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Love the One You're With

05-19-14 Drew Clemens

Drew reminds internal team members and agency folks that the grass isn’t always greener, and your grass is a lot greener than you might think.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like to get to know people. I’d rather get to know you first, and if there’s time, we can talk shop. That’s just kind of how I’m built.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to chat with a lot of you wonderful people at conferences and workshops over the past several years—teaching and sharing in many of our Build Right workshops—doing my best to share our progress in building our little pieces of the web in hopes of helping others. And, for whatever reason, when you are put in the presenter’s chair, folks trust you. And even though we at Sparkbox believe we are figuring it out day-to-day like everyone else, we’ve had a lot of people share pretty candidly with us about their current situations.

I hear in-house people sighing:

I don’t know. Sometimes I feel so constricted working on my internal team. Working on the same stuff all the time gets old. It’s not exciting like agency work.

And I hear agency folks blurting:

Man, clients! Amiright? I just get so worn out by the deadlines and compromising my work. I just wish I could really focus on something and do it really well without the nitpicking.

Well, I’ve been there. And there.

In my twelve-year-old career, I’ve done a couple of stints with client-based agency work (Sparkbox included), and I’ve been on two dedicated internal teams. Boy, that makes me sound old.

And though I get accused of being a crusty old man around the office, I’d like to step out of character for a moment so that I can encourage you to see the glass half full in your current situation, highlighting the benefits of where you are—because you really may have it better than you think.

The Value-Driven, Efficient, and Unique Agency Life

Yes, clients can be demanding. Yes, sometimes the timelines are ridiculous and the scope and budget are out of whack. Yes, you could do so much more cool stuff if there were more time and budget available to the project. It happens. It’s the circle of life.

But what an opportunity.

An agency pushes you to work faster and leaner. To create great things but do them efficiently. No one comes out of an agency slower and sloppier. Demanding clients are a great accountability, pushing you to prove your work is worth it. And though you may not appreciate it at the time, it is a gift to be required to produce valuable work. The more you learn to differentiate value from “getting the job done,” the further you’ll go in your career.

And agency work exposes you to so many problems to solve (i.e. opportunities to learn). No two clients are the same, and the unique project challenges that clients bring with them will stretch muscles you never knew you had. Bouncing from unique project to unique project leaves you nimble, agile, and so much more prepared for the next problem. You’re being trained how to solve problems, not just complete a project.

The Change-Making and Deep-Digging Internal Team

Yes, you’re probably in a cubicle or beige box rather than an office that looks like a scene from CSI. Yes, I realize you’ve been working on that same project for three years. And yes, dealing with internal departments can be every bit as challenging as working with external clients.

Time to make your own fun, my friend. Just don’t burn down the building.

Those working internally have the greatest opportunity to effect long-term change. Yes, the change generally comes more slowly than you’d like, but you can affect the direction of your group/department/company in a way that an outside vendor can not. You are there every day, building relationships, planting seeds, contributing ideas—and you’re doing it all with a vested interest in your organization. Outside vendors can bring in ideas, but only those internally can truly carry them to lasting change.

You have the opportunity to tweak and tweak and tweak. Fine-tune that work you did last week. Chase after those questions that have been nagging you. Dig deeper.

I love the work that Notre Dame has done taking their responsive web design further; but even more, I love seeing how their internal team didn’t leave well enough alone. Erik Runyon and team have really pioneered interesting things, and they’ve made the industry better by sharing it. Some of the work they have done is so deeply integrated into all their systems, so detail-oriented that they couldn’t have been done by anyone else—outside vendors (like ourselves) are often times not given the time and budget to dig that deep. Those insights truly are best seen from within an organization.

Own It and Love It

It may not be perfect. No job ever is. But you’ve got to love the one you’re with. You’ll enjoy each day more. You’ll do better work. And, ultimately, if you ever do move on, I hope you’ll be doing it for the right reasons—not just chasing greener pastures that have their own hidden weeds.

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