The hard – and critical – work of updating your business premise

Michelle van Schouwen and her prized Mac SE, circa 1988. The desk was a door on two filing cabinets.

Michelle van Schouwen and her prized Mac SE, circa 1988. The desk was a door on two filing cabinets.

Our marketing company, van Schouwen Associates, LLC, has been in business since 1985. That’s three change-filled decades.

Early on, we had a Mac SE; it was great for words but too slow for design work. Before that, we made do with my manual typewriter from college! We had a huge stat camera and a darkroom, too… but more important than all of that is the fact that we operated in a whole different business environment.

At one time, say, around 1985, it paid to be a “full service ad agency.” Now we have determined that, in our case, it is far better to be neither “full service” nor an “ad agency.” Business analysts in fact have written such cheery articles as How Ad Agencies Can Avoid a Death Spiral.

In this post, I’ll share the strategies and tactics that allowed us to change and thrive – rather than circling the drain as many other companies have done.

Unplanned potential obsolescence has loomed as a possibility for many companies – take Bakers Furniture in Stafford Springs, CT, closing its doors after being a well-respected retailer for over two centuries (and the oldest furniture store in the United States). Avoiding obsolescence is a big deal.

Updating your business is tough. How much easier is it to come to work each day and do what you did the day before? The answer: It IS easier, until you have too few customers, too few sales, too many stronger competitors, and/or a dim future.

In vSA’s case, we’ve made updates to our business model over time. As the company’s president, I’ve made it a policy that every week I must set aside time for what I (somewhat sardonically) call “Big Thoughts.”

To stimulate these Big Thoughts, I make sure to:

• Continually read articles, books and blogs created by the smartest businesspeople and relevant thinkers – from consultants to entrepreneurs to climate change experts and social policy developers.

• Ask our customers what they need, what they don’t need, what’s changing (and a whole lot more). Even when I don’t enjoy the answers, I absorb and deal with them.

• Listen to my staff.

• Create off-the-cuff notes, visions, elevator speeches, Q&As, and more – all for my own creative thinking process.

• Question my own assumptions and give weight to my own priorities for the company. See, for example, my recent post Make conscious decisions about growing your small business.

• Pay consultants when I need fresh thinking specific to my company. “(Know what you don’t know.”)

• Avoid clinging to the past. Avoid clinging to fantasies.

• Recognize 1) that arguably, the primary purpose of a business is to make money even if that means a pivot in services or purpose; 2) that change is constant and accelerating; and 3) that you can often develop new opportunities when old ones fade away.

For our company, the concept of being a “full service ad agency” was nice 30 or even 15 years ago. However, we found that it became more useful to focus on business-to-business (B2B) customers. We found as well that it was smart to develop sector expertise within the B2B category. We also found that we place a lot less advertising than we did 30 years ago, and that we are in fact not really an “ad agency.” Oh well.

Best, we realized that we are fantastic at launching things – “things” that range from new companies to new products to messages. We can, within our proven capabilities, conduct the whole marketing launch, from strategy to tracking and everything in between.

Today, van Schouwen Associates is a B2B launch marketing company. The hard work of updating the company now allows us to do work that matters to our customers, and work that matters to us.

Need further inspiration to change? Check out six successful companies who have changed their business strategies in recent years.

What will updating your business premise mean for your company?

Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch

, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, as well as its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. Michelle has had the good fortune to manage vSA for 30 years.

1 comment

  1. Peter says:

    Analyzing yourself and your own business can be hard for a lot of people since it forces them to face the reality of their flaws and failures. That's why it's so important to do it!

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