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Interview with Brand Manual: A Company Policy of Generosity

The latest addition to our New Founders Program, Brand Manual, have started a design firm in Estonia focused on developing a stronger link between quality products, and the promotion that goes along with them.  As a brand new company with 3 months under their belt, they are already making their mark with a focus on the human side of marketing, which goes a long way with us here at Harvest.  We wanted to know more about how Harvest helps them do business in Estonia, and why they will treat you to a free lunch if you come hang out with them in Tallinn!

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What was the inspiration for starting your company?

All four of us previously worked for graphic design and advertising companies.  We were faced with a repeating pattern, where we were doing too much of everything, and nothing thoroughly. The problem often lies in the belief that all problems can be fixed with promotion.  In reality, people buy goods and services, not promotion, and marketing cannot address every problem.  Brand Manual was created to provide a link back to the company, to make better products and services, and a meaningful framework that ad agencies can work with later on.

What is it like working in Tallinn, Estonia? Has the market changed in Estonia? And how has that impacted and shaped your goals, designs and working relationships?

There is no market, to begin with. Estonia has a population of 1,3 m people and the majority of companies cannot even be classified as SME’s (Small and Medium Enterprises, by EU standards), because they are too small. Until recently, over half of our GDP was “produced” in real estate, construction and banking.  Now the situation is somewhat different.

Starting our company at the height of the economic downturn has proven to be a good idea.  Change is apparent everywhere, with many people in real estate and construction starting new companies focused a bit more on longevity.  Also, many companies that previously made money easily are now making plans for development.  Since Estonia has essentially only recently experienced growth since breaking free of the Soviet Union, many companies did not know what their competitive advantage was, or if they even had any.  Doing business post-Soviet occupation became too easy, until the irrational spending abruptly stopped due to the global downturn. During the boom time, everyone and their mother were thinking that “this business thing is a cinch”.  All one had to do was buy something and sell it on for a profit, adding zero value to atmosphere and culture.  Countries that were growing at 10% per year forgot that doing business successfully and productively is actually hard.

We have also clearly defined our business interest. With only a few notable exceptions, we are focused on working with Estonian companies looking to export their goods or services and with international clients, mainly from the EU.

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What does a typical day entail for you?

The beauty of having a small partner run company is that there are no typical days.  The projects we work on are varied.  Clients turn to us for in-depth input into the challenges they are facing.  A lot of time is spent researching the relevant industry and looking for benchmarks.  We have several discussions amongst ourselves about the projects, looking for new angles and inspiration.  Client meetings make frequent appearances on our calendar.  And of course, sitting down and doing design.

Our company policy is generosity.  We share what we know, or develop, on our blog.  We have a standing offer of free lunch for prospective clients, and we give advice for free.  This makes our company appear to be a bit like a social club, rather than a business, but we are creating real value for our clients, and the casual atmosphere makes it more enjoyable for everyone.

What branding/marketing strategies might you offer to small business without a big budget?

Make your product so good that you would buy it yourself.  Beat your competitors, who rely on marketing, with a simply great product. When it comes to marketing, think of it as throwing a good party: it doesn’t have to be big or fancy, it just has to be worth remembering.  Only take advice from customers, not people on the street.  Never do anything because others do: they may not know what they’re doing, so why copy them?

What do you like most about running your own business? And what is the hardest thing?

The best part of running this business is that we can, and do, say “no”.  The hardest part is living with the short-term consequences of saying “no”.

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What programs and resources power the engine behind Brand Manual? Why do you track time and how do you guys use Harvest?

Brainpower is the main engine behind Brand Manual.  Even on our website we say “Thinking. Branding. Design.” Helping to visualize our thinking is the trusty Mac, Adobe Creative Suite and iWork.

We track time because we need to understand how we spend it, as it’s our most important resource.  It helps to improve our efficiency, as well as budgeting for future projects.  We create and define every project in Harvest, and we track time either on our computers, or through the iPhone app when meeting with a client offsite.  And, of course, we do all of our invoicing through Harvest as well.

What are 5 things that Brand Manual has consumed lately?

A small office printer, a MacBook Pro, a T-shirt for a client presentation, the latest issue of Monocle, and a case of beer from our beer client.

We’re excited to have Brand Manual join The Harvest New Founders Program, and to throw our support behind their efforts to focus on quality products, and the real people who buy them.

To help companies get on their feet, The Harvest New Founders Program gives one year’s subscription of Harvest time tracking service to a new company each month. Think you might be a good fit for our New Founders Program? Learn more and apply.

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This was posted in New Founders Program.