The best way to find a career you love.

Our planet is full of scary things. The one that scares me the most is lack of planning. What, you’re not frightened? You’re not going to tell scary stories around the campfire about the man without a plan?

Let me explain.

I recently talked to a graduating college senior. I asked him what he planned to do next. He said, ‘Honestly, I have no idea. I’ll see what kind of opportunities come my way.’ To me this sounded like giving up on life. Or letting someone else write your story. Or signing up to become a pawn in someone else’s chess game (a pawn is a chess piece, and not another name for a shrimp, right?).

Reality Check

Without your own plan you will end up in a job that doesn’t fulfill you, in an industry you don’t care about. You will get tossed around like a plastic garbage bag in the wind, with no direction, like the opening scene from American Beauty (or was that the closing scene?). You have to push to find work you are passionate about dong. Even if the money isn’t great. Because not all rewards come in cash.

The Unhappy Drug Salesman

Had I not planned my career I would have ended up in pharmaceutical sales. I studied psychology and journalism at the University of Wisconsin. But before graduation I was approached by some pharma sales people who were recruiting college athletes, because apparently we are competitive people.

The money they offered me was twice what I would earn in an entry-level job in advertising. But I held out for a creative role. Because I had a plan. While pharmaceutical sales is a really great career choice for some people, it did not fit into my plan. Not even a little. Not on a train. Not in the rain. Not with a fox.

I stayed focused, and landed a good, but low paying job as a copywriter with a well-known advertising agency. Over the next 15 years I progressed from a writer to Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. Then, twenty years after I started my career I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. It was all part of the plan. And I love it when a plan comes together. #A-Team

Start Today

If you don’t have a career plan, or a life plan, start working on it today. Write down what you love to do. Write down what you are good at doing. Then find a way to get paid to do one of those things. Maybe you are already on that track. But maybe you are far away and heading in the wrong direction. You can turn around. But no one else can turn the wheel for you. That’s your job.

If you are a recent college grad, or just got out of the military, or are a career-minded alien who just landed on the planet, start your job search by thinking about your retirement. Plan your entire career with the end in mind. It’s the best way to ensure you’ll make the right decisions, introduce yourself to the right people, continue to properly educate yourself, and finish your career exactly where you wanted to be.

Key Takeaway.

You have to plan your own career. You have to find something that makes you happy. Your career will occupy 50% of your waking life. If you want to be happy in life, you have to be happy in your career. Make a plan and follow it. Don’t follow the money. Because if you love what you do, everything else, including the money, will take care of itself.

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Today is the best day to declare your independence.

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. Even when it falls awkwardly on a Wednesday. Today I will hit two parades, watch fireworks, have a cookout, and tune in to watch a professional scarf down enough hot dogs to feed all the Pilgrims on the Mayflower for a week. #Murica

 

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Me and my family getting our 4th of July parade on. Notice the sign my daughter chalked in front of us.

The thing I love most.

As much as I love celebrating the 4th of July, I love what it symbolizes even more. Independence. It’s the not-so-secret ingredient that makes our country a powerful global magnet. Independence is what attracts those looking for a better life of their own making. I love that our country is powered by a population that left their native lands with the courage to say, ‘We think we can do this better on our own.’ That is so badass! Of course, Australia is built on a population of criminals. That’s pretty badass too, mate.

Career Independence

As we celebrate America’s independence I am also celebrating all the Founders who have declared their independence by taking charge of their careers. I admire the entrepreneurs who have the courage and confidence to do what our nation’s founding mothers and fathers did in establishing this country.

I am thankful for the inspirational stories and examples I’ve heard and read from Founders across the country. I love the consultants, freelancers and solopreneurs who have decided to bet on their own skills and abilities. It is the safest bet there is.

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Is it time for you to fly your own flag?

My Independence.

I declared my independence when I started by own advertising and ideas agency, The Weaponry, two years ago. I always felt I had the ability to attract great clients and extremely talented creative thinkers and doers. I was willing to bet my financial wellbeing on that belief. Today, The Weaponry is thriving. Which makes every day feel like Independence Day (no, not the creepy alien movie).

Embrace your independence.

But you don’t have to start your own company to declare your independence. Because independence is a mindset. You must believe that you are a rock star at what you do, and that you could do it wherever you want. Just as Lebron James decided to take his talent to South Beach, then back to North Beach, and now to West Beach, you need to know that whether you are a business executive, a salesperson, teacher, professional creative, or burger flipper, you have the freedom to take your set of skillz anywhere that makes you happy. Even Cleveland.

Key Takeaway

Our foremothers and forefathers founded this country with the belief that they could design a better life for themselves and for all of their cute little red, white and blue-wearing offspring to come. By doing so, they have empowered you to design your own life in a way that makes you happiest. Never forget that. Recognize and take advantage of the great opportunities that come your way. Or create your own opportunities. You always have the freedom to choose what is best for you. Nothing is more American than that.

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Happy Independence Day!

What happened to me in June.

Sometimes life gets in the way of my writing. Sorry. I try to spend an hour each day, five or six days per week collecting and sharing my thoughts here. My publishing goal is to share two posts per week. Which for the math-challenged is roughly 8-10 posts per month. But June came up significantly short. Like Emanuel Lewis. Or a Smurf.

The Numbers

I performed some June-y data analytics. By that I mean I counted some things. I only shared 5 posts. Or about 1 post per week. Then I tallied my travel over the past month. I was away from home for 17 days in June. Which means over half of my June was spent on the road. So while there wasn’t a lot of Doogie Howser-Style thought typing (comment if you understand this reference), there was a lot of travel.

In June I saw:

  • Columbus, Ohio
  • The COSI Museum
  • The place where the Kent Sate May, 4 Shootings happened.
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Ellis Island
  • The 9/11 Museum
  • The top of the Empire State Building
  • The Natural History Museum in NYC
  • Gettysburg, PA
  • The Maryland Mountains (yes this is a thing)
  • Morgantown, WV
  • Wheeling, WV
  • Lafayette, IN (#FathersDayVisit)
  • Atlanta (twice)
  • Athens, GA (twice)
  • Columbus, GA
  • Albany, GA

My friend Audrey Lowder took me and my family to the top of the Empire State Building. My kids re-enacted some Sleepless in Seattle scenes. She had a major birthday yesterday. Happy Birthday Audrey!
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My family visited this top-secret location in New York City, that I can not disclose.

People, People, People

I saw a lot of people in June. I visited clients. I saw my parents. I saw my cousin Tim in a random grocery store parking lot outside of Philadelphia. I saw former co-workers I hadn’t seen in 7 years. I saw the private equity studs that used to own Engauge, the adverting agency I worked at for 7 years. I got together with a whole gillooly of friends from my neighborhood in Atlanta. I even got to hear one of my doctor friends tell the story of how he learned to do pelvic exams.

I spent time with Dr. Demond Means in Athens Georgia, sharing new logos, tagline, manifestos and gumbo.
I got together with my neighborhood friends in Atlanta, who taught me how to scare off home intruders, who are actually your friends stopping by to walk your dog (like you asked them to do).
I grabbed a fancy beverage with my friend Nicola Smith, who has started her own business called Rebel and Reason. Billy Idol wrote her theme song in 1983.
I saw my cousin Tim in a grocery store parking lot and we were more excited than popcorn popping.

 


Key Takeaway

When I set out to launch my perfect adverting agency, I wanted to build something that would 1. Create enough demand to keep me busy. 2. Provide enough income to be able to take family vacations. 3. Offer enough scale that I could step away from the machine for a few days and the machine would keep running.

Today, The Weaponry is delivering on all three points. But I need to stay focused on getting better, to make sure that doesn’t change. So while I may not have been able to share as often as I would like in June, I can share that what I’m working on is working.

We participated in our annual Dublin Cannonballer Outing in Dublin, Ohio.

The best business development technique I know.

There are two types of jobs:

  1. Those that require you to attract new clients.
  2. Those where you just show up and work for the clients that someone else attracted.

I have had a significant role in attracting new clients since the 3rd year of my career. In fact, I spent so much time earning the trust of prospective clients throughout my career that it gave me the confidence to launch my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016.

One of the questions I have been asked most often over the past two years is: Where do you find your clients?’  There are a lot of fun answers I could give. Because all of our client relationships seem to have a fun origin story. But a couple of facts stand out. 

4 Fun Facts About Our Clients.

  1. Our first four clients at The Weaponry were clients I had worked with earlier in my career.
  2. Two of our clients have now hired The Weaponry for two different businesses.
  3. One of our clients has now hired The Weaponry for three different businesses.
  4. One of our collaborative partners has introduced us to 8 new businesses that have become clients.

Key Takeaway

Doing great work for your current clients is the best approach to business development.  Those clients will recommend you to others. They will hire you again when they change jobs. The partners you collaborate with will see how you treat your shared clients and recommend you to other clients they work with. It has been a key driver of growth for The Weaponry. So, as Bill Belichick would say, ‘Do your job.’ Because when you do, more opportunities will come your way.

Why you should give it away, give it away now.

A year and a half ago I was in a fender bender. I was hit by a woman who was hit by a distracted driver, who didn’t realize that everyone else on the road stopped at a railroad crossing. I wrote about the experience in the post, Could You Pass The Fender Bender Test. While waiting for the authorities to show up, Laura ‘The Bumper Thumper’ and I began talking. We quickly struck up a friendship. It turns out that Laura has her own marketing business too.

Chapter Two

A couple of months after the incident I got a call from a potential client about a new marketing challenge they were facing. We agreed to meet face to face, and I invited Laura to bring her face to the meeting too.

The client was dealing with a new law that was dramatically changing the way they could market their service. More bluntly, their primary way of finding customers was now illegal. (So tawdry, I know!) The change posed a monumental threat to their very existence. They needed to quickly replace their old marketing approach with a new one, or there would be no business. (dun, dun, dun)

Laura and I met with two of the partners for two hours. We discussed numerous potential solutions to the problem. As I had imagined, Laura was a valuable asset. She asked a lot of smart questions. She had a very good understanding of the industry, and the major players in the market. Best of all, she didn’t hit anyone with a car.

When we left the potential client’s office, Laura said,

‘You really give a way a lot of ideas for free.’

She’s right. I do.

Here’s why I give ideas away for free.

I love free samples at the grocery store. Nothing sells me on your southern ham, spicy cheese, mango salsa or Fruity Barky Bites like tasting it myself. That tiny plastic cup worth of your product gives me everything I need to know to purchase more.

My business does not make Fruity Barky Bites. At least not yet. We produce ideas. So when I meet with people about their marketing challenges, I dig in. I start thinking through solutions with them. I offer up initial ideas worth considering. I get excited about solving the problem. They get excited about having the problem solved.

People don’t like to be sold to. They want to be in a position to buy. So rather than sell a client on why they should work with The Weaponry,  I like to offer people a sample of what they would get if they work with us. If they like it, they will want to buy. If they don’t like what they hear, they will pass. And both sides win.

Key Takeaway

I believe you should always add value before you try to extract value. Prove your worth. Make new clients and customers feel as if they have received more value than they have paid for. Give them a test drive so they can imagine the future. Once they decide to buy, don’t slow down. Keep over delivering. Always make them feel like they are getting more than they are paying for. Even when they are paying a lot.

*If you found value in this post, and would like more free samples, consider subscribing to this blog.

Oops! Was I supposed to be growing up?

Last weekend I read a book by Maya Angelou. I don’t think she meant the book for me, because she titled it, Letter to My Daughter. Not only am I not Maya Angelou’s daughter,  I am not a daughter at all. But you can learn a lot by reading things that aren’t intended for you. Just ask any communist government official.

One of the thought-provoking ideas shared in the book was this perspective on aging:

I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.   -Maya Angelou in Letter to My Daughter

I take great comfort in this perspective. As a husband and father of three children, I know I am supposed to act like an adult. In my role as the Founder and CEO of a growing business, I realize households are counting on my good decisions to help pay for things like mortgages, medicine and food. And on most days, I can pass for an amateur adult.

But on the inside, I still process the world much the way I did as a young boy. I can find innuendo and double entendres in anything. Recently I had to watch the ‘Changing Bodies’ video my 10-year-old was about to see in school. I tried to hold it together when the video depicted an animated penis erecting, but I failed miserably. Yep, I’m that guy.

But it helps to think I may not be alone. Maybe on the inside you too feel like you are still the kid you’ve always been. Maybe we all do.

Thanks for the perspective Ms. Angelou. I knew you knew why the caged bird sings. But today, I take even greater comfort in the fact that you know why I snicker during the sex education video.

What is it that makes hard work so hard?

High achievers constantly talk about the importance of  hard work. But hard work is hard to define. Because what is hard for one person is easy for another. Which means that we define hard work individually, relevant to our capacity for struggle, and tolerance for strain. Still, it is useful to have a universal way to think about hard work. Even if you only plan to think about it in a small corner of the universe.

Well, Well, Maxwell

I turn to pastor, author and leader of leadership, John C. Maxwell for his insight into hard work. This is what my man JCM has to say on the subject:

Hard work is the accumulation of easy things you didn’t do when you should have.

– John C Maxwell

I like Maxwell’s definition. But I have modified it for my own purposes. I say:

Hard work is the easy work you didn’t do when you had more time.

Time is not on your side.

The critical element that makes hard work hard is time constraint. Which means that hard work has to do with the density of work. Or written pseudo-mathematically:

Difficulty of Work = Amount of Work To Be Done, divided by Time To Do It.

Which means that if you start the work earlier, and spread it over a longer period of time, it really isn’t that hard. You feel the burden of work when you have to exert a high level of effort over a short amount of time.

Start Now.

To make any type of work easier, start earlier. Start working on that next big project now. Start studying earlier for the exam. Clean a little every day and it won’t feel like a colossal undertaking.

One of the things I have been pleasantly surprised by since launching my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, is the number of times that my work was made easier because I unknowingly did the work ahead of time. In fact, I spent the last several decades doing the hard work of entrepreneurship, well before I decided to become an entrepreneur. I did this by developing relationships, building trust, demonstrating real interest, and connecting dots.

Key Takeaway

Be proactive. Spend as much time on the important tasks as possible before they become urgent. The easiest way to build an ark is under blue skies. Because, eventually it will rain. And when it does, you’ll be happy you gave yourself a head start. Just ask Noah.