Whether you want it or not, your company is a big deal. It has some defining characteristic that will be automatically associated with it once people have experienced your brand. The trick is, getting that characteristic to be a positive one.
Keeping your roster filled
I recently sat down with a good friend and business mentor and told him about one of my most irritating problems of late: people. Not clients, my own people on my team. The problem? I couldn't seem to keep them.
Rocket No. 9 is a virtual company by choice. It helps keep overhead down and allows us to explore the opportunities (and the setbacks) of operating in this sort of environment. We have no physical location, and 100% of her employees (aside from the managing members) are freelancers.
Like most companies that work with freelancers on a regular basis, we like to keep using the same ones over and again. It helps establish good relationships that can often pay off in the long run. As a freelancer myself, I feel connected to and respect these folks. I'm always looking at new talent, but as far as establishing relationships, I don't try to jump from one guy to the next willy-nilly.
The problem has been finding folks who are serious about working with us on an ongoing basis. We've had more than one person who turned out to be pretty flaky and it's a bad deal all around: for us, them and the client. When we have to fire someone, I usually take it pretty tough because my dream is to create company that people love to work at and with – when I see that someone is not enjoying our relationship or taking it seriously, it's very hard for me not to take it personally, though I know I shouldn't.
So the question I asked when I sat down with my friend was this: "How can I attract solid, dependable folks to come work for Rocket No. 9" – His answer was another question: "What are your core values?"
Defining your values
Honestly, the question kind of blind-sided me. Beyond what my partner and I had determined the company values should be when we first launched this thing, I hadn't given it much thought. I knew where to start, though. "I want to be a company that's recognized for it's integrity and dependability," I told him.
"Okay," he said. "Then you need to establish those expectations from the moment you begin to interview someone." He went to explain how I should put these core values front and center for the company and all who do business with us, and to lead with those values when talking with potential freelancers. Rather than ask them to whip out their portfolio, ask them where they stand on these values. How would they handle certain situations that don't necessarily include Photoshop and HTML?
Asking the right questions
If I ask you to tell me what you know about Enron, you likely won't mention first that they traded energy. You'll tell me what they've become known for: scandal and greed. Inasmuch, establishing the core values for your business will help you set guidelines for how your run your business and thus help you control how the public perceives you. A counselor once told me: "You can teach what you know, but you'll ultimately reproduce what you are." Meaning, the values you hold yourself to will be what ultimately shines through in the midst of company turmoil or professional conflict. Understanding these values though, sometimes means asking some tough questions:
- What would you do if an employee was found to be embezzling money?
- How would you handle a long-term client that suddenly demanded more than you could handle or afford?
- What if your company hit rock-bottom and had to sell or go out of business – how would you handle the customers you have?
- What do you want in a successor to your position?
Defining company values is something that should be required right out of the gate, but unfortunately, too many businesses (like mine, admittedly) try to make something up as we go along, hoping we'll fall into it one day. Well, it's true: you can either define your perception now or someone else will define it for you.