How our agency overcame a Biggie Smalls experience.

It was the rapper Notorious B.I.G. who once penned that famous American quote: ‘Mo Money. Mo Problems.’ In 2018 I learned Biggie was right. Because as my young advertising and idea agency was growing at an exciting pace, we also faced mo money problems. Or was it less money problems? Maybe it depends on whether you’re more East Coast or more West Coast.

Go With The Cashflow

In 2018 The Weaponry, faced a cash flow problem. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been warned. My posse of entrepreneurial homies, including Dan Richards of Global Rescue and Jeff Hilimire of Dragon Army, warned me that as you work with larger and larger clients they will use their financial muscle to get longer and longer payment terms. So instead of our standard 30-day terms, new clients began requesting, pushing for or demanding 45, 60 and even 90-day terms. #WhatWouldSugeKnightDo?

The 60 and 90-day terms put growing businesses like mine in a conundrum. Obviously we want to work with the biggest and best companies in the world. The problem is that while we wait to get paid for the work we have completed, we still have to pay the Weapons, vendors and freelancers who work for us. Which means that like a leaky bucket, more money is leaving the system than coming in. #DearLizaDearLiza

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Big Poppa

By June of 2018 we had been in business for 2 years. We could clearly feel the momentum build. There was sharp rise in the demand for our work. But with all the new work, longer payment terms, and invoices that seemed to have taken the slow boat to PayMe Town, we started carrying between $500,000 and $700,000 in our monthly accounts receivable stack.

For a business that bootstrapped its way into being just 24 months earlier this was an interesting turn of events. It is nice to be owed that kind of money. But cash is the life blood of a business. And there were serious demands on our blood supply.

We were always able to pay our salaries and all of our bills. But the depleted cash on hand meant that we weren’t able to invest in our own growth. We had started looking at space for our Columbus office in June, then hit pause on our plans to sign a lease in order give ourselves some breathing room. We waited on transitioning some of our freelance help to full-fledged Weapons. And we postponed the company offsite meeting in Monaco.

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It Was All A Dream.

When I shared our mounting money challenge with our team, they once again stepped up to solve the problem. Simon Harper, one of our outstanding account directors, shared how we could adjust our invoice timing to make sure we were paid by our clients sooner. Other account leads also contacted their client contacts about the outstanding bills. Which helped get the money ball rolling.

Our accountant, slash bookkeeper, slash egg dealer, Sally Bretsch, recommended another adjustment to our billing process that would ensure that our invoices got into our clients’ accounts payable systems faster, with greater accountability. Which is either totally meta or just a nice word play (Did I mention I used to read Word UP! magazine?)

From Negative To Positive (And it’s all good.)

With these team-driven enhancements in place, suddenly we dramatically decreased the turnaround time between work performed and payments received. We had our own Black Friday moment, when suddenly, following months of increased billing, but decreased cashflow, we started seeing the fruits of our labor manifest in our bank account.

Key Takeaway

Business is a team sport. As an entrepreneur, leader or department head, it’s important to understand that your team will find ways to solve problems and improve performance faster, and in better ways than you would be able to unearth on your own. Share information with your team. Make them part of the solution. If you’re thinking about starting a business, surround yourself with a strong crew who knows more about their specialties than you do. Then give them a mic and let them flow. That’s how small teams make big things happen.

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Want to be an entrepreneur? Start by flying a kite.

Entrepreneurship is a thrilling game. I started my own adverting and idea agency almost two years ago. Building my business has been the most fun and exciting chapter in a career full of fun and exciting chapters. If you think you’d like to play entrepreneur, I have a few insights to share. But I should warn you, I don’t have an MBA. My business philosophies come from life.

Creating your own business requires four elements:

  1. Vision to see what you want to build.
  2. Optimism to believe you can do it.
  3. Will Power to keep you moving forward.
  4. Money to pay the bills.

The first three inputs are about attitude. If you have a great attitude, you have 75% of the requirements covered. Then there is number four. It has ruined many a good business. It’s the proverbial turd in the punch bowl. And there is no way around it.

Money, Money, Money, Money

It isn’t enough simply to have money. The real challenge is that you have to invest your money at the proper pace. If you spend too little you don’t grow, you don’t mature, and you don’t get closer to your ultimate vision. But if you spend too much, you die.

In order to thrive, you need to find the sweet spot between these two pitfalls. This is the game of business finance in a nutshell. And if you remember your shell history, the nutshell beat out both the eggshell and the clamshell as the perfect container for simple summations.

So how do you know when to save and when to spend? I have developed an approach to spending money that influences every purchase, every hire, and financial commitment we make at The Weaponry.

The Kite Flying Method. 

I think of spending money like flying a kite. Once you get a kite in the air, you have to decide if you are satisfied flying it ten feet above the ground. If you are not, and I hope you are not, you have to let out more string.

But when?

You let out more string when the wind increases. Not before. This sounds simple enough. But the key is knowing the difference between winds and gusts. A gust is temporary. If you let out string because of a gust, you are in trouble. Because when the gust stops, your line will go slack, and the kite will plummet to the ground. This is bad.

Key Takeaway

The wind is your income. The string is your outgo. If you want your business to soar to impressive heights, you have to let out string. But always let out less string than the wind can support. That tension you feel is profitability. It is what keeps you in control. Always maintain that. It will keep you soaring for as long as you want to play.