I left a job at a high profile local marketing agency to found Digital Pudding with the best of intentions. We were going to do everything the right way. Transparent, fair digital marketing for small and midsized businesses became our raison d’etre. It would shape our culture and define our existence. After all, I had just learned all the wrong ways to do business. It was time to make things right.
We’re just about half way through 2017 and it feels like we’re repeating some of the mistakes of the past. It turns out some things are harder to unlearn than others. With that said, here are some of the course corrections we plan to make in the second half of the year as we right the ship and get back to our purpose.
Mistake #1: Being All Things to All People
I had come from an omniagency, one that offers a full-service solution for whatever business problems are challenging you. We would develop solutions using any means necessary, even those that went beyond what we knew we could do. In fact, this is sort of how I ended up building their digital marketing division in the first place.
I carried this attitude over to Digital Pudding somewhat subliminally. Digital marketing agreements would turn into sales work. Advertising campaigns into social media management. Not only did the scope creep, it shifted completely, and we simply said “no problem.”
Turns out agreeing to do things you don’t do well nor do you want to actually do them is bad for business, both ours and our clients. As the needs changed, our value shifted and in many cases disappeared, causing the client to leave anyway.
We’ve decided to narrow our focus in the short term until we can expand our personnel and bring in talented individuals to lead. That means no more agreements that include design work, SEO, website programming and business development. It’s just not part of our core competencies. Even social media management work is a bit beyond our range.
That also means much more focused agreements limiting our scope to try and reign in scope creep. This might turn off some clients looking for that full-service experience, and it might even impact our ability to achieve some goals. In the long run, though, we want to focus on doing one thing really well before expanding
Mistake #2: “Retainer” Billing
At my previous employer, all clients paid a monthly retainer, regardless of our output as an agency. It’s a fairly standard arrangement in this industry. Still, I somehow felt like our clients were getting shortchanged every month and wanted to fix that.
When launching Digital Pudding, we wanted to be a different kind of marketing company that charged clients a fair hourly rate for the work we do, more like a freelancer would for a project. Having tried to do that for the past three years, we now understand what makes it so difficult.
In essence, the hourly rate billing system became a modified retainer. Clients paid for a certain number of hours each month. Because we’re nice guys here, those hours could be used doing just about anything. This led to the inevitable scope creep described above and operating outside our sweet spot for the past year or so. Despite our best laid plans, things went awry.
After realizing this, we’re migrating to a performance-based billing system. We also plan to narrow our agreement focuses and tie hours to specific tasks, instead of suggested tasks with flexibility. It’s more of a project-based approach to marketing, which itself has flaws we acknowledge. This might make us more rigid, and we’re okay with that, at least initially. Fair deals work both ways, and we want to make things as fair as possible for both sides.
Mistake #3: Making Excuses
Part of the reason I wanted to change the billing method at Digital Pudding was because my old team would come up with countless reasons as to why we didn’t do what was expected of us in the past month. It was because the client was dragging his feet, or this person was out sick, or technical difficulties kept us from doing our job. I thought that was unethical. Turns out it’s more common than I anticipated.
Despite our underwhelming attempts to make last year the Year of No Effing Excuses, we probably relied on them a little too heavily to this point. In this industry, there’s always something new to do. A new network to explore. New techniques to learn. New ways to achieve great results. Evolution is constant and distracting. And it takes away from the bread and butter tasks that need to be accomplished each day to stay on target.
Using excuses like that, or losing focus, or distractions outside of the business has cost us. The relatively good news is everyone struggles with this. We’re not alone. That said, we can’t use that as an excuse either. We just have to do the work. No excuses.
Mistake #4: Sinking into Complacency
By the time I had left my previous job, I had completely checked out mentally. Part of it was the culture and the realization that things would not get better, no matter how diligently I pushed. Part of it was a demoralizing atmosphere where I was expected to be quiet and not ask questions. Though most of that mental disconnect could be attributed to the fact that I no longer had pride in what I did.
I’m starting to get that sinking feeling again, and it’s not good. That’s not to say I’m not proud of what we’ve accomplished in three years. It’s more that the work we’re doing is very basic. Creativity is lacking. Enthusiasm is waning. And it’s up to me to reverse that course now before we head into oblivion.
Of course, perfect is the enemy of good. To this point, we might be a little more average than good. Barely good enough. That falls on me and I know it. So, there will be a concerted effort to elevate the work we do, mix things up and push boundaries. We need to be dynamic, strategic and most of all successful. This rut won’t cut it.
Unlearning lessons from the past is hard. Admitting that you’re making mistakes is the first step toward correcting them, though. We’ve outlined this plan to make changes that will be more reflective of who we are as a company, staying true to our core values.
It’s always been about honest, open marketing at Digital Pudding. We just need to tighten that up.