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The Alliance Labs | The Story

The Alliance Labs is a top digital agency in Chicago.
The Alliance Labs is an educational institute that teaches and trains workers.
The Alliance Labs is an organization that seeks to change the lives of young adults who have overcome adversity for the opportunity to change their future.

How did such a versatile organization come to be?

The Alliance Labs was founded in 2015 by Jon Schickedanz, a 15-year sales veteran and skilled connector with a vast network of individuals working in the creative industries. Jon launched a project in 2011 with the goals of bringing these professionals together. The nonprofit was call Alliance of Creative Professionals (ACP), and at its peak it boasted more than 350 members willing to lend their marketing skills to organizations across the Midwest.

It was through this network that ACP became involved with another organization called i.c. stars. I.c. stars provides low-income adults with rigorous technology-based workforce and leadership training, and connects the students with career opportunities. Jon became a mentor for i.c. stars students, even teaching workshops and connecting students with potential jobs.

The partnership was a success, and students who completed their i.c. stars training were working with ACP to perform entry-level work on client projects. A more formalized educational program was developed by co-founder Andrew Hicks, director of education for The Alliance Labs, and officially launched in 2015.

Today, The Alliance Labs accepts a limited number of i.c. stars graduates to enter its “resident” program modeled after a trade school: educate, train, employ. As a high-profile digital agency in Chicago with a vast pool of award-winning talent, The Alliance Labs works with Fortune 5000 companies as a cost-effective digital development and execution production partner for online communications, advertising and marketing content. Program residents gain real-world experience working side-by-side with creative professionals in technical projects that directly impact their portfolio and their career.

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Six Ways to Start Building Brand Advocacy

It’s rewarding when a client compliments your work, but how will this generate more sales? It won’t. While client/customer satisfaction is very important, it is not enough anymore. If your clients are not compelled to proactively tell their peers about your product or business, then it’s time to work toward creating a dedicated strategy for brand advocacy.

Why is brand advocacy so important? One word: Trust. According to a study by Fast Company, nine out of 10 online consumers say recommendations from friends and family are the most trusted form of advertising, whereas only about two out of 10 trust online ads. Here are a few ways you can start building brand advocacy for your business:

Connect
At this point, you should know what you are selling and your audience. What you need now is to reach out to industry influencers to help get your message out. Research these influencers, their background, interests, social media audience, etc. Once you have a list, it’s time to start engaging with them:

  • Follow influencers on social media
  • Engage with their content
  • Send them free products to review

It takes time to build these relationships, so make sure to have a strategy in place to stay engaged.

Referrals
When was the last time you actually asked a client for a referral? Regardless of what industry you are in, be proactive and ask. Like any relationship, making connections and getting a referral takes time. Once made, referrals cut the sales cycle in half because a sense of trust is already instilled in your brand thanks to your referrer.

Online Reviews
Similar to referrals, it can be difficult obtaining online reviews if you are not proactive about it. The first step is to reach out to about 10 clients you have a good relationship with and ask for them to leave a review. Once you have a good handful of reviews, you can move onto to connecting with other clients.

Deliver
Customer service will never go out of style. Take a hint from Zappos, a company that strives to be the leader in customer service, and they are doing a pretty good job. In order to retain customers, you can’t just meet their needs, you will need to go above and beyond their expectations.

Measure
Ultimately, the goal of brand advocacy is to generate sales and grow your business. To do this, it is vital to identify specific metrics, such as growth in profit, brand reach through influencers’ content and traffic to brand’s website.

Implement
Building powerful brand advocacy can not be merely a function of customer service, it IS customer service and should be the cornerstone of how your entire operation is organized. Every aspect of the company should be viewed through the lens of defining and receiving stellar advocacy from your clientele. If not, you’re making room for your competition.

Brand advocacy is about developing and maintaining relationships and creating a structure within your business to reinforce and reward its successful engagement. When you reward customers and make them feel they are an integral part of your business, the long-term benefits far outweigh the effort.

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A Framework for Trying Something You Don’t Know if You Know

At The Alliance Labs we are always learning. All of us, from the top down to the bottom up and side to side, we are always learning. We’ve found sometimes a framework is helpful to guide, and essentially limit, what we are trying to learn. For example, let’s say I am working on a style sheet for a web page and the padding instruction that I think should work isn’t working. What do I do then? Well, I am undisciplined, so I spend then next 2 hours trying to figure it out, and as happens so many times, still no solution.

This is a perfect time for something we call the Try Try then Ask Why framework. You start it once you notice you’re stuck on a problem. The next 45 minutes are going to save you 2-6 hours of frustration. Set a timer for 15 minutes and set yourself to solving the problem. If no solution appears in 15 minutes you jump on the Internet and start searching. You only get 15 minutes of this, and you must stop if you still can’t find the solution. The final step after two tries is to “ask why.”
For my web page example, I’m going to try to fix the padding all by myself for 15 minutes. If after only 15 minutes I am still stuck, I reset the timer for another 15 minutes and head to the Internet and search out various solutions. I read and try as many tricks and hacks as I can, but if nothing works when the timer dings, I stop. Now I take the remaining 15 minutes to formulate the problem into a question (“the padding is set to 10px but it won’t display! Why?!!!) I encourage the use of exclamation points as evidence of passion and frustration. My main task now is to stop and ask my mentor the question. This is the hardest part. It is the smarter step, but it takes discipline and humility.

It is difficult to stop and admit you don’t know something. It is far more rewarding, seemingly, to find the solution even if it takes all night. I agree. I’ve been there many times. It is rewarding, but it isn’t smarter. The smart thing to do is be more efficient with your learning. Remember, you are part of a team, a web of relationships, people who are not looking for a hero, they are looking for a disciplined collaborator who isn’t afraid to ask.

pro tip: enter into the google search bar “timer 15 minutes” and a countdown will begin when you hit enter.

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Why Making Websites is Empowering

At The Alliance Labs we teach web design and development for two main reasons. One reason is to give the student a set of skills that will make them employable. The second reason is empowerment. The reasons why web design and development is empowering are numerous, though three come to mind as most important. They are: demystifying technology, digital literacy, and the agency that comes from publishing on the web.

Most humans on the planet have no idea how the Internet works, or how the World Wide Web works, much less how to be an author of a site on the net. It’s not that hard, but when there is no one there to explain it to you, it might as well be magic. When one of our students learns how web pages work, they know that making their first web page is an achievable task.

Learning how to make a web page gives a student a language to speak with the rest of the digital world. Words like protocol, interaction, responsive, client, and server become clear and once they are used daily, they give the speaker a voice in a global conversation.

Making your first website from scratch is an amazing feeling. Learning how to FTP it up to a server with a unique URL, well, that is like a mini-Gutenbergian revolution every single time. Going from zero to international published author is a very empowering feeling, one that resonates personally and professionally.
Demystifying technology by learning how to make a web page increases digital literacy, giving the student a sense of agency. This is why we do what we do at The Alliance Labs.

Andrew Hicks,
Director of Education

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Show up. Deliver. Give Back.

We have a few mottos at The Alliance Labs. One of my favorites is “Show up. Deliver. Give Back.” These seven syllables embody all of our expectations of our students.

Just showing up day after day is not difficult, but it requires a certain maturity, and some don’t even make it past this first challenge. Coupled with the next part, “deliver,” there is a deeper significance. Show up and deliver means: be there on time, ready to go, work posted, laptop ready, pens ready, brain ready, assignment complete, challenge accepted.

It’s the third part, the giving back, that differentiates. The giving-back can happen in a few ways. One way is to teach. At The Alliance Labs each student, during their time with us, must teach a workshop or create a tutorial for their fellow students. Their teachings become part of the ever growing library of The Alliance Labs, but more importantly it gives the student confidence and mastery—two of life’s great motivators. It also looks great in their portfolio.

Show up, deliver, give back. Good advice for any job.

Andrew Hicks,
Director of Education