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Cognition

7 Lessons in 8 Years of Client Services

Eight years ago next month, I came onboard as Airbag Industries’ first employee (we later became part of Happy Cog). In a moment of reflection recently, I sat down with my eight-years-ago-self and wrote down some of what I’ve learned. Here’s what I would share with 2006 Ryan, to not necessarily prevent mistakes but to help him (me) manage them better.

In the beginning, I worked as a project manager for a retainer client Greg Storey secured. I spent every day for a year talking to lawyers about blogs. I presented designs to lawyers, handled their requests and feedback, and then worked with them to get their new blog populated with content and launched.

Talking every day to people who spend their days speaking will make you a better communicator. Seek out those people.

Five years ago, I wrote a book. The book-writing process was long and challenging. My prose was full of vague sentences and passive voice. Until I wrote that book, I didn’t realize the value of a good editor.

The team here at Happy Cog has created a reliable, repeatable process for publishing Cognition every week over the last few years. Through that process, I again learned the value of a good editor, who smoothes the edges of your work and removes the obstacles from your sentences.

If you’re going to do longform writing, find a good editor. There are plenty of freelance editors for hire.

In my first couple years at Airbag Industries, we redesigned and rebuilt a news website for a leading technology publication. It was a big project that I wasn’t prepared for. At the end of the project, we deployed the new site, but when Asia woke up to get its news, the entire website crashed. The code wasn’t optimized enough, and we didn’t know the traffic numbers ahead of time for load testing. That’s when I learned a lot more about website performance and to ask for analytics early in the project.

Your site can never be too fast. Learn your tools well, and do load testing before you go live. For redesigns, always get access to the client’s analytics at the beginning of the project.

Beginning with my work with lawyers as clients, I have been exposed to dozens of industries. From television networks to grassroots environmental movements, I’ve been lucky to see inside of a lot of businesses. Clients pay us to learn as much as we can about their work and then help them solve their problems. This gives us the opportunity to be curious and to satisfy that curiosity.

Your work will teach you a lot about other professions and industries. Not many people get that opportunity. Be curious, and ask questions. Take what you can, and apply it to your own work and industry.

I participated in a pitch conference call with a prospective client. We were going to cover technical topics, which I could handle just fine. While I could talk intelligently about the client’s selected content management system, I couldn’t do so with the detail I thought would be required to accurately show our experience.

I asked a more knowledgeable coworker to join the call, and he was able to address all client questions and concerns. I could’ve made it through the call without needing help. But, we got the gig in part because I asked for help, and we were able to demonstrate our expertise.

Don’t always fake it until you make it. Get help.

I’ve written emails I’ve regretted. (Everyone has, right?) My tone wasn’t always clear, and my writing was reactionary. Email is a terrible way to have an important conversation. Ideally, pick up the phone, but if you have to write an email, just do it carefully.

Always write emails without an address in the “To:” field. If you’re upset, wait a few hours—or overnight—before hitting send. Most times, you’ll rewrite or delete the email. Be careful of the “Reply All”!

Over the last eight years my life, a lot has changed. I’ve started a family, moved to a new city, and switched roles inside of Happy Cog. Everyone goes through change, and it can impact our work. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with everything.

In basketball, there’s the concept of following through your shot. That’s why you see shooters make that funny form with their hand and wrist. It ensures they get good spin on the ball and enough force. The shooter follows through, and the ball goes in.

Your job is the same way. Follow through, and honor your commitments. Always give 100%.

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