Have you ever noticed, that around this time of year – if not a few weeks earlier – pundits start to espouse their predictions for the year to come? In the past, you will have no doubt seen headlines similar to “What to expect from Big data in 2016”, “AI, is it likely to replace human thinking?”, “Marketing Automation this, real time bidding that” and so on and so on.
Out of interest, have you ever stopped at the end of the year, gone back to the predictions of the various experts and weighed up what they got right, what they got wrong and evaluated the lay of the land? More importantly, I wonder if the pundits have taken the time to go back and review their words to see what they got right and wrong.
And this got me to thinking. In looking to the year ahead, why do I not look back at the year that was and do what I tell all my clients to do – look at what has happened, what has worked, not worked or even failed – learn from it and then make assumptions for the future. This year, that is exactly what I have done. And without further ado, the five things I have learned in 2016 which help me with my aims and goals and predictions for 2017.
First do no harm
In becoming a qualified doctor, students must take the Hippocratic Oath in which they vow to “First do no harm”, right? Wrong. This is mistakenly represented as part of the Hippocratic Oath, when in fact it is quoted in another of his works.
I don’t know if it was just me, but the cases of misrepresentation through 2016 seemed rife. I worked with clients who had let staff go because the staff member has falsified their skill set and could not do what they were hired to do, with others who had hired firms to deliver a project, only for the 3rd party to turn around and under deliver and in one instance, deliver a solution that was clearly shoe-horned to fit the client, when it was probably first delivered to another completely different business.
These circumstances at times made working with my own clients harder at first. There was distrust, micromanagement and continual questions. I do not begrudge them of this, I understand it totally. Over time, as I delivered what they wanted, and what they in fact needed to achieve their goals, we built a solid working relationship.
Towards 2017, my philosophy when dealing with new clients will be to prove I do no harm and in fact can and do deliver not only what is wanted but what is needed to achieve the goals the clients have.
The era of cross-pollination
There has for decades been a collectively held adage; it is not what you know but who you know.
Seriously, what rubbish!
Whilst I acknowledge it is important to have contacts around the place who can put you in touch with the right people, as a consultant, it is imperative that you can add value to the bottom line.
In the era where budgets are being cut yet goals are being raised, I have found it ironic that businesses often look within a closed paradigm for a new solution. People within industries often describe their own industry as incestuous, noting that people move from one company to another. Whilst I concur that new collaborations can lead to new results, we all know too well the folly of incest over time. Rather, I believe that there is a stronger argument for the bringing in of new talent which has extensive experience in the provision of solutions.
Through my career, I have had the pleasure of working with and within Not-for-profits, the automotive industry, the software industry, pharmaceuticals, fertility, advertising agency, digital agency, specialised building remediation, finance, home building and more. What links each and every one of the roles and projects is well-defined and executed strategy. My philosophy is simple, If I have value I can add to a client, I will explain what I can bring to bear in meaningful ways for clients, providing strategic insight which makes my clients stand out from their competition and which can be leveraged for time to come, not just for the moment.
The aim for 2017 is to make more SME businesses aware of the strength a contingent workforce can bring to them. In leveraging non-industry specific talent, clients will find they grow and expand the way they think, not just in marketing, but in how they see the market and thus what they produce for it.
Despite physiotherapist recommendations, stretching is not always good for you
2016 was the first full calendar year Mesh was in business. I wanted to ensure my clients were happy by doing everything I could to provide what they needed. As such, I often found myself biting off more than I could chew – not in terms of the type of work so much, but in the time frames I allowed myself to provide the work.
I found myself working at all hours of the night to get work done, down-weighting less time-sensitive work which would inevitably through the course of time become urgent thus perpetuating the cycle. It meant that I then took my eye of the next cycle of pitching for business meaning I got caught in a boom/bust or feast/famine cycle. Yes, I know it is part and parcel of being a small business, but in stretching myself, I have learned that I was at the risk of something snapping.
So, does this mean I will be cutting back how much I tackle? No, absolutely not! What it does mean it that I will be changing the way I work in three key ways.
- I will set realistic expectations with clients and explain why
- I will allow exploration of scope but will not allow scope creep
- I will maintain perspective recognising that there must be balance between what I am doing for my clients and what I am doing for my own business. (Perhaps it is time to bring on someone else?)
Technology uptake is only going to be as successful as Management allows it to be
Through 2016 I have made many recommendations to clients. Align this with that, project this, build that, utilise this platform and then refine and go again. Yet one thing has come back a few times which means I need to re-shape what I do in 2017.
Through 2016 I have made various recommendations to clients which require them to utilise different technology platforms to achieve optimal results. These have variously included CMS platforms to allow them to update their own site to maintain relevancy for their audience, using social media to engage with and converse with their prospective and current clients and to disseminate messages via email.
The client’s eyes light up when you explain the upsides, the potential reach you can give them and how it will benefit their business.
Sadly however, I have at times found some clients do not have the capacity (or maybe it is understanding) of why it is important to do things on a pre-defined basis with knowledge of what you are saying and why. Sometimes it is not understanding why you don’t use every hashtag you can think of on Instagram (#overkill #notrelevant #spammy) or why you need to maintain consistency in the style sheets used on your website, but the point is, lack of understanding means the optimal solution is not reached.
So, what I need to do is to understand a client’s requirements, their skill set, their capacity and their desire to do what can be done and then and only then provide them with the tools and instructions to do what they need.
The definition of success becomes a fluid construct
There is a new constant I have learned: Markets are fluid, circumstances change. It’s true in life in most everything we do.
- “I will get up tomorrow to go for a run” becomes “I have a meeting I need to prepare for so I will go later in the day”
- ‘Let’s meet at that rooftop bar” becomes, “It is raining, so let’s meet inside instead”
- “This year, let’s go to Europe” becomes “We want a summer holiday, so let’s go to Asia instead”.
We take these types of circumstances in our stride, barely pausing to worry on them. Why is it then in business we fail to consider that the same can happen? Something changes and too often people worry and lose site of the goal.
For the year ahead I am going to work on myself to understand that what I want to achieve and how I do it needs to be fluid. I am also going to ensure clients also are aware of this. That whilst we may want immediate results, things may take time to achieve due to circumstance, or unforeseen events. But, staying on strategy will get us there.
Five, four, three, two, one….
Ultimately, looking back 2016 has been a galvanising year. I have powered through some of the busiest periods of my life, have worked with some amazing clients and have delivered to them solutions which they and I are proud of. But that said, there is much I can change and that is what is exciting about 2017. I have a solid base and a tangible platform for improvement.
Bring it on I say.
About the author
Hamish Anderson is the Founder and Director at Mesh Consulting. Hamish is passionate about pushing the envelope and has a track record of success across offline & online marketing, strategy development, customer acquisition, web, SEM, social and content development. His philoophy is there is always more than one answer to any one problem.