Having the fortune of working for what I consider to be some of the world’s greatest media brands from Elle, to InStyle, to Goop and Refinery29, and then later getting to consult for similarly amazing start-ups and scaled companies alike, I have gotten to find patterns, similarities, and cultural indicators that these companies have in common. I wanted to share what has been foundational to their growth and success, despite a rapidity that can be handicapping for even the most stable infrastructures. There is a bit of a formula for the success and brand longevity as companies go from small to big that I wanted to share.
1) Create core values or guiding principles
Let’s be honest, decisions are hard. And they get harder and harder as you get older, especially when you have a family at home. However, just as you might for your family and your children, you can make your life a whole lot easier at work by putting together a list of priorities and values. Create it early on, as it will be the bible for everyone’s actions at the company. It should be thought about for all hires, given out when people start and written somewhere clearly on a wall, as well as referenced often by company managers and leaders.
This also becomes your company’s filter for decision-making, ensuring that you are not only generating an outward product that reflects what you believe in, but also creating a way of dealing with things that reflects what you believe in. For example, a previous company that I worked for wrote, “no” is not in our vocabulary. In other words, there was always an answer. So if your gut was “no” to a client issue, you had to find an alternative. You had to take the same approach to an internal conflict. At one of the greatest brands in the world for example, Nike, one of their core values is “Be a sponge. Employees at Nike must be curious and lenient with new ideas, whatever their source.” Ultimately, this encourages active listening and an open-ness to change and evolution. These things will make you think, but best to plan ahead and set the framework and culture early so that as you scale, things stay intact.
2) Make style guidelines and invest in branding
We tell our children, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but the fact of the matter is, we judge books by their cover. We buy things that we think are “pretty” or that we relate to and go to places that have an environment that make us feel good. You’re not going to get people to consider your product without great packaging, and you’re not going to be able to articulate your brand without a great design that truly evokes the ideas that you’re trying to create. This is something you need from the get-go. A friend of mine at a design/consultancy firm, We Are January, shared the quote, “design is like a mom, nobody notices when she’s around, but everybody misses her when she’s not.” Invest early in a style guide, a logo, and colors, as this will help your potential consumers and partners understand what you’re about and will prevent people from sharing your brand with the wrong interpretation.
3) In the early days, service is the most important thing
Be long-term greedy. Do not make a hasty decision on a client or customer for a little bit of extra financial gain, as reputation is everything at this stage. Instead, make sure that you do everything possible (within reason!) to ensure that you are keeping customers –and staff! happy in the nascent days of your business. Those customers will be your number one marketing tool, and they are technically “free” at this juncture.
4) 80/20 is a real thing
Going along with keeping your customers happy, you will get eighty percent of your business from twenty percent of your customers. I had a former manager have to painstakingly convince me of this time-and-time again, as I chased after every potential client as a seller. In that position especially, the thought of turning down a client was pure sacrilege. After being trained by a former manager to keep lengthy call logs and to book as many meetings with potential clients in a week as I possibly could, I thought it was an obvious numbers game. But the truth was, in taking on such a large potential list, I did not have time to properly prep for any meetings and really understand what would be helpful for these clients’ businesses. Coincidentally, I didn’t even have time to follow-up with them in order to get the deal done when I had a great meeting! It was completely counter productive, yet I was working harder than I had ever worked. When my manager stepped in and reduced my list and forced me to focus and prioritize, a funny thing happened. My numbers doubled and I had more time than I had ever had. Why? I had higher retention (hello efficiency!) and much higher close rates as I got to know my clients businesses and what they really wanted and needed much better.
Similarly, you don’t have to, and shouldn’t work with everyone. This goes for marketing and financial partnerships alike. Create a framework and goals for your partnerships, and if these partnerships do not check all of these boxes, then do not move forward with them. Find someone that is going to be able to help you check all of the boxes, as when you’re small, especially, you have a world of options to select from and align with. Choose wisely.
5) Set goals and KPI’s across your business
Know what you’re working towards! As a runner in college, it became ingrained in me to set goals and to gently increase them, and even challenge myself. As a business, how can you get anywhere without knowing where you are going? Just as you set your mission, vision, and brand guidelines to guide your everyday decisions, set numerical benchmarks that everyone across your company knows and owns. Even if they’re “fake numbers” and you have no living clue how you’re going to get there, make them. So if it’s for sales, pick a number after some research in your category and amongst your competition. If it’s for social growth, do the same. Tell yourself what you want to be able to accomplish, and it’s funny how the universe will step in sometimes and help you chart your path towards it. Even if you don’t hit those goals, it will help you determine where you should be and to reset.
Alison Koplar Wyatt has always sat on the business side of the Publishing world, but found a niche in the native content space first at Elle Magazine overseeing their digital properties and then later, as the first advertising employee at Refinery29. After spending five years working with a team to make R29 a household name, she then went to Goop to do the same. She is a free agent now, and is now proud to be working with yours truly on her “real” passion – helping creative and entrepreneurial women THRIVE.
Photo by Stevi Sesin