Ten things I’ve learned in 10 years

Sol Marketing is celebrating a decade in the business, so I figured it would be a good idea to share 10 things I’ve learned in the past 10 years that you can learn from. Here they are in no particular order, with the exception of learning #1.   That’s really the top thing I’ve learned that somehow I still can’t manage to stop repeating.

  Ten things I’ve learned in 10 years:

10.  Serve clients but don’t over-identify with them.   Sol Marketing’s reputation is built on stellar client service.  What separates us from other client-service focused organizations is that we know how to be a trusted advisor while maintaining a healthy distance from our clients and their businesses.  I personally have close, long-standing relationships with clients that include such niceties as vacationing together or even serving as Godparent to their children. Despite that personal closeness, my clients still pay me as an objective third party to think strategically about their business and act with their best interests in mind.  While I care deeply about my clients and their desired outcomes, while we’re working on difficult projects, cooler heads always need to prevail.

9.   Try new things; they just may work out! Looking back on 10 years in business, I can say that today’s Sol Marketing was built on saying “yes” to just about every problem that’s come our way.  That’s why today we’re in the business of creating kick ass brands that win instead of being a PR and strategic communication firm, which is what I initially set out to create. Creative approaches to addressing client problems and trying things that have never been done before are the cornerstones of our business today.  From learning how to create online training modules for Dell’s learning management system. to pioneering new research techniques to inform brand positioning, to creating an entire business around supporting entrepreneurs with their investor pitches, trying new things has almost always paid off for us.

8.  Hire people who make you feel uncomfortable.  Many managers tend to hire in their own image.  Throughout my tenure with Sol Marketing, I’ve learned how to get comfortable with people who make me feel uncomfortable.  I feel most comfortable with people who think and act just like me.  Without pushing myself to be around individuals who think and act differently, the company would be going nowhere fast.  Innovation needs newcomers who see and respond to things in different ways.

7.  The client isn’t always right; but they sign the checks.   I have a personal policy of always trying to act in my clients’ best interest and guide them towards solutions to their business challenges while letting them feel like they’re in charge.  Sometimes those two ideas are at odds with one another.  Often in the throes of working together, I see the client veering down a path that I wouldn’t personally support.  But occasionally there are intervening factors that I have no knowledge of that require that us to do things in a certain way.  In these cases, I set my own personal feelings aside and shift into the role of supportive advisor, with a primary goal of clearing the way so the client mitigate the risks associated with those choices.

6.  Being strategic isn’t just big-picture thinking.  I’ve often said that there are two kinds of marketing and communication strategy.  Strategy with a big ‘S’ and strategy with a little ‘s.’ While big ‘S’ Strategy – rooted in quantitative and qualitative research and often a “big idea” – is the dazzling jewel in the marketing crown, little ‘s’ strategy is the often overlooked and undervalued approach that can make or break a program.  This kind of strategy covers things like project timing, the application of software tools, creative financing and the thoughtful use of team resources.  While the brand strategy and account planning teams get all the glory for coming up with the big “ah-hahs” that drive programs and creative, don’t forget about program and project management people behind the scenes who make sure we actually deliver on our promises.

5.  You’re going to make mistakes.  Pay attention to the small ones. Of course, no one can execute flawlessly every time.  I could fill up about a hundred pages of prose about the huge and obvious mistakes I made over the past ten years. While memorable and usually very public, the huge mistakes rarely make a difference in the long run. The little things, like misprinted nametags at a client event, fat-fingered email typos and deadlines missed by only an hour can all erode a client’s trust over time.

4.  Don’t spend too much time at work.  “Wow, I wish I had spent another hour at the office,” said no one EVER.  The reason I got into this owning and running a business situation in the first place was to have more time for myself.  Now I have the flexibility to stretch myself in ways that I can’t by sitting at a desk all day every day.  Very few of the rewarding experiences I’ve had during the past 10 years have occurred while seated in front of my computer at a desk in Austin.

3.  You always have enough time to do things right the first time.  This one really doesn’t need explanation.  Take the time to do it right the first time.  Never compromise quality or strategy in an effort to make a deadline.  Clients ALWAYS appreciate someone pulling on the brakes to avoid disaster, even when it impacts timelines.

2.  Listen to the voices inside your head.   Contrary to popular belief, hearing voices in your head doesn’t necessarily signal a serious psychiatric issue.  Recent scientific research indicates that hearing voices in your head relates to one very ordinary aspect of your personal experience: your own internal running monologue. Most of us talk silently to ourselves as we go about our business, and some scientists think that we hear “voices” in our heads when we don’t recognize those little bits of speech we hear as self-talk.  Whoever’s voices those are, I have learned to pay attention to them because they’re often signaling me to make important choices or take risks.  Those internal voices have become a wise inner guide.  They rarely place limits on me and have given me the confidence to try new things and contribute to my world in ways that I perhaps never thought possible.

1.  NEVER take the last flight out of anywhere.  EVER.   This one goes without saying.  Those who know me know that I’ve pissed off some travel god somewhere along the way.  Even those of you who are not generally travel-cursed should heed this good advice.  It should go without saying: fly early in the morning or at least some time before noon if you can swing it.  Less opportunity for travel disasters to pile on throughout the day.  Also, revised pilot rest rules go into effect this January, guaranteeing us safer flights and introducing more opportunities for disaster.  You can read more about this here.