The business lesson I didn’t know my 7th grade teacher taught me.

In 7th grade I had a social studies teacher named Mr. Wilson. I think his first name was Roger. Although Brian, Russell and Annandnancy all sound right as prefixes to Wilson. So it may have been one of those.

I remember Mr. Wilson as a portly, middle aged white man. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I discovered that he was the same age I am now. Because when you are 12 years old you think all adults are old.

Like most teachers, Mr. Wilson had go-to phrases that enabled us to do some hilarious impressions of him when he wasn’t around. We did hilarious impressions of all of our teachers. It’s probably why I never wanted to be a teacher.

The Sound Bite

Several times in every class, while we were supposed to be working on our assignments Mr. Wilson would bellow out,  ‘T-O-T.!’  He was not announcing his craving for tater tots (at least I don’t think so). It was an acronym for Time On Task. When my friend Marcus Chioffi (rhymes with coffee) and I would hear T.O.T. we would snicker at how much Mr. Wilson sounded like our impression of Mr. Wilson.

Fast Forward 3 Decades.

Today I own my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. And I find myself thinking about T.O.T. a lot. As I reflect on what has worked for me throughout my career and my entrepreneurial journey, I keep coming back to T.O.T.

Time To Make It Real

We all have dreams, goals and wishes. But we tend to spend far too little time working on them to force them into reality. The amount of time you actually spend working on a task is the key determinant of success in that area. There simply is no substitute for the focused work. It is why Time On Task is the key to progress.

Key Takeaway

If you want to be an entrepreneur, or achieve any lofty goal, you have to spend Time On Task. Focus your time. Block your time. Invest your time. Block out distractions. And do the work. It’s the only way to make great things happen. Just like Mr. Wilson said.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Have you found your chain of knowledge?

When I was a kid I knew about college. My parents both went to the University of Minnesota (and I still turned out okay). Dartmouth College was across the street from my high school in Hanover, New Hampshire. Everyone from Hanover High School seemed to go to college. There was never a question of whether or not I would go to college. It was just a matter of where. And whether or not I would get kicked out.

UW-Madison

After high school I went to the University of Wisconsin. I earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and psychology. Following college I had many friends who did even more schooling. They got master’s degrees, went to law school or medical school.

I did none of those things. Instead I began to self-educate. I began reading books, not just for entertainment, but for knowledge. I subscribed to various magazines and devoured them monthly. Eventually I learned that devouring reading materials does not mean that you actually eat them. Once I discovered that I began enjoying reading materials significantly more.

There’s Something Happening Here

I started noticing an interesting phenomenon. When I read a book, article or blog that I found valuable there would be a reference to another book, article, blog, vlog or podcast. I would add that new reference to my list of materials to explore. Then, not only would I find great value in that material, I would find another reference to other worthwhile material to explore.

One Thing Leads To Another.

I began compiling a rich list of books, authors, blogs and podcasts that continuously linked me to even more valuable new material. Like the required set of coursework you must take to earn a college degree, my self-directed readings began creating a unique and valuable path forward. Like my own yellow brick road.

Chains and Change

As I followed this chain of knowledge it changed my life in profound ways. I didn’t know it at the time, but my chain of knowledge created my coursework for entrepreneurship. Some of it was inspirational. Some of it was instructional. But each link added profound value.

Boarding The Entrepreneurship

In 2015 I began planning the launch of my own advertising agency. My readings and self education prepared me well for the process. I didn’t need an MBA. Or a business coach. I just needed my own self-directed chain of knowledge. And action.

The Weaponry

In the spring of 2016 I launched my own business called The Weaponry. At the same time, I launched this blog to help others build their chain of knowledge.

I have discovered that to accomplish great and difficult feats you don’t have to go back to school, like Rodney Dangerfield or Billy Madison. You simply have to keep adding links to your own chain.

Here are some sources that have provided strong links in my chain of knowledge. 

Books

  • Rich Dad. Poor Dad.
  • The Alchemist
  • Think And Grow Rich.
  • The E-Myth
  • Traction
  • TheCash Flow Quadrant
  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Everything by John C. Maxwell
  • Everything by Jim Collins
  • Everything by Daniel Pink 
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things
  • Talent Is Overrated
  • Delivering Happiness
  • Call Me Ted
  • Pour Your Heart Into it
  • The One Thing

Podcasts

  • How I Built This
  • Bigger Pockets
  • Side Hustle School 
  • Open For Business
  • Startup

Magazines

  • Inc.
  • Fast Company

Key Takeaway

To become the best You that you can be build your own chain of knowledge. Direct your own education. Add to it every day. It will empower you to do great things. Things that you alone are uniquely qualified to do. And please share what you discover with others. Because like Billy Madison, I still have a lot left to learn.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them. 

I fancy myself a badass. And you should too.

I fancy myself a badass. A bull rider. A street fighter. A come-back-here-and-I’ll-bite-your-kneecaps-off type. A finger-waving, head-shaking Hulkimaniac who won’t stay on the mat, even when the rest of the world is saying, ‘Stay on the mat!’ (I was also an impressionable boy in the 1980’s).

The Truth

Am I really a badass? I don’t know.  And I don’t care.

The Value

This self concept, false or real, has helped me more than anything in my personal weaponry. It helps when I have to work long, sleep little, stand my ground, or attack. It prevents me from being intimidated, or from feeling that I am ever not good enough.

I Use My Inside Voice.

It is important to note that I would never tell anyone but myself that I am a badass. It’s like telling people you are cool. The moment you do, you are decidedly uncool. Which perhaps means that when you call yourself a badass, people think of you as a good ass, (which is interesting reverse psychology).

I am simply sharing my mindset here. Because it might help you the way it helps me.

Key Takeaway

Think of yourself as a badass. It helps you do hard things.


*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

**I had a really hard time finding a picture of myself where I am not smiling. Which perhaps means that I am a very smiley badass, if there is such a thing. Which there probably isn’t. #selfperceptioniseverything

This year treat your spare time like valuable gemstones.

Happy 2020! I absolutely love the Mulligan that every new year brings. If you are like most people you’ve resolved to make this your best year yet. According to a quick and dirty research project I conducted there are four basic ways to improve your life with a New Year’s resolution.

  1. You can start something good.
  2. You can quit something bad.
  3. You can make a habit of something positive.
  4. Or you can generally just stop being lame.

Best! Year! Ever!

I have one goal that will help make 2020 the best year in my career and personal life. Simply stated, I want to make the most of my remnant time.

What That Means

We all have a slew of things we have to do. Those include our standard work and home obligations. Make sure you take care of those must-do’s or your fresh new year will spoil before February. But like that poor forgotten ‘r’ in February, we all have time in every day that we are overlooking.

Today I’m envisioning all that I can do with my remnant time over the next 12 months. In fact, I am considering adding this quote to the back of the next round of business cards I print this year:

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Apparently Ralph Waldo was into the bling.

Go Rumpelstiltskin in 2020

Today consider what you can do with the time hidden between your must-dos. Instead of killing that time with digital thumb twiddling or catching Zs, spin that time-straw into gold.

The Perfect You Project

I challenge you to use your remnant time to do the things the perfect version of you would do. Read something, write something, create something, solve something, learn something, experience something, accomplish something, improve something. Or maybe buy a thesaurus and find other words to use instead of something.

Compounding Interest

Like compound interest, even little moments add up over the course of a year. Two months ago I began picking up my daughter’s guitar each night and practicing for just a few minutes. And while I’m no Eddie Van Halen, a little invested time each night enables me to play most Christmas songs well enough to not get booed off stage at a nursing home.

Entrepreneurship

I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry in my spare time. I looked for little moments at night, on the weekends or over my lunch hour to research, plan and create the business. And like Andy Dufresne, by using my remnant time wisely, I was able to create a path to the place I always wanted to be. Except, unlike Andy, I didn’t have to crawl through an active sewer pipe. And chances are, neither will you.

Key Takeaway

Make the most of 2020 by making the most of your spare time. Use it to make magic in your career. Strengthen your connections to family and friends. Start that business you always wanted to start. Read more. Finally do those things you have always wanted to do. Use you spare moments to having more fun, learn something new, and accomplishing more than ever. Start today. You have 1440 minutes every day to work with.

 

The key to great problem solving.

I love my job. I thoroughly enjoy all aspects of my work. Not just the advertising-specific stuff. But all of the businessy work I have to do as an entrepreneur. The problem solving I do is extremely rewarding. Every day feels like a game. Sometimes it’s Monopoly. Sometimes it’s Go Fish. Sometimes it’s The Running Man.

Netflix

As much as I love the work I do, one of my favorite parts of the workday at The Weaponry is when we eat lunch and watch shows on Netflix. We watch a broad range of programming that either helps stimulate our thinking, makes us laugh, or both.

The Repair Shop

Yesterday we watched an episode of The Repair Shop, which is a reality show about a British repair shop (go figure) that people bring antique treasures to in order to have them restored to their former glory. At the shop there is a furniture expert, a fabric expert, an art expert, an electronics expert, a clock expert and more.

The Repair Shop

I love watching the experts at The Repair Shop work, because they are all really great problem solvers. And I learn from the way they solve their problems

The Desk

In the episode we watched yesterday an old Davenport desk came into the shop with a great deal of damage. One of the problems that had to be addressed was that there were drawers with locks but no keys to open them. Because the furniture expert really wanted to get in those drawers (#snickering), he approached the clock and lock expert to see if he could help unlock the locked drawer. The clock and lock jock was happy to help.

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A Davenport desk, like the one on The Repair Shop. Not like the Davenport my Grampy used to nap on.

The Keys

The lock expert then pulled out a large jar full of all kinds of random old keys. The man explained that he has a large collection of old spare keys that he uses to help unlock tricky locks. He then said that whenever he sees keys in an antique shop he will always buy them to add to his collection. So that he can unlock even more locks in the future.

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A collection of skeleton keys, in case you ever need to get inside a locked skeleton.

Ditto

I instantly recognized that I do the same thing. I am always collecting keys. Except my  keys don’t come from antique shops. They come from books, magazines and podcasts. From discussions with experts, and from asking a lot of questions.

The keys that I collect don’t go into a jar. They get stored in my library, my notebooks and in the files of information in my head. My keys wait patiently for me to call on them to help me unlock the next problem I need to solve. And while I can’t display them for the world to see, I know they are there. And the older I get, the more keys I have in my collection. Which means I can unlock problems faster now than ever before.

Key Takeaway (literally)

There are keys to unlocking problems everywhere. They are found in the things you read and the experts you meet. They are found through experience, and observation. So look for them. Collect them before you need them. And be prepared for whatever your world and your work send your way.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

19 Things that worked for me in 2019.

Today is the last day of 2019. Which is always a good time to look back and learn what worked and what didn’t. But since Strength Finder’s told me that I am a raging Maximizer, I really only focus on what worked. So that’s what I will do here. Without further ado, here is:

What worked for me in 2019.

1. Setting an alarm:  I don’t remember sleeping in once this year. I think I set an alarm every day except Christmas Day, when I knew my 9, 12 and 14 year old human alarms would wake me up early anyway. I set my alarm for 6:00am every weekday, and 6:30am on the weekends. I get up and either write or workout first thing. My alarm has helped me get the most out of each day. Including weekends, vacation days and holidays.

2. Hard Work: It pays off. Maybe you have heard that somewhere before. I attribute much of what went well for me in 2019 to hard work. There just isn’t an easy way to accomplish great things without it.

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 I spent a lot of time doing unglamorous stuff like this. And it really helped.  

3. Reading: I read a lot of books, magazines and graffiti in 2019. As a result, I am ending the year smarter, with many more ideas, and way more knowledge than I had at the beginning of the year. (Even if it doesn’t show.) Here are some of the books I read this year. 

4. Exercise: Exercise is a critical part of my personal program. It helps me with my physical health, mental health, injury prevention, and self image. If I don’t burn off some of my energy regularly it brings out the Chris Farley in me.

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Hiking with my son Johann in Washington, while singing songs from The Sound of Music.

5. Sleep: I have made a point of trying to get more sleep this year. When I do, it helps.  Going to bed early is like sleeping in for productive people. So I try to do this when I can.

6. Writing The Perfect Agency Project blog. This blog was read in 120 countries in 2019. Which is crazy in any language. It has helped me share my entrepreneurial experiences and my career and life lessons with people all over the big blue marble. It helps me stay connected with people. And it makes me look for the key takeaways from everything that happens to me. Plus it gives me a place to write down all the silly things I want to blurt out in important business meetings.

7. Asking for introductions. I have met some of the most interesting, enjoyable and influential new people by simply asking for introductions. I plan to be very purposeful about doing more of this in 2020. (OMG! How many times I am going to think of Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs this coming year?)

8. Public Speaking: Public speaking opportunities have helped me meet a lot of great new people. It has also created several new business opportunities. And I have gotten several free bottles of water out of it.

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Spinning an imaginary basketball on my finger.

9. Launching theweaponry.com: After 3 years in business without a real website where you could learn anything about my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, we finally launched a real website. Opportunities have markedly increased since then. Because websites help businesses. But now I also get to say that I built a multi-million dollar business without a website at my speaking engagements. #winwin

10. Opening our Columbus, Ohio office. The Weaponry has important Weapons and clients in Columbus, Ohio. So we decided to open an office there back in March. It has been great for our team and for business opportunities. It gives me another reason to spend time in this great city. Plus, it allows me to eat more Donatos pizza and get the Seriously Chocolate Milk from the UDF in C-Bus on the regular.

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The Columbus Office. 

11. Taking Phone Calls and Meetings with students and recent graduates: It is easy to ignore young people as they are just starting their professional journeys. But don’t. I always try to make time for the juniors who are interested in talking to me. And this year those conversations have turned into new employees and people we would love to have work on our team when we can find space.

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Our newest Weapon, Sarah ‘Ice’ Disanza.

12. Guest Lecturing: I really enjoy guest lecturing for college classes. It gives me an opportunity to share what I know, meet new people, and get exposed to new perspectives and new talent. I think it would be cool to teach for realsies when I retire. Except they probably don’t let real professors swear in front of the students the way I do. #ItAlwaysMakesThemGiggle

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Guest lecturing at Marquette, and perhaps preparing to sneeze.

13. Taking Vacations: Traveling is great for your mental health, creativity, world perspective, relationships and airline status. This year my whole family and I visited 11 states together. We came back with new stories, memories and Christmas ornaments. Take your vacation days. They are extremely important to your wellbeing and happiness.

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On Father’s Day we hiked on Mt. Rainier. It was totes epic. 

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14. Taking on projects with short turnaround times: We have done (and are currently doing) some crazy work on extremely short timelines. While rush projects are never ideal, getting things done that even our clients didn’t think could be done builds a lot of credit and camaraderie. It also taught me that there are two very different ways to spell comradery.

15. Getting Involved: I have volunteered to co-chair the marketing committee of the W Letterwinner’s Club at The University of Wisconsin. It has introduced me to a many great new humans who were also varsity athletes for the Badgers. It has enabled me to contribute my knowledge and skillz to the club. I am not saying that any of it was accepted or useful to the club. But it was offered. And like they say at church, it is the offering that counts.

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The W Letterwinner’s Club Advisory Board

16. Dates with my wife. My wife Dawn and I went on dates in 2019. We did dinner dates, breakfast dates, lunch dates, movie dates and a weekend away date. I wish we could do even more. I really like her. And I really like getting her all to myself. While I don’t recommend you dating my wife, I highly recommend making time for dates with your significant other.

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My wife, Dawn. She takes grease out of my way, and looks good in a witch’s hat.

17. Coaching:  I volunteered to coach my son Magnus’s flag football team again this year. And I volunteered to be the throwing coach for my daughter Ava’s middle school track team. Both of them were extremely rewarding. It ensured that my kids had a fun and encouraging experience. And I got to share what I know. It also enabled me to develop relationships with other children in my kids’ grades. Now I have little kids yelling, ‘Hey Coach!’ at school events. It’s pretty fun. Although I always turn expecting to see Craig T. Nelson.

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The Furious Fighting Falcons.

18. Productive Commutes:  I try to make the most of my 25 to 40 minute commute to work and home. This year I packed that time full of audio books and podcasts. As a result I alway came home smarter than I left. I also used my commute to make a lot of phone calls to keep in touch with my people. It’s free time. Use it wisely.

19. Smiling: I smile a lot. Smiling is my favorite. People comment on the fact that I smile a lot a lot. (#notatypo) I attribute much of the positivity I get from the universe and its inhabitants to the fact that I smile a lot. It makes you seem approachable and interested. If you want to put just one thing that worked for me in 2019 to work for you in 2020, try smiling more.

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My college teammate Andy Bosley likes to smile too. Especially when he surprises me on the streets of Seattle. 

Key Takeaway

Take a moment to reflect on what worked for you in 2019. Do more of that in 2020. And consider some of the things that worked for me. Especially the smiling. It’s my version of Kurt Vonnegut’s sunscreen.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this list, please share it with them.

To be an entrepreneur you need to know where clients come from.

2019 has been a very good year for my business. Lately, The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I started in 2016, has felt like the prettiest girl at the ball. Despite the fact that I am not wearing any makeup and haven’t had my hair permed in months.

Reflecting

As I reflect on this great year, I have been thinking a lot about our clients. Because the key to success as an entrepreneur is your ability to attract, maintain and grow clients. If you are considering starting your own business you need to start thinking more about finding clients than finding Nemo.

Daddy, Where do clients come from?

Clients don’t come from a client factory. You can’t buy them at a store like ClientMart or Clients R’ Us. The don’t grow at a pick-your-own client orchard. And they don’t fall from the sky on clienty days. So where do they come from?

My Client Roster Evaluation

Understanding where clients really come from is critical for aspiring entrepreneurs, startups, or any business who has forgotten how to grow. That’s why I decided to evaluate our client roster to determine where each of our clients actually came from. The following is a list of how we found each of our 19 clients (N-n-n-n-nineteen, nineteen).

How We Met Our Current Clients

  1. I was introduced to the Client by a mutual friend.
  2. The Client is a former co-worker I have stayed in touch with.
  3. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  4. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  5. The Client found us through my speaking engagement.
  6. The Client came to us because of one of my co-worker’s relationships.
  7. The Client is an old friend of mine.
  8. The Client is a new friend of mine.
  9. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  10. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  11. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  12. The Client came through a friend’s recommendation.
  13. The Client came through one of our other Client’s Recommendations
  14. The Client is an Old Friend
  15. One of our business partners recommended us to the Client.
  16. A former coworker recommended us to the Client.
  17. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  18. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  19. The Client is a New Friend.
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My good friend, former client, current client, and amazing tennis player, Marc-Andre Dubois and I have known each other nearly 20 years. 

Key Takeaway

Clients come through relationships. Maintaining and growing your personal and professional relationships is key to business success. When I first launched my business I quickly realized that much of the hardest work of entrepreneurship, which is developing and maintaining genuine relationships, I had begun decades earlier. If you want to start your own business, side-hustle, or simply help your current business grow, start by focusing on your own relationships. Because that’s where all the best things in business and life begin.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.