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You may work in an exciting medium, but you can’t forget basic business skills

September 20, 2010

Last week the online business I work for announced that almost half of all staff would be made redundant. Somehow, I emerged unscathed, but that’s not what this story is about.  This story is about reminding all of us who are engaged in digital and social media that just because we live and work in a segment of business that is expanding at a colossal rate, that this doesn’t excuse us from the basic business principals that govern whether any business – traditional or new – will be successful.

There’s no question about the management of the people I work for – we are after all part of one of if not the biggest media empire in the world – News Limited (love it or hate it, it’s huge). Like any business, over time we’ve expanded and contracted for various reasons, we’ve tried certain strategies that did work, and certain things that didn’t – and we’ve learnt along the way.

The product has constantly evolved as consumer needs have – I’ve seen the product transition from online only, to online + mobile, and from a directory only to a interactive, fully engaged site where consumers have begun to interact with the site on a daily basis – ratings & reviews of local businesses are key (similar to yelp.com for the American readers out there).

But over the last few days, as I’ve tried to help former colleagues pickup the broken pieces, we ask ourselves the inevitable question of : “what went wrong?”

At the end of the day, the business was still in high growth mode just like any other in the digital media space, and the product was a successful one that was embraced by consumers. Sales were going well, numerous product developments were under way, and the business continued to grow. Invariably the finger pointing begins, as does the ‘he said, she said’ routine, but whatever the reason, at the end of the day someone realised that something in the business was not going the way it needed to – and tough decisions were made. I could have easily been cut myself, and if so I think this blog would have been no different.

To put it simply, if you are advising people on how to use digital media, if you are seeking advice on how best to capitalise on new communication technologies, or if you have a digital media product that you think you can sell for a profit, you absolutely positively cannot forget that you are a business like any other and need to plan like a real business. High speed growth needs to be balanced out with the ‘behind the scenes’ mechanisms you need to support that, and great ideas with high consumer appeal need to be balanced out with an evaluation of how you will fund those ideas – either by revenue income, or in a public sector / NGO environment, then by the impact of the community message you are spreading.

A sobering thought for a Tuesday morning but one we can’t forget as we go out into the big wide world selling our brilliant ideas!

Finally, if you are based in Sydney and have sales, web development and/or IT operations roles available, there’s a few people who’d love to hear from you. Email me with information and I’ll pass on your details.

Deliriant Isti Romani – These Romans are crazy!

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