10 important lessons from my 3rd year of entrepreneurship.

I always wanted to start my own advertising agency. So on April 12th, 2016 I went online and officially registered The Weaponry LLC. I then marched over to another website where I got a federal tax ID number. I surfed over to a Capital One’s website, where I applied for a Visa Spark Card, because my friend Dan Richards recommended that credit card for business. Finally, I headed to the bank to set up a business checking and savings account for The Weaponry. And just like that, I had birthed a business.

The Hard Part

Setting up a business is easy. Any teenager can do it. The hard part is building a machine that will feed, clothe and shelter you and your family. It’s even harder to feed, clothe and shelter additional employees and their dependents. That’s why I am so proud The Weaponry is celebrating its 3rd birthday! We have doubled our business in the past year. And thankfully, I am not naked, starving or homeless.

IMG_4432
Working with Olympic Gold Medalist Blake Pieroni for Mizuno. He’s the one without the hat. Apparently swimmers where hats enough in the pool.

Momentum

The 3rd birthday is a fun milestone to reach. Just as each wedding anniversary is represented by a different gift (Honey I got you a new sponge!), each business birthday represents something unique. The first birthday is the ‘We’re really doing this!’ birthday. The second is the ‘We’re still alive!’ birthday. And the third is the ‘Now we’re rolling!’ birthday.

IMG_0011
On set, showing Olympic Gold Medalist Jennie Finch my disappearing water bottle trick.

Indeed, The Weaponry is rolling. This past year has been exciting for our team.

A Few Highlights:

  • We hired more full-time and part-time staff.
  • We renewed our lease on our first office in Milwaukee.
  • We opened a new office in Columbus, Ohio.
  • We worked with President Jimmy Carter.
  • We worked with Olympic Gold Medalists Jennie Finch and Blake Pieroni.
  • Members of our team experienced work traveled to Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington DC, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, California, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
  • We had our first International shoot, on the other side of the world, in India.
  • A fun experience was had by all.
IMG_0198
Me and some of the ladies in red!

Client Roster

In the last 12 months we have worked with 23 Clients! Who works with 23 clients? I guess The Weaponry does.

Saying Yes!

Our broad and diverse client roster reminds me of one of my favorite things about being a business owner: I get to say yes to anything I am interested in doing. As result we have a fun mix of large, medium and small clients. Just as crop rotation keeps farm fields producing at their best, the variety of industries we play in keeps our team fresh and stimulated with a constant stream of new and varied challenges.

5EC60C29-D182-4461-B11C-B1A16293CC4C
Our team working with our friends at Safelite Autoglass. Did you know  they both repair, and replace?

10 Lessons From My 3rd Year of entrepreneurship.

As I reflect on this past year I have gathered a few key lessons I’ve learned. Here they are in a particular order.

  1. People make all the difference. A business is nothing but a collection of people running plays together. So find great people to run great plays and you are likely to experience great success.
  2. Slow and steady wins the race. At The Weaponry we are trying to build a business that lasts forever. You make different decisions when your goal is to survive eternally instead of generating hockey stick growth or making a quick sale.
  3. Do the important but not urgent work. Maintain your human relationships and invest time and energy in them. This will pay you back in a wide variety of rewarding ways.
  4. Diversify your clients. With so many different clients we are well-balanced financially. All of our clients are important to us. None of them are critical to our survival.
  5. Nothing is sure. We signed a large monthly retainer with a new client last summer, only to deal with a major reorganization within their business that changed everything one month later. I received a ‘This is your official notice that we are activating our right to cancel this agreement!’ from someone I didn’t know. Those things can happen at anytime.
  6. You never know when you are going to get the next opportunity of a lifetime. I got a random but welcomed call one day from my good friend Dennis Giglio at Fifth Third Bank, telling me that he had a project he wanted us to work on, and that there was a good chance we would have to go to India to shoot part of it. He was right. And it was amazing. Thank you Fifth Third and SLK Global friends for the opportunity!

    IMG_2657
    Working with our friends at Fifth Third Bank and SLK Global in India.
  7. Set Your Sights High. The Weaponry has Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, and they force us to grow. I share our goals with our team in every agency-wide meeting. And despite the largeness of the goals, or perhaps because of them, I can always see the team focus, and lean in when we restate them. Everyone knows what we are after. We all know that we have a lot of work to do to close the gap between where we are today and our idealized, fully formed version of ourselves. And we are willing to do the work to get there.
  8.  Use A System For Growth. We use the EOS System from the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It makes a huge difference. If you are struggling to make satisfying progress with either a startup or a fully formed business, pick up this book and start the EOS Process. Setting quarterly rocks helps a business focus on continually moving the business forward. (This has been an unpaid endorsement of the book Traction. You can find it by clicking here.)
  9. Make Cash Flow plans This past year The Weaponry was owed a lot of money. For several months we carried an accounts receivable balance of over $700,000. Which meant that we had performed that much work, had paid what it cost us to create the work, but were not yet paid by our clients. You have to have a plan for such times. Because a business that runs out of cash is like a car that runs out of gas, or a human that runs out of blood.
  10. Develop Great Partners  Over the past year other businesses that we partner with on projects have brought great new clients to us. This is a total game changer. Because it is like having an additional business development team, or multiple business development teams bringing you opportunities. Sometimes it comes in the form of a collaboration. But other times the work comes simply as a trusted referral. And it works like compounded interest. Which is why you should compound your interest in great partners.

Key Takeaway

The Weaponry continues to grow. I am learning and growing just as much as the business. I have not done any of this alone. My fellow Weapons have been key to our success. As has the growing list of great clients we are lucky to work with. Thank you for following the story or being part of the story as it unfolds. It’s been an exciting adventure. I look forward to what the next year brings!

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

A real entrepreneur’s reaction to my desire to start my own business.

In the late summer of 2015 I got together with my friend Jeff Hilimire for a little update on our lives and careers. Jeff and I had worked closely together for several years as part of the leadership team at Engauge, an advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando.

Engauge was a pretty awesome agency, if I do type so myself. Publicis bought the business in the summer of 2013. Jeff left the company the next day to start his next business (his first startup, Spunlogic, was acquired as one of the three initial pillars of Engauge).

Dragon Army

Jeff gave me a tour of his new mobile agency, Dragon Army. I met his team. Then Jeff and I sat outside on the company’s deck, and he gave me exciting updates on his business and his life.

Sharing My Plan

Then Jeff asked how things were in my world. I had stayed on with the company we worked at after Publics acquired it two years earlier. I’m sure Jeff was expecting to hear how things were going at work. He was clearly surprised when I told him,

I am planning to start my own ad agency.

At the time I didn’t have a client. I didn’t have an employee. I didn’t have a name. I didn’t even have this blog. I didn’t have anything to make my claim credible, except my vision and a commitment to myself to make it come true.

Talk is Cheap

I am sure Jeff, who has started multiple successful businesses, has heard a lot of big talk from nontrepreneurs like I was. It is really easy to talk about your plans. Everyone does it. It is so much harder to live into them.

Part way through the conversation Jeff checked my entrepreneurial seriousness. Not in a disbelieving way, exactly. Jeff is a very positive person who loves entrepreneurship (it’s one of his favorite ships). He would help anyone who was truly committed to starting their own business. But he seemed to want to know if this was for realsies, or if he should just smile and nod, but not invest any real time, energy or advice.

Jeff cut through the conversation with this simple question:

What is the percent chance you will actually start your own agency? Because the greatest tragedy would be that the next time we meet we have this same conversation. You’d be talking about wanting to start your own agency, but still hadn’t.  

It was a great question. My answer could forever be used against me in The District Court of Hot Air and Blown Smoke. But I was glad he asked.

My Response:

100%!

Jeff looked pleasantly surprised by my answer, but double checked like Aaron Rodgers, asking, “Really?”

I responded definitively, ‘Yes! I will fail at this before I do anything else!’

My mind was set. I had already burned my employment ships. I was going to allow myself no chance of retreat. The only way ahead was through my own business.

Fast Forward

I recently talked to Jeff about this conversation. I wanted to know what was going through his head on the other side of the table that day two years ago. It was a fun question to ask because The Weaponry is now a very real business, with real clients, real employees and a real office of our own, despite what you might read on our website.

This is what  Jeff said:

I talk to literally hundreds of people that want to start companies and never do. So on the one hand I thought there was a slim chance you’d actually do it. But on the other hand, I know you’re a competitor. And I was trying to tap into your sense of competitiveness. But when you said ‘100%!’ I thought, Heck Yeah*!  That’s what I want to hear! Now go do it!

*he didn’t actually say ‘heck’.

Key Takeaway

If you really want to accomplish anything you have to be 100% committed. Don’t give yourself another alternative. Burn your ships. Talk is cheap. There are thousands of people who are buried every day with their dreams still inside them.  Don’t let that happen to you.

Two lessons we can all learn from a drinking straw.

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

Lesson 1

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

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

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

Lesson 2

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

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

Lesson 2: A small hole ruins the straw.

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

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

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

There you have it. Lessons from a straw.

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

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

Thanks in advance for participating in my straw poll.