Today is a new day for Siege Media. After five years in business, we’ve evolved to a second version of the website, and with it, what feels like a second stage in the business.
Today, a new brand identity is born. Our previous version of the website worked for five years and at the time, I think even separated us from other agencies in the early stages who were unwilling to actually invest in a website.
Five years later, now at 34 employees, it was time to take the investment further and grow up into an adult agency. One whose website reflected the quality of the work it was doing.
What’s New at Siege Media
Although we’re excited about the redesign, it’s not all that’s new at Siege Media in the last few months. We now have a video marketing offering to fully round out our ability to create any kind of content that ranks, and also helps you rank.
We recently achieved some recognition as one of the Fastest Growing Companies in San Diego, a nice honor. Even better, we made the 2017 Inc. 5000 as one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. And on September 1st, we open our 2nd office in Austin, Texas.
As I noted previously, we’re starting to do some things. But there’s still a lot more to do.
Lessons Learned in Five Years
A lot has happened in five years, so it’s difficult to distill every micro lesson into one blog post. But if I had to distill the core ideas of why we’ve grown to where we are now, and what makes me confident in feeling the possibility of getting to a next stage, it would come from the following five points.
1. Don’t Care About Money But Always Charge
We are not a venture-backed startup. So we don’t do things like grasp at user growth without monetization. Every bit of work we are tasked to do, we charge for it… and that enables this strategy to work and stay afloat.
But along that path, we don’t care about money. Honestly, I never have. I didn’t quit my last job because of money. I quit because I was micromanaged… and knew I had built the platform to build a business and not deal with it.
Paradoxically, though, we care desperately about growth. I, and the company, have always wanted to grow. Money has never been the goal, but something about being stagnant has always frustrated me. When I see people unhappy with their situations and sticking in them, I feel frustrated. When I do the same thing day after day, I feel frustrated. It’s the new challenges of growth that excite me.
Of course, money is part of that equation. We have to charge to do it. But that has fulfilled that growth along the way has been the want-to to actually deliver increasingly better work for our customers, and not just make a dollar.
Literally every single client in our five year history I felt we have not done a good job for, I have refunded, attempted to, or broken up amicably with the moment we felt that happening. If we need to make a decision to ship something to stay profitable or eat the cost to make it better… we eat the cost, every time.
Part of that helps my heart, but if I’m being honest, I 100% know this is the best long-term business decision, too. That’s the thing: not caring about money is very often the best thing for your money… if you’re willing to play the long game. We are. You should be too.
2. Care Deeply About Doing the Right Thing
It’s hard to put numbers to this or pull out “ROI”, but there’s no doubt in my mind that my want-to to do the right thing for every person in our company has resulted in good things for our company, too.
I feel gratitude knowing that today’s environment enables this. Do right by people, do right by your customers, and they reward you. That’s pretty awesome.
In essence and in practice, here are a few examples of how we’ve done this:
- Giving people aggressive raises before year-end salary reviews, but rather, when they deserved it.
- Actively noticing when people seem to not be enjoying themselves at work and proactively working to solve it and/or find a better fit for them, even if outside the company.
- Helping people within the company move to new projects that can help move along career/skill growth or otherwise, making sure to lay out the appropriate path to new positions or opportunities.
- Aggressively pursuing upward feedback/immediately acting on anything that may impact office environment and/or their ability to do a good job or enjoy themselves at work.
- Caring actively about developing related but not direct internal skills through Lunch and Learns, conferences or paid training.
By no means am I perfect at all of the above things. As we’ve grown, that perfection has likely taken some hits. But we’re working on making it a staple and solving where it’s not. I know the above bullets are big contributors to why we’ve managed to maintain 95% retention YOY. And really, I’m happy to see people leave if that means their career takes a leap.
That, in turn, has enabled us to do better work for clients. And that, in turn, has enabled us to grow. And that, in turn, has enabled us help grow people’s careers faster than they may have otherwise done so. I feel pretty good about that.
3. Break Slowly and Keep the Glue Handy
Growing pains are inevitable for every business. As it turns out, five years ago, I had never run a two person company. Or a three person. As of today, I’ve never ran a 35 person company. But heck, I sure can tell you how to (serviceably) run a 30 person company.
Things will break. You’ll notice the water leaking out of the cracks. The thing about growth, though, is that even if you want it to occur, as long as you don’t care about it happening fast, you’ll have time to fix the cracks.
They’ll kinda hurt for a second, but they won’t hurt for long: as long as you’re willing to grow, hurt a bit and take the bumps that come with it.
We’ve had some of those breaks. If it’s helpful at all, here are the stages when I felt the cracks for our business.
- ~5-7 employees: Personal ability to do executional work dissipates. Delegate and trust your people. After doing this, stress dropped dramatically because I was no longer the personal bottleneck.
- ~15 employees: Personal ability to do strategic work dissipates. Consider hiring new staff, cutting off that service or training existing employees who are now managerial level to take that over for you.
- ~20 employees: Administrative/HR processes break down. Hire a first non-billable employee to assist or outsource. Having handled it all on my own, we had lackluster benefits, office environment was lacking, and I occasionally paid contractors late because of bandwidth issues… not because I didn’t want all of these to be perfect.
- ~20-25 employees: Training inefficiencies become apparent. The team now has multiple levels in the pipeline, which means any weakness in your training process results in employees who don’t get up to speed fast enough/aren’t properly prepped. Implement proper processes/proactively pursue upward feedback from new employees.
- ~25 employees: Hiring becomes a struggle. Even in San Diego, hiring on the go means the pipeline isn’t deep enough to support our demand as our hiring pace picks up.
We haven’t fully solved all these issues, but we’re trying. We’re hoping a few awards and a new website might help attract a few creative people, along with other benefits. But we’re not quite there… yet. Need a job?
4. Build All the Processes… As You Need Them
We’ve never been super process heavy. But as we’ve grown, I understand the need for them… especially given how they enable all of the above things. How in the world can you say you care about someone’s career growth at a big company if you haven’t laid out a clear organizational growth path to support that?
I care about people growing their career and skills. But how does that scale? How can you say that’s happening for employee 20, who you talk intimately with once a month, if that? Process. Not implementing that process means their career doesn’t grow, and thereby, you most likely do worse work because they are unaware of what’s needed to get their career to grow.
Similarly, how can you say you care about your customers and doing good work for them if you’re not personally pushing in the process and philosophy for point one and two every chance you can? You can’t. Only process can do that.
But on the opposite side, process is a distraction. I don’t need an org chart today. I could spend a day building it, but that would distract from things that matter. If you’re capable and willing to fix things expeditiously the second they show cracks, and also enable a company culture that makes people feel comfortable quickly suggesting upward feedback, nothing will break. Because you will catch and fix problems the moment they start happening.
With this feedback loop, it means you can relentlessly focus on the problems of the moment, which enables growth to occur. Good growth. Healthy growth. Inc. 5000 kind of growth.
5. Relentlessly Cut Out Bullshit
Over the years, I’ve noticed some people in our industry spend a lot of mental bandwidth stressing over things at the end of the day had no real impact on their lives or otherwise, simply didn’t make them happy.
Things like other noisy people in the industry, their clients, their customers, their competitors, their significant others, or anything else that might take up bandwidth. Facebook posts. Twitter feeds. Donald Trump.
We’ve done okay to date, I think, because I and in parallel the team, have stayed focused, and relentlessly cut those things out. Unfollowed someone because they became a distraction. Completely ignored politics because they weren’t contributing to happiness or productivity. Ignored competitors. Stopped checking Twitter because it inevitably was a distraction from actually doing good, helpful work.
I do my best to promote work-life balance at Siege Media. It doesn’t always work… and that’s always my fault. But within that, I do promote focus and caring about your work. This caring means that our team’s 40-55 hours is better than your team’s 60-70. Because we’re dialed in within those hours.
In five years, I might sometimes only spend 8-9 hours a day focused on work on an average day. For some, it might seem that it’s a requirement to spend 10+ to grow a business. But in those 8-9 hours, I probably spend 10 total minutes not hyper focused on what we do… even at lunch. I don’t check Facebook. I don’t refresh my Twitter feed just to do it. I don’t read news headlines. Because I care and enjoy doing our specific work, and I try finding and keeping people that do too.
If you do that, and you actually care about the work you’re doing, great work is possible… while still maintaining work-life balance. Because your hours are focused, and hugely productive within those moments. Your 8-9 hours are actually the equivalent of 1.5x any 9-11 hour average because of that focus.
What Happens Next?
What happens after five years? Where do we go from here? I honestly don’t know. But I’m pretty confident if the above five things hold intact, the results will be just fine. Similarly, I’m confident they will for you too.
Let’s keep growing.