Do you remember the very first day of your career? You probably remember what the day was like. (You didn’t know anyone. You had to ask where the bathroom was. Lunch options were a mystery. And you didn’t know when it was acceptable to go home.) But do you remember the date? I do. I started my career in adverting 21 years ago today, on October 7th. I’ve always remembered that because it is also my Mom’s birthday. It must have been a pretty great birthday present for her, knowing that her son wouldn’t be living in her cellar (I’m from Vermont. We didn’t have basements).
Today I am feeling lucky that 21 years later I am just as excited about my career as I was on Day 1. Maybe even more excited.
On that first day, 21 years ago, I became an advertising copywriter. I think. I never actually saw my title written anywhere in that first year. Today, I am lucky to be the Founder and CEO of my own advertising agency called The Weaponry. I’ve been able to take everything that I have learned about creativity, strategy, customer service, business development and having fun, and turn it into The Weaponry Way.
I’ve been lucky to develop a lot of really great personal relationships over the first 21 years. And I’m enjoying those relationships more now than ever. My latest chapter is a product of the trust my clients have in me and my team. As well as the faith that my colleagues have in my ability to help keep them fed and sheltered.
I feel lucky that my Weapons and I will soon move into our new office space (hopefully we will get our keys this week).
I am lucky to be working with so many great brands and great clients. There are even more great clients joining us over the next few months. Which is likely to make this year the most exciting year of my career yet.
I am lucky to still be learning. But now I am also in a position to share all that I have learned.
As many of my friends consider career changes I am still intensely passionate about my work. I still get to wear t-shirts and flip-flops most days. I still get to play loud music in the office. And I still find nothing more exciting than a smart new idea.
On the first day of my career, 21 years ago today, I sat next to a young art director named Vince Demarinis. On Thursday I am traveling to Miami to meet with a potential new client. Thursday night I will be staying with Vince. We have remained good friends despite the fact that we haven’t worked together for 17 years. And despite the fact that he has way better hair than me.
Today I’m thankful for my supportive wife Dawn, whom I met at that first job. I am blessed to have three great, healthy kids who get to see a father who really loves his work. And I feel lucky to have friends, family and others willing to read a blog post about my career anniversary. Thank you for your time and your continued support. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Welcome to the second post in my Finding Office Space series. This a trilogy like The Godfather. Only nobody dies (I hope). In Looking for office space: A startup story.,we began our quest for a great new office. In the post you’re reading now I will share the middle of the journey, and reveal a plot twist, (oh yes there is a plot twist!). In the next post we will finally be in our space, cracking open some cold chocolate milks, shooting Nerf hoops and talking about how the people down on the street below look like ants, only to realize they are actually huge ants that look like people.
My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, first came to life in 2016. We opened for business with five former clients who wanted us to help them make some marketing magic. We started by using modern technology to form a modern team that didn’t need to be in one space to deliver really modern thinking.
That approach has worked extremely well. Our regular team consists of great talent in Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia and Florida. And business is booming! Over the past 18 months we have worked with more than twenty brands in the US and Canada.
Despite the fact that platforms like Slack, Google’s G-Suite, Dropbox, Asana and Zoom made us feel like we were all under one roof, collaborating seamlessly, we decided it was time for our first office, in Milwaukee. But our rate of growth makes it dificult to know just how big of an office we will need 2 or 3 years from now.
This summer we looked at eight different buildings. Here is a brief overview of what we saw.
The Sublease Special
The first space we looked at because a friend of mine knew we were looking for space and invited me to stop by to see his office opportunities. He ran a business that had both additional unused offices within their core space, and some turnkey office suites and conference rooms that they rent out. Both were interesting options, and I could see either working out. But it also felt a little like moving back in with my parents. I love my parents. But I wanted to see what else was out there.
The Appealing Amenity Space.
The second space we looked at was in a beautiful converted former Milwaukee brewery. Again, the owner is a friend and he told me he had some space that might work for us. The building was very cool, and well located. There were lots of extras: A gym, a pool, a common kitchen, available meeting spaces, lots of available huddle spaces throughout the building and a 24-hour concierge desk just steps away from what would be our suite. The space itself had a conference room, but no other private office. So we kept looking.
Then I called some brokers so I could see spaces that weren’t owned by my friends. That’s when I found Mitch. Mitch is an eager and very professional recent college graduate of my alma mater, The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Mitch found a whole mess of options that gave me a great range to compare and contrast.
What we saw with Mitch:
The Big River Front Space
This cool move-in-ready space right on the Milwaukee River featured a high-visibility storefront that opened to a main intersection of the elevated skywalk system downtown Milwaukee. Also in the building was a major concert venue and a great steakhouse. It was close to the downtown mall too. At 1800 square feet it was bigger than we needed. However, the management was willing to offer flexible terms to make it work. This was interesting.
The next space we saw was in a well-known high-rise building downtown. It had a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. It was right at 1000 square feet, which is what I felt was right for us now. But the price per square foot felt more like Madison Avenue. So I immediately removed it from consideration.
The Makeover Beauty
Next we saw a really interesting option. It was an older building that had gone to The Makeover Center For Formerly Beautiful Buildings. And it came back looking dreamy. Clearly the new owner knew how to spend money well to upgrade a building. It had a very cool tenant lounge on the first floor that felt like an ad agency space. There were large presentation rooms available to us. There was a gym, pool and racquetball courts in the building. The space itself was just what we needed. 1000 square feet, with 3 office spaces/conference rooms already built. Plus good common space to boot (although I don’t really know what ‘to boot’ means). This was a real option.
The Custom Classic
Then we saw another swanky space on the Milwaukee River, across from The Big River Front Space. The management team was really great. They took me on a thorough tour and made me feel like they were on top of their game. This would have been a great building. But the two spaces they had that were 1000 square feet would both need to be gutted and built to suit us. That would likely require a longer lease term. But I was intrigued.
The Didn’t Love Shack
Then came a small, old building that Mitch threw in the mix so we could compare a cheaper option. But the building felt old and odd. The two spaces we saw in it both felt like they were in an old house. Thanks but no thanks. We moved on.
The final space we saw was the one that Mitch seemed most excited to show me. It was at the far northern end of Water Street, the North-South spine of Milwaukee, along the Milwaukee River. The building was simpler than all the others. It was a converted Mill building of some sort. There were no crazy amenities. No tenant lounge. No gym. No common space. But the office space itself was great. It was just under our ideal size at 920 square feet. It had a bit of common space and two large private offices with large windows facing the Milwaukee River. It also had a separate conference room. It felt really good. Plus the rep from the space said that they were happy to offer 1-year leases. This was a great end to the office space tour.
The Narrowing Process.
In addition to looking at spaces, I conferred with you, my friends, family and blog readers. I asked you what you felt was important. Four key pieces of advice came through loud and clear from people who had been through this process before.
The best reason to have an office is to help build your company culture.
You don’t need any bells and whistles in the beginning.
Be conservative in the size (and cost) of your office. Go small (or stay home) and find something that works for the near term.
Look for a short lease term our sublease. If you can do one year, do one year. Learn what you ultimately want during that time and don’t get locked into something longer. As a startup you just don’t know what the future holds yet. Unless you are a startup fortune teller.
All of this was great advice. It was helpful to get the experienced perspective of my former co-workers Jeff Hilimire and Raj Choudhury from Engauge. They have both started, lead, and found office space for multiple businesses in various stages of growth.
I also pow wowed with Bob Bradley, another former coworker and the former CFO of Cramer Krasselt. Bob has been an amazing source of wisdom and sage advice throughout this process. He also found multiple ways for me to save money. It’s what CFOs do.
We decided to include 4 buildings in our RFP:
The Big River Front Space
The Makeover Beauty
The Custom Classic
The Big River Front Space came back with a very reasonable and flexible option that let us pay a little more each month to slide our heavier payments to the future allowing us to financially grow into the space. But ultimately it was just a bigger financial obligation than we thought we should commit to right now.
The Makeover Beauty offered us the 1-year option we really wanted. But the price per square foot and the price for parking spaces was the highest of the Final Four. This was too bad, because I really liked the building and the people we worked with at the property.
We knew The Custom Classic was a long shot, but we wanted to know what a build-out would look like. As expected, it looked like a long-term commitment. We felt we would likely need a lot more space in the next three years.
Easy Breezywas our Goldilocks. Management offered us exactly what we were looking for. They proposed a 1-year term at a good price per square foot. The parking spaces were the cheapest of any we saw. And because the space had what we were looking for we didn’t need them to build or change anything. We would be an easy tenant for them. They would be an easy Landlord for us. Easy like Sunday morning.
So we began negotiating some smaller details with Easy Breezy. They were reasonable and I liked how this was going. We had found our space. Or had we…
Just as I was preparing to break out some candy cigars and enjoy the birth of our new office space, I got a late night email from The Makeover Beauty. The message said that they really wanted us as tenants, and they asked if there was anything they could do to get the deal done.
So I called them. I laid it all out. I told them about the square foot rate we would require, the price for parking spaces, the term length. The extras that Easy Breezy down the streetzy was willing to offer. They asked for 24 hours to respond. I said, ‘Yeah, like, totally, for sure.”
The next afternoon I heard back from them. They couldn’t match Easy Breezy. I was actually happy about this. I would have thought less of them had they started with such a high rate when they actually could have lived with the lowest rate of anyone. But I appreciated their eagerness. They will be on the list the next time we look for space.
Where we stand now.
After the brief pause in the process, we told Easy Breezy they were the date we wanted to dance with. They sent a form for us to fill out so they could do some credit checking. That checked out (obviously, cause we are totally credit-worthy). Now, today, I have the 19-page lease agreement in hand. So what happens next? You’ll have to wait for the 3rd installment of the trilogy to find out. Thanks for following our adventure!
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.
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).
I get to say Yes! to obscure requests.
I get to say Yes! to small projects.
I get to say Yes! to huge projects.
I get to say Yes! to ultra-fast turnaround projects.
I get to say Yes! to demanding celebrities who have unique pet projects.
I get to say Yes! to startups who don’t yet have the money our work is truly worth.
I get to say Yes! to novel partnerships with other agencies and organizations so that we can both take on bigger challenges together.
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.
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.
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.
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I started planning the Perfect Agency Project blog when I began planning to birth my own advertising agency. It was August of 2015. It was also really hot in Atlanta. So it was a nice time to sit indoors in the air-conditioning and think.
I had big dreams back then. I was going to start my own advertising agency. I was going to write a blog to share my challenges, wins and losses, surprises and learnings. But back then The Weaponry was just a vision. There were no clients. No employees. No office. No religion, too.
There was no reason to think The Perfect Agency would become a reality. Other than my vision. But in my head The Perfect Agency was very real. It would be an amazing company that would help its clients win the war of business. It would be a bottomless well of excellent creative ideas. Best of all, it would offer a fun and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Now let’s do the dream sequence bit from Wayne’s World, and fast forward two years.
Fall of 2017 Updates
Today The Weaponry LLC is realer than Real Deal Holyfield. Don’t let theweaponry.com fool you. We have real clients. Real Processes. Real creative ideas. And a really real relationship with the IRS.
I have joined a CEO roundtable group through the chamber of commerce. I think it is hilarious that the table we meet at is actually rectangular. At our meeting this week we were asked to share one word that describes what’s going on in our world right now, and then spend 2-3 minutes describing why we chose that word.
My word: Maturing
Here are the latest ways The Weaponry has been maturing.
We are in the middle of our search for a new office space. I’m learning interesting nuances, terms, tricks and oddities of the commercial leasing world.
We are preparing to offer our first employee benefits. Health and Dental are the starters. We may also add Fortune Telling.
We have been in significant contract negotiations and budget discussions with several great clients. This provides longer term visibility and increases our ability to plan, hire and invest in the business.
We’ve hired lawyers. It’s a good problem to have. But I’m not sure there is anything that makes you feel as much like an adult as having to spend time with a lawyer. It’s the adult equivalent of going to the Principals office. Trust me.
We’re discussing establishing a line of credit with our banker. It will allow us to tap into capital when our cashflow is burdened by a lot of activity at once, and longer payment terms from our clients.
We are transitioning more of our significant freelance team to part-time employees. This is part of a development process that identifies and moves great talent from our outer rings to our core full-time team.
We are working with international clients and have to clarify on our invoices that all numbers are in US Dollars. That feels significant to me.
Thank you for being a friend #GoldenGirls
Thank you for following the journey. Or being part of the journey. Or being Steve Perry and singing all those great songs for Journey. But the best is yet to come. I can see it.
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Everyone has a dream. Me. You. MLK Jr., Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Yet the number of people who do something to make their dreams a reality is really small. Like Pluto vs. Jupiter.
So what’s the difference between Dreamers and Doers? I’m glad you asked. Wait, I asked. Well, I’m glad I asked because you should know the answer.
A goal is a dream with a deadline. -Napoleon Hill
Time constraints motivate you to action. If you are serious about your dream, give yourself a deadline to make it a reality. Because a deadline tells you what you need to be doing now. (Hint: You can start by setting a deadline to take the first step. I do this a lot.)
When you were in school it was easy to set goals like these:
Make the varsity team.
Make first chair violin.
Get the lead part in the play.
Go to a party with cool kids.
Become an emcee of the Winter Carnival Talent Show and orchestrate a stunt to get the show shut down forever.
In school you have 4 (or 5) years to bring your dreams to life. That finite amount of time is a critical driver. Because you can’t stay in school forever (unless you were this guy named Brucey from my hometown).
But once you get past your schooling you start to float in an odd, timeless space. It’s like losing the effects of gravity once you leave Earth. Time is still slipping by. You just don’t notice it until it’s too late. Like alcohol in a really fruity drink.
We all need time to ground us.
Time scarcity is what tells us what we need to do NOW.
If you want to accomplish great things, travel exciting places, learn new skills or start a business, you need deadlines. The deadline creates the urgency to act today.
When I turned 40 I set a goal of starting my own ad agency by the time I was 42. I easily beat the deadline. The time limit forced me to start moving. And when I started moving things developed quickly. I set timelines for other business plans at the same time. Those plans are coming to life now too. On the other hand, I have a whole mess of dreams that I haven’t given deadlines. Those dreams are just floating out there, like Sandra Bullock, calling to George Clooney.
Dreaming is fun and easy. But it won’t translate to wealth, experience, accomplishment or pride without a deadline. Set one for yourself. Or set a lot of deadlines. Accomplish a lot. I’m giving you until midnight on Sunday to take the first step. You’re on the clock. Tick…Tick…Tick…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you have books that helped you get mentally prepared to start your own business please share in the comments section.