Don't Fear The Frontier: 5 Keys To Opening A New Office

Congrats, pioneer, you've grown enough to homestead. But who do you bring in? And how do you get along with the locals?

Opening an office in a new market is an exciting next step for high-growth companies, but the unchartered territory can be daunting. Deciding on those first hires is incredibly important and, at times, overwhelming.

How do you ensure you have the best people to help your location thrive? During my career, I've discovered five keys to building a core team in a new office.

Help carry the weight

Placing too much pressure on new hires to build the framework of the office's culture and success can be detrimental. It's important that new team members feel comfortable, which can be accomplished by transplanting experienced company employees. These senior-level directors take the burden off new hires' shoulders and contribute to the development of a healthy culture.

The core base of the office isn't formed until you intermingle these two types of hires--local candidates and tenured transplants. Instead of feeling responsible for defining the company, new hires learn from mentors and pepper in local flair.

Leadership visits, meetings, or check-ins are also beneficial. New hires should never feel isolated or deserted, or the office will never be successful. Each office is a huge part of the larger organization. Show your support at all times.

Establish a hiring structure

At Acquity Group, we typically take a structured approach to the first ten new hires. One of the first hires should be an expert in business development with established local and industry relationships. With a strong network and solid experience, he can serve as an advocate.

The next position is a part of the business's foundation. For us, it's generally a senior-level technologist who can wear many hats. Not only must he know the technology we deliver, but he also must be adept at managing clients and improving business structures.

We also need a creative with extensive knowledge of new design and user experience. He or she's involved in client-facing pitches and spur-of-the-moment design creation. He's also tapped into the local creative scene and can draw upon his existing network.

The final components are experts in client engagement and digital strategy. The latter will represent and drive the entire corporate value system across the creative and technical side. The client engagement role requires a strong knowledge of the company's delivery methodology. This role significantly contributes to an office's sustainability, via successful client delivery.

Once you lay out the first five roles to be filled by only local candidates, the next five will be a combination of new candidates and transplants from other offices.

Emphasize local, then national, differentiators

You want to be popular in the new location, so localize your value proposition. Know the competitive landscape and how you stack up. Do you have any notable clients in the new location? Mention them. The range and prestige of work that employees will be exposed to is an important consideration for job seekers. It also builds your reputation and increases visibility throughout the region--an enticing proposition.

After you establish the local connection, highlight your national or global reach. Talk about your organizational and professional growth, the brands you help and any other perks or differentiating features. This helps seal the deal.

Marry ambition with leadership

A new office, even in a well-established company, can feel very much like a startup. Equipped with support from the entire organization, the most successful new-market teams are driven to grow an office. Motivated employees with a stake in the direction of an office make a big difference. For these candidates, ambition is more valuable than experience alone.

Many companies launching into a new market fall into the tenure trap, only pursuing candidates with years in the business. Experience is a good predictor of future success, but the initial hires should possess adaptability. Candidates with less experience are usually more comfortable participating in the dynamic nature of a new office. By no means should you write off someone for being a veteran, but make sure they're adaptable as well.

Network constantly

Referrals are valuable when building the fabric of a new office, as recruiting is build around the networks you create from those first hires. It's difficult to build a sustainable office without local help, and many times you may not know the local cream of the crop.
Core teams with diverse and qualified networks are huge assets. They'll help grow the organization at a rapid pace. Just make sure that your company is ready to act on their recommendations as soon as they're suggested--otherwise, you'll miss a key opportunity to capitalize on the strong networks that your hires bring.

A new office has potential. It can grow your company on personal, as well as organizational, levels. But only if you build with the right people.

Jay is Executive Vice President of the North American Services organization for Acquity Group, a global brand eCommerce and digital marketing agency.

[Image: Flickr user Melissa Toledo]

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