After four rewarding years in business, Spoke is closing its doors.

This is not a decision that comes easily. As a small firm, each member of our team had a considerable influence on our company personality that our clients came to appreciate and love. I want to personally thank everyone who has poured their creative energy into this company over the years, and especially recognize the amazing cohort who helped us finish strong – Vince, Mallory, Elvis, and Tom.

When we launched in 2014, I scribed a set of values that we used to create a framework for our business decisions. …

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The original Sam Bays, my grandfather, sold tractors in a small town in southern West Virginia his entire adult life.

He was good at what he did because he was familiar with the machinery and because he knew his customers. He was really good at the people part.

Every night after dinner he took scrupulous notes of the meetings and conversations he had during that day, leaving out nothing that may be helpful to remember later–how the new customer from Nettie likes his coffee, the birthday a return customer mentioned, and a phone conversation he had about an upcoming part replacement. …

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An audacious year of growth, community, and hard work.

Before we get too much further into the New Year, I want to take to take a minute to acknowledge how much Spoke grown in 2017. This isn’t a comprehensive list of what we’ve been up to but something closer to a greatest hits album for the year.

We Expanded Our Leadership Team

Vince Wanga joined Spoke in a new role as Partner and Creative Director.

Prior to Spoke, Vince was an independent designer based in Minneapolis. His solo studio specialized in identity and brand design and we routinely collaborated on large-scale client projects. …

I’ve been working with an executive coach named John Lang for over 2 years and it’s been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made.

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Unfortunately, the topic of coaching has a reputation for being mostly snake oil and voodoo. I think if more business leaders understood what coaching is (or what it isn’t), and how to identify the goals and outcomes of a good coaching experience, it would be more widely accepted beneficial.

An important house-keeping note — John, my executive coach, did not pay me (or even ask me) to write this little piece. My goal here is to provide a really candid insight into my coaching experience and why I think the coaching process deserves more credit for its benefit in the business-building process. …

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The pitch process is difficult, stressful, and enlightening.

I’m incredibly grateful for the clients, organizations, and partners that our Spoke team has established in such short time. I’m even more grateful for those opportunities that didn’t work out because there is just as much to be learned from one of those “not this time” emails.

We won’t always know why things didn’t work out… though we often times make guesses. That said, there are two areas where we’re happy to lose a battle that we acknowledge as a team internally.

On Budget

Not everyone will be open to paying our rates and that’s OK.

Compared to an agency that hosts the burden of overhead, a single freelance individual (be it a designer, developer, or product person) will always be able to undercut Spoke’s project rates. …

Early in my career I thought owning a business was reserved for those who are extraordinary thinkers and achievers — individuals that are of an unparalleled and unachievable genius. My eventual realization, and the impetus for starting my own company, is that this kind of genius is a myth. True genius, and the backbone of entrepreneurship is simple: hard work.

The long-term success of my company will depend on our ability to provide newer and better services and products. The idea that a genius can provide those things better than anyone else simply because they’re a genius is false. I’ve found a much greater truth to be that a normal person will provide newer and better things because they are honed through failure, they lean heavily on professional relationships, they’re able to keep their wits about them with the financial solvency of the business, and are capable of delivering on their commitments. …

When I launched Spoke in the 2014 it looked much different. More than anything else, the company was a platform for me to work as an independent consultant. During that time my day to day consisted mostly of sitting at our kitchen table writing emails and passing out business cards that read “digital strategy for hire”. There was a company name and an associated logo but I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to build and the type of work that I wanted to focus my time on. …

This week I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal to attend the Web Summit technology conference.

My goal was to learn new best practices, observe industry trends, and to pit Spoke’s work against some of the best agencies in the industry.

One of the attractive things about Web Summit is that I was also interested in learning about the tech market in the Europe more broadly. I’d love to see Spoke expand with a European office in the future and this conference was a great way to start having that introductory conversation with new stakeholders.

Web Summit as a whole is comprised of multiple disciplines and industry area speakers under the umbrella category of tech — FinTech, Design, Data, Engineering and more. I spent the majority of my time on the “PandaConf” series which is focused on marketing and the larger agency environment. I’m not sure why it was called that but the number of Panda Fiats was striking, so there’s that. …

This may sound a little nuts at first but bear with me… Stop learning.

Take your headphones out and stop listening to your favorite podcast. Close your Chrome tabs that house the list of blog posts you need to devour. Put your stack of Tim Ferris books back on the shelf and out of your line of sight. I mean it. Close it down. Now wait and see what happens.

You will never know everything… and you don’t need to know everything in order to get started.

One of the hardest parts of entrepreneurship is deciding what to do next and when to do it. This indecision is often the result of too many ideas. In my personal experience, this indecision can also be the outcome of too much information input. It’s too easy to tell yourself you need to listen to every single podcast on a single resource or learn the totality of an entire subject matter before you can begin creating for yourself or using the strategies you’re learning. The trick here is that you will never know everything. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take the time to learn but I am begging you to be strategic about it.I personally wasted a lot of time during the early months of my business trying to absorb every single book and blog post that claimed to have the “best practices” in entrepreneurship. I read all the cannons of entrepreneurship: Rich Dad Poor Dad, The 4 Hour Work Week, The Lean Startup. Did I learn a lot from that process of information intake? Definitely. Could I have learned even more by getting out there and putting in the hours of work that it takes to figure shit out? …

During the past 2 years of business I have learned that selling the values behind our services at Spoke is a much more effective approach compared to selling our services based on simply on price.

As small business owners and entrepreneurs we are constantly evaluating and fine-tuning our products or services but we tend to shy away from how we talk about and improve our salesmanship. Broadly, sales encompasses pricing, messaging, and market differentiation. I find that early-stage and well-established businesses both struggle with this concept of selling. More specifically, the simple model of “this is what my costs include, thus this is what you (client) pay” is not truly a sustainable, long-term selling model. …


Sam C. Bays

50/50 business & design. Formerly, Now on to new things. Stay tuned...

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