Fig. 14 A Guide for Project Managers

We Don't Do That

How being a specialized product agency leads to focused and responsible project management.

It’s no secret there’s been a shift in the agency world—clients have greater needs and there are more media to consider than ever before. Agencies of old rarely have all the skills necessary to service their clients successfully (unless you have massive economies of scale with huge overhead), and are therefore forced to outsource some skills, partner with others, or worse—fake it. Niche agencies are more than a trend. It’s very much reality. Our little band at The Scenery falls into this category, proudly serving our focus of digital products. I won’t dwell too much longer on this topic because Ryan did a great job of that over in our post, The Next Agency.

Most of the time when someone talks about the pros and cons of being a niche agency, we’re focusing on what we do, not necessarily how we do it. Our specialization greatly affects client relationships and how projects flow through our shop.

The first years of my career were spent in a “full-service” agency and I learned a lot of lessons about juggling too many balls, disappointed clients, and creative mediocrity. The lightbulb moment for me was reading about the “1,000 Mile Test” over on Tim Williams’ blog. (Seriously, if you’re an agency owner, read that before you read anything else I have to say.) This was one of the key things that attracted me to The Scenery—our focus on one thing: building great products. Deep down in my gut, I know that our niche focus allows us to not only be great in what we do, but how we do it.

As any young agency knows, you hang up that first shingle of a website on the internet, establish your email addresses and Slack channels and immediately say prayers for clients. And when that happens, it’s really easy to jump at any chance for new business. You feel the need to say yes to everything and it can be really scary to turn away potential business. You might even be able to convince yourself that you can get the work done and do it well, all the while knowing that there will be many hurdles. Instead, focusing on why you started and your core offerings will be your rudder in this turbulent new business sea.

We’ve made several promises to ourselves and our clients that we will treat clients well. We know what we’re good at, and equally importantly, we know what we’re not good at. When new clients come knocking, we take a beat and talk it over to see if this is a good fit. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. And when it isn’t, we usually know pretty early on. Gotta love those gut feelings.

 

Here are some of the ways being niche allows you to serve your clients better:

You speak the same language

I’ve noticed a strong correlation between clients who come to us for our specialty (digital products), versus clients who may very much appreciate what we do, but don’t have that exact need. When we’re talking with a prospective client and it doesn’t fall exactly in our wheelhouse, more time is spent by both parties trying to understand each other. When you’re working with clients you’re already aligned with, it’s likely you’re already speaking the same language.

You command authority

Lacking confidence in your process and client deliverables is one of the worst positions for someone in client leadership. When your team is focused on a core offering, this fear ceases. As Dwight Schrute once said, “That’s bullcrap, and clients can smell it from a mile away.” Dwight may not be right about a lot of things, but he’s right about this one. A client can definitely sense your confidence (or lack thereof) early and often. This is also true for the life of the engagement. We’re consistently working on keeping that business around for as long as we can, and that means delivering great work, always. When you take on projects outside your niche, that quality drops, fast.

You anticipate problems before they happen

The more that you and your team has practiced a specific set of skills, you’re able to head things off at the pass before they snowball. You can tell the difference between things going well, and your customer’s needs, even when they go unsaid. And when you can anticipate issues even before your client, that’s just money.

You bring an outside perspective mixed with expertise

Our clients have appreciated is knowing both the big and subtle nuances that go into good product design. We’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with many products and become true parts of their team, but we’re also not as ingrained as their teams in the nuts and bolts of the day-to-day and we can bring in a fresh eye to both design and dev teams.

You can tame the Pareto principle

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I try to give my clients the same quality of attention, no matter the size of the project. If they are a client of ours, we don’t want one to have a better experience by taking from another. This doesn’t mean I spend the same time on every client, but it does mean that I don’t ignore the smaller ones. As we say here, “Quality Above All.”

 

Clients want specialists, because they want the very best in the work they receive. But we should also give them the very best in client services as well.

Written by Carla Hale Published on March 31, 2016