Travis has been saying since March that the pandemic is an accelerant. It’s certainly true for us. In a matter of months, we had to very quickly figure out how to run a distributed business that very much relies on working together to make great things. After the initial shock, and to paraphrase one of the most rewatchable movies of all time, we decided to keep breathing and wait for the sun to rise. And that’s what we did. We did a lot of things right, we did a lot of things that we had to correct quickly, and while we would never wish 2020 on anyone, we’re proud to be at the end, standing, together.
Before we dive into how Whitepenny 2020 looks from a December perspective, here are some nuts and bolts:
- 14 website launches
- 6 comprehensive identity projects
- So many digital marketing plans
- Brought on Amy Henry to head consumer insights
- Perfected the WFH model (kidding — it’s still way harder than we’d like)
What We Did Right
Followed the Rule
At Whitepenny, we have a bunch of rules gleaned from experience that we follow, but one stands above the rest: design and development serve business goals. The first conversation you have with a client is about where they’ve been, where they’re going, the goals they’ve set, and how we can help them get there. Anything less just isn’t going to work.
Long-Term Partnerships Over One-Time Projects
Years and years ago, a friend of ours who worked in our industry gave us some sage advice about how to make a boutique agency work. “Working from project to project is a tough business model,” he said. “Go and get a client who you like working with and find ways to work with them over and over.” At the time, we weren’t convinced. Besides, we just had to get that one big, highly visible branding project and people would be clamoring to work with us! We’ll have a waiting list! Take it from a company who designed a client logo that graced the ice at Flyers hockey games for over two years: finding long-term partners and incrementally making their businesses stronger is the better way to go. Those big, visible projects are really great, too, but you build a business around the steady, consistent work you do for clients you’ve known for years.
Expanded into Complementary Areas
We brought-on Amy Henry to shore up how we gather, synthesize, and interpret data to help our clients make better decisions. It’s hard to know what your clients and customers really think, and Amy is a master at not only getting that information but also figuring out the best way to use that information to enhance business outcomes. If you’re one of our current clients and haven’t met Amy yet, rest assured you will soon!
Bet on People, Not Projects
2020 marks Whitepenny’s 17th year in business. The lesson we learned early that continues to pay dividends is finding people who you like, who you respect, and who are doing interesting things to work with rather than chasing companies. We’ve worked with some very large, very recognizable companies this year, but it was direct encounters with really great people in those businesses that got us there. Good people do good stuff, and the more we surround ourselves and connect with good people, the better our business has been.
What We’re Working On
It’s easy to get caught in the “It’s just one little thing,” “We can carve out the time,” and, most pernicious, “We love those guys! We can’t say no to them!” Now veterans of the service business, we know that doing things in the name of client service that you really don’t have the time to do is a path you don’t want to walk. We’ve never been great at this. We’ll probably never be great at this. But we continue to get better.
When you do all of the things that we do for clients, you need really great people that aren’t only experts in their own job but also pretty darn good at ancillary jobs that come up. In workplace jargon they’re called T‑Shaped people, and a company like ours can only do well if we find a bunch of T’s and set them in motion. Currently, we need some help in design as well as project management. If you know someone you like, drop us a line, will you?
What’s in Whitepenny’s Future?
Here are a couple quick hits of what we’re thinking about in the coming year or two:
Branding as a Holistic Endeavor: The best businesses we’ve ever been around have started with the question “What does my customer want and how can I best deliver that in a delightful way?” For these businesses, branding is a natural, in-their-DNA process. We’ll continue to harp on this with every one of our clients; no matter how good you are at one thing, people viscerally remember where you’re not so good. Branding is not only about the areas where you excel, but also about finding areas of improvement and making them better.
The Rise of Headless Development: We’re pretty pumped about getting our clients away from monolithic CMSs and having content in one place that feeds your site, apps, internal docs, etc. Not everyone’s ready (and not everyone needs a headless solution), but there’s a groundswell if you’re listening closely.
We’re All in the Data Business Now: Reinvention in the digital world comes with a ton of data. The trick is going to be knowing what to do with it, what to ignore, and how to use it to make your business better.
Meetups, Hopefully: What I wouldn’t give to shake somebody’s hand, introduce myself, and ask them about their kids.
It has been quite a year; a year that doesn’t jibe well with pithy remarks. We will say this: while we all cautiously, optimistically look forward to next year, today we sit in quiet gratitude for the friends and family that we have around us no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We wish you peace during this holiday season. See you in 2021.