This is the second post in a series I’m writing on running a services business1.
Also, For the sake of this conversation, I’m discussing services in the context of people who want to grow their business significantly, as opposed to maintaining some sort of local maximum.
Many services businesses achieve stable success leveraging their personal networks and local community. As I wrote in the first post in this series, though, those sources of new business can be a local maximum for a company that wants to scale. Large, densely-packed metro areas lessen the effects of the ceiling, but those environments are generally much more competitive and noisy.
No matter where you are, though, if you want to grow a services business, there are generally two main paths (in my observation and experience, at least) companies tend to follow. (There are certainly hybrid business models, but that’s another post for another day.)
My working names for the two paths are “productization and commoditization” and “specialization and customization.” Today we will talk about productization and commoditization.
I’m writing a short series2 of posts about observations I’ve made after transitioning from running a more direct-to-consumer focused business to running a B2B services business.
For a long time now I’ve been working to build out world class data-driven marketing infrastructure and teams, and most recently I’ve assembled a team that helps other companies do the same. It’s a services business called Yield Group that helps companies collect and use the data that will help them grow.
It’s been a fascinating experience coming off the heels of running a company that was primarily direct-to-consumer with a focused set of products. One of the most interesting differences to contemplate has been how services businesses scale.
This is the fourth post in an ongoing series about the transition from maker to manager3.
I still remember the one of the first descriptions of leadership I heard from a successful business person that I instinctively felt was wrong. I was young, early in my career, and the CEO who ran the company I worked at had joined a meeting about a project assigned to my boss’ team.
I can’t remember the specifics of the project, but I do know that it had encountered some sort of difficulty and the CEO was stepping in to help get things back on track. Seeing the primary leader of the business ’get their hands dirty’ with the team, especially alongside a young, inexperienced person like me was encouraging and felt right somehow—a salve for the notion that executives use hierarchy to shield themselves from the actual work being done.
Towards the end of the meeting, though, the CEO said this:
It’s not good that I’m in this meeting. My goal is to make myself unnecessary, so you need to figure this out on your own next time.
I was recently invited to an event about digital marketing. At the beginning of the talk, I mentioned that the material included lessons learned from The Iron Yard, a company I co-founded and helped to run for over five years. (The Iron Yard was at one time the world’s largest in-person code school4.)
After the talk, an older gentleman came up to me and said, “I’d like to have a word with you.” Not sure whether to expect praise or reprimand, I said, “I’d love to talk,” and stepped aside with him. As he pulled out his phone, he told me that during the talk, he’d sent a message to his grandson letting him know that he was at a talk being given by on of the founders of The Iron Yard.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had conversations with a variety of people about the marketing/sales funnel, which I wrote about recently5. Even though many would a consider clear understanding of where you’re customers are coming from—and how to scale those channels—an essential part of business (which it is), many companies simply haven’t defined their marketing/sales funnel.
For those who have an intimate understanding of their funnel, the temptation is to be critical of businesses who don’t. When you step back, though, the context for most companies without a funnel is understandable and, in some cases, even justifiable.
A few weeks ago I gave a talk explaining some of the lessons I’d learned about marketing as I helped grow The Iron Yard. As I reviewed my presentation with the conference organizer, one slide towards the beginning caught his attention. Here it is:
His advice on that slide was, “you should explain what the marketing funnel is. Not everyone will know what that term means.” His observation was a great reminder that, when you are fully steeped in a discipline, concepts that are second-nature to you probably aren’t to people outside of that discipline.
Recently, while working through a list of agenda items with several people on my team, I noticed a new feature in Google Docs: recognition of what is likely an action time and a suggestion to create a task for the person mentioned.
This has been a common theme for Google products over the last few years. From consolidating travel information into easily-actionable bundles via Inbox to offering suggested analyses of data in Google Sheets, their ability to turn raw data sources into semantic, proactive features for users is impressive to say the least. (If you’re unfamiliar with these features, click on the “Explore” icon in the bottom right of your screen next time you open a document in Google Drive.)
Since writing about varying opinions on social media and ownership of online content, I’ve been musing about ‘online presence’ as a concept in general. Last night I mentioned to a friend that in 10 years (or less), it’s very likely that some of the basic web development skills we teach at The Iron Yard to help people launch careers in software development will be either an expectation for most knowledge workers’ jobs, automated in some way, or, more likely, a combination of both.
This topic is a complex one without singular answers, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my mind as of late.You can find links to all of the posts in the series on this page. Here’s Part 2:
Take a moment and think about this question: is it possible to be a successful professional in today’s world without an online presence?
During a stage of significant growth at The Iron Yard, several executives had a conversation about how to quell what had become the insanity of our heavy travel and meeting schedules. The CEO asked me to test out a virtual assistant that could spend a few hours a week booking transportation and wrangling calendars. After a bit of research, I decided to try a service called Zirtual.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been culling through a gigantic pile of links, articles and ideas that I’ve saved up for this blog. One of the files contained quotes from team members at The Iron Yard (the company I help lead). I’m not exactly sure who said what or when, but I do know that I copied them from Slack or other internal tools.