Sometimes life-changing pivotal moments are immediately clear. Others creep up on you and only come into focus in retrospect. Looking back over the year is a good time to reflect. It’s like switching on a chain of fairy lights. Suddenly you can see all the points of light, and the pattern that connects them.
We’ve witnessed a lot of change in 2015. Some of the things that changed our business were expected, other defining moments sprang from unexpected places. A lot of it has been wonderful but not everything has gone well. How has it been for you?
Here are a few big lessons we take from this year into the next. Perhaps some threads that resonate with your 2015 too. What a year!
On changing a business
Business change (sustainable change) is slow.
2015 was the year we started to move the business around. We were heading on an unsustainable path towards agencydom. Nothing wrong with agencies, some of our best friends are in agencies, it just wasn’t our destination.
We wanted to bring the business back to Bristol. Kids, families, relationships – life is complicated sometimes, but we knew it could be made easier if we could be around at home more. (A particularly terrible standing room only journey from London Paddington to Bristol after a long day of meetings helped this decision come to light.) But we also wanted to help more good businesses grow with the valuable content approach. How could we bring it home and scale it too?
We dreamt of a school – the School of Valuable Content we coined it – where brave, talented people running independent businesses could learn and get inspired to make their content valuable to help them build businesses they were proud of.
This vision became crystal clear for us early this year and we wanted to make it happen, fast – one big bang. Turns out, change doesn’t work that way. Even changing the course of a two-woman business can sometimes feel like turning around a giant cruise ship!
Sustainable change is incremental. Nudge forward in doable steps; learn, revise, move on – that seems to be the way to go. Keep the focus, drive towards the vision, relentlessly. Hold the faith.
Only when we stop and look back at the end of the year can we see how far we’ve come – we have an online course up and running via the Digital Business Academy. Our course sits proudly alongside UCL and University of Cambridge Judge Business School and is already helping hundreds of people, so that feels great. We’ve also overcome video fear too (see below), we’ve launched our first mastermind group programme. Stuff has happened; the school is coming alive.
We still have a long way to go but we’re on the way. How about you?
~ Thanks to our fabulous chairman Chris Thurling for helping us get the vision clear and keeping us on the path. Thanks to our amazing client change management consultancy Project One for teaching us about real change.
On teaching online
Teaching so people learn is not the same as writing a book.
You might assume that having written a couple of books, done lots of talks, and with an ex-teacher on our team, that putting together an online training course in something we knew well would be a breeze. Naively, that’s what we thought too. Wrong!
Far too much online ‘learning’ out there doesn’t actually teach. There’s a massive learning curve that needs to be climbed before you can turn what you know into material someone else can learn from when you’re not in the room. And it starts with understanding how people learn.
~ We’ve had a lot of help and advice from learning and development specialist Rebecca Wallace on this one. Thank you Rebecca – we have learned so much from you!
On the power of group learning
Together we learn faster and achieve more.
We kicked off our first Content Strategy Mastermind Group for business owners this year, and it’s a joy. If you want to make something happen, do it in a group. More motivating, more fun and a surer way of making it happen. You’re held to account, supported, and the change becomes real.
We’re seeing results already, and can’t wait to see how far it takes people. Over the years we have written thousands of words on making content marketing work – the Mastermind Group really does make it happen, fast.
Especially when you hold it in Bristol’s best pub!!
~ Thanks to Jon, Sue, Mel, Harriet, Kelly, Lauren and Nick for being the first to come with us on the journey. Thanks to The Lion, Cliftonwood for letting us hold our workshops in your gorgeous pub.
On the amazing power of a map
Never underestimate the power of a good visual.
It’s the best content we’ve created this year. Our map of the Land of Content is a simple visual metaphor that grabs people, and speaks more clearly than words alone. It’s formed the basis of our best talks, and has helped numerous meetings with clients.
~ Thank you Lizzie Everard!
>> Find out what content has worked best for others this year here. What’s worked best of all for you?
On producing video content
JFDI. Video is soooo powerful, and a lot of fun.
OK, we admit it. We have been very scared of the video format. We’ve had a couple of attempts at getting it right but our own confidence has let us down in the past.
This year there was no escape. We had to do it for the social media course we developed for the Digital Business Academy. And like lots of things in life that you disproportionately dread, the reality wasn’t nearly as bad as the expectation. You know what? It’s actually enjoyable.
What we learned? Find the right partners, pay to work with experts, plan a LOT, practice a LOT, get over yourselves (Sonja!). If you know video would help you tell your story online, and it’s fear that’s holding you back, we’d say – just do it.
~ Thanks to our talented video partners Doubleshot TV for making it an enjoyable experience. Delighted that you’re now based with us in Spike Island. Thanks to case study collaborators Matt and Gordon at BeerBods, Paul Hajek at Clutton Cox, Dan Waller at Wriggle.
On taking it off-line
There’s something in the air – a hankering for real connection.
For a business dedicated to helping people make the most of digital opportunities, it might feel a strange thing to say, but this year our off-line activities – the book launch, the content groups, the talks, the Mastermind Group – have felt like a more important part of the business than ever before.
The internet can be a dizzying, fragmented experience. It encourages us to rush without taking anything in properly. It’s like gorging on sweets rather than eating a proper meal. There’s always so much more you could be reading, so many competing demands for your attention. It means that sometimes the online world can be stressful and unrewarding place to be.
Slowing down to real-life face-to-face people pace is a relief, especially if you’re trying to learn something new. Experiencing things together, with proper focus and time to breathe and smile, makes you feel a whole lot better.
We’ll be working on getting more people together in 2016, and finding a way to bottle that rewarding experience for our online courses.
~ Thanks to our Bristol Content Group, to John Beckley from Sands Beach Resort in Lanzarote, to Henneke Duistermaat, Doug Kesslerand to Andrea Howe for reminding us to keep it real, and all of you we’ve connected with in person this year.
On the desire for real, imperfect stories
Slick has had its day.
It’s boring and we don’t believe it. Messy reality – that’s what people really want to hear – not the polished stuff. If you really want to convince people, tell them the whole truth, warts and all.
We realised this when Sonja was asked to present a behind the scenes case study on content strategy at HOW Interactive Design conference in Chicago. The scruffy reality of projects is a tonic, and the audience clearly appreciated it.
We took inspiration from this for September’s Content Group. Two content-savvy ex-marketing directors from home grown UK brands presented stories from the field. Much to learn from Ernie Capbert, co-founder and marketing director of Cornish coldwater surf brand Finisterre, and Tim LeRoy, marketing director of PC and tech provider Novatech. We learned so much from their stories.
Messy, behind the scenes, less than perfect stories, showcasing where things go wrong as much as what goes right. Something to remember for events, presentation and content for the future.
~ Thanks to Chris Butler and the HOW team for the inspiration. Thanks to Ernie Capbert and Tim LeRoy for the very enlightening talks, and special thanks to David Sloly for his memorable explanation of why all good stories need to go down as well as up -> you can watch David’s TED talk on storytelling here.
On serving people you love
All good business decisions start from here.
Who do you really want to help? What do they need? This is the most basic building block of any business. Know your customers. Make stuff they want. If either of those blocks is missing, it’s really hard to make a business work. (It’s probably impossible.)
We’ve got much clearer in 2015 on the people we want to serve*, and also on how we can turn what we know into something that really helps them.
[*independently-minded, brave, determined, un-corporate, talented, hard working people running businesses they love. People who know that profit isn’t the only measure of success. People who understand that achieving a work/life balance is a myth because the edges are always blurred, so make damn sure you enjoy your business too.]
~ Thanks to our Mastermind Group for crystallising our ideas around the people we can really help. Thanks too to the people who underlined the fact that we’re not for everyone. We’re particularly thinking of a room of high-flying, unsmiling corporate lawyers somewhere in Berkshire – a couple of whom were unsmiling to the point of actually being asleep! We get it, you’re not our target audience! (It’s okay, they’re not reading this.)
How about you? How has your year been? Drop us a comment or an email – we’d really love to know.
Thanks to all of you for being with us this year. It’s been fascinating, tough, enlightening – all of those things, but throughout it all we’ve had some fantastic support and a lot of fun. Thanks to you all.
Here’s to a happy and rewarding 2016.
From Sonja and Sharon