Talking Business

I had only worked a month at Sparkbox when I saw our Vice President, Rob Harr, do a talk on how we run our business. I was amazed by the detail he was so open to share. Over the years I have come to not only understand but adopt this transparency we value as a company. One of the things that keeps me at Sparkbox year after year is the people. What makes the people so amazing is the honesty, humility, and empathy they poses. There is such a desire to share what makes us successful freely in hopes that we make a stronger industry.

Rob was recently on an episode of Bureau of Digital‘s podcast, The Bureau Briefing. I this episode Rob talks with host Carl Smith about operations—his road toward taking on operations at Sparkbox and how things work today. Ever since that first time hearing Rob talk about the business, I have taken every opurtunity I can to hear him talk about it since. There are a few quotes from this interview that I really love, I pulled these from the shows transcript.

I think that we’re all obsessed with tools and really what we need is some good fundamentals and figure out what data we need, and then find a tool to match, rather than to find a tool because we have a broken process. The tools are not a fix for what ails most of us.

I know Rob is talking about this in reference to operations, but that rings true for every tool. When I teach CSS and HTML, I want folks to understand the fundamentals before bringing in specialized tools like Sass or even what text editor to aid in writing. This fundamental perspective permeates throughout Sparkbox, we are only efficient with our tools because of grasp of fundamentals. I am so glad to see this approach taken when it comes to running the business.

I want to make better mistakes. I want to make new mistakes. I don’t want to repeat yesterday’s mistakes next week.

I want that quote engraved on a plaque. That is such a fantastic statement. Mistakes are guarateed, the types of mistakes and how you learn from them are up to you.

You can actually get stuck surviving and not have to make the mental switch and learn the new skills to be able to thrive.

This last quote is the most profound and meaningful to me. I have worked for several companies in my career. Two small design/web shops I saw fall apart around me. The owner was the president, the salesperson, and the creative director. I saw this mentality of getting by, making the business work. That gets tiring and burnout can come hard and at a high cost. I am impressed to have witnessed the process of this mental shift to forecasting our year. Rob has processes in place to know where we will stand as a company and per project up to six to nine months into the future.

Rob briefly mentions a time a couple of years ago where our forecasting showed a significant dip in profit. We were months out from that time actually happening, but to account for this we cut off all extra spending. No new computers during that time, any new software purchases were scrutinized, and we cut back on any other non essential spending. It was incredible to see in action what Rob referred to as a “slow motion train wreck.” We weathered that storm because of the foresight our operations team put in place, and Rob is now talking about how it was possible. Hopefully other small businesses can learn from what Rob shared.