How to grow your business with the history of your people

Want a simple way to grow revenue and customer retention? Value your people for who they are. Here’s why this vacuous corporate platitude actually means something. Every person who works for your company has a background that’s more extensive than what’s in their job description. Those backgrounds can be surprisingly helpful in accomplishing your work, especially in the field of public relations and marketing. You’ve got years, decades, or possibly even centuries (depending on how large a company you are) of experience in other fields, other areas of expertise, other industries stored up in the minds of your team members in the form of skills, knowledge, and ideas.


One of our team members at SHIFT is a professional costume maker. That’s one of their major hobbies outside of SHIFT, and the costumes she makes are stage or film quality. We were recently asked to figure out a way to make some compelling video talking about virtual assistants, which brought to mind a well-known (and much disliked) talking paper clip. Leveraging the skills of our team, our on-staff costumer made a wearable costume in record time for the video and astonished everyone with their creativity. Had we not taken the time to know what our people do, this opportunity would have gone unfulfilled.


One of my past lives was as a financial aid professional. Longtime friends recall my work doing a financial aid podcast for over 900 episodes daily for 5 years, introducing podcasting and new media to the world of higher education financial aid. Forcing myself to do that show got me to the point where I was knowledgeable enough to write books on financial aid and even counsel students and families on it. Fast forward a few years, and one of our clients is a financial aid company that’s in need of our services. Instead of having to scrape together knowledge about a vast, arcane, and information-dense field from scratch, we can leverage my experience from the field to ramp up much faster.


Every field has its best practices. Every field has ideas, methods, and practices that make you supremely effective in that field, from Southeast Asian Studies (we have a Ph.D on staff) to World of Warcraft to being a successful landlord. If you take the time to learn what the team around you is capable of and already is expert in, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can bring these ideas into your field, into your industry, and become a runaway success. The skills it takes to be a successful landlord are broadly applicable to working with bloggers, for example. The skills it takes to be a competitive World of Warcraft player can inform your marketing strategy.

How to Get Started

Get people talking to each other. That’s the easiest place to get started. The more opportunities your team has to be social with each other – and social in the sense of hanging out, not social media – the more these history and background crossovers will happen. One of the other practices that SHIFT uses to great success is called the Bio Book. Our operations team asks every team member to share a personal biography of themselves, what’s important to know about them as a person, and what their life is like outside of work and before SHIFT. This book is distributed to all staff so that we have a searchable reference of the different areas of expertise that every person in the agency brings to the table.

Valuing people for who they are and what they’ve done isn’t just sensible from a human, collegial perspective – it’s great for your business and your capabilities as a company.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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