There was a time when side hustles were frowned upon in America. And I’m not talking about the Post-Disco era. Having a second gig was discouraged because employers didn’t want anyone else owning any of their employees’ cranial space. Including the employees themselves. This is ignorant. Quite to the contrary, (delivered in my best British accent) I wish everyone at my adverting agency had a side hustle.

Throughout my career many of my team members have had interesting micro-businesses. I’ve had coworkers who created and sold posters and prints, invitations and greeting cards, cupcakes and macaroons. They’ve been DJs, authors, children’s book illustrators and whiskey makers (although not necessarily in that order). Given the innovative and interesting cast of characters I’ve worked with I expect there are plenty of other business exploits I know nothing about.

I have had a small side business for the past 10 years. I make t-shirts under the brand Adam & Sleeve. AdamandSleeve.com.  In 2006 I had an idea for a t-shirt that I really wanted. So I made a few. Other people requested them. And I realized that if I made enough to sell, I would get the t-shirts I wanted for myself for free. I’ve learned about sourcing, quality control, vendor relations, production, distribution, finance and customer service. Even better, I really enjoy it.

But a funny thing happens when you create your own business, even a micro-business, like selling micros. You develop a deeper and fuller understanding of all of the elements of business that your clients face. You better understand the contraints of time, money and resources. You understand the risks. You understand why they want their logo bigger.

Too often we only see a small sliver of what our clients are facing. Like the four blind men who are trying to describe an elephant based on the part they are touching. So we can’t understand why our clients don’t just upgrade all their gadgets and gizmos, or hire someone more savvy than my Grammy to handle their social media, or fly us all to Tahiti to research how far away it is.

Once you walk a mile in someone else’s cash register you can understand their reluctance to spend money.  Once you have received a letter from an attorney you think twice about  claiming you serve the world’s best cup of coffee.  And once you realize how hard it is to hire and retain good help you understand why the client didn’t just fire that lump of a salesman who landed in the marketing department.

So don’t be too quick to discourage your people from creating their own side business. It can be energizing, insightful and rewarding. It will help them develop empathy, which is one of the most important advertising skills. And properly managed it will pay dividends for them, for you and most importantly for your clients. Oh, and if there are any extra dividends left over please send them my way. I have another business idea to fund.

 

 

 

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