Steps We’ve Taken To Survive 3 Years In Business
Each April is a critical anniversary for Divining Point. This year we join the ranks of businesses who made it past the three-year mark. It’s a dubious distinction born from a grim reality. 30% of businesses fail in the first year.
Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t much better for the second, third, or fifth years. In most cases, the demise of a company is directly related to management and leadership failures that lead to poor decisions. Funny thing is…
WE’RE ACTUALLY 6 YEARS OLD
Divining Point started in 2013 as a consultancy. Like many startups, we had something we wanted to share with the world. After 3 years of hustling in this gig we call marketing, we formally launched as an LLC in April of 2016. For us, that’s the birth date of our agency, even if we act a little older.
We reached the important one year mark in 2017 and shared a story about the lessons of being a nimble little shop. One year later, we felt pretty sure of ourselves and revealed a formula that seemed to work for us. A series of missteps in the summer of 2018 left us nursing our wounds and brushing dirt off our chins. Through it all, we can confidently say that staying true to our values is what keeps us in business today.
There are lessons worth learning from anyone still in operation after three years. We certainly don’t corner the market on business wisdom. Our simple goal here is to continue the tradition of sharing what we do so that others may find success.
DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS
Our clients come to us because they need a solution to a problem. Since each case is unique, we come to the table as a partner in search of the answers. In that regard, there’s no merit in being a “know it all”. Biases, assumptions, and preconceptions are completely unproductive.
At Divining Point – both internally and externally – we acknowledge we don’t have all the answers. If you’re looking for a marketing agency with “silver bullets”, we’re not your team. For starters, silver bullets don’t even work that well. Secondly, a silver bullet really only works for one problem (werewolves and monsters) and isn’t helpful for those of us in the real world.
It may be frustrating to work with a person who happily says “I don’t know” or “maybe” when asked tough questions about pernicious marketing challenges. It’s even more disappointing to put your faith in a team who fails to deliver on the promises they made during the sales phase of an engagement.
If you want to stay in business, our advice is don’t sell a bag of goods just to close a deal. There’s no quicker way to lose a precious client and earn a bad reputation. You can’t afford to do either. You’re better off taking a different approach.
In our case, we’re convinced that the best way to deliver value is to employ the scientific method to marketing. In fact, our process is broadly summarized like this:
- We ask questions.
- We do research.
- We develop a plan.
- We test the plan.
- We document performance.
- We analyze the results.
- We optimize.
Along the way we discover all the answers. In most cases we let the data tell us what works and what should change. In some cases, we depend on research, intuition and experience to guide our decisions. It’s not as quick or easy as the claims made by people with a “proven process” and “guaranteed results”. However, in the end you can rest assured that we’ll find a solution that works reliably for you.
PROFESSIONALISM IS NOT AN OPTION
Austin is known as a fairly casual city. “Keep Austin Weird” is not just a catchy slogan. It’s a mantra to do things on our own terms in the spirit of individualism. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find shorts and sandals sitting at the same conference table with suits and ties. That’s quite alright with us.
Dress codes and corporate protocols are up to each business owner. What works for you could be a disaster in another industry. We recommend ignoring the universal standards of “professionalism” in all ways but one: your actions.
Acting professionally is not an option. It’s a mandate.
It’s become quite common for companies to take a lax attitude with the treatment of their clients. Some days it seems like the rules of decorum were scrapped in favor of “what’s natural”, “what feels good”, “what’s convenient” or “what’s in my best interest”.
The result is a broken dynamic of relationships that were once built on respect, trust and integrity. We’ve seen this first-hand with vendors and customers who’ve been burned too many times in the past by marketing agencies that ignored and disrespected them at every turn.
The rules of professionalism vary depending on the source. In some cases, there is an emphasis on professional attire. But as Austin illustrates, great business can occur regardless of the clothes. Professionalism is an intangible set of behaviors that looks something like this:
- Treat your customers with respect, even when they behave poorly.
- Follow through on your commitments.
- Address people properly.
- Practice quick, responsive communication.
- Avoid drama.
- Be competent.
- Practice empathy.
Even if you have a casual business model, a reputation for professionalism will always win you more fans and referrals. People want to be heard and supported. Acting like a professional will build faith in you and contribute to the long term success of your business.
DO TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER
We take issue with the old saying “Don’t take no for an answer”. It’s an audacious way of making people yield to your will. This tired motivational phrase is especially common in sales, where inexperienced salespeople waste time and energy trying to force a “no” into a “yes”. Why even bother? There are hundreds of other customers who are ready, willing and able to move forward.
Let’s analyze what happens when you indiscriminately overcome all objections.
What if a person isn’t qualified or capable of doing what you want them to? You force them to act. They fail. They blame you. You’re left with the decision to continue supporting them or, even worse, walking away in shame.
What if you’re actually making a bad recommendation? They put their faith in you, despite their better judgment. Your plan fails. You’ve lost the trust and respect of the other person, and you’ve most likely created some costly consequences for you and them.
What if you’re forcing a deal with a difficult customer and they accept? Congratulations, you’ve got the sale. Guess what? You’re stuck with them now. You have no one to blame but yourself.
What if your plan is good but an even better one exists? You’ve lost an opportunity to demonstrate competency and deliver outstanding value to the customer. Businesses with a reputation for mediocrity don’t last long.
There are plenty of hypotheticals you can explore here, but ultimately you run the risk of jeopardizing your relationships, your business and your long-term success when you “don’t take no for an answer”.
Here’s a better alternative: be objective, be humble, and be open to the possibility that you may be wrong. Don’t be a fool. Sometimes “no” is a good thing. It may not serve your immediate goals or stroke your ego, but your needs matter less when it comes to doing great work for a good client in a healthy business relationship.
BEWARE OF FIRE ANTS
Every business has to decide who they want to serve. Our advice is to be cautious of the “low value / high needs” client that doesn’t appreciate your time, your quality, or your worth. We call them “Fire Ants”.
For those of you outside of the South, fire ants (also known as the Red Imported Fire Ant) are an invasive species known for their aggression and destructiveness. They’re little. They’re unpleasant. They bite like hell. Sound familiar?
Fire Ant clients typically have a large amount of needs with very little budget. They scrutinize every single expense in an attempt to get you to lower your price. Conversely, they expect you to give them a higher level of service that doesn’t correlate with your negotiated agreement.
With Fire Ants, communication is poor, sometimes non-existent. Many of them micromanage your project or, even worse, are completely uninvolved until after you’ve performed your service – at which point they want changes. Every request is urgent. Every revision should be free. Every project turns into a spiraling cycle of scope creep that leaves you and your business in disarray.
To be fair, these clients have genuine needs. They should work with a team that can fulfill them. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be you. The perceived opportunities associated with Fire Ants are not worth the cost and headaches they bring. The best way to avoid being bitten is to prevent them from getting close in the first place.
Don’t take offense if you’re a Fire Ant. From what we can tell, most clients don’t recognize how destructive their behaviors can be. They just want the service or product “they thought” they were going to get. Therein lies the rub. Despite the best efforts of many businesses to clearly define the terms of engagement, Fire Ant clients have unrealistic expectations and an unwillingness to accept anything less than their demands. They don’t take no for an answer.
BIGGER THINGS TO COME
On this anniversary we’re blessed to work with terrific clients throughout the United States, including Alaska. Our footprint has expanded along with our team size and service offerings. We practice all of the learning lessons we espoused in our previous blogs, and it continues to serve us well. We’re optimistic that our best days are ahead of us.
While we work with businesses of just about any size, we look for the characteristics we think will bring about success and a long-term partnership. Our clients appreciate the power of a good brand. They value quality service, and they conduct business in a way that inspires loyalty with their clients.