Business Lessons Learned from Imagine Tallahassee (so far)
I recently had the privilege of volunteering at the first two rounds of community meetings for the Imagine Tallahassee project, a privately funded grassroots initiative to help the residents of Tallahassee come together to think about the future of the community.
I decided to get involved as I see potential for Tallahassee and what it could be 10, 20 or 30+ years down the line. Through the visioning process carried out in the community forums and roundtables (at which I helped with data-gathering and facilitation,) I was exposed to passionate Tallahassee residents who have big ideas for business, culture and the quality of life in our city.
This project is much bigger than I realized when I signed up to help, which excites me about the impact these community gatherings will have on Tallahassee’s future.
For more information on the Imagine Tallahassee project, I encourage you to read this great background article on how the project started and where it’s going. In addition, if you live in Tallahassee, I hope you’ll find a way to get involved and help to shape the future of our community.
The Business Insights
The story of how Imagine Tallahassee got started and where it is now (as detailed in the Tallahassee Democrat article linked above) is a perfect example of having a Big Idea, communicating it and using content and relationship-building to spread the word and get buy-in from your target audience.
In addition, there are lessons to be learned from the Imagine Tallahassee project that could potentially change the way you do business for the better. Here are just a few of those lessons:
Listen to Your Customers
The recommendations that will result from the Imagine Tallahassee project will have much greater influence on the Sales Tax Committee as well as the County and City Commissions because they will represent a wide range of community interests and influences. Deciding how to use up to 15 percent of the proposed penny sales tax extension will be up for much debate, but the organizers of Imagine Tallahassee will be armed with a strategic plan that came from the broadest community visioning effort in memory. The community is talking and the Imagine Tallahassee team is listening.
Does this take time? Yes. Is it complicated and a little messy? Absolutely. But, in business, if you actually know what prospects want and take into account their needs and wants into your products and services, you’re going to have a much easier time doing business than trying to generate demand from scratch.
Go where the demand is first, and then create your products and services to meet that demand.
Use Data to Drive Your Decisions
Each of the community forums began with an opening presentation from Dr. Dale Brill, principal at ThinkSpot, Inc. In his presentation, Dr. Brill covered the current economic status of Tallahassee while also comparing it to similar towns and cities with large student populations.
Dr. Brill’s presentations set the tone for the brainstorming and ideation that took place during the community forums, informing participants of the pressing issues facing Tallahassee today.
All of your decision-making related to your business should begin the same way – with a serious look at data surrounding the economy, your customers, personal finances and even your web analytics. Relying on intuition is easy and convenient in the beginning, but can turn out poorly in the end.
While data-driven decision making doesn’t guarantee success, it certainly increases the chances of avoiding major failure.
Seek Outside Help
In order to get the project off the ground and get the desired results, the Imagine Tallahassee steering committee recognized the need to partner with an outside agency. The committee chose Wallace, Roberts and Todd, LLC (WRT), a consulting firm that helped undertake similar in efforts in areas such as Austin, Texas, Biloxi, Miss. and Albany, NY as their partner.
The Imagine Tallahassee project could influence the spending of up to $113 million for economic development, which makes it easy to see why using a strategic partner with experience in this area makes sense.
Even if there’s less money at stake for your business, you need to consider where your business is now, where you want it to be and then determine what partners you need to close the gap between those two points.
Are you involved with the Imagine Tallahassee project? What lessons have you learned from participating? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.
Jeff Machado is a content marketing strategist at Fiore Communications. You can follow him on Twitter and say hello.
(Photo Credit: Imagine Tallahassee)