Digett State of the Union: 2014 in Review, and Looking Ahead
Tonight at 8pm Central, President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union Address. I’ve not made such a tradition my own, and think now might be a great time to start letting the world know what’s going on at Digett.
It’s time for Digett to be transparent
We’ve always espoused a philosophy of Transparency for our clients, but I’ve frankly not walked the walk, failing to communicate meaningfully over the years with both staff and clients. I’m hoping to correct this in 2015. Before I talk about the year ahead, though, let me talk a little about what happened last year.
Some good, but lots of bad and ugly
My 2014 was arguably a personal disaster. Never would I have imagined facing the challenges brought on by divorce. Trying to run a business while the rest of my life seems to crumble around me has been challenging.
Most difficult has been the change in relationship with my 7-year-old son. Less than one year ago I was able to see him, play with him, hold him and talk to him every day for hours at a time. Now I’m lucky to see my little man for more than just a few hours each week. Worse is knowing how hard this whole change must be on him, and how little influence I seem to have at times to make him feel better.
I still have to manage what remains of the divorce process, and will be dealing with the effects of divorce for years to come. I don’t wish a similar experience on anyone.
Darkest before the light
I’m not complaining, as there is much for which to be thankful. I am coming to understanding how perceived hardship can provide exactly what we need for growth to occur. “No pain no gain” goes a popular expression, and I believe it on many levels.
I’ve been able to leverage the pain brought on by unexpected turmoil in the pursuit of personal growth, and find myself now somewhere higher on the mountain, looking back down on another time when I seemed unable to catch more than rare glimpses of joy. It makes no sense for me to now regret the past, as it must have played an important role in my having found the presence now to find joy all around me.
Mindfulness, I think, is my “Word of the Year,” and has become a rather constant pursuit for me.
A few accomplishments
That Digett has been profitable through my own year of crisis is testament to the skill and maturity of the Digett team. Valarie has done an amazing job keeping us focused and productive, as evidenced by our completion of some 27 client projects. My decision to make her a partner earlier in the year was a good one.
We’ve attracted excellent clients over the years and boast an exceptional retention rate. 2015 marks our fourth calendar year, for example, to work with Everplans, an exciting startup led by a team in NYC of some of the most interesting and enjoyable people we’ve had the pleasure of working with. Same goes for San Antonio-based Padgett Stratemann, whose progressive marketing and IT leadership stretch us at every turn. Of course we added some incredible new clients to the roster in 2014, too. Catto & Catto is one that I’m extremely proud of, and we launched a new website for them in December.
Speaking of retention rate, we’ve built a highly seasoned team of domain experts ourselves, the “newest” of which, J.D. Collier, has been with Digett for over four years. Valarie Geckler is the old-timer of the gang, at seven-plus years, and Amy Peveto has a respectable five years’ time with Digett. In 2014 we also made part-time employees out of two impressive interns, Wes Mills and Jennifer Edwards.
Not all was rosy, admittedly, as is always the case when hiring doesn’t work right. But I’m hopeful that we learn from every hiring experience, regardless of the outcome, and that we’ll have the wisdom to apply that experience on the next go-round. We should have ample opportunity to try to get it right in 2015, as we’re going to need some additional help.
Why not celebrate?
Having closed the books on a profitable year, it seems only fitting that we hold a celebration. We aborted our first attempt due to an illness, but finally got everyone together on January 10 at Il Sogno Osteria (that’s “dream tavern”) at the Pearl for a fabulous dinner.
We upheld our white elephant gift tradition, and I found this year’s exchanges to be particularly funny (and fun). J.D.’s wife, Laurel, showed all of us up with her homemade extension cord Christmas wreath. The woman, by the way, has unparalleled talent in the world of crafts.
So, what’s in store for the year ahead?
We are investing in professional development at Digett like never before. Valarie and I both have joined executive peer groups that are already paying off in the way of ideas and accountability. We each meet monthly for an all-day session with our respective groups to hear outstanding presentations from professional speakers on relevant business topics and to air our own business challenges with other members of the group who, in turn, provide feedback and often ask tough questions.
One direct outcome of the peer group experience is Digett’s implementation of weekly one-to-one meetings between staff. These are 30-minute (or shorter) conversations that keep us better connected with business and personal issues that may not otherwise get uncovered. The goal is not only better overall communication, but also accountability to help keep us all moving in the right direction with our own professional development.
As a team we developed and documented what we refer to as our guiding principles two or three years ago, but we’ve neither made them public nor made them highly visible to assist the positive evolution of our culture. That’s a topic worth writing about, so I’ll share our guiding principles in an upcoming post. Internally we’ll be considering how to best ensure we are reminded of them daily.
I already alluded to more hiring, and 2015 will likely see us expand the team from the current four full-timers to a more robust six.
Additionally, we’ll likely expand reliance on key partners for capabilities where we are either still developing, or where we don’t see a strategic advantage to bringing such capabilities under our own roof. As our content marketing services have grown, so has our dependency on quality external writers. I think partnering is ideal for developing the best content for Digett’s clients because it gives us access to the best editorial talent in any given industry.
As important as anything else in 2015 will be scaling Digett’s business development capabilities. I’ve pretty much been responsible for finding and closing deals since founding the company, and we don’t have the revenue yet to support hiring someone to focus on sales on a full-time basis.
This means I’m going to have to improve my own effectiveness through a combination of better time management and, frankly, conquering the fear that makes me either procrastinate or chase the wrong deals altogether. That’s hard for me to say out loud, but the truth is I’ve got a long history of avoidance behavior that has often hindered not only my own potential, but that of Digett as well. Yes, I’m working on it!
My goal is not selling more deals, but better ones. This doesn’t always mean larger, although we’ll undoubtedly see average project size increase as we focus on deals that are a better match for our skills and our mature processes. Such projects are more profitable, not only because they imply a higher skill set and greater value, but because they often match us with clients who are more prepared to move swiftly and efficiently, thereby allowing us to compress project durations and move on to the next opportunity.
We’ll continue to refine our skills related to demand and lead generation, and hopefully add a few more sucess stories to our growing portfolio. Not only do our lead gen services allow us to provide long-term value to clients, they serve as an important source of consistent and predictable month-to-month revenue. Pairing monthly retainers with fees from project-oriented activities like designing and building websites helps smooth out month-to-month revenue fluctuation and improve predictability.
The biggest, hairiest goal of all
Overall, we’ll look to double our monthly revenue by the end of the year. This is a huge undertaking, and will stretch every muscle in my being. At forty-nine, I’m afraid I’ve developed some well-seated bad habits, and accomplishing this level of growth means replacing them with more functional behavior.
The change will also require our team to work miracles. They’ve proven capable of doing so already, though, and I’m excited about the opportunity that our growth will provide for all of us.
A year of infinite possibility
I can’t predict much about what 2015 will bring, but I can say with certainty — given our determination to change behaviors — it will be exciting. And regardless of what comes our way, I’m betting it’s going to be fun.