When Meghan and I started Formada, we talked a lot about principles that our business would live and die by. We eventually came to call these our three mandates. It’s kind of like a filter that we can push every decision or idea through. If it survives being pummeled by all three—then it lives. If not, the idea dies a terrible, gruesome death. Nah. It just comes back as an improved idea or gets dismissed.
Meghan and I have both worked in corporate environments where there is an exhaustive list of “principles” that get “lived by.” Usually, that means they sleep in some business plan .docx on one HR person’s computer and gets trotted out once a year. At Formada, we wanted to make them simple and easily applicable.
We believe in being painfully honest. What does that mean? It means telling the truth in every situation to our clients, employees, and also to ourselves. The question we use to evaluate our level of transparency is:
Is this the truth?
Sounds simple, but it’s amazing how easy it can be to fudge things in a busy, working environment.
Let’s take an example: a client reaches out and asks where we are at with a project. If we were running behind, we’d tell them we were running behind and take responsibility for it. If we had forgotten to do something, we’d admit it and outline next steps. We’ve worked in environments where people will scramble to blame circumstances, other people, or even the client for a delay. We believe in taking ownership and responsibility when we are in the wrong.
Transparency is also crucial in evaluating marketing tactics. If we sign you up for our social media advertising program and it’s not working, we’ll tell you. We don’t want you to waste your money on a service that’s not delivering results. It’s going to hurt us to lose some revenue, but we are invested in our clients first.
We also work hard to be transparent in our relationships with clients. Sometimes, we aren’t the right fit for everyone that walks through our proverbial door. We will suggest someone else who can get the job done. We won’t fake it until we make it. You need the best help you can get on every project.
Our team gets financial transparency on our revenue, our salaries as founders, and pricing of our services. We are transparent in the direction we are taking the company and everyone’s role to that end. We expect our team to be transparent with us too. They tell us when they make mistakes. We tell them when we make mistakes. We always work to fix anything that went wrong.
We expect our employees to tell us when they are frustrated or have too much on their plate. No one on our team will ever have to endure emotional outbursts from clients. We’ve been there and will never go back to that. No one on our team should have to feel like they are bearing a burden alone.
Meghan and I are also big believers in debating ideas. In our previous company, sometimes people would be concerned that Meghan and I were arguing with each other. But we believe deeply in arguing ideas without egos. If Meghan has a better idea than me, that idea moves forward and I drop mine. It’s not personal. We expect this with our team too. Meghan and I don’t have the best ideas—we know that and we want to hear better ideas every day from our team.
Learning how to do something feels great. It’s empowering to develop a new skill, see your progress over time, and feel successful at the end of something hard. We aren’t doing right by our clients or our team if we aren’t giving them more opportunities to be decision-makers or autonomous. The question we use to evaluate the level of autonomy a policy or service allows is:
Does this allow them to make more decisions on their own?
This might seem counterintuitive. You usually come to an agency so they do stuff for you, right? Yes! That is true! But we also want to help every client become a better decision-maker with their digital marketing. We work hard to make sure our clients receive reporting that’s actionable. We want to make sure our clients don’t get stuck in the weeds and instead focus on making decisions.
We also work with our clients’ teams to make sure they have the tools they need to be more successful. We make sure they have access to lead tracking, call tracking, and the data they need to do their jobs better. We are here to assist them at every turn so that you, the business owner, can focus your attention where it’s needed most.
Meghan and I have also had the displeasure of working in companies where there were policies meant to harm, inhibit, or punish business owners for wanting more autonomy. You should be able to blog on your own! You should be able to take your website or your campaign with you if you leave Formada. Yes, it sucks for us, but you should control the things that were made for you. If you want to see your data, we will make sure you have access to all of it. Want an outside opinion? We will never stand in the way of any agency you want to work with. We are here to help you make decisions for your business. We won’t get in the way of that, ever.
I really started to hate corporate desk jobs. Often, I felt like I was just being babysat. Corporate policies shouldn’t make you feel like a child. Our team is free to work hours as they see fit. Of course, we have to join calls or meetings during certain times of the day, but we want to give our team flexibility, not harsh guidelines. We don’t care if our team goes for a walk, a run, runs an errand, plays outside with their kid, wrestles with their dog during company time—we only care that they get their work done and do their best work.
We believe that people do their best work when they are trusted with real responsibility. Every word in that matters. Trusting someone with a project, initiative, or goal to be achieved means giving them room to succeed or fail. Delegating a task to someone without any skin in the game doesn’t mean anything to them or to you. Autonomy encourages people to push themselves to do their best work.
We also let people champion ideas and programs. If someone on our team has an idea on a new service or a dramatic way to improve an existing service, we hear them out. If it’s a good decision for the company, we let them run with it. We’d see so often in our corporate jobs how good ideas would be crushed or stolen. People want to lead—so let them.
The last part of autonomy is education. We do our best to provide training opportunities for our team. Sometimes that’s online courses and other times that’s investments in a more formal educational setting. We are small, but we will do the best we can to give our team these opportunities. It makes us better as a team and helps individuals achieve their personal goals. We want what’s best for everyone.
Things can seem complex. With hard work, you can distill almost anything into something simpler. We believe that work is always worth it. The question we use to evaluate the simplicity of a policy or service is:
Does this simplify it?
Ah! Let’s start with reports! Ugh, agencies make reports really, really terrible. They email you this thing with like 500 data points on it and you still have no clue what to do with that information. Who does that help? It helps the agency. They get the satisfaction of sending you an unreadable document and checking a box. That’s it.
In talking with our clients, one of the main reasons they love working with Formada is our reporting. Our reports take a lot of time on our end, but they work so much better for our clients. We provide three actionable suggestions to our clients every month. That’s it. You read a document that presents the data you need to make a decision. You make those decisions and move on. No more cross-referencing your report with the Rosetta Stone to try and interpret it.
Our number one priority is to simplify your digital marketing through better communication. When we talk to you about digital marketing tactics, it will always start with your business goals. We then, and only then, pair your business needs and goals with our services. When we present your results, we tie them back to those same business goals.
We work with you and your team to make any difficult or time-consuming process easier. We love to hear our clients’ teams tell us how much time we’ve saved them. We see ourselves as part of your business. We want to make your operations run smoother and make sure your digital marketing is delivering bigger results.
I’ve spent a lot of time in digital marketing positions. And let me tell you—there are a lot of repetitive actions. You resend a lot of the same emails with the same explanations. You go through the same processes over and over. I can be exhausting. We make it simpler for our team. We provide email templates for common processes and questions. We have a knowledgebase with answers to questions that come up from the team.
At Formada, we invest in software. Good software makes a huge difference in the lives of our team. We can automate many functions. We can streamline communication through Slack instead of flooded email inboxes. No one should be spending time on things that make you feel like you are losing your mind doing them. Life’s too short—let the software do it.
We are always evolving our processes. Our website build process is in its 9th iteration and is getting better every time. We expect that our team will continue to make it better for our clients and easier on themselves too. It’s everyone’s responsibility internally to stop and ask themselves—is there a simpler way to do this? We expect all hands on deck to make all our jobs easier.
Applying the Mandates
Here’s a quick example of how we’ve used this process to help weed out some ideas and keep others.
When we first started Formada, we were confident in our simplified reporting. But we thought it’d be even easier if we just made a video once a month to go over each client’s three different recommendations. We tested it out with a handful of clients and then asked ourselves the questions:
Is this the truth?
Yes! Seeing someone review your results was really helpful. They were speaking in normal terms and explaining something directly to you to make sure you understood.
Does this increase autonomy?
Not necessarily. The information was the same as a written report. The information was great for making our clients more autonomous and decisive, but the video didn’t add anything to that.
Does this simplify it?
Nope. No way. Ouch. No. No. No. It was really bad. Clients liked the videos, but they didn’t want to watch a 3-5 minute video when they could scan a short email with the information. Internally, it’d take me multiple shoots or takes per report. Each video report took about twice as long as the written reports. It was also miserable to do. It was taxing and frustrating when you’d film something that was great except for one misspoken data point or suggestion. Editing the video, exporting, and embedding took so much time.
So what did we do with video reporting? We stopped. And I’ve never looked back.
Two Hour Limit on Website Management
Here is an example of one that worked really well. We originally started our website management program with an unlimited amount of edits. That meant that every single month for the same price, all our clients could request any number of changes they wanted to their website. It was embraced happily by our clients. But we quickly identified that we had one or two clients that were making the most of that “unlimited” phrasing while others were not. We proposed, instead, that we limit it to two hours per month.
Is this the truth?
This new policy did a couple great things for transparency. First, our clients were able to see how much time they were using in website updates every month. They were also alerted when they were about to go outside of their two hours so they had a better awareness of how much work we were doing for them on a monthly basis. We would never bill a client for that time without prior approval.
It also made it more honest to our other clients who were paying the same amount of money for less service. Instead, this leveled the playing field so that our attention could be more evenly spread across all clients.
Does this increase autonomy?
Yes! Internally, this meant that we could afford to put team members on bigger projects that fell outside of the two hour limits. We were able to give them a project and let them run with it without trying to fit it into a two hour constraint.
Additionally, for our clients, it put them much more in the driver’s seat. It created more conversations around upcoming projects, needs, and updates to the website and let the client decide what was most important.
Does this simplify it?
It simplified so much for us internally. Before, we’d have to scramble sometimes to figure out how to make massive changes to one client’s website while making sure all other client sites received the same attention on smaller requests. It made it easy to service everyone’s needs without prioritizing any client’s website.
Time tracking hasn’t been the easiest decision, but we’ve been using software to help mitigate that. But the time limit made our jobs dramatically easier in exchange for an extra step in time tracking.
Running a company remotely isn’t easy unless you have principles like these guiding everyone’s decisions. If everyone on the team can take a step back before making a decision and check in with themselves, then we can rest assured we are in sync. We aren’t always perfect at these things, but that’s the point. We are working towards these ideals—together as a team.
Does this sound good to you? We hope so. We’d love to talk to you about how we can apply these same principles to your business. Contact us today and we can help you make the most of your digital marketing.