Moving From “Service Provider” to “Business Partner”

I’ve been telling our employees and clients at Rocket No. 9 lately that we’re undergoing a shift. Kind of a big one. There’s some restructuring going on in leadership, but more importantly, the core focus of the company as a whole is changing.

Previously, we’d been in the service game. It was a noble pursuit, but one that has ultimately left me unfulfilled. The typical project goes like this:

  • Client calls, has a project for us
  • We spec out the project, offer an estimate
  • Client agrees, money changes hands, project starts
  • Project finishes, money changes hands again
  • We shake the client’s hand and wish them farewell till our next project.

While I’m thrilled that we’re able to keep putting out great work and we keep getting good projects from loyal clients, there is something missing in the equation: intimacy. Not between-the-sheets kinda stuff, but just the human touches that give a project and company a sense of being “real”.

Being “real” is something Rn9 has struggled with over the last few years. We are a virtual company by nature, and we do that intentionally. So how do we convey ourselves with the charm of a Mom and Pop store on the corner when we have no physical address? Intimacy. Relationships.

In my recent “State of the Union” address to my employees, I stated very clearly that we were no longer going to be a “one-stop-shop” for all things marketing. We were no longer going to take on projects willy-nilly and dishing out estimates and deliverables. That kind of process is great for a company to get going with steam, but in the long run it doesn’t pan out because there is no root to the relationship. We’re viewed as nothing  more than a commodity expense, on par with paying the cable bill.

As I thought about my company being “just another expense” – it sickened me. It’s not what my original intentions were and I sure wasn’t going to let it happen now, even though to many of our clients, it already had.

I announced that we were getting out of the service game. We weren’t going to be like every other shop that just dished out websites and blogs and graphics and business cards and letterheads. We were getting into the partner game.

 Chester Cadieux, founder of Tulsa-based QuikTrip Corporation gave a speech in 1991 that showed the beloved convenience store chain being in a similar situation. As convenience stores flooded the country, and fast-food chains with drive-thrus added to the competition and stole away much of the “convenience” of being a convenience store, they were faced with a hard decision: evolve or die. “Convenience stores were no longer a valid concept,” he said.  They took 10 years to make the transition from being Convenience Stores to being Gasoline Retailers and have never looked back. Cadieux maintains that “Traditional conenience stores will fail. Traditional gasoline units will fail. Weak fast food companies will continue to be squeezed out as will weak supermarkets, drug stores and even mass merchandisers.”

“The time had come to be a destination.”

And that’s what we’re doing – shifting from being a run-of-the-mill web shop to being a destination for small businesses who want to grow their online brand experience. We will be powerful in a handful of ways so that our clients will consider us a partner, not an expense. Our partners will gladly write the checks because they have the understanding that they’ll get their money back in spades within a reasonable amount of time. We’re stepping in to help them grow, not hope they grow.

The one-dimensional way of doing business has got to end. If you want what you’re creating to outlast you, you’ll have to ensure that it connects with people in more than a rudimentary way. It needs to leave a lasting impression that sparks vision, emotion and desire, not just a dollar-figure.

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