For Startup Success, Add Love (of People)

By November 15, 2011

Service is the Secret

On January 1st, 2000, with the New Year and new millennium, I quit my job as an IT recruiter, joined a friend’s newly formed company and started making websites.

By April of 2001, we had formed Orbit Media Studios. We were working hard, building sites, improving our skills and slowly going broke. What we did have was passion, a love for what we were doing and the belief that we could make it work. Today, after 1,000 projects and two recessions, Orbit is a 27-person company with hundreds of happy clients. We owe all of our current success to one thing: service.

In the beginning, I thought the only two skills we required were good design and good programming. They were important, yes, but what I didn’t realize is that the secret sauce, the magic that would propel us from merely surviving to thriving, was much more human. The real trick was listening to clients and caring about their results. The best design and most brilliant programming are worthless unless applied to a real person’s real problem.

Serve your Clients

How do you apply the genius of great design and programming to solve someone’s problem? First, you have to listen closely. Next, you have to care. A lot.

One way to know you really care is to be prepared to recommend another firm, even if it means losing the sale. Another way to see if you’re sincerely caring is to recommend a cheaper approach. You know you truly focused on others’ needs when you freely send clients away to steer them toward a simpler, if less profitable, approach.

“Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or out-sponsor competitors, try to out-teach them.”
Rework, 37 Signals

Serve your Clients’ Clients

The principal of success through service applies to your clients, too. Want to make them successful? Be respectful of their audience. In the web design world, that means great usability for their visitors. In every world, it means honoring what they do and who they do it for.

Guide them toward decisions that lead to real connections with their audience. Steer them away from any type of communications, sales tactics or service ethics that aren’t 100% respectful to their customers. Lately, that means guiding clients away from advertising and toward content marketing.

Content is King. Repeat: Content is King.

Serve Yourselves (Your Team)

The people-centric focus is just as important inside of Orbit. Would anyone want to work for us if we didn’t really care? I wouldn’t. The day that Orbit doesn’t take care of the team is the day I put in my two weeks.

Service is a culture made up of people who care: about the work, the clients and each other. These things create a virtuous cycle. Keeping clients happy has a strange way of making the team happy. When people know you’ve got their back, and they’ve got yours, you’re creating a positive feedback loop.

People don’t quit their jobs. They quit their boss.

Get Served

The reward from this philosophy isn’t immediate and it isn’t always visible. When done right, this approach has an incredible effect on sales. You’ll find that people you met years ago remember you and reach out with possible projects. You’ll start getting referrals from people you’ve never met.

In the end, sales is service. If you’re doing it right, you’re trying to help everyone you meet, however you can. Some of those will align with services you offer. The others are an opportunity to make friends and practice your listening and teaching skills.

“Unless you love everybody, you can’t sell anybody.”
-Dickey Fox, Mentor to Jerry McGuire

Last Word

I worked in restaurants all through high school and college, and learned service in thousands of face-to-face situations. I’ve made a million sandwiches.

Empathy is infectious. Follow the golden rule. In the business of the web, you’ve got to love people. In the end, that’s the only secret.