It’s a New Year! What did we learn in 2018? What are we practicing?

This is the time of year when people reflect on the past and look towards the future. Meaning, they sort through the year’s worth of piles on their desk and find the things that still need to be done. We are looking back to ponder what positive learning we’re carrying forward into 2019. Resolutions are not our thing. What is? Improvement through learning, practice, and refinement of what is already working. Below are some insights from our team members’ living and learning in 2018.

Josh’s thoughts from 2018:

Know where you want to go. In three business areas (Financial Performance, Operational Excellence, and Business Development) I wrote out a predictive statement to meet by end of 2018. Following this, I wrote quarterly statements predicting our progress along the way. These were all focused on a single theme: Fill the hole. A client was able to hire an in-house designer at the end of 2017, so we lost a few key projects and had a hole to fill. Every decision was measured against this theme and the objectives supporting it. Good news—we filled it! And amazingly, our quarterly progress predicted back in Dec, 2017 was remarkably accurate for the whole year.

Watch the numbers. It can a beast to build (I built my own as a spreadsheet), and complicated to wrap one’s head around, but it's extremely helpful for this business owner. Staff hours, bill rates, pay rates, fixed expenses, and variable expenses are all planned for the full year and measured monthly as the numbers are entered. It takes discipline to revisit this monthly, but it allows us to test different scenarios, spot anomalies in our hours or expenses, and see where we've hit or missed a financial goal.

Have a great coach. I’m not an expert in finance, human resources, accounting, business development, sales, or marketing. I need help in all these areas, and you may too, whether you know it or not. I was lucky enough to find my business coach, Doug Christy at Provision Coaching, and everything has changed. After 10 years of status quo, I now have employees, an office, evenings and weekends free, lots more business, and a higher level of awareness of it all. I also have accountability and help with the still huge amount still to learn. If your status quo isn't where you want to plateau, find a good business coach.

Donuts are magical. That’s it.


From Charis, our project and marketing manager:

‘I don’t know’ are three powerful words. Asking questions instead of assuming is an important component to creating trusting, long-term relationships. Saying “I don’t know” can feel like a weakness. I still sometimes hold back what I think is a “stupid question.” However, there are almost always others in the room that are thanking you for asking that question. “I don’t know,” can also trigger that magical moment where the answer spontaneously pops into your head. I know firsthand that saying “I don’t know” has produced better work from me. Saying “I don’t know” helps me find the right answer for our clients and our team so they have the knowledge they need to do good work.

Marketing is about sharing your gift. Marketing is a way to let others know you can help solve a problem they are facing. My belief is every one of us has a special talent, a gift that can help others. If you are not letting others know you have that gift, you are ultimately doing your business community and really, the world a disservice. Yes, there are marketers who will try to manufacture your need for you and tell you that you must solve that need by purchasing their product or service. That is not how I work. That is not how Chalkbox works. We are simply here to help when organizations have a business problem that can be solved through design.

Proof. Double-double check. One of my biggest errors is run on sentences. Once I start pursuing an idea it just flows into one big paragraph, with little punctuation. I have found the following steps work well for me when presenting information in a more accurate and digestible way. Slow down. Produce. Step away. Then proof. And then ask others to look over your work. I know that in my excitement of producing, I forget to dot the ‘i' and cross the ‘t’. Being so close to something can sometimes blind you from seeing an easily caught error.


Our designer, Adam, has this to share:

Always clarify. Even if I think I understand something clearly, there is a chance that I or the person I am communicating with may have missed or misinterpreted something. For example, when receiving feedback from a colleague on a project it is easy to take something like, “I think the type looks a bit tight here,” at face value and act on that initial impression. However, a better response is to ask questions: “What about the type looks too tight? Is it the compressed font we are using? Is it the kerning? The weight of the letters?” Or perhaps it is something else entirely. I won't know unless I make sure to ask the right questions, and ask whomever I am talking with to clarify their statements with specific details as needed.

Print isn’t dead… yet. As much as people enjoy predicting the demise of print, the majority of our clients still need to communicate in a physical manner (off-screen). It is true that print is being replaced in many instances with digital communication. But we find with our clients that print is being supplemented, rather than replaced, by the digital realm. More often than not, the print work we produce is also required to work well on-screen.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know. While I believed I was an expert in the Adobe Creative Suite before working at Chalkbox, I have now learned more efficient ways to accomplish almost every task in these programs. There is always more to learn, and it is important to be open to new methods to accomplish old tasks. The simplest first step is to ask a colleague, “how would you do this?”

We don’t know what we don’t know, but we know we don’t know everything.

Feedback and insights from others help Chalkbox grow and thrive. Have you gained an important nugget of wisdom in 2018 that you’d share with us? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Leave a Comment