On a sunny day in Brighton 2 years ago Steph, Chris and I, with input from the rest of the team, made quite an important decision to put capability building at the core of all our client work.
Instead of building websites that sometimes go unloved or are born out of ‘launch and forget’ briefs, we’d challenge clients to do more continuous improvement of their sites, through testing, looking at data and careful crafting of content. Luke was already helping clients do this very successfully with their intranets.
Rather than tentatively help companies do paint-by-numbers social media, we’d push them to actively engage with customers: front up to the things they’d done wrong, listen and acknowledge complaints, and generally be more credible online.
And rather than deliver strategies that depending on a few good people in a digital corner to deliver, we’d focus clients’ attention on the skills and confidence of individuals in the business, from the CEO down. Or in many cases, from the customer service centre up.
Now our strapline says ‘building confidence in a digital world’.
We decided on capability building because:
a) it’s more rewarding to deliver the right thing once, than win repeat business year after year that ends up being the same set of unresolved challenges
b) we wanted to work as one team and have a shared appreciation of each other’s crafts and experience
A range of skills and experience
We were, and still are, a real mixed bag of skills and experience. From back-end web developers to front-end designers, user-obsessed project managers to former comms people delivering crisis response training.
I believe this gives us the right spread of skills, expertise and interests, to help a variety of clients build their confidence and experience, in-house. It also means that we can talk with authority about the link between, say, dark sites and crisis response, or social media engagement and how this fits with users’ wider online behaviours.
Clients haven’t baulked at this approach and we’ve delivered a few really interesting projects that combine a number of different skills from across the team. For example digital strategy reviews, which encompass owned web estate as well as other earned channels.
Building confidence internally
However, I’m not convinced we’ve actually sold the range of things we do to anyone, yet. People find us through one of a few ways, and usually because they already have a specific need, or are interested in one of our training platforms.
That makes it a tricky shift for everyone on the team. I’ve learned that colleagues like to work for a brand or product, with a specific deliverable. Trying to start each project with a cold, hard assessment of needs, rather than a menu of products or services, can be strangely overwhelming.
It takes a dose of brave pills to stand in front of a client and say:
‘you’ve asked for an intense, advanced crisis simulation, but actually we’ve looked at your current work and feel some more basic classroom training is required, first.’
‘we could close up that white space, but we think it might be more beneficial for you to join us for some user testing, so you can see where the design is performing well’
But if we’re to build a diverse business that is Helpful for clients, then we need to be flexible about the products and services that we deliver.
As a team of 11 it’d be easy at this stage to start falling into awkward silos, but this is exactly the right time to be avoiding all of those and continuing to shape a Helpful proposition for our clients.