By Betsy Cummings
Brian Guest never walks without a piece of paper. In fact, certain pieces of paper, whether in his journal or just loose in his hand, are the key to building a better business, says Guest, president of Mediacation (asi/267029), a Toronto-based distributor that has seen sales more than triple in the past three years.
How? As he walks around his company, Guest takes note of different company tasks – the ones his staff handles and those that Guest takes care of. “Certain pages are reserved in that journal for specific tasks,” Guest says. “I document each task and categorize it for everything that needs to get done in that week. At the end of the week I do a review,” he says. “The purpose is to look at what I’m doing versus what I’m delegating.”
His goal? To delegate almost all administrative tasks. “It could be bookkeeping, filing, anything that’s not directly related to me being in front of customers as much as possible.”
That helps Guest focus almost exclusively on business development. A few weeks ago, for example, after reviewing his notes, Guest realized he was spending too much time putting together quotes for clients after the company was slammed with an influx of business – something that his eight employees (six administrative employees and two salespeople) could have been handling instead, so that Guest could concentrate strictly on generating more business. By hiring a few temporary workers and assigning them tasks that don’t require much training, the company’s order processors were able to quickly get back on track.
Staff Up To Meet Growing Demand
In fact, much of Mediacation’s success lies in the fact that when marketing campaigns drive new business, Guest taps an ongoing, regularly updated list of temporary administrative workers he can call on part-time to fill and manage orders, so that he can continue to generate new business.
“In advance of the last few marketing campaigns we’ve kept a backup list of people that had been applying to us,” Guest says.
The company’s list of short-term staff is bolstered in part by the fact that Mediacation conducts a large portion of its business with colleges and universities, which has led to Guest’s participation in college advisory boards. As they work with students on those boards, Guest says, they find a robust pool of temporary workers to tap. “You have a lot of people who are preparing to join the workforce,” Guest says.
Indeed, that may be Guest’s biggest asset right now as he’s looking to add five more salespeople and two additional customer service reps. Working with colleges and their associations not only helps Mediacation develop business, but also give the company a good channel of future employees to tap into, as well.
In addition, Mediacation has recently conceived of a strategy that has appealed to its education-market clients. The company has been hosting fashion shows – an attempt to both showcase their products and drive new business, as well as recruit new workers. The shows, held in the “tremendous, beautiful buildings and showrooms” of Mediacation vendors such as Adidas, complete with a DJ and refreshments, creates cachet for Mediacation and builds buzz among a younger crowd attracted to the show, and, hopefully, to Mediacation as a potential employer.
Unorthodox marketing and client development initiatives are one of Guest’s hallmarks. When the recession hit, he upped his entertainment budget, rather than cut back as most companies did. “Instead of always making time for lunch or coffee,” Guest says, he thought of unusual ways to spend time with them. “I started to make personal time for clients and we started to do more bonding.”
With one foodie client, Guest, who happens to be a graduate of culinary school Le Cordon Bleu, suggested they take a chef’s class together. “I learned so much about what she needs to accomplish and her challenges,” Guest says. “But I learned so much more about how she functions, because I saw her outside of the normal corporate setting.”
When the class began, Guest’s role was to sauté and his client’s was to present the food when done. Then they changed roles. And as they did, Guest says, he sensed a guarded demeanor in his client, something he realized had also been present in their meetings in the office.
“I realized I’d been spending too much time in the sales process pushing instead of pulling,” he says. He started listening more and talking less.
That one class alone, he says, was more impactful to building client loyalty than any series of e-mail blasts, advertising efforts or social networking campaigns. This year Guest expects Mediacation to pull in $2.7 million in sales.
“We’re not trying to be like most other promotional product companies,” Guest says. “We’re trying to be different.”
Betsy Cummings is a senior writer for Counselor.