Bright, Shiny Objects and the Art of Saying “No”

Thirteen years. That’s a long time to be running a company, especially these days.

I founded Slice of Lime in 2001 and have enjoyed navigating the “digital agency” world for over a decade. We’ve consistently been recognized as one of the “Fastest Growing Companies” in Colorado and have cultivated a great reputation as one of the leading UX Design agencies.

But, what we look like today is much different than the Slice of Lime of 2001. Perhaps the most perplexing realization is that our company’s growth and success has an inverse relationship to the number of projects we’ve taken on and the services we’ve offered through the years.

The more we’ve said “no,” the more we’ve grown as a business. That means saying “no” to projects that aren’t a fit as well as whittling down our services to just a couple of core offerings.

While we’ve seen the value of saying “no,” we can’t help but get attracted to bright shiny objects we spot along the way. Sometimes these objects make sense to pay attention to, such as our growing interest in the Internet of Things space and what that means for user experience strategy and design.

Most of the time, however, those bright, shiny objects are a distraction. For us, they’ve taken the form of:

  • Becoming investors in our clients
  • Building our own products
  • Turning our office into a co-working space for startups

These are just a few examples. None of these ideas in and of themselves are bad. They do, however, take our eye off the ball: running an incredibly successful UX Design agency. Internally, we call it “Creating Amazing Experiences.”

We focus on User Experience Strategy and User Interface Design. That’s it.

When I think about the value that this focus has brought Slice of Lime, I can identify four key areas where I’ve seen a positive impact: Financial, Public Perception, Employees, and Company Culture.

Financial

We used to take on a variety of projects ranging from logos to PowerPoint designs to Flash animations. Because of this range, there was a lot of unpredictability in project size, process, and cost.

While we tracked our time, it was hard to learn from that data since the next project that would come along would be completely different in scope and process.

We’ve spent the last two years simplifying our services, process, resource allocation, and cost structure. This allows for predictable schedules from month to month as well as an easy to understand pipeline and revenue projection.

Creating a flat and predictable business model vs. the traditional “bumpy” agency model (you may have heard agencies talk about “feast or famine”) is the way to go.

Public Perception

I think there’s an inherent fear in saying “no.” There’s the fear that there won’t be more work coming after that project you just turned down. There’s also the fear that you’ll anger or turn-off the client you’re talking with, which could create a negative ripple effect to other potential clients.

We look at this in the opposite way. First of all, we take a genuine interest in every person that reaches out to us. When it’s clear it’s not a fit, we try to connect them to a solution that will work for them.

Helping a client find their way is time well spent. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also a way to leave that client with a better understanding of your services.

Perhaps they’ll come back later with another project. Perhaps they’ll recommend you to a friend’s company. We’ve seen both of these things happen.

Secondly, saying “no” reinforces your commitment to the services you do offer. By not waffling, you’re sending a clear message that you are a focused agency that specializes in a specific niche.

In our experience, our clients understand and respect that. They value that sort of clarity and will quickly think of your company the next time they hear of someone in need of your services.

Employees

Focus has made it much easier to identify the right employees. We know who to hire because the services we provide our clients are very well defined. This has led to us hiring specialists vs. generalists.

The side benefit of this is that specialists raise the bar for the company as a whole. They usually have new ideas or techniques to introduce to the process. This continues to enhance our service offering and process over time.

We also have witnessed a huge sigh of relief as we’ve moved our employees away from working on multiple projects to working on just one project at a time. We typically dedicate two UX Designers 100% to one project.

That type of focus allows employees to dive deeply into that client’s world. This is something that is critical when trying to gain empathy for our clients and their users.

Company Culture

A clear direction for the company and its values is one of the more important things people need to thrive.

As we’ve assembled a team that shares the same passions and can rally behind what Slice of Lime is all about, it has made for a more electric company culture. People are constantly sharing ideas, links, conferences, and techniques with one another. Most of the walls in our offices are covered with whiteboard paint and are usually packed with brainstorms and different approaches to improving our process. There’s a shared desire to learn while at Slice of Lime, both from outside sources and from each other.

Lastly, everyone is curious to see how our process has been applied to different projects. This has led to things like Demo Lunch Wednesdays in which a UX Design pair will present a project or technique they are using with a specific client.

We’ve come together around the idea of “Creating Amazing Experiences”:

  • In the work we produce
  • In the feeling we want our clients to have working with us
  • In the feeling we have when we come in to work each day

This sort of alignment and focus has been invaluable.

I challenge you to take a look at where your passion lies and what services you might be providing that don’t align with that passion. Are there services you can drop or perhaps partner with another agency to provide? Imagine what that might feel like.

Should you start saying “no”?

And, are those bright, shiny objects pulling you away or toward your core passion? Sometimes those distractions can be indicators that something else is wrong within your company…a pleasant diversion from the real issues you need to tackle today. Other times those shiny objects may be just the thing you need to incorporate into your business.

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