1. Hire the right people
Corina Ludwig, president of creative solutions company FunctionFox, emphasizes the agency’s commitment to thoughtful hiring decisions. Bringing someone in to simply fill a job isn’t enough—the contributions made by skills and experience only go so far. Instead, Ludwig says that candidates are selected because they have the right attitude and they’re ready and eager to bring something useful to the table. “We spend a lot of time hiring people, and as a result we have an amazing team,” she says. Ideas about new ways to do things are routinely offered by new hires and established employees alike, and everyone is encouraged to ask questions and present suggestions. “They’re not just coming in to do the job,” Ludwig says. “They’re adding ideas and looking for new ways to serve our customers.”
2. Know what makes your team strong
“A lot of our team members have a background in ad agencies, so they understand that creative nature,” Ludwig says. This not only gives the employees at FunctionFox a deep understanding of how creative companies operate; it also imbues the organization with the kind of mind-set that customers can relate to. But don’t assume that means everyone is cut from the same cloth. Restaurant chefs and cruise-ship workers have all found homes at FunctionFox. “We really support people’s uniqueness and strengths in different areas,” Ludwig says. She believes this diversity is part of what makes the team stronger. “Everyone brings an element that potentially no one else on the team has,” she says.
3. Understand your market
There may be a number of competing products in the marketplace, but Ludwig says that very few of them speak to the challenges facing small creative companies. That sector is where FunctionFox shines and where it focuses its efforts. “We could go in lots of different directions and try to be everything for everybody, but we’ve found that focusing on our niche and staying true to those small creative companies has been very successful for us,” Ludwig says. This laser focus helps them determine everything, from where they should advertise to which features should be incorporated into their products. “We ask, ‘Will this help small creative companies?’” Ludwig says. “And if the answer is yes, then we will likely put it into place.”
4. Be available
FunctionFox’s clients are spread around the globe, but because the products are web-based, Ludwig says, it’s easy for customers to access the resources they need online anytime. “It enables us to provide minimal infrastructure,” she explains, adding that phone and e-mail satisfy much of the demand for customer interaction and support. “It’s a simple but very effective communication strategy.” Flexible schedules are encouraged across the organization, not just as a way to serve customers in nearly every time zone, but in a bid to achieve a healthy work-life balance. “Some of our sales members actually start as early as 3:00 a.m.,” Ludwig says.
5. Maintain team communication
With team members in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, and Banff, Alberta, FunctionFox relies on daily conversations within the team to keep things running smoothly. In addition to phone calls and e-mails, Ludwig says her team also leverages an internal instant-messenger platform that it built. Monthly all-team meetings help to keep the group cohesive. “We also have quarterly sessions where everyone in the company comes to the head office in Victoria for a couple of days,” Ludwig adds. These large meetings include time for team-building activities, which are anything but routine. “This year, we all went to Las Vegas together,” Ludwig says. Past years have included events such as kayaking and boat building. “We try to do things that are a bit out of the norm.”
6. Be open to new ideas
Every employee at FunctionFox is encouraged to offer ideas on meeting customers’ needs, whether it’s by adding new features or improving existing ones. But Ludwig says her team learned long ago that great ideas can spring up anywhere, and they’re careful not to limit where they seek innovation. “It’s not looking at what your competitors have—it’s what they don’t have,” Ludwig says. Many times, though, the folks at FunctionFox gather ideas directly from the experts—the customers themselves. “A lot of the ideas we get actually come straight from our customers,” Ludwig says. Her team carefully listens to what the customer base really needs, and they’re always on the lookout for areas where FunctionFox’s products can fill a void. “That has really helped us be more successful,” she says.