Reaction

This seasoned agency makes digital transformations look easy

The Reaction team meeting in an office room
Photo of a Reaction employee working at their desk
Photo of the Reaction team showing products to a client
Members of the Reaction team pointing at a white board

Alberta-based digital agency Reaction has been helping businesses stand out online for more than a decade. Back in 2018, Reaction took Louder Than Ten’s custom training to flesh out essential operational and project management processes. The experience was so positive that they later enroled their Project Director, Lisa D’Arcy, in the Digital Project Management Foundations course.

Louder Than Ten sat down with Reaction’s Mike Szyszka to discuss the challenges digital businesses face in 2022, the selling power of good PM, and why client-focused companies have the advantage in a hyper-competitive market.

Organization
Reaction Digital

Based in
Red Deer, AB

Website
reaction.ca

Program
Digital Project Management Foundations (cohort LTT-028)

Can you tell me a bit about Reaction and your role within the company?

My name is Mike Szyszka and I’m the founder and CEO of Reaction. We’re a digital agency that exists because most growing and successful businesses in 2022 aren’t able to capitalize on all of the online opportunities that are available to them. We’ve got a team of designers, developers, writers, and strategists that come together from day one and make big things happen online for our clients.


Reaction and Louder Than Ten have been working together for several years now. Tell me how that came to be and what your first engagement was like?

We were introduced to Rachel through the Bureau of Digital. At the time, we were struggling with a number of internal challenges related to process. You can’t improve something that doesn’t really exist, so it’s hard to improve your process when you don’t feel like you have a good one.

We felt like a very process-driven agency, but it wasn’t translating into the operational success that we were looking for. So, we ended up doing some coaching with Rachel. We did a weekly call for a few months and worked through our internal operational challenges from top to bottom.

It was a really good experience for us because we were able to open up the inner workings of our company to someone from the outside. I think one of the valuable things we can provide as an agency is that we’ve seen under the hood of hundreds of companies, websites, and their search strategies. And we can see what works and what doesn’t. So, you can come in and identify red flags and yellow flags and you know where there are opportunities because you’ve seen it before.

Being able to do that with Rachel— to come up with a list of priority areas that we wanted to focus on, and then just talk through those every week—was a really positive experience for the company. It set us on the right track to make a lot of smart decisions over the next few years.

A photo of Mike Szyszka from Reaction

Mike Szyszka

Founder & CEO
at Reaction Digital

I think one of the valu­able things we can pro­vide as an agency is that we’ve seen under the hood of hun­dreds of com­pa­nies, web­sites, and their search strate­gies. And we can see what works and what does­n’t. So, you can come in and iden­ti­fy red flags and yel­low flags and you know where there are oppor­tu­ni­ties because you’ve seen it before.

So you did the custom training first and then you put a team member through Digital Foundations.

That’s correct.


What made you decide to come back to Louder Than Ten for the Foundations program?

We’re always looking at different ways of improving the capabilities of our team members and believe that professional development is beneficial to our business. We have a project manager who handles all of those PM tasks at our company but it became very obvious over the last few years that project management is actually a key part of delivering successful work for clients. It’s easy to find someone to do the actual work, whether that’s design or development or content. But part of delivering a good customer experience is making sure that that work is delivered not just on time and on budget, but that the client feels updated throughout the project and feels like they know what’s going on.

We started to internally embrace the fact that successfully delivered project management is everybody’s responsibility. Even though there’s a project manager, everyone can contribute to successfully managing a project. So, we wanted our project director [Lisa D’Arcy], who’s often leading the designers and the developers and the writers on the projects, to have a better understanding of what our project manager is doing and for what project management means at the agency. She’s a practitioner of design development and content and strategy, not project management.

So, putting her through the course, I think it wasn’t even about training her to be a PM, it was about equipping her with the context of what happens on the project management side so that she could make sure the work that she was doing with the team was contributing to a good project experience for the client.

We start­ed to inter­nal­ly embrace the fact that suc­cess­ful­ly deliv­ered project man­age­ment is every­body’s respon­si­bil­i­ty. Even though there’s a project man­ag­er, every­one can con­tribute to suc­cess­ful­ly man­ag­ing a project.

Are you able to share a process that you’ve changed based on Lisa’s recommendations?

One was improving the amount of upfront communication that we give to our remote team members. We would often have an onboarding call where we would go over the project and talk about deliverables, but there wasn’t often a lot of documentation that went along with that. So, we have now increased the amount of upfront work that we’re doing.

It’s not just about giving remote team members more context and more information upfront. We’re dedicating the time in our projects, budgets, and forecasting to make sure that that planning is done upfront.

Photo of the Reaction team collaborating
Mockup of Troubled Monk beer
Mike Szyszka working at a desk
Mockup of Classic Cleaners project
Reaction team collaborating at a whiteboard
Mockup of North Strong + Free products
Lisa D'Arcy talking on the phone

In terms of estimating projects and doing a risk analysis—can you speak to changes that have been made there?

We’ve definitely taken scoping and estimating from a sales activity to more of a project [management] activity. It’s become less about sales and more about involving the team. We now have more team members involved in the scoping and estimating process than we ever did before. We are building better buffers based on risk.

We even have different contract language that we can use based on how custom or standard the requests are. We can structure our work in a few different billing models based on levels of certainty about the project and things like that. So, being able to have these tools in our toolbox has allowed us to mitigate a ton of risk and the clients are happier because we’re very accurate with what we’re coming to them with.


Has the LT10 experience shifted the way you handle client relationships?

From day one, 14 years ago, thinking about our client experience has always been a top priority and we’ve always looked at everything we do through the lens of how the client experience is going to be. And so I think we always did a pretty good job of that, but now the whole team is thinking about how we manage the project, how we track things, and how we report things.

We know about problems before they happen. We can get ahead of them with clients and we can often come up with solutions that don’t always require more budget or more time. This is because we’re so in tune with how the project is going and it’s not just the job of a project manager to go get trained and then do all these things in the company. The account manager, the project lead, the developers—everybody has to know that successfully managing this project is very important.

So that makes it a lot easier to improve that client experience. I’d say 50 to 60% of our revenue comes from existing clients.


That’s amazing.

And then another 20 or 30% is referral-based. So, nearly 80% of all the revenue that we get is from a client’s experience as opposed to just somebody new coming in. That I think speaks volumes.

By the numbers

team size

10% net margin increase

more efficient onboarding process

How do you handle client communication?

Communicating with clients is extremely important. We’ve embraced the fact that not every client wants to communicate the same way and it’s okay to adjust the way that you communicate to meet the needs of clients—but it doesn’t change the kinds of things that need to be communicated.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve invited all of our clients into a chat software so that they have direct access to our team. We have also invited our clients into our project management software, so they get to see the status of all their tasks and the comments that are related to them in one place. We send out regular status updates to clients who’d rather receive that through email, so they’ll get a weekly or biweekly update. We have some clients that would rather get a phone call and talk about this once a week, so we’ll set up weekly scrums with those.

We’ve gotten very flexible about how we communicate with clients, but at the same time, it hasn’t created inconsistencies. It has just made it feel like we’re really out there to keep our clients informed.

It’s not just a customer service thing. When you’re keeping clients up to date, you actually have to have the project management behind the scenes to actually make sure their updates are accurate, and what you’re going to be working on a month from now is what you’re telling them you’re going to be working on a month from now.

Not every client wants to com­mu­ni­cate the same way and it’s okay to adjust the way that you com­mu­ni­cate to meet the needs of clients — but it does­n’t change the kinds of things that need to be communicated.

What will the next five years look like for the digital world?

I think the thing that’s going to change the most over the next five years is businesses relying on their websites and their digital marketing for their own success and survival. Pre-pandemic, we were already moving to a more digital world. Every single metric or trend you’d find pointed to more online sales or more online engagement.

COVID accelerated that by maybe five or ten years. So, where I think we would’ve been in 2025, 2028 is probably where we’re at now in 2022. And I think businesses that need to capitalize on this hard shift to digital need a team to help them do that.

I think that feeds into our relationship ethos, that it’s not about contracting out these services, it’s about partnering with an agency or partnering with a team. You can be doing great work, but if it’s disorganized or chaotic, or if the client feels like they’re out of the loop all the time, you will get replaced.

So, project management becomes a value proposition. Even if you’re doing really good quality work, it’s also just an essential part of your service, so you have to deliver it.

You can be doing great work, but if it’s dis­or­ga­nized or chaot­ic, or if the client feels like they’re out of the loop all the time, you will get replaced.

If an agency was thinking about enroling one of their teammates in a Louder Than Ten course, what would you tell them?

I would say that enroling with Louder Than Ten gives you the opportunity to understand project management from the context and perspective of other companies and professionals. It does a good job of not forcing a specific project management methodology on you. It really does hit on the fundamentals, and you’re able to then take those and apply them in unique ways to your own business.

I think that the Louder Than Ten course is a good enough overview that someone who isn’t a project manager can take this course and get a lot of value out of it. There are a lot of opportunities for other members of the team to get project management training, and this is a good course because it covers enough ground that you’ll come out of it feeling like you’re ready to contribute to that part of the business.

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