Last week we hit the twelve month mark at Change State. We’d be lying if we told you the first year was all smooth sailing. I accidentally deleted our website the night before our first article came out on ERE (thank you, WordPress). We’ve forgotten to send invoices to clients for our work. We’ve been stranded by cancelled Airbnb reservations after midnight flights for client meetings. And have sent too many emails signed “Put Signature Here”.
But luckily we’ve also learned plenty along the way. So to help others on similar journeys, we pulled together our top learnings and advice from our first year as a fully bootstrapped company.
1. Write original content.
As a startup, potential clients and partners want to know how you think, and not everyone is eager to hop on a call. While writing your own content is time consuming, the long tail effect can be fantastic. In the past week, we’ve had multiple Fortune 100 clients reach out to us after reading about our approaches on our blog, some of which was written months ago. We’re a founding team of two, and we’ve written more original articles in the past year than many larger agencies supported by teams of more than hundred people (Looking at you, Universum)
2. Use social media strategically.
The loudest voices online aren’t always the smartest voices. And true thought leaders aren’t necessarily posting status updates ten times a day. While social media can be an effective way to put a ‘megaphone’ on your message, it can also consume significant time and attention. As a result, we’ve resolved to dedicate a defined 30-min per day for business-related social content. This limits our exposure to “rabbit holes” while ensuring we stay top of mind for prospects and partners.
3. Trust your intuition on people.
The most genuine people we’ve met have generally been the smartest people in the room. We’ve also been lucky to have access to some fantastic industry minds – some by chance, and some by choice. We think our advisory council is a great example of a collection of smart, willing folks excited about helping to drive and refine our growth plans without any expectation of immediate compensation. Further behind the curtain we have an even larger network of company founders and TA leaders that are always quick to hop on a call or help make introductions to other companies who could use our guidance in their HR digital transformation journey. We never feel like we’re doing this alone.
4. Know your personal areas of expertise, and do your best to stay in them.
An example for us, that means that Marty handles all data cleanup and segmentation for our Glassdoor Insights Dashboard. He also proofreads (and often rewrites) the majority of our client-facing content. He’s a great writer and knows how to take my often disjointed thoughts and clean them up for public consumption. This applies both internally and with your target audience of prospects. Candidly explaining what falls outside your expertise builds credibility with clients and partners, even if it means turning down short-term financial gain.
5. Only one person should ever lose sleep over a problem.
This was one of the better pieces of advice we received, and it ties right into knowing your areas of expertise and responsibilities. Starting a business is stressful, and there’s a certain level of trust that has to exist among your founding team. Here’s an easy example: We had taxes to pay, and books to reconcile. While Marty was (hopefully) soundly asleep, I cleaned up our financials, shared everything with and eventually met with our accountant. Marty knows that handling our taxes is my problem, and he trusts that I have it covered.
6. Actively listen to clients and prospects and let them guide your offerings.
A mentor of mine never liked referring to our jobs as ‘sales’. We were always just solving problems for our clients. If you’re listening closely to your clients and building solutions to those problems, the ‘sale’ is the easy part. We built our Glassdoor Insights Dashboard because we had multiple clients ask us to help them understand how to get more from their Glassdoor ratings. With COVID, companies are looking for help identifying cost savings across vendors so we now offer vendor usage and spend audits. By continually adapting in this way, we know our offerings are being met with client demand. We’re building an application to allow us to send jobs to Facebook because we don’t love the current solutions for our clients. What’s next? That’s up to our clients and prospects. But building our offerings this way makes sure we’re building for an already vetted demand.
7. Keep a jar of awesome.
I’ll admit, this is a newer component for us. The theme of keeping a jar of awesome came from Khe He and the point is simple: It’s human nature to get hung up on when something goes wrong. A Jar of Awesome makes it easy to reflect on your growing ‘jar’ of wins to review as needed – ‘Happiness on tap’. In a high stress environment, being able to look back at wins can be a great way to pull yourself out of a funk.
What’s next in year two? We’re excited to find out! And we’ll be sure to share what we’re learning along the way…