In 2 days I will be speaking to a large group of students at George Mason University about my story of how I started integrateIT and provide them with tips as they prepare to enter the work force. I am extremely excited to speak to the students and I know the professor and dean of the program are extremely excited to have me there to share my story as well. This 45 minute speech in the grand scheme of things is really not a huge deal as it won’t make our company a penny, it isn’t a connection that will bring us future business contracts but yet I find myself feeling as if it brings with it a huge sense of personal accomplishment. I feel as if I don’t usually get this way too often. This time is a little different so let me explain why.
This is a story that not many people know about me. About 8 years ago shortly after I had started integrateIT, I actually applied to grad school at GMU to get my MBA with Katie. We thought it would be something cool to do together as at the time we didn’t have kids and we figured it couldn’t hurt for us to get our MBA’s. So we studied up and took the entry test, filled out our applications, and wrote our entry essays. A few months later we got our letters. Katie opened hers and was excited to see she had been accepted. Me, declined. I was actually pretty hurt by the news although I tried to play it off as no big deal. Now, I will be the last person to make the argument that I am smarter than my wife. She has a degree in Chemical Engineering from RPI and graduated with like a 3.8 GPA. Me, I played soccer at RPI…and got a degree in Management. Nevertheless, I was hurt. I felt that here I was someone that had started a company and had completed a prestigious GE Leadership Training program and they were crazy to not accept me into their program. I even went as far as to write an appeal letter that went unanswered. I made Katie enroll in the program even though I could tell she felt weird about still going through with it since we wanted to do this together. At times it was hard to hear stories about her class projects, or the interesting people she was meeting and working on projects with.
I told Katie then and there (half tongue in cheek) that my goal was going to be to make integrateIT so successful that I was someday not a student at GMU but rather someday speaking to students at GMU. This is a true story, you can ask my mom or Katie as they have heard me talk about this goal for years now.
So as I prepare for my remarks on Thursday with great excitement, I post this entry as a reminder to all, don’t let anyone else impact what you want to do or be in life. And take the detrours in the road as motivation to push that much harder to make your goals realities. Of course they will hurt and make you doubt yourself at times but they also make life challenging and I can tell you first hand this week that they also make the times when you do achieve one of those goals feel that much more special.
Being an avid sports fan, sports analogies work best for me. Sometimes life throws you a curveball that hits you and leaves you with a nice welt. You got two choices, lay there and cry about your bruise or brush it off and jog to first base and then later tell everyone about the 99mph fastball that almost took your life!
One of those challenges of owning and operating a small business for us has been striking that balance between eliminating bureaucracy but still having some level of formal process. Every person joins a company for their own specific reason. Some choose to join a small company as opposed to a large company for the personal attention that they can get from the management. Others meanwhile join for the exact opposite reason. They view it as a way to get out from under the red tape that is required to do anything at a big company or as a way to be left alone and not climb that typical corporate ladder.
Over the past few years we have tried to implement processes that fit everyone and we have recently realized that this doesn’t work. It may work for the majority of your staff but it could also be ruining that small company experience for some others.
One of the areas we have struggled most with this is in the area of training and career development. Some of our staff like the flexibility that their jobs offer and as a result are happy in that position and have no desire or plans to switch jobs. In the past we have still required those individuals to tell us what training they want and have encouraged them to complete training to prepare them for a future position they may have no desire to pursue. Some people though are content doing what they are doing and don’t want to “waste” time going to a class to learn something they have no desire to do.
As a result we are currently implementing a program that I am very excited about. It doesn’t have a name or anything flashy. It’s just in simple terms a program that is flexible and caters to the desires of each specific employee. We are in the process of meeting with each one of our employees and getting a better idea of what their career golas are and what level of assistance they require from us as a company.
Several of our staff are early on in their careers and have big plans for what they hope to accomplish. For those individuals we will work with them on how to best reach their goals. We can help them identify the proper training courses to take, the next positions that make the most sense for them to step into etc. It will also help us to better understand what they are looking to achieve and make their experience with our company as memorable as we can.
Likewise we have several staff on board that are happy with what they are doing. They joined our company to get away from the bureaucracy of a large company and largely want to be left alone. These individuals do a fantastic job for us and the last thing we want to do is to annoy them with requests to fill out training plans and career plans if thats not something they are concerned about. Our goal with them is to make sure they are aware that we are more than happy to offer them assistance here but we are also more than happy to leave them alone to let them do their jobs. Also, if they change their mind down the road our door is always open to discuss this as well.
This has been really rewarding for us as small business owners. It’s yet another example of something that really bothers some people at some companies that we are able to put our own stamp on within our company and do it differently. Why does everyone need to go to a week of training each year? Why does everyone have to change jobs every 2 years? Why does everyone need to know where they hope to be in 5 years? The answer from our perspective is…they don’t!
Coming into 2012 we set a goal to increase our brand awareness. It sounds sort of funny for a small company to be thinking about brand awareness and realistically what could we expect to gain by this increased brand awareness? Our goal wasn’t to be looked at like the next Apple or anything but rather to just focus more on getting our name out there. Just 2 months into the new year I am happy to report it is working….in a big way.
We started by trying to increase our attention to social media. We set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter and began posting updates about things going on within our company. We didn’t have any false ideas that we would start recruiting people or anything through these mediums but simply viewed it as a way to get our name out there to family and friends and when it comes to twitter to get our name out there to other companies.
We started to pay a LOT of attention to our website and ensuring that we had fresh content on it. We realized that a lot more people than we thought were visiting our website (www.integrateit.net) and each time a person went to our website it was similar to meeting a person face to face making that first impression. If they went to our site and were not impressed they probably wouldn’t go back and may not have any interest in contacting us for more information. We also updated job postings on the site to ensure they were current and improved the method by which people could contact us through our website. It has worked. I have received several resumes that have come to us through our website whereas in the past we have had to seek out resumes. We have also had several inquiries from accountants, recruiters, and just last night a call from the local economic improvement board looking to work with us as we were a local small business.
Charity Events -This has always been something we have taken pride in. We are a company that is very active with charity. What has changed is that we used to not advertise it because it was not why we did it. What I have learned over this past year though is that a LOT of people view our involvement with charity as a huge reason to want to join our company. We are about to start our first ever March Madness Pool for all of our employees where they will each fill out a NCAA basketball bracket and play for $500 for the charity of their choice as well as $200 Visa Gift card for themselves. This event has garnered a lot of excitement among the staff and I am very excited to share updates on our Facebook page on not only how everyone is faring in the pool but also which charities are staff have chosen to play for.
On March 29th I have been asked to speak to the Capstone program at George Mason University. This is a very big deal for me as well as the company. For me, it has been weird to speak to the dean of the program as well as the professor of the classes I will be speaking to and see their excitement in having me come to speak to their class about my story. I don’t view my story as anything out of the ordinary but to them it is a chance for these students to hear a different story from the usual large company executives that normally come in and speak. It is a chance for them to hear someone that is passionate about what they do and where their company is headed. For our company it is an awesome opportunity to get our name out there to individuals that will be entering the job market soon and to grow a relationship with a local university. I am so excited for this opportunity.
Finally, last week we were informed that we have been named a finalist for the Washington Business Journals 2012 Best Places to Work. Being named a finalist for this award is affirmation that we are doing some great things and that it is being noticed. When I started integrateIT in 2004 I had this vision in my mind that I could start a company that would be a really cool place to work, that we would be looked at as experts in our field, and that we could do great things for our community. Being named a finalist for this award sort of gives me a push and makes me realize that we are doing it. We still have a long way to go and there are a lot more things we can (and hopefully will) do.
The Biz and I have been really busy this year trying to increase our brand recognition and get our name out there. It was something we thought was important heading into this year and after a few months we are already starting to see a big payoff from these efforts. If anyone else has any other branding ideas we could take advantage of that are outside the box we’d love to hear about them.