How to treat your own organization like a client.

The shoemaker’s children go barefoot.

This old idiom essentially means we neglect the things closest to us. As an agency, we know from experience that it’s hard to prioritize internal projects when it is our duty to provide a service to others. Despite it being a challenge, investing in your own development is essential to stay relevant, informed and ahead of your competitors.

How to prioritize your own projects.

You are busy. Everyone’s 9 to 5 is fully-loaded and there’s a long queue of to-dos. We’ve been there; we empathize. While it’s good for business to be busy, it makes it easy to sideline internal projects.

One way to navigate this is by committing time at the beginning of the year to focus on internal projects or employee education. By intentionally carving out a set amount of time that is non-negotiable, you can work time into your yearly plan for team development. Whether this manifests into quarterly company-wide meetings or department huddles, it’s already built into everyone’s calendar, so they won’t have to scrounge for time.   

Internal education

There are loads of evidence demonstrating that investment in training and education is smart business. Let your employees come to you with their requests for online classes, certification courses and conferences that set them up for success. Create parameters to support education initiatives for when employees inquire about furthering their skillsets. Companies also benefit from individuals who further their education when they bring back information that improves the team as a whole. When employees teach each other, it improves company-wide integration, and departments become more well rounded.

Focus on projects that have the most impact.

It’s easier to relegate time for little tasks and individual improvements. What about company-wide development and projects with large scopes of work that require a significant investment of time? These are the easiest of all to put on the back burner until resources free up (that’s code for never going to happen). Intentionality is the name of the game. Be sure that when you invest resources, you’re going to see a return on that investment

TJA’s most recent internal investment was developing a new website that embodies the values and capabilities of our team. Our company has grown and evolved over its 15 years, and the website is an essential first impression for potential business, employees and those looking for industry insight. Investing in our web presence pays dividends through lead captures and by acting as a resource for those seeking out agency information.

Get yourself some shoes.

There are consequences for neglecting to take care of your own operations, namely, becoming outdated. Be sure to consider the long-term benefits of updates and continued education. Of course, some projects are important to invest in but may not be in your organization’s wheelhouse to execute. Free up time by connecting with TJA for guidance and expertise on marketing, website development and more.

We’ll make you some sweet kicks

Creating a Project Timeline Template

Often times, it is easy to take on a job prior to researching the work that is being requested. Making sure you are paying attention to your team, the deadline and the budget are all things to consider when planning your project prior to starting. After all, the typical assumption is that timelines are to help people stay organized. The added benefit to a timeline is to make sure that your project is profitable in the end. Once you have reviewed your scope of work, it’s time to make sure that your timeline and budget will work to achieve everyone’s goals.

Over the years, I have sharpened my project planning skills and have created a process that I use to make sure:
1. That the project is going to be completed and on budget by the given completion date
2. There are not any steps to the project that are not being thought of by both parties
3. Is this achievable with our resource workload

The first step is to dissect the hours to ensure that every step of the project is accounted for. If the project is going to take longer to complete then the current amount of hours allow for, then a discussion needs to take place to properly realign the project.

The second step is to build a timeline. You can see my example below. Many people have a tendency to start with today’s date and fill in the timeline until they hit the completion date. However, Starting with the end date and working backward until you hit the current date helps paint a better picture of the project. By doing it backward, you will have a clearer idea of how many days are needed for each step and how many hours you will have to account for over the course of the project.

Total Hours for Project: XX:XX
Budget for Project: $XXX.XX

Start Date: XX/XX/2019
Hrs:____Copy Due:
Client Review:
Hrs:____Client Revisions:
Hrs:____Creative Due:
Hrs:____Internal Review:
Hrs:____Internal Revisions:
Client Review:
Due Date: XX/XX/2019 ← This will be the best place to start

The final step is to communicate your findings about the project timeline with your client and address any questions that they may have. Be sure to communicate to your client that the dates are subject to change based on how much time it takes to get their approval or edits back. More often than not, the project needs to be reviewed first internally, then on the client’s end. Getting approval and edits together can take a significant chunk of time, and you want to make sure that is factored into the timeline.

There are many instances where the steps of the project may need to be a bit more elaborate because the project and results may be a bit more in depth. Once these steps have been completed, compare the end result against the original timeline. Will the hours align or will you be spending more hours than scoped? If your project fits the timeline and it seems that the hours will work for you and all parties involved in the project, then it is safe to move forward.

The timeline you start with may not be the timeline you end with. Many times there will be changes made based on client feedback, directional changes, delivery dates, etc., so be sure to send an updated timeline to your clients any time something changes. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page for the remainder of the project.

The Good and the Bad of Being an Entrepreneur

My story is not unlike a number of entrepreneurs: it starts with an entry-level job and entry-level pay, a sea of 8’x10’ cubicles and—most importantly—a breaking point. But what truly sets me apart is my journey from then to now. It’s made up of desperation, determination and a few essential mistakes that were instrumental in my success as an entrepreneur.

My career began at the bottom. At my first job, I was treated like a cog in the average corporate machine. I worked as a designer at a large agency with priorities that were not aligned with my own and leadership tactics rooted in fear instead of integrity. On top of it all, I hated that I could never share ideas directly with clients. I was always one step removed, which stunted both my personal and professional growth. I couldn’t help but think there must be a better way.

Driven by those ideals, I started to pound the pavement in 2005 and pick up freelance work. I had one goal in mind: to be the exact opposite of the uptight agency I was working so hard to escape. After grueling workdays, I cold called businesses around the Valley. I started with small projects for local landscaping companies and salons, helping them discover their identity and make names for themselves. My workload grew steadily through word of mouth and I immediately saw the benefits of working for myself, but only got a small taste of life as a business owner. 

Just when things started to look their brightest, life threw me a curve ball. I had to deal with an unraveling marriage and a financial disaster, both on levels that are normally reserved for daytime dramas. I was left without a car, without a home and a saddled with the responsibility of cleaning up a mess made by someone I thought was trustworthy. But when one door closes, another one opens.   

With newfound clarity and a boot-strap mentality, I started to make big changes in my life. I took the leap of faith and quit my job. The next day I woke up, walked across the hall and sat down at my computer. I began working at 9am just as I had for years, only this time it was for myself. In a matter of months, business was booming. But it didn’t take long for me to realize I couldn’t keep up with all the incoming work. I needed people. Fast.     

In 2007, my next chapter started with a cramped office and three freelance designers. Through hard work and determination, those meager beginnings have transformed into the current iteration of The James Agency: a bustling creative space filled by 30+ big thinkers and a roster of satisfied clients. Along the way, I discovered that success comes with its own weight and I was carrying it all. 

I couldn’t find the time and energy to work on myself. A good friend suggested that I join Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). At first, the idea seemed out of the question. How could I add another thing to my already-insane schedule? He smiled and responded, “That’s exactly why you need to join!”

He was right. EO has been my saving grace. It is a global network that brings business owners together, rallying them around inspirational ideas and activities that push entrepreneurs out of their comfort zones. As a member, I’m able to empathize and learn from others who share the same struggles and constant drive to conquer new challenges. After a few months, I understood that EO did more than guide my leadership skills. It also helped shape my business from the ground up and balance my personal life with my work life. 

Today I’m the mother of a growing family, CEO and founder of a thriving business and the President of EO Arizona. By coupling my diverse experiences with the leadership skills gained from EO, I’ve created a community and culture centered on one unshakable ideal: hire people you can believe in, and believe in the people you hire.

It’s also helped me realize that I can help others in a very direct way. My team members are starting families, buying houses and securing their futures. It’s immensely satisfying to end each day with the knowledge that my business is helping people succeed, both in their careers and at home. It’s another reason I can say with certainty that bringing good people together is the recipe for a happy business.         

For those looking at all the “what-ifs” and uncertainties of the future, I will share one of my core beliefs. If you don’t feel uncomfortable at least once a day, you’re doing something wrong. Adversity leads to growth and struggles to conquer your hardships will always make you a better you. I never thought the mistakes of my past would lead to the life I have today—but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.    

5 Guidelines for Award Winning Emails

Oh, the dreaded email. Whether starting at a new company, or bringing on a new client into your existing company, that same middle school “don’t mess up because everyone is watching” mentality is always lingering. A flubbed email will be added to your permanent record and can come up at any time to haunt you. Usually in the form of break room teasing, but there are those rare occasions that may result in termination. Just follow these simple guidelines and you will be sending award winning emails in no time. 

This isn’t your high school locker room

Our own Wizard of Words Publicist, JG2, has a great motto to live by – Say it and forget it, write it and regret it. Now, conversational etiquette will be held for a later date, but this statement could not be any more perfect when it comes to the pillars of email etiquette. If you hesitate after reading it back to yourself…delete it. If you don’t read it back to yourself, well, you’ve missed the most important step of sending an email. I often catch myself reading emails three or four times, then coming back to it 20 minutes later to read it again. Is it the end of the world if I forget a comma? No. But you don’t want to be known as the person that doesn’t pay attention to details. Overlooking past conversations and asking a client something that has already been discussed via email doesn’t leave a great impression. 

For the love of Pete, don’t write your message in the subject line

Have you ever seen two guys go in for a totally cool handshake, and one guy ignores the fist bump? It’s kinda like that. Awkward. The subject should be quick and to the point, yet descriptive enough to search later on – for those of us who file our emails, not the animals that just delete with no remorse. There’s really nothing more to say. If you don’t get it, you probably also already sent your email without re-reading it. 

Know the difference between Reply and Reply All

It’s such a minor difference on screen, yet can crumble empires with the hit of a send button. That one time you decide to crack a joke; It was meant for your pal, but instead went to the entire group. Now you have to figure out how to apologize with sincerity, but first, you need to climb up out of that chair you’ve just sunk into. Double check the “To:” field and make sure you’re only sending to your intended recipients. Also, please adhere to the rule above and save the heckling for a face to face conversation, rather than plastering it on the interwebs forever. 

Totes keep ur web slang and emoticons to a minimum ;-P 

We all love how easily LOL can end a text conversation that we don’t want to carry on. Or, just how much the :-/ emoticon really expresses our discontent for something. But even in a laid back office setting, these can communicate a very immature tone. And although you save yourself at least a couple seconds a week by using text abbreviations, just leave them out of your emails. Ur, U, IDK, gonna, b4 – it’s an endless list. If your email client marks it with a red line, it’s probably not a word. And if you don’t have your grammar check turned on – well, for one, you probably hit send without re-reading already – but you should do us all a favor and turn it on. 

Who was this supposed to go to?

Ok, you just hit send. You re-read your email three times and there were no grammar issues. Great! But wait, it was supposed to go to Stephen, not Stephanie – damn you auto fill! However, because you didn’t write anything offensive, your email had great grammar and was composed in a professional manner, there is nothing to worry about. Just send a follow up email to Stephanie apologizing for the mix up, then re-send the email to the correct recipient and move on!

Bryan Zavala | Traffic Coordinator

How to Build Lasting, Healthy Relationships with Clients

Whether you choose to believe it or not, the relationships you have with your clients say more about your company than almost anything else. Forming these relationships seems simple on the surface, but they take time, effort and patience from both sides. The relationships you build are an essential component to not only your success, but the success of your client. 

Keep the following tips in mind and strengthen the most important aspect of your business: the relationships you have with your client base:

1. Listen

This one seems like it would be obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of clients that we’ve had come to us whose previous agency just ‘didn’t get them’. Before your first meeting with a new client, get to know their brand and the role they play in their industry. That way when you do meet you can understand what their goals and priorities are and what your role as an agency will be in helping to achieve them.

2. Don’t Treat All Clients the Same, but Treat Them Equally

Bottom line, provide all clients with your best service, regardless of whether they are a Fortune 500 company or a small, local business. But, figure out what works for each one individually, just as you would when figuring out how to best manage each of your employees. At TJA we use email A LOT, but that doesn’t mean it works for all of our clients. Some love it, some are barely in front of their computers and would much rather have us give them a call or shoot them a text, and others prefer in-person meetings. As long as you are keeping your clients informed about decisions and up to date about their projects, it doesn’t really matter how you do it as long as it gets done in a way that makes your client comfortable.

3. Be Honest and Communicate

This is the foundation for any and every successful relationship. It isn’t going to do anyone any good if you and your client can’t be honest with each other. If you have questions, ask them. Don’t assume you know what your client means when you don’t have any context to what they’re talking about. If you have concerns, express them. Your clients look to you as the expert. That is why they hired you. If you cannot be honest with them about concerns you may have, the relationship has already been set-up to fail.

4. Clearly Plan Out Projects and Scope of Work

We all want our clients to succeed; their success is our success. But, this is business and business is not free. When developing project plans, be sure to make it very clear what the scope of work is. Once you have established what work will by done and by whom, you can work out a detailed timeline and an agreed upon deadline. Once that deadline is set, stick to it. When you say you’re going to do something and have it completed by a certain time, there should be no question in your client’s mind that this might not be true.

5. Treat Your Clients as Part of the Team

Clients aren’t just a revenue stream. They’re people; very important people actually. They have likes and dislikes, preferences on how to communicate, etc. The more you can identify with your clients and their needs, the stronger your relationship will be. Your clients are just as much a part of your team as your CEO, and you need to treat them as such. You never know who your clients may know or to whom they will refer you, and happy clients are more likely to make referrals.

Julie Schneider | Sr. Project Manager

First client meeting ever? Better be on your best behavior.

Meeting with clients can seem intimidating at first, especially if this is the first time you are meeting face to face. Maintaining client relationships and making a good impression is key to gaining a new business and keeping a current client happy. Remember these points and you will make it through any meeting!

1. PREPARE

“Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

Research – It is important to do your due diligence prior to the meeting. Research the business in depth! Review the business website and read about who they are and what they offer. Look for recent events or promotions to learn what is currently happening. The more you know, the easier it will be to speak to them about their business.

Create an agenda – Agendas keep meetings focused and on track. It is imperative to manage the expectations of the client. With an agenda, they will know what to expect and what will be discussed. Email a brief bulleted agenda to all attendees prior to the meeting.

2. BE PROFESSIONAL

“You will never get a second chance to make a first impression” – Will Rogers

Professional Attire – Your first impression starts with your appearance. Even if your workplace is casual, dress extra nice for your meeting. This means making sure your clothes are clean and wrinkle free. You will be respected and taken more seriously if you wear clothes that are not distracting or inappropriate.

No Cell Phones – Always always always leave your cell phone in the other room or turn it off completely! There is nothing ruder than having your phone as a distraction or an interruption in the meeting.

Arrive on time – If you arrive on time, you are late. Arriving too early could inconvenience the client so be sure to arrive 10 minutes prior to your meeting. You don’t want to look flustered. This will give you enough time to get settled and review your notes.

Bring Business Cards – You should carry a stack of business cards with you everywhere you go and especially to meetings! You never know what the client will remember, so make sure they have a card to at least remember your name.

3. BE ENGAGED

“The weakest link is stronger than the strongest memory” – Unknown

 Take Notes – It is important to speak up, but also to listen intently to the client and take good notes. The meeting may be quick, but you don’t want to forget what was said. You should write your notes on the agenda under each section. This will be easy and require less writing. Make sure that you look up from your note taking and make eye contact while they are speaking.

Positive Attitude – Everyone can tell if you are in a bad mood, so be positive and polite. Smile and shake hands with everyone in the room. Clients want to work with people who are nice and respectful.

Disruptions – Do not interrupt anyone while they are speaking. You may have your own opinions, but now is not the time to argue. Listen to what they say. Refer back to the agenda if the meeting starts to veer off track.

4. FOLLOW UP

“Never underestimate the power of a Thank You” -Unknown

Follow up – No matter how the meeting goes or what the outcome is follow-ups are crucial. Thank them for the opportunity and send a short recap of the meeting. You should ALWAYS send a thank you note to all the attendees at the meeting. They gave you their time, which is the most valuable gift anyone can give.

It’s ok to be nervous! Remember to take a deep breath and follow these guidelines. You will do great!

Taylor McHenry | Client Coordinator

It’s Ok to Say No, Trust Me

As a young entrepreneur, you may be inclined to take on any new business you can get your hands on. Fighting in the trenches and taking whatever comes your way shows great ambition and is sometimes necessary to keep the lights on. However, there will come a time when you have to utter that one ear piercing word to a client that is mutually agonizing – No.

Don’t worry, just like the decision you made to stop attending house parties two years post college graduation, you will know it is the right thing to do for both parties.

Congratulations. You’ve reached a turning point in your professional life and you know your value, which is why turning down a client now will actually garner more respect for your company.

Some of the many reasons to send them packing are:

1. They do not have the budget to complete the project at a level that represents your company.

2. Regardless of how much you haven proven your abilities, they don’t allow you to do what they hired you for – sometimes, this one comes after a project has started and their unending questioning is hindering progress. It’s not you, it’s them.

3. Their service or product does not align with your company or personal values.

4. TIME. You know you can complete the job, but with sub-par results, no one is a winner.

Additionally, there are reasons to not take on certain business that come with experience and maturity. Knowing your own style or limitations, and admitting to it, can reap those golden referrals just as easily as hitting it out of the park with an ad campaign. Telling someone why the two of you will not be a great fit, and giving them names of others in the industry is not just courteous, but a great business practice to build relationships with both the client and the other industry professionals.

So, the next time you hear “no”, it might just be the right answer for everyone.

Bryan Zavala | Traffic Coordinator

It's Ok to Say No, Trust Me

As a young entrepreneur, you may be inclined to take on any new business you can get your hands on. Fighting in the trenches and taking whatever comes your way shows great ambition and is sometimes necessary to keep the lights on. However, there will come a time when you have to utter that one ear piercing word to a client that is mutually agonizing – No.

Don’t worry, just like the decision you made to stop attending house parties two years post college graduation, you will know it is the right thing to do for both parties.

Congratulations. You’ve reached a turning point in your professional life and you know your value, which is why turning down a client now will actually garner more respect for your company.

Some of the many reasons to send them packing are:

1. They do not have the budget to complete the project at a level that represents your company.

2. Regardless of how much you haven proven your abilities, they don’t allow you to do what they hired you for – sometimes, this one comes after a project has started and their unending questioning is hindering progress. It’s not you, it’s them.

3. Their service or product does not align with your company or personal values.

4. TIME. You know you can complete the job, but with sub-par results, no one is a winner.

Additionally, there are reasons to not take on certain business that come with experience and maturity. Knowing your own style or limitations, and admitting to it, can reap those golden referrals just as easily as hitting it out of the park with an ad campaign. Telling someone why the two of you will not be a great fit, and giving them names of others in the industry is not just courteous, but a great business practice to build relationships with both the client and the other industry professionals.

So, the next time you hear “no”, it might just be the right answer for everyone.

Bryan Zavala | Traffic Coordinator

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