The Secrets To Building Better Business Partnerships

Virtually no business can operate completely independently in the production and offering of its good or services. It relies on suppliers, vendors, and other partners at different points in the business model to carry out what it provides to consumers. Because these vendors’ services are vital to the businesses that need them, it’s important that all partnerships are mutually beneficial to maximize impact and return on investment on all sides.

I’ve been in a client-service industry for 20 years, and my full-service advertising agency, Fingerpaint, acts as a vendor and strategic partner for a number of national and global clients. Prior to starting Fingerpaint, I worked on the client side of advertising. Through my experience, I’ve gotten a 360-degree view of business partnerships and learned many reasons they can either succeed or fail.

Stay Grounded in Trust

One of the most basic qualities needed for a successful business partnership is a mutual trust between the businesses. While each party has something to gain by working together, they must also trust that the other will do their best work on behalf of their company. Trusting your business partners is truly essential to the success of your relationship with them and will likely have positive implications on your business’s performance as a result.

Define the Relationship

There may be different types of relationships that come about in the business world. Sometimes, you might need a partner who will simply execute what directives you give them. Maybe that partner will help you implement a system, equipment, or process, and once complete, you won’t need to communicate with them frequently. Other times, however, your business might be looking for a more strategic partner that acts as a true extension of your existing team and helps you innovate and solve challenges to reach your business objectives. No matter what type of partner you need, it’s important that both teams are on the same page, and expectations for the business relationship are established at the outset.

Keep Checking In

A business partnership is like any personal relationship—it takes work to maintain. Make sure you schedule regular check-ins with your business partners to get and give feedback on how things could be even better. Maybe you’ll find that you need to communicate more or less frequently with them or adjust the services they provide to you. Keeping a channel open for constructive conversations ensures that the relationship will stay strong and produce better outcomes for everyone involved.

Since businesses rely on each other to deliver on the promises they make to consumers, it’s in everyone’s vested interest to trust each other, do their best work, and regularly communicate about how to keep improving. These are just the foundations of building a successful business partnership, but if you put them into practice and select the right partners, you’ll have a much better chance of reaching your business’s goals and objectives.

Why Investing in Your Employees Pays Off

When I started my third company, Fingerpaint, in 2008, I knew I wanted it to be different from my previous endeavors. Having spent a good portion of my career in the marketing and advertising world, I became accustomed to hearing about flippant layoffs, grueling hours, and making business decisions almost exclusively around the almighty profit and loss statement. These practices all center on the financial performance of a company, and while vital to its success and longevity, I wanted to take a different approach when it came to how I treated my employees.

At Fingerpaint, we like to say we put our people first. And we don’t just say it, we live it. Fingerpaint covers 100 percent of healthcare premiums for employees and their dependents, offers a one-month paid sabbatical for employees after every five years of employment, provides flexible vacation, sick, and personal time, contributes generously to 401k accounts and vests those investments immediately, and assists employees with student debt by contributing to loans monthly. We’ve also partnered with companies like Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global to help employees achieve better mental and physical wellness, and in 2020, we launched a training program to keep our people up-to-date on the latest skills and trends in our business.

While many in our industry might think it’s unwise or impossible to invest so heavily in employees, it’s a very purposeful approach to running a company. There are a few reasons for this.

First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. People deserve to work for a company that respects them and recognizes that they have commitments and responsibilities other than their work. I believe that employees have enough to worry about outside of the office, so I want to ease those concerns I have control over (e.g., the hefty costs of healthcare) when possible. If I’m able to help an employee chip away at student loans faster or give a hard worker a break to recharge, I’m going to choose to do that every time.

Empathy and respect for employees will also create a better company culture. By showing employees through your investment in them that you care about them — not just as workers, but as people — you’ll foster a work environment that inspires them to give it their all, day in and day out. Unfortunately, in a client service business, we can have crazy deadlines and long hours. But I hope that my employees know that even though things can be stressful when they have a chance to sneak out early for a baseball game or dance recital, I want them to take it. And I’ll always keep an eye out for additional ways we can invest in them to thank them for their dedication to the company.

Finally, talent attraction and retention, something every company struggles with, is made just a little bit easier by investing in employees. People want to work for companies that are renowned for treating their staff well. Having this reputation will attract more people, increasing the competition for open roles. You’ll then be able to choose the candidates who you believe will not only do the best work for your company but who will also be loyal and maintain the positive, respectful culture you’ve built. It also doesn’t hurt that offering a competitive benefits package will cause people to think twice before jumping ship to move on to other opportunities.

I believe that although a company’s financial performance is crucial to its success, minimizing costs and maximizing profit margins are not the be-all and end-all in business. By cutting corners and offering bare-bones benefit packages, you might think you’re saving money. However, those benefits are really important to employees, who might be more likely to leave if you don’t treat them properly. Ultimately, this may cost your business more in expenses associated with frequent recruiting and onboarding. By spending money where it matters — on your people — you’ll actually save in the long run while keeping employees who do their best work, maintain your company culture, and stick around for the long haul.

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An Insider’s Guide to Finding the Right Advertising Agency

Oftentimes, in-house marketing teams are tasked with finding a new advertising agency partner to help solve their marketing challenges, grow their brands, and, ultimately, reach their company’s business goals. Every marketer knows that the success of their career often hinges on the success of their brands; therefore, selecting a partner that will craft the messaging, channels, and execution for promoting that brand is no small decision.

What client teams don’t necessarily know, however, is how to properly evaluate their agency teams. As the owner of an advertising agency with experience on both the client and agency sides, I’m offering a few tips on how to assess your agency so you can make the right decision for your business.

  1. Consider shifting the traditional pitch to a workshop format

A pitch usually consists of a two-hour presentation that has been rehearsed countless times with agency executives who may not even work on that business. This is remarkably different from how the client-agency relationship actually looks when you’re in the weeds trying to solve business challenges. I’d encourage clients to instead hold live workshops with agencies so they can see how the agencies work together in real-time to find solutions.

  1. Pay attention to how your agency makes you feel

Do you and your company feel like you’re a priority to your agency team? In a client service industry, if you sense that your team isn’t giving your work the attention it deserves, it’s probably a bad sign. Even though your agency has multiple clients, they should appropriately staff the business to those needs.

  1. Be sure your advertising agency brings passion to your work

Is your agency team engaged and excited about the work they’re doing for you? This passion is endlessly important in ensuring the best outcomes for your business. You want a team that is invested and immersed in the projects you’re entrusting to their expertise.

  1. Look for signs of innovation and proactivity

Ideally, your agency will act as a strategic partner and extension of your team that’s dedicated to finding the best possible marketing solutions for your brand. If your agency never pushes back on projects in the interest of making them better or rarely offers proactive, out-of-the-box ideas for your brand, it might be time to consider a switch.

  1. Keep an eye on how your agency is staffing your business

Another indicator of needing to reassess your agency partners is if there is high turnover throughout the course of your partnership with them. If this is happening, you may infer that the agency is not treating its employees the way it should, whether it’s working them too hard or its culture is too harsh. It’s important to look out for these signs in case they’re negatively impacting the work your agency is doing as a result.

  1. Evaluate your happiness with your agency’s work

It might seem simple, but it’s important to take the time to gauge whether you’re happy with the work your agency is doing for your brand. It can be easy to get lost in day-to-day projects, so make sure you check in with your teams, both internally and externally.

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3 Reasons Purpose Is Your Most Effective Marketing Tool

As the way of doing business evolves, it’s become clear that consumer expectations have expanded when deciding which companies to support. In addition to the product or service they are buying, consumers want an experience and a specific outcome, and they especially want to buy from companies that support a higher purpose than their products. Brands have evolved from simply representing a product or service into having deeper, more complex personas.

Enter purpose-driven companies. Purpose-driven companies have a strategic advantage that, when communicated effectively, is beneficial for everyone the company touches. Here’s why:

  1. Employees will be more dedicated to your company.

In the age of Glassdoor and viral stories of poor working conditions, we know that purpose is paramount when it comes to recruiting and maintaining a happy and healthy workforce. Employees are more likely to be attracted to companies that have a clear purpose and, once onboard, are more engaged in their work. This pays dividends when it comes to producing the products and services your company offers. Using your company’s purpose to attract the best and brightest will increase the caliber of talent at your firm as well as foster innovation and creativity to further improve the solutions your company provides.

  1. Purpose-driven companies see better results.

There have been countless studies demonstrating the link between purpose-driven companies and stronger business performance. Why? One could argue that consumers care about and are more likely to be loyal to a company that treats its employees, the environment, and its communities well. They connect with brands and want to be associated with those that are seen as having characteristics they admire. When your company’s mission is relevant and communicated clearly to its audience, you’ll see the return on your balance sheet.

  1. It’s the right way to do business.

At the end of the day, purpose-driven companies exist to solve problems that their customers face. This should be the North Star that guides you in all your decisions. It’s easy to lose sight of this, as businesses must often answer to other stakeholders, boards of directors, and profit and loss statements that determine, in part, the success of a company. But by being mindful of the impact your company has on everyone it touches, you can truly maximize how it affects people’s lives. The result will be prosperity for years to come.

To build a company that ensures more successful business results, does a better job of attracting and retaining talent, and operates on a clear, purpose-driven compass, keep your customers and the problems you hope to solve for them top of mind in all business decisions. Although the concept of transitioning your business into one that’s purpose-driven can seem abstract, you will see the returns in every aspect of your company.

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How to Measure Performance | Ed Mitzen | Author

How to Measure Performance

When measuring performance, companies often consider numbers before everything else. While numerical data can gauge the success of many endeavors, it can’t tell you everything. After running two successful agencies, I’ve found ways to help my clients evaluate progress that rely on more than just numbers-driven results.

Our agency, Fingerpaint, is a human-focused business, and our performance evaluation process relies on frequent, honest communication. In this article, I’m going to discuss how to better assess effectiveness and how clients and agencies can work together to improve their relationships and overall performance. 

Improved Performance Requires Two-way Communication. In a typical client-agency partnership, it’s common practice for clients to provide agencies with feedback. But it’s also beneficial for agencies to critique clients. As in any relationship, both parties play an essential role in how things get done. Improvement and revisions on the agency side won’t be able to solve every problem. 

One way to measure progress is to see what your agency has to say about your internal team. If they come back and say, “they are highly responsive, helpful, and appreciative” then you’re on the right track. If you inquire only to find out that your team doesn’t provide the resources the agency requires in a timely manner, that’s an issue you can fix.  

If both sides strive to improve based on the feedback the other party provides, the relationship will ultimately be more harmonious and successful.

Ask the Right Questions. I find when numbers are taken out of the equation, clients have a harder time defining success. Here are some sample questions that clients could ask themselves to gauge whether or not the agency is performing to the best of their ability.  

  • Is the agency responsive and respectful of your team?
  • Do you feel that the agency consistently goes above and beyond expectations?
  • Do they usually do what is asked of them within the established timeline? 
  • Are their services achieving the goals you set?
  • Do they tell you when they think your ideas are off-strategy, or do they always say yes?
  • Do they bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the table?

Answering yes to all these questions likely means your agency is performing well and that you have a positive partnership with them. If you’re still dissatisfied with the results you’re seeing, it might be time to look deeper into other elements that could be affecting them. 

Create Space to Improve Often. It’s vital for both agency and client to make time to communicate their concerns. At Fingerpaint, we meet with clients regularly to check in on our performance. Formal evaluations allow teams to step out of the chaos of daily tasks to consider what is or isn’t working in the grand scheme of a project. 

After receiving feedback, expected follow-up evaluations add accountability and provide a deadline for revisions and improvement. The clearer expectations are, the more likely they are to be met. This frequent collaboration for improvement strengthens relationships and results in higher quality work.

The Relationship Between Company Culture and Company Performance

The Relationship Between Company Culture and Company Performance

I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between company culture and performance. Once I took a closer look at many advertising agencies, it became clear that their cultures were not always enhancing performance. While many companies in our industry have mastered the smaller “perks” of corporate culture, a foundation of empathy and positivity are usually lacking. The impact of culture on every aspect of a business cannot be overstated. Through creating two agencies built on human understanding, I’ve learned the true value of positive culture. Let’s talk about a few ways it can impact employee performance. 

Prioritize Life Outside the Office. In the modern workplace, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is difficult. A 2018 Gallup study of over 7,000 full-time employees found that two-thirds experience job burnout on a regular basis. Increased rates of chronic work-related stress contribute to a myriad of health problems for employees and higher turnover rates for companies, both of which profoundly affect a business’s productivity.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, creating a culture that prioritizes life (kid’s sporting events, longer vacations, flexible work schedules and locations) has been shown to actually increase productivity. At Fingerpaint, we offer month-long sabbaticals after five years of service. We automatically give employees their birthdays off, and are always offering perks like concert and sporting event tickets to reward them for their hard work. We even invested in a ski condo in Vermont that is available for our employees and their families to enjoy year-round. And in 2020, we are embarking on a flexible vacation policy – meaning employees aren’t limited to a certain number of vacation days when they need time to step back and get reenergized.

When employees are given a safe space to relax and recharge, you can avoid widespread burnout, improve morale, and nurture an engaged workforce. Investment for Investment. If employees feel that their employer doesn’t care about them, chances are they won’t care about the success of the company. People are hands down your most important assets. 

At Fingerpaint, we invest in our employees to make sure they know how valuable they are to us. We cover 100% of healthcare premiums for every employee. We offer loan repayment programs to assist those with student loan debt. Our 401K plan matches 100% up to 3% of an employee’s income, and next year, we’re raising that match to 4%. We’re also vesting all Fingerpaint 401k contributions immediately, versus making employees wait years and years for that to happen. 

The point is, the more you invest in improving your employees’ lives, the more they will put back into your company. When it comes to people, you will get what you give.

Treat Employees Better Than Clients. Agencies often bend over backwards during the pitching process to impress a client. While this might help win business, the way your team treats clients is what will retain accounts. Here’s a secret I’ve learned during my time in the industry﹘ the better you treat your employees, the better they will treat your clients. 

Prioritizing the needs of your workforce over all else is just another way to show that you care. Now, don’t get me wrong, you should still give your clients the VIP treatment, but when you put your employees first, they will put more into their work and give clients the same respect they are shown.

The Evolution of the Agency! My Years in Growing a Business

Before I entered the advertising industry, I was a marketing director. This meant agencies pitched their ideas to me, and I was charged with deciding which one was worthy of our business. During my time on the other side of the table, I started noticing some serious issues with most of the companies pitching to us. High turnover rates, profit-driven business practices, and low morale seemed to be the norm in the advertising world. I felt agencies had it wrong, so I set out to try and break the monotony.  

Over the last twenty years, I’ve successfully built two successful advertising companies that I structured differently from traditional agencies. In April 2008, I founded my current agency, Fingerpaint. At the core of the company is the “revolutionary” idea that if you take care of your people, they will in turn take care of your clients. And let me tell you, our results speak for themselves. 

Fingerpaint was founded in the midst of the economic downturn. With determination and years of entrepreneurial experience under my belt, we managed to grow as a company even when the economy was struggling. Within a year we were an enthusiastic team of fifteen ready to take the ad world by storm. Then, Fingerpaint was faced with one of the greatest challenges a new agency can experience. Our biggest client (two-thirds of our business) had to drop us due to circumstances that were out of our control. I didn’t know what we were going to do.

I made the unconventional decision to not lay off anyone. I scrambled to find work for us to stay afloat, and while they weren’t the most glamorous projects we could’ve been doing, they allowed us to keep every single one of our employees. To this day, I’m proud to say that in my over 20 years as a CEO I haven’t laid off a single person. 

We don’t simply fire people if the account they’re working on gets cut. We are dedicated to the success of our people above everything﹘ even the success of our clients. This unwavering commitment to our team is what makes Fingerpaint stand out among other agencies. We believe that by creating a culture of empathy, respect, and empowerment we will always be able to bring more to the table. With such a stellar workplace reputation, some of the best talent in the industry wants to work for us.

With our team growing stronger with every new hire, our clients are the ones who ultimately benefit. Although we’re not driven by profits, we’ve managed to grow by 30-40% every year. Our employees are happy with their jobs and in turn produce top tier work. Our clients are happy with their results. Everyone wins.

Fingerprint - 5 Principles

Get to know Fingerpaint: Our top 5 principles

A strong company culture is vital to business success. I am passionate about teaching other businesses the connection between culture and business performance, and how to create a team that will serve your clients well. I practice what I preach in my own company, Fingerpaint. We are known for our spectacular, one of a kind company culture, and it has proven to benefit our bottom line. To give you more insight on the values I have built my company on, I am walking you through our five main principles at Fingerpaint.

We are independent by design.

As an independent agency, we are dynamic and free to cater to each client individually. That freedom allows us to roll with the punches, change directions if something isn’t working, and give our clients the individualized work and attention they deserve. We are “right service” rather than “full service.”  

We are people first. 

At Fingerpaint, we treat our employees like family. Additionally, we back that up with actions: benefits, sabbaticals, and more. When your team members feel valued, their dedication and the quality of their work is that much better. On top of that, when your employees are treated well, it will translate to the treatment of your clients, too. 

We invest in our clients.

Just as we invest in our team, when we start a relationship with a client, we make them a priority for their entire time working with us. Our dedicated team works on and off the clock to ensure success for our clients. Your success is our success!

We create outside the lines.

We are constantly looking for the “next big thing” and to constantly wow our clients. We not only believe in creating unique, captivating, effective marketing—we don’t accept anything less. We seek out employees who don’t just think outside of the box, they live there. Our approach to marketing is innovative and we always try to stay one step ahead, and it works!

We don’t just build brands, we activate them.

Waiting for your audience to come to you is a thing of the past. In today’s digital age full of social media and online content, you have to be where your customers already are. Not only that, but in the sea of content, you have to catch their attention long enough to stop their scroll, and be engaging enough to draw them in (and get them to click). At Fingerpaint, we call this “activating the brand.”

All of these values are at the core of our work and our culture. These principles set us apart from our competition and allow us to truly serve our clients to the best of our ability!

Want to learn more about Fingerpaint? Do we sound like a good fit? Learn more on our company website.

Company culture through the lifecycle of a business, Part Four: Maintaining company culture after mergers and acquisitions

So far, I’ve discussed how to create and nurture your company culture, and how to adapt it as your company grows. In the final part of this blog series, I want to talk about how to keep your culture intact after mergers and acquisitions. It may seem challenging, but it’s far from impossible!

Use culture to connect.

As your company grows, not only will you have more employees, but you may even add other business units or entire businesses themselves. Suddenly, you may find that you have employees spread out at different offices and in different states, maybe even in different countries! 

It can seem like an uphill battle to keep up a cohesive company culture with so many fragmented parts of your team, but it is possible! Make the extra effort to connect all of your team through “all-hands” meetings and events. Get creative with ways to unite your business units for quality time and open conversations. If everyone isn’t able to attend an event or meeting, video call them in! While it’s not ideal, it still provides some form of face-time for your team.

Be willing to adapt.

If you are dealing with a merger, you may have to make some changes as you work to marry two different company cultures. My advice is to take the best of both company cultures to create a new one. Be clear about how the new values and culture look so that there is no confusion throughout your team. Be open to feedback from new employees and old in order to create a culture that joins the merging companies more seamlessly together.

Start from the ground up with your “new” employees.

Employees joining your team in a merger want to be valued and heard, too. Be conscious that everyone is dealing with a lot of change, and as this Entrepreneur article states, reach every person. A culture doesn’t work if you don’t have a functional team. Work with employees and managers alike to get to know your people—their desires, their needs, and their aspirations. As you do this, your team will get to know you, too, which will open up opportunities for you to demonstrate the values and leadership you hope to instill in them through the culture.

As a leader, your job is to string a common thread through your team, no matter how much it changes and grows. You keep the ship afloat, holding your values at the core of your company and its culture. By leading with empathy and flexibility, listening to your people, and constantly creating opportunities for your team to connect on a deeper level, you will uphold a culture that will be able to withstand any amount of change your company may go through.

I would love to help you grow your business through empathetic leadership skills and and exceptional company culture. Get in touch.