Paving a New Way to Leading a Business

#Ashley Welcome to BrandKnow, a video series on all things e-commerce with the Brand Labs team. We’re headquartered out of Metro Detroit with a fully remote staff made up of just over 25 senior level employees, specialized in custom web development, UX, UI design, SEO, and system architecture. I’m here with Co-Presidents, Michelle Pittell, and Danielle Lewis. Co-presidents is kind of a unique thing that you don’t see very often. And I wanted to ask you guys what prompted that move. #Danielle Yeah. So I’ll jump in here first, Michelle. So, I’m actually really excited to talk about the co-president journey. It is very different than say, a co-founder or even a single solo president. So, I could spend a whole day talking about it, but I’ll just do a few quick little points that are near and dear to our hearts and how this all came about. And we do actually have a full blog article about it. So more details can be found there on our website. But like I said, most people are familiar with co-founders, the president, so when we say we’re co-presidents people kind of give us this weird look and they pause and they want to know a little bit more. Michelle and I did the same thing when we came up with this word. I’d never heard it before. But how it originated was right before the pandemic hit, there were some changes at Brand Labs and the present role became available. And our owner approached me about it to take on the president role. But at that time I was a new mom. I had a little boy that was just about six months old, and I wanted to be able to spend more time with him. And obviously the thought of a president role is a lot of stress, a lot of time, you’re working the weekends, not something I really wanted to do. But I also knew I wanted to focus on a role that plays my strengths and what I was passionate about, which was really more around the business strategy, the marketing, operations and financial management really wasn’t something that gets me really excited. So at that time, I didn’t know if the president role was right for me. But I worked alongside Michelle very closely at Brand Labs and she is awesome at operations, financial management, and many other things. So it was a really no brainer of like, “Hey Michelle, do you want a team up to do this president role with me and become co-presidents?” And then the owner was like, “Yeah, if that’s what you guys want to do.” He’s all for it. So it was really, really nice to have a partner going into really like a lot of change at Brand Labs. You felt like you weren’t by yourself, and with our different strengths it really allowed us to focus on what we really enjoyed and what we’re good at. So it was a win-win all around. And the biggest thing was like, it relieved a lot of pressure that we don’t have to make all the decisions by ourself. And my biggest thing is that sort of stress should never be placed on anyone. No one in the company should ever have that amount of stress and pressure put on your shoulders. At the end of the day, sometimes as a president you feel all that pressure if the company fails it’s on you and that’s not a fun feeling to have. And Michelle and I are able to look at different scenarios and different points of view and then come together to figure out the best solution, which is really cool to see. And there are some subjects that you just can’t discuss with your leadership team. So it’s nice to be able to discuss those with Michelle and have someone that’s aligned with the same vision as you. We have different paths of getting places, but we both have the exact same vision on how we want the business to work, what the culture looks like. So that is really a key there. And then the one last point I want to bring up that has been cool about this experiences especially for females in leadership role is, I had my second child in April and I was able to take an extended maternity leave without worrying about if the company needs me. I mean, I want them to need me, but you still want that time away. But it was nice that all that responsibility wasn’t on my shoulders. The team helped Michelle as well. But Michelle took on a lot of my responsibilities that I could spend time with my little one. And I’m beyond thankful for that because it’s not very common at president role to be able to take an extended maternity leave. So it was nice to be able to detach during that time. So that’s a little bit of background on how we got there. Why I’m so passionate about it and Michelle as well. And like I said, there is more that you can read about our experience on our website, but I know Michelle if you wanted to chime in with anything from your angle. #Michelle Yeah. I think having that mutual understanding of what the business was that we wanted to grow and have is always at the center of the decisions that we make. And Danielle and I having such different approaches to things really were able to not only teach each other but we’re learning from each other. And also I think we make the most informed decisions overall because we’re really seeing each other’s different perspectives. So I think that’s taught us a lot about collaboration and I think we’re able to set that example for our employees as well. And that’s I think really been like a huge breakthrough for us for our company. #Ashley So by co-leading Brand Labs together, what do you hope our company culture offers to our clients that they won’t find at other agencies? #Michelle Sure. I can take this one. So we approach our clients and our partners in the same way that we wish to be approached, keeping our core values at the center of how we do business. I already touched on one, but one of our first core values is collaboration. We believe we are better when we work together. And it’s really important to us at Brand Labs that we’re always bringing everyone to the table who is a subject matter expert so that they have information to share. Simplicity is another one of our core values. We do very complex work at Brand Labs, but how we communicate and our process does not need to be over complicated. So we really put that at the forefront of what we do. And the last one is mindfulness. We believe in communicating respectfully and without judgment. So we really think that when we put these core values of transparency, honesty, and integrity at the forefront of what we do, our clients respect that and it brings down barriers. They know that they can trust us. So we choose to take a really humanized approach to what we do, and no employees behind any curtains of Brand Labs. I know a lot of times our clients think they’ll just have their project manager and they won’t ever speak to anyone else, but that’s not how we do business at all. And our clients really love the ability, not only to interact directly with their account manager and their designer, but also their system architect. So they’re really able to collaborate, not only internally but externally with our clients. And I think that’s what really sets us apart in our approach. And clients really appreciate that transparency and being able to work with all these different people, to be able to understand how their project can be successful. #Ashley And our core value is also playing an important role in shaping our process, which includes a discovery at the starting point to get clear project requirements upfront. Can you walk us through our process and why it’s beneficial for our clients? #Danielle Yeah. Michelle, I’ll take this one. Obviously this is another one that’s near and dear to my heart. So, talking about our process, when Michelle and I first started discussing it, we knew that we needed to make it better for our clients and for our internal team. Our previous experience and our core values were really the main driver to change the old process. And I was coming from the corporate side before I was at Brand Labs, and having to work with agencies. And one thing I really didn’t like was feeling like tied into a contract that was very vague, so there was misalignment. I felt like in there was out of scope costs, and then delayed timelines, and it always came back to be expensive of us on the corporate side. And from Michelle’s perspective it was the project management side and the internal teams. And she really wanted to make sure, and sorry, I’m talking on behalf of you Michelle so you can say, no, that’s not right. But we’ve talked about this long enough, but she really wanted to make sure that every project had clear deliverables and a thorough plan before we actually started implementation. So we knew our core values would play a vital role in that, especially with collaboration, simplicity. Like there has to be collaboration throughout on the different teams. And as Michelle said, we do very complex things but we need to make sure that the process is simplified. And keeping it simple is super, super important. So I’m stressing on that because it needs to be easy for the client to understand but also for our internal team to understand this is how we create the best return on investment for our clients as well. And also for our teams to have a clear understanding of how the process works, to make sure that we’re efficient and that we’re communicating correctly to the client and there’s no misalignment and everyone’s on the same page. So with this thinking, we created our three phase approach to building our online stores. So we start with that discovery and solution blueprint before moving to implementation, which to us is the actual design portion and the development portion. And then before each phase starts, we actually provided detailed and accurate proposal to minimize those out of scope costs and ensure there’s alignment. So, when discovery gets done, we have our blueprint that we’ve created, and then now we are able to provide an accurate quote for design. Once design’s done, we’re then able to give the appropriate quote for development as well. So it really breaks it up into three phases that people can understand it and also see exactly what they’re going to get and what those costs are in the timeline. And this has been such a game changer for us, but also for our clients. And we’re so excited to share that with more people because it’s not a normal process. Normally, agency was like jump straight into implementation and say, “Let’s figure it out as we go.” And we want to avoid that at all costs. So we do a lot of things upfront. We just learned a long time ago never to go straight to implementation. And how we think about it is, you wouldn’t start building a house and picking out your finishes if you didn’t have a detailed blueprint to start with. And so, that’s really the approach that we’re taking with building custom online stores. #Michelle And just to keep on with what Danielle was saying from a project management side, I saw firsthand how designated scopes of work would easily start growing legs. So, for instance, we’d kick off and by the time we were halfway through the design phase, the deliverables would completely change and we have a new scope of work because perhaps the designer inspired some ideas or the client came up with some thoughts that they didn’t even think about or know about during the sales process. And even if the client knows they’ve added additional things, nobody wants to look over their costs again and add more items, perhaps they’re the person paying the bill or someone else. Right? So that means something has to change. Right? The budget or timeline, in a project management world book in that instance. So I saw it from both sides. And then looking at the client and seeing how that client felt really locked into something. And not able to potentially expand on their ideas because they were really locked into the single thing that was going to carry them through the design and the development. So that’s what I really love about our process that Danielle went into because we’re really able to take it piece by piece and the client has options. So we always start, anytime someone comes to us and say, look at their big picture and say, “Overall here’s an estimate of what we’re looking at. And here’s how we would break it up in our three phased approach.” So that someone knows what they’re more or less getting into before deciding to opt in. But then when we go through each process as Danielle described, we’re able in real time to update those estimates based on how the potential scope has changed, either minimizing or potentially growing. And then we can help our clients phase those in perhaps due to timeline restrictions or budget needs. And it’s a much more holistic approach we find. It’s innovative and the client is able to spend less time and resources money in the long run because they’re really planning it ahead of time. And it makes that implementation phase go so much smoother. So we’ve really found a lot of success through that process. And I think our clients appreciate it as well when they think about it, they’re like, this makes sense. Yeah. I don’t want to put my cart before my horse. But it’s so easy to get wrapped up in when you need something and how much you need it to cost. So we’re understanding of trying to get those estimates in, but then being really realistic and allowing the client to approach it piece by piece and make sure they’re getting everything they need along with staying within their budget or potentially timelines. #Ashley Yeah. Such great information and insight. Thank you so much Michelle and Danielle. If you’re looking to update your e-commerce store with custom development, new designs, it’s focused on the user journey, SEO platform migration, or just have questions overall about how to improve your online store, feel free to send us a message, Thanks for watching from all of us at Brand Labs.

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