#emaginethat

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Bill Gadless

Do You Suffer From Compl-agency?

digital agency complagency

com-pla-gen-cy /kəmˈplāgənsē/

a feeling of uncritical satisfaction an agency feels with a client relationship. synonyms: smugness, self-satisfaction, self-congratulation, self-regard; gloating, triumph, pride; satisfaction, contentment

“The complagency exhibited by the account team hindered innovation, creativity, strategic thinking and most importantly, the client’s results.”

So, I’ve been known to make up a word or two. It’s what I do …

But, more important than the word itself is the widespread complacency I see among digital agencies and their client relationships. Although the headline here somewhat mocks the issue, it’s not very funny if you’re the client.

I challenge you to take a long, hard look at your agency relationship and ask:

  • When was the last time you proactively heard from your Account Manager for no other reason other than to check in? (not when they’re reacting to an issue or trying to sell you something)
  • Do you feel as though your agency stays on the cutting edge in terms of strategies, tactics and trends? And, do you feel as though they’re keeping you abreast of them?
  • Do you “click” personally with the various members on your account team or do you suffer through certain interactions?
  • Do you consider your relationship to be collaborative or do you find your agency pontificating and condescending?
  • Are you comfortable challenging and even disagreeing with your agency’s recommendations or do you find yourself worried that you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings?
  • Do you feel that your agency has enough bandwidth to service your account effectively or does it often feel as though they’re stretched too thin and often biting off more than they can chew?

It’s easy for an agency to forget that a client relationship is like a marriage or any other relationship. It requires effort.

Nobody’s perfect – but it’s paramount to me that our clients at emagine always feel cared about and that we’re working perpetually to add value to their business. And hopefully in an authenticcandidtransparentlikable manner.

Are Websites Getting Easier or Harder to Create?

I’m literally the last person in the world who would disparage the tremendous entrepreneurship in the digital space, between Web Design, SEO, PPC, Social Media and what have you.

emagine blog are websites getting easier or harder to create

I mean, 20+ years ago I was out there selling websites not having a clue what I was talking about. But my one saving grace at that time was the fact that nobody else knew what they were talking about either. The industry had barely even been born yet – so there wasn’t exactly a lot of expertise or experience being touted in the market.

I’m so excited by the business opportunities in this space. I speak at WordCamps (the regional conference for WordPress professionals) all over the country specifically about entrepreneurship, sales, agency growth, etc. – and I absolutely love the spirit in this community. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an industry that’s such a breeding ground for self-starters and young entrepreneurs. 

In addition to this space simply being so “hot”, one of the reasons so many people get into it is because it’s pretty easy to get started. You don’t need any sort of license or certification, a college degree, an office, staff, or any expensive equipment. With nothing more than a computer and an internet connection (or a nearby Starbucks), you can literally get into the web design and digital marketing industry instantly.

But the low barrier to entry in this business comes with downside. 

Clients, for the most part, admit that they are not experts when it comes to this stuff. Even the savviest of marketers working in the biggest companies rely on their digital consultants or agencies for their expertise and insights. 

But how does one assess whether the “expert” they’re relying on really has the experience required in building mission-critical, high-availability, scalable, secure, performance-optimized websites for major corporations?

The first thing to do is to look at and scrutinize the amount of effort and attention given to every aspect of the project.

There’s a dichotomy happening in the world of building and maintaining websites.

From our perspective here at emagine, having built 1,500+ enterprise websites over 20 years, we’ve seen the the development of websites become a more complex science, ultimately meaning increased costs and longer project durations. Some of the contributing factors:

•  The design and layout of content. Sites simply look and behave differently from several years ago. If you look at a lot of websites from the early 2000’s, you had a homepage and one or two templates for all other pages. Today, content is truly king and is designed to engage the visitor. On many websites, each page is a unique instance of content with its own layout. Now imagine the amount of time involved in custom designing every page on a website vs. copying and pasting text into a generic page template.

•  Multiple expert team members touching a project. I can remember in our early days when a web developer would double as an SEO expert (and maybe even a designer). Today, UX, Creative, SEO, Development, Content and QA are each distinct competencies (all strategically glued together by an advanced Project Manager to create a cohesive project experience for the client)

•  Development. There’s a (very) common misconception that with the proliferation of tools like WordPress (emagine’s core CMS and the market leader by far), that developing a website is now an easy, fast endeavor. And in certain cases that might even be true. (maybe if you’re a dry cleaner or a pizza shop whose existence and image isn’t all that reliant on a professional, secure, national/global, stable digital presence). SMBs can often get by with a pre-designed theme/template and plugins/modules that are hastily (poorly) stitched together. But unless you’re a mom-and-pop, I advise you to heavily scrutinize the planning, process, timeframe, team, tools and (even) documentation that go into the development of your website. If you’re a multi-million/billion-dollar enterprise, whether you’re in Healthcare, Tech, Construction, Manufacturing or Professional Services – be very skeptical of any promise of rapid timelines or low-cost solutions. When it comes to the integrity. stability and sustainability of a website’s “engine”, you truly get what you pay for. 

•  Plan for post-launch maintenance and support. Think beyond launch. Today you must have a comprehensive strategy for the ongoing maintenance and support of your website. No matter how well your website is built, it’s going to need some ongoing TLC (and not just its content.) Think of your website a little bit like your car. Even the best-made vehicles require routine oil changes, tune-ups and tires and brakes being replaced over time. But add in the threat of hacks and it’s tantamount to someone breaking into your garage on a nightly basis and loosening your lug nuts. Today, more than ever, there are countless factors and threats that impact a website’s performance and stability.

•  SEO. We inherit websites all the time that allegedly had been search engine optimized. In 70%+ of these cases, we find that there was in fact a feeble attempt at something called “SEO”, but not nearly the amount of appropriate effort given to research, content optimization and technical optimization. SEO is a fuzzy concept that can be completed in hours (with no results, or potentially even harm done to your Google rankings) or weeks. (done correctly)

•  Integrations. Today, barely do we see a professional website that doesn’t require some form of integration. Most commonly with CRMs such as Salesforce, or marketing automation tools like Marketo or Hubspot – but also with a variety of Investor Relations sites, Applicant Tracking Systems, ERPs and more. While not always rocket science, these integrations require communications and strategy among all parties and thorough implementation and testing.

•  CMS usability. User experience (UX) doesn’t only apply to the visitors to your website. You and others at your company are users of the system that manages your website. (whether WordPress, Drupal, Sitecore, etc.) Careful consideration goes into the design of the back-end experience as well as the front. It’s very common for website managers/owners to be promised a website they “can easily manage”, only to end up depending on the services of their web developer for even the most common content updates.

•  Mobile. 70%+ of internet usage in the U.S. is on mobile devices. (according to comScore). With thousands of different mobile devices displaying your website, a web developer would be remiss in simply installing a plugin to handle a truly Responsive (mobile-friendly) website. Responsive websites must be built and thoroughly tested for many, many instances of mobile environments.

•  QA. Web design clients are commonly handed sites to review that literally have not been reviewed or tested by the developers at all. Broken links, pages not loading, forms not saving data, integrations not functioning properly, content and graphics displaying oddly, the site working well on the developer’s favorite browser or mobile device but not on others (and the client being told the others don’t matter). QA, even on a relatively small site (say, under 50 pages) is about a 2-week process between reviewing/testing the site and making the appropriate fixes and adjustments. In certain cases, as budget permits, a 3rd party will be consulted to provide an unbiased fresh team of eyes on a site they haven’t themselves been working on for months.

Now back to the dichotomy…

Despite the reality that the items above have added time (and cost) to building a website properly, clients are being told (in droves) that projects can be accelerated by leveraging certain tools. Great news for the client!

Now add to that the fact that many clients want to hear (and believe) that their website can be built in 60-90 days and for a reasonable price. Voila! – you’ve got a match made in heaven. 

Until the website –

•  breaks
•  is hacked
•  runs slowly
•  completely falls apart when one of the untested plugins/modules requires an update in 3 months
•  is penalized by Google for a myriad of reasons
•  displays poorly on many devices
•  is difficult or clunky to update
•  fails to meet the client’s objectives 

Let me be clear. By no means am I saying that web design entrepreneurs are intentionally misleading their clients or making false claims. From my experience, very few designers and developers are out there knowinglywillingly underestimating what’s involved with building a website that’s bug-free, stable, secure and optimized for performance, mobile and SEO (correctly). But knowingly or not, one thing is certain: they’re definitely underestimating what’s involved.

I can only attribute this to lack of experience. I mean, one of the reasons a tool like WordPress is so popular is because it can be relatively quick and easy to get a website up and running. But that doesn’t mean it should be. If a web developer doesn’t have extensive experience launching corporate/enterprise websites with national/global audiences, it’s likely he/she believes that it’s as simple as the site he/she might have launched for the landscaper. Or the blog he/she put together for the foodie sister-in-law.

Well, it’s not.

If you’re a serious enterprise with a lot at stake, the importance of building your website right can’t be minimized.

I know you might want to hear that your website can be built in 60-90 days for $X0,000. And you’ll find no shortage of web designers who will tell you what you want to hear. 

And just because you’re not Amazon or Facebook, don’t fall into the trap of downplaying the importance of doing it right.

Bill Gadless, President of emagine, Speaking on “Focus” This Saturday at WordCamp Boston

This coming Saturday, July 22nd at 4:40 pm, I’ll be speaking to web development entrepreneurs at WordCamp Boston, being held at Boston University.

emagine blog wordcamp boston focus

 

The topic of my talk is “Focus“, the single most important component to the success of my digital agency, emagine.

In HBO’s documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, there’s a scene where Buffett and Bill Gates were both asked to write down on a piece of paper the one thing they each felt contributed most to their success. Sure enough, Buffett and Gates wrote the same word down on their respective papers: Focus.

Now, when I talk about “focus”, I don’t claim to know how to avoid multitasking or how to ignore distractions like social media, news, politics and other noise that gets in the way of productivity. I could use a lot of help there. 

But, what I’ve done successfully and what I will discuss is how to focus your business

As far as I know, they don’t teach a lot of this stuff in college. (I can’t be 100% certain as I didn’t spend much time there before dropping out).

I spent the first 10 years of emagine’s history kind of flailing – trying to be everything to everyone, anything to anyone. I managed and did fine, but only once I started to focus did the business take a significant turn for the better.

In my talk, I’ll cover the importance of (and how to) focus on:

•  Your strengths
•  Your core markets/industries
•  A core technology/platform (presumably WordPress)
•  The clients you already have who help – not hurt – your business
•  The types of projects that are profitable for you (stay within your wheelhouse)
•  The path to achieving your goals (without getting distracted by day-to-day challenges)
•  Working with the right people
•  Working on your business, not in your business
•  Your life. Health. Relationships
•  Your numbers
•  Your differentiating value
•  Your long-range vision

Sounds like a lot, I know. And it is.

But, it’s really not that hard. And once you can confidently say you’re laser-focused on everything I’ve outlined here, trust me when I tell you that you’ll have dramatically improved your business, your earnings and your lifestyle. 

For more info on talks throughout the weekend, visit WordCamp Boston’s website or follow @WordCampBoston and #wcbos on Twitter.

Why Building Your Website at a Rapid Pace Is a Huge Mistake

Over my 20 years in the website design and development business, I’ve seen the same scenario played out time and time again when we’re talking to a potential client about a website redesign.

b2b website

Here’s how it goes…

“We need a website that will:

•  Outperform our competitors, thus increasing our market share
•  
Beautifully and accurately convey our brand and positioning to the world
•  
Be SEO’d skillfully to extend our organic reach and generate more inbound traffic
•  
Convert more visitors into quality leads
•  
Allow for an incredibly seamless user experience
•  
Be built so that the marketing department can very easily, quickly make updates
•  
Be scalable and sustainable so that it can grow with us over time
•  
Be launched with the highest standards of QA, browser-compatibility, and mobile-friendliness
•  
Be stable and secure, unsusceptible to hackers and other potential threats

…And we need it in the next 6-12 weeks”

In most cases, 6 weeks after stating the above, they still haven’t signed a contract with an agency.

Stop and ask yourself, “Why would you rush anything that important?”

In my experience, nobody is looking to cut corners or sacrifice any of these critical elements mentioned above. Rather, there’s an assumption that you can get a website with all of the above elements and have it be done right in just a few weeks.

You can’t.

There’s absolutely no doubt that you can get a website up and running in a few weeks. In fact, you could do it in an hour using Wix.com or Squarespace. It’s also likely that many agencies will tell you exactly what you want to hear.

Speaking from my own experience (and having gone into these types of projects several times), it’s not that anyone is being flat-out dishonest; rather, out of need to get the contract and keep the lights on, a “let’s do this” attitude takes over – even when you know that the client expectations simply aren’t realistic.

Weed out the agencies who say yes to whatever you ask for.

Just because your CEO wants a website up in a few quicks (and still done right), doesn’t mean it can be.

If an agency tells you they can build a website in less than 90-120 days, I suggest you weed them out of your selection process.

Again, that might be what you want to hear – but it’s just not true. Look to work with people who aren’t afraid to be straight with you, who know how to diplomatically push back. Look for a team who will tell you the drawbacks to your approach and the associated repercussions.

So, why exactly is it a huge mistake? 

Friends, a website is not a brochure. Websites are technical. There are a lot of components that go into developing a site that not only looks great (although that itself should be given a few weeks to nail down), but is technically-sound, secure, content-rich, optimized for search engines and tested for optimal performance across devices.

Cutting corners will 100% result in a less-than-ideal online presence.

This is your most visible face to the world – available 24/7/365 and judged by first impression. It is not worth jeopardizing its quality in the interest of rushing.

Whether it’s user frustration, a site that’s difficult to manage, not secure, stitched together hastily with sloppy code and untested plugins, or simply misses the mark in terms of branding … a rushed website is a bad website. Period.

If an agency pushes back on your quick timeline, it’s not because they don’t have the resources or bandwidth.

It’s because they value your business (and their integrity) more than the check. 

In the words of the astute S.O.S. Band in 1980, “Take Your Time (Do It Right).”

Is “Good Enough” Good Enough for your Digital Marketing?

good enough digital marketing

Let’s face it – there’s no company that doesn’t have to make hard decisions based on limitations of budget, time, resources, etc. But, when it comes to your digital marketing…your brand…your image to the world…how your customers and prospective customers perceive you…your lead generation engines…

Do you really think “good enough” digital marketing will get you to where you need to be?

As I see it, the term “digital marketing” is essentially “marketing.” Digital has officially become the most dominant component to any marketing strategy. Being a digital agency, our experience and observations mostly pertain to websites and digital marketing campaigns. We’ve seen literally hundreds of instances where fast, cheap or local were the leading decision drivers, as opposed to the best.

And don’t get me wrong – it’s not as though marketers or executives are accepting the reality that quality (and consequently results) will suffer. Rather, they convince themselves that they will achieve “good enough” results from “fast” or “cheap.”

Nobody is suggesting that you should engage in over-analysis-paralysis or drag things out unnecessarily or irresponsibly spend more money than your company can afford. But, when it comes to something so critical to your top and bottom lines, how could you possibly justify compromising by taking the path of least resistance?

Some Closing Tips

Take the time to do it right.
A good, custom website will take between 90-120 days, at least. This is not based on your agency’s process or bandwidth. This is the reality of an effective, thoughtful, collaborative effort between you and your digital marketing partner.

Choose the right partner:

  • How much experience does the project team have? I don’t mean how much work is shown on the agency’s website; but rather, the folks you’ll actually be working with – how much specific, relevant digital marketing experience and expertise do they have? Ask, probe and understand their bios and backgrounds.
  • How equipped is the agency to support you during and after your initial digital marketing engagement? A portfolio of pretty websites and successful case studies are only half the story. Does they have the infrastructure required to provide a superior level of attention and support?

Don’t cheap out.
Again, I’m not suggesting you overspend. But “you get what you pay for” is very true when it comes to digital marketing services. At least 40% of your marketing budget should go to digital. (these days we’re actually seeing higher percentages). In fact, most studies show marketers are investing most heavily in: Websites, SEO, Content (marketing), E-mail and Paid Search.

Obviously everything has its nuances on a per-company basis. Timeframe, budget, agency preferences and personal chemistry. Many of these decisions should be commensurate with the size and complexity of your company.

The bottom line?
Just do it the right way. None of us can afford to waste a day (or a dime) on initiatives that are shortcutted or shortchanged.

Why the World Needs Your Original Content

When I first sat down to write this post, the title was “Create at least one GREAT piece of content a week.” But as I thought more about it, I realized that A) “Great” is too subjective and B) Original, authentic content marketing is inherently “great”.

original content marketing

A recurring theme in my commentary and posts is my frustration with the amount of noise online. The enormous number of so-called experts writing about things that they’ve never actually done (successfully) – but rather, have only written about the various topics extensively. And as much as I want everyone to write more, merely writing eloquently about a given topic does not make one an expert on that topic.

So why does this matter? Why do I keep whining about all of these “thought leaders”?

Social Media is a breeding ground for millions of people with little or no real expertise, but with a desire to build their personal brands, build enormous follower bases, etc. And forgive me for disparaging these folks, but the harm that’s being done is detrimental to many, many business people.

Suppose you’re researching a topic that you’re very intrigued about…

…something that you view as a critical void in your business. You search on Google or Twitter and happen to only click on 2-3 articles that 1) Appeared prominently in search results 2) Came wrapped with a beautiful graphic and headline and 3) Seemed to be written articulately. You’re likely to give a lot of credence to those articles without taking very much time to verify the credentials of the source.

Now, imagine yourself taking those posts very literally and actually formulating your plan around them.

But wait, what if the authors have never earned a dollar in revenue having implemented their own advice? Or worse, imagine that they’ve literally never even tried any of the things they wrote about and they are merely people who write about things.

Well, the Web is full of these folks.

And that’s why we need you.

We need to hear your real experiences. We need to hear your practical advice on issues you’ve personally dealt with. We need to know what has worked for you and what has not. As long as it’s real and original, it doesn’t need to win a Pulitzer Prize. Give context. In your content, let the reader know why you’re a credible source on the topic. Make your content real by admitting your failures and shortcomings, and not just writing inspirationally.

Bottom line.

You might not always think your successes and failures in business are all that exciting or educational – but somewhere out there is dying to learn from them.

JUST IN: Data Shows Excuses Don’t Drive Business Revenue

 

business revenue

“I need to get my ducks in a row.”

“I don’t have the bandwidth right now.”

“I don’t have budget.”

“I need more help”

“We’re going through a rebranding”

…all the while, our competitors are capitalizing on our excuses and reaching, nurturing and closing our missed sales opportunities.

Sure, many of us make promises to ourselves. Eat better, exercise more, drink less, travel more, set goals, blah blah blah. Those would be the most common ones we’re all familiar with. And I’m absolutely not disparaging any of those common (admirable) resolutions. In fact, they’re all on my own list.

This Year’s Priority

For me, this year’s priority is the health of my company’s Sales and Marketing. Not so much about the strategy itself – I’m talking about the hard part: actually doing it.

As the co-founder/President of emagine, I’m fortunate to have our CEO/Co-founder, Brett Cohen, share a lot of the day-to-day distractions and disturbances that do not drive revenue. In fact, I don’t know how anyone does this without a partner. (Stay tuned for a future post on that topic)

Yet, even though I’m in a decent position to focus on Sales and Marketing, I find myself a mere fraction of how productive I need to be. Not a day goes by that I don’t beat myself up over how ineffective I feel in executing the necessary items that will grow revenue.

I can pretty comfortably say that my negligence isn’t laziness. I’m in work mode 24/7/365. Whether that’s actually working, thinking about work or talking about work. (My wife and my sister are even on the emagine sales team. We literally never stop talking about business)

“Sometimes when looking at the big picture, the picture can be too big.”

My Co-founder, Brett, recently said something really astute to an employee that resonated with me: “Sometimes when looking at the big picture, the picture can get too big.”

And I often find myself a victim of that reality, trying to focus on so much that I’m often barely focused on anything at all.

The more the business has grown, the more strategic I’ve become. The more I’ve tried, succeeded and failed, the more real-life lessons I’ve learned. The more clients I’ve observed, the more I’ve benefited from that free education. We’ve certainly done a lot right in selling millions and millions of dollars worth of our services, employing 50 people, creating a great company culture and establishing ourselves as a leader in our target markets.

But, I know how much better we can be. I know how much better I can (or should I say, have to) be. With all of the daily distractions, my excuses might be “valid.” But who cares? Are those excuses going to drive business revenue? Is my sob story going to generate and close new business?

Bottom line? Find a way to do what needs to get done.

Business won’t wait for you to “find time.” Or to “get your ducks in a row.” Make the commitment. Create a plan. Do it. Period.

I am.

What the hell does “marketing” even mean??

 

marketingblog

As I’ve watched the definition of the ambiguous word “marketing” evolve over the years I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what the word actually means (currently).  This is especially important to me right now as I formulate a strategy for 2017 and as I search to make a critical hire to execute on my company’s vision.

I mean, we all know the various components, right? Brand, positioning, messaging, image, targeting, lead generation, events, digital, public relations, nurturing … (need I go on?)

Stay in school kids, please. But …

Before I dropped out, I found my college marketing courses to be relatively ineffective. Some essential basics, a lot of textbook’y theory and very little practical guidance coming from the true experts in the industry.

I never underestimated the importance of studying the marketing experiences of authentic thought leaders. 

So I decided to embark on my own version of a marketing degree – finding and reading a ton of books written by the real experts. In fact, I’ve been asked at several of my speaking engagements for a list of books that inspired me most. Some of my early favorites consisted of:

Managing Sales Leads: How to Turn Every Prospect into a Customer
Scientific Advertising
Direct Mail Copy that Sells
Ogilvy on Advertising
Permission Marketing
Business to Business Direct Marketing
Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got: 21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out-Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition
How to Master the Art of Selling
Awaken the Giant Within

I love social media. But, man, it’s allowed a lot of people to destroy the term “thought leader”
Back when the only way I could find readings by “experts” was to walk into Barnes & Noble, at least I knew I was reading stuff written by one of the elites. Today, it’s nearly impossible to sift through the noise and determine:

Who’s writing about things they’ve actually done and achieved successful (proven) results from? 

Who’s merely a social media “expert” whose only success has come from writing about this stuff, not actually doing an ounce of it … ever?

Marketing should be 10% time spent in conference rooms and 90% doing.

I get the importance of Brand. And nobody can deny that a clearly-defined marketing strategy is essential. Plus, in the world of Digital, there are critical strategic elements that require a lot of thought: personas, customer experience and journey, etc.

Perhaps you don’t have your brand, positioning and messaging clearly defined. So sure, take that 10% of your marketing time and do it now. But don’t let that discovery phase drag on for months while your competition is doing actual marketing and consequentially stealing market share from you.

So back to the question: What the hell does marketing even mean?

What I’m not going to do is the very thing I criticized so-called “thought leaders” for earlier in this post. I’m not going to arrogantly proclaim to know the exact magic marketing mix or the “10 Tactics to Ensure Marketing Success in 2017”.

But I will tell you this: I’m writing from the actual front line, not a social soapbox. I only have 2,200 Twitter followers, not 200,000. I’m not a social media guru or expert. I’m running a real business with 50 employees and a lot of overhead to support, so I only have time to think, read, write and talk about things that will support and grow my business.  

To me, “marketing” in 2017 will mean:

A tightly-defined strategy that will be executed by the best marketers I can hire

Clear definitions of our target markets, decision makers/personas

A ton of high-value, impactful content that will appeal to buyers at each phase of the marketing/sales cycle (sorry that sounds so buzzword’y but it’s critical)

“Content” means blog posts, white papers/e-books, case studies, articles, videos, website copy, online courses/webinars, e-mail and social.

All of that content needs to be perfectly optimized and distributed effectively and consistently to the right folks in the right places (not just plastered recklessly to make me feel good)

It will mean finding that perfect mix of e-mails, phone calls and social engagement with our prospects, tweaking the mix and doing it relentlessly

It might even mean reintroducing some print and direct mail back into the mix (crazy I know!)

It will mean sales and marketing working together, collaboratively and intelligently. Knowing the data on our prospects, feeding them the content they desire, utilizing CRM, marketing automation and sales intelligence tools to optimize our entire lead generation and nurturing processes

It will mean salespeople engaging in Account Based Marketing (ABM) and Social Selling, supported by excellent content provided by their marketing department

And it will mean cutting out all of the fluff and crap that won’t lead to a dollar in revenues and focusing only on those that will.

Next, the difficult task of putting all of the above in action. Stay tuned for the results …

 

Our President’s Video Recap of WordCamp U.S.

emagine recently attended WordCamp U.S. in Philadelphia and, as always, we can’t say enough about the experience. Education, networking, team-building, fun, food, drinks … oh my.

Bill Gadless, our President/Co-Founder put together this recap of our awesome weekend. Please take a few minutes to check it out!

 

No economy expert here. Just a small business owner’s perspective from the front line.

 

economy 

As we wind down a good 2015, I’ve reflected quite a bit on the current business climate.

Let me state that none of this is political, as I’ve never believed that one President or Congress has significant impact on the economy (good or bad). I see the economy as a much bigger force than any given administration’s policies can have significant impact on. I’m hardly an expert, just a small business owner who lives every day observing corporate budgets, hiring, firing, spending, marketing, innovation, etc.

I’ll start by saying that my own company had a good year. We grew on all fronts – revenues, profits and employees. (and of course, expenses … but that comes with the territory) In fact, the strongest year in our history. Could growth have been stronger? Always. But I can’t complain. We achieved some wonderful things this year, moved into sweet new digs, hired some awesome people and continued to knock out killer work for our clients. But this post isn’t about emagine. I digress …

So how is the economy doing?

The period between the financial crisis and now has been very unique. Typically, a recovery is pretty easy to evaluate based on various data: GDP, unemployment rate, consumer confidence – and less formally, even your own personal financial picture.  But this one has been strange …

Media bias

Turn on the news (whichever politically-biased flavor you choose) and hear the variety of contradictory data. Over on MSNBC they’ll have you believe that we are experiencing the strongest economic recovery in history, all due to President Obama. Flip to Fox News and hear their experts pointing out negatives like the “real” unemployment rate and other terms most of us never heard of before. Bottom line? We can’t believe any of them. We officially live in a world where every media outlet has a political agenda. We must form our own opinions – which is what I’m writing about today.

The economy is … kinda pretty good

It’s my opinion that the economy is doing “pretty okay” (my highly-technical economic vocabulary in full effect there). Companies are doing well (some doing great, some poorly) but overall businesses seem to be performing relatively strongly. BUT … they’re behaving much more cautiously than in previous recoveries. One of the unique things about this recovery is that it seems everyone (including me) is constantly waiting for the next crisis. Is the stock market about to crash? Will there be a major terror attack? Is the Fed’s decision to finally start raising interest rates again going to stall everything? I’ve found myself through this entire recovery hoping for it to accelerate. But it just kind of plugs along (hey, that’s much better than recessionary performance – so I’ll take “plugging along”).

The emotional roller coaster
that is Wall Street

As always, the stock market has me on a perpetual emotional roller coaster. The Dow is ending the year in negative territory while the NASDAQ (led by Amazon and Netflix) performed strongly. Apple’s stock has closed lower in 5 of the last 6 months, but analysts expect a big rebound in 2016. Bottom line? Again, who knows?

Jobs

Hiring of skilled workers is strong. I hear a lot about jobs being shipped overseas, etc. Trust me, if you have a technical skill (whether engineering, coding, etc.), there are TONS of high-paying jobs out there. Companies (including mine) are starving for technical talent.

The bad news: a business or marketing degree (even MBA) won’t really get you very far. The job market is focused on technical skills. Students entering the workforce over the next few years are going to be in for a rude awakening if they don’t somehow figure out how to focus on a particular high-demand skill. But they’re not preaching this in universities, which scares me.

So …

All in all, I think we’re in good shape. I’m optimistic about 2016. Companies will continue to invest and hire, but cautiously. The stock market is most likely going to be a tumultuous ride. (I’ll venture a guess predicting a relatively flat year). Interest rates will rise a bit, which will slightly stall the housing recovery. Barring any major tragedies or outside forces, we’re likely looking at another positive year – not quite as great as we’d all like, but better than negative.

Some closing notes:

  • Keep marketing all the time. Be ahead of your competitors in the event of a downturn. When markets get smaller, your share of them becomes more critical.
  • Adapt to change happening all around us. Traditional business principles will never completely go away, but denying cultural and technological trends will lead to the demise of the stubborn.
  • Watch your cash flow. Whether it’s in 2016, 2017 or 2018, we will experience another downturn. Remind yourself of that every day and protect yourself and your employees by having prepared for it.
  • I don’t have kids so I never give parenting advice. But if you have kids, focus on technical skills. Companies will continue to desperately seek more technical talent and those with general degrees will find the job market more and more challenging.
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