2015 Mar 02

On February 1st, 2015, this little company of ours turned 15 years old. My, how the time flies.

From our humble beginnings as a two-man operation in a windowless 10’x10′ office on Elgin Street, to our modern 3,000 square-foot workshop in the heart of Westboro, it continues to be an amazing journey.

To commemorate 15 years in the land of digital, here’s my top 15 lessons learned.

15. Hire slow.
In the agency world, it can be feast or famine. During those insanely busy periods the temptation to hire fast is always there… “we just need another body to push things through.” Experience has told me that those “fast hires” rarely work, and time spent on a thorough recruitment and evaluation process typically yields the highest return.

14. Be selective with competitive RFP’s.
Responding to competitive RFP’s, whether found through Merx, Biddingo, or otherwise, is a time-consuming endeavour, typically requiring multiple day’s of effort from the team. While the process of writing in-depth proposals in itself is rewarding and educational, the odds of winning are almost zero without an inside track (existing client, previous contact, etc). Today, we rarely respond to competitive RFP’s. If we can ‘t talk to you directly about your needs and possible solutions we can deliver, we’re not likely to work together.

13. Partnerships are tough.
Over the years we’ve partnered with many individuals and organizations: writers, designers, technologists, strategists. When they work, it’s a beautiful thing. But more often than not, partnerships in our world don’t have longevity. The issue? Crossover in skills makes for muddy waters of who is responsible for what. We still seek out partnerships, but have learned that we have to be very selective with who we partner with, and how we structure those relationships.

12. Design for the user.
User experience design is at the heart of all we build here at Industrial. Understanding which users that will yield a conversion is critical to success, no matter what business you are in. If you’re not designing for the end user, is there really any point in designing at all? We love learning from the users of the applications we build: stakeholder interviews during the strategy phase of a project, or usability testing early prototypes to inform decisions.

11. Content really is king (and queen, and…).
No matter how big or small a website is, you really need to understand your content before you consider a redesign. First, understand your business objectives, second understand the users you need to target to achieve those objectives, and third identify the content that is needed to create conversions. Years of experience here at Industrial has taught us that understanding content is a key factor for our client’s success: does the content exist, what is its source, who owns it, and how often should it be reviewed?

10. Process is necessary.
There is a point in the evolution of any company where process becomes necessary.  At Industrial I’ve seen many waves of process implementation over the years. But it wasn’t until we added a Director of Operations (Laura Mindorff) two years ago to head our internal operations, that we really took things to the next level. We now fully adopt the core principles of Agile including daily stand-ups, two-week sprints, and open communication, and use a robust sweet of tools to ensure our staff and clients are fully engaged.

9. Plan first, choose technology second.
Technology has an amazing ability to solve problems, increase efficiency, and increase reach. In the digital world in which Industrial operates, it comes in many different incarnations: web content management systems (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM) databases, association management systems (AMS), and e-commerce platforms. There are no shortage of technology platforms that can meet your needs, but first you must have a fundamental and deep understanding of those needs. Where to start? Conduct stakeholder interviews, review and document existing processes and workflows, create user peronsas, document key objectives, and define what success looks like.

8. We all need advisors.
I learned many years ago, that no matter how much expertise you have in your field, running a business requires advice and guidance. Running your own business is fraught with challenges, and surrounding yourself with experts who can provide support and guidance has endless value. At Industrial, we have a virtual CFO that works with us on a monthly consulting basis to provide overall strategic guidance, and I have a variety of mentors and business leaders that I work with regularly through TEC Canada to help navigate the world of business ownership and management.

7. Change is unavoidable.
In the land of digital, what was “in” last year is likely “out” this year. It’s a simple reality of working in this field: technology is changing at a lightning pace, whether it be devices, software and tools, or libraries and frameworks. At Industrial we embrace this, and endeavour to use the most modern techniques during our client engagements.

6. Focus is critical to success.
One company can’t be everything to everyone. In past years we prided ourselves on being generalists: finding the best technology solution based on client needs and executing. But, the generalist model comes with a huge down-side: if you’re not focused on select technology platforms you’re unlikely to be an expert at any one of them. Our new approach at Industrial is to be focused. We know the technology stacks that we’re good at and that deliver results to our clients, and as a result our level of expertise steadily increases.

5. Scope always changes.
For nearly every project we deliver for our clients, it is inevitable that what was planned for on day one is not what is delivered as the final, polished product. The best analogy: building or renovating a home. You start out with a blueprint and feel confident that you’ve thought of everything. But inevitably, as you start to see your home come together, you decide to make changes, tweaks, add new features, remove others. Likewise, while doing a renovation, what if your hired contractor finds asbestos when he or she tears down a wall? Plan for change from day one and the end result will be a better experience and a better product.

4. Fixed price + fixed feature doesn’t work.
At Industrial, we rarely engage in projects that require us to commit to a fixed feature set of deliverables while being held to work within a fixed budget. To some people (especially those within the “agency” world) this is an extreme stance to take. But the model of being told “do all of this, within this budget, no matter what,” pits client vs. contractor from the moment the contract is signed. “Client” wants everything done (and often more) within their fixed budget, and “contractor” is trying to minimize cost in order to maximize profit.  It’s not a recipe for success. Here at Industrial our goal is always a long-term relationship with our clients. We want to work with you, not against you, when you engage with us on a project.

3. Good communication solves most every problem.
In business and in life, could anything be more true? The most successful projects here at Industrial are the ones where we engage very closely with our clients. How do we do it? We love having you into our office for collaborative working sessions. In-person meetings during the development cycle are invaluable: we learn from you, and you get to engage directly with the people that are building your website or application. We like to call it “co-creation,” come on in to our office (or we’ll happily come to you) and let’s create something great together.

2. Size doesn’t matter.
Years ago, I remember having the dream of being the biggest show in town. What could be better, especially for one’s ego?  Years of experience has taught me that when you’re building a company, the head count is the least important thing – the quality of those heads is what matters.

Which leads me to…

1. People. 
It’s all about the people. We endeavour to hire the best people, position them to succeed, and retain them. The same is true with our clients: we want to work with good people, engage closely with them, build a relationship, and become a trusted partner. Everything we do at Industrial comes down to building personal relationships with the people around us. We love working with each other, and love working closely with our clients.

Here’s to another 15 years of doing great things with great people.  From all of us at Industrial, thanks for your continued support.

Onwards and upwards, as they say!

Jeff Horne
Founder + CEO