What I’ve Learned
The idea for Prosper for Purpose came from my desire to start a communications firm where I (and others) could do well by doing good. Fast forward four years and #TeamProsper has grown to include top notch employees supported by freelancers and strategic partners--all committed to doing business the Prosper way.
That’s not to say that it’s been easy. The saying that experience is a hard teacher is true. But every challenge is really just an opportunity. Here are my four top takeaways.
BUILD YOUR BRAND, BUT LET IT GROW
Branding is one of the key services we offer clients and it is the component that new businesses most often miss. You have to know your ‘why,’ be able to articulate what makes you special and have a visual presence (logo and website) to be taken seriously. I created Prosper’s voice and visual brand before I launched the company, hiring a graphic designer to create our logo (which I still think is perfect) and building our first website myself. Translation: you don’t need a lot of money to launch a small business, but you need to make some investment.
Over the past four years, our brand has become more clear and our current website (built by our friends at Go Media) and messaging reflect that. Of course I would be remiss not to say that no company owns their brand. You make a promise to your community, as evidenced through your messaging and visuals, but it’s how you deliver on that promise--from how you treat your employees and clients to how you engage in your community--that truly determines your brand. I am proud of how #TeamProsper delivers on our promise, through a culture based on servant leadership, stellar customer service and a Doing Good program that competes with the best philanthropic programs around.
WORK WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Prosper’s very first value is People, because if you’re not working with the right people, nothing else matters. In a small agency, people can make or break you. As Jim Collins says in “Good to Great,” you have to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. Sometimes the wrong people show up looking like the right people and saying the right things. You welcome them on the bus and then discover they’re not the right people after all. I have learned that the best solution, regardless of how far down the road we’ve traveled together, is to let them off the bus. Today I have any potential candidate meet with every member of our team. Different people see different things.
I have had one exceptionally ‘right’ person with me from the very beginning (okay, month three). Kathryn Perkins and I became friends after previously working together and she was present with a group of friends when I first shared the idea for Prosper. She serves as Prosper’s director of public relations, working with clients and on behalf of our firm.
The other critical people component is clients. Sometimes great projects come with difficult clients. Sometimes small projects bring great clients, and the scope grows into a long-term relationship. We have been fortunate to have mostly great projects and great clients, but we’ve had a few of the others as well. Life’s too short to work with people who don’t respect you, your process or your people.
ESTABLISH SYSTEMS & PROCESSES
One of the first things we did as the agency grew was to subscribe to an online project management system. This allowed our team to create a process for each project, assigning roles, responsibilities and due dates to our initial team of four. Since we were a virtual agency for our first two years, this system allowed each of us to work on our own schedule, and enabled us to see who had done what. And then I met the process queen, Jenny Kelley.
Jenny was running her own business when we met, so to most people we were competitors. And yet, to us, we were potential collaborators, just waiting for the right time and opportunity to work together. That opportunity came in the spring of 2015 when, after collaborating on a client project for a few months, Jenny told me she wanted to merge her company with Prosper. Within a few months, Jenny had created systems and processes to enable our growth and I have often wondered how we ever managed without them. Jenny is a great example of the ‘right’ person in the right ‘seat.’
STAY TRUE TO YOUR PURPOSE (BUT BE ADAPTABLE)
Our mission is twofold: To grow a company dedicated to the development of our people; and to partner with clients to drive authentic engagement and purposeful action that supports a quadruple bottom line: people, prosperity, planet and purpose.
Remember when I said Prosper for Purpose came from my desire to do well by doing good? Well, that desire, as it turned out, is also my ‘why,’ my purpose. It’s enabled me, and the rest of #TeamProsper, to evaluate new ideas and opportunities through the lens of our mission (stated above) and our vision, communications for a better world. Technology changes, clients and employees come and go, projects end. We can adapt to these changes by staying true to our purpose, delivering on our brand promise, working with the right people, making process work for us and knowing when to pivot. Here’s to year five--we’re ready to rock.
P.S. A heartfelt thanks to our team: Kathryn, Jenny, Megan, Ashley, Olivia, Paula and Maggie; our families and friends, clients and colleagues. We consider you all part of #TeamProsper and look forward to sharing year FIVE with you!