It’s blazing hot this summer! As I go through drafts and drafts of manuscripts, I have one beacon of hope: ice tea in a box.
Here are some pictures of what’s happening these days….
Coming to the end of a three year project. Can’t wait to see the final book published…. Tamar; the Art of Construction by me!
Handling deadlines is a bit of a balancing act. I do not fancy myself an acrobat so being organised is #1. Trust in your team’s ability and your client’s deliverability is what needs to be built; being professional, organised and above all, polite in the face of challenges is a task in itself.
Partnership of 1 to 1….
I have had many successful projects and the ones which worked the best were partnerships with one single point of contact, typically a CEO or a c-suite executive. This partnership has always been key as they strategically knew what they were looking for and more importantly, once presented with the options, the single point of contact was able to make quick decisions. This ability to consider vast issues and make decisions under tight deadlines is critical to the success of any multi-million dollar project.
Creating a plan
In the engineering world, this is called a programme. Map out all the major tasks and marry them to a timeline. The point of this exercise is to find conflict in both manpower and deadlines. Amend as you see fit and find solutions for the challenges ahead. One should be respectful that you are only a small facet of their everyday work. There are times in when you will need a senior executive’s eye will be needed to sense check issues. If you can map out what will be needed from them at what time, the expectation will be better set for both parties.
Flexibility can be built into your plan, but how does one handle unforeseen challenges without throwing the schedule back a few weeks? A sub contract falling through, a delay in the timeline, a critical member of the team takes leave…. Think strategically about the challenge: budget, timeliness, manpower, etc. How will this blip in the radar affect the bigger picture? Sit down and write out a plan on how to move forward. This segways into transparency. Change is the one thing which is certain, so be open about this. Clients are not interested in hearing about the challenges. They want solutions so provide them with succinct solutions to the issues at hand.
Your brand reputation is of great importance in the industry so do what you say and keep your promises. It is important to keep to your weekly deadlines and offer to report back to your clients on a bi-weekly basis. Every few months, offer to provide an update to the executive team in the form of a short report or a 10 minute PPT.
No one can be too organised, so get into the habit. Be honest to both yourself and your client in setting the expectations on the plan of attack. Face surprises head on and find solutions. Above all, finish well. May I raise a flute of champagne to everyone on the team….Salute!
Free? Who works for free in this town? The tough ethnic Chinese peasant inside me says: never! But the reality is that I am a big hearted person who loves to give back – same as the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers around who donate their valuable time each time to help others out.
So how does one balance “free” and “paid” work in our 24/7 work environment?
If it’s not for charity, working for free is not something I recommend. But the question begs: When should one work for free?
Interning: In Hong Kong, the free labour is illegal after the implementation of the minimum wage law. But in saying that, working for lowly wages is nearly free and something we have all done to gain experience. This would be an instance to apply this philosophy as one has to start from somewhere.
Clients: In a business with new clients, there is a courting phase of give a take. A couple of times, even after we have won the pitch, there is still a further stage in the process. For instances like this, I have implemented a ‘taster’ which gives the client a rough sketch with fleshed out examples of what we will do for them, but not the whole picture. This is strictly free and I see it more as an investment into building a successful relationship.
Charity: Strategy, content, websites, brochures, speaking gigs…. These are things which I have done for free in the past few weeks for issues and charities I believe in. There is a time to be giving away one’s services for free but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater! There are ways to leverage on the ‘free services’ as you give back but striving to do good comes from the heart so dig down and stay focused!
- Networking: Pro Bono work is a great way to meet new clients while also getting to know the local scene – and help grow it. This is a perfect opportunity to ‘talk shop’ and be part of the change you want to see.
- Branding: How about being positioned a ‘sponsor’ and getting your logo placed on their marketing material? Just being there, and having your name and your company’s name on their roster helps promote your brand.
- Recruiting: Being part of the community connects you together with young up and coming talent. Take this opportunity to find your next winning business development manager or account manager.
While we are all focused on the P&L for each account, we need to sometimes come out of the well to take note of the rest of the landscape around us. Being connected to our community is important, as is growing your business year on year. Find a balance between the two and remember to give back, for free!
Is there a secret formula for keeping a client happy? Many are seemingly adept at this so are they just naturally blessed and more importantly, how can we leverage on this blessing? In my experience, the only thing which makes a client truly happy is your ability to deliver what they want on time. Here are three points which might help you along the way.
1) Define what the Expectation is: At the very start, it is important to first listen to what the client is looking for: branding, more media coverage, better content, B2B marketing, the list goes on. The aim is to fulfill their needs and wants with the toolbox of skill set that you and your agency has. Don’t be afraid to talk about the budget as there can be wiggle room to be had to sell up. Take their aim and define (in words everyone understands!) specifically what will be done to “reset” expectations. A consensus needs to be met by both parties which will lead to harmony!
2) Be Organised: I can not stress this enough. Lists, systems, memos, briefings, emails, presentations. While others are short term reapers, the ones who retain the client over years are the ones who pay attention to the nuance and the details. To keep projects on track, to meet the KPIs and to deliver strategic prowess, be organised. By doing that, remember to keep on top of the bi-monthly updates. This is a standard system set up for many agencies and something to keep up to date. We know how things can just ‘slide’ and the book can quickly become outdated. The updates are the perfect time to check in, talk about changes to the grand plan and bounce new ideas off the client. As well, it keeps the client abreast while giving them the perfect platform to see you shine.
3) Meeting or Exceeding Expectation: Consistency is what one should strive for as slow and steady wins the race. Do not over-promise what you and or your vendors can achieve. While the goal posts may shift, this should be a gradual and controlled process where the client is informed on every step of the process on how this will affect the day to day workflow, the overall planning and the budget. Walking them through changes and or ‘surprises’ can be the difference between an all out crisis and just a ‘challenging’ day.
In summary, this is the communication business, so we can all learn how to better communicate! Start with first listening about their objective. Then set to agree on an understanding on the timing, methodology and budget behind the execution. Create systems to help organise the team as the devil is in the details! It is the goal of every client relationship to exceed expectations so be open and proactive on managing changes. This will put you in the ideal position to foster a long term relationship with your client of choice.
I am so excited as in a few months, I will be putting to bed the biggest (literally!) book in my career. Tamar, the Art of Construction will be about the design and construction of the +HK$5billion Hong Kong Government and Legislative Council headquarters. We expect the book will be complete and in our client’s hands by the beginning of 2013!
As the author and project director of this monumental project, I am so very proud of all the frontline staff who dedicated years of their lives to make this a reality. Here are a couple of pictures to wet you appetite!