It was 2010, and I was in the midst of recovering from a horrific battle with stage IV cancer. Getting back to work was a challenge, and I was grateful to the staff and clients who stayed with our (then) design firm throughout my battle with the “Big C” than they’ll ever know. Late in the year, however, we ran into a challenge with one of our most important developers.
For whatever reason, he didn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency we had, or that our clients expected. After repeated requests for him to deliver his work, followed by unmet extended deadlines and a number of uncomfortable phone calls, we were fired by two of our biggest clients.
If you haven’t been in that kind of deep water, be glad. It’s not a fun place to be.
That was crushing enough on its own, but even worse was knowing that it wasn’t because of what we did, but because of what we hadn’t done – manage our suppliers to ensure they would meet their commitments – that tripped us up.
I was furious with him, but I also felt heartbroken that I had let down the people who gave me their businesses and their trust when I’d needed them to the most. I had arrived at a point where we were essentially powerless.
Up to that point, I’d considered a hand shake to be as strong as a contract, but apparently the developer hadn’t felt the same way.
As tempting as I was to tell him how dearly he’d cost us, I opted instead to take the high road and moved on. And the truth is, after battling cancer for 18 months, I just didn’t have the strength or motivation to fight with a supplier, as well.
Time for Some Changes
That experience was a painful one, but it also proved an important lesson. It led us to make a trio of significant shifts in the way we work. The first was a realization that we could never again be reliant on one supplier. The second, to specialize in and be excellent at a core service and be able to deliver it fully on our own.
And third, we needed to have an agreement in place that spelled out expectations, obligations, and mediation options that would keep misunderstandings to a minimum. We wanted everyone we work with to know where we stood, and what could or should happen if either party didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
And in 2011 we adopted a screening process for suppliers and clients, too. We stopped chasing work or new hires, and instead began searching for signals that the people who were truly interested in working with us would be open and collaborative in their business dealings. The ideal client. The ideal team member.
We began to bring new designers, developers, and marketers into our team, but only when they fit with our philosophy of service. And we hired them full time or made them partners with high expectations of service quality.
The same thing applied to our new clients. We realized that the only way to deliver a solid return on investment was to stop being a supplier and start being a partner. We then set out a criteria to recognize when to move on and how to do so – by qualified referral of course.
We wanted to work hands-on with both clients and partners, learning insights from them, sharing our proven processes, and jointly developing strategies for greater success.
The result of all of this has created a much better energy, improved communication, and stronger outcomes all around. Today, everybody knows when and how project scopes and deadlines should be set or adjusted. No one is stressed out wondering, because we are all working on the same things together.
Everyone is in a Better Business Place Now
Losing two major clients came close to putting our company under. We were nearly crippled by the loss of cash flow at the time, but once the storm passed, the experience forced us to focus.
By thinking about what had gone wrong – and more importantly, what we wanted to do differently – we were able to not only recover, but thrive. We came out of the hardship better organized, more self-sufficient, and with a more stable business model.
Today, our company is a multiple-award-winning firm that’s been internationally recognized by our peers and mainstream media. We enjoy working with incredible clients from many countries, whose reach spans the globe. Best of all, we’ve been able to help our clients achieve incredible levels of success. And we’ve replaced that lost revenue many, many times over.
It took a painful lesson to arrive at this point, but looking back I would go through it again and again because I learned so much. As they say, the fever may not be fun, but it’s also the thing that cures you.
To bring this full circle, I’d like to invite you to learn about the website support services Kayak delivers. I hope you take me up on it.