“The shoemaker’s children are poorly shod.”

One of the toughest and arguably most important lessons of the entrepreneurial journey – especially for those of us running agency businesses – is prioritising the needs of our own companies over those of our clients.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had friends who run web developments companies complain about how crappy their own website is. Or consulting firms lamenting their own internal brokenness. Or financial services businesses whose own employees bank with competitors.

At Cerebra we believe that the gap between what you say and what you do determines your credibility. Just over a year ago we realised we could never ask our clients to trust us if we didn’t do what we requested of them internally at Cerebra. For example, it’s hard to encourage a client to embrace their role as a publishing brand if don’t succeed at that ourselves. It’s virtually impossible to emphasise the importance of a content calendar if we don’t use one ourselves. In fact it’s nigh on hypocritical.

This is not rocket science though. Almost every agency I have worked with and currently worked with believes their own business should be their most important client. Unfortunately, and owing almost entirely to the fact that hours spent on internal work show no revenue, this “we are our most important client” sentiment fades under more profitable initiatives.

The tragedy is that apart from the obvious promise / delivery benefit I mentioned above, the indirect and often immeasurable benefit of such getting this right are nothing short of profound. I have received such remarkable feedback from clients, industry colleagues, potential staff and media stakeholders on the significant efforts we have made to collect, refine and articulate Cerebra’s thinking and experience into monthly publications free for download on our website, not to mention our rebranding and positioning collateral.

While this work is by no means perfect, it’s a far cry from where we have come. There were a few practical steps we took to achieving the regular discipline of putting Cerebra first:

  • Don’t pay lip service – saying your company is your most important client needs to be backed up with behaviour that supports that assertion. Cerebra, the client, has its own budget, objectives, KPIs, reporting, status meetings, client service people, production people and community manager. And two of the toughest clients in the business – Craig and I!
  • Best client, best people – speaking of Craig, having him head up our editorial and publishing teams, and consequently applying his expertise, experience and expectations to our own work has been astonishingly beneficial to all. Craig was born to do this, and does it with aplomb.
  • Perspective – sometimes it’s hard to read the label from the inside of the bottle (to quote our friends at Missing Link). Outsourcing some of our writing, design work and videography with an comprehensive brief has produced an insight into how people see our company from beyond our four walls. While the work produced is not always better than what we can do internally, it is always insightful.
  • Power to the people – no one has benefited more from our efforts than our own staff. They are proud of the work we produce, want to share it with their networks (we don’t force anyone to share anything – if we can motivate our staff to be interested, we can motivate ANYONE), want to contribute towards what we produce and are starting to do so with exciting results. As a practical example, check out some of the cool things happening on our Instagram and Pinterest profiles.

Learn from our experience, and mistakes. Putting yourself and your employees first is the key to corporate authenticity!