How Changing The Way We Work Inside Changed The Way We Work Outside

Written by in Practices
- 5 min read

Imagine this: You have changed the way you work, inside. You focus on people instead of profit. They make decisions using the advice principle. They are setting their own salary, enjoying unlimited holidays, the freedom to work where, when, and on what they want. They enjoy transparency, and work for a purpose: trying to break boundaries with happy workers and happy clients.

Sounds like a fine example to include in the cases of Corporate Rebels. Right?

All the above comes with working at Keytoe—a full-service marketing agency in Maassluis in The Netherlands. Around 30 colleagues there work this way. And many more want to: we have a waiting list of applicants. All seemed good, except a feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

While we were being innovative internally, the way we worked with clients was still old school and presented some serious downsides.

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Waterfall and Agile. Meh

For over five years we’ve done projects for our clients. Average lead-time? 4 months. Average project time? 6 months. Missed deadlines? A lot. How did this happen?

Well, a lot changes within 6 months. The client discovers they want something more—and more than agreed up-front. But happy clients are important, right? So we’d fit it into the current project. Things escalate from there. We miss a deadline. The client gets pissed. Which in turn depresses our colleagues.

We try all the project-management techniques, from waterfall to scrum with agile. No matter what we do, clients are impatient to add things, and we have the same problem, again. Then other project lead-times get longer, because colleagues want bigger, more challenging work. Maybe we thought that, with a deadline so far away, we wouldn’t have to deal with the problems for a while.

It just didn’t fit us somehow.

One very happy client

Of course, not all was bad. One very happy client stood out from the rest. And our colleagues were ecstatic to be working with them. What had happened? Was this client easier to work with? Were our colleagues just happier?

Nope. The client is a very hard headed businessman. He was on top of everything we did. Moreover, team members who were working on other projects (as well) were less happy with those.

It must be something else.

Growth Hacking

What had happened was that after their web-shop went live, we made a deal to continue helping. On a monthly basis, we check the website, the ads, and all the data—and then suggest improvements. Not big leaps or even small ones; just ways to fine-tune things, based on real-time feedback. This was easy and fast. And the incremental improvements worked just great. Web-shop revenue increased at a whopping 10% a month.

This was Growth Hacking! Which led us to think that instead of selling one-off, long-term, time-bound projects, we should just focus on this role on an ongoing basis.

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The Colleague-Model

Looking back at that very happy client, they trusted us so much that they often gave us more information than their own team. Our relationship was that of an equal—a partner or colleague, rather than an employee.

Why not try this approach with all our clients? We enjoy swift changes now and then. So, in March, 2017 we stopped project-based work. After finishing existing projects, we offered all our clients the new model. And we made this our standard offering to new prospects.

The proposition is quite simple: As Keytoe we will now work as the client’s Marketing Colleague. We offer a multidisciplinary team, so we are vastly more skilled than the average marketing employee for about the same price—or less. We are highly motivated to retain our clients, and our team members are proactive in trying to help them. Anyone, and everyone, from the strategists to the nerds, can communicate directly with the client in order to help them.

This ensures a more meaningful client relationship. Unsurprisingly, this relationship lasts longer. We now interact on a more human level with them. They are not just someone who pays the bills, but a potential long term ‘colleague’. Which correlates with our internal way of organizing: not just for money, but to work together, for something worthwhile while having a good time doing it.

Also our ‘Why?’, breaking boundaries, is more attainable. We have closer client relationships, and higher commitment for their objectives. We can really make a difference now.


There are no deadlines any more; no mid-project demands for change; no guess-work planning; no scrum-master or blackbelt expertise to make us agile; no long lead-times. We just start working and adding value. It’s simple.

In the short time we’ve done this, we are already seeing happier clients and more engagement from our own colleagues. There is a closer bond between both, and a lot of helpful, meaningful work for both.

We did have a business dip when we started the new approach, but we are now coming out from that. Best of all, the new concept is selling like hot cakes.

To wrap it up

We are still fine-tuning the concept. Eventually we would like to get rid of the set hours altogether and just focus on work for the client. But for now, we still have to track all the hours (which is an incredible nuisance). For now, it works.

It’s a giant step forwards for Keytoe. And I’m glad to be able to share it with others that aspire to have a different type of organization, but still need to work with old(er) methods and feel the friction of having them.

Having a new and great internal organization is one thing. Having a business model to complement it is going to a whole new level.

Steal from our experience, or come up with your own exciting way of helping your clients. But make it one that fits your clients, your colleagues and yourself a lot better.

Lennard Toma is an organizational psychologist who helped Keytoe change to a free form of organizing. He now started KeytoeY with one of the founders of Keytoe to help other companies change into organizations where people enjoy their work.

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