In the early days of my career I was responsible for setting up an operation in a different city. It was a great opportunity for me and something that I really wanted to succeed in, however looking back on that person with the experience I now have. Well, lets just say that I was very lucky that I didn’t fall completely flat on my face!
As a native Torontonian (that’s what people in Toronto, Canada call themselves for my International readers!), I’d visited Montreal a couple of times and had always enjoyed spending time there, so when my boss asked me to set up a new office in that city I thought it was a great idea! I mean, how hard could it be?
Well, it was 1998 or 1999, and while I was working for an Internet company, the many conveniences we’ve all come to expect and enjoy had yet to be invented or for that matter even thought of! Websites like Yelp! and Foursquare didn’t exist and while the multiple listing service (MLS) was there, it was really only useful for residential properties and in most cases you needed a realtor to provide the information.
I didn’t know how to promote my company – we were established in Toronto but no one outside of that city had heard of us. I didn’t know where to open the office – downtown would be great but the rents would be a lot higher than out of town, but how much higher? I didn’t know how to get new customers or even hire staff for that office.
Fortunately I was able to find a small bouteque agency that was priced right and seemed to have all of the appropriate credentials. I didn’t interview three different firms though or get competitive quotes (mistake #1?), but they seemed to know their stuff!
Over the course of the next 2-3 months, we were communicating back and forth about radio spots, billboards, print advertising, product pricing and other minutae relevant to launching in a new location. Again they seemed to ask all of the right questions so I thought I was onto a winner.
The Hiring and Staffing
Now vs. Then
You see, while the Montreal operation was successful both of my mistakes ended up coming back to bite me. My manager choice – well, without local oversight, he turned out to be a bit of a dictator and was making the office environment toxic for the other staff. He had to go and I had to find someone else. My first mistake though – the marketing company – was probably the bigger one. While the comminucation and interaction had seemed positive and enthusiastic they didn’t actually end up producing anything of real worth. Sadly, they actually ended up going out of business themselves before we’d launched which set us back several months.
What could I have done?
Hindsight is always 20-20 isn’t it? With the tools and information available to us today, most of my requirements could have been dealt with, without even leaving my office. I would have been able to search and get reviews on other companies that had done the same things. I would have been able to pick and choose marketing companies and been able to interview them remotely only after shortlisting them based on reviews and feedback from clients. I would have been able to evaluate property prices and rental costs remotely and conducted interviews remotely. Would I have had to go to Montreal at all? Yes, probably, but for different reasons – more along the lines of ensuring things are moving smoothly vs. setting up.
Things have definitely changed in only a few short years – I’m fortuntate that the mistakes I made early in my career helped me to learn how not to do things and I’ve taken that knowledge and applied it. I wonder what mistakes await the next generation though? I’m sure they are going to be doozies!
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