We've been doing a lot of soul searching at SmallBox lately. What products do we want to offer? What kind of clients do we want to work with? How do we become crazy profitable in 2011?
One particular struggle we have had is taking on projects that have no related process. Often we have done great work for customers but at the expense of profitability, customer experience and company culture. I don't mind being a little messy during the start up years but it is pretty unforgivable for a grown up business.
The clarity I'm coming to can be summarized by these 4 "P"s- Process, Product, Practice and Profit. In that order.
If you don't have a process then you don't really have a product. In our case we have a pretty solid process for designing/building marketing websites but not so much for e-commerce, site audits, web applications, etc. So we have been walking away from business that doesn't have a related internal process. We have also been treating our process with the respect it deserves. Many elements may seem obvious but all the pieces have come together from years of trial and error. If there is a special sauce then the process is the stock and the team is the flavor. But process is just the beginning.
This is what the client sees. It is both the end product (the website) and their experience. The later is an area we have often come up short. We start down the project path hand in hand but somewhere along the way things get messy. The end product is almost always excellent, in my humble opinion, but the client can often leave feeling less than fuzzy about the experience. We weren't managing expectations. This is of course rooted in our process. Product=flower and process=soil.
This is about creating muscle memory. Doing things the same way over and over. Like basketball drills. All the checklists and milestone templates in the world can't replace a team that is in sync. It's a beautiful thing when it happens. We have done over 100 websites over the last 5 years but we still need to practice and improve. Many times the misses are around hand offs between teams, integrating new team members and client communication. You might think that practice comes before product but the reality is that every paying project is practice when you have an active, growing, always improving process. Practice also involves looking at the tape- reviewing what worked and didn't work and making changes. Ignoring the tape is lazy and stupid but we have been guilty of that many times over the years. No more.
The best P of all! This one has been a little elusive for us. We have had great quarters and not so great quarters. Overall we have been fortunate to grow over the past 5 years with double digit growth every year. But consistent, substantial profitability has been hard to come by. I believe the reason lies in our tendency to still behave like a start up- take whatever comes to us, ignoring mastery of a process for specific products, not reviewing the tape and making changes. I know now that profitability comes from a product with a rock solid process. This will clarify our value proposition in the market and create numerous efficiences internally. Sure, we might have fewer products which means turning away business but the products we have will be much more profitable than all the random engagements in the past. So going forward we have decided that if there is no process in place then there will be no product offering. Doing fewer things better.
Would love to get some input from other business owners on this post.