Monday, August 31, 2009

What's your responsibility to your employer?

I was reading an article on-line about Mayor Menino, Shirley Kressel and the Boston Redevelopment Agency. Shirley Kressel, a landscape architect, is a long time voice against the BRA and has been lobbying for its demise, as have the candidates running against Menino in Boston's mayoral race. I have many opinions about the race, the candidates and the issues surrounding them, but I will not share them here. Instead, what I'd like to explore are the individual responsibilities we have to our employers when it comes to political activism, particularly those whose work is primarily in the public sector.

It's reasonable to say that if you owned a design firm that was working with or hoped to secure work with a particular public agency you would not hire a candidate with a history of opposing your client/prospect. It just doesn't make business sense. But what if you hired someone that had no obvious opinions about your clients/prospects, at least not initially, but then began publicly announcing, either through words or actions, that they held disdain for them? As an employer what are your options? Can you ask the employee to abstain from sharing their views on the client and/or prospect, even if it stifles their freedom of speech? Can you fire them if their activism becomes problematic in securing work from the client/prospect, without risking a wrongful termination lawsuit? And from the employee side, do you have an obligation to abstain from becoming involved in a political campaign/cause that has the potential to negatively affect your employer, even if it's something your believe strongly in?

I imagine these questions will become more prevalent with the increasing adoption of social media. Social media gives everybody a (louder) voice while giving more controls to employers wanting to keep tabs on what their employees are up to outside of the office (which in itself brings up another ethics question - should employers keep tabs on employees' personal lives just because the tools are available to do so?).

As information becomes easier to share and get it brings up new questions related to appropriate employer/employee relationships. If your firm starts thinking about them now so that there is a strategy (that's been run through legal) in place your job will be easier when (if) you run into the questions posed above. And if you've already been in any of the above situations and have feedback you'd like to share, I'd love to hear it.

Image credit: Sniderscion on Flickr

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Breaking the rules and transfering from Blogger to Wordpress

Before I started my blog I began reading lots of other blogs to get the lay of the land. I started commenting and engaging with blog authors and I began looking for tips on beginning your own blog. One of those tips, which I am now breaking, is to pick a platform and stick with it - forever. I choose Blogger. It was free, I already had a google account, it had the functionality I was looking for and it had an easy interface that made posting to it a breeze.

Two years later and I no longer think it's the best tool for me. Wordpress is easier to customize, stats are built right in and there's more flexibility to the design and different pieces of content you can add.

So here I am breaking one of the rules. I'm migrating to Wordpress. For the time being I'll keep both blogs going while I get a hang of Wordpress. And I'll think of what to do with the two years of content living at Blogger; let it live there or transfer it to Wordpress one post at a time.

For now you can find me at Blogger and Wordpress, both with the title Marketing Engagement by Valerie Conyngham. It's where I post about everyday marketing ideas that strike me, with a particular bent toward the design industry, as in architectural.

And if you're thinking about breaking any of the rules, I'd say go for it. Remember, technology changes often and our best offensive strike is to be flexible. Live by rules, but not rigidly.

Image credit: Flickr user givepeaceachance

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Free 2009 Calendar - Download September

September's calendar design is inspired by back to school season. It is meant to evoke transition. I choose the color blue for September, not to comment on the blues of leaving summer behind, but rather to play upon the popular uniform color which many of Boston's children don.

Click here to download September from my website.

Print on 5x7 card stock. I use eco-white from Paper Source.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Building a Better Website

I've been thinking a lot about websites. Primarily because I'm embarking on a redesign for my firm's website and I've been on the hunt for "example" sites that I like. Through that research one thing has become strikingly apparent - architectural websites are terrible. They're overladen with Flash, egocentric in the way they only focus on the firms' portfolio (i.e. there is no content contained within to educate their audiences on any issue(s) they may be struggling with) and for the most part they're all the same - firm, portfolio, news, contact. There has to be a better way. And the first step to finding a better way is to realize the AEC community is like any other service business - they're job is to make money vis a vis trading services. And those services are usually purchased on trust and reputation.

When looking for a service provider there are key things you look for - reputation, alignment of services offered with needs, trust and value.

Reputation can be earned through existing client relationships, which in turn create word of mouth referrals to your firm. Reputation can also be enhanced through media stories (assuming they're positive) and through the reputations of individuals that serve as the face of your organization. These types of things generate content for a firms' news section. Something most firms are already incorporating into their on-line presence.

For alignment of services with needs we're going to assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the visitors to your website need the services you provide. Your only responsibility is clearly communicating what services you provide. Remember - you don't have to be everything to everyone. Focus on what you do best and communicate that.

Now the meatier part - value. Let's think about how a design firm can provide value. Hint - it has nothing to do with fees. Instead it's giving clients value for their investment. A design firm can do this in many ways. As an example, perhaps you differentiate yourself through a unique public engagement process that's been shown to generate buy-in from stakeholders earlier in the design phase. That's valuable; buy-in is key in many projects and getting it earlier in the design process saves time and money. Tell your prospects about it through case studies that show solid metrics, post the case studies on your website and drive traffic to them through SEO optimization, e-newsletters, status updates in LinkedIn, etc. Or maybe your visualization services are superior to other firms, explain that to you prospects by telling them why it's important. Does it save them money, or make approval processes easier, or does it make the overall project less time consuming? Talk about your visualization services in the context of how they will solve your prospects' problems, not in the context of "look how pretty these are." Explain what you mean by visualization and give solid examples. Tie the examples back to metrics if you can.

Now on to trust. Trust is a lot harder to win on a website, particularly a static one. But by incorporating a blog into your website you have a vehicle to start a conversation with your prospects. A blog can be used to position members in your firm as thought leaders. It gives people a forum for expressing ideas and communicating thoughts and if comments are allowed (and they should be) it gives readers an opportunity to interact with the blog's writer(s) which will put you on the road to gaining trust. However, before incorporating a blog make sure you have buy-in and commitment from the would be authors. There's nothing worse than a blog that goes for weeks on end with no updates.

The above isn't an exhaustive list of things that would make AEC websites (or any websites) better, but it's a start and I hope it makes you think a little harder about the content you're incorporating. The point to leave with is showing a bunch a pretty pictures, while attractive, doesn't tell your prospects why you're better. You need to explain that through non-promotional, educational content.

While a picture is worth a 1000 words, your competitors "1000 words" are just as appealing.

Oh, and heavy flash sites are just annoying. They take up a lot of bandwidth, some companies restrict access to flash sites on their employees' computers and if the version of flash you've built your site with isn't compatible with the version a prospect has on his or her computer you can guarantee they're leaving your site before setting (the figurative) foot in it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Top 10 Twitter Tips for the Design Crowd

The design industry is embracing social media a little more every day. The AIA published an article for architects using Twitter, Engineering News Record wrote about firms’ goals for Twitter and each day you can find more design professionals sending out tweets. Like all social media tools Twitter has its advantages and disadvantages, but until you dive in you wont know what potential it holds for your company. Personally, I’ve been on Twitter for a couple years, but didn’t use it much at first. Now I’m addicted. I’m following great people and finding new information everyday. Recently I’ve added my firm to Twitter. It’s just getting started, but I’m already seeing the potential, especially as our clients start joining and tweeting. If you’re thinking of putting your firm on Twitter I’ve got some tips for you to help ease your transition. Here are my top 10:
  1. Dive in personally, then transfer what you’ve learned to help your company succeed on Twitter.
  2. Concentrate on quality of followers, not quantity of followers
  3. Share valuable content, remember it’s not all about you
  4. The RT (that’s twitter speak for retweet) is the equivalent of telling someone “hey, I like what you’ve got to say.”
  5. Follow people. You don’t want to be that company that’s only interested in having people listen to them. Not sure who to follow? Find a few people you respect on Twitter and check out who they’re following.
  6. Expect organic growth, rarely are there overnight successes on Twitter or any platform for that matter.
  7. Participate. Twitter, like any social media platform, is only as good as the effort you’re willing to invest in it.
  8. Let people know you’ve joined twitter - add a link in your email signature, blog about it, talk it up in your newsletters.
  9. Follow people in your industry and learn from them.
  10. And because Twitter can turn into a huge time suck if you let it, get organized. Use an application like TweetDeck to categorize the people you follow by topic, get notice of your mentions and direct messages, shorten your URLs and handle multiple Twitter accounts, all within the same window.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Not Everybody has to Like You

We all want to be liked; it’s human nature. And we often carry that need into our businesses. We’re not likely to turn down a paying opportunity, particularly in today’s economic environment. But there are many we shouldn’t be wasting our time on.

In recessionary times our firms’ mantras tend to shift from niche, niche, niche to diversify, diversify, diversify. Diversification is important. The firms that focused all past efforts on developer projects are likely not doing that well today. Those that focused solely on municipal work are probably doing OK today, but what about tomorrow. The point is, diversification is an important strategy, provided the execution is smart. It’s when firms take the position of trying to be everything to everybody, just to get work in the door, where things start to fall apart.

I’m sure you’ve noticed your competition on any number of job opportunities has increased. But if you take a close look at the competition you can break it down into three categories:

  1. The usual suspects; all qualified to win the job.
  2. The bottom feeders, you know, the guys that are sort of qualified, but appear even more qualified when they start low-balling the bid.
  3. And then there are the firms that are diversifying.

Number three isn’t too much of a worry for you. Yes, you may be among 40 respondents instead of 10, but those that are qualified will rise to the top. Those diversifying for the sake of diversifying aren’t going to get much consideration (unless they hold brand creed and the prospect is swayed by that over credentials which is another post altogether).

The firms that are scared and turning that nervousness into a diversification strategy that’s more akin to ready, fire, aim are setting themselves up for failure. Instead they should reflect on their strengths, put thought into where true areas for growth are and pull together a strategy to enter those markets in addition to their existing ones. Better yet, develop and execute your diversification strategy before you need one. But when crafting it, remember, not everyone has to like you. It’s only important to be liked by the ones offering the projects that are a fit for your firms’ strengths.

Originally written for Help Everybody Everyday

Image Credit: wanderinghome on flickr