It feels like yesterday I was working from Aroma’s café in Hiranandani along with Gaby our Mexican designer and no one had ever heard about PracticeNext. Fast forward two years, and PracticeNext seems to be a successful marketing firm creating brand communications that hundreds of thousands of people view each day.
While it’s been an absolute thrill growing PracticeNext to sixteen people and several clients, it hasn’t been without its stresses and lessons learned. I haven’t done this before, I didn’t train for it. we just did it. Naturally, that comes with some pain. But from that pain has come growth, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. As we prepare to celebrate our second anniversary I thought its time I share the learnings.
Start with a reason that’s more than money;
Of course you need to make money, but if that is the only thing you are looking for as a founder then eventually you will fail. You will make decisions that aren’t for your clients, or for your team, or for the community; you will get short-term gains and create a long term failure. At PracticeNext we are driven by the purpose of creating micro innovations that move business and having fun together while at it.
“No” should be the most Important word in your Vocabulary;
In year two, there’s no doubt that the biggest weakness in our current armour comes from my inability to say NO. The wrong projects, the wrong clients. These things look shiny at first because they attract a paycheque. But inherently prevent us from making more efficient decisions down the road. I believe it’s also a sure-fire way to make sure young companies never get to say yes to good projects. In the services business, sometimes “no” is the most powerful, effective and beneficial tool you have. I don’t know if that will change tomorrow, but every day I encounter another “yes” mistake that I’ve made, I feel a little closer to that change.
Client Work Can Be Its Own Boss, don’t let be;
I realised after a point that I did not want to be micromanaged any longer. I definitely could work in a non-founder environment again – but not where I was forced to do things I didn’t believe in. At times, which also comes with the “yes” mistake, client work becomes its own boss. Not always. It doesn’t have to be. We have amazing clients. But we’ve had bad ones too. And most of those bad ones had clear red flags that I took because of the paycheque and they became the boss. This environment became its own lack of fulfilment, and not something we enjoy. The team, would have to work long hours to achieve aims I had locked us into.
The key to client satisfaction is to manage expectations right from the word go;
We are doing great work and trying to create new benchmarks for clients and still getting complaints from them. Initially we thought they were the problem. Then I realised its us. I knew we had done a great job, but the clients had no idea what was being done. They didn’t understand what they were paying for.
We started creating custom ‘body of work’ reports explaining the work that we were doing. We stopped sending over a raw data and started providing analysis of the marketing interventions and clients stopped complaining that they didn’t know what we were doing.
It is also important to set the tone early and don’t allow for expectation to set in. This is best done with a solid scope of work, contract, and a detailed deliverables schedule. The old adage of “under-promise and over-deliver always holds true.” Clear communication is what the business of service is all about.
Stand out by marketing yourself;
Most clients, when they hire a marketing service provider, take the attitude that the provider is lucky to work with them, that they selected them from a plentiful pool of companies bidding on their business. This is a deadly position for a marketing firm because it essentially commoditises the firm’s value. It forces the firm into a mode where it’s essentially selling units of its time and not its unique creative expertise. The only solution is to upend this equation, and create the circumstances under which clients instead feel fortunate that a firm is willing to work with them.
How do you make this happen? What makes a successful marketing firm is marketing yourself — relentlessly. It’s my belief now that at least a third of the revenue of any new marketing firm should be devoted to getting great press coverage, creating attention-getting publications, running advertisements, sponsoring events — in short, creating insatiable excitement around the very idea of the firm. This is the only way to do great projects on the terms that you want.
If any single thing is important its people & culture;
Far and away, the biggest lesson I took away from founding was that almost nothing matters more than people and culture. How well a team works together, through good times and bad, day in and day out, is a bigger determining factor in building a successful business than the contracts you win, the work that you do, the press coverage you get or even the money you make.
Building a great team & culture is all about putting together a diverse set of competencies’ and binding them with core values, mutual respect and trust. If you create a culture where people feel they belong and move in the same direction, you will land where you set your goal.
Never stop learning new things;
We live in a world where the speed of change Is ever increasing. I personally start every morning by reading blogs, and I have for years. The team spends part of every day doing the same thing, and we pass around articles that make us think. It keeps us constantly working towards innovation and learning from our great community. Another way to keep up is to constantly write yourself. Writing forces you to read and research more.
Last but not the least, the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. Someone will stand up and take the opportunity, while you keep ‘discussing’. Speed and execution are things that make the difference.
I can’t begin to predict where PracticeNext will be in future. Or how big we’ll be. What I know, though, is that if I’m working with a group of talented individuals creating great work for great people, I’ll be happy. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be saying no a whole lot. And less things will be breaking. But if they’re breaking, that’ll be okay, as long as we’re passionate about what we do, and that work is good.
Okay, maybe not good – great.