If it was anything like ours, it was a Wild Mouse ride from beginning to end.
In January, faced with the reality of overhead in a recession-frightened, post-retainer, digital world, we changed our essential business model from mostly-in-house to mostly out-of-house, transforming our full-time creatives into contract workers, free to pursue other things while often occupied with the same work they’d been doing with The Fiddler Group (at a higher hourly rate). I won’t claim it was part of a brilliant strategy. And it certainly wasn’t easy. Like most big changes, it was simply an obvious necessity.
For our clients, the change was virtually invisible: we still did the same things, on the same schedules, with mostly the same people.
For us, the change was more transformative than we thought it would be. Freed from the necessity of bringing work that would fill the plates of everyone on staff, while still somewhat nourished by ongoing clients and projects, we soldiered on. But faced with a radically different daily landscape, we soon found ourselves asking a question we thought we knew the answer to: What are we now?
Our essential mission hadn’t changed. We were still brand builders, dedicated to helping our clients — most of them medium sized challenger businesses — discover what makes them unique, enhance it and leverage it for growth. We still had all the processes and wisdom we’d developed over the years. And we still had access to all the talent our clients appreciated. But looking around the office, it was obvious: we were different.
At first it was a little depressing. The place was quieter (especially during the Big Snows of January and February, when the office was nearly inaccessible). We needed to negotiate with partners when clients needed certain work that we’d always done in-house. We had to become better project managers. More work was done at a distance, without benefit of the office pop-in. We felt diminished, even a little ashamed sometimes of our lower head count. But over the course of the year, little by little, through some dark days and some brighter ones, it became apparent that what we’d done by shrinking our staff was grow our capabilities. By changing our business model, we’d increased our value to clients.
Now at year’s end, we are not only helping clients realize their brands, we’re helping develop strategy and execute with a greater pool of resources (from a much larger geographic range) and a higher degree of expertise. They’re connecting with their customers in more ways than ever, through social media, video, and who knows what all, as well as traditional media. The walls have truly fallen. And we’re giving them the leadership they deserve.
So who are we now? Brand builders, yes, but evolved to build brands in ways we haven’t even considered yet, in a world we know will be unpredictable. We’re offering more to existing clients, and have begun attracting clients we might never have attracted just a year ago.
The year that began with such consternation and anxiety, and which at times looked dark, now flows into another with much more promise. I wouldn’t call 2010 a fun year. But, gee, it could have been a lot worse. We survived it. We’re better. And I expect a day will come when we point to it as The Necessary Year.
How was yours?