We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Randall Hartman. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Randall below.
Randall, appreciate you joining us today. Owning a business isn’t always glamorous and so most business owners we’ve connected with have shared that on tough days they sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have just had a regular job instead of all the responsibility of running a business. Have you ever felt that way?
Yes, 1000%. Although I do have to remind myself of that fairly often. I’m the type of person that took emotional equity in every company I worked for. This often meant making my life uncomfortable for the good of the company. With Groundwrk, we’ve put mental health and self-care front and center. For me, this means a 10 am start to allow for reading and gym time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays along with bi-weekly therapy. I encourage our employees to do the same and they each take care of their mental health in different ways.
Recently, I went through some terrible burnout. I remember staring at a bartender and thinking…”man I miss those days”. I honestly thought about burning it all down and starting from scratch or going to get some big sexy consulting job. I am very open with my thoughts and feelings and I shared this with close friends that are also entrepreneurs. I found comfort in knowing that they all felt the same from time to time and they shared how they pull themselves out. There was also a consensus that I was unhirable, not because I wouldn’t be a good employee but because I would be absolutely miserable being a cog in a wheel.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I am the Interactive Director and Founder of Denver-based creative design and development agency, Groundwrk. I have been leading branding, web design, and development projects since 2011 with clients such as Frontier Airlines, RE/Max, GolfTec, The Boppy Company, Air Methods, and hundreds of additional small to midsize businesses. Currently, I volunteer as an associate board member for Project Helping, a non-profit dedicated to suicide prevention. In my free time, I can be found posting an incredibly high score on the golf course or hanging out with his 120 lb pup, Charlie – and currently planning my wedding for the spring of 2023.
At Groundwrk, we believe in being specialists, not generalists. To us, this means that we will never be a “full-service” agency and only offer specific services in which we carry a high level of expertise. Right now, that is branding, design, website design and development, content, and social media. I started Groundwrk in 2019 after a decade in the traditional agency world.
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
Specializing and not generalizing. In the creative agency world, the term “full-service” is worn as a badge of honor. I hate that, so I started Groundwrk with the idea to only offer branding and truly custom websites. Even other creative agencies around Denver think of us as a specialty shop and know that we are not a threat to their full-service offerings, in fact, we refer business around town quite often. Be careful though, I see boutique services firms claim a specialty without any real experience. Specializing means immersing yourself and your team in what it means to specialize. To us, this includes:
1. Innovation. Design inspiration flows through our agency. We are always looking at work from all over the world and never rely on our past work as inspiration.
2. Process. I cannot tell you how many times we have been complimented on our processes. We have a process for EVERYTHING and it brings comfort and clarity to complex projects.
3. Teaching. We are an open book when it comes to process and the tools we use to do what we do.
4, Awards. This is an unfortunate truth in my opinion. There are not many legitimate award organizations in the creative space so anyone can pay a fee of $500 to win an award. But, clients love it so we have to do it.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
There was a time in my career when I was labeled “polarizing”. I was hired by a lesser-known agency to build their reputation and bring in a higher caliber of clients. Within my first week on the job, it was apparent that the current team was not built for the transformation and I plowed forward without any regard for the people that have been there for years. The result was a turnover of 50% of the agency and the worst year of my professional career.
This taught me a few valuable lessons:
1. I cannot expect my team to have, or even understand, my work ethic or my standards for work. Just because they may not have these qualities does not mean that are bad team members or produce bad work.
2. An inspired team is more effective than a micro-managed team. Get the team onboard and don’t just throw directives at them. Listen, learn, and empower them to make tough decisions. Most importantly, empower them to fail and be in uncomfortable situations, knowing that you are there to support them when needed.
3. My way is not the only way. For most things in business, there is more than one path to get to the same outcome. Some paths may be more expensive, some may take longer, some may take a shortcut but they all are correct. If you, as a business owner, don’t want to be responsible for 100% of decisions throughout the life of your business, let your team lead the way from time to time.
Bonus lesson. You read a lot of professional development books about building a team and the “slow to hire, fast to fire” mentality. Sometimes, you may be the wrong fit for your position.