The obligatory predictions for 2017 – with a twist

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.

http://www.mesh.consulting

Distributed teams: The growth strategy used by the savviest startups

By Heidi Sundin and Nina Sochon

Growing an amazing business requires strategy and breakthrough thinking. In this article we propose an approach you may not have thought of to address one of your key challenges: building your team.

For many small businesses seeking growth, there are some essential elements required for your growth strategy.

Whilst it is important to have a good understanding of your current state – ‘where are we now?’ –  and your desired state – ‘where are we going? -’ having clear objectives is not enough.

Clarification is required around your target market, size of the addressable market, and your tailored value proposition for selected markets. One of the challenges for startups and SMEs is building the right skill sets within the business to be able scale and rise to the growth challenge.

Growing a small business or start up can often raise the chicken or egg question, should we wait until we have locked in revenue before hiring or shall we invest in recruiting essential resources and skill sets to generate leads, sales and ensure delivery capability?

In many cases entrepreneurs or small business founders play multiple roles (leader, owner, manager, operator, marketer). The catch is, in order to scale, there is a need to delegate parts (or entire functions) of these roles by bringing in more capacity and skill sets, both on the delivery side as well as in support services. Those skill sets enable more leads and conversion of sales, management of workflow, administration and people issues, as well as efficient procurement or supply chain management and logistics.

Of course recruiting full-time office based resources involves risk, especially at these early stages. The thing is, as a small business you know there is a sizable market to tap into and you know you need to improve your marketing capabilities, workflow management, delivery capability and technology resourcing, but you also know this is adding fixed costs before increased sales are made.

Adding to the conundrum, there are considerations around having more or too many direct reports, finding the right talent, integrating new staff members into the team, ensuring the right cultural fit, and investing the time it takes to get team members inducted and up and running and ultimately adding value.

Breakthrough approach

One option is to think differently about how you bring in talent to help your business grow. Recruiting full-time office based staff is clearly not the only option. Alternatives may include part-time staff, hiring consultants or utilising contractors.

Start ups experience a real breakthrough when they expand their thinking beyond consideration of only their local area. Specifically, there is a huge difference between the size of the talent pool in the commutable area around your office and the talent available nationally and internationally. What this means for your business could be huge.

Distributed teams enable you to recruit the best in your industry. Quiip is Australia’s most experienced community management firm. Talking about their completely remote work arrangement, Julie Delaforce, General Manager says, “It really helps us attract the best talent”.

One distributed team Nina recently worked with faced the enviable challenge of choosing between too many high quality candidates for a recent position. They shortlisted 30 high quality candidates after advertising the position as a remote working position.

Frederic Chanut, Managing Director and founder of In Marketing We Trust, a medium-sized marketing firm, looked outside Sydney to find contractors he could afford. Buying that labour in Sydney was simply out of budget.

Ultimately, there are multiple benefits of building a distributed team if your SME is in a growth phase: avoid locked and fixed full-time employee costs; tap into a broader talent pool, who may be based interstate or internationally; access a greater diversity of skill sets; and avoid the need to take on additional office space costs. Successful distributed teams can create a more agile cost base while bringing in talent to accelerate progress.

A distributed team is a unique arrangement. Whether your team consists of part-time workers, contractors, consultants or full-time staff, the challenge is to achieve strong team communication, performance and culture while working across distances.

For businesses going down the path of building a distributed team, here are some suggestions to kick things off:

  • Determine the areas of the business, activities or projects where you need additional expertise, but don’t have the budget for full-time or even part-time resources
  • Determine the overall budget available for additional resources
  • Put the call out for assistance – social media channels such as linkedin or new platforms such as Expert 360, Freelancer and Airtasker, can be useful
  • Look for people with deep experience of working remotely, don’t assume that people with a strong skill base in other areas have developed the skill of working effectively as a remote worker
  • Before working together with your remote team members, define the ‘rules of engagement’ for your distributed team. Successful distributed teams often implement a team charter, which outlines team members’ agreement on how they will communicate.
  • Use technology to your advantage by including videoconferencing. Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom are free and easy to use. Other collaboration tools should complement video: document sharing, screen sharing and instant messaging.
  • Replicate the water cooler. Social conversations don’t ‘just happen’ in remote teams, a dedicated channel is needed.

Distributed teams are a powerful way to grow your startup. Why limit your growth strategy with traditional thinking, when a global talent pool is at your fingertips!

Nina Sochon creates distributed teams that outperform co-located teams by up to 22%. Nina led a cutting edge strategy team that delivered on the Australian Government’s goal to double the number of people working from home. She shows organisations how to rethink flexible work styles to succeed both here and now and in the future of work. Her flexible work framework is considered leading practice in Australia and New Zealand.

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors.

Making collaboration magic

By Heidi Sundin and Hamish Anderson

For centuries we believed ‘knowledge is power’.  In the 21st century the belief is shifting to recognise that ‘collaboration is power’.

Isn’t it ironic that it has taken until the 21st century for a term which is derived from Latin to rise to such prominence. We have finally moved into an era where there is growing understanding of the magic that collaboration can bring in creating ideas, actions and momentum to solve issues, large and small.

Collaboration is more than an alliance, relationship, network or a partnership. Meaningful collaboration arises from the coming together of people with greatly differing experiences and views, united by a common mindset and goal.

Hamish and I have both worked in many different types of collaborations and in our experience the coming together of different knowledge sets, organisations, groups and individuals enables a process of discovery that spans disciplinary divides; and ultimately one that creates something unique. So, we thought we’d share with you our views on the key ingredients to making collaborations successful.

Common purpose

From the outset it is important to be really clear about the common purpose the collaboration is working towards. Of course individual parties may have specific goals and interests in participating in collaborative efforts, but we believe there needs to be an overarching common goal.

There may be times in collaborative processes where the different interests of participants are in conflict, so having clarity over ‘why’ you are collaborating and your common purpose can break down impasses, and bring discussions back to the reason you’re all there.

Rules of engagement

Collaborations often involve different organisations, groups or people who come together to share IP, ideas, and engage in various ideation processes. To ensure there is mutual benefit from the collaboration (in whatever form that benefit takes) it is essential that you determine the rules or key principles of engagement.

What we’ve found works well for us is to adopt the principles: ‘openness’ ‘curiosity’ and a ‘high level of debate’.  As collaborators we acknowledge that from open and rigorous debate better solutions will emerge. Part of signing up to these principles is that debate is always about the interrogation of ideas not about the person putting them forward.

Being open

If we wanted to get to an answer that we already ‘kind of knew’ there would be little point in collaborating. For collaborations to be successful, the people within them must be genuinely open to pushing the boundaries – committed to discovery and the belief that through sharing they will arrive at an answer they never could have in isolation.

Trust in your collaborators

Sharing brings some vulnerability. There are different types of trust: contractual trust, competence trust and goodwill trust. In collaborations, a higher reliance on competence trust (trust that the individual / collaborator has the abilities to perform the task) and goodwill trust (trust that the individual has the intent to perform the task) will more likely lead to better outcomes as they provide a platform for more open and creative engagement.

Trust in the process

The process of discovery and invention can take you down uncomfortable paths that you may not have arrived at alone. To uncover the gold that comes from collaboration, give yourself over to the process, rather than fixate on the immediate solutions and outcomes.

Utilise new tools available

Collaboration is not just a talk fest, and it’s important to capture the thoughts, ideas and decisions as you go. If you cannot get into the same room, there are many online cloud based collaboration tools that can be used to bring your teams together in a virtual space and record the process. Consider using tools such as: Stormboard,  Confluence, Trello and Google Drive – these tools allow the collaborative team to brainstorm, organize, prioritize ideas, create a shared workspace to chat, share documents, work on documents together and move things along.

Bringing it together

Collaboration is magical. By working together collaborations provides us a powerful process of discovery to take knowledge and creativity to a new place.

Those who do not believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Collaboration is about achieving something purposeful – be it a specific outcome, open innovation, or the skill of collaboration itself – but for long lasting collaborations we believe that a large part of it should also be fun! So, above all else, we encourage you to incorporate fun, joy, and energy into your collaborations.

About the authors

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. 

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.

Is marketing wagging your strategy? Top tips for ensuring strategic alignment of your marketing strategy

By Heidi Sundin and Hamish Anderson

Irrespective of the industry you work in, or the size of your organisation we believe it is critical that your go-to-market and indeed your marketing strategy, plans and initiatives are aligned with your business strategy.

Recently we’ve observed a number of clients and organisations present with a similar challenge – they are keen to build a new marketing strategy or go-to-market strategy, yet they wish to do so without having clarity on what they are trying to achieve as a business.

Why is this an issue?

Building a marketing strategy without taking the time to develop clarity on your business objectives, strategy and plans can lead to a number of issues, particularly for organisations in a growth phase. Some of the issues that result from this void of an overall business strategy when developing a marketing strategy are:

The risk of becoming master of none: When focused on growth it can be exciting to see so many opportunities – different customers, new product and service lines, and new markets and adjacencies to move into. Yet trying to be all things to all customers, when resources are limited due to management bandwidth, capital constraints, access to talent and the ability to recruit at the pace of growth can create significant issues. Making courageous strategic choices to prioritise opportunities and be selective in defining who you are, what you stand for, and which customers & markets you serve will allow you to be more deliberate and targeted with your marketing strategy.

Confusing your customers: With your business strategy missing in action the related risk that arises is the sending of mixed messages to your customers or perhaps worse – not reaching them because the channels you’re using are not suited to where your customers are. Without a clear customer segmentation strategy – you risk not understanding their needs, meaning it is more challenging to tailor and deliver your value proposition to them.

Confusing your teams: Creating an outstanding customer experience requires collaboration across all areas of the business. Alignment is key. Across the business; sales and marketing, operations departments, accounts and finance, IT and innovation, human resources all need to work together to ensure that the internal culture and all customer touch points are consistent in providing an excellent brand-true experience.

Often called omni-channel marketing, it is no longer the remit of the marketing team alone to implement this seamless customer experience, rather, it is the role of the marketing team to create demand and then provide internal support and education across the business. An overarching and aligned business strategy enabling the focus on customer related processes, systems and culture initiatives is also required.

Resources across the organisations, not only in marketing, need to be aligned to what your organisation is trying to achieve overall – otherwise you will see various teams across the business all running in different directions and potentially working against each other. Greater alignment will allow your teams to all work towards providing your targeted customers with your promised value and experience.

Missing your goals: Measuring the success of marketing initiatives should be focused on whether they are helping to achieve your business goals? How do you know if the strategy is successful if your goals have not been clearly defined?

Building a marketing strategy with your business strategy missing is like the tail wagging the dog – marketing has to ask the questions that the overall business strategy should be clarifying.

Our top tips for strategic marketing alignment

Here are our top tips to bring better strategic alignment for the development of your successful marketing strategy. 

Make it a two-way street: If your organisation has a strategy team or consultant – ask to meet with them to gain a central view as to what the organisation is aiming to achieve in the long run and the other core business priorities currently underway. Not all organisations will have a dedicated strategy team, particularly small to medium businesses – so in this case, talk to the MD or General Manager to understand what the priorities are. As a marketing professional your role is also to engage your leadership and colleagues on what the latest trends are – you can play a role in helping the leadership to stay focused on the market, be across the trends and provide data to help make some of these critical strategic decisions. 

Know your industry and influence strategic choices: Marketing plays a key role in not only supporting the business strategy, but also informing it. By using data insights, customer feedback and research marketing should play an active role in advising the leadership or strategy team on key markets and customer segments. Key questions to raise with the leadership may be: Is Pareto’s law at play? Should you refine your targeting? Where are the areas of highest growth and profitability? What is the lifecycle of the industry? Where are the knowledge gaps – what does your market not know they don’t know? The strategic marketing imperative lies not in telling the audience what the business wants them to know, but rather in realising what the market needs to know (which they do not currently) and delivering to it.

Know your why: Make marketing meaningful. You can’t be everything to everyone, clarity of what markets you are playing in and why is critical to avoid confusion with your customers and ensure targeted key messages. If your business or leadership have not clearly articulated your why – suggest a workshop or other activities to help crystallise the broader ‘why’. The ‘why’ of the organisation then becomes central to your messaging to customers.

Know what you mean by success: Define how marketing campaigns and other initiatives success supports organisational success. If the two functions are moving independently of each other, success will be accidental at best. Ensure the business is also set up to support marketing success. It is integral that you define what success looks like above and beyond the obvious – spiked sales, improved ROI, lower acquisition costs etc. It is just as important to mitigate negative ramifications from “success”. Consider things such as the safeguards you have or need to build in to ensure delivery times remain constant, or that customer service does not suffer due to increased demand.  

In many ways it surprises us that strategy can sometimes forget the customer, just as marketing strategies can be developed in isolation of a business strategy. For true success we encourage you to take a deliberate approach to ensuring alignment.

Let us know what else you do to ensure strategic alignment of your marketing strategy.

About the authors

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. 

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.