What’s even better than saying ‘No!’

What’s even better than saying ‘No!’

Ever since I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the comment I hear most often is:

It must be nice to be in a position to say “No”.

As employees, most of us feel we don’t have the right to say things like:

  • No, I don’t want to work on that project.
  • No, I don’t want to work those hours.
  • No, I don’t want to work with that client.
  • No, I don’t want to go on that business trip to Newark, again.
  • No, I don’t want to partner with Stinky Frank the close-talker.

There are plenty of benefits to being an employee. But you have to do what the job requires.

However, now that I am a business owner, the ability to say ‘No’ never crosses my mind.  Sure, I’ve heard in-demand artists, actors and musicians talk about being able to say no to opportunities. I know doctors that no longer take new patients (and I kind of hate them for it).

I like having more control over the work my team does. But I approach the opportunity from the opposite direction.

Saying YES!

The best thing about owning your own business is being able to say ‘Yes!’  I like to help people as much as I can. So now I say Yes! more than Meg Ryan in the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally. (I’ll have what she’s having).

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  1. I  get to say Yes! to obscure requests.
  2. I get to say Yes! to small projects.
  3. I get to say Yes! to huge projects.
  4. I get to say Yes! to ultra-fast turnaround projects.
  5. I get to say Yes! to demanding celebrities who have unique pet projects.
  6. I get to say Yes! to startups who don’t yet have the money our work is truly worth.
  7. I get to say Yes! to novel partnerships with other agencies and organizations so that we can both take on bigger challenges together.
  8. I get to say Yes! to clients who have never worked with a team like The Weaponry and have no idea how to get started.
  9. I get to say Yes! when The Weaponry is the mistress agency that gets involved when the client’s lead agency can’t or won’t do what they need.
  10. I get to say yes to projects that are less that $2 million, less that $200,000, less than $20,000 and less than $2000.

Saying Yes! makes me happy. It makes me feel empowered to help. It allows me to work with the people I want to work with, and make decisions that are not driven first and foremost by the income I receive today.  It allows me to think about long-term benefits. It allows me to find creative ways to get important work made. It forces me to think creatively. Which is what people come to The Weaponry for in the first place.

If you are looking for more happiness, find more ways to say yes. Help more. Enable more. Get creative more. The world looks better when you are looking for possibilities.

Thanks for reading. If you found any value in this post please consider subscribing to this blog.

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A word that has no place in the marketplace.

A word that has no place in the marketplace.

Words make me laugh.  Double entendres are one of my favorite things on Earth. I love innuendo and the word play that Shakespeare thought was funny. I analyze the meaning of words like a lawyer. A really fun, 10-year-old lawyer. Last night my family and I watched a special on TV about the Voyager 1 & Voyager 2 spacecrafts.  Every time they mentioned Uranus, me and my boys (10 & 7) giggled like elementary school kids. Come on, how do you keep it together when the narrator says, ‘Scientists from around the world were on the edge of their seats, waiting to get their first good look at Uranus.’?

Marketing Speak

Here on Earth, I work in the marketing universe.  The language used in this space is hilarious. I am sensitive to all the silly words used every day in marketing that really make no sense.  They simply give us a fancy way to talk that makes us sound crafty and inventitive.

Professional marketers talk about things like ‘solutions’. Which is a ridiculous marketing term. Because everything you pay money for is a solution to something. Food is a solution to hunger. A house is a solution to homelessness. A bathrobe is a solution to nakedness.

The word we don’t need.

But the funny word that makes me laugh today is ‘marketplace’.  Sales and marketing people talk this up like it is a magical environment, like Alice’s Wonderland. Or Oz. Or Narnia. Or Vegas.

But the ‘marketplace’ is a fancy-sounding word that simply means reality.

‘We are performing well in the marketplace’ means ‘We are performing well.’

‘The product has not caught on in the marketplace’ means ‘The product has not caught on.’

‘I bought some fish in the marketplace’ means you bought some fish in the marketplace. Ok, this use is legit. But this is never what marketers mean.

I propose that we stop adding ‘in the marketplace’ to our language. It’s a verbositization that we could all do without. If you ever find a way to buy and sell things outside the marketplace (world of trade), let me know.  Because you, my friend, have done the impossible.

9 killer books that will motivate you to be an entrepreneur.

9 killer books that will motivate you to be an entrepreneur.

I always wanted to start my own business. It is a really easy thing to want.  It’s much harder to make it a reality. The single greatest challenge is getting yourself mentally prepared to make the leap from a comfortable salaried job to an only-eat-if-you-find-a-customer reality.  It’s a bit like getting yourself ready to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. It takes mental preparation. It requires you to amass enough confidence in your plan that you believe you can fling yourself out of the plane, and not splatter on the deck below.

How I did it.

To get myself mentally prepared to open my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I put myself through a self-devised entrepreneurial boot camp. A critical part of my preparation was reading. This reading was really more like serious studying. The books I read provided the inspiration, tools and examples I needed to believe I could generate enough interest in my business to keep me and my family of five fed, clothed and sheltered long enough to fend off family services until my youngest child turned eighteen (and he was only five at the time).

It seems to be working.  I’m well into the second year of my entrepreneurial adventure and we continue to pick up momentum. We are all eating.  Everyone has clothes. We are paying two mortgages. I’m having fun. And I couldn’t be happier. I feel like I was well prepared for the challenge.

That’s why I’m sharing the books I read in hopes that they will provide you with the same entrepreneurial foundation, confidence and motivation to make your own leap.

The books I read, in order.

  1. Rich Dad. Poor Dad.  Robert Kiyosaki51pG7v9PJQL

I had known about this book for a long time. But I thought it seemed hokey. Like attending a get-rich-quick seminar. But finally I bought a used copy and devoured it. My preconceptions were wrong.

It was amazingly insightful. It helped me recongize the difference between assets and liabilities. It shined a spotlight on the perils of working for someone else. And the advantages of owning your own business.  It made me see my skills as an asset that could create a business asset that could translate to significant wealth.  It was a great motivating first read. I’m now reading it to my children as a bedtime story. Seriously.

2. Call Me Ted. Ted Turner 518OfUMIYEL

I bought this as an audio book for $1. Ted Turner is ballsy, brash and innovative.  This book gave me a vision of how someone else had built their personal brand, recognized opportunities, taken progressively larger and larger chances, got creative with financing, changed the world and made a billion dollars along the way. It showed me that action is the simple differentiator between doers and dreamers. He also talks candidly about his shortcomings and failures in a way that make you feel like you don’t have to be perfect to be highly successful. Which is good, because I don’t want to give up my own personal shortcomings I’ve fought so hard to keep.

3. The Alchemist  Paulo Coelho41f1zMJb9WL

I read an article about Pharrell Williams a couple of years ago in Fast Company where he said this book was like his Bible. I bought it, used. I was really wowed by it. This book helped me think about my personal legend, and made me start paying attention to all the signs the universe was sending me, encouraging me to follow my own path. This was timely because the universe started putting up neon signs all over the place. Like Reno. I am sure there are signs the universe is giving you right now that you don’t recognize. This book will help.

4. Think and Grow Rich. Napoleon Hill

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Many of the books I’ve read reference this book and its power. So I picked it up and loved it. At the encouragement of Andrew Carnegie, Hill studies rich people and finds their commonalities. He then serves up his learnings to the reader in an easily digestible way.

This is a great book for the start of your journey.  Everyone should read it.  It is really about the power of positive thinking. It’s about having a clear vision of your goals. The book encourages you to think about the finishline from the start.  I revisit this book often.

5. The Little Red Book of Selling  Jeffrey Gitomer91-1qV3oRfL

I picked this great little hardcover book up for $1 at a library book sale.  It is packed with great little bites of advice, info and techniques on selling.  If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to be able to sell.  Having lots of knowledge in sales makes you feel like your parachute is going to open when you jump.

The two key take aways from this book were, 1. People hate to be sold. But they love to buy. 2. Don’t sell to people. Build relationships.  These were great insights because they play to my natural tendencies. I prefer to make friends and talk to them about what I am doing. Then, if they come to the conclusion that what I’m doing could be helpful for them we both win.

6. The Little Black Book of Connections  Jeffrey Gitomer41nTexTO9fL

I checked this audio book out at the library.  It is a great companion piece to the Little Red Book of Selling. It teaches lessons about the importance of your personal network.  But the most important new lesson I got out of this book was, ‘It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.‘  It shares great insights and advice around this particular statement that have helped me gain traction. The book helps you think about growing a network that develops inbound introductions and requests. Being sought after makes the entrepreneurial experience much easier.

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Stephen R Covey51S1IFlzLcL

I bought this book on Amazon. Full price. Everyone should read this book. It offers great advice on how to become a better, more effective human. I loved the way it highlighted the things that successful people do regularly, and how to continuously improve yourself to become more effective. One of my favorite lessons is about The Win-Win. Highly effective people seek outcomes that benefit everyone. That has become core to my operating style.

8. The Science of Getting Rich. Wallace Wattles51Zy-xiGuUL

This was a happy little accident. This short, pamphlet-like book came up as a ‘You may also like…’ when I was ordering another book. I am really glad I read it.  I had previously read Wattles, The Science of Being Great, and thought it was surprisingly great. TSOGR shared a lot of similar thoughts as Think and Grow Rich, although it was a quicker and easier read. It taught me that earning money is a really important desire that turns the wheels of the economy. 

9. The E-Myth  Michael Gerber51MPu8oSjcL

This book helped me synthesize all of my thoughts and put them into an actionable plan.  The E-myth is the Entrepreneurial Myth.  It focuses on why most small businesses fail, and what to do to prevent that. It helps you think about systems and processes and structure and scalability. It encourages you to think about your business like a franchise model that could be repeated, even if you don’t ever plan to franchise. This was great advice for me.  It made me feel like my parachute was packed with checks and balances to ensure it will perform correctly when I need it to.

Conclusion

If you want to get yourself in the right mindset to start your own business, buy a business or start a side hustle, read these books yourself.  At a minimum you will end up smarter with new ideas. Perhaps you will finally act on that business you’ve been dreaming about, build an empire, make a billion dollars and change the world.  If that happens, write your own book. I’d love to read it.

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If you have books that helped you get mentally prepared to start your own business please share in the comments section.

Looking for office space: A startup story.

Looking for office space: A startup story.

Welcome to the first post in my Finding Office Space series. I am writing a Lord Of The Rings-type of trilogy.  This is the beginning, where we optimistically begin looking for a great new office. The next post will be the journey, conflict and rising action, without resolution. Then finally, after defeating the dark lord, a giant spider and unmasking some Scooby Doo criminals, we will move into our new space.

The Beginning

We launched The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency, in 2016. We started off working with five brands, all former clients who wanted us to help them make some marketing magic. We were really lucky to have great clients who wanted to help us get started. Or maybe it wasn’t luck. Maybe this was a product of building trust and a history of success with these clients. Nah. It was probably luck.

Like a technology company, we quickly formed a minimum viable product (MVP). It didn’t take much to get The Weaponry cranking. After all, our value is in our people. When you have great people with great ideas offering great service, you’re in business. Literally.

Modern technology has allowed us to create a successful business without a physical office space. What we quickly realized, was that when our first team members fired up their laptops, The Weaponry came alive. The technology we used made us one cohesive team.  Despite the fact that our initial team was in Atlanta, Seattle, Milwaukee and Columbus, technology like Slack, Google’s G-Suite, Dropbox and Zoom made us feel like we were all under one roof, collaborating seamlessly.

The Office

I was surprised when people asked me where we were going to have our office. A physical office was unnecessary. The office was wherever we were. We all had laptops and mobile phones. We were always on and always connected to each other.  We didn’t need 4 walls and a roof. Or two turntables and a microphone. And after enduring Atlanta traffic for a few years I was happy to not deal with a commute for a while. No offense Atlanta, but your traffic is not the jam. #expandmarta

Of course there are some benefits that come from having a physical space. But to be clear, they are a bonus. Not a necessity. In fact, by the time we decided it would be worthwhile to have a physical space we had become so busy that we didn’t have time to go look for one. That, my friends, is a good problem to have.

The Search Begins

Finally, a few weeks ago I had a free Friday afternoon. I drove around town like the property paparazzi, taking pictures of Space Available signs on buildings and then making a lot of phone calls. I was surprised that the process of finding office space wasn’t simpler.  If there is a comprehensive directory of all of the available office spaces in the galaxy, I didn’t find it.

Over the past few weeks I have visited eight buildings and seen twenty possible spaces. I have looked at cool riverfront lofts, an office in a converted brewery and high-rise suites overlooking Lake Michigan. I’ve looked at buildings full of bells and whistles. I’ve seen buildings that have lost their bell and can no longer whistle.  Now, I face some challenges in making the next decision.

Office Space Questions

  1. Do we take a conservative approach and only lease enough space for now?
  2. Do we rent a bigger space to give us room to grow?
  3. How much room should we have to accommodate for growth?
  4. Do we rent as-is space, or have it built specifically for us?
  5. How long should our lease term be?
  6. What amenities are really nice to have in the building, and which ones just don’t matter?

If you have experience with any of these challenges I would love to hear your thoughts. We have narrowed down to a few options and we are sending out our RFP within the next week. As we compare and contrast I’ll share my version of The Two Towers. Thanks for following the story.

The best $240 an employer ever spent on me.

The best $240 an employer ever spent on me.

My first job in advertising paid me $21,000 a year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat. But I was thrilled to be a professional copywriter. I was rolling in that thin dough for three months before I surged to $22,000. I was making it drizzle. Six months later I got another bump to $24,000. I bought a used Toyota 4-Runner with 175,000 miles on it.  Then, 18 months after I started my first job, my salary climbed to $30,000. Ever since then I have felt rich. Seriously.

However, none of those salary adjustments made me any more valuable to my employer.  They spent more money on me because I was good at my job. And because they underpaid for my value from the start.

The Best Investment

But as I look back at my career, there was one investment that an employer made in me that truly made me a more valuable asset to them. In April of 2000 Cramer Krasselt sent me to a seminar in Chicago on presenting creative.  It was led by Toni Louw.  It cost $240. And it made the agency more money than the salary they paid me.

At this one day seminar I learned how to see creative work from the client’s perspective. I learned about persuasion, about pre-selling and demonstration.  I learned about storytelling, about building a case and developing logical conclusions  I learned about showmanship and being a good host to clients. I learned about how to turn a passive audience into an actively engaged audience. I was hooked.  (I also learned that I could sew a rip in my pants, in a bathroom stall, in less than 5 minutes with the sewing kit I kept in my work bag.)

The timing could not have been better.  I had three years of experience. Which was enough time to know a few things and enough experience to recognize what I had previously been doing wrong. Yet I still had the majority of my career to get it right.  I soaked up the ideas and techniques like a Shop-Vac. Presenting was already one of my favorite parts of the job. But now I had a great base of theory and technique to build on.

When I got home I typed up everything I had learned, and added 2 scoops of my own personal style. Suddenly I had a game plan and a process for evaluating client-worthy creative ideas. I now knew how to present them in an effective and entertaining way. Altough the entertainment may be more Branson than Broadway.

Within two months I had the perfect opportunity to put my new skills to use. The Ski-Doo snowmobile account went up for review. Because of my passion for snowmobiling and enthusiasm for the opportunity, I was allowed to lead the creative charge for the pitch, despite the fact that I was only 26 years old.

I poured myself into the Ski-Doo pitch. Through a combination of my personal drive, my new learnings from the seminar and great teammates, we put on quite a show. Not only did we win the account, we proceeded to pitch and win the other Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) brands too. Those included Sea Doo, Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors, CanAm ATVs and the CanAm Spyder.

Pitching and business development became core strengths of mine.  And despite my early concerns, I continued to eat regularly.

Today I own my own ad agency called The Weaponry. As I think about investments to be made in my fast growing business I am reflecting on the ROI of that $240 that were invested in me.  It grew my skills and abilities. It help win new business and grow the agency substantially. It made the agency money, which made me a much more valuable resource.

It may be more fun to spend money on cappuccino machines, murals and foosball tables.  But if you want to invest your money and enjoy a huge return, invest in growing your people (this includes yourself). Make their strengths stronger. Make their breadth broader. Give them the tools to help them realize their potential.  Because money spent growing good employees will yield a greater return than any other investment you will ever make.

Two lessons we can all learn from a drinking straw.

Two lessons we can all learn from a drinking straw.

There are valuable lesson to be found in everyday items. I was reminded of this recently while eating breakfast at a Bob Evans restaurant with my family.  The waitress gave each of us a bendy straw for our drinks. Unlike a crazy straw, these bendy straws don’t come pre-crazied.  You have to add the crazy yourself. The straws were flexible enough to twist, coil and angle in entertaining ways. So we twisted, coiled and angled them.

Lesson 1

As we played with the straws I imagined the creative possibilities with these simple yet interesting devices. And let’s face it, a straw is a moronically simple device. It’s a tube. It’s purpose in life is to help you move liquids short distances. But these particular straws did their job with a flair that made them stand out. Which is a good lesson for us all.

Lesson 1: A simple job done with flair becomes memorable.

If you can find ways to do your simplest jobs with a bit of entertainment you can create valuable memories and experiences.  This is the calling card of Benihana restaurants.  It happens when a pizza maker tosses dough in the air instead of stretching it on a work surface. It’s not hard to add a little wow and wonder.  The payoff lasts a long time in the minds of your audience. This is true if you are an entertainer, a brand trying to create memorable experiences or a parent making pancakes on a Saturday morning. So let your flair flag fly.

Lesson 2

After a bit of creative play, my six-year-old son, Magnus, tried to use his straw to straw-up some lemonade. He turned to me and said, ‘It doesn’t work anymore.’  He handed me the straw and I noticed a tiny hole in its bendy region. I had seen this before. The prognosis was not good.

It reminded me of one of the simple truths of straw-ology.

Lesson 2: A small hole ruins the straw.

If you’ve never experienced this before, take a pin, needle or your favorite pricking device, and put a small hole in a straw. Then try to use it.  It will no longer suck properly.

If a small hole can ruin a straw, small holes in your business, or team can cause serious problems too. Every business and team has a purpose. My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, exists to help our clients look more attractive to their most important audiences. Even a small hole in our system could prevent us from delivering our products and services. So we have to continuously scan our system for flaws. Then fix them.

It can be easy to ignore the small things. But if you want to create something great, you have to continuously eliminate weaknesses and keep improving the machine. Watch out for the holes in your straw.  Your small issues or flaws may seem insignificant. But they can ruin the integrity of your entire system.

There you have it. Lessons from a straw.

If this post wasted your time, leave a comment saying ‘The straw post sucked.’

If you got something out of this post, leave a comment saying ‘The straw post didn’t suck.’

Thanks in advance for participating in my straw poll.

 

5 reasons you should be mentored by a hairdresser. 

5 reasons you should be mentored by a hairdresser. 

I am trying to become a better businessman. As Founder of the advertising agency The Weaponry, I look for any advantages, advice and examples I can get. To help my cause I regularly read books, blogs and magazines. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I meet with other business Founders, CEOs and CFOs. But lately I’ve been studying the tricks and techniques of a profession where many of the industry’s best never went to college. Of course I am talking about hairdressers. (I say ‘of course’ because it’s in the title of the post).

Hair and Me

Since I was a teenager I believed I would go bald. I wasn’t afraid of it. I just believed it would happen based on the extensive foreheads of my forefathers. For 15 years I prepared for the inevitable by shaving my head each year from March until September. Then a funny thing happened. When I turned 35 my doctor told me my hair wasn’t going anywhere. After my ‘Whatchutalkinbout Willis?’ reaction, I celebrated by letting my hair grow for an entire year. (I really know how to party, right?) At the end of that year I had to clean up my new mop.  It was then that I met Angie.

Angie Eger in Columbus, Ohio is an amazing hair-ess. She cut and styled my hair well. She was really fun to be around. But she also had tough conversations with me. Everything she suggested, that I initially resisted, I eventually did.  She was right about everything from long layers, to leave-in conditioner, to eyebrow taming. As I studied  Angie’s approach, I recognized that our businesses are a lot alike (aside from the ear trimming).  And I started using a hairdresser’s model for service with my business.

5 things great hairdressers and barbers do that you can apply to your  career.

1. They listen well.  

This is an essential skill in the hair game. You must listen to what your client or customer is looking for. Once you start cutting hair it is really hard to glue it back together.  Make sure you are clear on the objectives and the vision up front.  At Red’s Classic Barbershop in Indianapolis and Nashville, they take notes on each customer. This helps them accumulate knowledge about individual preferences, products, clippers, shave notes, and general do’s and don’ts.

Any profession can do this with their clients. Do you?

2. They always offer their professional advice.

Hair is too important to get wrong.  So when the customer makes a clearly flawed request, the hairdresser must explain the downside to the ask.  Or the upside to other options. Unlike missteps in many other industries, you can’t quickly recover from a bad haircut.  Alexandra ‘Red’ Ridgway of Red’s says,

 The customer is not always right or reasonable, and they need to know that we have a vested interest in making them look their best.”  

Do you have the fortitude to tell your clients they have asked for a mullet, and that it is no longer 1989?

3. They make you look and feel more attractive. This is the whole point of the profession.  To make you look and feel great. Advertising and marketing works exactly the same way.  At The Weaponry our mission is to make our clients more attractive to their most important audience.  If they don’t look good, we don’t look good. Vidal Sassoon taught me that. Your happy customer is the best marketer of your work.

4. They are trustworthy.  When you get your hair cut you put your self-image in the hands of another person.  This can be very scary.  Alexandra said,

“The sense of self related to image is precious and requires great trust. The major transformations that happen when people shave their beards, cut off a ponytail or dreadlocks are very personal. The trust involved in helping a customer through those transitions is huge.’

Do your clients have a metaphorical beard, ponytail or dreadlocks? If so, the necessary changes they must make to cut them off can be very personal.  Not any old hairdresser will do.

5. You enjoy spending time with them.  Above all else, I looked forward to seeing Angie.  Getting my haircut with her was fun. We talked. We laughed. We developed a great relationship. This is a what separates the pros from the amateurs. You can get all of the other points right and still starve if you don’t nail this. It’s a simple fact that getting your haircut is an intimate act. The hair professional washes your hair. Touches your hair, your ears, your neck. And maybe the top of your toes (we all have issues). If you don’t have great interpersonal skills this becomes a super awkward interaction. If you have great skills in this arena you will book all the hours you are willing to work.

I will continue to encourage the team at The Weaponry to study great advertising minds like David Ogilvy, and great marketers like Richard Branson.  But they will also learn lessons from Angie Eger and other great hair people. If your hair professional does something great that others could learn from, let me know in the comment section.  If you are a hair professional I would love to hear from you too. If you are Angie Eger, I would love for you to set up shop in my new hometown.  Because my hairdo is overdue for a redo.