I always say something ridiculous at the beginning of our quarterly meetings. Ok, even typing that sentence sounds ridiculous. For someone who started his advertising career as a precocious young copywriter, the idea of being a business owner who ‘begins quarterly meetings’ sounds kinda crazy. But I digress.
At the beginning of each quarter meeting at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I say,
“The Weaponry is a (insert ridiculously large revenue number) business, with (insert ridiculously large number) of offices, and (insert ridiculously large number) of employees. Our job, ladies and gentlemen, is to close the gap between The Weaponry I just described, and The Weaponry that exists today.”
We then identify the most important things the business must add, remove, implement, enhance or change in order to close the gap between who we are today and our ideal self. We use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), as spelled out in Gino Wickman’s book Traction to help us do this.
Every Day I Write The Book.
We compare ourselves to The Ideal Weaponry constantly. It’s our version of What Would Jesus Do? When making decisions about hiring, copier machines, our website, or business development, we constantly asks, What Would The Fully Formed, Fully Realized Version of The Weaponry Do. You know, the classic WWTFFFRVOTWD.
By creating a strong, tangible and detailed vision of your future self, you can mentally google any questions about your ideal state. Just ask yourself, ‘How does Future State You handle performance reviews?’ Or ‘How does Future State You invoice, or develop a pipeline of new business opportunities?’ When you ask such questions, you’ll usually find the answers sitting right there at the top of the search results. Because your ideal state is optimized for mental SEO.
I’m Talking About You Too (And Maybe U2)
This works for individuals too. By creating a strong image of your future self, you always have a great model to follow. When you stand back-to-back with your future self, you can easily find the gaps in knowledge, professionalism, patience, trust or reliability that you need to close. This helps you focus your efforts on acquiring new knowledge, skills, and maybe updating your wardrobe.
Don’t compare your business to a competitor. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s. The only organization you should be benchmarking against is your organization’s ideal state. The only person you should be jealous of is Fully Formed You. These are the only comparisons that matter. And they are the only comparisons that you can do anything about. That’s why the guy sitting in my chair at my company’s quarterly meeting didn’t completely surprise me. I’ve been comparing myself to him my entire life.
I don’t have any tattoos. But each time we get a meaningful image or quote added to the walls of our new offices at The Weaponry, I feel as if an important statement has been tattooed on me. Of course our wall art is much larger and much less painful than a real tattoo. And I don’t have to hide the wall art from my Mom.
I’ve written about our wall statements before. But last week we had another quote tattooed to our office. Not only do I find this quote inspiring, it states a critical tenant of brand-building.
Our Latest Wall Quote:
“You are remembered for the rules you break.”
-General Douglas MacArthur
MacArthur hit the nail on the head, and sent it into concussion protocol with this line. In Nike Founder, Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog, he references this quote several times. I find myself referencing it often too.
There are multiple ways to interpret this quote. But I see it in the most positive light possible. You are remembered for the norms the standards and the expectations you don’t follow. You are remembered for the parts of you that stick out. Not the ones that fit in. You are remembered like Frank Sinatra, for doing it your way.
This is true of people, businesses, brands, products, services, plants, minerals and animals. Speaking of animals, consider mammals for a moment. They are warm-blooded and fur-bearing creatures. But the dolphins doesn’t seem like a mammal because it lives in the ocean. The bat doesn’t seem like a mammal because it frickin flies! And the platypus, well, it breaks so many rules I don’t even know what it was to start with.
Conformity is the opposite of creativity. Conforming to every rule means you disappear. If you want to be remembered by your peers, in job interviews, or in customers’ minds, you have to break some rules.
Look for ways to be different. Break stupid rules. Break smart rules when you have an even smarter reason to do so. Rules were made to be broken. You were made to be remembered. You are not a sheep, or a cow. Don’t follow the flocking herd. Give them something to remember you by. Your Mom and Dad will eventually get over it. Trust me, I know.
Over the past year I have helped several brands introduce new logos. It’s always exciting to freshen up a brand’s core mark. A new logo is a powerful way to offer a more contemporary, more stylish and more relevant brand image to the world. Logos are like clothes and hairstyles. If you don’t re-examine them periodically, one day you’ll wake up and realize that you’re sporting the wrong decade.
Just as a logo serves as the identifier for a product or organization, your signature serves as a signature mark for your personal brand. Whether you are John Hancock, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Zoro, your signature represents you when you are not around to represent yourself. The kicker is that the mark that you make mindlessly today will be around to represent you for centuries to come. Seriously.
Which begs the question…
When was the last time you revisited your personal signature? It’s probably been a long time. Most people put very little thought into it. But I would like you to think about creating a new autograph. A new signature. A new stamp of approval. A new (insert your name here).
Steps to re-branding your signature.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen
Sign your name the way you normally do
Explore making it more legible
Explore making it more professional
Explore making it more fun
Explore making it more distinct
Explore making it taller
Explore making the letters rounder
Add an initial or two.
Add a flourish, icon or ownable mark.
You signature makes an impression every time you make it. Every check, document and permission slip you sign makes a statement about you to the people who read it. So put a little more thought into. If it’s bland, messy or Kindergartenesque, take this opportunity to make an evolutionary or revolutionary update. Experiment, play and practice until you find something that feels more like your personal brand today. Don’t stop until you find an option that you would sign off on. If you find something you like, or have put real effort into this in the past, I would love to hear about it.
From the very beginning of my career I wanted to start my own advertising agency. I dreamed about it for years. I envied those I knew who had done it. And I had wise counselors tell me that starting my own agency was the only way I would be able to control both the path and the length of my advertising career. I figured it would also make it harder for my coworkers to tell me to turn down my music.
I began making concrete plans in the summer of 2015 after a couple of former clients strongly encouraged/challenged/incentivized me to launch a new agency. My cousin Brooks Albrecht and I began formulating plans to launch the new venture from opposite corners of the country. I was in Atlanta. He was in Seattle. We had a lot of late night phone calls fueled by sweet tea and coffee. We were like the Rumpelstiltskin Cousins, trying to spin straw into gold while the world slept.
Brooks was working at Amazon at the time. He was amazing at developing a smart, scalable infrastructure. We devoured the book The E-Myth, and were determined to build our machine the right way from the start. We thought we had a solid plan in place, and even performed some early ‘proof of concept’ alpha testing with two clients, one in Boston and the other in California.
I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having and how excited I was by what we were attempting to do. Then, in the spring of 2016, I filed the paperwork to make it official. Two years ago today on April 12th, 2016, The Weaponry was born, and the adventure began.
Our First Client
Our very first client was Global Rescue. On an early trip to Boston to meet with the GR team, I stayed at the home of their Founder and CEO, Dan Richards. When you are first starting off you do things like stay at your client’s home. Both because your first opportunity often comes from someone who you know really well (Dan is one of my closest friends in the world). And because when you are a lean start-up you’ll do anything you can to save money.
I had helped Dan with some foundational branding and marketing elements when he first launched his business in 2004. At the time, Dan was the only employee. But by 2016 Global Rescue had hundreds of employees, millions of members, and six offices around the world.
Dan and I went for an early morning workout before we got down to business. As we snaked through the empty streets of Boston at 5:30am on our way to the gym, I asked Dan,
“How long after you launched your business did it no longer feel like a startup?
Dan responded quickly and confidently (the way he does everything). He said, ‘2 years.’ At two years he had clients, cashflow, systems and employees. It no longer felt like a victory just to be open for business. I filed that away, and wondered if that would hold true for The Weaponry.
Joining the 2 Year club.
Now that we are officially at the two-year mark, I can say with great confidence, that The Weaponry no longer feels like a startup. As we have approached this milestone, many of my friends who are entrepreneurs have pointed out that a startup’s life expectancy is barely longer than that of a fruit fly. They have emphasized how few startups actually live to eat their second birthday cake.
But I think about it differently. I don’t care what the average is. And I don’t think making it to two years in a major victory. My goal wasn’t to build a business that could break the 24-month barrier. It was to build the perfect advertising agency that could stay in business forever.
The first two phases of a new business are like the first two phases of motor boating (snickering). In phase 1 you are happy to be moving forward and not hitting rocks or docks. But you are plowing through the water with a lot of resistance, and very little speed or elegance. Then you transition to phase 2. In phase 2 the boat builds enough speed that it actually climbs on top of the water and planes out. The ride smooths out, speeds up, and becomes a lot more fun. The nose of the boat (or bow) comes down, and visibility improves dramatically. At two years old, The Weaponry feels like it is planing and gaining speed.
6 Reasons The Weaponry No Longer Feels Like A Startup:
We have a real office.
We offer our employees insurance benefits (from companies you actually know).
We have retainer clients that provide predictable work and cashflow
We have systems in place to organize, produce and deliver everything we do.
We have a steady stream of new opportunities.
We need to hire more great people
I am thrilled that this perfect agency project is now two years old. Starting my own business has been the most exciting chapter of my exciting career. Thank you to all of the clients who have trusted us. Thanks to all of our team members who have made the magic. Thanks to my family for having faith. And thank You for taking the time to read about it.
If you are thinking about starting your own business and have questions, I am happy to share what I know. If you are looking for an exciting, growing and positive place to work, let’s talk. If you are looking for a date to the Marketing Prom, give us a ring (this isn’t a real thing, but if it was, we would totally go with you). And if you are looking for an interesting story to follow, consider subscribing to this blog. The next 12 months are sure to provide plenty to read about.
I love a good quote. In fact, I consider my susceptibility to a good quote one of my greatest assets. I love the way a powerful quote can summarize a complicated concept in a simple, memorable way. I regularly add these little gems to my personal guide-book. Then I pull them out to remind myself how to respond to challenging situations. Like starting a new business. Or Atlanta traffic.
I recently came across a great quote from Nike Founder, Phil Knight. In his book Shoe Dog, Knight shares the challenges he faced when fighting for US distribution rights of the Japanese-made Tiger running shoes in the early 1960s. He was in a showdown with a formidable opponent who also wanted exclusive distribution rights. Which meant that Knight was going to have to compete to win.
Here’s the quote:
“The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.” ― Phil Knight
To Compete You Must Forget
When you compete you can’t let past performances determine future outcomes. You have to expect the next performance will produce the desired outcome. It’s true in business. And it’s true in our personal lives.
Selective amnesia is a powerful thing. It gets you to try again, even if you have lost, or failed or suffered in the past. You can’t let a loss win. Forget it, and keep going. Get back up. Dust yourself off (if you live somewhere dusty). Then try again.
Forget your failures. Forget your rejections. Forget the losses, the suffering, the pain and this disappointment. Remember, every chance is an opportunity for a new and better outcome. Forgetting worked out nicely for Phil Knight. It will work out for you too.
*If you have a great quote relevant to competition, please share it in the comment section. If you want to see more of the quotes I find inspiring, consider subscribing to this blog.
Business is hard. Unlike the natural world of plants, animals, water and minerals, business is not visible. Business is an abstract concept. Sure, a business is officially formed when you file articles of incorporation. But those are just documents. You don’t invite clients to come and look at your filings. You can’t recruit great talent by showing them your government forms. Except maybe the lawyers. God help the lawyers.
Building, focusing and polishing a great business is a conceptual task. It requires things like missions and visions. It requires strategy, positioning and branding. You can’t just throw these items in your cart at Office Depot. You have to create them. You have to pull them out of the ether (or out of your butt), and breathe life into them to make them real.
Whose job is that?
I work with clients on challenges like this every week. I don’t expect our clients to have all the answers. Quite the opposite. I expect them to have a problem that needs to be solved. I expect them to have questions. I expect them to be a little lost and confused. You know, the way you felt on the first day of high school.
Making the invisible visible.
The greatest value my business offers is our ability to see the unseen. We paint pictures and draw maps so that others can see too. We build structure, we articulate thoughts and create unifying stories. The more answers we find the more valuable we become. But the kind of answers we are looking for can’t be googled. We have to create them ourselves.
Many would-be-collaborators want their clients to clearly articulate what they are looking for. The problem is, clients don’t often know what they are looking for. In fact, that’s why they need to hire outside help in the first place.
Professionals often loathe IWKIWISI clients. Those are the people who say I Will Know It When I See It. They can’t tell you exactly what they want. They can’t offer you a great brief. They can’t narrow the options down to 1 or 2. They need someone else to find the perfect option for them.
I love these types. They need the most help. Like a Sudoku puzzle with very few initial clues, they offer the greatest challenge. But when you solve those most difficult of puzzles, you experience the most satisfying rewards.
Think of young Helen Keller, who couldn’t see or hear. Then along came Anne Sullivan, who developed a system to teach the blind and deaf to learn language and communicate. She unlocked and unleashed the infinite power in Helen Keller’s mind. Who enjoyed the greatest reward as a result, Helen or Anne?
If you have the kind of skills to make the invisible visible or to make the intangible tangible, you can help transform organizations, people and places. If you need those type of people, take comfort in knowing they are out there. And someone knows where you should look to find them.