Chinese Dolls side by side

Every CMO’s five point strategy for scalable growth

Almost every start-up and investor loves to talk about hockey stick growth, and scalability. Creating a business that can scale, meaning handle substantial increases in workload without affecting quality, isn’t easy though. Lots of companies fail trying to scale. So how can you prepare to create a scalable company?

I asked Penny Wilson, the CMO of HootSuite. She’s proven her skill at scaling companies, having grown Alias from $35m to $110m before being sold to Silicon Graphics; and grown Macromedia from $125m to $650m before being sold to Adobe for $3.4b. As a plus, she’s got a degree in Computer Science, so she’s a bigger geek than most CMOs.

Penny Wilson, HootSuite CMO

Here’s her five point ACEIT strategy to scale a business:

1.       Assets

Understand what your core asset is, most companies only have one or at the most two. Focus on it, make sure to differentiate and build on that core asset. Don’t get distracted. Don’t try to be too much for too many people. Don’t chase the next shiny thing.

2.       Customers

Ensure that the voice of the customer is incorporated in everything you do, whatever aspect of your business or strategy that might be. Customer success, support, internal processes. I believe that customers will take you places you’ve never thought about. Make sure you understand who your customer is, what they want, and what their opinion on your products and your competitors are. Always be customer centric. Whenever you make a decision, make sure it’s in the best interests of your customer.

3.       Ecosystem

You can’t do it on your own. It’s really important to have partners, thought leaders and key people in your industry that can help you scale. Good partners will help you expand your reach, grow your offering and build your credibility – with a fraction of the investment you’d need to do it yourself. They are a key strategy for any company, make sure you work together to create win-win relationships.

4.       Innovation

You always need to be looking for something completely different from what you’re doing. It doesn’t need to be technology, it could be in your process or in your data. It’s just about thinking differently. In the old days of computer graphics nobody’s hair would move, so the key differentiator for us was to have an algorithm for digital hair. Making hair look real, allowed us to leap frog our competition. It wasn’t an incremental change, or something we copied to stay at par, it was radically different. Be bold and do things that will make you stand out.

5.       Team

If you want to get stuff done you need a good team. Keep building the strengths, talents and passion of your team. When managing a team, it’s important to be able to manage failure – because it’s inevitably going to happen. I believe that failure can be as good as success, the important thing is to take the high road. When something goes wrong, good leaders need to help people through it. Don’t hide from the failure, recognize it, accept it and move on. It’s about encouraging grit & resilience. Teams that are gritty will survive failure and grow better because of it.

What are you doing to scale?

You can’t accurately predict what will happen or how any particular plan will actually turn out. As a leader, scalability is about creating the right atmosphere and culture for growth. The software, processes and technology is important, but they’re just tools to support a team that’s focused on growth.

Speech bubbles with recommendations

4 easy steps to writing great LinkedIN recommendations

Being asked to write a LinkedIN recommendation is quite the honor, but can be surprisingly daunting. What do you say? What should you not say? How long, or short should it be? Fortunately there’s an easy template to get you started.

For many HR executives a LinkedIn search is one of the first methods of checking out a candidate. Unlike old fashioned letters of recommendation, recruiters can very quickly check out your referees, allowing them to establish your credibility with just a few clicks. So it’s important that your reference is succinct, honest (obviously) and helpful for the person you’re recommending. No pressure, right?

What should I write in a recommendation?

Step 1. Your one line summary

If yours is the only recommendation for a particular position, LinkedIN will display the first 240 characters (approximately) of your recommendation on the profile page. That number goes down to 120 characters if there’s more than one recommendation for the same position. To read more the visitor has to click through.

Add to this the fact that most people skim read, your opening line needs to be short, sweet and pack a lot of punch. Try to capture the essence of your recommendation, with a few specifics. For example:

Beth has exceptional team management skills, … (45 characters)

Alice is a social media guru, her strategies are incredible, … (60 characters)

Step 2. Your working history

It’s a good idea to qualify your relationship with the individual a little. LinkedIN automatically does this by asking you to specify the nature of the relationship, but it’s tiny and a short description will put the rest of your statement into context.

… we worked together for two years on over a dozen projects globally … 

… she expertly managed our New York marketing team for a year …

Step 3. Their most powerful attribute 

You don’t need to talk about what they’ve achieved for you or your company – that should be in their profile already. Instead focus on what makes them stand out. For instance, their ability to command a room, deliver under pressure or get the perfect event speakers. This should be something that’s not easy for the person to communicate in their bio (without seeming overly pretensions), but that is certainly a valuable attribute.

She is always buzzing with ideas,

Her ideas are exceedingly creative and thought provoking,

Step 4. Professional advantages

Whatever the specifics of the role are, it’s beneficial if you can communicate how their personal attributes make them excel in their specific role.

… her energy is contagious, it keeps her everyone inspired. She is so personable that suppliers and vendor’s go out of their way to support her.

… and her implementation is always impressive. She is very calm under pressure, and is always able to manage unforeseen events smoothly.

Step 5. The wrap up

Don;t feel obliged to write cliched statements like “I would recommend him” or “You’d be lukcy to have him on your team”. The fact that you’re providing a recommendation is proof enough of that.

You want to keep your recommendation short enough to be digestable and detailed enough to be helpful. So after you’ve finished describing any distinct advantages they have, simply stop. There really are only four steps!

Here’s what it might look like when you’ve put it together:

Alice is a social media guru, her strategies are incredible and she expertly managed our New York marketing team for a year. Her ideas are exceedingly creative and thought provoking, and her implementation is always impressive. She is very calm under pressure, and is always able to manage unforeseen events smoothly.

The perfect social media profile picture

10 tips to create the perfect social media profile picture

Your profile picture (a.k.a. headshot), is the single most important personal marketing tool you have on social media, or any digital channel for that matter! It is always the first thing people see when they browse your profile, and quickly differentiates serious professionals from amateurs. If you want to be taken seriously, you need a high quality social media profile picture. So I put together a quick guide on how to get your perfect professional headshot for you to download.

Profile Photo Guide
Click here to download Profile Photo Guide (789.11 KB 20 downloads)

I had previously written about why you need to keep your “biography/text profile” up to date, here are the top 10 best practices for creating the ideal professional profile picture:

  1. You should be fresh & clearly in focus

    Don’t be artsy or put yourself in the background. You are the main subject of the photo. You should be perfectly in focus, with your eyes open and full of life. Not droopy, closed, tired, or worn out. Try to take the picture in the morning so you’re fresh.

  2. Only you should be present in the photo

    No group photos please. Remember that you are the star of this photo. Nobody else should be visible at all, not even in the background.

  3. Clothing

    Wear professional attire. For gentlemen this is a suit, shirt and tie. Freshly shaven or beard recently trimmed. Ladies please ensure your shoulders are covered, not strapless, strappy, flowery or floral. Jewelry should be minimal and professional. Clothing should ideally be solid colors, pin stripes are acceptable, not distracting prints or loud tartans.

  4. Posture

    Your posture communicates a lot about you, after your face it’s the first thing people tend to notice. Stand straight, shoulders back, chest out, slight angle to the camera. Chin ever so slightly up. Do not tilt your head to the side. You should look confident and capable.Your hands should not be near your face. Keeps your arms crossed – this will help position your shoulders too.

    Your photographer should be able to help you with this. For corporate profile photos, ensure that all subjects use the same two poses. (1) Facing the camera squarely (2) Facing the camera with torso slightly angled (as shown in the outline picture).

    Photofeeler has a brilliant article on posture and different poses for ladies & gents, it’s worth reading through; and good advice for pretty much any photo you’re going to be in!

    Anatomy of a perfect profile picture

  5. Smile

    It’s surprising how many people don’t smile for photos. You want to seem welcoming and open to conversation, so smile naturally.

  6. Background, location & lighting

    The background should be a single solid color. No patterns, no plants, nothing busy or distracting. The color should not be the same as something you’re wearing or your skin tone. This makes it easy for the background to be removed digitally, a more appropriate background can be added as needed. Ask your photographer to provide your headshot with a transparent background (a.k.a. no background).You want the lighting to be uniform, no harsh shadows or color lighting effects.

  7. Colors

    Full color only please. No black & white or sepia photos please. Don’t apply any Instagram (or other) filters.

  8. Professional photography

    Even if you have a friend that’s taken a course in photography, I always recommend going to a photo studio to get your photos taken. There’s a big difference between a professional studio photo shoot and one taken at home. This is the mental image people are going to recall, make it as brilliant as you can.

  9. Keep it up-to-date & use a recent photo

    Your profile picture needs to accurately represent how you look. That doesn’t mean you need to update it every time you cut your hair, but you shouldn’t be using a photo that was taken 10 years ago.

  10. Sizing & Positioning

    Whilst social media and other profiles will generally not use more than 500×500 pixel images, when it comes to photo sizes, the bigger the better. Please ensure your photographer provides you high resolution photos (Full HD or a lot more). This ensures that your photos can be used in print or on bigger screens. You don’t want to be chasing your photographer one year’s later when you need to print your headshot in a magazine.

    To ensure that your profile picture makes best use of the available space without over crowding, you should fit your photo to match the outline provided. This places your eyes at the 1/3 mark, leaving a feeling of empty space, without being too zoomed out or too close in.Most social networks will automatically resize your profile picture to match their requirements.
    You should ensure that your headshot is a large (16:9) format picture, but that your photographer also gives you one that is a perfect square so that it looks correct when scaled automatically.

    LinkedIN 400×400
    Twitter 400×400
    Google 250×250
    Facebook 180×180
    Instagram 110×110

Your photographer may have their own inputs & ideas, but this will provide the basic outline of what you’d like to achieve. If your photographer permits, take several photos, and ask them for a set both with and without backgrounds.

Here are some samples of what your profile picture should not look like:

What you don't want