“Hello World” and Other Placeholders

If you’ve ever started a new blog, it’s likely you’ve encountered the default title “Hello, World” in the first post. This is what’s known as a placeholder. When building new websites, projects, companies, or anything else for that matter, it’s often necessary to create multiple placeholders. They allow us to focus on the core features of what we’re building, until a later date when we have the resources to give them more attention.

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For some business people, that means not investing in their websites, not printing business cards or not creating an email newsletter. For me personally, it was office space. My thinking was, “what difference does it make where I run my business, so long as I’m getting stuff done.” My first office was a (mostly legal) storage room on the ground floor or an apartment building. We had no ventilation, no sunlight, lots of dust, occasional cockroaches and a (mostly legal) children’s daycare center as our upstairs neighbor. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, but it was good enough, as are most placeholders. In fact, knowing that our fledgling agency was doing great work despite our modest surroundings, was empowering. I always planned to go out one day and find a proper office, but when we first launched, we needed to find a place quickly, so I took the first thing I found. It fulfilled its purpose and allowed our team to focus on servicing our clients. Though it took a week to get used to the smell, noise and bugs, eventually I didn’t notice its shortcomings.

Then one day, I needed a venue to meet a potential client. I was hoping to meet at the client’s office, but the VP lived nearby and wanted to stop in on his way to work. So before he got there, I swept the floor, sprayed potpourri, and hoped for the best. The client came in and tried to hide his shock. He couldn’t make sense of how someone could sound so professional over the phone but work out of what was later termed “the Dungeon.” After the meeting was over, he gave me a 15 minute lecture, “as a friend,” about the importance of making a good impression and how external appearances can impact perspective and attitude. These weren’t novel concepts, but ones I had overlooked while focusing on the more important aspects of running the business. Two weeks later we signed this new client, at a significantly lower fee than we initially discussed. I’m convinced that the reason they decided to lower their starting budget was because seeing the office caused them to doubt our abilities, and therefore decide to start off slowly rather than go “all in” with their full budget. A month later we moved to a proper office space, and the difference was astonishing.

Every client we work with has placeholders. Some deliberate, some not. They serve an important function for companies of all sizes. The important thing is to occasionally take stock of them, and consider which ones need to go.

Look around. Should conferences still be your primary marketing channel? Are you still sending all your paid traffic to the same landing page? Does it still make sense to direct in-bound calls to voicemail when business hours are over?

What placeholders do you need to replace?

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