Great advice I didn’t take, but maybe you should.

In the first half of 2013 I was in New York City every week. I was the Chief Creative Officer of a 275 person ad agency called Engauge. And we were in the process of selling the agency. A four person leadership team from Engauge shared our story, our work and our finances with 15 potential suitors, ranging from Conde Nast to the Paris-based advertising agency holding company, Publicis, who eventually purchased the agency. However, Conde Nast provided the greatest challenge in the process, because the room that we presented in was plastered with oversized prints of topless women. Which lead to my short-term bout with Attention Deficit Disorder.

LGA

One evening after one of our many meetings with potential investors on Wall Street, Engauge President Jeff Hilimire and I headed to the Laguardia airport for our flight home. But first we stopped and grabbed burgers at a barely-open Five Guys at the airport. It was in that small, yet-highly caloric moment, that we proceeded to have one of the most important conversations of my entrepreneurial journey.

Going through an exit (sale) process like we were going through, you are forced to think about the next chapter of your career. Because depending on who purchases your business, some unknown combination of the leadership team will no longer be needed in the new organization. Some of us were on the business equivalent of a Kamikaze mission. Or maybe it was the business equivalent to Russian Roulette. Or maybe I am just being dramatic with an international flair. Either way, Jeff and I each discussed our future in a very open Komono way (I can’t stop).

The Only Job For Jeff.

Jeff told me, ‘There is only one title I ever want again.’

I was curious what that was, so of course I asked, ‘What’s that?’

He said, ‘Founder.’

As a successful entrepreneur, his only interest was in starting businesses and in being an entrepreneur. He found no appeal in helping the company who bought the company that bought the company that he started.

But what about me?

I also had a great desire to start my own business. But unlike Jeff, I didn’t have experience starting my own agency from dust and growing it into a thriving success. So in between bites of my oversized Adam Albrecht Burger from Five Guys, I asked Jeff for advice on how I should get started on my entrepreneurial journey.

Jeff said, ‘The first thing you need to decide is where you want to start your business. Find a job in that market, move there, and spend two years developing your network there, while working for someone else.’ He said that after two years of serious networking, you should have the base you need to go out on your own, and start your own agency.

What I Did

This was really good advice. But I didn’t take it. Instead, I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016 in Atlanta. But then, for family reasons, decided to relocate my family to Milwaukee. And of course, the business had to move too. Which means that I did the opposite of what Jeff suggested. I started a business, and then moved it to a new city, where I hadn’t warmed up my network at all.

From the beginning, my strategy was different. My network is very broad, with strong and valued friends and connections across North America. So I was determined to develop The Weaponry to be geographically agnostic. Technology has enabled us to live into my vision, and serve clients across the United States and Canada.

2 Years Later

This week marks the 2-year anniversary of our move to Milwaukee. So I couldn’t help but reflect on Jeff’s advice. The Weaponry is thriving, with great clients from coast to coast. But there is something special happening now. There is an interesting momentum building. We are being talked about when we aren’t around. We are contacted more than ever. People are stopping by, and inquiring about us, and wanting to talk to us, and get to know us at a distinctly different pace today.

I believe this is 2-year momentum. We are building on the 2-year base that Jeff originally recommended. It is an incredibly exciting time for us. And we no longer feel like a start-up. We feel like a confident collection of Weapons that know exactly how to handle whatever our clients need. Kind of like the A-Team, without Mr. T (aka B.A. Baracus, aka Mr. I Pity The Fool).

Key Takeaway

There is no one right way to go about launching a business. The key is to get moving. If you have been considering starting your own business, or making another significant change in your life, I encourage you to set your 2-year timer now, and start the process today.  Two years will give you plenty of time to go from that first step, to a confident swagger. Be persistent, be patient, and let’s talk about this again in two years.

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5 ways for startups to win the cash flow game.

When you set out to start a new business people give you lots of encouragement, advice, warnings and worried looks. Even so, you don’t really know what lies ahead. You wonder what will be worse than expected, what will be easier than expected and what to expect when you are expecting (unless you already have that baby book).

Cash Money

A topic that everyone warned me about when I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, was cash flow. The basic issue is that you get paid for your work, and you have to pay bills, like salaries, rent and insurance. The problem is that you don’t always have an equal amount of money coming in as you have going out. Which means that you must have enough cash on hand to cover slow payments, slow months of work, or larger-than-usual expenses.

What I’ve learned

Cash flow challenges aren’t necessarily a result of a customer being delinquent in paying invoices. The challenges can simply be a matter of timing. Your projects, or deals, may take longer to complete, so it takes longer to bill, and thus longer to get paid. If you are delayed in sending out your invoices, that can funk up your cash flow too.

Avoid At All Costs

But regardless of the reason, running out of cash on hand is a common cause of death for businesses of all sizes. It is a lot like humans running out of oxygen, or blood. Which I’ve never done. But I know some people who have, and they wanted me to tell you to avoid it at all costs.

If you are thinking about starting a business, or already have a business and could use some advice, here are a few tips to keep the cash flowing and your business going.

5 Cash Flow Tips

Don’t quit your job until you absolutely have to.  A salaried job helps the cash flow in your startup in two ways. 1. It ensures that cash keeps coming into your world. 2. It decreases or eliminates the need to draw a salary from the business in order to pay yourself. This enables cash to build in your business. Like water behind a dam baby!

Start with more cash on hand than you think you need. Don’t start a business without a reserve. Inevitably you will need it. And if you can’t float an expense because you don’t have the cash around, you clients, suppliers, partners or employees will question your business-hood. And you don’t want your business-hood questioned.

Send your invoices as soon as the work is complete. Entrepreneurs have a lot of demand on their time. So it can be easy to let your invoicing slide while putting out fires and keeping plates spinning. But you have to keep your invoices flowing if you want cash to flow into your business. A good bookkeeper, aka God’s Gift To Entrepreneurs, and a repeatable invoicing process can help ensure that you don’t fall behind on this process.

Delay adding salaried employees until you have a 3-month runway.  We began The Weaponry with a freelance workforce. I wanted to be able to see 3 months of sustainable work ahead in each discipline before I committed to hiring a full-time, salaried employees for that role. The 3-month rule has been a very good guide for us. For other businesses the timing may vary.  Regardless, develop your own rule of thumb, and enforce it.

Keep 3 months worth of salary in reserve at all times. You never know when the demand for your product or service will go dormant. It doesn’t mean it won’t come back. But you have to be able to weather the winter in order to be around when the demand springs up again. Having the cash reserve on hand is like a squirrel storing nuts. A three-month reserve is good. A six-month reserve is better. A billion-month reserve is best.

Key Takeaway

Starting your own business is extremely rewarding. But to keep the rewards coming, you have to keep the cash flowing. It is important to understand that cash flow isn’t just a part of the entrepreneurial game. It is the game itself.

*To learn more of what I have learned through my entrepreneurial journey, please consider subscribing to this blog.

How do you measure your professional growth?

When I was a kid I loved being measured. It was a great way to track my growth. I loved standing against the wall and measuring my height to see how much I had grown since the last time I stood against a wall. But I have not grown a millimeter since I was 14 years old. I topped out at 6 feet and 1/4 inch. But I was thrilled to be 6-something and not 5-something. (No disrespect 5-Somethings. #heightgoals)

Weight

I used to love stepping on a scale to see how much weight I had gained too. While I didn’t get any taller after my freshman year, I did gain 65 pounds during high school. In the 20+ years since then I have never been more than 10 pounds above my graduation weight. But like most adults, I am no longer excited to see growth on the bathroom scale.

Taking New Measurements

Today I measure my growth in other ways. In 2016 I decided to undertake a personal growth challenge and start an advertising and idea agency. I knew this entrepreneurial adventure would push me to grow in a great number of ways. But when I first began my journey I’m not sure I could have identified those many areas of growth. Or perhaps more importantly, how I would recognize the growth when it occurred.  After all, there is no scale to step on to measure the size of you Entrepreneurium.

Last week I saw it.

Late last Wednesday afternoon I left my office and climbed into the driver’s seat of my car. I took a moment to reflect on my day. There, in the quiet of my car, I could measure my own growth as clearly as I could when I was a kid standing against the wall or stepping on the bathroom scale.

The New Growth

Here are a few things that happened that day that showed me how far I had come in my entrepreneurial journey.

  1. I went to my office at The Weaponry. What had started as a business idea in my head in 2016 is no longer just an idea in my head. It’s a real, physical space with walls, doors and windows. It’s located at 1661 N. Water Street, Suite, #206 in Milwaukee. Stop by when you have a moment.
  2. I spent an hour dealing with our employer-offered insurance. We now offer health and dental insurance to our full-time employees. I had to chase down information that morning to get our new group ID numbers. I then put on my HR Director hat and held an impromptu meeting to update our employees who have enrolled in our insurance. Then I distributed temporary ID cards. Even typing this feels like a big step forward. I will have a whole post on this process to share soon.
  3. I participated in my monthly CEO roundtable discussion. I meet with a group of six business owners on the second Wednesday of every month. This group is part of the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE), organized by the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). I encourage you to click that link just to see how beautiful their picture of Milwaukee is. Milwaukee is a great city on a great lake. And I am thrilled to be here. But the discussions I participate in at these monthly meetings are a clear indicator of my professional growth over the past 18 months.
  4. I ended my day with a 45 minute discussion with our IT consultant. We are implementing upgrades to our IT infrastructure to meet the stringent security standards of the banking industry. There will be more to come on this in a future post. But when I stop and think about my expanded vocabulary in this space alone it is impossible not to recognize the growth. I’ve come a long way since I was a young copywriter penning headlines like, “It’s so responsive it knows which butt cheek you’re flexing.’  

Take Away

I don’t need a scale or measuring tape to document the growth spurt that I’m experiencing now. It is clearly evident in my daily actions, my language, and the growing circle of impressive people I spend my time with. This is exactly what I was after when I first experienced the urge for more growth, both personally and professionally. I know there is much I don’t yet know. But I am working on it. And that makes all the difference.

*To follow my journey please consider subscribing to this blog. If you’ve never subscribed to a blog before, consider this part of your personal growth. Yay you!