This is one of the most important questions you you can ask yourself. It is right up there with, Am I eating well? Am I exercising enough? And, Am I getting enough sleep? The question is important because whether you like it or not, you are becoming more like the people you spend your time with.
Take a moment to think about those people you spend your time with, either by choice, by default.
Pausing For thought…Playing that song from Jeopardy in my head…Which I always thought sounded like ‘I’m a little teacup.’…
The Human Conveyor Belts
The people you spend your time with are like conveyor belts, taking you where they are going. That’s why it is critical that you carefully choose who you are spending your time with. Don’t settle for people who are simply nearby. Or convenient. Or who want to spend time with you. Make sure that they are people who will help carry you where you want to go.
My Journey (will always feature Steve Perry)
When I started my entrepreneurial journey I began spending a lot of time with other entrepreneurs. These were people who truly believed that they could make something out of nothing. Which made me believe I could alchemize my own success.
Their tolerance for risk made me more risk tolerant. Their boldness made me bolder. I quickly found myself thinking and acting like an entrepreneur. And before I knew it, I had established The Weaponry LLC. I had clients and revenue and employees and t-shirts. I also had other people wanting to know how I did it. And I have been sharing what I know ever since.
Seek out the people you want to be more like. The people who are headed where you want to go. People who are thinking and acting the way you want to think and act. Avoid the blamers and excuse makers. Ditch the complainers and the complacents. Attitudes are highly contagious. Make sure you are catching yours from the right people.
Become a better you by spending time with better people. Surround yourself with positive, can-do, will-do types. They will pull you forward. They will force you to grow to keep up. Then, as you grow, find more people who are even further ahead. Positive influence is a super fuel. Take all you can get. And share it with everyone you can.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Tuesday night I guest lectured to an advertising campaigns class at Marquette University taught by Erin Napier. I talked about creative thinking and the creative process. I talked about my advertising career path, from college student to Copywriter to Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. I talked about Entrepreneurship. I shared my experience as Founder & CEO of The Weaponry. And I told them about the time me and Danica Patrick filled a Motorhome with 1.2 million ping pong balls.
Q & A
I showed samples of the creative work I have created, and then I asked if anyone had questions. This is one of the first questions I was asked:
‘What was you greatest career failure, and what did you learn from it?’
Now I am all about learning from your failures. And I am all about turning lemons into lemonade, like Ralph Lemonader. But I didn’t have an answer for this question.
It’s not that I haven’t made mistakes in my career. I certainly have. But what I recognized when trying to access my colossal mistakes file, was that I don’t hold my failures close. They are not raw and ready to be examined. I am not dwelling on them, stewing over them of kicking myself because of them. I’m not like that super pale dude from The Da Vinci Code, who was torturing himself with his power slinky. I quickly learn my lesson and move on, better than before.
When I read Tom Rath’s Strength Finders, and took the test in the book (which I recommend you do), it told me that I am a raging Maximizer. Which means I have no interest in analyzing things that went wrong in the past. I simply focus on what we can do from here.
My Biggest Failure Answer
The best answer I could give that Marquette student was that I was pretty sure I don’t know what my biggest mistake was. It was likely something I didn’t do, rather than something I did do. It was probably some path I didn’t take, or some Monty Hall door I didn’t open. I’ll never know where that would have taken me. And I’m not losing any sleep over it. #Zzzzzzz
Learn & Move On
Our failures should be like touching a hot stove. We should do it once, recognize the mistake quickly, file the lesson away, and move on. No dwelling or hand wringing. We just learn our lessons, and get back to life. #BackToReality.
Learn from your failures and keep going. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t rank your greatest failures of all time. Instead, focus on your successes. Know what works for you. Remember what you did right. Repeat the positive actions. And pass that knowledge along for others to learn from too.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
When I was a high school freshman I ran my first 400 meter race. 400 meters is one lap around an outdoor track. It is a difficult race to run. I started strong. The first 100 meters felt great. The second 100 meters felt good. The third 100 meters were tough. Then, with just 100 meters left to go, I hit the wall. Everyone who has run a 400 meter race knows where that wall is. Once you hit it you are no longer sprinting. You are just trying to survive. And you are suddenly thankful that more people don’t come to watch track meets.
Today I recognize that every difficult challenge has a wall. A point at which things are no longer easy. A point when people typically quit. We hit walls like college students hit weeder classes. And the walls stop those who are not determined to keep going.
I see it all the time. Someone will start a project full of energy and ambition. They start a side hustle, blog, a club or mustache. Maybe they get their real estate license, start writing a book, or begin exercising and eating right. Then something happens. A challenge confronts them. They hit a busy period. Or a dry spell. Or they go too long without seeing results. Or they simply take a moment to nap in a field of poppies with their friends Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion (all of whom have strange New York accents).
It could be hours, days, weeks, or months into the adventure. But at some point people run into something hard. And they stop. The momentum vanishes. The music dies. And the dream end.
In 2014 a co-worker of mine started taking on exciting marketing projects on his own. He told me all about the projects, and how much money he was making. I was amazed. He was developing the start of his own agency. It was thrilling to see. It inspired me. I wanted to do what he was doing. And within a year I began planning my own agency.
While I was eagerly planning my dream agency, I sought out that same coworker to get another inspiring update. But when we sat down to talk about his latest success he instead told me he wasn’t doing it anymore. I was shocked, and asked him why. He said, ‘It got really hard.’
The Perfect Agency Project
I started my wannabe-agency-project as a nights-and-weekends effort in the fall of 2015. By April of 2016 I had legally established The Weaponry LLC, left my job, and committed to making this new agency work. By the end of 2016 we had generated over $400,000 in revenue. Which felt great. Like Frosted Flakes.
Then we hit a wall. Our very first client, the client that represented the lion’s share of our revenue for 2016, didn’t have any more work for us in 2017. This was bad news. It was the kind of news that kills businesses all the time. But we did one thing that saved us. We didn’t stop.
Yes, we hit a wall. But we kept marching. We were not going to let the loss of our largest client stop us. We wanted to succeed too much to quit. (We were also too legit.) So we hustled. We found new clients. And discovered more opportunities with our other clients. Instead of folding because things got hard, we doubled our efforts. And we doubled the business in 2017. Simply because we refused to stop.
I hope you try to do something hard this year. Something really ambitious. And if you do, know that sooner or later you will run into a wall. All great things are hard to do. The key to success is simply not stopping when things get hard. Find a way around, over or through the wall. Just don’t stop. Because all the great stuff is on the other side of the wall.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
On Monday morning I woke up in Orlando, Florida. Most people would be thrilled to be in Florida in February. But before the sun came up I was at the airport, leaving sunny Florida to head back to Wisconsin. And I was thrilled. Because I had a very interesting afternoon planned.
I landed at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport at 11:30am. I was eager to get off the plane. But the universe had other plans. In fact, I was kept on the plane for at least 30 minutes, at the gate, while police were summoned to deal with some human shenanigans that unfolded on the flight.
Once I finally got off the plane I hurried to the parking garage and jumped in my car. I sped off towards the Illinois border, just 30 miles to the south. I had 3 meetings planned that afternoon. I hadn’t prepared at all. I did no research. No competitive analysis. No powerpoint presentation. Because on a random Monday afternoon in February, I simply made plans to see 3 old friends.
My interesting afternoon started with lunch at the Waterfront Warehouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. If you are ever looking for a great place to meet someone for lunch midway between Milwaukee and Chicago, this is the place.
My seat had a great view of Lake Michigan. But what was really fun was having lunch with my friend Bryan Specht. Bryan lives in Chicago. I live in Milwaukee. So we decided to meet in the middle, like Maren Morris said.
Bryan is a rockstar marketer. We first met when his former agency, Olson, was considering buying my former agency, Engauge. Bryan and I got to know each other through that process, and I really liked him. So we stayed in touch. But we hadn’t seen each other for 7 years.
As we ate we talked about life, and business. We talked about entrepreneurship, private equity firms, acquisitions, and earn-outs. We talked about the challenges of organizational integration. We talked about the people we knew in common. And Steve McQueen. And Monaco watches. (Bryan has the one I want.) We sounded like adult business people who have a lot of knowledge and experience. Which apparently we do.
Bryan and I are the same age. We were both college athletes. Our last names both end in ‘echt’. And he recently started his own marketing consultancy called Salient Group Ventures. I started my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, 4 years ago. So it was great to spend time with someone I had do much in common with. We were both eager for more time together. So we’ve committed to making Kenosha Konversations a regular thing. (We didn’t actually kall them Kenosha Konversations. That’s just a kute name I made up for this story).
After my lunch with Bryan I drove 15 miles north to a spot in Racine, Wisconsin called Route 20. There, I met with my college track and field teammate at The University of Wisconsin, Mark Dahms.
Mark is wicked Smart. He was the valedictorian of his senior class at Waukesha Catholic Memorial High School. He was a great student at Wisconsin, and went on to get his MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I always thought that was where you went to study cereal. But apparently it’s like, a good school, for smart people.
Mark has been with SC Johnson since he graduated from college. But don’t think Mark hasn’t gotten around. He worked for SCJ in England, where he met his wife, who was working for SCJ. #RaisedEyebrow They also lived in Australia. And apparently, when you clean a mirror with Windex south of the equator, you should wipe it counter clockwise. (I may have just made that up.)
I had not seen Mark in 14 years. So we caught up on life, work and family. I learned that a traditional Polish Christmas celebration may involve keeping a carp in your bathtub. And I was reminded that if you were really tall in college, you are probably still going to be really tall 24 years after your graduate. Did I mention that Mark once made a bet that he could eat 6 giant fudge brownies for dessert at our college training table. That didn’t turn out well for anyone.
A Symphonic Ending
My 3rd meeting of the day was with my friend Camela Langendorf. Camela and I met our freshman year of college at the University of Wisconsin. We met in Symphony class. Which is way harder than it sounds. (I still got an A.)
Camela was always funny and smart and fun to be around. Today, she is a great photographer, and owns her own business called Varitay Studios. The company name comes from the fact that Cam is not just a little bit tay. Or even regular tay.
Before we got together on Monday, Camela and I had not seen each other since… 1995. That’s right,it had been 25 years since we last saw each other in person! Yet it was like we had seen each other yesterday.
We talked about life and family and careers. We talked about college and friends and the pursuit of happiness.
We also talked about photography and entrepreneurship. We dug into profitability and business development and the power of great employees. We talked about great books. And we talked about how we should get together again soon.
Why Do This?
So why did I schedule time on a Monday afternoon to see friends who I haven’t seen for 7, 14 and 25 years? Because life is short. And our human relations are extremely valuable. At the end of our days, the only thing that will really matter is the impact we have on each other. So I make staying in touch with my people a priority. It’s one of my best habits (along with smiling first thing when I open my eyes in the morning).
Who haven’t you seen lately that you should? A friend? A family member? A business associate? Your waxer? This week I challenge you to make time to reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in years. Maybe even decades. We have a limited amount of time on this planet. You never know when that time will run out. So make plans to see your people now.
See your people in real life.
*If you know someone who could benefit form this story, please share it with them.
The idea of starting your own business can be scary. The statistics say that there is a high probability of your dream business failing. But then again, there is a really, really high probably that your heart will fail at some point too. And when that happens none of your other failures matter anymore anyway.
A Safer Bet
But there is a way to practice safe entrepreneurship. It’s not perfectly safe. Just like there is no perfectly safe sex. At least not any that involves other people.
Do what you know.
If you want to become an entrepreneur, but your tolerance for risk is sweet n’ low, the safe thing to do is to start a business in an industry you have already worked in.
It turns out that entrepreneurs are 125% more successful if they’ve previously worked in the industry they start their own business in.
Keep on rocking in the free world.
This should be encouraging to those of you who are rockstars in your current job and think you could do it even better on your own. That’s what I did. Okay, so I am not really a rockstar. I am more like a bluegrass artist with a loyal local following, that consists mostly of my family and the hard of hearing.
After working for other advertising agencies for 19 years, I launched my own advertising and idea agency in 2016. Today, The Weaponry is nearly 4 years old. And I have been able to pour all of my industry experience directly into my entrepreneurial adventure. And in return, it has poured some sugar on me.
If you really want to start your own business, and I hope you do, consider starting a business in the industry you are already working in. Your experience and connections give you a major advantage. You do have connections don’t you? If not, work on building that parachute before you jump out of your current airplane.
Fun note: I am writing this on a plane as I fly to Florida to film the CEO of one of our greatest clients. We work with this great client because my friend and former coworker, Erin Lovett recommended us. But don’t worry. I won’t jump out of the plane. It would put a quick end to my 125% advantage.
Entrepreneurship is a wonderful and mysterious adventure. It is both easier and harder than it seems. Which is a hard thing to fathom. Hence the mysterious adventure.
The greatest challenge to starting your own business is simply getting started. Because you have to figure out how to run your household on an an alternative financial fuel source. Namely, self-generated income.
For most people who have spent their adult lives operating on a predictable, salaried income, this switch to self-generated financial fuel is a difficult conversion. But there is one simple thing you can do right now to put yourself in favorable position to start your own business.
The First Thing To Do.
The first step on your entrepreneurial journey is to live below your means. Which means you should spend less money than you earn. This is the best entrepreneurial move you can make right now. It will help you start your own business in 2 ways.
1. It helps you save money to invest in your own business.
You can start a business with very little money. But you will need some. You have to register your business entity with your state. That cost me about $150. You will need some business cards. You can get good cards from Moo for about $100.
You will need the materials and supplies required to create your product, or offer your service. The more money you have saved the more you have to invest in yourself. Your stash of cash determines how long your runway is before your new baby business needs to make money.
I started The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, by depositing $16,000 I earned doing freelance work into a business banking account. Think of the money you are saving as they money you have to buy your own freedom. Which is the most valuable thing you can ever buy.
2. It makes it easier to replace your Minimum Required Income.
Take a moment to determine your Minimum Required Income. Your MRI is how much income you need to survive this year. Make sure everyone you are responsible for has food, clothing and shelter. Otherwise Family Services will stand between you and your entrepreneurial dreams. Take your MRI and compare it your current income. Are they same? If you want to become an entrepreneur your MRI should be lower. If possible, much lower.
How Low Can You Go?
When I started thinking about my minimum required income I quickly came to a number that was less than half of my actual income at the time. Then I told myself that if I found a way to self-generate my MRI, I would jump, like David Lee Roth, or The Pointer Sisters.
That is exactly what happened. A few initial opportunities emerged that appeared as if they would help me hit my number. So I jumped like Camp Randall stadium at the start of the 4th quarter. Had my MRI been equal to my salary I would have needed twice as much opportunity to com together before I could press go. Living well within my means made it much easier to take the entrepreneurial leap.
Shorty Got Low, Low, Low.
The key is not to expand your lifestyle when your income increases. This is the single greatest thing you can do to afford yourself career options. The money you are not spending buys your freedom. Because the person who needs to replace $50,000 in income has an easier on-ramp to entrepreneurship than the person who needs $200,000. That’s math.
Limit Yourself Now To Unlimit Yourself Later
Once I started my entrepreneurial journey I quickly exceeded my MRI. But that bought me more freedom. It let me save more money. It also allowed me to reinvest in the business. Both activities added to the security of the new adventure. And long term financial security is one of the greatest reasons to start your own business in the first place.
If you want to be able to start your own business you need to live below your means. Save money. Know your minimum required income for the first year. That becomes your go-no-go for launch income. Use that number as your benchmark when evaluating your opportunities. The lower your MRI the sooner you can get started. And the faster you will earn more money than you even thought possible.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I was recently invited to speak at a Metro Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce event about storytelling. As the 3rd of 3 speakers on the same topic of storytelling, I knew I better take a unique angle on the topic in order to cover some new ground. I reframed storytelling in a different, perhaps more approachable or understandable context for business owners, small marketing teams and generalists. Here is the story I presented.
The Story on Storytelling
I have spent over 2 decades in marketing and advertising. About 10 years ago people started talking about ‘Storytelling’ like it was the hot new thing in marketing communications. But as the author of 23 years of ad campaigns and marketing programs, I’ll tell you that I don’t think about marketing in terms of storytelling.
The term ‘storytelling’ is weird for adults. If conjures images of fairytales, campfires, ghost stories, and once-upon-a-time-ness. It can be hard to connect the dots back to business and marketing. Unless, of course, you are Mother Goose, work at Disney, or are one of the Brothers Grimm.
If you are struggling with the idea of incorporating storytelling into your work, I want you to think about storytelling another way. I want you to think of business-related storytelling as Recruiting. Because marketing, advertising and sales is really just recruiting:
Recruiting customers to your store, show or restaurant.
Recruiting shoppers to your shelf.
Recruiting clients to your firm or agency.
Recruiting voters to the polls to vote for you or your agenda.
Recruiting attendees to an event.
Recruiting employees to work for you.
Where I learned this
Let’s go back in time to where I learned about marketing as recruiting. It wasn’t at my first advertising job. Or in my college classes. I learned about selling, marketing and advertising from an unexpected teacher: my college track coach.
Mark Napier, my coach at the University of Wisconsin, was a great track coach. But Mark Napier, was a world class recruiter. To be successful in college athletics you need to be able to recruit great athletic talent. And Coach Napes was masterful at it.
I have bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and psychology. But I earned a master’s degree in selling by studying how Professor Napier recruited. (He wasn’t really a professor. He didn’t even own any elbow patches).
The Essential Recruiting Technique
You know how Napes recruited top track and field athletes from across the country, the Caribbean, and Europe to come to Wisconsin? Where it snows from October through May?
He told stories. Stories that sold people. The most important lesson I learned from Napes was, know your audience. What do they want? What do they need? Because if you know what they want and what they need you know what to tell them to sell them.
It’s not you. It’s them.
But remember, don’t tell the story you want to tell. It is all about the story they want to hear. When it came to recruiting high school track and field athletes there were many different wants and needs. You had to do your homework to understand their hot buttons. You have to do your own research. You have to observe the athlete. Ask questions. And listen to what they say.
The Prospective College Athlete Hot Buttons May Include:
Academic quality and reputation
Proximity to home
The athletic program
Proximity to Aunt Deanie (my Aunt Deanie lived in Madison and was a draw for me. But many other kids have their own version of Aunt Deanie).
The town itself
Proximity to stupid high school girlfriends or boyfriends.
A particular major or program
The conference you compete in.
Good looking girls
Spring training trips
The coaches track record of success
Ass-Kicking-Ness (You can tell this by smelling their shoes)
Someone just like them in the program
Pushing The Hot Button
Coach Napes was masterful at discovering the hot buttons of each athlete we were recruiting, and telling them the story they wanted to hear. Or demonstrating it. Or making them experience it.
As a result were able to successfully recruit national champions from Southern California and from Florida to join our track team in Madison, Wisconsin.
In fact, my junior and senior years we were Big 10 Champions in both indoor and outdoor track. My senior year our team was 6th in the nation. I had 6 teammates who were Division 1 National Champs in their events.
Putting Recruiting To Work At Work
You can use the same approach to recruiting in your business. I want you to think of yourself like a Division 1 coach who is trying to attract 5 Star Recruits. For those of you who are sports illiterates, that means you are coaching at the highest level, and recruiting the very best athletes.
Departments or roles that should be recruiting for you:
We All Have Needs
It all starts with understanding your potential customer’s wants and needs. Know this and you will know what story to tell. Because in business the only thing that matters is what your audience wants or needs. And whether they think they can get it from you.
This is where the story starts.
Create a persona of the target audience you want to recruit. Understand them in detail.
Once you know who you are trying to reach, you talk to them about the things they want to hear.
Track record of Success
Ease of Use
Find the most compelling story you can tell to make people buy into you and your offering. That is your strategy. Then tell the stories that make you appear more attractive to those you are trying to recruit.
Storytelling in business is simply recruiting. It is sharing the great things about you, your organization, your products, and your services, with those you want to attract. Know your audience and what they want. And then show and tell them how you can deliver against their wants and needs. The End.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.