Monday, 19 December 2016 02:54

Expertise Matters. Shocking, Right?


We pride ourselves on being a scrappy company. At CCS, the skate shoe, apparel and skateboard business I run, we bootstrap where we can, learn as we go, make mistakes, address them, and improve (hopefully). We like bringing in new coworkers who are willing to work hard, grow into their positions, not come in with too many preconceived notions or biases, and embrace our culture.

We’re also mindful of the possibility that our pride in scrappiness is merely a defense mechanism for not being able to afford highly qualified people with significant expertise. We are a small company that pinches its pennies. Increasingly, though, I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve been penny wise and pound foolish by not hiring more experts. We save money short term but perhaps we’re costing ourselves more business down the road.

Many small businesses don’t have the luxury of hiring experts even if they feel they are needed. It can be too expensive. While we’ve increasingly been able to hire experienced hands as we’ve grown, we are still really careful.

However, I can look in the rearview mirror and see examples where I’d like to take a mulligan and bring in expertise. When we bought CCS from Foot Locker in 2014, we only purchased its intellectual property. We did not buy inventory or the website itself. No former employees joined us. We purchased the brand name, a customer file, social media accounts, and some other digital assets. It was a race to essentially restart the company. The brand lost value every day we weren't up and running. The plan was to stand up a new website quickly, despite knowing it would have a lot of deficiencies.

While I knew it was critical to be get open for business ASAP, I was reluctant to make a lot of noise about our relaunch. Our website would be glitchy and inventory selection meager. Surely, customers who had come to expect a certain experience from CCS over decades would be disappointed by what they saw at first. We were not ready for prime time. I decided to hold off on certain marketing initiatives until we were.

For example, we did not restart comprehensive email marketing until August 2015, about eight months after we purchased CCS. That was a mistake. First, email addresses go stale much more quickly than I realized at the time. Also, when you are emailing a list for a first time in a long while, the initial sends are going to have large numbers of unsubscribes. This in turn hurts deliverability with the Internet Service Providers which can widdle down your list size even further. We could have been smarter about how we were reengaging people to better ensure the integrity of the list. Someone who knew what they were doing could have helped us avoid these pitfalls.

Search engine optimization has been another challenge for us. We used to think we were quite good at it but CCS has taught us that we're not good enough. We run another company called Daddies Board Shop. Like CCS, Daddies is an action sports company but focuses more on longboards. We had a pretty good SEO strategy with Daddies and meaningfully improved our search results since we purchased it in 2011. However, Daddies primarily sells small brands like Landyachtz Longboards and Sector 9. Key search terms in longboarding are less competitive than in larger industries. CCS, on the other hand, competes with the big boys. Nike SB and Adidas Skateboarding are among our biggest vendors and these search terms are extremely competitive. In short, what worked for us at Daddies on SEO hasn't been sufficient at CCS.

In email marketing, SEO and a number of other areas, we've learned the hard way that lacking expertise has really slowed down our efforts. The competition is too fierce and the players too sophisticated. We still believe in the value of scrappiness and bootstrapping but we've gotten religion about hiring experts. For example, we recently hired a digital marketing expert to build and mange a comprehensive marketing program and infrastructure for us. Since bringing expertise on board, it’s now clear how much we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Our knowledge of how to set up Google Analytics, build custom audiences in Facebook, set bid strategies in AdWords, segment customers, take data analysis a level or three deeper, rigorously A/B test….it turns out that all were rudimentary at best. Moreover, we didn't even have the time to get really smart about these things even if we could. Digital marketing wasn't anyone's full-time job. It needed to be.

We now have the expertise required to have a sophisticated customer acquisition and retention program, but boy, do I wish we had the help sooner. Hindsight is 20/20 but we’re playing catch-up in areas where we could have been ahead of the game by now. Going forward, we are trying to view decisions to hire people through a different lens. For each position, we discuss the cost of not hiring expertise. Even if the payoff is less certain and even if we have to stretch financially to bring in an expert, we’ve learned the hard way that bootstrapping can be unacceptably costly.

Author : Daron Horwitz

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