Life lesson in London.

Life lesson in London.

The Dinner

A few years ago my wife and I went to London. We went without our three kids, which made it feel like we were playing hooky on a global scale. On the second night of our trip we had a world-class dinner experience at The Ritz.

Afterwards we strolled down Piccadilly, hand in hand. It was a wonderful July night. We were excited to be in one of the world’s greatest cities. We were adventurously far from home. And we had just finished a meal that we would talk about for the rest of our days.  Life was good.

The Show

Then something even more interesting happened. There, in that date-night glow, we witnessed a show that no one in the world saw except us. It was a one-man, one-act play.  The script had 5 words.

The stage was on the landing in front of a shop on Piccadilly. A homeless man was making his bed for the night. He was just steps off of the very busy street, outside, exposed to the world, and the elements, with no privacy. Like a zoo animal on display.

As he went about his routine of preparing his bed for the night he said:

Life is hard. No complaints.

I will never forget that. In those five words this man summed up a simple truth about life. And how he chose to respond. He clearly understood that life is a challenging game. He accepted the challenge. Even on the days when it seemed as if he was losing.

Inspiration comes in many forms.  That night I was inspired by a homeless man who faced a reality more challenging than most of us will ever face, without complaint.

On this Monday, as you head back to work, back to school and back to your own challenges, I remind you that, yes, life can be hard. But how you choose to respond to it is entirely up to you. And it is your response that makes all the difference.

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The one simple thing that separates Dreamers from Doers.

The one simple thing that separates Dreamers from Doers.

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 Deadline.

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…

Two questions to refocus your career every Labor Day.

Two questions to refocus your career every Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day!  I’m honored that you took a moment to read my blog today. Because as you read this, the last hours of summer are sprinting through the hourglass. You would probably be better off using this time to soak up some sunshine. Either way, that healthy summer tan is going to start fading at sundown. Sorry. I’ll try to make this brief.

Labor Day is for you.

Labor Day is YOUR national holiday. It is a day to honor the work you do. Yes, you!

According to The US Labor Department (Labor Day’s Parents), Labor Day constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Good for you, Worker Bee! Have some honey! Take the day off. Eat a hotdog, drink a Miller Lite and blow off some steam by throwing some bags in a hole.

This is a great time to reflect on your career.

Labor Day is also the perfect day for your annual career evaluation. It’s like a mammogram or prostate check for you career. Only you get to keep your clothes on, if you want.

Careers are long and complicated journeys. Along the way we often become so consumed with our daily work that we don’t think about the big picture.

It’s easy to focus on the days and lose site of the career.

I took the time to chart my ideal career course at the beginning of my journey. If you haven’t done that yet, do it today. Determine all the things you want to accomplish in your career AND what the end looks like.

I had a vision for my entire career from the starting blocks. Luckily for me, my wife Dawn always seems to know when it has been too long since I have revisited my career map.

At those times she poses these two simple questions:

  1. Are you where you want to be?
  2. Where are you going next?

These questions have been extremely helpful to me over the past 15 years. Here is how they can be helpful to you.

6 ways these questions help your career.

  1. They remind you that you have a career plan (if you haven’t written yours down do it now).
  2. They make you cognizant of the passing of time.
  3. They remind you of your valuable accumulation of experience and abilities.
  4. They remind you that if you want to accomplish everything in your plan you need to keep moving.
  5. They help you rise above your current day-to-day work to see your entire career and how much of it is yet unwritten.
  6. Most importantly, they are a scary reminder that if you don’t start writing the next chapter, there will be no next chapter. There will be no rising drama. There will be no cray-cray challenge that tests your fortitude. No great triumph. Your career story will end on this chapter. That is perfectly acceptable if you have accomplished everything in your plan. I have not.

You just read the critical part of the post. Feel free to go enjoy some sun now. If it is raining or nighttime as you read this, I baked you some more blog cookies below.

My last 3 Labor Day evaluations.

On Labor Day 2015 I was deep into my plans for starting my own advertising agency. My career evaluation was full of excitement and potential. But only if I followed through with the plan and plunged into entrepreneurship, which was the next square on my Career Candyland board game.

On Labor Day 2016 I had launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and had already worked with 8 clients. I was learning. We were growing. I was on course.

Today, Labor Day 2017, I couldn’t be happier. I love what I am doing. I love what we are building at The Weaponry. I have a great team of full-time, part-time and some-time coworkers.  I love the clients we have been honored to help. We have now worked with 20+ great brands in the United States and Canada. This is the most exciting and rewarding chapter of my career. But I wouldn’t have gotten to it if I had not regularly pondered where I stood in my career and where I wanted to go next.

So each year, at Labor Day, as you enjoy the tribute to your labor, take a few minutes or a few hours to ask yourself, what’s next for my career?  Find the next step towards the type of success you’ve always wanted.  Take the steps that add new, more interesting chapters to your life story. Don’t just coast through each year trying not to get fired. If you stop evaluating long enough it becomes too late. The game is over. The book is done. And no one wants to read it. But if you chart your progress and refocus every Labor Day, you’ll have a book to be proud of. And I can’t wait to read it.

The one thing to focus on to be most successful.

The one thing to focus on to be most successful.

Do you know why you are successful?  I know why I am.  Since you are reading this post, I expect you want to learn to be more successful too. So let’s get right to it, after this distraction. And another distraction. Wow, so many distractions before we get to the one thing!  These distractions are ruining this blog post! Or maybe this is an important demonstration of the point of this post.

The common theme of my greatest successes comes down to one word: Focus.

When I have created the best work, come up with the greatest answers or had the most impact on my clients, I was able to focus completely on the challenge in front of me. The same holds true for personal successes and achievements.

Far too often we take on too many responsibilities concurrently, juggling and reordering them like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.  Focus is about concentrating your energy. Taking on too much dilutes your power, potential and performance.

FOCUS = Focus On Completely Until Solved

Focus means prioritizing. It means scheduling so that everything can be the star for a time. Sometimes that means we focus on projects exclusively for a month. Sometimes it means focusing on a challenge for a couple of days. Or a couple of hours.

Scheduling to eliminate distractions is key.  As my friend and excellent business ideator  Duane Nelson often says, ‘Multitasking is a myth.’  But it is such a popular idea it could win the Myth America Pageant (if there were such a thing).  It’s really a matter of how hard we are able to focus. More focus means greater intensity of thought, deeper evaluation and more intelligent solutions.

When I have won major pieces of new business or created work that helped transform the way a brand behaves and spurred transformational growth, I have been able to clear my plate, my desk and my brainium to get the work done.

As we attack client challenges at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always thinking about focus. I want to deploy the thinking power of each member of our team in a way that drives the greatest client results.  That is why we schedule our work  so that every project can play center stage for the appropriate amount of time.

It can be tempting to take on as much work as one human can shoulder to show how tough, capable or responsible you are.  While seemingly helpful to your team and your employer, this load-it-until-the-axles-bend approach doesn’t lead to the superstar performances you will be most proud of. It may, however, lead to broken axles.

This isn’t just a work thing.  Distractions are everywhere. Volunteering, attending events and getting roped into activities in your personal life can detract from your focus too.

Micro focus moves the needle micrometers.  Macro focus can move it miles. So if you are looking for greater performance, greater ideas and greater results find a way to get greater focus on the project in front of you.

*This blog post has not been brought to you by the Ford Focus, a model of Performance & Efficiency. With available SYNC® 3 · Dual-Zone Temp Control · Smart-Charging USB Ports.  It is designed to inspire | Ford.com “Car of the Year Award” – Autoguide.com

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.

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.

 

How do you respond when someone asks for a HUGE favor?

How do you respond when someone asks for a HUGE favor?

I recently received a cryptic text from my good friend Stacy Sollenberger in Atlanta. It simply said, ‘Do you have a few minutes to talk? I have a HUGE favor to ask you.’ My curiosity was piqued. What could Stacy’s huge favor possibly be? Does she need me to take in one of her brainiac kids for a summer to teach them what a non-brainiac parent is like? Does she need a kidney? Does she need bail money? (I figured it was bail money). Either way, huge favors are interesting. Because having to ask someone for a huge favor is an inherently awkward situation.

Which begs the question, how do you respond when someone asks you for a huge favor? Do you lean in and want to help any way you can? Do you open up your excuse case (the buck-passing cousin to the suitcase) and pull out a good excuse because you are not into offering favors? Do you worry that the favor, and therefore your personal sacrifice will be too great? Or does it all depend on who is asking?

Now, back to the story.

Stacy called the next morning and revealed the favor…

Stacy co-chairs a remarkable organization called Emerge Scholarships. They offer academic scholarships to women whose educations have been interrupted, who are doing everything they can to better their lives, despite facing and overcoming some ridiculous obstacles. The kicker: to earn the scholarship you also have to be giving back to your community.

Stacy asked me if I would be willing to MC Emerge Scholarship’s annual celebration luncheon. What The What? This was no HUGE favor. This was a HUGE opportunity for me to help a great organization in its efforts to help others. Not to mention it’s an opportunity to dust off my powder blue bell-bottomed tuxedo.

She said, “We want the event to be fun, and uplifting and a good time for everyone.”  Which was perfect, because I triple majored in those areas in college.  I was all in on this favor. So we began planning.

The more I heard about the women Emerge Scholarships helps the prouder I was to be involved. I heard story after story of inspiring  women who had faced things that would cause others to throw in the proverbial towel on their dreams. Disease, divorce, abuse, poverty, etc. Yet these women were determined to complete their education in order to become the person they had always envisioned, and provide a better future for their families. On top of that, the eligible women were all helping others, despite facing real struggles themselves. This is a special sub-set of human.

The vetting process is so thorough, and the candidates so worthy, that this doesn’t even feel like a charitable organization. It feels like an insider-trading deal.  They type of thing Martha Stewart would want in on.  Betting on these women is a sure thing. They are absolutely determined to make the most of the opportunities they have been given. If you are looking for an idea for an inspirational book or movie, talk to one of these women. And my agent. #FindersFee

Emerge Scholarships is the story of strong women who have had great success in life helping other strong women who know that their success is waiting for them, just on the other side of their college degrees.

So I have a HUGE favor to ask of you.

Find a cause you believe in and dedicate a portion of your time every month to helping others who need it. If you are looking for a great cause, and you are in the Atlanta area, and you are a human between the ages of 2 and 122, check out emergeluncheon.swellgives.com. Consider attending the event on Thursday, February 16th. It’s at the Cherokee Country Club in Buckhead (if they will let me in the place, anyone can get it). If you can’t attend, it would he helpful to donate a couple of dollars or offer a quick share of the event on The Twitter or The Facebook.

We should all remember that the more we give, the more we shall receive. And it is immensely enjoyable to give. Especially to those who deserve it, appreciate it, and do their part to amplify the contributions of others.

Thanks for the opportunity, Stacy.  Oh, and I’m not really wearing a blue tuxedo.  An event like this deserves the orange one.