but there are usually some universal things that we need to know and I’ll list them out here.

 The usual stuff…

  • Users – Who are they? What do they need? Where are they? How do they normally interact with your client? Why are they continuing to interact with your client? What’s the value your client provides them with?
  • Competition – What are they doing that’s different than your client? Who are their users? How have they positioned themselves? What can we learn from them?
  • Market – I always find this to be a tricky one. This is mostly about industry trends and what’s happening in the market. Is there something going on in the political landscape that may disrupt what we’re trying to do? Economically, how sound is the product/tool/resource your client is trying to offer? Are others offering it at a lower price? Is demand being driven up by an exclusive offer? You get the point.

These are the big three! Other information you may want to know about could be emerging technology or the best in business for that particular industry. Think about the problem before you go looking for the data. If you don’t, then you will, literally, be drowning in it.

Collect…

The next step is actually getting your hands on the data. But what is the easiest way to collect the data that we need? Great question….and I’ll just be honest – I don’t have any great answers for you! If you aren’t a developer and don’t know how to write algorithms or scripts that will easily aggregate or pull in data for you…then you’re at the mercy of the tools that are out there.

  • Google Analytics: This is a phenomenal tool. It really can get you a lot of the data you require, especially when it comes to the users of a particular website. It’ll give you insight into who your users are (or who your client’s users are), where they hangout online, etc. However, it won’t give you answers to questions like “what’s the value they get from your client?” You can take guesses at this, but you’ll never actually know unless you ask the user.
  • RSS Feed Readers: There are a number of Feed Readers out there that will aggregate blogs and other feeds for you all in one place. Just google “Best RSS feed readers” and you’ll find something. I pull in a lot of competitor and best in biz blogs so I can keep a pulse on what others in the same industry are doing.
  • Social Media: This one’s pretty obvious, no? I have several Twitter accounts because I’m following different verticals in each one and staying up-to-date on what’s going on in the social (and real) world. You’d be surprised at how many things hit social first before anything else.
  • Client Databases: This could be their CRM, Marketing Automation Platform, or Membership Portal, where they have information on their users already. Which could be helpful in understanding their audiences demographically as well as their behavior.
  • Watson Analytics: Now, I’ve just started to play around with this interface (see below) and it’s pretty intense. What I’ve sussed out so far is that this platform allows you to import pretty much any type of data (weather patterns, Twitter hashtags, CRM contacts, OneDrive, etc.) or information that’s readily available. It mixes in what Watson already knows (which, apparently is a lot) and lets you ask it questions. For example: Which content should we use to target a specific customer segment for the month of May? It spits you out an answer. I haven’t fully understood it yet, and make no mistake when I do, a blog post is coming!

Watson Analytics Dashboard

Collecting data is kind of the easy part, there are systems in place for aggregating the data. The hard part is making sense of it all and we do that by categorizing it appropriately.

Sift…and sift….and sift some more…

Ok, you have all the information, but there’s just sooooo much of it! What’s the easiest way to sift through the information and categorize it to make it more manageable? Well…there are a few ways to do this. Before I get into it, I want to quickly talk about tools for categorization. I tend to gravitate towards using Trello Boards to separate certain information and link off to different platforms. You can use Google Docs, an Excel spreadsheet, whatever works for you!

  1. Categorize around your problem or initiative:
    • If you’re trying to get information and use it for a certain workshop, then look at your agenda for that workshop. What are talking points? If you want to talk about users, make sure you’ve categorized all the information you have on the users appropriately. I would start a Google doc and put in all relevant links to users in one place. That way you can link off in your workshop to check the data quickly. Maybe it’s to a certain Twitter account where you can review all recent tweets in an industry.
    • If you have information on the market, put all relevant links (or content/data/info) in the same doc so you can pull it up in your workshop. I find this way to be efficient, especially working with clients who have no idea what information they need or where to find it. You can also share Google docs to collaborate with them, or at least give them insight into what you’ve been compiling.
  2. Categorize around your client or account:
    • You can also categorize your information around a specific client. Let’s say you work with the GizmoSoftware company and they build software for design/development teams. What data would be useful to them (and you) so that they’re kept up-to-date with what’s going on in their industry, with their users, and their competitors?

I built a website called TheWebward (wrote a post about it here) where I pull in over 150 RSS feeds, 100 different social channels including Twitter feeds, FB feeds, and FB groups. And I also have an Article Library where I’ve categorized important posts, articles, and whitepapers so I can gain access to them at any point I need. The website is housed with information that’s important to me and helps me do my everyday job. I also push information to certain content types (“buyers”) that help me accommodate my clients in a much easier way. If you can do something like this, great! Read my post, it’s kind of like a how-to in using WordPress to help you manage the information you need.

Remember a few years ago when everyone was saying “content is king” – well, now data is king. And data is content, analytics, information on anything and everything. And there’s so much of it out there. So, identify what’s important to you (or the problem), collect the data that can be collected, and categorize it according to your initiative or client.

In the meantime, collect the data that’s important to you as a human being. Pull in things you find interesting and learn about them. You can never have enough data, but you can most certainly have too much of the wrong data.

Watching the tides turn in the digital age is as quick as the ocean currents. These microscopic movements that all feed into a bigger pool are advancing technology at an unprecedented rate. In fact, 58% of corporate execs say it will develop at an increasingly rapid rate over the next 5 years. Check out Accenture’s 2016 trend report. With all that in mind, what’s your agency’s plan to keep up-to-date with all this new technology. What’s your agency’s plan to take advantage of the opportunities they can bring? Let me show you how I got started.

Living in the Age of Information

We live in the age of information. It’s almost too much because it’s coming at us from every single direction. Accenture, Hewlett Packard, Deloitte, and more are all putting out new reports, trends, and surveys. You can find these reports just by searching “2016 tech trend reports” 0r some variation of that. To give you a little tip that I use, I will always append “pdf” to my search queries in order to find reports that you otherwise might not be able to. It amazes me how many PDFs are out there right now. After searching, you’ll need to categorize. Now I have a folder in my Google Drive that breaks down into more folders comprised of only PDFs. I categorize them as such:

  • Industries: health, travel, nonprofit, media, B2B, Agency, Consulting. These could be different for you
    • Market Intelligence: you can find these reports by searching “market intelligence ‘your industry here’ pdf” I separate these by year
    • Trend Reports: pretty self-explanatory; usually having to do with some sort of survey
    • Misc. Whitepapers: Because these are always fun to read and have, you can use them as sales collateral when talking to a prospective buyer, and even client.

Once you’ve compiled a number of relevant reports, now it’s time to start reading them. Now, with all the PDFs I have it would take, literally, close to 6 months to read (I’m a slow reader), don’t read them. Skim them, graze them, pluck them, don’t peruse them.

Mining for Information

There is obviously a reason why we have headers and titles and large print. When you are skimming over these PDFs, just look for the headlines, quotes, sidebars with numbers in them. Pick off the statistical data and write it down some place else. You’ll eventually use this information to mine for opportunities. If there’s a headline that interests you and it’s followed by 5 paragraphs, read those paragraphs. I’ll always use a speed reading technique by Tim Ferris that has increased my words-per-minute by 25%. Or check out tips on how to read faster. But remember, you still need to comprehend what you’re reading for it to be valuable in mining for opportunities.

As you continue to gather information, you need to start categorizing it so it’s digestible for your client. I separate my information into a few areas:

  1. Market Intelligence:
    • Usually in the form of surveys, I’ll state what has significantly changed in a sector or industry. For instance, the Agency of Record (AOR) lasts less than 3 years according to Agency Spotter’s 2016 Report. And the average project-based fees for agencies have increased. Now, put the cost of living aside, this tells me that brands and companies are seeking out agencies that fit their specific projects, not necessarily their ongoing needs.
  2. Disruptors & Influencers:
    • Who is making a big splash right now in tech or what technology is outpacing all the rest.
  3. Competitors & Users:
    • What is the competition doing, what are your client’s users doing
  4. New Trends, Technology, and Terms:
    • Things that are trending. New technology that your client might be able to leverage. New terms that people in the industry are using.

All this info will eventually lead into Insights & Opportunities.

Finding…and mining insights

An insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. Wow!! Intense, right? Yup, it sure is. So, here’s essentially what I mean when I say strategy in context. Out of all the information you’ve gathered, it won’t make a bit of difference unless you understand who you’re gathering it for. I’ll give you an example. I work with health and wellness clients, nonprofit, media, agencies, and more. The info that I gather have something to do with these sectors and markets. But insights are relevant only when you understand who you’re gathering that information for. Which brings me to intake sheets.

Intake sheets are information about your client. You’ll want to gather info on them. Keep a record of the following:

  • Client: contact info; organizational structure.
  • Company overview: what do they do, what are their values, etc.?
  • Products/Services: what do they provide?
  • Major Markets: where are they doing business, what countries?
  • Value: what’s their value proposition?
  • Strengths/Weaknesses: what do they do better than anyone else; where could they improve?
  • Account/Project Objectives: what are the things they want to accomplish, major goals?
  • Competitors: keep a list of at least their top 3 competitors, I would even list the best in business in their industry.
  • Users: user personas are a huge part of this insight gathering, I’ll post more on personas in another one of my Strategy in Context posts.
  • Partners: who is your client partnering with in the market? Are they complimentary?

As time goes on you’ll pick up the idiosyncrasies that make your client who they are. You’ll learn things about their culture that will provide more insight into them as an organization. Hence, providing more insight into how you can mine for opportunities.

Mining for the non-opportunity

I want to clarify that mining for opportunities is not trying to find just any project you think your client wouldn’t mind doing. It’s adding real value to their organization. In order to do that, you have to look at all the possibilities. And as a sidenote, it sometimes means you may not be providing the solution.

Let’s say you are working with a nonprofit and they are in the process of building out a donation platform for their donors. This platform is something that you helped design on the front-end, but the back-end was built by another firm. Essentially, this platform almost works like a banking platform. Donors can store their money and make donations to the organization or cause of their choosing. And let’s say the other firm is having a difficult time securing the platform. Well, if you kept up-to-date on the latest trends, you could give them an insight into what people are talking about right now in the security space. Which is Blockchain.

Today’s financial institutes operate on a central ledger where money is passed from one entity to another. The ledger is monitored and kept by one authority, leaving it susceptible to attack and corruption. Blockchain is a transactional database that decentralizes the ledger and allows for complete transactional security, it’s also lower in cost. You’d probably have to refer the nonprofit to a blockchain expert, but the value you’ve given them is high.

Mining for the real opportunity

To mine for the real opportunity depends on your client’s goal, their users’ needs, and where they sit on the spectrum of innovation. If they are at the lower end of the innovation spectrum, there’s probably a lot of opportunities to mine for. If they’re more toward the middle, it starts to get a little harder. Brands and organizations that don’t keep up with the latest trends and technology are they ones who have the most options. The ones who are at the top, are the ones who are paving the way for everyone else, and the options narrow.

Let’s say you’re working with that same nonprofit and their goal is to get as many donors as they can using this platform. If you knew that the retention rate of first-year donors was only 29% or that roughly 50% of donors do not renew their gifts the following year, what would you do with that information? You’d dig in….why are donors not renewing their gifts? Then you’d probably find out that donors like to feel connected. They like to see the impact that their donations have on communities and the lives they’re helping. Well…what opportunity can we find there?

My suggestion would be to offer to build a website that connects donors with donees. But also shares the stories donees have because of getting donations. It could be anonymous, but having a platform that could show where a donor’s donation is going and in what way it’s helping the donee could be really cool. People are attached to stories, we love them. Build a website that tells the story of donee’s or add a section to an existing site. There are a lot of possibilities in that one particular insight. Get creative!

Mining is a continual thing

In closing I’ll say this. Mining for opportunities is a continual thing. You’ll be getting new information as time goes on, you’ll be learning more and more about the needs of your client as the months/years pass. Always be adding value. That’s the best way to mine for opportunities. If you can show your client that you offer these insights and valuable opportunities, you’ll be seen as a strategic partner and an invaluable one at that.

Today is an auspicious occasion! It marks the first of my Strategy in Context series. As well as my first try at micro-blogging. I have a lot of information on topics like strategy, research, account management, user experience, and more. I’d like to get that information to the public as quick as possible while still posting good, quality content.  Now, I’ll most likely expand on this series in an eventual strategy whitepaper.

I was recently at a tech conference asking people for strategy resources. One person firmly told me that “no one’s going to give me their strategy resources (or process for that matter) because that’s how agencies make the big bucks.” So, okay… that makes sense to me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t give away my strategy resources.

I’d like to address any nay-sayers about publishing digital strategy process, tactics, and/or resources. I come from the open source world where information is shared and the community benefits from that. This is my attempt to give back.  I am more worried about people saturating the internet by building shitty things people don’t need, than I am about someone stealing my strategy process, theories, and thoughts. Plus, I want to spark discussion, so let’s begin.

Strategy in Context

I’m sure everyone is familiar with context-aware design, yeah? It’s when a device (like a smartphone) changes based on the environment in which it’s placed. Our smartphones can make recommendations based on location or auto-adjust the contrast on a bright day. Strategy in context is similar in the sense that we (as strategists) need to take into consideration our environments. And hopefully act accordingly.

Implementing a strategy process can be a daunting practice.

  • A) it’s not a linear process
  • B) it changes at every turn based on new information.

So, how do you conquer a client, project, or product when you aren’t sure how to proceed? You take a step back…and look at things from a holistic standpoint; from a bird’s eye view.

A Bird’s Eye View of Strategy

In order to understand strategy, there is one truth you have to realize: true strategy is continual, it’s not an end-game and never will be. The digital strategy that works for you today, might not be the one that works for you tomorrow, let alone a year from now. And this is why strategists are commodities, because it’s a job that never ends in the web and mobile space.

Holistically speaking, digital strategy is dependent on all its players. It is so entangled with other strategies that looking at it any other way would be a disservice to both you and your client.

The elements of strategy:

  1. The People: your client, their users, the competition, influencers, disruptors
  2. The Assets: things like their culture, their brand, their website, their digital assets are blanketed under this term
  3. The Operations: your client’s business model, their product or service
  4. The Frameworks: from your client’s organizational structure to the technical systems being leveraged.
  5. The Intelligence: the market, the trends, the innovation happening, the economic and political landscapes
  6. The Tactics: different from ‘operations’ – tactics are used to carry out strategies
  7. The Outcomes: the goals, the objectives, the accomplishments, the results

Contingent on each of these elements, strategy will have different meanings depending on its context. It’s too much to take in in a micro-blog post, so as the Strategy in Context series continues, I’ll drill into each one of these areas to give insight into breaking down your strategy process.

The Information Spectrum

At any given moment, there are hundreds of tiny shifts going on in the digital world. Developments that are slowly (or quickly) moving in from the fringes toward the mainstream. A fantastic trend report by Future Today Institute highlights innovation that is making it’s way toward being the established norm. Innovation is often talked about, but overlooked when it comes to strategy positioning.

In order to understand the information spectrum, you first have to understand all the new technologies, trends, and innovation taking place right now. But there are flaws in that thinking as one new technology supplants another. So, first thing you need to do — start building an information database. For all you strategists out there, you need some type of system where you can gather information and access it easily. I’ve built myself TheWebward.com – I call it my morning business review, but it’s really an information database.

You can try RSS aggregators like Digg Reader or create your own. But keeping up-to-date with the technology landscape is your first lesson in strategy. Did you know Baidu is leading the way in conversational interfaces? Or that Blockchain can help fight cyberattacks? Do you know what Blockchain is?

Lost in the Strategy Sky

As you begin your journey into strategy, you may feel lost at times. It happens to everyone and that’s okay. But if you’re lost and can’t find answers, look to other industries. One thing that’s helped me tremendously in developing my strategy process is turning to other sectors that have had strategists for decades. The military, politics, and the intelligence community all have resources on strategy out there that you can research. Then take their core principles and apply them to the digital space. Again, I’ll go into this more in upcoming posts, but I feel like this isn’t really a micro-blog post anymore!

Ok, more to come on Strategy in Context.

Being busy is almost like a double-edged sword. Now, for the sake of transparency, I don’t think I’ve ever owned, used, or tried to chop someone in half with a double-edged sword, but the premise behind the analogy is that the sword cuts both ways. Being busy or having the busy life can be a blessing…and a curse, right? I tell myself I like being busy, which…honestly, I do. My mind tends to wander or I end up binge-watching Netflix when it’s not occupied with work. But on the flipside, when you work all the time, there’s no downtime to recuperate, revitalized, or reinvigorate oneself. Or you end up turning down your friends and family when they ask you to hang out or come over for Sunday dinner. So what do you do if you say this all the time:

“I would love to, it’s just that I’m so busy, I don’t have the time.”

Does anyone else say this? Like, a lot? Like me? Well…then you’re in luck because I’ve been wanting to write a post on this for a while now, but guess what…I’ve been so busy… Now that I have two hours until my next meeting I think I’ll pause to articulate this nagging, suspicious feeling I’ve had for quite some time about the Busy Life. But before I go into my critical observation, let me explain a few things attributed to the Busy Life.

The Busy Life…explained

The way I usually explain the busy life is by saying this: Life is busy when you have obligations that occupy your time and it’s not the actual activity or thing you’d like to be doing. Now, don’t get me wrong, you can be busy and be doing the things you’d like to be doing, but why would that be a bad thing?

People always tend to connect the act of being busy with negativity, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I’m busy my entire work week, with work, with side projects, with volunteer stuff, meeting up with friends, and so on. But that’s not a bad thing if it’s something I want to be doing, right?

Busy the life, busy the body, busy the mind

I work remotely, so if I never wanted to leave the house, I wouldn’t really have to. But I like being social, so I volunteer with YLC and other groups to hang out and get out of my daily remote-working routine. Then I’ll most certainly read up on new technologies or new trends, or terms, or whatever because that’s the kind of stuff that really interests me.

Busy bodies and minds mean they’re active, and being active is a really good thing. Physical activity stops the process of your muscles being atrophied. Mental activity helps your mind retain information better. Being active can be considered a result of healthy living. So, why aren’t we telling people “we’re active” when they ask how our lives are going? Why do we say “we’re soooo busy?” Well, I have a theory.

A theory on being busy and it’s context within society

I think we’re all lead to believe that people want to hear that other people are busy. Simultaneously, we equate being busy with something negative, but we also equate it to success. Successful people are busy. They don’t binge-watch Netflix, they don’t sit around all day, they conquer they’re dreams by being active. They seek out what they want and actively pursue it. But time and again, we hear those words — “I’m so busy,” “work is so busy,” “life is so busy.”

People talk about balance all the time. “You need time to decompress,” “you need time for yourself” I hear people say. Heck, I’ve said it myself. But that’s easy enough to do and it doesn’t mean going on vacation for 3 weeks and totally de-connecting (not a word) from technology. It means balancing your time in your own way.

Busy-ness and the balance equation

I also have this other theory surrounding the balancing of time. It goes a little something like this:

BT = DeCR% / 100 x Mob

You probably have no idea what this equation means. Simply put your Balanced Time is equal to your Decompression Rate percentage divided by 100, times the Minutes of busy-ness. I’ll explain. My Decompression Rate is rather low, it’s 4%. For every hour of hard work I do, I need approximately 2.4 minutes (4% of 60 minutes) of decompression. So after about 5 hours of doing something, I’ll need 12 minutes of meditation or another decompression activity.

You need to find your Decompression Rate and that comes with time. How long can you stare at a computer before your eyes go blurry and you can’t think anymore? Figure it out. Then take that number, which may change as time goes on, and use it when “being busy.” You’ll thank yourself for finding your balanced time.

Redefinition of being busy

To close this post out I’ll say that writing this didn’t cause me to be more busy, it caused me to be more active. And from here on out when people ask me how my life is going, I’ll say “it’s active.” Which will probably get them to inquire more, which in turn might spark an interesting conversation, where as I may send them to this link to check out.

Most of the people I know have active lives, and mostly they all enjoy (to a certain degree) what they do. So seek out the active life for the things you really want to be doing, make time for that, I know you can. But whatever you do, don’t let “being busy” define you anymore. If you are super busy and you enjoy what you’re doing, tell people you’re active. It’ll reshape the way people reply to the things going on in your life.

I want to talk about strategy, but first, some science. Quantum Entanglement is one of the most perplexing phenomena in quantum mechanics.  It occurs when groups of particles interact in such a way that the state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others. Now, if you remember your physics lesson, a particle is the smallest quantity of matter.  There are macroscopic particles, microscopic particles, and subatomic particles. And simply put, entanglement means that understanding one single particle improves our knowledge of the second one. This is a dead ringer for strategy. The concept that I’m calling strategy entanglement is based on the notion that single strategies should not be described independently of themselves, but rather holistically.  Content strategy and web strategy are both a part of your business strategy.  Independent strategies improve our knowledge of the strategy as a whole.

The Volatile Strategy Particle

What does it takes to be a strategist? I hear people say a “strategist” is just another word for salesperson or that it largely has to do with the planning phase of a project, or it’s just a title that mostly describe people who like to speak their minds!  I don’t necessarily refute those comments because I do think sales (and planning) should both be strategic, and I love to speak my mind, but strategy is this elusive creature that I would like to shed some light on in this post. Strategy is a discipline, and unfortunately, it is not linear. It deviates, it interrupts, it changes with new information, fluctuating data, and further research.

You could say strategy comes in waves and is almost particle-like. There are macro-strategies and micro-strategies, and subatomic strategies (OK, that last one’s a stretch). But to articulate your business strategy you need to look at every part of your business. It can include digital, brand, web, mobile, social media, content, products, and more. Not to mention the marketplace, your competitors, your customers, and your partners. Strategy entanglement image

This image illustrates strategy entanglement and it’s not complete. There are more pieces to this puzzle depending on your business and the industry in which you compete.

Types of Strategy in the Digital Space

There are a few different disciplines, but they all feed into the big strategy which is your business.

  1. Brand Strategy: A plan for the development of a successful brand to improve its reputation and connect with its customers. This is tied to your business, social media, content, and more.
  2. Digital Strategy: A plan for maximizing benefits through digital and technology-driven initiatives. Tied to your business and can incorporate digital products, mobile, web, and other strategies.
  3. UX/Design Strategy: An approach to determine what to build/design, what the user experience should be and why. Oftentimes using data and research to inform decision-making. Heavily incorporated into business strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  4. Content Strategy: Refers to the creation, planning, delivery, and management of appropriate, useful, usable, and user-centered content. Connected to your business, social media, web/mobile strategy.
  5. Social Media Strategy: An approach to garner more engagement on a brand’s social channels. Usually through good content. Entangled with content strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  6. Web/Mobile Strategy: Long-term iterative process of defining the direction of a web/mobile site/app to reach business goals and users’ goals. Entangled with business strategy and more.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about! Your business strategy are all of these strategies put together and then some.

Strategically Strategizing over Strategy

So, which one do you choose? Where do you start? How do you know when you’re doing strategy? All good questions. To me, strategy should be this omnipresent itch that never goes away, and everyone should be scratching at it. Let me clarify — strategy is not a free-for-all, but it is a team effort. Your designer and developer should be strategically thinking about which color palette to use, or which tools will make this CMS more usable for the client. As a strategist you’re responsible for the bigger picture.

When you sit down to map out your strategy plan, there’s a process I use in getting the information I need. I’ll outline it in the next section. But you need to remember this: As the process continues each piece of information will impact the next and so on. So, this process is really just an outline or map for putting all the pieces together.

A Strategic Overview

  1. Client:
    • Intake – putting together a client intake sheet is a critical first step. Document the company overview and details, requirements, goals, objectives, and other pertinent information on paper.
    • Assessment – this can include SWOT analysis, analytics review, social listening, PEST analysis, brand assessment, etc. The more you get, the longer it’ll take to sort, but the decision making will be based on better information.
  2. Research:
    • You can perform organizational research on your client’s company (e.g. – interview stakeholders). You can do user research (e.g. – send a survey to customers, field observations). Or quantitative (measurable and objective) and qualitative (observational and subjective).
    • Look at your client’s marketplace and competitors.
  3. Users:
    • We’ve done some research on them, checked your client’s analytics, it’s time to create personas. Get an idea (and make sure everyone’s on the same page) of who you are trying to target.
    • You can create an empathy map, or do experience mapping.

The pulse of the digital landscape

In addition to putting all the information together on your clients and their environments, I’ll also have digital intelligence reports. Now, I want to expand on this further in my next post, but that might take a couple of weeks, so here’s an overview.

My digital intelligence reports focus on the heartbeat or the pulse of the technological landscape. Meaning that in order to stay at the fore-front, you have to know what’s going on at the fore-front. I’ll target 3 key areas in my DIR’s, they are:

  • Intelligence: what’s hot right now in the tech space
  • Disruptors: what and/or who is disrupting the landscape that’s outpacing all the rest
  • Influencers: what companies are influencing or shaping the tech environment

This keeps me up-to-date with the digital pulse, but it also sparks innovation and creativity when engaging with new clients.

Correlating the information

The end result of the above outlines will be lots and lots of documentation. You’re going to have documents on your client, their market, their competitors and their users as well as the digital landscape. Which, is what we want. This information will inform not only the direction of the initiative, but it can help with your client’s business, content, social media strategies and more.

Let’s say your client who is in the health & wellness space talks about being a thought-leader in that sector. You would have to know that the fore-front of the health space right now is CogTech, IoT and connected devices/platforms. They’re experimenting with “ownables” not “wearables” anymore. Implantable tracking technologies could very well be the next evolution in healthcare. Being able to relay that info back to your client to help with innovation as well as ideas for the future puts you beyond just a tactical partner.

The reality is is that research about the tech landscape will give you a baseline for engaging with your client. You can see where they fit on the innovation scale and help them get further. Understanding who they are and what they want to do will give direction for digital initiatives. Understanding their users will help you connect their goals and objectives with users’ needs. It’s one big web of entanglement.

Summing up strategy entanglement

It’s never going to be easy. Strategy entanglement is the only way to truly see the bigger picture. When working with clients it’s almost always about making the business better. Whether that’s through a new website, more engaging content, selling more products, or social initiatives, it all feeds into the business. But that is dependent on all the smaller strategies. And some of the micro strategies can be dependent on each other. Your social media strategy depends on your content strategy, which depends on your business strategy.

To make this easier for people, I am in the process of creating a PDF document called Strategy in Context. It will outline the delayering of strategy. If you think about the complexity of strategy entanglement, it’s almost too much to fathom. So, I’m creating a document that will break down each piece of what I wrote about in this post. But remember, it won’t be linear. Strategy is not a linear process, even though many people think it can be. It’s about consuming the information and making the appropriate decision at each milestone and everywhere in between.

Strategy is an omnipresent itch, and everyone should be scratching at it.

I recently read a post on WP Tavern (one of my fav WP blogs to read) that brought up the question of the “us vs. them” mentality. And then I read another blog post that was a reaction to the original post.  And it got me thinking…but not about WordPress core leadership. To be completely honest with you, I’m not as involved in WordPress contributions as I’d like to be, but that is my fault and mine alone. However, it did make me contemplate leadership in general. It seems like we are seeing a rise in the toxic leader and employees that clash with leadership are finding new companies.

Lately, I’ve been starting a lot of my sentences with the words “to be completely honest with you..” as if I’m trying to get a point across that merits truthfulness. When, realistically, I try to be as honest as I can be when speaking about things like work and the environment we collaborate in. Yes…as honest as I can be…and that thought, that thought right there (you had it too, didn’t you!?), that thought makes me pause. I want to uncover that thought because it’s one that we don’t talk about. And it’s universal across all businesses, all industries.

That thought of being honest…

This is a really hard concept to capture, comprehend, and bring to light…because, let’s face it, we hold back. Quite. A. Lot. And to a certain extent, we have to. We are all professionals in a professional world, yet we don’t think that way about some of the people we interact with. I think we’ve all been in these situations where we’re casually talking with a new colleague when they ask the question “so, what should I know about our CEO?” Maybe they ask “what are your thoughts on the way she handled that meeting?” We all want to be honest with a new coworker about the flaws of our bosses or how we think our manager handled that last working session, but we hold back when they ask.

Then there’s being honest with your CEO or boss. Should you have to worry about whether or not you’re going to get fired for bringing up an issue at work. Or should you have to feel scared of retribution from a manager, director, or the CEO of your company for doing something you feel is right? Probably not, but it happens all the time. It happens because there’s usually a lack of communication in the hierarchy of an organization.  Or the organization itself breeds dishonesty. But what’s the one thing that affects communication more than anything else? Behavior.

“People leave managers, not companies.”

I forget who said it, but people leave their manager, not their company. For the most part, I believe this to be true. You have probably left a company because you lack faith in your leadership or are at odds with them. Leaders come in different shapes and sizes. There’s no leadership school that you can send someone to to receive leadership training. Well, I guess there are leadership seminars and whatnot. But it’s a trait that a). people are born with, or b). (and more likely) people develop over time, or c). (most likely) people are committed to improving through team feedback, lessons learned, and the will to lead in a better capacity.

In my opinion, trust (or lack there of) in your leadership really comes down to behavior. Now everyone says it would be healthier to bring up your grievances, but whether or not team members actually do this is a reflection of how comfortable they feel with leadership and their behavior. How can employees feel comfortable airing their issues if their leadership is known for explosive behavior? On the flipside to that, if your leadership is known for not having explosive behavior, but more passive aggressive behavior, I ask again—how can employees feel comfortable airing their issues? My career has spanned many industries, and I’ve come in contact with many leaders, some good, some bad, and very few who have been phenomenal! It’s the leaders that instill a judgment-free, open-door, challenging environment that enables teams to shine. And the leaders that don’t, usually see a high turnover rate.

Behavior begets behavior…

Behavior plays such a huge role in leadership skills. I’m sure we’ve all had that Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde boss that we’re frightened to go to because we’re not sure what reaction we’ll get from them. That’s setting a tone for the entire company to not raise future issues. We’ve also probably all had the passive aggressive boss that shuts you out after a remark is made or an idea is mentioned that wasn’t well-received, and you end up getting the silent treatment for two weeks. Employees will feel like speaking up isn’t worth the effort or retribution.

Behavior begets behavior, and it starts at the top. What do I mean by that? Well, a company, agency, or startup, is usually a reflection of the leadership. If a CEO is transparent with his employees, they’ll most likely be transparent with the CEO. When a Director of Marketing is an innovative leader, her team will most likely become innovative themselves. If a manager wants their team members to go to networking events, then that manager should be going to them as well.  Employees will usually mirror the behavior they see leadership display. We’ve all heard the term “lead by example.”

A company culture will be defined by the behavior leadership teams exhibit. And without the support of leadership, then a company’s culture has no chance of actually changing for the better. Good staff don’t want to work in a company that breeds a culture of fear or mediocrity.

Ethics also play a big role…

I have a moral code that I live by, as I’m sure you do too. Companies have the same thing, they call them values. But I think some companies have values just for the sake of having values. Without standards that can help measure the commitment one has toward their values, then they’re just a punchline.

I’ve been involved in the retail, sales, construction, and technology industries. They all have a mixed bag of people who want to do the right thing, those that seem like they don’t care, and the others that are balancing between ethics and cutting corners. Individuals have ethics, groups have ethics, and at times they can be at odds. They can also be a glaring example of a leader’s backbone. Leaders need to be held to a higher ethical standard because interpretations are dependent on those they lead. And too many times do we see leaders’ actions as “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy that begins to creep into an entire organization.

Finding that right mix…

What happens when you’re odds with your leadership? Or what happens when you can’t be honest with them? You start to hate your job, and essentially your life. No one wants to compromise their ethics for getting better results (or what may seem like better results) at work. But people do it. No one wants to be dishonest with their coworkers about the behavior of their CEO. But we do it. And we rationalize why. “Oh, I really need this job.” “The benefits are good, and it’s something I can tolerate for now.” Your inner self is screaming at you to leave now!!! And maybe you should.

Why do you think there are so many freelancers out there? How many times have you heard someone say “I’m going to open up my own business because I can do this better?” Many, I’m sure. But if you don’t want to be a freelancer or business owner, then what are your options? Finding that right mix of industry, coworkers, and leadership that’ll challenge you and make you feel at home.

Thriving with collaboration and innovation

Seek out industries you have a passion for. Seek out companies and other individuals that have similar values and standards. Check out Glassdoor Best Places to Work, GreatPlacesToWork.com, or any other rating site. When you find a company that looks good, check them out, check out their products, their reviews, their case studies, testimonials, etc. Talk with employees and former employees. Seek out the companies that are accomplishing things you’d want to accomplish too.

Bring your moral code to the team, bring your values and standards along too. When you start at a new company, bring your innovation, collaborate with team members in an open and honest way. If you can show your energy and enthusiasm, you’ll most likely attract those with the same energy and enthusiasm. Getting into a company where leaders openly challenge you to do your best work the right way is rare. When you find that place, it’s a place to stay.

I just started at a new company and so far, they’re super collaborative, innovative, and transparent. But I also have the added value of working with a leader I trust from years ago, so that’s a plus. Our portfolio is huge, we work with some really cool technology, and we have a global team. I’m looking forward to this next chapter and the team I’m doing it with. But what if you’re in a different position than me?

Co-existing with leaders you don’t necessarily agree with…

This has always been hard for me, even after I air my grievances with a leader. But if you’re in the throes of a shitty situation at work that stems from your lack of faith in your leadership, here are a few options:

  1. Confront your leader — I know that this might be a hard pill to swallow, but facing the situation head on is the quickest route to understanding if something’s fixable or not. If it’s fixable, awesome. If not, then maybe it’s time to move on.
  2. Work more with your leader — If you work closely with your leader, it’ll lead to a few things. A better understanding of each others’ roles. You can see how they treat other workers. And hopefully you can find common ground.
  3. Focus on things you can control — If you don’t get along with a leader, then focus your attention on your work and doing it really, really well. Producing great results will set you a part.
  4. Maybe it’s time to find something else — If you’ve exhausted all other possibilities, then maybe it is time to leave. And there is no shame in that.

I’m positive that we’ve all been there. Working with leaders you can’t trust, can’t be honest with, or don’t agree with can make work a negative experience. Remember to hold on to your ethics and standards. and as long as you can be honest in a tactful and constructive way, you should be able to make your situation better, or find a better situation.

How many people out there have a specific morning routine that consists of keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in your market, your industry, and your competitive landscape? I do! And for those of you in business, you probably do too. Well, what if you could shorten that routine? When I started in the web industry, I knew keeping up to date with the pulse of the technological community was something that just had to be done. Hence, my morning business review! I built something that really helped me shorten the time I spend online listening to the heartbeat of the industry, and I wanted to share it with all of you!

When I moved from freelance and contract web development work to business development, a whole new ballgame took shape. It wasn’t about div’s, stylesheets, includes, and semantic markup anymore; it was about competition, leads, emerging technologies, concepts, and timing. Being seen as the expert was a must, even though the experts were behind the scenes working on the solution. You have to know what’s new, what’s changed, what’s worth taking a look at, and what’s worth talking about. So, what did I do? I started going to good sources to get information. Moz Blog, Mashable, TechCrunch, Harvard Business Review, and more.

The chaos of a morning routine…

I began by viewing the industry blogs, business reviews, industry leaders’ tweets, Linkedin streams, and so on. But hopping from one source to another online takes time. I would start my morning routine for work before I got into the office. I would get up early, usually at 5am. Drink my morning coffee while watching the morning news. Then I’d hop online and look at these different blogs, go to Twitter and see what people were talking about. As I grew in my craft, I started to look at alternate sources like AMEX Open Forum and Smashing Mag, but I also looked at what agencies were talking about. It was (is) important to know what the competition is up to.

I would go to the gym around 6:30am, get to the office around quarter to 8, then continue with my search. There’s so much information out there for business development people, that it’s exhausting just thinking about which sources to read, to believe, to leverage. It also got to be a lot of running around online. I needed a place where I could bring all these different sources together, compile information, and make that information work for me as I continued to build relationships and sell web projects.

Bringing ideas to life…

So, I had this crazy idea! What if I could build a website that pulls in all the sources I look at in one easy-to-access place? Wouldn’t that shorten the time I spent in the morning? Of course it would! So, I started fleshing it out.

The first thing I did was put up a quick website under the name TheWebward.com – think forward or westward. I used WordPress, the open-source, awesomely easy application to build websites with. Even though I did front-end development, I knew bringing in RSS feeds wasn’t going to be easy, so I looked for a plugin. And I found one—WP RSS Aggregator. It did exactly what I needed it too. I ended up with a little over 50 RSS feeds that I pulled into this website. Then I separated them by pulling them into different pages — Agency, Design, Sales, Strategy, Tech, WordPress, and so on. I had all my blogs and sources in one location, and categorized accordingly.

Screenshot of WP RSS aggregator plugin in dashboard

Check out the WP RSS Aggregator plugin – it’s super easy to pull in the feed, all you need is the feeds URL, and you can choose how many previous articles you want it to pull in. Then use a shortcode to get it to display on the front-end. I ended up doing the past 5 articles because I look at the feeds often, and that was plenty for me!

Screenshot of the Webward.com

All my design RSS feeds pulled into one single page!

Continuing to add more features…

But well-known blogs weren’t the only sources I went to during my morning business review. I also went to social media, company postings, groups, and more. So, I used a few different plugins for this feature:

  1. Easy Twitter Feed Widget — which allows you to display Twitter feeds on your website.
  2. Custom Facebook Feed Plugin — which allows you to display completely customizable Facebook feeds of any public page or group. *Note – it cannot pull in private groups.

Working with these two plugins was super easy. The hard part was working it out with the respective social channels. For the Easy Twitter Feed, I had to go into Twitter and create all the widgets with the person’s (or company’s) Twitter handle to get the Twitter ID, which allowed me to pull the feed into my morning business review website.

Twitter Widgets

Now, I’m sure there’s probably an easier way to do this instead of creating dozens of widgets, but I need to get more familiar with Twitter’s API and their developer documentation (which I’m in the process of doing), so as soon as I come up with a better way to do, I’ll let you know!

It was kind of the same thing with the Facebook groups and pages. FB no longer adds the page/group ID to the end of the URL, so I had to look at the source code for the page, find their ID, and pull it into my morning business review.

Source code for FB group to find group ID

Then it was just adding a shortcode on the back-end page to get a display like this on the front-end:

Facebook Groups on The Webward

And this:

Easy Twitter Feed Widget front-end display

I aptly named this area of TheWebward — The SocialSphere.

The SocialSphere on TheWebward
The SocialSphere

Making my morning business review even better…

For a long time that was what my morning business review consisted of; Daily RSS Feeds and The SocialSphere. But I always thought about how I could make it better. I’m pulling in all this information. Some articles I like and some seem like they’d be super helpful. Others I couldn’t read right way. So, I created a reading list! I use the “Press This” button that comes with WordPress and allows you to capture articles that you want to share. When I find an article that I like or that I think might be useful, I save it. I’ll also put it in one (or two) categories, and attach tags to it like “analytics,” “strategy,” or “mobile.” This helps me class certain articles to fit with certain personas (I’ll explain later!).

The reading list eventually turned into the Article Library which separates interesting and useful articles into different subsections. My train of thought behind this was simple: as a biz dev guy I’m engaged with different types of people (or personas) and they are interested in different things. Some like content, others like education, or marketing tips. But I knew I was going to create personas and eventually attach articles to them to be used as a starter kit for my sales “toolbag” — pretty neat, eh?

Building buyer personas and developing a sales toolbag…

If you’re in business development, then you know what buyer personas are. They are a representation of the types of people you engage with to buy your product or service. Buyer personas list out their demographics, communication preference, major goals, pain points, etc. And this essentially helps you market your message and your sales pitch to them. So, I created a few buyer personas as Custom Post Types, which actually isn’t that difficult to do in WP. I also created custom taxonomies for my buyer personas that reflected the industry they were in, the role that they played, and their affect or emotional mood. Then I used Advanced Custom Fields to add more fields where I could put in their age, location, pain points, challenges, and so on.

How cool is that? Let’s look at the Tech CEO (one of my buyer personas):

Tech CEO Buyer Persona


As you can see all these different fields are on the backend like so:

Back-end Custom Post Type Buyer Persona

I also made a few spots to attach useful PDF’s, articles, and areas of interests (tags) that were already a part of the reading list.

Tech CEO Buyer Persona

If I’m engaged with a Tech CEO and I’m trying build rapport or trust with them, I can always come to my morning business review and pick an article or two they might be interested in. Or if I need talking points, I can just look at the “areas of interest” and choose a topic. It’s really just a way for me to use all the information that I’m pulling in to my website.

This is going to be different for you because we all work in different industries and we all have different buyer personas. But I wanted to show what’s possible when you start fleshing out ideas! WordPress helps because it’s super easy to use and easy to integrate with other mediums.

Adding some good vibes…

Because this was the site that I visited first thing in the morning, I needed to make it feel like home, or be inspirational. I added a big slider with nice images of the sunrise, skylines I like, and more to put me in the right frame of mind. I added an image of a “virtual high-five” to get some daps for when I needed to get pumped-up (fist bump!). Then I also used the Quote of the Day plugin by QuoteTab to pull in a new quote everyday.

Homepage of TheWebward.com
Today’s ‘Good Morning’ Quote!

This gave me inspiration. I pulled in Morning quotes, Happy quotes, Leadership quotes, Motivational quotes, Life quotes, and the list goes on. So, everyday I wake up, I go to TheWebward.com and the homepage consists of inspirational quotes, messages, and sliders that just give me good vibes. Then I hop over to my Daily Feeds page and see what’s new! It’s pretty awesome!

What’s next for my morning business review?

That’s a great question and I have a few avenues I’d like to explore. That’s why I have a Sandbox on the website! But I’ve recently put a calendar (courtesy of The Events Calendar Plugin) on it where I enter in my usually meetups, NIM groups, and WordCamps/DrupalCamps. But I wonder if there isn’t a way to integrate that with the WordPress.com WordCamp calendar. There might me, but I’ll have to do some digging. Here are the big ideas that I have (and in the name of sales):

  • Business Intelligence Engine — I know, sounds fancy, right? Well, it probably is and it may be a little outside my development wheelhouse. But I think it would be really cool to be able to set certain metrics on the site, like pulling in quantitative results and figuring out when the best time to reach out to a certain company would be. I’ll have to do a lot more digging here, but if anyone knows of open-source business intelligence software, give me a shout!
  • Case Studies — I’d eventually like to add a field for Case Studies because these are an oh so important tool in the salesmen’s toolkit!
  • Company Profiles — I’d have to do some research here too, but what’s one of the things biz dev people need? Lists, right? Everyone hates cold-calling, but if I could pull in company profiles and figure a way to attach the people I know to those companies, I might be able to do something with that. I’ll have to look more into LinkedIn’s developer documentation, and other sources like Data.com
Turning a chaotic morning into a well-oil business machine…

Yeah, that’s right! My morning business review, TheWebward.com, really ups my game in keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in the technology space! I love it! Without it, I’d still be hopping from one source to another to yet another. It literally cut my morning routine by about half the time. I can spend more time reading articles, developing cool new features, or putting in a little extra time at the gym!

So, if you’re in the business development world, I highly recommend building something like this! It’ll make your job easier and it’ll free up more time for your personal stuff! If you need any help, don’t hesitate to reach out! And, if you read the stuff I read, and follow the people I follow, then by all means, use away!

Every time I tell someone what I do, they always reply with the same question — “what exactly is that?” What they’re asking is — what is business development? It’s sales, right? Or it’s about growing a business, right? Well…if you think about it, business development has many different faces. Numerous flocks of people think that biz dev is simply sales. It is not, I assure you. Sales is a part of it, but…not everything! Now if you scour the internet and Google “what is business development” – you’re bound to get different answers on every result you click on.

When you work for a services firm, business development is a process. Now I touch on services agencies because I believe building strategies for business development working for a web services company is different than web products. Why? Because products, often times, are tangible. Not in the sense that you can pick it up and touch it, but there’s a known feature that usually solves a client’s problem. Web services are intangible, and it’s challenging, at times, to get a client to see the value as you would a web product. Therefore, the process of developing business is slightly different.

The business development process is a continual cycle…

Biz dev needs to be cared for, looked after…you can’t wing your business development. Business development is not just sales, it consists of the following:

  1. Service or offering — what do you provide? How do you articulate this? This is why you are in business.
  2. Marketing — letting the world know that you have this service or offering.
  3. Sales — selling your offer and building your client list, as well as expanding on your current client accounts.
  4. Client advocacy & management — being there for your client and delivering what you promised you’d deliver. This helps retain clients and you can use that to your advantage to get more clients. Happy clients make for great references!
  5. Partnerships — teaming up with other firms that are complimentary to yours, not in direct competition.
  6. Networking — going to events, meeting industry people, building a network.
  7. Getting feedback — from your clients, from the prospects that you didn’t close, from your team and yourself.

This is an on-going process, and one that you’ll cycle through and tweak as time goes on, but let’s hop into it and talk about the many faces of business development.

Articulating your offer…

Why would a prospect want your service over another agency’s service? Let’s face it, there are thousands of web agencies out there that probably do exactly what you do. So, how do you differentiate? This is where business development starts. Articulating your offer is the first thing that needs to be done, it is the basis for which we build our business development plan. Now, the offer can (and probably will) 3d stick figure articulating the offerchange as time goes on, but fine-tuning what you already have is the quickest route to success.

Focus is the name of the game. Customers and prospects want an agency that has a deep understanding of one or a few things. Strategy, Web Design, Web Development. If you look at the agencies that have been in business for a while and are thriving (not just surviving), you’ll see that they have focus in one or two areas and companies specifically seek them out to do business with.

Articulating your offer is no easy feat, and for every agency out there, it’s going to be different. What makes you unique? Are they your services, do you have a deep and narrow focus in one area that beats out your competition? Maybe it’s your values? Your crew? Or maybe it’s a vertical that you know inside and out. Whatever it is, you need your audience to have only one response to it — “That’s what you do? I’d love to know more about that.” — Every time you tell someone what you do, you want them to be intrigued enough to ask you questions about it. This gets the conversation going.

I know, this is a tall order, but that’s why you have a team. Get their input, ask them how they articulate what they do. You can also look at the marketplace and how your competition is articulating their offer. My previous agency Oomph “crafts digital experiences with passion and purpose.” 10up, a WordPress digital agency, “makes content management easy, maybe even fun.” The agency my sister works for, Liberty Concepts, they are “building engaged communities and influencing conversations taking place online.” Now, these probably don’t get everyone they reach to say “really, tell me more…” but they do speak to their specific audience. And remember, your offer-articulation will change as time goes on as businesses and markets shift.

Marketing to the world…(or maybe just your users)

Marketing is the next crucial step and one, for a long time, that went overlooked in the business world. Sales was always the front runner, but ever since the dawn of the inbound versus outbound debate, marketing has got its fair shake. Of course, the reality is — is that sales and marketing are two very different disciplines and two very different mindsets. But they do work together, not in opposition like the long cold war it has been of the late (late) 20th century.

Marketing can either aid or handicap your sales team. You can have sales-focused marketing, it behaves as a function to grab those potential customers who are considering whether or not to buy. If you look at an entire client cycle from initial contact to the final launch of a project, you have a progression that goes something like this:

  1. Project idea
  2. Need to research firms (and pick the right one)
  3. Narrow the list of potential agencies to work with (the short-list)
  4. Get a proposal and presentation
  5. Negotiate contracts and sign
  6. Kickoff the project
  7. Delivery of the project (completed)
  8. Evaluate the end product
  9. Then start it all over again if there’s another project (which there will always be)

So, with all that in mind and looking at it from the shoes of your customer, what are the things your customer needs from an information standpoint to make solid decisions? What questions will they have? And at each of these stages, what are your customers thinking about?

Customer’s thought-process
  1. Project idea — This is going to be a lot of fun or this is not going to be a lot of fun, either way, how do I get this project started? I need to find a web agency. Where do I look?
  2. Need to research firms (and pick the right one) — what firms have what I’m looking for? Who do they work with, what do they specialize in? What verticals do they work in?
  3. Narrow the list of potential agencies to work with (the short-list) — which agencies impressed me the most? What case studies would I like to show my boss? Which firm do I get a good vibe from? Have they done really awesome work? Do they have good references?
  4. Get a proposal and presentation — how hard will this process be? What will I need to get them, what will they want from me? Will their proposal/presentation address my challenge?
  5. Negotiate contracts and sign — ugh, contracts! I know they’re necessary, need to get sign-off.
  6. Kickoff the project — what should I expect? Who will they need from my team? What information do I need to put together?
  7. Delivery of the project (completed) — will this go smoothly? Will there be any unforeseen obstacles? Will we get along with everyone, will I like what they build and design for us?
  8. Evaluate the end product — is this what I expected? Do I feel we got our money’s worth?
  9. Then start it all over again if there’s another project (which there will always be) – the last project went awesome, can’t wait to do it again. Or, the last project was awful, I don’t want to go through this process again.

Answering questions like these will help your sales team close more business. Now, obviously, marketing isn’t all sales-oriented. Marketing is also about brand reputation (which…will ultimately help with sales) that gets people to like you. And these are people that you may not even do business with, but they could become brand fans. And brand fans can be really good for business. They can advocate for your agency or a project you worked on that was super cool. Marketing can always reach a much wider audience than sales, you can use social media channels, automation and other technologies to get your value and brand out to the rest of the world. And remember, people and companies that are interested in buying from you will always research you first online and make assumptions and judgments without even speaking to you first — and that’s why marketing is uber important!

Sales — the cowboys of the business world…

I’ve written a few posts on sales and I’m sure to write more because sales its own special snowflake…and there’s a lot to it. Sales is demanding, very demanding. And if you’re not careful in business development, sales can eat up the majority of your time, because let’s face it — it’s the driver of more revenue. So what should we be focusing on in sales? Good question!

First, you need to look at the marketplace, what choices are out there that a prospect could potential make, what solutions are available to sell? Then you need to get serious about targeting your ideal client, who are they and what position do they hold, what types of companies/organizations do they work for? What problems or pain points can you solve for your customers? Who are your competitors and how might you lose to them?

Then the next step is establishing a sales process or refining the one you have now. You can be a sales cowboy, but even cowboys have a code. Don’t go out there and play things by ear, or ride the bullwanted: sales cowboy until you fall off. Get yourself focused on funneling prospects through a process that progresses the sale. Now, you may be progressing the sale to a ”no” but that’s ok. Rejection happens, but you have a process in place to make progress. The process won’t guarantee that you’ll close business, but it will guarantee that you get the “no’s” out of the way quicker, and get a better understanding of how your getting the “yes’s”

Look at how the sales process naturally goes, something like this:

  1. Lead generation / Prospecting
  2. Qualifying
  3. Scoping
  4. Proposals / Presentations
  5. Negotiations
  6. Contract signing / Closing

What are the things that you need to do in each of these stages in order to progress to the next one? What’s the requirement of each stage, what is the purpose of each stage, which team member will be a part of each stage, and what resources will I use for each stage? I have a table that outlines all these things, see below:

The stages of the buying process and their essentials

Having something outlined like this will help you on a couple different levels. The first one is obvious, it follows the stages of the buying process. When you have a legitimate lead and you know they are going to buy (maybe not from you, but hopefully), then you can progress the sale by getting the prospect to hit the requirement for each stage. The second level is that prospects will come to you at different stages of the buying cycle. They may be dealing with another agency and then something went wrong. Maybe there was a conflict of interest and they went searching for a new agency and found you. But, that prospect has already been though the qualifying stage with another agency and wants to hop right into scoping. Well, you just need to know if they meet the requirement to hop on in to scoping. Use this table as a guide or make your own so you don’t have to think about the next step, you can concentrate on your prospect.

Customer satisfaction and delivering on your promise…

During the sales process, the sales cowboy always makes promises. Make sure those are communicated properly to the project team. If a client is expecting one thing, and the project team doesn’t deliver on it, then that makes for an unhappy client and bad word of mouth. Which, in the world of small business, goes a long way!

Good communication and continuing to build client intimacy and advocacy will have a drastic affect on your customer base. Clients want to feel like they are the only client, so when your account managers or project managers connect with the client, there needs to be cohesion from the sales team. The sales people have been dealing with these customers and then once a sale is made, they hand the customer off to the project team. Make sure there’s continuity there that usually comes in the form of a project handoff meeting between the sales team, PM, and the new client.

But as a business development person, you’ll want to check back in with the client to make sure things are running smoothly, that the client is getting value out of the process and project, and you need to look for more opportunities. Relationships are a huge part of agency business. Don’t be afraid to leverage those relationships, even if that means getting a case study out of it. At the most, you can get more business through other projects within that customer’s company, or good referrals for other organizations that might have a project in mind. When you’re in the midst of a project, the focus is on delivering great work, but you still can’t neglect finding opportunities, or being oblivious to them.

Navigating the world of good partnerships…

There are different types of partnerships out there; formal ones, informal ones, referral partnerships, hand-shake partnerships, ones that have contracts and ones that don’t. The only thing I’d really like to touch on with partnerships is this: In today’s business world and with the ever-growing list of customer needs — partnerships help with being able to give a client a full experience.

Your agency is really good at a few things, right? Like web strategy and design. Another firm specializes in custom web development and the templates you design need to be developed with custom code. That makes for a decent partnership. Where the waters can get muddied is in ownership. Who owns the client? How will meetings be handled? This is all something that you’ll have to work out with the other 3d stick figure partnerships putting puzzle pieces togetheragency to see what the best experience is for the customer. Maybe the customer only wants to deal with one entity. If that’s the case, you can communicate things through from your partner agency.

Partnerships are also good to reach a wider audience for leads. This is why you’ll see many hosting providers like WP Engine, Pantheon, Acquia, etc. have many partners. In essence, they all help each other out. Now, a lot of these bigger hosting companies require that you pay a certain amount of money each year to be a partner. That’s not right for every agency, but it may be right for you, it all depends on revenue, growth, and the ROI you think you’ll get from being a preferred partner.

As a biz dev person, you need to seek out, research, and evaluate different partnerships. Partnerships should add to your business and your partner’s business, they should be mutually beneficial. If they aren’t, then it really isn’t a partnership.

Network…don’t business develop with business development

Networking has been around for a very long time, but they didn’t always call it networking. It’s been called schmoozing, rubbing elbows, social climbing, mingling, and many other names. But networking plays a big role in business development. It’s meeting people, it’s being seen, it’s playing the game.

But there are a few things I want to point out about networking. The first is that it isn’t about the company, it’s about the individual. As a business development professional you attend events to network, but you need to network wisely. When I first started out, I was the guy that would hand out my business card to everyone, and that just doesn’t work. Nobody wants to talk to the guy who wants to talk to everyone.

And when I first started out, I didn’t have much of a network. I only had my friends, and that’s where I started. I asked them to connect me with someone they knew who was in my line of work that I could get advice from. People love giving advice, so go talk to people. Listen to people. When you go to an event, go there to meet one or two people, but make solid connections. Learn what they do, have good networkingconversations, have impactful conversations. Make impactful impressions by making strong connections.

The other thing I want to touch on is the trap of networking. Don’t go out there and attend every event that you can, you’ll get burned out on that, quickly. The thing you’ll notice as you start to go to more networking events is that there are soooo many business development professionals at these events. And most are there because they want to sell something. Pick out the events that are focused on a certain vertical, like say your agency works in the healthcare field. Search for healthcare/digital events — I know you can find plenty. And pick the ones that have an expert speaker in that particular industry. There are usually a lot of industry (remember, healthcare) people there that can either connect you to the right people in there company or are the right people. But you don’t go there to sell them anything. There’s nothing people dislike more than being at an industry event to learn something and a salesman walks up to them to try and earn their business, it’s a turn-off. So, when you’re at these events, listen to what the speakers are saying, learn about the subject, and tell your prospect (or whoever you meet) that you are there because you have an interest in the subject matter. Have organic conversations, don’t push a solution down someone’s throat at an event, it hardly ever works.

Networking is about consistency, the more you go to industry events, the more you’ll be recognized as someone in that community. And then when prospects at those events have a project they need done, if you’ve left a good impression and made an impactful connection, they’ll remember where they put your business card and give you a call.

Feedback improves the process…

I can’t stress the need to get feedback from your clients. It will really help you improve the process. You’ll also want to try and get feedback from the prospects you lost during the sales cycle, that will help you improve your sales process.

With prospects you lost, think about putting together a quick Google form and sending out a survey that has 5 to 10 questions with input fields. It’s hard enough to get people to give you feedback, let alone someone you didn’t sign as a client, so don’t make it too daunting. But if you ask nicely and tell them it would improve your process, many will comply. Certain questions could be:

  • Did you understand the solution we recommended implementing?
  • Was there any part of the process that confused you?
  • What was your favorite part of the process?
  • What did our competitors do better than us?
  • What was the ultimate deciding factor for choosing / not choosing us?

Remember, you can give these to anyone who went through your sales process to better that particular process.

For clients that you did work for, they’ll go through a different feedback review and it should include sitting down with your client to get feedback. Put aside 30 to 45 minutes, a week or so after the project is all finished and review the project. And just listen to their answers. Certain questions could be:

  • How would you say the overall project flow went?
  • Was there any part of the project process that you didn’t like?
  • Do you feel like everything was communicated to you properly?
  • How would you describe your feeling toward the end product?
  • And many more….

And remember, just listen, don’t offer excuses or argue with them, just listen. Get the feedback to the team and the leadership, and tweak the process if it needs tweaking (which…it always will!).

Then, if appropriate, ask for testimonials or case studies. Ask if you can use them as a reference. I can’t point out the importance of having a number of references on hand. When a biz dev guy is in the middle of selling something and the prospect asks for a reference, it’s nice to be able to pull from a pool of happy clients. And then also, look for future opportunities. Communicate with your clients after the project is finished, check in with them and keep that relationship strong.

Wrapping up business development…

Let’s cycle back to the beginning, what is business development? Well, it’s all of these things — you’ll wear the marketing face, the sales face, networking and partnership face, and the customer advocacy face, all the while trying to articulate your offer just right and getting feedback throughout the process.

If you look up the exact definition of business development, it probably goes something like this:

The process of experiencing growth through acquiring more profitable clients and expanding existing customer accounts.

– which, if you think about it, encompasses many things, many faces. Business development is a discipline and one that should be given the proper time to work for your agency. Believe me, it will take time. The role of business development is a jack of all trades, but still a master of one. Kudos to all the biz dev people out there — the unsung heroes of the business world!

I got asked a really great question last weekend and figure I would expand on it in a blog post. The question was “what’s the difference between a $2,500 project/website and a $15,000 project/website?” This, believe it or not, is one of the most probing questions I’ve ever been asked. Hence, the need to write a blog post on it.

So…what is the difference?

I’ll tell you as I see it, and I want to preface this by saying, my word is not absolute. This is completely my opinion and my thoughts that stem from the experiences I have working at a small agency and a larger one. The smaller agency charged anywhere from $2k – $20k per project and the larger agency charged anywhere from $50k – $250k per project. I would love to say that the difference is level of effort, but that’s not necessarily true. I think what we have to do first, is look at the variances of what we’re talking about. There are many, many variances in agency types or tiers, types of projects or websites, and variances within those projects.

So what kind of an agency is right for your business, what are the pro’s and con’s of each?

Types of Agencies

In the design and development world there are all types of designers and developers ranging from freelancers to mega-web agencies, small design shops to professional engineering firms. There are marketing agencies, social media agencies, and SEO agencies. For the sake of this post, I’m going to concentrate on the different types of website design/development agencies, the ones that do strategy, design, and development. This will be mostly for people or companies looking to get a website designed and built.

  1. Freelancers: These are the hardest ones to put in a category, because like agencies, freelancers can range a great deal. There are the novice freelancers, many of them do projects for next to nothing, sometimes they actually charge nothing. They’re just starting out and want to grow their portfolios. But then, there are other freelancers out there who are phenomenal. Usually these freelancers are expensive and don’t take on many projects because their plate is already full. You can usually find freelancers ranging from the novice to the expert on sites like Upwork or Elance, just make sure to check out their ratings and reviews.
    • Advantages: One person owns the project from start to finish (not being shuffled between people); Almost always less expensive than agencies; Can usually get the job done very quickly
    • Disadvantages: One person owns the project from start to finish (so, stability could be an issue depending on the freelancer), if they run into a speed bump that could mean the end of the project; Skill set is usually limited to one area like development or design, not both — unless you find that unicorn freelancer, they are out there!
  2. Small ‘Everywhere’ Web Agency (2 – 10 employees): These agencies are very common and popping up everywhere (hence, the ‘everywhere’), and like freelancers, they can range a great deal. Most small web agencies don’t have a focus in terms of industry. They’ll work with a lot of companies ranging from lawyers to restaurants to local businesses. The owners often times act as project/account managers and the staff is limited in their experience. That’s not to say that these agencies aren’t good, there are good ones out there, but they mostly do simple marketing redesigns, blogs, and brochure-style websites.
    • Advantages: Prices can range, but usually it’s within a small businesses’ budget. Often times you can get redesigns done for $2k to $10k; These agencies are friendly and will treat you like family, and they’ll go the extra mile to keep you as a client.
    • Disadvantages: They sometimes use templates for design, so you’ll see many clients that have the same navigation bar or search box style; Sometimes they’ll modify themes instead of making custom ones; And often times they don’t have an in-depth process when it comes to the strategy surrounding the project.
  3. Boutique Web Agency (5 – 25 employees): These agencies are the ones that usually have sharp focus in a niche industry, like “we only work with non-profits,” which makes them really great in that one (or two ) specific vertical(s). Their process is somewhat refined and they have a small team. They usually have top-tier talent (one or two rockstars) and project or account managers. They work with medium-sized business and most likely have a few enterprise level clients.
    • Advantages: Focused verticals, know the specific industry inside and out; Refined strategy processes; Top-tier development and/or design talent; Most likely have good project management skills
    • Disadvantages: They have small teams that are most likely working on a number of different projects; May push out the start date depending on workload; Often times rely on the top-tier talent to take the bulk of the projects
  4. Professional Web Firm (25 – 75 employees): These firms are the ones that have focus in a few different industries and market themselves that way, but they’ll also push their own boundaries and take on projects outside their industries (not all the time!). They usually have a sales department (or sales guy) and marketing team. They’ll have dedicated project teams and a handful of project managers. They’ll also have a solid leadership team to motivate and corral the team members when needed. They have processes set in place and incrementally improve them. They consider strategy a big part of the web game and use it to deliver solid projects. They have full day discovery workshops and probably do user testing to confirm hypotheses. They work with big companies and enterprise brands, but still have a few small to medium businesses that they got when they were starting out.
    • Advantages: Custom work, you’ll get a unique website that’s built for your users (hopefully!); There will be an outlined process; Roles and responsibilities will be defined; Strategic thinkers that will use data to make informed decisions; Will assign a dedicated project manager; Top-tier talent
    • Disadvantages: They’re expensive; And they’re not the quickest on project timelines, they plan and plan, and that takes time; Often times they overload their team because of client demands
  5. Mega Web Agency (100+ employees): These are the large agencies that take on a number of different verticals, they almost always have distributed teams and work on some really big projects. They’ll have every type of agency person including user experience designers, digital strategists, marketers, software engineers, strategy partners, and a large leadership team with dozens of years of combined experience. They usually don’t take on projects for less than $250k (I know some that start at $500k or even above!). They work with brand names (think Google) and they’ll do mostly (if not only) custom work.
    • Advantages: Super custom work tailored to your users; Strategy will be the biggest part of the project; They’ll usually work in sprints and test at the end of each sprint to verify concepts and prototypes; Quality Assurance will be meticulous
    • Disadvantages: You need to be a huge company to work with these guys, because they are expensive; There might be a waiting list to work with them; There will most likely be a number of people in on the project at different phases/stages of the project, so you’ll meet new people constantly

What about agencies with 75 to 100 employees?

Good question! Well, this is by no means a complete list. I’ve noticed the farther I go in web services (or just web in general) there are soooo many types of agencies out there. There’s also the Digital Body Shop which usually has anywhere from 50 – 100 employees, and they do a bunch of different projects in different verticals and work with a myriad of industries.

Just remember, this stems from my own experiences and the people I’ve talked with.

Let’s get into project type and what their average costs are with the different agencies.

Types of Projects / Types of Websites

Like agencies, there are definitely a myriad of different projects and websites that can be created, designed, and built. Some are simple, and some are super complex. So, I’ll list out the most common projects most people are likely to encounter and most agencies and/or freelancers would take on. To limit things (because this is already a long post!!), I’m going to just do pricing for the 3 web agencies in the middle: Small Agency, Boutique Agency, and Professional Agency. Please keep in mind, these are averages (prices all depend on the scope) and can realistically range from $1,000 to millions!

  1. Blog: This is perhaps the simplest type of site which mainly consists of a content management system (like WordPress) and updated content coming out on a regular basis.
    • Price:
      • Small: $1,000 – $5,000
      • Boutique: $3,000 – $15,000
      • Professional: $10,000 – $35,000
  2. Microsites: These can be deceiving. Just the term ‘microsite’ sounds small, but I assure you they can be the opposite of that! Microsites are usually when a company wants to promote an event or showcase a certain branch or department of their company. Often times there is video or images, CTA’s (calls-to-action) prompting the user to do something like signup for a service or check out certain resources. They can be cool ways to get more awareness.
    • Price:
      • Small: $2,000 – $8,000
      • Boutique: $5,000 – $25,000
      • Professional: $25,000 – $75,000
  3. Marketing Site: These are called different things, sometimes Informational sites, or Brochure-style sites, but essentially these sites just market your company or cause or whatever! They can be a little trickier than blogs because often times they require implementation of ad-serving, email newsletters, videos, or image galleries. I’ve seen these sites range anywhere from $5,000 to $80k, depending on what’s involved with them.
    • Price:
      • Small: $2,000 – $10,000
      • Boutique: $10,000 – $50,000
      • Professional: $35,000 – $100,000
  4. Site/Application Build: These are a little trickier to price because they almost always involve doing some type of integration with another system. Like integrating with a booking engine or an events registration system. These builds can be complex and should be handled by top-tier talent. Be careful to go with a price that’s too low (there is such a thing!) because they should be priced accordingly – they are hard projects to work on!
    • Price:
      • Small: $8,000 – $20,000
      • Boutique: $35,000 – $120,000
      • Professional: $75,000 – $250,000
  5. Membership Portals / Member-Based Sites: These can be fun projects and if done right can come out really well. With WordPress there are some default membership properties like Editor, Author, Subscriber, etc. But a good agency can do almost anything with these and other CMS’s, like Drupal, let you customize your user roles. But because the needs of a client can vary a great deal depending on what they want their membership site experience to be like can determine how much the project will cost.
    • Price:
      • Small: $5,000 – $25,000
      • Boutique: $30,000 – $150,000
      • Professional: $75,000 – $300,000
  6. Ongoing Support: Obviously this all depends on the size/scope/scale of your digital property and what your needs are, but usually prices start at the following amounts.
    • Price:
      • Small: starting at $100 per month
      • Boutique: starting at $500 per month
      • Professional: starting at $1,000 per month

Again, this is not a complete list. There really are multiple (sometimes endless) types of sites that you could potentially do. You could also have a hybrid of sites, like a Microsite within a Membership-Based Site, oh the possibilities!!

I guess that’s what I like about the web, the possibilities, they are endless!

But I hope this sheds a little light on what types of agencies are out there, what they typically charge for web projects, and what to expect from them if you ever need their services.

So, to answer the original question, I’m not sure what the difference between a $2,500 website and a $15,000 website is. I would say there are different types of agencies that price projects out differently depending on their market size, location, and client type. But with that being said, I really hope that a $100,000 project from a professional agency comes out better than a $10,000 project from a small agency,  but I tell people it’s like buying a car – “You can get a Hyundai Accent for $15k and you could get a Lamborghini for $250k (is the Lambo better? Maybe..) but they’ll both get you from point A to point B!”