The Solspace Virus: The Luck Surface Area of Being Contagious

Solspace has always been a word of mouth business. I have no idea how to market the company because the marketing has always been done for me, by my clients.

Many years ago, I built a wedding website for someone. That person's spouse knew someone who was a consultant for someone running for mayor in San Francisco. That person needed a campaign website. Then other consultants on that project needed other websites and next thing you know 15 years have spun by and we're a 15 person team building out who knows how much web real estate every week.

We're a virus. It's an overused concept - because it’s so fitting. The viral metaphor works because it so aptly describes how growth can build effortlessly and exponentially. It’s been on my mind recently; partly because I'm spending a lot of time learning about marketing this year and partly because we have seen a large client go through a major re-org and layoff this past year. In this particular case, the main client is still a client. The people on the team we originally worked with have all been laid off. Since the economy is fairly good, they all got new jobs fairly quickly. And because they are all web workers like me, in their new jobs they are again building stuff on the web. They still need us. We infected the main organization with Solspace. The other people who came in contact with that org also became infected with Solspace. And now hopefully each of the other companies these people (hosts!) now occupy will soon be infected with Solspace as well.

This is another place where one of my favorite new ideas, luck surface area, is appropriate. I want to do right by people. I always have. My life is fuller and more joyful when I get to interact with people I enjoy and can serve. My clients are among my very favorite people because they bring me problems to solve. On a daily basis I get to help them fix stuff. And they pay me. When I help someone, they become infected. The next time they have a problem that needs fixing - if I have done my job well, if I have cultivated an authentic, real human relationship with them - then the next time they have a problem they think of me instead of something or someone else.

Luck surface area describes that phenomenon that occurs when you do something you love in a way that is present and available as publicly as possible - thereby increasing the odds of getting to do more of what you love. When Solspace performs well for a client and makes the process fun and fulfilling in the process, the message propagates through the medium of people. How are we not a virus? How are agencies and shops like ours, even freelancers, not like a viral phenomenon? Fortunately, while Solspace may spread like a virus, we don’t make our hosts sick. Ours is a symbiotic relationship that meets our clients’ needs.

What interests me most in this thought exercise, what I hope will be useful to you as you pause and give it a few minutes’ consideration is this: what can we do to make ourselves more viral? I have had clients who, eager to spread the word and desiring a tool to help them do it, ask me for a stack of my business cards. When we have been good about sending out a newsletter, it has on occasion been forwarded to perfect strangers. Thus the virus spreads. Business cards and newsletters are both tools that facilitate that viral spread. But there is another tool; an older, more reliable one. That tool is socializing. I have been trying to make more space in my schedule to go to lunch, or coffee or for after-work beers with clients, past and present. I don't want to go to big, sponsored mixers with these people. I hate those things. I do want to spend more quality, one on one social time with these friends. The only goal for this social time is to enjoy ourselves while maintaining and building our relationship. It is time that allows us to continue our conversation about problems and solutions on the web.

A virus is a living thing and as such, it can die in a given host. The luck surface area of viral marketing is dependent not only on methods of propagation but on longevity as well. So I am looking these days for different ways to do both, to propagate the virus and to keep it alive in those already infected. The more copies of the little bug existing and thriving in the world, the more likely I am to gain a new client relationship.

(And now I will give a belabored metaphor a rest.)