My colleague Annie was recently on a kickoff call with an author we’d worked with previously on a couple of articles. He said he thought one of his editors had been named Scott. “But that’s Mr. Leff, so that might not be right.” He was incredulous that the founder of the company would still take on editing projects.
A couple of things. First, Mr. Leff is my dad. He lives in Iowa City, and he’s not an editor. Second, although the company has grown to 40 people, I view client work as a critical part of my job. I currently spend around 55 percent of my time on client projects. I do this for a few reasons.
In the course of projects over the years, I’ve had conversations with clients that have highlighted growth opportunities for our company—such as different ways to tell a story or promote and disseminate content. These discussions often end in the same place: do you know someone who provides that service? Thanks to these insights, we’ve expanded from our beginnings as an editorial and design shop to one that provides strategy, podcasts, videos, interactives, and social media assets, among other offerings.
As important, my client work enables me to talk knowledgeably about everything we can do and how different elements fit together into integrated content campaigns. These discussions will continue to shape how we grow.
Business development and relationship building
I never forget we are in the client service business. But—and this is important—we don’t serve companies; we serve people. These relationships are the lifeblood of our business. When we do a good job for them, they return the favor by sending us more work or sharing our information with their colleagues. To this day, the vast majority of our work comes through word of mouth and referrals, so I want to ensure I’m helping to build and nurture these client relationships. And clients appreciate when the company’s senior leaders take the lead on a project rather than appearing on the kickoff before making the handoff to a more junior person. Sometimes it even causes them to raise their game a bit.
My presence can also clearly signal our dedication to serving a client. After winning some new business last year, one client told me that my involvement in the pitch was a huge factor because it conveyed that her project was a priority for us.
From an internal standpoint, my colleagues see that I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and do whatever is necessary to ensure a given project is successful. We are in it together.
Stability and continuity
A couple months ago, I was talking with the founder of a B2B branding agency who had just stepped back into client work after her creative director left the firm. As someone whose name is on the door, she saw it as her responsibility to ensure stability and continuity. I view my role similarly—I go wherever I’m needed most.
If a project is a high priority or on a tight deadline, I’ll jump in to alleviate pressure and bring a different perspective to problem solving. In my conversation with Erin Sarofsky, the founder of Sarofsky, she described it as “running toward the fire.” I’ve worked on enough challenging projects over the years to know what’s required and how to get it done without wasting any time. And if that frees up colleagues for other projects, all the better.
The love of the game
There’s one last reason I still take on client work: I love what I do, and my colleagues rock. I’m currently working with some of my coworkers on a high-profile project with a completely unrealistic deadline. But the topic is hugely important (racial equity), and the report has the potential to shape the broader conversation on what stakeholders must do to bring about a more just society. It will require long hours—and it will be totally worth it.
Crucially, I know this report wouldn’t make it into the world on this timeline if not for the expertise of our team—including copy editors, designers, project managers, and web producers. And it gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction to be a part of that.