Turning 5 is a big deal for a kid as it marks the impending end of pre-school life. Soon the days of morning cartoons and mid-day naps will be replaced by school buses and gym class. The 5 year mark in the business world is also considered an important milestone. Although we’re not giving up cartoons or naps, The Story Shop just had our 5 year anniversary and in between the champagne and cake, we decided to ruminate a bit on some of the lessons we’ve learned during that time. Part philosophy, part business and part storytelling insight, here are my 5 year anniversary lessons, one for each of the years we’ve been in business.
1. Partnership is essential
Prior to forming The Story Shop, Luke and I both lived the freelancer lifestyle. Creative partnership was often limited to the length of a project and the short bursts of time we would spend working with friends and colleagues. Now, partnership is a day in and day out, albeit challenging but extremely rewarding, process that extends beyond Luke and I to our team, fellow artists and clients. The health of these relationships is our first priority. We’ve continued to rework how we do things to put the partnership with each other, our team and the client at the center of everything we do. When we haven’t, we’ve failed. When we do, it always works. That means we’re trying to listen more, be more willing to be wrong and not make assumptions about people’s motives or feelings.
2. The audience is much smaller than you think
The greatest irony of our age might be that as access to large audiences gets easier and easier, the more segmented audiences actually become. Any good communicator understands that knowing your audience is important. Yet one of the lessons we’ve learned in the last 5 years, is that an audience is often much smaller and more defined than most people think. Your content probably won’t get millions of views, maybe not even tens of thousands, because there are probably only hundreds or maybe a few thousand actually interested. Beyond that, you’re competing hard for the attention of this small, defined group of people. We’ve learned that quality, authentic, values-based approaches are the only ways to cut through the noise. Make it good. Make it true. Make it valuable. When you realize the benefits of a more intimate audience far outweigh a broad, general audience, you’ll never chase views again.
3. Your team is as important as people say
Business owners always say that their most important asset is their people. It’s such a common phrase that it’s almost a cliche. The thing is… it’s true. As our team has grown, we find ourselves echoing this same sentiment with deep sincerity. We’re fortunate to have hired people that are just as passionate about the work we do as we are and more talented than we could have ever expected. Our work is now richer, deeper and more powerful and that is to the credit of our team.
4. Culture is Paramount
Corporate culture isn’t just for companies with large HR departments and consultant-developed mission statements. Luke and I decided early on, even when there was just two of us, that we had to clearly define what it meant to be The Story Shop. Those early daydreams about how we would relate as a team, the way we would treat clients and what our core values are, set us up to be prepared to grow in the right ways. To be honest, it wasn’t “planning” as much as it was Luke and I wanting to build a place that was a good fit for us, a place to freely create. It started as a somewhat selfish pursuit that ended up creating a distinct culture. As we’ve added people and grown, those conversations have allowed our culture to drive decisions.
5. We aren’t for everybody
Much in line with number 1 and 2 on this list, we’ve had to learn that we just aren’t for everyone. Our most successful projects have a single thing in common – the client has allowed us to put our expertise to work. We aren’t a video production company. We do produce video or digital film projects but that is secondary to what we really do. If we make the mistake of taking on a project that is about purely serving a technical production need then we are doing that client a disservice. That means we’ve had to learn to say “no.” That’s a hard thing to do in business. You want to help everyone and you want to pay the bills. Our best clients are interested in trusting our expertise and collaborating to find the right solutions and that is a recipe for real impact.