Many different cultures and countries around the world have variants of the proverb: ‘The cobbler’s children have no shoes’, meaning that the person or entity involved fails to give themselves the benefit of their own professional expertise. Think the tailor with the ill-fitting suit or the marketing agency with the incoherent brand. It is our experience that this holds true for many smaller service businesses, so why might that be, what are some of the opportunity costs and what can be done to rectify it?
It all starts with mindset
If ever we hear language akin to ‘squeezing it in’ or ‘if we have time’ with reference to a company’s own marketing, for example, we can confidently predict that the proverb will apply. The issue is not that clients’ work is taking priority, which may be the right decision at a given moment, rather it is the mindset that ‘squeezing it in’ would be appropriate for a company’s own marketing. None of us would never think about a client’s work or brand like that, so why our own? Unless and until this mindset changes, and a company’s own brand is considered as important as its client’s, that business will likely find excuses for never quite ‘getting round to it’ or not having the marketing or brand that it needs and deserves.
Capacity management and assignment needs to be proactive
‘Squeezing it in’ is another way of saying that we will wait to see how things turn out, and in the happy event that we have some spare capacity (which may or may not be of the right quality and quantity), then we will assign that to our own marketing. It is a reactive stance with all of the attendant downsides: it is uncertain at best, it does nothing to match the right resources to the challenges of the work, creates no commitment to achieving the outcome or any likelihood that the resulting outputs will dovetail with other elements of marketing to enable a timely and coherent campaign.
One reason may be that a business doesn’t know or plan its capacity. This will usually mean that week after week, month after month, it is losing great chunks of it through inefficiencies that it could easily have avoided: consistent over-servicing of clients with all of the hidden opportunity costs is a typical example. Another is failure to recognise opportunities to reassign work across teams to enable a better alignment of resources to work-type, which could have driven up quality and speed of delivery and freed up the ideal resources for in-house work.
Cultural commitment is key
Combine an appropriate mindset with proactive capacity management, and we begin to create the opportunity for success. This will require committing to ourselves to deliver the desired outputs by a deadline in exactly the same way as we would for a client, by devoting the necessary quality and quantity of resources and running the systems and processes that we have honed over time. The culture of the business must then respect this commitment as much as any other in the face of day to day pressures. In-house work should attract the same passionate advocacy as any other, and arguments in favour of not reassigning capacity in the heat of battle, for example, should hold equal weight.
An opportunity to walk in our clients’ shoes
At the risk of over-stretching our chosen proverb, in-house work also creates an opportunity to experience the processes that we invite our clients to follow. To benefit from this, we should use all of the same templates, systems and ways of working: for example, in briefing, approvals and evaluation. We might find that a particular template is not very user-friendly, or that a process feels time-consuming relative to the perceived benefit. It may be that when we come to write down and explain our value-proposition, it no longer resonates in the way it once did because the market and with it, customers’ expectations have moved on.
A chance to cascade understanding and develop talent
If we attach the appropriate mindset, capacity management and cultural alignment to in-house work, then managing it to a successful conclusion will represent a meaningful challenge that carries a weight of responsibility.
What a great opportunity to challenge selected staff members to champion and lead the project, and advocate internally for the resources they need, the quality of the work required and to meet the requisite deadlines! This is a very long way from ‘squeezing it in’ - now our in-house work has assumed a wholly different prestige - it becomes a privilege and personal development opportunity to be asked to lead this work, and to share the resulting insights and lessons for the business.
In summary, it is easy, and sometimes tempting in the face of everyday pressures to frame our work on our own brand or business as a ‘hassle’ or something to be ‘squeezed in’ around ‘client work’. This mindset tends to be accompanied by approaches to work and capacity planning, and internal cultures that create a self-fulfilling prophecy, expressed in the ‘cobbler’s shoes syndrome’.
There are many opportunity costs that flow from this, some of which are described in this blog. Yet the extent of the biggest of them is something we may never know: the number and value of prospective clients who noticed how well we practice what we preach, judged that we came up short and looked elsewhere.
The way to avoid this and to transform the other opportunity costs into rich opportunities, is to commit fully to becoming a client of your own business, with all of the systems, processes and ways of working that this entails.