When we opened Plank’s doors almost 15 years ago I didn't really realize that we were starting a business. Only a couple of years out of university with a few freelance contracts in hand, we had the hubris to think that with a few desks, a few computers, an internet connection and a phone line, that we could somehow make a living at this internet thing. There was no business plan, no one with any specific job titles and definitely no one thinking about sales, marketing or business development.
Around 2005, when the office started to fill up with people, I realized that someone would have to start "running the company". With 10+ people's lives being supported by Plank, someone clearly had to take care of administration, make sure the bank account was filled and that there was new work coming in on a regular basis. I decided that it was my responsibility to step up and do that. There have been many people over the years that have helped me in this process, so I realize that Plank's success has been a team effort as well.
Over the past two years, I have felt like my role at Plank has been at a crossroads. I've been trying to understand what the next step in our evolution should be and what I need to do next. At the end of 2012 I was wondering; should we try to build our own products? Should we stay along the present path? Or, should we try to grow this company?
On November 5, 2012 I got a very timely email and in less than four weeks I was basking in the sun of Palm Springs at the Shop Talk Conference II. After two days in the company of some of the smartest and most talented digital company owners out there, that I have respected from afar for years, I felt energized and proud to be among peers who just got it. I learned so much from them and I hope I was able to offer something back in return. It was great to get the chance to talk off the record and share so much.
By the time I got back from Shop Talk Conference I had made my decision. It was clear to me what the main challenge for Plank was going to be over the next two years and that was the development of our Sales and Marketing. I feel like we have all other elements of the company covered; we have a great office, filled with talented people who produce excellent work. I completely trust that when a new project is handed over to the team, they will hit it out of the park. So, 2013 began with the hiring of a new Director of Business Development and a re-energized focus on giving my superstars the kind of creative and technical challenges that they deserve.
With my head wrapped around this challenge, I was intrigued to see a post from Joe and a response from Tracey about this exact topic. I appreciated Joe’s openness about Happy Cog’s wins (and losses) in 2012 and his basic data got me thinking about Plank. What is our win-loss ratio? Are we over that magical 50% win ratio? And the question that really struck me was, why have we put out substantially more proposals over the year than the 22 that Happy Cog developed? I’ve always thought that we were selective in who we sent proposals to but I think that the difference in volume (given that we are roughly the same sized teams) says at least one of the following things;
- Are we investing too much of our time writing proposals that aren’t a good match for us?
- Are we bidding on too many projects below our financial threshold?
- Should we be focussing our attention on fewer, more high quality pitches?
Tracey got me thinking a lot about the process of how we decide who we want to work with and how I act as a traffic cop in determining who becomes our clients. I now pride myself on having the confidence and ability to tell if a company, person or project would or wouldn’t be a good match for my team. I have kindly declined many projects over the years if things just didn’t feel right. I am also very happy now to clearly state the size of the projects we like to take on as a team. But, am I saying no often enough? Am I really learning and trying to improve our sales process when we lose something? Are we really trying to make our pitches that much more impressive? These are the questions for me to focus on in the upcoming year.
So thank you Joe and thank you Tracey for making me stop and think a bit about how we are doing. The end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 have been busy, with more opportunities coming our way than ever before. We feel like people have come to recognize the importance of what we do and the value we bring to the table. Now, John and I will have to be sure that we are doing our jobs and working as smartly as the rest of the company.
If we really are going to become the company that we all envision, we need to choose what we want to win.