November 12, 2018No Comments

Why We Insist on Alignment Meetings (and Why Clients Should Too)

Imagine that you are a clown wearing giant floppy shoes and a wig like a cotton candy explosion. Then, imagine you show up to a kid’s birthday party while feeling very uncomfortable because you personally hate clowns.

The mom shows you to the backyard where you run through a routine of tricks. The kids yawn. Time creeps past, and the party limps across the finish line. The mom writes you a check... reluctantly. You can tells she’s disappointed, and you really can’t blame her.

You only said yes as a favor to a friend. If the mom had asked your advice on how to throw her kid an epic birthday soiree, then you would have steered her a different direction. Go karts. Old-fashioned arcade. Laser tag. Even build-a-bear would have been better than clowns.

You thank the mom, you awkwardly shake hands with the birthday boy, and you shuffle out to the car.

You did what you said you would do, down to the last jot and tittle, and yet Timmy looked so disappointed. The poor kid was on the verge of tears. Did no one ask him what he wanted to do for his party?

Clowns? Does anyone really like clowns? The debacle could have been avoided.

More discovery. Better questions. No clowns.

I’ve been that clown numerous times. Not a real clown, mind you, but the guy on the tail end of a unsatisfying gig who did everything he was hired to do and more and yet knew that the project had missed the mark.

It’s been very rare when Balernum simply couldn’t deliver what we had promised on time and on budget. The “failures” usually come from failing to do enough diagnostic and discovery work on the front end. Before we dove into HTML and pixels, messaging and mockups, we should have asked better questions.

Underneath a request is a desire. Underneath the desire hides the real need. Underneath the need glints a goal: the real thing, the tantalizing vision of a better future that the president, marketing director, or business owner treasures.

Even if most folks have some cognizance of the treasured goal, they usually don’t lead with that vision of a better future. Instead, they show up with a request in hand. Once they’re satisfied that we can meet the request for an acceptable price, they ask to get started yesterday.

The delicious delirium of new prospects, new projects, new money in the bank, causes us creatives to forget ourselves. We hop to and salute, “Sir, yessir!” We don our clown wigs, and we’re off to the races.

A flurry of emails, phone calls, and meetings leads to a scope, which leads to a price, which leads to agreements and deposit invoices, which leads to the work itself, which leads to dotting every i and crossing every t in the agreement and the client still feeling vaguely disappointed when the dope new website doesn’t magically generate 10x business growth without any traffic whatsoever.

Now, we know better. We have Alignment Meetings.

We slow down the conversation, which forces everyone to dismount from their steeds of urgency, and really think, THINK (yes, I’m shouting THINK at you now) about what a new identity, website, or marketing campaign is really supposed to accomplish.

Sometimes, the client already knows, which is okay. We still haven’t wasted our time. The Alignment Meeting gave our team and chance to catch the vision and understand the strategy.
More often, however, the Alignment Meeting unearths the real project:

New Client: “Do you all do websites? We need a new website.”

Balernum Team: “Yes, we build websites. Why do you want a new website?”

Them: “Well, our good friend, who is a graphic designer, told us that our website looked dated.”

Us: “So you’d like a new website that looks fresh and relevant. If you had that, what would happen?”

Them: “Well, we’ve never really gotten business through our website, and we’d like to get leads online.”

Us: “Are you proactively driving traffic to your website?”

Them: “No.”

Us: “What is Google Analytics telling you about the behavior of visitors you do get?”

Them: “We’d have to check. It’s been a while since we looked at Google Analytics.”

Us: “Okay. So what you’d really like to see happen is business growth?”

Them: “Well, yeah.” (This is typically said with a quizzical look that really means, “Duh. Shouldn’t that be obvious?”)

Us: “And you want your website to be the engine for that growth?”

Them: “That would be ideal, yes.”

Us: “Where has your growth come from historically? How did you get your last ten customers?”

The conversation progresses from there, and what we usually discover is that other, more reliable growth strategies and tactics may generate new leads faster and more cheaply than a big, beautiful new website.

We may learn, for example, that most of Acme Corporation’s growth comes through referrals, and though referrals certainly aren’t scalable the way PPC is scalable, Acme’s owners could roll out a referral program.

Right now, they don’t follow up often with old customers, ask for referrals, or really ever say thank you. But they could express gratitude more often, they could take their best referral partners out to dinner to express their gratitude, and they could straight up ask for referrals (with sophistication and with tact, of course) at regular intervals.

Wouldn’t doubling down on the most *reliable* way of growing the business be a higher priority than redesigning new website (which is also a good, but unproven, idea).

Get everyone focused on the wisest use of time and budget.

I don’t mean to imply that our clients never have a crystal-clear line of sight on their goals and immediate objectives. Sometimes they do, and they don’t need us to be the Oracle. They simply need us to be Hercules and help them push the boulder up and over the hill.

More often than not, however, during the Alignment Meeting, as we dig down through requests and desires, we turn up unarticulated needs.

Every such conversation comes with the uncomfortable realization that we were this close to throwing irreplaceable time and thousands of dollars at the wrong problem or opportunity!”

And Balernum was this close to letting the client down at the end of the project because we didn’t insist on asking seemingly stupid questions at the beginning of the project.

The symptom usually isn’t the root cause. The thing you think will help grow your business often conceals the most valuable opportunity.

  • Maybe you don’t need a new website. Maybe you need to ask for referrals.
  • Maybe you don’t need referrals. Maybe you need a new website.
  • Maybe you don’t need a new website. Maybe you need better messaging.
  • Maybe you don’t need better social posts. Maybe you need to formalize your brand.

The Alignment Meeting creates space to find alignment, yes, but it also gives us an opportunity to chip away at easy answers or obvious solutions, to exercise our discernment, and to get everyone focused on the wisest use of your budget and our time.

No one has to be the clown.

The goal of the Alignment Meeting is, therefore, to dig for the most significant branding, marketing, or business problem. It’s okay if we end up right back where we started and commit to pushing the original boulder. Everyone will have that much more confidence in the plan.

Yet, more often than not, we see a sparkle, and realize that you may already be sitting on top of a treasure trove of opportunities to double down.

Either way, no one has to be the clown. And Timmy—aka, your audience—has a very happy birthday indeed.

Steal our questions.

Even if you don’t hire us, we hope you’ll make a regular habit of Alignment Meetings. You can even steal our questions. Plug in your name and email address below, and we’ll send over the download link for the PDF.

May 31, 20181 Comment

Make Your Bed Before You Build Your Empire

Overgrown hedges and gutters clogged with shingle debris and maple seeds. One email address that refuses to forward properly to another. The Mother’s Day card you need to write. Your chronically tight shoulders and chronically sore back. Unfiled sales tax forms, now with a surprise bonus… penalties!

I could go on, but I’ll stop before I discourage you. I know discouragement’s psychic weight all too well. The massive bulk of undone tasks threatens to smother you. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

You slouch into “What’s the point?” resignation rather than proactively pay down what I call “life debt.”

“Perfect” isn’t a luxury they have.

I first learned the concept of “technical debt” in my iOS app days. Perhaps one or two perfect pieces of software have ever existed. For a brief moment in time their code, logic, and functionality found perfect harmony. But most software products—99.99% of them—have bugs.

Sometimes the bugs trace back to weak architecture or sloppy coding. A human being made a wrong or short-sighted choice. Or perhaps a third-party component like a library, framework, or API was to blame.

For example, Apple might deprecate an iOS function. Before, you could write the code and cause the app to behave a certain way, but once deprecated, that function no longer… functions. By no fault of the developer, the app now misbehaves.

Whatever the root cause, whether a lack of expertise, foresight, skill, or maintenance, the sum total of minor bugs and major structural issues becomes technical debt.

Software is always trying to slide backwards into obsolescence, and software developers are trying to haul it up a muddy, slippery slope to a place of relative stability.

Technical debt is something to be wrangled and managed, not something to be vanquished.

For any piece of software to work for any length of time is like a plane flying. It is something to be marveled at. Always technical debt sucks at its performance, usability, and longevity the way gravity sucks at a plane’s mass.

What if you could finally…?

The idea of technical debt has stuck with me because I see its corollary in life debt.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners tell themselves that they could accomplish so much more if they had only a little more time.

What if you could disappear to a cabin for a week or two, one with a gigabit connection?

You could really crush through your backlog of high-level and strategic tasks. Maybe you’d update your operating budget (or finally create one). Maybe you’d dream and journal and sip coffee and listen to the birds and have the epiphany and finally grab your business model by the tail.

Some muse would deliver the crescendo missing from your symphony so that you could return to your team with the clarity, direction, and plan needed to 10x your revenues.

You could finally build out the team and remove yourself from day-to-day operations. You could finally take a real vacation.

You could start working out five or six days a week. You could get your health back. You would keep running appointments with a chiropractor and massage therapist. You could buy a new mattress and better shoes.

You’d start mornings more slowly, with tranquility and intentionality. You’d hire an executive coach. You’d waste more time with your kids, and you’d call your parents each week.

You would have the fiscal wherewithal to be more generous to everyone.

We make promises to ourselves that stem from an ideal future. That ideal future exists on the other side of some obstacle, some “If I could only” scenario that, once resolved, would clear a path to true prospering.

We fantasize about having enough time to be gifted leaders, attentive spouses and skilled lovers, wise parents with a twinkle in our eyes, gardeners and artists, accomplished chefs and brilliant strategists, people of profound faith and clear principles—whole people.

I’ve found that the pregnant opportunities in my calendar stay open only if I schedule and protect them with the same resolve and ferocity that I’d have if a bear went after my children.

Yet, scheduling is the smaller problem. The bigger one is this: My mind is often too encumbered with life debt to soar into the strategic. I’m tethered to my inbox, my phone, and everyone else’s needs.

Dozens of tiny, mundane tasks accrete over time like stalagmites.

Or perhaps a better analogy is plaque. Plaque clogs your arteries. It creates bottlenecks and chokepoints. It adds friction and raises blood pressure.

Life debt always accretes. It hinders our thinking. Left unchecked, unmanaged, it blocks the leap forward.

What is the remedy for life debt?

My remedy isn’t sexy or growth hack-y or Instagram-worthy. Sorry.

Software developers squash one bug at a time. That’s really the only choice that they have.

Sometimes, they must take a step back and acknowledge that the whole ship is sinking. The more prudent or cost-effective decision is to jump ship, not make repairs; or perhaps bail water on the one ship while their colleagues build a better one.

You cannot eliminate the entirety of your life debt on a Saturday. More leaks happen overnight.

The point isn’t a perfect, bug-free life but managed life debt. If you give up on the ideal future, then you activate yourself in the present. Fix leaks and remove small points of friction as soon as you notice them.

- Pay your bills on time.

- Email a photographer friend and schedule a time to get a new headshot (because you hate the old one so much).

- Launch your ugly website before you’re ready.

- Publish your first crappy blog post.

- Pay someone else to do your sales tax filings.

- Get the AC in your truck fixed.

- Save $50 per month toward a vacation.

Too much life debt affects your peace of mind, clarity, and ability to focus. So pay down a tiny sum of life debt each day. This simple habit will help you feel like the ship isn’t sinking. “At least EVERYTHING isn’t wrong,” you’ll think. “I fixed the newel post.”

Pay down your life debt. Strive for order before increase. Make your bed before you build your empire.

Balernum

©2018 Balernum LLC All Rights Reserved

All Reasonable Offers Considered 

Balernum

©2018 Balernum LLC All Rights Reserved

All Reasonable Offers Considered 

Balernum

©2018 Balernum LLC All Rights Reserved

All Reasonable Offers Considered

Balernum

©2018 Balernum LLC All Rights Reserved

All Reasonable Offers Considered

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