How to share your ideas around the world like I do.

When I began writing the Perfect Agency Project blog in 2015 I was in the early phases of launching my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. I had so many questions about starting a business that I tried to find information anywhere I could get it. Much of the information and inspiration I found was in blogs. I realized that future entrepreneurs could also benefit from my accumulated knowledge. So I began publishing blog posts on WordPress every week. I wrote about my experiences starting and running a business. I wrote about my philosophies on advertising, marketing, strategy and creativity. I wrote about networking and sales. And I wrote about a strange encounter I had with a woman at a Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Because hey, I had a blog.

Developing An Audience

Three years later, as 2018 draws to a close, I wanted to share a few interesting statistics that demonstrate the power of the blogging platform. When I began writing I knew that I would have readers across the United States. Not because I’m well-known. But because I have 31 aunts and uncles spread from Philadelphia to Phoenix. And 43 first cousins stretched from New England to Nevada. So thanks to my adventurous grandparents, I had America covered.

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America! Blog Yeah!

Going Global

What I didn’t anticipate, at all, was how my blog would reach an international audience.  Sure, I figured some of my friends is places like Norway, India and Germany would occasionally stumble across my posts. But my readership has now gone well beyond that.

In 2018 alone, my blog has been read in (I’m stalling to let you guess the number before you read it yourself…) in 105 countries! That is hard for me to wrap my head around. But it serves as quantitative reminder of just how connected the world now is.

As I look at the map below of the countries where my blog has been viewed, I am in awe of the potential to share widespread messages without paid media, access to a personal satellite (sung like Dave Matthews), a radio tower or fleet of macho carrier pigeons. The map also indicates that when you are interested in a topic, you can now find and connect with others who are sharing what they know on the subject from the other side of the globe.

 

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Where My Blog Is Not

As I look at my blog’s heat map, I can see that my coverage is pretty spotty in Africa. My posts are not the most in Mongolia. And I’m getting no love from the Stans, including Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the birthplace of the Afghan: Afghanistan.

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A typical Stanscape.

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas.

Based on the geopolitical climate, I am not expecting a sudden burst in popularity in the Stans. But the country I really wish I had at least one reader in is Greenland. Look at how huge Greenland is! That is a large chunk of land just sitting naked on my map. However, the Earth’s largest island has only 55,000 people on it. Which means that not even Kevin Bacon is well-connected there.

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I flew over Greenland on my trip to Iceland several years ago. It is amazingly beautiful. Although there was no green to be seen. What really stood out to me was the endless sea of rugged, inhospitable, snow-covered mountains. As I flew over Greenland I remember thinking those mountains would make it hard to get to a good blog if you really needed one. But maybe, just maybe, by writing two paragraphs on Greenland, and an accompanying tag and category mention, I can turn this great white land mass yellow on my map before the end of the year. It would be a very sweet Christmas present.

A little more detail on my international exposure.

Here are a few other facts that I found interesting when I performed Adamlytics on my blog:

  • My blog has multiple views from 79 different countries. Which means there are only 26 countries that have only 1 view (depending on whether you like your stats framed positively or negatively.)
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This is not my dashboard. This is not my beautiful wife. #waterflowingunderground

My Blog’s Top 10 Countries By Total Views:

  1. The United States
  2. Canada (Thanks to all my friends in Quebec and Ontario)
  3. India  (Thanks to this post I wrote about my work travel to India)
  4. The United Kingdom
  5. Germany
  6. Australia
  7. South Africa
  8. Sweden (Thanks Anneli & your friends at Ikea)
  9. Romania
  10. Ireland

  • There are 5 different continents represented in the top 7 countries!
  • In a very symmetrical statistic, the 20th most popular country, Brazil, has 20 views of the blog.
  • The only continent that the blog doesn’t register on is Antarctica. But I’m not sure a view would register as being from Antarctica anyway. Because it is so cold there.
  • There are at least 2 countries where the blog has been viewed that I had never heard of before: Mauritius and Vanuatu (which I think may have been a Survivor Island (meaning a location for the reality tv show, not the rock band from the 80s).

The Perfect Agency Project’s International Exposure By Year

2015: 25 countries

2016: 41 countries

2017: 68 countries

 2018: 105 countries


Key Takeaway

Blogging is an amazing way to reach a very wide audience. You don’t need approval from anyone to start a blog. You don’t have to buy media to get your message out. You simply have to write about things that people are interested in reading. As you write, be patient. Keep writing insightful, educational or entertaining posts, and people will find you. Even halfway around the world. I look forward to seeing where this goes next. Because thanks to the world-wide web, there are no limits to how far your message can reach. Heck you might even get noticed in Mongolia, the Stans, and, Leif-Eriksson-willing, Greenland.

*If you’d like to see if I ever make to Greenland, please consider subscribing to this blog.

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Why you should mind your own business.

In 2016 I left a comfortable job to start my own business. After working in the advertising industry for two decades I had a clear vision of what the perfect advertising agency was like. I used that vision as a blueprint to create a new agency called The Weaponry. At the same time, I began writing The Perfect Agency Project blog to share my experience and learnings along the way. And in case you didn’t notice, I just created a link to this blog, in this blog. Which may technically be the silliest thing I’ve done in 219 posts.

The Perfect Agency

I have thought about every aspect of the perfect advertising agency. From the dress code (which is only 9 words long), to the way we respond to client requests (always explore them), to the way we deliver invoices (singing telegram*), we are creating both the agency I would want to hire to create my advertising, and the place I want to work.

Competitors

But one thing I haven’t done since launching The Weaponry is think about our competitors. In fact, I don’t even know who our competitors are. We are not trying to win a geographical area. We are not trying to win a singular discipline, or serve a niche industry. So it’s hard to find another agency to throw in a cage match with us.

We are focused on building a machine for developing great creative ideas, delivering excellent customer service and providing a fun experience for everyone involved. That’s it. Oh, we’re also drinking a lot of chocolate milk. 

Occasionally in an RFP (Request For Proposal) we are asked who we compete against in various services. I always respond by saying we compete against everyone who offers those services.

But I don’t pay any attention to those supposed competitors. I don’t worry about what other agencies look like. Or what their websites say. I don’t go to awards shows to see their work. There is not a thing I can do about how they conduct their business. I am not trying to hurt them or steal their business. I am solely focused on us handling our business and delivering against our client requests.

In fact, there are only two agencies I think about at all.

  1. The Weaponry in its current state.
  2. The fully formed version of The Weaponry.

I am focused on closing the gap between the two, and making the business we work in today look more and more like the ideal.

Key Takeaway

Mind your own business. Don’t become distracted by what everyone else is doing. Understand what your customers and your employees want, and work diligently on delivering that at the highest level. It’s the shortest path to success.

This same principle hold true for us as individuals. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or how they are doing it. Focus on what you believe in. You can never go wrong doing what you know is right.

(*Okay, so we haven’t fully implemented the singing telegram invoice delivery system yet. But let me know if you would like to be part of the beta test.) 

How to increase your chances of a big lottery payout.

Today the Mega Millions lottery jackpot is expected to reach $1.6 billion dollars. The Power Ball lottery will reach $620 million by tomorrow. And you will not win either of them. In fact, you would get more value for your money by burning your cash for heat,  or eating it for the nutritional value of the paper.

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Life Lesson

I learned this lesson early in life. When I was 18 I had a lottery experience that forever shaped my perspective on this get-rich-instantly game. I shared this story a few years ago, but with lottery fever once again creating a jackpot mirage, it felt like a good time to reshare.

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The Graduation Lesson

At my high school graduation, my classmates and I received our Hanover High School diplomas from our principal, the late, super-great Uwe Bagnato. As he handed us our diplomas, we each handed him a lottery ticket. It was an exciting experiment.

We all wondered how much he might win with 143 chances (my high school scoured ten towns from Vermont and New Hampshire to find 143 educatable kids). We imagined Uwe would become mega-rich, and we would be the last class to graduate under his principality. But when we discovered that he only won a couple of bucks, and would be back at work again after Labor Day, the lottery was forever dead to me.

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Entrepreneurship.

Don’t flush your hard-earned money down the lottery toilet. If you want a great return on your money, you should always bet on yourself. Bet on your ability to think. On your will to succeed. On you determination and stick-to-it-ness. Bet on your ability to create value. And bet on your ability to do what you are doing right now, but for yourself.

Collect that money you were going to spend on the lottery and invest it in your own business. Buy something to resell. Or purchase equipment so that you can offer a valued service, or create a new product. Get certified at a valuable skill that you can market on your own. Because if you do that, and you have the drive to succeed, you will succeed. There is  much more money to be made through entrepreneurship than the lottery could ever provide.

“More gold had been mined from the minds of men than the earth itself.”  -Napoleon Hill from Think and Grow Rich.

My Lottery

In 2016 I left a nice job at a big advertising agency to bet on myself. I left the perceived stability of a regular paycheck to see if I could make even more money, be even happier and feel even more fulfilled by creating my own jackpot. And I did it by investing less than most people spend on the lottery. In fact, when I started The Weaponry, I invested more time, energy and focus than money. And my business has been profitable from the beginning.

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But forget about getting rich quick. Forget about the instant cash payout, which is the surest way to bankruptcy. Opt for the get rich slow route. If you build your own business slowly and steadily, you can turn hundreds of dollars of side hustle income into millions of family supporting dollars.

 

Key Takeaway

The next time you think about filling out a lottery ticket, think about sketching out a business idea instead. Think of all the great businesses started by men and women no smarter or more talented than you. Think about how those businesses, have turned those people into millionaires and billionaires. I hope it encourages you to invest in your own ideas and your own initiative. Because take it from me and Uwe, the chances of winning the lottery are far better in your head. Your best bet is to put your money to work for you. Because the odds of hitting an entrepreneurial jackpot are determined by you.

It’s time to tell the full truth about the business I made up.

Three years ago I started writing the story of a fictional advertising and idea agency. I dreamed up the details of the business and then wrote them down in a notebook. I would fire up my laptop, open a google doc, and fill it with vivid descriptions of this company that only I could see. In the same way that children have imaginary friends, I had an imaginary ad agency. I thought about that agency all the time. I was obsessed.

The more I thought about it, the more I wrote about it. And the more I wrote about it the more vivid this fictional business became to me. So I did something crazy. I started talking to other people about my imaginary agency. I described it as if were absolutely real. I told people what kind of services it offered, what kind of people worked there. I talked about its culture and why it was the perfect agency. I even gave it a name.

Then a funny thing happened. Other people began talking about this completely fictional agency like it was a real business. They started asking questions about it. Smart, talented,  sane people wanted to know if they could work there.

So I began talking to marketing professionals and business owners about my imaginary agency. Then something unbelievable happened. Someone asked if they could hire this imaginary agency to create some real advertising.

Suddenly, this agency that was completely made up had a real client, a real project to work on, and a real deadline. I quickly filled the imaginary roles within the agency with real people, who did the real work and delivered real ads to a real business for real money.

From that moment on, this fictional story of mine became non-fiction. People started referring to my imaginary agency by name. They called it The Weaponry. The United States Government started sending it mail. Businesses started sending it money. People started listing it as their employer, and banks started calling it to make sure it was ok to offer applicants mortgages. How crazy is that?

Key Takeaway 

If you want to create a real business you start by creating a fictional business. Imagine every detail. Write it all down. Paint a picture so vivid it feels absolutely real. Talk about it in such detail that others start to see it too. Give it a name. Others will start calling it by that name too. Talk about your fake business to real customers and clients. It will be weird and surreal. It will warp and bend your sense of reality for a while. But if you believe in it enough, others will too. Then suddenly, and undeniably it will all become completely real. I know it sounds crazy. But it’s true.  

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.

Why it is so positive to focus on the negative.

I am a naturally positive person. I like to start with the positive. I like to end on the positive. And I like to fill the middle with as much positive as I can. Yet, I don’t claim any responsiblity for my positivity. As Lady Gaga once said, Baby, I was born this way.

Team Meetings

On Tuesday mornings I meet with my entire team at The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched in 2016. I share updates on our clients, people, and growth opportunities. We discuss our long-term vision for the organization and our progress towards that goal. And yes, it is a positive experience.

The Good

This Tuesday I gave an update on our latest developments. The headline was:

In the past 3 months we have added 8 new clients in 5 different states.

I walked through the new additions, gave an overview on what we are doing for each of them, and mentioned the people who had either helped us secure the business, or who were already working on the accounts.

The Bad

After sharing the good news of the week I asked the team to keep looking for the peas under the mattress. I want to make this agency the perfect place to work, and the perfect partner for our clients. The only way you get to that point is by removing the elements that cause discomfort. I want to find the pain points and confusion. I want to know what is causing slowdowns and bottlenecks and head scratching.

Why So Negative?

It is easy to ignore your problems, especially when things are going well. But if we do, we won’t improve our machine. And if we don’t improve our processes, procedures, structure and people, we will never achieve the elusive goal of creating the perfect agency.

The Paradox. (Or is it a Pair of Docks?)

Admittedly, it is a little odd, especially for an optimistic, can-do, positive organization like The Weaponry to focus on the blemishes, weaknesses and flaws. But, Mama, that’s where the fun is.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of growth is eliminating weakness. By shoring up our weakest points the machine gets stronger and stronger. The entire team can feel it when a reoccurring problem goes a way. And when it does, we can then focus on the next issue up. There will always be a next issue up. But just as with technological advances and innovation, as challenges are solved, the new challenges that take their place are smaller and smaller issues.

Key Takeaway

If you really want to be great, don’t just acknowledge or admit your flaws. Seek them out. Root them out. Mark them in highlighter. Then develop a plan to eliminate them.  We use the EOS Rocks system, as outlined in the book Traction by Gino Wickman to take on our issues, gain traction as an organization, and continue on our path of organizational improvement. We are not perfect. But we want to be. And we are committed to getting as close to the dream as we can.

*I’d love to know your thoughts on either of the following questions:

  1. Do you feel that your organization makes a priority of discovering and eliminating your organizational and operational flaws?
  2. Do you try to proactively identify flaws in yourself, your outlook, your processes, your knowledge or your procedures in a quest for self-improvement? Or, do you beat yourself up over your shortcomings?

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.