Earlier this year I was the very grateful recipient of the Jack Roger Mentorship Scholarship from Greg Branson and Carol Mackay at The Design Business Council. As we hit the halfway point of the 12 month journey I wanted to record / report back some of the progress that we’ve made in bringing human centred design into the heart of TinyOffice

Firstly I should start by defining what our objective has been for the year. In a nutshell it has been to make TinyOffice a design lead business. When I first heard this I thought, oh cool, yeah, well I’m a graphic designer and I work here so we are a design lead business, right?! Wrong. Well kind of. One of the first exercises I did with Greg and Carol was to complete the design maturity index for TinyOffice. 

To find out our design maturity we had to answer (or at least try to answer) 100 questions about every aspect of our business. I wrote a blog about this at the time but it didn’t capture how confronting this exercise really was. The survey covered all aspects of the business from human resources to inbound and outbound logistics. Needless to say there were a lot of zeros. Luckily this didn’t deter Greg and Carol.

Once we had a broad overview of where the company was placed it was easier to see what areas we could tackle over the next 12 months that would give us the best results - marketing was the low hanging fruit we decided to reach for.

As a designer I’m often working with clients to help them build a strong, consistent and thoughtful social media presence and had been trying to do that for TinyOffice but much like the carpenter whose home never gets built we had never invested time in creating a clear strategy. Who are we talking to? Is instagram and facebook the best platform? What are we even trying to achieve - like how many TinyOffices do we even need to be selling!

This is business 101 and these questions are the types I’d ask my clients but it had never occurred to me (or we just haven't had the time or resources) to ask ourselves! This led to the creation of TinyOffice’s very first (and long overdue) Communication Strategy. Strategy documents used to seem dreary to me, but not this one! This one’s great! 

In bringing this document to life, which includes clearly defining your company goals, objectives and most importantly, who the audience is, a discovery was made. A very important discovery that will change how we talk about ourselves forever! Well, maybe not forever, but for the time being anyway. That discovery was ‘local’. 

You see when we first started TinyOffice we thought that focusing on our local market would be limiting. We wanted people to know that we could deliver all over Australia and we even avoided mentioning that we are based in Ballarat in case that might deter someone in Queensland who wanted a TinyOffice. By casting our net wide we weren’t talking to anyone in particular which meant we were talking to no one at all! All of the hours I’d spent creating content for bloody instagram felt worthless!

So ‘local’ is the new mantra and the first step was to actually get out into our local community. This involved me signing up to local business groups (not Matt’s area of interest!) and getting my networking on. To be honest I love this part! I really like walking into a room of strangers and having no expectations on what conversations will be had. This hasn’t always been the case but the older I get, the more my ego gets left at the door and the easier I find it to strike up conversation with others. It also helps that everyone is wearing a name tag! I love walking up to a complete stranger and saying “Hi Julie” nice to meet you… Name tags are a great ice breaker.

Phase two of our ‘local’ mission is to find out if there is a large enough market in Ballarat and it’s surrounding areas. As fortune would have it I sat next to the Business Engagement Officer from City of Ballarat at my very first biz breakfast and she has been incredible in helping us source the data we needed. We didn’t make it easy either as our questions were broad like ‘how many people are now working from home in Ballarat’. 

Luckily the latest census has just been released and there are some other statistics that indirectly show how many people are working from home (rather than commuting into the city for example) in Ballarat. One of the most surprising statistics was that of traffic through Ballarat Train Station. Annual patronage when from 624050 in 2018-19 to 459700 in 2019-20 and finally 179500 in 2020-21! That's a 71% drop in passengers over 3 years! How the hell is V-line still operational! 

Ballarat’s population has grown over those last three years so one can only assume that more people are working from home and not commuting into the city for work. There are these great reports that have come from The University of Melbourne about ‘The Great Migration’ which look at the trend of people leaving the cities for regional centres. Covid (while being the biggest disruption to modern life we’ve ever experienced) has caused an irreversible change in how we work. 

90% of people who work in metro-based employment are working remotely at least some of the time. Combine that with ridiculously expensive house prices and many people are now moving to places where they get more bang for their buck as well as enjoying more of that sweet country air. 

By doing this deep dive into our local market we can now confirm that yes - Ballarat is a completely, 100% viable group of people who could benefit from a TinyOffice. In understanding this we are now able to refine our marketing and messaging - Instagram for example, while it may look cool, is not the best way for us to attract locals - it's a global platform. While it has its place, what we need - as Greg puts it - is 1950’s marketing techniques. We need to be in front of people, we need to show people what we do. 

Every time someone comes into the factory they leave more pumped than when they arrived. When people can see what we do and what makes our product so unique, they start to get more excited and inspired about the project that brought them there in the first place. With our focus now being on ‘local’ we can start to look at ways to bring people to us.

There has been talks about having an open day once a month where people can come in on a Saturday afternoon and have a look for themselves. This then leads to deciding what we want them to take away with them? Is it a brochure, or a spec sheet? A cool tote bag? Probably not but by working through our communication strategy we finally have some structure and reasoning behind our actions. Despite bagging out instagram earlier we will be advertising our new open afternoon there in spring so if you don’t follow us already, please do so and come say hi (or better yet, buy a TinyOffice!)

I’m looking forward to the next six months when we start to implement our new communications strategy and to build upon it. So far it has given me even more confidence that we are onto a good thing and having awesome mentors like Greg and Carol is making all the difference! For the longest time it was just Matt and myself but now as we grow and build the support team around us we realise that you can only come so far on your own. We always knew this but to see it in action is really, really fucken exciting! 

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