February 6, 2012

The courage to reinvent ourselves

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10 years ago, I started on a journey to reinvent my firm, without realizing that it was the beginning of a road less traveled. Where many designers are passionate about design, I am equally passionate about running my business well. Learning to conduct business, manage business, and develop business is an ongoing process. Solving problems for our clients is important; I want them to know I also understand their business challenges.

I learned how to conduct business from my father, Gordon Sooy. Where others would say "the customer is always right," or "the customer is sometimes wrong." Gordon would say "the customer is always the customer."

For over 50 years Gordon's business was selling auto parts. His career began as a parts delivery employee (on a bicycle!), and concluded as the owner of several stores. During that time, he dealt with more people than I ever will in my entire consulting career, and had a reputation for honesty and integrity that showed in his respect for his customers. Treating each customer with respect as an individual is a lesson that guides my relationships with clients, staff and vendors.

I am deeply grateful for the impact of two other individuals, David C. Baker of ReCourses; and Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching. I attended the January 2012 ReCourses New Business Summit (NBS) in Nashville, TN, lead by David and Blair along with Mark O'Brien (author of A Website That Works: How Marketing Agencies Can Create Business Generating Sites) and Chris Butler from Newfangled.

I first met David C Baker in 2002 at an AIGA Grow seminar in Cleveland, OH. It's been seven years since I first attended an NBS, and five since I attended a ReCourses roundtable, where I first learned many principles of business management from David's years of experience of working with creative firms. I chose to attend the 2012 NBS as a refresher, anticipating our second quarter re-launch of our business and an evolution of what Sooy+Co has become over the last 16 years.

I've known Blair and learned from his expertise for several years at seminars and from his publications. in 2010, Blair invited me to design his Win Without Pitching Manifesto: 12 proclamations on developing business without giving away thinking for free. The process of designing the book forced me to read it closely on multiple levels – from a content perspective, as a typographer and type designer, and as a marketing business owner. It's now a permanent part of my thinking and DNA.

A ReCourses New Business Summit is disruptive, terrifying and inspiring — alternatively and concurrently. Expertise and insights begin to flow from the opening session, don't stop until the end of the third day, and continue to resonate in the mind long after.

I came away with two memorable thoughts, the first from David:

"Don't be afraid to do things differently, and don't think too much about the consequences. That's a lot of satisfaction in just doing the right thing and letting the consequences unfold."

To follow this piece of advice takes confidence: in myself, in our positioning, in our process. There are many directions I could guide the business, I'm choosing one that matters. I am more confident than ever that what we do for our clients makes a difference not only for their causes, but to the lives of people who are connected to those causes. The path I'm following is not an either/or path, but a synthesis of what I've learned and of our firm's strengths and expertise.

My aha! moment came from Blair:

"If you have the courage to reinvent yourself, go big."

Courage to proclaim that we are experts and articulate it well. Courage to start a new practice, as a division of the business that has borne my name for many years. Courage to completely move from personality to position and process in our business development. Courage to allow the business to become something new, and in doing so, perhaps leave a legacy when it's time to follow another path.

It's no less than what I expect from our clients when they work with us. I should not expect less from my own firm. Welcome to Aespire.

More in this category: Pursuing Significance »

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