Why and How to Start a Company Blog

June 26, 2014

Starting a company blog is certainly easier said than done, but the fact that you are reading this now shows that we are succeeding!  One of my initiatives is to revive the RefineCo blog.  Although we still have a ways to go in the blog world, I wanted to share some tips and tricks that I’ve discovered from getting this company blog going with the help of Stacey.

First off, why should you blog?  Aside from the wonders that it can do for your SEO, I believe that the true benefit comes from making your company appear more approachable and, in a way, alive.  A blog allows you to communicate with your current and potential customers in a less formal way.  You can allow readers to get to know you and your insights, which can reassure them of your knowledge and expertise in your field.

Before you get started, it is very important that you make sure that your staff understands why you are starting this new initiative.  Long story short, as the Social Media Examiner states:

Helpful Content = Trust

Trust = Leads

Leads = Sales

And of course, Sales = Work.  Need I say more?

Now, where do you start?

First, define your audience.  Who do you want reading your articles – current and potential clients/partners, people in the industry, future employees, etc.? Now what kind of information would they find valuable and who is going to provide them with this information?  We decided to include everyone in our office in the blog on a rotating schedule.  Not only does everyone have their own expertise to offer to the world, but we believe that this is a valuable exercise for professional development.  It allows staff to hone their writing skills by having to clearly articulate their thoughts.

Taking the next step.

We knew that it would be hard since most people likely haven’t written much more than a text message since their school days.  Instead of getting everyone to dive right into the blog world, we took baby steps.  As a stepping stone, I interviewed all of our staff members with a variety of work and life questions, and sent them their responses.  Instead of having to start from scratch, they were able to create a blog introduction about themselves with minimal effort.  This allowed them to take a crack at writing and decide the manner in which they wanted the world to perceive them.  We thought the idea of bios would add a human element to the site and would be a great way to introduce the writers to the readers.  Not only did the staff love learning about their colleagues, we had great feedback from both clients and interviewees saying they appreciated being able to get to know the team.  Those blogs provided a unique insight into life at RefineCo and it has reassured clients and potential candidates that we are a good fit.

We are now in the process of getting everyone to write their first or second blog (this is my first!).  Instead of simply assigning a topic to each person, we had a brainstorming session with all of the developers to come up with possible blog topics.  The list far exceeded any expectations I had.  I highly recommend brainstorming sessions because people are able to bounce ideas off one another and build them better than you could likely do all alone at your desk.  When I meet up with writers, I give them the list as a starting point for deciding a topic – some choose one directly from the list, some take their own spin on it, and some have entirely different topics in mind.  The point is, I let them choose.  The quality and content will be more interesting when the writer has a passion for a topic.

The more, the better.

How often should you publish new blog posts?  While flooding the internet with your company’s blog everyday would be ideal, it’s not very feasible.  It is important to find a good balance especially since you don’t want to overload workers.  What may work for one company, may not work for another.  Set a goal and adjust it accordingly if you see people are struggling with deadlines or if they are far exceeding them.  Originally we were hoping for two blog posts a week.  This was short lived.  After the introductions were mostly done, we saw that this wasn’t feasible – people were on holidays or had important client work to do.  Instead of being disappointed with people not being able to meet blog deadlines, we decided to cut back to once a week which is much more doable.  So, whether it’s once a day, week, month, etc., just make sure to build a consistent stream of content.

Reap the Benefits.

Our website traffic has more than doubled from pre-blog months.  Of course there are a variety of factors for that, but in the last month, more than half of our website traffic originated from visits to our blog.  There is no doubt that this blog, in conjunction with social media accounts, has helped spread our company name.  Let it do the same for you!

Setting Reputable Expectations and 5 Mistakes to Avoid

June 24, 2014

If you’ve been involved in project management, then you’ve likely come across a scenario where expectations were missed or not met. Expectations have many forms, and are not related to only one facet of a project; they are likely intertwined and cannot be separated from one another.  Expectations with the budget, timeline, and resource commitments tend to be the most common during the initial planning phase of any project, but what about the reputable expectations being set?

During the initial planning, you’re not only setting expectations with your client directly related to the project, but you are also setting reputable expectations for yourself and your organization. It is at this point you must be cognizant of what is being presented. Do you want to be known as the person/organization who over commits and under delivers, or one who is true to their word and can deliver as promised?

As project managers, we may not always be the person making the executive decisions on the promises being set forth with our clients, though we need to stay accountable and bring awareness to any decisions about to be made that may not be achievable, realistic or timely.

So what are some common mistakes that we as project managers need to be aware of that put a person or organization’s reputation on the line?

1)   Making the Sale

It’s happened to the best of us where all the leg work is complete (requirements reviewed, risks assessed, resourcing accounted for, estimates complete, contingency added, timelines and schedules all planned out, etc.), then someone steps in and “fixes” the numbers in order to win the business.

Risks to Reputation:

  • The expectations no longer align with the planned deliverables.
  • As an organization, you are sending mixed messages. “Why did the numbers change?” “Who is correct?” “What are we really getting now?”
  • Your organization does not look like a cohesive team.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Keep all decision makers aware of the expectations being set with the client.
  • Meet with those who will have authority to change the overall cost. Don’t just assume they are reading all the material being sent–even if they say they are.
  • Explain how you came to those numbers; support your conclusions.

2)   “Of Course We Can Hit That Deadline”

Sometimes project managers feel the best thing to do is to agree with their clients and do whatever it takes to meet their needs, even if it means agreeing to deadlines that they cannot meet.

Risks to Reputation:

  • Loss of client confidence by missing the deadline agreed upon.
  • Friction created internally by forcing a strain on resources in order to meet a deadline.
  • More issues created by rushing through the process and not doing due diligence.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Ask if this deadline is realistic before you commit.
  • Speak with your assigned team and find out what their thoughts are.
  • Review your resource pool and put in a request prior to committing.

3)   “Resourcing Isn’t an Issue”

Agreeing to assign more resources to a project based on a request, or due to deliverable dates slipping can be a mistake if done prior to confirming resource availability.

Risks to Reputation:

  • Having to readdress the issue, post commitment. Expectations are reset once again, as resources are not available.
  • Timelines adjusted then missed based on “newly” committed resources not being available.
  • Issues and mistakes arise due to current resources being overloaded in lieu of access to new/more resources.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Ask yourself, “What does your current resource pool look like?  Do you have authority to assign resources?”
  • What is the process and length of time required in order to acquire the additional resources assigned?
  • Is an additional resource even required? Will there be a positive impact to having one assigned, or will there be too many resources committed with not enough work?

4)   “Of Course We Can”

We all want our clients to be happy at the end of the day, but committing prior to performing research and due diligence into the requirements/deliverable can lead to even bigger problems.  The end result is likely compromising and/or detrimental to the business.

Risks to Reputation:

  • Returning to your client empty handed leaves your ability to deliver in question.
  • Loss of credibility. Why would you agree to something you can’t do?
  • Shows lack of knowledge about your own organization, product or services.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Table the request as a take away to be discussed internally with your team and provide feedback at a later date.
  • Ask yourself if this is even something you “think” could be done by your organization, or does it sound so far out the realm of what your organization does.
  • Do you have the knowledge and expertise to be making this decision and who is supporting it? Include a second opinion before you commit.

5)   The Quick Fix

Similar to the “of course we can” scenario above, promising a quick fix because a bug or issue has been flagged can sometimes make the situation worse without consulting your team.

Risks to Reputation:

  • The resolution provided is likely broken or falls short of expectation due to short cuts made to proper processes and procedures.
  • More issues ensue due to poor quality assurance in providing a resolution around process.
  • The fix, though promised to be quick, takes longer than expected.

3 Simple Tips:

  • Do not commit to a fix before it is well defined.
  • Ask how critical is the fix and when is it required? Know how much time you have before you agree to any terms.
  • Do you have the right resources assigned to fix or resolve the issue?

Final Take Away

As project managers we are aware that projects are dynamic, changes arise, issues occur and problems need to be dealt with. Having a well-structured plan and contingencies in place help mitigate the fallout. However, setting proper expectations on how it will all be handled will help maintain healthy relationships with your client. No matter the phase of a project, we must be diligent in the assessment of our commitments that impact not only our client’s projects, but our reputations both individually and as an organization.

5 Reasons to Attend a Conference This Year

June 5, 2014

After leaving the comfort of university and embarking on your career journey there aren’t a lot of formal learning opportunities. You no longer have a full class of peers and instructors who critique your work, push you to experiment with new media and teach you about using that new tool from the latest Adobe update. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t fall behind is to attend an industry conference. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Toronto for the 2014 FITC Conference.

“FITC is the intersection between Creative Technologists, Designers, Developers and all-around awesome thinkers from various innovative industries across the globe. They converge every year in Toronto to connect, challenge, inspire, and to experience the cutting edge in design and technology.” 

Three days of panels and presentations, a day of workshops, evening networking events and the FITC design awards. Over 90 speakers talk about projection mapping, interaction design, new technology, pitching ideas and so many others. And with such a variety of topics, you never know what you’ll end up learning.

So what are some of the many benefits of attending such an event?

Learning from the Best in the Industry

You learned about them in art school, been inspired by their work, followed them on Twitter and now you get to meet them in the flesh. Where else would I have met Stefan Sagmeister, who is one of the most influential graphic designers today? Or Robert Wong, the CCO of Google Creative Lab? Experts in our field come from all over the world and you get to learn about their creative process, and how they got to where they are today.

Getting Past Your Creative Block

There is no better cure for creative blocks than hearing about all the other projects that your peers are working on. Ideas that you never thought of and new technology that you can’t wait to try. You will leave the conference inspired and energized, just waiting to get back to work with all of your newly acquired knowledge.

Networking

Speakers are only part of the equation. The best connections you will make are with your fellow attendees. Designers, illustrators, developers, creative directors and so many others come to these events.

You printed 500 business cards and now you finally get a chance to use them!

Location, Location, Location

If you’re lucky, there will be an amazing conference in your city. For those of us who live outside the design capitals of the world we must travel for this chance. The silver lining to this long commute are the opportunities to visit new places. I’ve lived in Canada for over 13 years, but this was my first time in Toronto. So not only did I get to attend an amazing event, I also got to see some new sights.  It’s like a mini vacation with the added bonus of learning!

Volunteering

One of the best ways to attend a conference is by volunteering for it. You get an insider’s perspective of the entire event, an opportunity to talk with the speakers in a more relaxed setting and, as an added bonus, you get a pass for the entire conference.

Volunteers are the driving force behind most major events. It is a fantastic experience for design students and new grads – something that will stand out on a resume – while also an opportunity to help make the event a success.

There are many learning opportunities out there, you just have to find them. And when you put over a thousand people with a passion to create something awesome is bound to happen.