On digital strategy consulting & problem solving

“What can you get for $5,000?”

The cost of strategy

On the road speaking last year, I was fond of asking people at lunch tables a lot of questions. For whatever reason, people would answer me and it was always informative.

One of my favorite questions was, “If you could apply $5,000 to solve one problem right now within your company’s website what would it be?”

The answers would vary. Sometimes, it was wishing they could change the entire site. Other times, it was simple things. Or least things that seem simple on the surface but are more complicated you drill down further:

  • How do we manage our content so it’s not outdated?
  • I wish our site could do __________.
  • We’re thinking of getting rid of CMS, but don’t know where to start. It’s all too complicated and I can’t wrap my head around all of it.
  • We need a tool to fix this [one off problem or recurring project.]
  • Should we be on Tumblr/Snapchat/Instagram/Ello/This.cm/Friendster/newmyspace?

The problem with consulting

Digital strategy consulting is the Wild West, because there’s no real way to have any idea if anybody knows what they’re talking about. Sure, you can see a portfolio and call a few references. But just because it worked for one company, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Other times, you outgrow consulting relationships like real ones. The relationships become more personal, you start to get attached and it’s hard to breakup even if it’s good for your company’s bottom line to see what else is out there.

You get up-charged, upsold and tethered to arrangements that seem never ending when all you really want is someone to level with you. Now for consultants, I realize time is money and it doesn’t really benefit anybody to have a person on the phone calling every ten minutes to nickel and dime you out of house and home.

The problem is, most companies don’t need consistent help. They just need the right advice at the right time and that’s a hard thing to find a provider for.

For years, I’ve been thinking about solving problems. Not clogged toilets or how to figure out your HVAC, but problems revolving around company websites. Site migrations, content problems and everything in-between. I’ve written thousands of pages of copy, trained many hundreds of content authors and have sat through more CMS implementations in the past eight years or so than I can count on two hands.

I’ve also worked with a lot of consultants.

Most of the time, we benefit a great deal from the relationship. But I’m finding more and more companies are simply struggling in the digital space because they don’t know where to go.

It’s a lot like being in the toilet paper aisle at a large supermarket.

How do you begin to determine which brand of toilet paper is the best? You know you need it. But by the time you get it home, it’s too late.

More importantly, who has that kind of time?

At the end of the day, you pick a brand. Consulting works the same way, eventually you pick a partner and you work with somebody. The work has to be done, after all. Usually, you bring people in to help with big problems because you can’t find anyone to help with the small problems. I understand this problem, because as we mentioned before time is money.

An experiment

I’ve spent over a decade in diverse companies and institutions like colleges & universities helping them solve large and small problems related to digital strategy in roles of increasing responsibility. My energy doesn’t abate really, but I have been beleaguered by how little you can get done being on the inside.

For years, I’ve thought to myself there had to be a better way. Talking to people over the past few years, I realize I’m not the only one who feels this way and it led me to a particular idea that’s been nagging at my head of late.

I just want to help.

I get a rush from helping people solve issues that have been on the docket for years. I’ve seen a lot of different ways of doing business and there aren’t too many scenarios I haven’t experienced. I love helping people come up with solutions that have vexed their organizations, because the web is exciting and I think we have a lot of opportunities that get squandered because there aren’t good metrics around the value of investing in digital — especially web properties.

Here’s my proposition: Call or write me with your problems.

No, I’m not asking for your money. A lot of your problems could use a second or third perspective, but you don’t have the resource to solve them, right? Or so you think. Are the issues structural? Political? Are the people (or you?) in charge afraid of what would happen if someone showed up tomorrow; poised to solve major problems that your company has been wrestling with for years with regard to your web properties?

Things like governance or strategy or whatever?

I’m pretty convinced a lot of these big issues could be solved in weeks rather than months or years.

“But we have processes.”

“My [insert senior leader here] would never go for that. We’re too set in our ways.”

“What about [insert person here?]”

I’m not convinced that anybody really want to solve any problem, because the job security involved in leaving things status quo is more comfortable. The beauty of disruptive startup cultures is recognizing you can’t afford to be staid and comfortable. I’m especially interested in startup projects.

Back to the proposition. You need advice about one of the above topics? About to drop five or six figures trying to make magic happen because you think you have to?

What kinds of problems?

  • CMS migrations & implementation questions
  • Web redesign questions (WHERE DO WE F-ING START?)
  • Social media (i.e. We want to mastr Tumblr….)
  • Team & leadership questions (e.g. Our web & marketing folks don’t play nice. Is there a song we can play?)
  • I want to create an app/startup/blah for x. Poke holes in my ridiculousness please.
  • Grab bag.

Call me 718.618.6906 or email me at ron [a] ronbronson.com.

I’m truly curious about the challenges you’re facing. The research will help me test theories and refine my own processes and you get to run something past a source before you pay buckets of money and head down a potentially bad path.

Win win.

I know I can charge for this. I already do in many cases and will continue to do so. But I’m really interested right now in solving problems and helping people think through the issues that vex them professionally. I do this for friends all of the time, but I’m really wanting to cast a wider net and the only way I thought to do it, was to offer it up publicly.

Any takers?

The Approval Bubble

Bureaucracy lives inside a bubble. Things hit the approval layer and can’t break through towards progress where we actually ship and get things done.

That’s where the tools come in.

ARTISANS: The people who do the work. They care about their craft and just want to see it reach the people who need it.

BIRDS: Birds want to sing. The key is making sure that you can get on the same song as the birds. These are your stakeholders, but they can be anyone who you need consensus from.

CHAMELEONS: They can be whatever they need to be in order to get through the process. Sometimes, they are artisans because the work required needs them to be. Other times, they are birds because they have a stake in the process that requires them to speak up. Chameleons can break through small bubbles, but not big ones and that’s where they need help. They do have the skills to convince hammers.

HAMMERS: Hammers can break through anything. The problem is, what they leave behind isn’t always elegant or usable. The key is to find a hammer that can apply the right kind of pressure without being too much.

The thing about the approval bubble is many companies have layers of approval bubbles. Sometimes, you can break through smaller bubbles easy, only to find that harder ones never break.

Is it ideal to have an company with fewer approval bubbles? Or is it just ideal to know how to break through the ones that exist? Who creates bubbles?

All of us.

Getting the most out of work

There are several truths we’ve come to accept about professional life. First, we learn that you can’t get experience without a job, but that most jobs won’t hire people without experience to learn the job. The second is, you don’t go to most jobs to be a standout, but to conform and fit into a specific mold.

If you found a better way to innovate the burger making process at a burger factory, chances are, you’d be told to get back to your station and do your job because it’s not your job to figure those kinds of things out. For a lot of folks that’s a difficult thing to accept, because we all spend time in the field learning better way to do things and improve processes, but those ideas don’t always see the light of day. In the cubicle farm, this is even more pronounced because the more wrapped we get into the internal politics of who wants what when, where and how, the more disconnected we get from the real world that’s happening around us.

Conferences and other professional activities can help, but they’re not a panacea. It’s incumbent upon those of us who want to grow to reach out and stretch our capabilities. When you feel like you’re not learning where you are, you need to make a plan to 1) adapt your talents to better extract what you need while doing your job well or 2) find somewhere else to be. Communicating your desire for growth is a good strategy in some environments, because good leaders will often put people they value in a position to thrive, but aren’t always aware of your short or long-range goals and how they mesh with the workplace. Doing your own internal assessments will help you better make a pitch with your supervisor for being positioned to do the kinds of things that’ll enable you to enhance your own skillsets.

Make a (belated) resolution 

No one is going to advocate for you better than yourself. It feel weird to tout your own accomplishments, but you don’t need to be hawkish about selling your greatness, just recognize the value you bring to the table and keep a record of it. Try writing down one thing you’ve accomplished each day. Chances are, if you do you’ll encounter a few other things you did throughout the day, too.

You have to be invested in your own growth, if you expect others to see where you’re headed. It’s not the biggest stars that shine bright, it’s the ones that are closest to us.

Be your own star.