I have been working with a client on a new web site. Like most of my clients, the company is small, techie, and brainiac. The founding father (FF) is one of the most brilliant people I've ever worked with, and exceptionally gifted in his ability to translate complex technical concepts into something that a lay person with only the most minimal technical grasp can easily understand. He also writes with real personality. His white papers are a tour de force. I really enjoy working with this guy.
One of the things we're doing with the new web site is taking the opportunity to really define what the company is and does, and making sure that what we're saying is consistent with the FF's desired outcome for his company.
For the most part, the company's business has been providing custom technical solutions, with a limited revenue stream from the software that's an off-shoot of their consulting work. Their desired outcome, however, calls for them to flip the ratio of professional services to software on its ear and become a "real" software company.
Once that got settled, I drafted up the proposed positioning document that I needed the FF to okay before proceeding to write the web site content.
Yes, yes, yes.
This is what we'll say
Yes, yes, yes.
This is who we are. (Or at least who we'd rather be.)
But sometimes things that seem right in black and white just don't translate into living color.
Yes, yes, yes.
The word docs that contained the draft content were all well and good.
It was only when we mocked up the Home page and a couple of drill down screens that the FF began to get a little nervous.
"You know we get two-thirds of our revenue from professional services," he told me.
"Oh, yes," I answered. "We've been all through this."
"But the new site has hardly anything about professional services. It seems kind of buried."
"That's because we agreed that we were going to, well, bury it a bit and focus more on positioning ourselves as a software company," I said.
"But we're really a professional services company," he said.
We backed and forthed on this for a while, and talked about the implications of choosing one path vs. the other. (A conversation that I had thought we'd already completed.)
I realize that now that as the new positioning is nearer to going live, it's truth time.
One thing to have the new story in a word doc on your PC; quite another to have it out there for the world to see.
In some sense, I realize that I'm serving as the FF's shrink as he makes what seems like a pretty scary transition.
I'm going to do a couple of things to make the transition less scary, but I'm really trying to keep the FF from completely backsliding into his comfort zone.
We spent quite a bit of time talking things through yet again, reminding ourselves that the desired outcome is inconsistent with being a professional services organization. Being a software company is perfectly consistent with it.
The goal of the new web site was to put a firmer stake in the ground about our software products. (It's not as if we don't have them; it's just that, for a variety of reasons, it's been easier to do the pro serv work. And I have a growing feeling that the FF and his brainiacs find the consulting work more interesting, since it's always on to the new in a more dramatic way than if they were "merely" updating/upgrading their products. (Yawn.))
I'm working on a compromise solution, but I'm concerned that a year from now this company will still be a consulting firm claiming that they really want to make software, rather than a software company that happens to do consulting.
The whole thing reminds me of just how difficult it can be to develop an identity, especially if it involves shedding some old skin and thinking of yourself in a new way. Change is hard. Maybe the FF isn't quite as ready for change as he thought (or hoped) that he was.
He took one look at that web site copy as it was going to appear on the screen, in all its glorious, living color, and said to himself. "That's not me."
But he hasn't yet settled the big questions, "Just who am I, and who do I want to be?"