Mary Willson
Aug 13 · 5 min read

Mary Willson, 6AM City Process, Product + Training Manager

Credit: dmandercreative | 6AM City

When the first 6AM City (6AM) newsletter went out, there was no website behind it. We were small and scrappy. A print-out on our office bulletin board read “If You’re Not Embarrassed By The First Version Of Your Product, You’ve Launched Too Late.” The quote from the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, rang true for us.

Somewhere along the way, growing from our launch-team of four (co-founders included) to more than 25 employees in 3 years, that changed. We have divisions now: Editorial (which includes our local editors and paid interns), growth (including our graphic designer), a branded content studio, an original content studio, client services and sales. In addition to the fancy new organizational chart (where our local editorial staff is at the top of the chart), we have intentionally defined each part of the business and written it all down.

As we scaled, this became vital. When Chloe Rodgers joined the team to launch our second market, COLAtoday, we documented everything as we learned together. Chloe, who is now manager of the 6AM Branded Content Studio, is passionate about her city, our mission, and is extremely detail-focused. She identified opportunities to improve the documentation we had started, and by the time we launched COLAtoday in Feb. 2017, we had established our first version of what is now the 6AM City Playbook.

In June 2019, we published the first “official” 200-plus page Playbook. This revision-controlled set of process documents is derived from our COO’s experience as an engineer, and includes everything from company culture and communication plans to the newsletter product guide and daily publishing workflow. It was designed from the beginning to ensure that our company is positioned for rapid scale while maintaining consistency and quality throughout the brand. It allows for quick onboarding, seamless training, and sets up our team members to operate with less oversight; empowering their ability to confidently make decisions about running their respective markets. It also serves as a historical reference of our progression.

LALtoday editors Kaylee (left) and Jessica (right) presenting about 6AM City to the Lakeland Economic Development Council Summer Leadership Program. | Provided by LEDC

Here are 5 lessons 6AM has learned while putting our whole company down on paper.

1. It may not be one size fits all

The 6AM Playbook itself lives in the cloud. It’s easily accessible to team members and very secure, but the contents aren’t as easily searchable as we’d like. Changes have to be re-exported, so with all of our continuous improvements, that can be time-consuming.

To accommodate more rapidly changing documentation, we introduced a more agile G Suite solution for training resources called our Toolbox. It is an ever-evolving and growing set of digital training resources.

We think of the Playbook as the syllabus and textbook, and the Toolbox as our study guide and flashcards.

2. Strength comes in teams

It’s been a collaborative effort between all managers who wrote their own sections, high-level vision from CEO/Co-Founder Ryan Johnston and a very organized COO/Co-founder Ryan Heafy with a background in Six-Sigma.

Our 6AM Branded Content Manager Chloe is a talented copy editor and created much of our editorial tone. Our Client Services Manager Emily was able to review in detail and ask clarifying questions in each section with a set of fresh eyes. Original Content Manager Nicole Trimble brought years of editorial experience at Refinery29 to help revamp of our editorial workflow. Growth Manager Logan Brown created our first Toolbox documents to support the seamless integration of technology into our content.

Without these team members’ involvement, the Playbook would not be extensive as it is. Or even in existence, in the case of COO Ryan Heafy, who saw the vision of having comprehensive documentation from day one.

Not just the content in the Playbook, but the Playbook itself coming together, was a massive team effort and an example of why diversity of skills and background is important.

Mary Willson, Ryan Heafy and Ryan Johnston presenting about GVLtoday at Clemson University’s Erwin Center for Brand Communications in 2017

3. Ask for feedback early and often

Early on, we sent drafts of guides to the people who would be using them and asked for feedback. If it was an editorial guide, to our local editors. If it was a technology how-to, our growth manager, and so on.

After publishing the first complete version, we sent it to all of our team members and asked them to submit a minimum of 5 clarifying questions they had.

We went through every response, made edits as appropriate (i.e. edited copy mistakes because they happen) and brought all larger feedback to our leadership team.

We made strategic changes clarifying company processes as needed, and addressed each team member’s questions in our monthly, company-wide “WakeUp Call” meeting.

The Playbook is an important resource for our team members. It was important for us to have input and involvement from everyone.

4. It’s never too early to start documenting

The early, unofficial documents (those created in a rush before onboarding our first intern, or that email about editorial tone that our CEO sent in the first few months) became the building blocks for the Playbook.

No matter where a company is in its infancy, it’s never too early to start documenting. We’re grateful for all of the early-stage guides, notes, and emails we had at 6AM which were compiled, polished, and now serve as a cornerstone of our documentation.

NOOGAtoday’s office print-out of the Playbook | NOOGAtoday

5. We’re always evolving

Our Product, Process and Training Manager, Mary Willson (that’s me), maintains a running Asana project called “Playbook updates,” reviewing and making improvements on a weekly basis. The process improvements may come from a minor change in workflow discussed in a content strategy meeting, a clarification suggested by a team member via GoogleForms, or because we’ve changed a part of the product strategy that needs to be integrated globally across a dozen or more documents.

Being “done” is elusive. We are continually evolving our strategies, innovating our products and refining our workflow. The curiosity, synergy and responsiveness in each member of our team is the driving force behind the Playbook evolution. We’re excited to build upon the foundation that has been put in place over the past three years.

6AM City

6AM is engaging local communities by creating new ways to consume, participate, and share local content. We do newsletters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. (And more, soon!)

Mary Willson

Written by

Process, Product + Training Manager at 6AM City. Always learning new things, passionate about local media and startup leadership. 📲

6AM City

6AM City

6AM is engaging local communities by creating new ways to consume, participate, and share local content. We do newsletters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. (And more, soon!)

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