Why we created a playbook.
A traditional playbook contains descriptions of various offensive and defensive plays that are used by a team. If your opponent calls a 4 WR Post Route, it’s time to break out your Quarter-3-Deep-Zone. Running a 1-3-1 at the end of the 4th quarter? Cut the Guard to the basket for an easy layup. Playbooks are designed to equip teams with a plan for every situation, putting them in the best position of success.
This is our Playbook. A transparent and open view into who we are, what we do, and why we do it. We welcome our clients, potential clients, hiring candidates, and the overall community to openly understand our purpose, process, and passion.
There’s a lot here. Just like a team needs a play for every down and distance, processes and systems are what allow us to work hard, work smart, and explore creatively. Our playbook defines our daily routines and workflows and confidently communicates what we do best and what drives us, both as individuals and as a team. Whether you’re interested in working with us, or just want to know how often we get together for happy hour, the Playbook is for you. Let’s dive in!
PROJECT QUALIFICATION & KICKOFF
A DAY IN THE LIFE (HOW WE WORK)
- Core Values
- The Five Things
- Our Environment
- The Workday & Where We Work
- Employee Benefits
- Vision Days & Vision Quest
- Communication & Digital Tools
- Professional Development & Personal Growth
PROJECT PROCESSES & SYSTEMS
- Brand Landscape
- Understand Your Brand Workshop
- The Project Team
- Timelines, Revisions, & Deadlines
- Internal Reviews & Client Q&A
WRAPPING PROJECTS & NEXT STEPS
WHO WE ARE (OUR MANIFESTO)
Proof is a team of thinkers, designers, developers, managers, writers, and strategists. We craft purposeful, passionate brands.
- We believe every brand has a compelling story that deserves to be told.
- We understand that brands are bigger than the sum of their parts — aesthetics, functionality, content, and imagery. They all work hand-in-hand and every element should be exceptional.
- We work collaboratively. Our creative ingenuity pairs best with our client’s input, expertise, and overall investment.
- We would rather be challenged with innovation and exploration than model a project after something that already exists.
- We’re honest and direct. We expect nothing less from our clients and partners.
- We create brands that are intended for people — not for numbers, search engines, markets, or metrics. While the latter are important, the most critical element we seek to understand are the people our clients serve.
- Every project we take on is useful and good for the world.
- We believe simple is always better.
- We only work on projects we believe can succeed.
- We go all-in on every project. We expect an equal level on investment from those who choose to work with us.
PROJECT QUALIFICATION & KICKOFF
New projects begin when you fill out our project inquiry form, you give us a call, and/or we grab coffee and chat about what you’re looking to do and how we can best work together. Upon reviewing your inquiry, our team follows up with questions and comments that help us further distill your project, its goals, required deliverables, and desired outcomes.
Getting to Know You
An imperative early step in our process is ensuring we have a full grasp on the project scope — and most importantly, your goals. We ask a lot of “why” questions. For example, if you come to us and say, “I need a new website,” the first question you’ll likely hear from us is “what will a new website do for your business?” We don’t take on projects without a clear “why” behind the “what.” That’s what makes us a bit different from a traditional design shop or marketing firm. Understanding your vision and goals allows us to explore possibility and opportunity. An ideal client is currently faced with a challenge (and opportunity) and is looking to partner with us to provide creative solutions. While this may include a redesign of a website, a new logo, or a snazzy brochure, we may find during our early conversations that opportunity exists beyond the specific “need.” Our early discovery conversations include questions like:
- What goals do you have for this project?
- What made you reach out to us today? (What’s the current “pain” you’re feeling)
- How does the desired deliverable impact you near-term goals? (this helps us attach value to the deliverables being discussed)
- What is your timeline? (With an undefined timeline, most of our projects fall in the 14-24 week spectrum, but we understand that every project is different and do our best to accommodate to client needs)
- What is your budget? (Not always an easy question to answer — and we understand that a potential client may not have any idea what the work may cost. This question isn’t to price-gouge, but rather, to ensure we’re in the same ballpark. Tight budgets and quick turnarounds typically don’t allow the time and thought on our end to deliver a top-quality final product. We’re very careful when it comes to putting ourselves in a position that’ll leave a client unsatisfied or our team unnecessarily under pressure.)
With a solid understanding of your goals, timeline, and overall project scope, our team works collaboratively to put together a comprehensive proposal for the project. This includes all associated deliverables, recommended approach, associated cost(s), and overall timelines. Our proposals give a full description to both the “what” and the “why.” Typically, our proposals are paired with a call or meeting to discuss specifics and details, as well as to answer any questions the potential client may have.
If a proposal is accepted, we enter into the “project kickoff” stage. During this important step, you can expect the following:
- Contract & Invoice – Step one is confirming our agreement in writing. We send a comprehensive contract agreement full of all the legal goodness, as well as an initial invoice for a project deposit. Payment structure and schedule is discussed and agreed to during this stage, and is reflected in the overall agreement. (Most projects are either 50% at project initiation and 50% at project completion or are based on critical project “benchmarks”). We do our best to be flexible to the client’s financial situation in coming up with a mutually agreeable payment plan. But, no (for those wondering), you can’t put a logo on layaway.
- NDA’s and Non-Competes – If necessary, we will discuss the signing of Non-Disclosure Agreements and/or Non-Compete Agreements at this stage, depending on the project. These items are discussed on a project-by-project basis.
- Introduction to the Project Manager – With the logistics and paperwork out of the way, we introduce our clients to our Project Manager, who handles setting up Basecamp (our platform for project management), sending the Brand Landscape, and giving an overall introduction to the process ahead of us. There’s plenty more on the tools and platforms we use day-to-day later in the Playbook.
A Day in the Life (How We Work)
We’ve spent a considerable amount of time internally thinking about and refining our core values. These aren’t the kind of core values you hang up in a board room and never think about (though we do have them hanging in our office) — these are driving and defining characteristics that make up the DNA of our company. We work hard to embody each of them daily, and if we find ourselves wandering off course, we reference to and reflect on them as-needed.
- We focus on people. We work with awesome people. Every project we take on is useful and makes the world a better place.
- We keep it simple. Simple is beautiful. Simple is clear. Simple is effective. We cut through the clutter and get to the point.
- We go all in. We believe in every project we take on. We dwell in possibility. Your success is our mission.
- We have fun. We love what we do. This shines through in every conversation, every line of code, and every brand we build.
- We learn every day. We’re in the business of getting better. Hungry for knowledge, we’ll know more than we did yesterday and less than we will tomorrow.
- We’re honest. We give it to you straight — and expect no less from you. Being direct and honest gets us to the best possible outcome efficiently and with confidence.
We are invested in our work, but we know that work does not define us. We work at a diligent, yet comfortable pace, ensuring that we don’t take on more than we can handle. We want every member of the team to love their job (and we do), but at the end of the day, it’s a job. We go all in and do our best while we’re here so we can close our computers and enjoy time with family and friends when the workday is over. Balance is critical and keeps us coming back and giving 110% each day.
The Five Things
While we hope that establishing rapport and expressing gratitude are inherent in our company culture, we recognize that in the hustle and bustle, we can lose sight. That’s why we are committed to daily completion of these simple, yet purposeful “5 things” in an effort to actively pursue the core values that drive us:
- Spend 30 minutes each day on personal/professional development. Read a book. Read a blog. Learn something new. Every day. No excuses.
- Have one non-work-related conversation with someone on the team. We’re human beings and need to remind ourselves to let go and not be consumed, nor defined, by our work.
- Review company goals and core values. If you find yourself losing sight of the “why” behind what we do, take a minute to review this playbook and know that we’re all united in our mission of doing meaningful work with great people.
- Send (at least) one proactive update each day to the team about what you’re working on. It’s important for us all to know what each other is up to. Share your successes and challenges with the team daily.
- Say thank you. To one of your coworkers. To a client. To someone in the community. Or to someone in your family. Don’t lose sight of the importance in showing gratitude to the people that matter.
The Proof office is a collaborative, open space. We have work-stations ranging from our reclaimed wood conference table, an equally-awesome and also reclaimed wood standing desk/bar, a huge garage window to let in the fresh air, traditional desks, comfy couches, and yes, even some classy armchairs. You won’t find us in private offices with headphones on. We work together, communicate often, and always have music playing. Good, positive vibes all day, every day.
The Workday & Where We Work
Proof operates with a “remote-hybrid” work week. We thrive in a flexible work schedule, one that recognizes that working early in the morning, late at night, from a coffee shop, or at a bar is sometimes what works best.
- On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you’ll find us at our office in Nashville. An open office environment with tons of natural light, bottomless coffee, comfy couches, beer fridge, and plenty of ‘90s playlists. Being together often allows us to work collaboratively, conduct meetings efficiently, and strengthen company culture.
- Tuesday & Thursday are remote days at Proof. It’s good to get out of the office. And here in Nashville, there is no shortage of coffee shops or co-working spaces to sit and garner fresh perspective. We often use these days, individually, for much-needed “head down” time to focus without distractions. Because sometimes, work goes better with sweatpants. We maintain a consistent line of communication amongst the team throughout the day via Slack, and more often than that, you’ll find us pairing off and meeting up at a favorite spot for some outside-the-office collaboration.
- Monday Kick-off: We start Monday by brewing some coffee and spending the first 20 minutes with a “kick off” to articulate individual and team goals, set priorities, and celebrate accomplishments.
- Wednesday Check-In: Wednesday mornings our team gathers for a collaborative review of all current projects and priorities. This is an opportunity to present work and garner open feedback from the rest of the team.
- Friday Wrap-up: We bring things full circle on Friday, and end our week promptly at 4 p.m. During this time, we revisit our primary objectives for the week and evaluate progress on all projects. We also take time to reflect on major “wins” and high-five to our victories and accomplishments as a team. Also, happy hour. Cheers!
- Health Insurance: All employees are provided with 100% paid health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield, with dental/vision being an optional additional out-of-pocket expense. As an employee, you’re eligible for health benefits 30 days after your start date. We bet you feel better already!
- PTO & Remote Work: We celebrate all major US holidays here at Proof and PTO time is accrued over time. Every team member starts with 15 PTO days which jumps to 20 and 25 days at 1 and 2 year anniversaries, respectively. PTO is reset on the date of your anniversary of employment and is not based on the overall calendar year (ex. If your start date is Oct. 1 – PTO must be used prior to Oct 1. of the following year and does not roll over). Also, under the belief that good work can be done from anywhere – yes, even that cabin in the woods or shore on the beach (as long as there’s wifi), team members often travel and work remote. Behold the power of modern technology!
- Annual Profit Share: Success at Proof is a team effort. Everyone has a significant hand in our success and company growth. Our profit-sharing system is based on two important questions and the end of each year: 1) Was this year more profitable than the previous year? 2) If yes, how much better did we do than last year? 20% of that profit will be split amongst employees. If you’ve been working here 0-2 years, you get 1 cut of the profit share, and if you’ve been working here for 2-4 years, you get 2 cuts of the share. 4+ years, 3 cuts of the share. The longer you work here, the more pieces of pie you get and the more people that work here, the more pieces of pie there are to distribute.
- Sabbatical: Every three years (from your date-of hire), employees are eligible to take a one-month-long paid sabbatical. Maybe you’ve always dreamed to travel abroad or maybe you’re the type that wants to finally complete a remodel of your home. Just think about the possibilities! Just give us 3-6 months heads up so we can coordinate the work-load accordingly.
- Parental Leave: When you welcome a new little boy or girl into the world (birthed or adopted), it’s important that you have the time you need to care for your little one. Proof encourages you to take up to 12 weeks leave for primary caregivers and up to 6 weeks leave as secondary caregiver at 100% paid salary. The catch: You are required to send the team cute baby photos while you’re away.
- Summer Fridays: During the summer, we have “Summer Fridays” at Proof. We work hard throughout the week to ensure we’re at a good place with all client projects so we can enjoy a 1/2 day every Friday, from the first Friday in May to the last Friday in August. Catch some sunshine or just catch up on that one Netflix show you’ve been binging. We don’t judge.
Vision Day & Vision Quest
In the service-based nature of our company, it’s easy to neglect internal processes and core values. That’s why the Proof crew is intentional about setting aside time to ensure we don’t lose sight of our own projects and big ideas.
- Vision Day: One day a month, we close our inboxes and take a break from client work to talk internal strategy and new projects. We use this time to catch up on our internal projects and goals, as well as to reflect and relax. On these days, you might find our team going for a hike, touring a local distillery, or bowling at the local alley.
- Vision Quest: Once a year we go away as a team on a Vision Quest to restore, reenergize, and reflect on what we do well and where we can improve. We pack our bags and head out of town to spend a couple days focused on everything internal. Learning from each other and giving airtime to big dreams for Proof are our main objectives. We learn together, expand on ideas, eat good food, drink good beer, and almost always partake in a game of Cards Against Humanity.
Communication & Digital Tools
Communication is absolutely essential to the DNA of Proof. We’re open, honest, and responsive both internally and with our day-to-day interactions with clients.
- Slack: Our internal real-time communication tool, we use this in place of email to stay connected over the course of a workday. We correspond on projects, have private conversations, share interesting/inspirational articles, collaborate on ideas, and, of course, create our own emojis.
- Basecamp: Probably our most important tool. This is how we manage projects, timelines, discussions, and pretty much all client-related communication. As the client, at the start of our project, we invite you to Basecamp and keep all correspondence and communication within our Basecamp project. This eliminates the back and forth of email and ensures we’re on the same page with all deliverables and progress from day one to project completion.
- Google Drive: Everyone’s favorite collaboration tool. Have some pre-meeting thoughts? Create a Google Doc. Internal and client feedback on designs? Create a Google Doc. Compiling our monthly analytics? Create a Google Doc. Well, you get the point. We use them a lot and often wonder how the heck we survived without them.
- UberConference: Every now and then, you just need to jump on a conference call and/or screen-share. Our dedicated line via UberConference is used for everything from checking in as a team to setting up a call with clients.
- Dropbox: We love the cloud and live in the cloud. File-sharing internally and with our clients is made possible courtesy of our friends over at Dropbox.
All of the technology in the world can’t beat an old-fashioned face-to-face meeting. Personal and direct communication is often the best and most effective. We’re careful not to get sucked into our computer screens at the sake of simply having a conversation.
Professional Development & Personal Growth
Each day is an opportunity to be better than the day before. Personal and professional development is encouraged and incentivized at Proof, and we’re never satisfied with “good enough”.
- Professional Development Stipend: One of our core values is to learn something every day. Each team member is afforded opportunities to seek out personal and professional growth. Have you been wanting to take a new writing course or attend a web development seminar? Each individual is provided with a $500 annual professional development stipend to cover learning, growing, and getting their education on.
- Quarterly 1×1: We don’t wait until our end of year review to sit down and have open communication about wins and losses. Each quarter, individual team members set aside an hour to meet with the CEO. This is the chance to express challenges or concerns, celebrate accomplishments, share honestly, and gain feedback on individual work. 1×1 times, usually over coffee or a beer, ensure we are all on the same page and allow for continuous, authentic internal dialogue.
What We Look For
Forget about resumes and cover letters. We’re hiring based on future-perfect potential. Cover letters only tell a piece of the story and often, resumes don’t reflect accurately the potential individuals have when empowered and offered the chance to excel. That’s why the most important part of initial contact is how individuals respond to the request to send “anything that makes you stand out.” This is the chance to show what you’re made of and to articulate a more accurate narrative of your story. Anything is fair game.
As a small team that aspires to be small, we’re people hire-ers more than we are role-fillers. A luxury of being small is that we’re able to be nimble and flexible in adapting to the skills and talents of our crew. Effort and an entrepreneurial mentality are the intangible requirements everyone must possess to be happy and successful at Proof. Being willing to go the extra mile and sustain a self-starter attitude are musts.
What we don’t look for: Jerks. Pixel pushers. Egos. Negativity. Pessimists. People who can’t appreciate a good cup of coffee. Anyone who can’t name at least three Boyz II Men songs.
Interested in joining our merry band of branders, marketers, designers, and web developers? Job inquiries are sent to email@example.com, along with a resume and “anything else that makes you stand out.” From there, applicants are contacted by CEO Matt Cheuvront to set up an initial interview. There’s no need to prepare by perusing every “20 most common interview questions” article on the interwebs, because we likely won’t ask them. We prefer real, honest conversations — so just bring your best self, questions, and ideas.
The First Day
Gone are the days of hour-long training videos and employee handbook quizzes. New hires meet with our CEO to grab coffee on their first day, prior to meeting the team and diving in, to review the basics, tools, and logistics. Then it’s off to meet the crew and complete a client run-through. New team members will get set up with all necessary tools, software, and computer(s), and from there, can expect to hit the ground running. We believe the best way to learn how we operate is to jump in and get to work.
Project Processes & Systems
At project kickoff, before meeting with our team, clients receive our Brand Landscape, which includes questions to jumpstart the creative and strategic process. This document is intended to gather big ideas, dreams, and goals. Everything from articulating a revenue goal to telling us what websites you like. The expertise, perspective, and background each client provides serves as a foundation for our work. Once completed, our team reviews and is well-equipped for a productive initial Understand Your Brand Workshop.
Understand Your Brand Workshop
The Understand Your Brand Workshop is the cornerstone of our creative process. So much so that we’ve trademarked our handy-dandy UYB Workbook. This in-person workshop (6-8 hours over one-two days) is intended to establish trust, develop a core understanding, personality, and position of the brand — its identity, actions, target market(s), strengths, opportunities, aesthetic, user experience, big goals, and strategic plans. During our time together, we discuss the following:
- Brand Identity – What is the core identity and purpose of the brand?
- Brand Action – What does the brand do (best)? Who does it serve?
- Brand Essence – How does the brand carry out its identity and actions day-to-day?
- Brand Declaration – What is the brand’s mission, vision, and elevator pitch?
- Brand Position – Who is the brand’s customer? What competitive advantages exist?
- Brand Creative – How will the brand be articulated visually?
- Brand Goals – What are the brand’s intended (measurable) goals?
We welcome key team leaders and representatives to be a part of this workshop. Part one focuses on overall brand positioning and personality, including a higher-level conversation on goals, target customer(s), and competitive advantages. Part two applies this positioning work to the tangible contracted deliverables, with discussions surrounding aesthetics, user experience, website architecture (if applicable), wire-framing, campaign strategy, etc. We collectively leave this workshop with confidence and clarity on the brand, its goals, and our direction with next steps and how they can best be executed.
The Project Team
Our team is nothing if it is not collaborative. Everyone on the team has a role in the completion of each project. But, we’re also organized. Each project is assigned a project manager who takes charge of all day-to-day communications and managing project timelines, and a creative lead who is responsible for leadership on all creative design deliverables. At different stages of the project, you’ll have a direct line of communication with almost everyone on our team — be it about design, copywriting, development, or just to check in with your project manager. The door is always open and we welcome ongoing collaboration.
Timelines, Revisions, & Deadlines
Timelines are critically important to overall project success. We maintain an internal project calendar and are intentional when scheduling projects to ensure we have time to be thoughtful and focused on each client project. We set deadlines for all major and minor milestones throughout the project as part of the project kickoff process. We do not miss deadlines. The only time a project gets thrown off course is if a client is slow to respond with feedback and/or direction, when needed. That said, we understand that life happens and always do our absolute best to accommodate requested timeline changes.
For each deliverable, we allow for a set number of revisions. Because we do not bill hourly (all pricing is project-based), sticking to a two or three-round revision process is imperative for maintaining scope. If we’re beyond this number of revisions, not only is it a scope concern, more importantly, we’re likely off-track with our understanding of the project. Before we get to this point, we’ll have an open, honest conversation so we can get on-track and move forward with confidence.
Every creative deliverable is paired with a design presentation (in-person, if possible). We are strong advocates for “selling your work” and are intentional about explaining the “why” behind the “what” as we review logo design, website mockups, campaign ideas, collateral, etc. This pairing of form with function helps us arrive at a confident, final place more efficiently and effectively.
Internal Reviews & Client Q&A
We are intentional and thorough about reviewing everything we send to a client internally. You’ll often find a few of us huddled around a monitor combing through a mockup or running final testing of a website before it is sent to a client for approval. It’s important that our internal review and quality control process is strong, and we’re diligent about ensuring that it is with every project. Before final delivery/launch (especially related to website projects), our clients have the opportunity for Q&A testing on our development server — to ensure everything is absolutely 100% approved.
Wrapping Projects & Next Steps
The “end” of our project is far from the end. In some cases, it’s only the first step toward a long, happy relationship between our team and the client. We make sure every detail is accounted for as we deliver and deploy all final deliverables, and present opportunities to continue our relationship into the future.
Delivery & Deployment
Throughout a project with a client, we organize all brand assets including logos, fonts, colors, collateral templates, usage guidelines, etc., into an online Brandfolder. This cloud-based platform ensures our clients have easy access to all applicable assets on-demand, as needed. Upon receipt of final payment at project completion, we provide the client with access to their Brandfolder, which is theirs to access as they need, whether or not we continue to work together. If there’s ever a need for a specific file in the future, we’re more than happy to provide that to our clients.
As the client, you own all final created deliverables upon receipt of final payment. This includes all final, approved files. We do not provide original working files — design templates, Photoshop files, etc. — unless previously discussed and agreed upon as to protect intellectual property and ensure brand consistency for our clients moving forward.
We do not obligate any client to maintain a retainer-based agreement with us. That said, we do offer a “Proof Pledge” (retainer) option to clients who want to maintain an ongoing relationship for maintenance and management including small website updates, one-off design requests, etc. This three-hour/month agreement ensures we’re around when you need us, as “Pledge” clients receive first priority for smaller, ongoing requests.
Once the project is over, we maintain a positive open-door policy with all of our clients. If you need us, when you need us, we’re no more than a call, email, meeting, or tweet away. A brand is an ever-evolving, constantly changing thing — one that must be maintained, developed, iterated, and improved ongoing. We’re most excited about relationships with clients that extend beyond “Phase 1,” and are always interested in the opportunity to continue and extend our work with outstanding businesses, organizations, and you, fine person who made it all the way to the end of our playbook.