By Lenora Rand, SmallGood Co-founder
About 2 o’clock last Wednesday afternoon I found myself working in a cute little café in Austin, TX. I had a lot to do, so I just got my coffee, opened my laptop, put my head down and dove deep into emails, hardly noticing my surroundings.
Except for the placemats. Which were really adorable.
But after about five minutes I was yanked out of my own little work bubble, because in the midst of a group of five, splayed out on couches and comfy chairs around a large coffee table across the aisle from me, one of the folks started pitching a script to the others — for a commercial, an industrial, an indie film??? — loudly…and with gusto.
Now, as someone who worked in a big traditional ad agency for…well, longer than I sometimes care to admit…but ok…25 years…this seemed a little jarring to me.
Back when I started my advertising career, I was taught to be “cautious,” i.e. slightly paranoid, to keep my work close to the chest for fear someone might steal it.
But yeah…it’s 2018 and the world has changed.
People are starting to get it that openness and collaboration and cooperation (versus paranoia) is a good idea.
I ran across a stat recently from a report issued by Gallup’s State of the Workplace Report that 43% of Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely in 2016, up from 39% in 2012.
Oh and 68% of job-seeking millennials said being able to work remotely would greatly increase their interest in working for certain companies.
And frankly, glancing around the café, it looked like about 90% of the people in there were, like me, working…seriously working…on something or other.
They were getting their jobs done at little Formica-clad tables or slouched in reclaimed thrift store armchairs, and not while sitting in a state-of-the-art Herman Miller cubicle, or in a snazzy corner office with a much-coveted view, in a high-rise downtown.
Maybe some of them wanted to be, who knows? None of them seemed like they did. They all seemed…good.
I felt good working in a café at 2 pm on a weekday too. Actually, not just working, but running an agency.
When my partner and I started our agency, just over six months ago, with the intention of working with companies who making a positive impact in the world and looking to grow their good, we knew we also weren’t interested in doing business as usual.
For a long time, we’d been asking the same question posed by Wendy Clark, CEO at DDB Worldwide, North America at the 4A’s 2017 Talent@2030 to a roomful of C-Suite agency folks, “The world has changed, and brands are changing. Why are agencies fundamentally staying the same?”
So we committed ourselves to rethinking the way advertising agency work could be done, reimagining who it could be done for, where it could be done, even why you’d want to do it.
As a result, at the agency we started, SmallGood, we ended up throwing a lot of what we’d grown up doing in the big agency world, out the window.
Including working in cushy, overly-expensive offices.
Instead, our agency works from wherever we want to. Or need to.
Except for my co-founder and myself, SmallGood is made up of independent contractors, and so we all literally work from all over the country and across time zones — Chicago, North Carolina, New York, California, Texas — sometimes from home, sometimes from a coffee shop or from our clients’ offices, or, now and then, for a couple hours at a time, in one of those co-working spaces that you can find on practically every corner these days.
Yes, Peerspace has become our friend.
We embraced this model at first, for a lot of fairly obvious reasons:
1. No commuting…so more productivity, better health, less environmental impact.
2. No expensive overhead we’d have to pass on to clients.
3. No limitations on who we can hire — they could be 10 miles away or 10,000.
4. No need to take off the Uggs…ever…or at least until it’s warm enough for flip-flops.
5. No office dramas to deal with.
6. No large vats of candy on our officemate’s desk calling our names (ok, this last one may just be my problem…).
Once we started working this way, however, we realized it gave us something else, which may be the most important reason of all:
7. The ability to put together exactly the right team for every client.
One of the difficulties of the traditional way of doing agency work was that you pretty much had to use the people you were paying to show up at your offices on a daily basis, whether or not they were the best fit for a particular client’s needs.
But we don’t have to do that, anymore.
We can bring on the specialists we need, for as long as we need them. We can bring on well-vetted yet very junior people who are eager to learn. Or super-seasoned pros, if that’s what’s called for.
We can pull together a highly collaborative, flexible, self-starting team of people — keeping the group as small as possible, but made up of those who are all really good at what they do.
A team that can work quickly, virtually, efficiently to deliver just what our clients are looking for.
And what we’ve discovered along the way is that by not limiting ourselves to the four walls of a particular building, our company has become a kind of living, breathing organism.
And part of our role, as leaders, is to be the connective tissue, supporting and strengthening and making sure everything works well together.
Around our place (and I mean that figuratively, of course) we’ve started calling it the SmallGood Model.
Because we’ve found that keeping the team small but good is not only good for us, as an agency, and as humans who like to wear Uggs and work in coffee shops, it’s also been really good for our clients.
They’re paying for the expertise they need, for just as long as they need it.
Not for fancy espresso makers in break rooms, foosball tables, high-rent addresses, not to mention those people who always seem to show up in meetings just because it was on their calendar and never contribute much of anything.
Not that I’m opposed to fancy espresso makers, though I must admit I’m more of a Chemex pour-over type.
But, luckily, a lot of coffee shops I end up working in these days have both those options.