Our family Christmas card this year started with “2020 – a year for the books”. As I thought about this letter I feel the same intro is appropriate. None of us will forget 2020, but probably not for the reasons we would have expected when it began. Let’s put 2020 in perspective as we look to the new year.
The purpose of this letter is to explain the journey of Creating Margin Corporation through this interesting year, and our outlook for 2021. Put simply, while weary from the struggles this year has brought, I am as hopeful as ever about our future. I am particularly optimistic because of how we were able to persevere and evolve through this year.
Q1 – A Growing Team Needed Fine Tuning
January began with big plans in mind. In our company meeting in late December of 2019, we discussed “a rising tide lifting all boats” where workplace technologies were growing in all sectors. We anticipated that our work with Pronestor would continue to prosper. We expected that digital signage would continue to be sought after. Among our product development ideas were LED lite door number signs that could sync with calendar data to complement meeting room touch screens.
In January, we had several crucial projects underway with clients. A primary focus was our website rebuild. This was a ground-up redesign/redevelopment of the site which increased our page count from about 16 to over 42 pages.
In hindsight I realize that the website redesign took a toll on the team. Our hyper focus on that project led some to question leadership’s priorities. By February it was clear that changes had to be made to fix our culture, and we began the process of evaluating each team member’s commitment to our direction as well as how specific skillsets fit within assigned job descriptions.
Working Towards a High Performing Team
Recruitment, hiring, and personnel changes in general have been a major storyline throughout the entire year of 2020. If any fault is to be placed it is on my learning curve understanding who can fit into the company best and for the long haul. I have learned a lot and we will continue to be better at making sure we identify and develop the best people for our team. We are in constant pursuit of being a high performing team, a topic I will address in a future post.
Early March showed a lot of promise for the year, as our sales pipeline was healthy and growing. While we were still learning how to perfect outbound sales attempts, we were hopeful that we could “crack the code” on lead generation within the first two quarters. We were wrapping up the major aspects of the website project by mid March.
Q2 – Getting Better through the Crisis
In Boise Idaho, we began to feel the impact of COVID-19 March 19th (my birthday). We made the call to have all staff work from home that week. We beat Governor Brad Little – and his call for non-essential businesses to work from home – by about five days. While we took our time on the decision, I am proud of how we communicated the decision. We acted quickly to ensure safety of our team members.
Idaho was one of the last states to shut down due to the pandemic, and by the time we had transitioned our team to work from home we were already aware of the worsening state of our project pipeline. We had already been notified that several projects were cancelled or indefinitely delayed. At this time, projections were that companies might be back to work by the Fall. We moved all external projects and opportunities out three months.
Product Development and Partnership
Much of April was spent perfecting our website for SEO purposes, and planning ahead to continue to improve our video production capabilities at HQ. I spent about 10 hours a week in product development mode, assessing how the company could pivot during COVID. We have several ideas spawned during this time that we will continue to develop and bring to market in 2021. Take for instance our foot pedal, an easy way to interactive with digital signage without have to purchase more expensive hardware or use a touch screen.
We also forged an important partnership with Density. Density is a workplace solutions company which offers top notch hardware and software solutions for occupancy tracking in places like offices, campuses, arenas, hospitals and more. We are so excited about Density’s addition to our workplace technology offering of digital signage, room management and now workplace safety and occupancy.
Our assessment of performance across departments continued during Q2. I made the decision to get smaller both to 1) rebuild better and 2) wait out the storm of the pandemic to reassess our sales approach.
By June our team of three FTEs had returned to the office. We had not yet seen the worst of COVID-19 in June.
Q3 – Expanding Creating Margin’s Services
2021 will be Creating Margin’s seventh year of business. For over four years I have envisioned creating a Media Group based off of the skill sets and equipment that we were using to market workplace technology software, hardware and services. With our impressive arsenal of video production equipment (most of which we acquired in late 2019), the break in the action in 2020 allowed time to make Creating Margin Media Group a reality.
Though most of our prior work had been internal, by the end of Q4 we had already landed two deals for video production. Our client list for video production at this point included Humana, Liberty Global and Continental. To this list we added Tribute Sports Management and Just Wisdom Teeth.
While the Media Group will continue to be an integral part of our Technology Group’s marketing efforts, I look forward to competing for work outside of the office helping other companies improve their video presence and marketing efforts overall.
Q3 allowed us to close out several Technology Group projects that had dragged out due to the pandemic.
We also began website and product development for Fresh Clothes, and purchased a van. Our launch of Fresh Clothes came next.
Q4 – Launching Fresh Clothes
One of the major investments in time and capital this year has proven to be Fresh Clothes – a mobile laundry service offering 24 hour return of clothes including ironing and shoe shine services. We made the decision to start Fresh Clothes for several reasons, including:
- The opportunity to launch a unique laundry concept that could thrive in any economy, even one beset by a global pandemic
- By pairing our familiarity with technology and online marketing we could compete with laundry services locally AND nationally
- The privilege of living in Boise Idaho, which is a perfect place to offer such a service. The low cost of living, large household size, and rapidly growing population of Boise makes it a great test bed.
- A recognition that this was a business that could be systematized and franchised if executed correctly
The high performing team at Creating Margin deserves great credit for the successful launch of Fresh Clothes. Our ability to quickly create a great marketing website, develop a web app, and design great looking content for use in marketing efforts was extraordinary. We communicated efficiently with prospective customers while the foundation was still being put in place.
We’ve proven that Boise families have an interest in a service like this. We have feedback that our price point is attractive. We have a group of 10 happy families who have transitioned from no cost/early launch customers to aid customers.
Social media was the main driver for Fresh Clothes customer acquisition in 2020. In 2021, mail marketing will drive growth of the business alongside use of social media and other digital advertising methods.
Plans for 2021
These four quarters lead us to where we sit today. Christmas week, a time when business is normally slowing down. We have been stretched this year, many are weary (including me). But we’re set up to excel in 2021 on a variety of fronts.
We have plenty of work planned for 2021. In early 2021 we’ll have several open projects finishing up, and we’ll transition those customers to Managed Services and support. We’ll continue to rebuild our sales pipeline, sorting through those opportunities that have pushed basically since Q2 of last year. Marketing will pick up, and we’ll tell wider audiences about our solutions suite including Density and long term partner Pronestor, as well as our core digital signage expertise.
Product development will continue to be a priority. We will develop new peripheral hardware solutions using GPIO and USB capabilities. These solutions will be used primarily with BrightSign hardware, but may be universal to any digital signage OS. Our CURIO Software Suite will be renamed in the very near future, and we’ll announce that and introduce capabilities.
We will continue to compete for video production work, leveraging the growing capabilities we’ve developed as a team. We have several internal use video projects, and have a couple more for Fresh Clothes we’ll finish out as well. Building partnerships in the channel is so important to us, and that will continue to be a focus in 2021. We’re very interested in partnering with more members of NSCA, PSNI and AVIXA.
Closing Thoughts – Keeping 2020 in Perspective
Hard times are the fertile soil we need in order to grow. In hard times, it’s easier to identify what is essential and what is wasteful or not conducive to success. That accurately summarizes my experience in 2020. I have grown tremendously through this year, and I know that I can say the same for each member of our team. But more than growing individually, I am confident that this company – Creating Margin – an entity that is somewhat it’s own creature – has grown as well. 2020 in perspective reminds us that through this year we strengthened CM by broadening our products and services. We added immense capability to the website. We have done some great work this year for which we can all be proud. 2021 will find us equipped to grow more effectively.
So with these thoughts, I want to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Whether you’re a team member or a customer, thank you for your efforts. If you’re a prospective customer, we welcome you and look forward to meeting you. Have a restful holiday everyone, more good news to come!