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The time William Shatner gave me a kick in the pants

February 5, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

320x240Sometimes you need a good, swift kick in the pants. I sure did. We were refocusing, we were finally at the point where we’ve done enough work that we could afford to (and had to) say NO to some opportunities.

But I wanted to say no to everything—I wanted to finally. finish. some. of. these. projects.

We went to Shatner’s World, sat right up front and listened to William Shatner—who is 82 and phenomenally entertaining—tell us about how his career went as far and wide because he said YES. No matter what came up, how crazy it was from Star Trek to singing to horse racing he said, “I can do that!”

You have to be discerning, but it’s so much more fun to say I can do that! and see where it goes than to say NO.

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You do your thing, I’ll do mine

January 29, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

Yes, it's still a trike, but it could probably be better if someone knew what they were doing.
The other day one of our clients called and wanted to discuss a new strategy to sell more product. In the end the best we could do for her is to put up a simple order taking form. It met some of the criteria for what she wanted—but wouldn’t really move the needle forward because we don’t do ecommerce or marketing at Sawaya Consulting. Sure, we can implement the tech solution and design it to look great, we can even have some ideas along the way, but it’s not our thing.

In the meantime she found someone who can tie together the ecommerce and marketing and do a good job. She called us and told us she loves to work with us, but is going to use this other firm (that’s the right way to treat your agency, more on that another time). We thanked her for letting us know and worked with the other firm to get them the access they would need.

You see, there is a lot of benefit to working with people that are doing what they do. 

(Yes, it’s still a trike, but it could probably be better if someone knew what they were doing.)

When you come to us for a website we immediately know a list of pages you will want, we are up to date on the latest technology and techniques, we have a handful of concepts stuffed in our brains waiting to come to life and we can do the little fiddly bits in our sleep.

There is a good chance your logo designer won’t be the best web designer, your web designer won’t be the best marketer, and your marketer isn’t a chef. Being loyal and working with the same team can produce great results across the board, but sometimes when your team overstreches they end up worn out and you end up paying high dollar amounts for the fiddly bits. This is one of the things we are considering as we refocus.

As an agency we are just as clear about what we DO and what we DON’T do.

  • Yes, we make mobile apps, but no we don’t make games, social apps or mcommerce.
  • Yes, we make websites, but not ecommerce, Flash based sites or do search engine marketing.
  • Yes, we make corporate tools, but we do that on PHP, not C# or ASP.

For all that we do, there are a dozen things we don’t. We are strictly a business-to-business, information management design and development shop.

10 Business Lessons from my Parents—Preparation & Defense

January 22, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

I was truly blessed—or damn lucky—to quote my father—to be raised by exceptional people in a wonderful family. My dad owned a mortgage business for years (more on that story later) and is now a financial examiner for the state of Utah. My mom is a seamstress and can make everything from a wedding dress to a thousand costumes to engineering bags that transport medical supplies.

You know how the older you get the smarter your parents are? Which is too bad because when you are a teenager/early twenties they are really dumb. Come on parents, just what happens to you in those years? Kidding.

My parents passed down a lot of advice around running a business and here are some things I would like to share with you. My sister helped witha couple of these and then Steve added in a couple from his parents.

#1 – Business people always have business cards

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_1Have cards on you at all times. In the car, in every purse—all the time. You never know when you will run into someone and want to hand them a card. This is still true in the world of tech.

Just last week I was sitting in a waiting room, noticed the logo on a guy’s jacket and started up a conversation with him. He is a customer of one of our large clients. BOOM! He’s struggling with some tech questions including building a mobile app and some other corporate tool related things. He picked my brain for 45 minutes, asked for a copy of my book, and who knows, something interesting may happen. I’d love to work with this particular company.

#2 – Do the best you can with the time and resources you’ve been given.

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_2I come from a family of overachievers, so you have to understand that this piece of advice is actually negative—it’s the advice when you need to quit giving 110% because whoever you are working for doesn’t appreciate it and you are only taking it out on your soul.

You still show up, you do a good job, but then you go home, do only what you can with the budget, and you work within the time constraints.

#3 – Give them the same courtesy they would give to you.

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_3Again, this sounds like positive advice (sounds like the golden rule) but it’s not. This is generally the advice when you are in another untenable situation.

Like you’ve given two weeks notice and the entire office has turned on you and every day is 12 hours of living hell. Asssuming everything is wrapped up—and there is no plan to hire/train a new person—do you need to stick it out? Give them the same coutesy they would give to you.

#4 – Set up your work environment to be as efficient as possible.

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_4If your work environment is set up correctly you can make more money. I learned this working piece rate for my mother. If a job pays $0.07 per piece you can either futz around and make $5 per hour or you can get down to business, touch things as few times as possible and make $18/hour.

#5 – Some people have five years of experience, some people have one year of experience five times.

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_5This tidbit is helpful when you meet someone “who’s been in the business for 20 years” and you think that cannot possibly be true. Or when I was put up against a designer with a resume so similar to mine I thought he’d copy/pasted it from me—but he wasn’t producing the kind of work for his company that I was.

#6 – There are two things that you cannot compete with: dishonesty and inexperience.

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_6When you lose a bid for reasons that don’t make sense: There are two things you can never win against: (1) dishonesty [people that say whatever just to get someone on the hook and then take more time/money later], and (2) inexperience [those that don't really understand what the project will take and underbid it].

This is probably one of the things we run up against the most at this point in our careers. We bid something but then someone comes in much lower. At that point we thank everyone for their time and move on, we never compete on price like that—because generally we know what’s about to happen. More than once people have come back later, or told us they should have gone with us. Often the project never sees the light of day (yes, we watch for them to be launched by someone else).

This actually leads to an idea we’ve been discussing lately about value and positioning, but that’s another post.

#7 Be a morning person.

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_7Get in, prep your stuff before anyone else (that always makes you look on the ball and punctual), get done and get out. Suddenly there’s even more hours of the day. From my sister, “I always loved working the 7:30-4:30 shift at work instead of the 9-6 even though it was the same number of hours because I still had day left.” I guess since I’m writing this at 6:45 am I also agree.

#8 – Make sure you don’t find out you’ve “Missed your chance”

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_8This one is indirectly from my sister, she moved out last year and uncovered a diary from when she was a little kid, it had only one entry and it read: I wanted to watch cartoons this morning but my dad said, “I’d missed my chance,” my parents are big big big big big big big big big big big big big big big big brats.

We all thought that was hilarious, but now I’ve started to notice how much I say I’ve missed my chance, or we have, or a client has. The lesson here is to head people off at the pass—if you want to get on our schedule, let us know early, if I am bidding a project I do whatever it takes to get that bid back as quickly as possible. And yes, last year, something happened that delayed our bid and when we finally submitted we had “missed our chance”.

#9 – Set a Good Example

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_9From Steve: My dad always said that if you want or expect a certain behavior out of someone that the best way to get results is to practice that behavior yourself. If you expect people to be on time you should be on time yourself.

#10 – Don’t burn that bridge, even though you want to.

sci-businesslessons-parents_Page_10And the last one, also from Steve’s parents, odds are your business community is smaller than you think it is. You may be tempted to burn a bridge with someone. The better tactic is to be graceful about it. Burning a bridge will almost certainly come back to haunt you later in life. We tend to have long memories for those that wrong us.

Share your lessons…

What about you? What business lessons have you learned from your parents—or taught to your children? We love to see comments on the blog or on Facebook and read/respond to every one of them.

Update: Here is a PDF of all the graphics if you want to print them.

Refocus: The universal concept right now

January 17, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya


We survived the holidays, we followed up on all the issues from the first of the year—but now we are looking at refocusing what we’ve been doing for the last several weeks / months / years.

I’ve had this exact conversation with four people already this week—we are doing it and it sounds like all of you are doing it as well.

It’s time to refocus. 

There are lots of reasons why:

Either because the economy was getting better last year and so we took on more and more work—to find out one day we had the wrong mix of clients at that exact moment. 

Or the economy wasn’t getting better so we added more and more and then found out those things don’t perform as well. 

Or the economy aside, we are doing well, our partner company is doing well—can we do even better together?

Or we are doing well, we want to partner with this company, this is the deal they have—it’s close to what we are doing, it could mean growth, but to grow that arm of the business we have to take away from this one.

Those are the four broad items that started the “we are going to refocus” conversation with people this week (only one of them is our issue).

Most of them come back to: in the face of opportunity what does it cost you, as a person, to split your focus on many things? Are you going to grow because you took the opportunity? Or are you going to fritter away what was good and what was working?

As we refocus I’ll share some of the things we are doing—in the meantime—are you refocusing? What does this time of reflection and resolution mean for you?


Do you read this blog? Let us know!

January 17, 2013 | Written by Amber Sawaya

We are refocusing our marketing and social media—can you help us out by answering this completely anonymous, short survey?