This is a very good time for me and my business. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, is flush with opportunity. The demand for our work is high. The projects we are working on are exciting and rewarding. We met our revenue goal for the year on December 3rd. And we just issued our team new Fight With Your Brain t-shirts. It feels like we are rolling like Tina Turner. Or John Fogerty.
On The Other Hand
However, good times in business can be really hard. The demands are high. Timelines are short. Bandwidths are narrow. Margins for error are nonexistent. During really good times you aren’t just doing your job. You are also juggling, horse trading and plate spinning.
I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane.
Our December is full of airports, hotel rooms and film shoots. I will be working straight through the weekend. The demand for my team’s skillz, experience and thinking will pack all but the untouchable holidays this December.
It is exactly what I have always wanted.
But it is also hard.
It is not just the bad times that are challenging. When you are trying to do something difficult the success often hurts. Which is why so many entrepreneurs settle for more leisurely lifestyle businesses. Where they are not constantly pushing and confronting the pain of growth and greatness.
That Ain’t Me.
I want growth and greatness. And challenge. I want to evolve The Weaponry into a better, bigger, stronger, faster machine. I want to scale and improve as we go. So we can become the perfect agency for clients, employees and partners. I’ve never been afraid of pain or discomfort. So I charge into the day excited for whatever comes my way. I hope the day is ready for me.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Your network is one of your most valuable assets. But how much work should you put into building and maintaining your network? It’s an even more important question to ask than how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck would. But I bet you don’t have a good answer to either question. And neither did I. Until now.
Recently I bought a couple of books by Gary Keller. In addition to being a best selling author, Keller is the co-founder of Keller Williams Realty. Which, my Spidey Sense tells me, is how the company got its first name.
In The Millionaire Real Estate Investor Keller writes a lot about Your Work Network. He breaks this network down into 3 concentric circles:
Your Inner Circle,
Your Support Circle
Your Service Circle
The inner circle is comprised of your mentors, partners and consultants. The support circle is comprised of the core people you need to support and advise you on specific work transactions. The service circle consists of all the people that you may need to perform specialized tasks with a limited scope.
Your 3 Rings
Regardless of whether you are involved in real estate or a stay at home mom or dad, you have a network with a similar 3-ring structure. Which is not to be confused with the 3-ring circus, 3-ring binder or the 3-ring rule when answering a call after a first date.
Envisioning your network as concentric circles is useful, but not not mind blowing. However, I found Keller’s recommendation on how to maintain your network relationships thought provoking.
Maintaining Your Network
Keller writes that to maintain your work relationships you should:
Call Them Every Month
Mail Them Something of Interest Every Month
Meet With The Members of Your Inner Circle Every Month
This is a great rule of thumb. Most of us probably fall nowhere near this level of contact with our network. But we should. Calling is easy. If you broaden the term mailing to include email and texting you can certainly do a whole lot of #2 (#snickering). And meeting with the members of your inner circle once a month should be a no brainer, scarecrow.
You get out of your network what you put into it. Try Keller’s advice to stay connected to those in your network once a month. Start with your inner rings. We should all fully invest in our inner circle on a monthly basis. However, increasing your investment in your middle, or even your outer ring could pay huge dividends for you both personally and professionally. So as Rhianna said, work, work, work, work, work on putting more work into your network. And you are sure to draw more great things your way.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this idea, please share it with them.
500 years ago there was a rebellious Polish astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus. He was born with a name worthy of a faculty position at Hogwarts. More importantly, we was blessed with a contrarian world view. Copernicus developed a crazy heliocentric model of the cosmos. In this model, he declared the sun was the center of the universe, and the Earth and the other planets actually revolved around it. #ohnohedidnt
The Universal Truth
At the time heliocentricity was considered a radical idea. But as every graduating preschooler now knows, Ni-Co was right. His revolutionary solar-centered model of the universe soon changed how we viewed and understood the world. It applied rules and order that helped the world make sense. It also gave employees at the local Sunglass Hut a false sense of superiority.
Copernicus-Style Thinking At Work
The same thinking that makes sense of the cosmos can also be applied to business. You must never lose sight of who is at the center of the business universe: the customer. In your arena the customer might be called the client, member, student, attendee or John (#nojudgement). Regardless, the person paying for goods or services is the central figure around whom everything else in business revolves.
Your actions and decisions should always be driven by your customer’s wants and needs. Your products and services only exist to serve your customers. It is the customer that provides the forces that propel all business activity. Because without customers businesses drift into oblivion. (#Blockbuster #Sears #AllianceofAmericanFootball)
Your Customer’s Customers.
At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, everything we do is driven by 2 forces: our customers, and our customer’s customers. Without those forces money does not move and business does not exist. Sales, marketing, engineering, research and development, customer service and accounting are all driven by the gravitational pull of the customers. Remember, you can dance with yourself, but you can’t do business alone.
If your business is not customer-centric, it is time to re-center. Ask yourself ‘What Does The Customer Want?’ before every business decision. Even better, ask them what they want, and what they want to avoid. It will help you maintain proper focus on the star of your show. And prevent you from thinking the world revolves around you.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
There is a fun debate about what it really takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Some think the key is having a great idea. Others think it is all about your network. While still others think the key is not running out of cash. I would argue that running out of cash is an awfully bad thing for a business. In the same way that running out of blood is bad for the human body. But that’s kind of like saying the key to solving global warming is not letting the Earth get warmer. It may be accurate. But it will make you look like an idiot when you suggest that at your next Mensa meetup.
Jeff Hilimire’s Recipe
Recently, my friend, and entrepreneur, Jeff Hilimire shared his secret recipe for whipping up a successful entrepreneur on LinkedIn.
‘50% amount of runway + 40% hard work/execution + 10% initial idea. I might have overshot the importance of the initial idea.’ -Jeff Hilimire. CEO of Dragon Army and Founder of 48in48
As a good facilitator of engagement should do, Jeff then asked the LinkedIn collective brain if we agreed or disagreed. Which provoked a healthy sharing of opinions. All of which had merit. None of which matched my own.
My Recipe for Entrepreneurial Success
My recipe is simpler than Jeff’s. In fact, I believe there is only one ingredient that matters at all. The absolute essential, non-negotiable, Holy Grail of ingredients, is action. Without action you are guaranteed not to succeed. But with action, continuous action, all things are possible.
The idea is not at all important to entrepreneurial success. Because absolutely everyone has an idea. You have had an idea for a product, service or business that could have worked. I know you have. The only reason that idea hasn’t become a successful business is that you haven’t taken enough action. Yet.
Time, time for some time for some action. (#obscurelyricreference)
Your runway, which is your brine of time and money, is continuously increased by taking more action. Action makes opportunity. Action spins straw into gold. Action is what builds and maintains your network. Action is what makes luck. And action is what makes for a really great date. #amiright
In the past 2.5 years since I took action and launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I have had hundreds of discussions with people about the business ideas they wanted to pursuit. Every one of those ideas could have been successful. And every one of those people could have become a successful entrepreneur if it wasn’t for one missing ingredient. You guessed it: Action, Jackson!
If you want to be a successful entrepreneur the verb is the word. You have to take action. Absolutely nothing happens without it. The best of ideas, the best networked humans, the deepest pockets and the best of intentions are powerless without action. Talk is cheap. Potential is nothing. Ideas are everywhere. So as Nike once so famously and succinctly commanded, if you want to be successful entrepreneur, just do it.
Can you imagine what it would be like to have a monopoly? I’m not talking about the Parker Brothers board game. I mean a situation where one player, you in this scenario, has exclusive control over the supply of a commodity, product or service.
You could jack your prices sky-high and offer crappy customer service. You could say things like ‘This is how we have always done it.’ And, ‘If you don’t like it, take your business somewhere else!’ #maniacallaugh Because when no one else is trying to steal your cheese, you can run through the maze as slowly as you like.
Thanks, but no thanks.
A monopoly sounds terrible to me. Because without competition there is no game to win. You never have to push yourself to improve. There is no pressure to find the next competitive advantage. And therefore, there can be no great victory.
It is competition that makes business a grand adventure. It is what makes us admire the bold entrepreneur. Because without competition there is no risk (again, not the Hasbro board game).
I recently listened to the How I Built This podcast interview with Michael Dubin, Founder of Dollar Shave Club. When Dubin launched the DSC he had a momentary monopoly on the direct-to-consumer razor model. But he wasn’t the only one in the category for long. Soon major razor brands and upstarts alike started cutting into his space. But Dubin didn’t get mad. He didn’t throw in the shaving towel. Instead, he recognized the great benefit of competition.
‘The presence of competition pushes you to define yourself more specifically. And focuses you on the things that you want to do. And makes you work a little bit harder.’
-Michael Dubin, Founder of Dollar Shave Club
Your competitors are a gift. They motivate you. They sharpen you. They offer your team a common enemy. And nothing pulls people together like a common enemy. Except maybe a black hole. Or a tray of nachos.
Competitors make you define your uniqueness. They force you to declare your mission, and what success looks like. So be thankful for those you compete against. They are making you better. And they make your work and your wins more rewarding.
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.
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:
The COSI Museum
The place where the Kent Sate May, 4 Shootings happened.
The Statue of Liberty
The 9/11 Museum
The top of the Empire State Building
The Natural History Museum in NYC
The Maryland Mountains (yes this is a thing)
Lafayette, IN (#FathersDayVisit)
Athens, GA (twice)
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.
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.
From the very beginning of my career I wanted to start my own advertising agency. I dreamed about it for years. I envied those I knew who had done it. And I had wise counselors tell me that starting my own agency was the only way I would be able to control both the path and the length of my advertising career. I figured it would also make it harder for my coworkers to tell me to turn down my music.
I began making concrete plans in the summer of 2015 after a couple of former clients strongly encouraged/challenged/incentivized me to launch a new agency. My cousin Brooks Albrecht and I began formulating plans to launch the new venture from opposite corners of the country. I was in Atlanta. He was in Seattle. We had a lot of late night phone calls fueled by sweet tea and coffee. We were like the Rumpelstiltskin Cousins, trying to spin straw into gold while the world slept.
Brooks was working at Amazon at the time. He was amazing at developing a smart, scalable infrastructure. We devoured the book The E-Myth, and were determined to build our machine the right way from the start. We thought we had a solid plan in place, and even performed some early ‘proof of concept’ alpha testing with two clients, one in Boston and the other in California.
I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having and how excited I was by what we were attempting to do. Then, in the spring of 2016, I filed the paperwork to make it official. Two years ago today on April 12th, 2016, The Weaponry was born, and the adventure began.
Our First Client
Our very first client was Global Rescue. On an early trip to Boston to meet with the GR team, I stayed at the home of their Founder and CEO, Dan Richards. When you are first starting off you do things like stay at your client’s home. Both because your first opportunity often comes from someone who you know really well (Dan is one of my closest friends in the world). And because when you are a lean start-up you’ll do anything you can to save money.
I had helped Dan with some foundational branding and marketing elements when he first launched his business in 2004. At the time, Dan was the only employee. But by 2016 Global Rescue had hundreds of employees, millions of members, and six offices around the world.
Dan and I went for an early morning workout before we got down to business. As we snaked through the empty streets of Boston at 5:30am on our way to the gym, I asked Dan,
“How long after you launched your business did it no longer feel like a startup?
Dan responded quickly and confidently (the way he does everything). He said, ‘2 years.’ At two years he had clients, cashflow, systems and employees. It no longer felt like a victory just to be open for business. I filed that away, and wondered if that would hold true for The Weaponry.
Joining the 2 Year club.
Now that we are officially at the two-year mark, I can say with great confidence, that The Weaponry no longer feels like a startup. As we have approached this milestone, many of my friends who are entrepreneurs have pointed out that a startup’s life expectancy is barely longer than that of a fruit fly. They have emphasized how few startups actually live to eat their second birthday cake.
But I think about it differently. I don’t care what the average is. And I don’t think making it to two years in a major victory. My goal wasn’t to build a business that could break the 24-month barrier. It was to build the perfect advertising agency that could stay in business forever.
The first two phases of a new business are like the first two phases of motor boating (snickering). In phase 1 you are happy to be moving forward and not hitting rocks or docks. But you are plowing through the water with a lot of resistance, and very little speed or elegance. Then you transition to phase 2. In phase 2 the boat builds enough speed that it actually climbs on top of the water and planes out. The ride smooths out, speeds up, and becomes a lot more fun. The nose of the boat (or bow) comes down, and visibility improves dramatically. At two years old, The Weaponry feels like it is planing and gaining speed.
6 Reasons The Weaponry No Longer Feels Like A Startup:
We have a real office.
We offer our employees insurance benefits (from companies you actually know).
We have retainer clients that provide predictable work and cashflow
We have systems in place to organize, produce and deliver everything we do.
We have a steady stream of new opportunities.
We need to hire more great people
I am thrilled that this perfect agency project is now two years old. Starting my own business has been the most exciting chapter of my exciting career. Thank you to all of the clients who have trusted us. Thanks to all of our team members who have made the magic. Thanks to my family for having faith. And thank You for taking the time to read about it.
If you are thinking about starting your own business and have questions, I am happy to share what I know. If you are looking for an exciting, growing and positive place to work, let’s talk. If you are looking for a date to the Marketing Prom, give us a ring (this isn’t a real thing, but if it was, we would totally go with you). And if you are looking for an interesting story to follow, consider subscribing to this blog. The next 12 months are sure to provide plenty to read about.