Why it is so important to just keep swimming.

I recently had the chance to work with Olympic Gold medalist Blake Pieroni.  Blake won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics as part of the 4×100 freestyle relay. He is such a strong swimmer that he recently became a Mizuno sponsored athlete. Which is saying something, since Mizuno makes the best racing suit in the pool.

While filming with Blake I asked the Indiana native, and Indiana University student athlete about the major breakthroughs in his career. I was surprised to hear this world-class athlete say he really hasn’t had any.

Slowly Getting Faster

Blake said his progress has been steady and incremental. Day after day he continues to invest time in his training and preparation. As a result, he has slowly gotten faster. Which is a ridiculous thing to write. Yet it’s a proven, oxymoronic formula for success.

Blake’s career is a testimony to the power of slow and steady progress. It is not showy. Or gimmicky. It’s not based on shortcuts, or nepotism, or your mama paying to get you into USC. This is a get rich slow scheme. And if you are willing to put in the work it takes, it is the most certain way to continuously reach beyond your previous best.

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Blake and photographer Lucian McAfee. See if you can figure out which one is the 23-year old Olympian.

My Business

I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016. I bootstrapped the business, which is an Arkansas-sounding way of saying the business was self-funded. We have not grown by adding one giant account. Our growth has come by steadily accumulating great clients, and steadily growing our businesses together.

I was looking at numbers related to The Weaponry’s revenue yesterday when I noticed something interesting. At just 2.5 months into 2019 we have already generated more revenue this year than we did in our entire first year. Yet we haven’t acquired an Amazonian client. We didn’t go Uber-style and quadruple our pricing due to heavy rain and an umbrella plague. We have simply accumulated 17 active clients. And they all matter to our success.

The Blog

I also started writing The Perfect Agency Project blog when I launched The Weaponry. My goal was to tell the story of my entrepreneurial journey. I wanted to share my experiences and challenges, so that others could benefit from my learnings.

Coincidentally, I noticed an interesting statistic about this blog yesterday too.  As of March 20th, in 2019 I have already surpassed the total number of visitors and viewers I had in all of 2016.

Perhaps the blog is getting better too. Because my posts have already generated 14 times (14X) more likes than the entire first year. (And by likes I mean signs of social appreciation from readers. Not likes written into the body of my posts, because I write like a 16-year-old, like, kid from Likesylvania.)

The Reward

The business and blog growth are both very rewarding. Especially because they are growing too slowly to notice on a daily basis. But when I look at the year-over-year data, the results are clear.

Key Takeaway

Just keep swimming. Keep doing what you know you need to do to get better. Whether it is swimming, writing, growing a business, studying or any other pursuit worth pursuing. The progress might never be obvious, or dramatic. But keep at it anyway. Because if you do, eventually you will turn around and notice just how far you have come. It is the cumulative progress that matters. Not the speed. Not the attention. Just the results.

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Discover the tremendous value of your $100 Ideas.

I have a friend in New York City who works for one of the biggest companies in the world. Everyone knows this e-monster. It’s a technical marvel. And it seems to be taking over the world. Which means it’s a great place to work right now. But my friend, who I will call Flora, also has a strong entrepreneurial drive. She has several great startup ideas and is trying to determine the best one to pursue, and the best time to pursue it.

The Throw Away Ideas

Flora thinks big, and wants to create a really big business of her own. Which is to be expected when you work for a global giant. But she also has several interesting ‘small’ ideas that she quickly dismisses. Flora calls these $100 ideas, and tosses them aside the way you might throw fish back in the water because they are too small to keep.

Caution Young Grasshopper

I warn Flora against disregarding the $100 ideas. There is great power in them. In fact, more people have turned $100 ideas into $1 million ideas than have made a cent off of a billion dollar idea. This is because it is much easier to get moving on a $100 idea. As I wrote about in a prior post, the key ingredient to entrepreneurial success is action.

Take The Money Making Idea And Run

If you have entrepreneurial ambitions, or want to develop a side hustle, don’t dismiss your ideas because they are not likely to get covered by Tech Crunch. See the $100 idea as a great way to start and gain experience.

Your $100 ideas teach you how to create a machine to deliver products or services. They are they intro courses to business building. Once you get started you can always expand and scale them up. You may be surprised how much your $100 idea will ultimately be worth. But only if you get started.

Adam & Sleeve

My first real business was a $100 idea. I designed and sold T-Shirts under the brand name Adam & Sleeve. I learned all kinds of valuable lessons about operating a business from Adam & Sleeve that I put to good use when I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. The Weaponry’s revenues are in the millions. But it sprung from knowledge gained running a business based on a $100 idea.

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One of my Adam & Sleeve t-shirts. I took down my website when I created The Weaponry in order to focus all my energies on my new business. But I still sell shirts to people who ask about them.
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The Adam & Sleeve shirt I will be wearing today.

Other $100 Ideas

  • Mowing your neighbor’s lawn
  • Selling those baked goods you are so good at making
  • Handmade Jewelry
  • Consulting
  • Painting
  • Raking leaves
  • Anything on Sally Struthers’ list
  • Delivering anything
  • Healthcare Patient Advocate
  • Animal Sitting
  • Reselling wholesale candy at school
  • Braiding hair
  • Cleaning homes or offices
  • Taking engagement photos
  • Critter removal
  • Posing naked for college art classes

These ideas can get you started. They can make you extra money. And you can scale them up and make even more money by growing volume. You can combine multiple $100 ideas, like mowing, snow blowing and raking leaves, then scale up to create a full-fledged yard care business. Or you could create handmade jewelry while posing naked for college drawing classes, and then sell the jewelry to the art students who drew you naked. #doubledip

Key Takeaway

Don’t underestimate the power of $100 ideas. Acting on them gets you off the sidelines and into the game. They help build entrepreneurial muscles, skills and flexibility. They build confidence and experience in sales, operations, quality control and customer service. But most importantly, they start the flow of self-generated income.

$100 ideas usually have low start-up costs. Which means they are low risk ventures that you can grow your own way (…grow your own way-ay-ay! #FleetwoodMac). You can decide how much you want to scale. You can also decide when you have learned enough to take on an even more lucrative challenge. Because an entrepreneur in motion, tends to stay in motion. Which means it is better to start with a $100 idea today than to spend a lifetime on the verge of putting a billion dollar idea into motion.

How to find your secret language and trade it for wealth and happiness.

My son Johann has always been musical. He hummed before he could talk. He sang before he got his first haircut. And he memorized lyrics to songs before he started preschool. Thankfully, my wife and I were smart enough to pick up on this. We started Johann on piano lessons when he was 5 years old. He took to it naturally. Before he even outgrew his baby lisp he was pounding out songs on our piano at home.

A few months after Johann started playing piano I was tuning a guitar at home. 5-year-old Johey walked past as I was strumming and said ‘That sounds like a G Dad.’  I stopped what I was doing and looked at him and said, ‘It is a G!’

But the question was, how did this 5-year-old piano player know this was a G on a guitar? And could he recognize other notes? I then plucked the other strings of the guitar and asked Johann if he knew what they were. Sure enough he named them all with ease. E, A, D, G, B, E.

I quickly researched perfect pitch. I learned that it is the ability to identify musical notes. People with perfect pitch can typically create the sound of a note perfectly without assistance or reference, and they can dissect the notes in a chord. In other words, they are freak shows.

I went to our piano and asked Johann if he could make the sound of middle C. He quickly produced a hum. I hit the middle C key on the piano and had a perfect match. Weird. Then, I tried what seemed really far-fetched. I asked him to face away from the piano. I then played two notes at the same time and asked him what notes they were. He nailed them both. I played 2 other notes. He nailed those too. Then I tried 3 notes together, and he named all 3.

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Johann and his piano teacher Rita Shur, and a bunch of rectangles .

The Secret Language

It was then that I realized that little 5-year-old Johann spoke a language that I don’t speak, and very few people do. In fact, only about 1 in 10,000 people have perfect pitch.  That’s one for each lake in Minnesota. Typically, people who develop PP (#snicker) have musical training before the age of 6. Unfortunately, we lose our ability to develop perfect pitch after the age of 9.

Recognizing his unique musical abilities and interest, we have leaned into his natural skills and talents. He is now 11 years old, and plays the piano, violin and saxophone. He performs in state piano competitions. And he can do things with a harmonica that make me think he could follow in the lip steps of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan or John Popper.

Your Special Language

We all understand a secret language that most others don’t. Music is just one example. For others it is finance, or sales, or compassion. For still others it may be baking, sports, mechanical interactions or makeup. We all have at least one rare language that we are born with a natural ability to speak and understand.

The key is for you to identify what that is, and lean into it hard. Become fluent. Add value to the world through your mastery of that language. And it is likely to bring you great happiness, and wealth.

Discovering My Language

Johann speaks the elegant and beautiful language of music. God gave me the ability to make wordplay out of anything. Which feels more carny than Carnegie Hall. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.

I knew as soon as I learned to read that I had the innate ability to create headlines. I loved reading them in newspapers and magazines. I loved the way they quickly summarized stories, with a clever twist. I always thought headline writer would be the perfect job for me. That and chocolate milk drinker.

When I took my first advertising class at the University of Wisconsin I was completely hooked. I got straight A’s in everything advertising related. I enjoyed the strategy and the creativity of it immensely. My college professors recognized my abilities and connected me with Paul Counsel, the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, one of the greatest ad agencies in America. Paul hired me, and I got my start as a writer.

Creating a Career

I have spent my career speaking my secret language. I have enjoyed it tremendously. Clients and coworkers value my thinking. As a result, fun and interesting opportunities keep coming my way.

In 2016 I launched my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. We doubled in size in 2017. We doubled again in 2018. And we have unlimited potential ahead. All because me and my teammates are specializing in our secret languages.

Your Secret Language

You can do the same thing with your secret language. Pay close attention to that thing that comes easily to you. Discover it. Develop it. And do amazing things with it. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. Tap into your secret language and you will have tapped into your path to greatest happiness, value and financial success.

Key Takeaway

You have a secret language that has been programmed into you. It enables you to perform at a very high level. A level that most people have no chance of ever achieving. Specialize in your secret language and play to your strengths. It makes you feel smart and strong. It makes you feel comfortable. It makes you valuable to others. And when you provide great value to others, it translates to both happiness and wealth. Which are two powerful forces we can all understand.

The most valuable skill I have.

Do you know what makes you special? In business disciplines like marketing, branding and sales, the key to success is knowing what sets you apart from everyone else. As a marketing strategist I am constantly analyzing my clients to discover and capitalize on their specialness. #SpecialPurpose #IsntThatSpecial.

Turning the Camera Around

Once you train yourself to find the special, unique and rare things in others, you naturally analyze yourself the same way. Many times I have considered what makes me special.  And not to brag, but there are a few things that set me apart.

  1. My feet are among the flattest on Earth. I quite literally have no arches. This was first pointed out to me by my childhood friend Danny Boyle, and confirmed scientifically at a Fleet Feet store during a scan that listed my arches as Not Applicable.
  2. I have no reflexes in my knees. You know how doctors tap patients on the front of the knee and the patient then naturally kicks their leg forward? That doesn’t happen to me, despite the fact that some clinicians have worked up quite a lather trying to get a reaction out of my patellar region.
  3. I was born without two adult teeth. On my upper jaw, my 5th teeth from the center on both sides showed up as baby teeth, with no mature adult teeth behind them. Today I am rocking 2 full-sized implants that more than make up for what mother nature didn’t give me.

However, none of these 3 points offer much of a competitive advantage. Thankfully my 4th and final uniqueness does.

4.      I make friends as fast as anyone on Earth.

For a long time I didn’t know I was unique in this way. But I love meeting new people. So I waste no time converting strangers into lifelong friends.

I am fascinated by people, their stories, experiences, skills and quirks. I love human connections. I love discovering common ground. And I love to learn what you know that I don’t. I devour people the way others devour books.

I am also blessed with a good memory that retains what I have learned about the people I meet. Pro Tip: Friends seem to like it when you remember things about them. Retaining people knowledge also enables me to connect dots and recognize shared connections of people places and things. And ulitmately make more friends.

The Value

In business and in life, my ability to make friends quickly has been my most valuable asset. It helps me develop quick rapport, which ensures that I never feel alone. When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I quickly recognized that I had done the most important work of entrepreneurship 20 to 30 years before launching my business. Because your personal network is critical to connecting the dots necessary to discovering and capitalizing on entrepreneurial opportunities.

Key Takeaway

Friends are the most valuable resources on Earth. Grab as many as you can as quickly as you can. They make everything on the planet better. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make new connections. I do it almost every day. Our friends provide the pathways to the most enjoyable experiences of our lives. They are gateways to opportunities. They provide our personal safety nets. And at the end of our days, our friends and family will be the only things we accumulated in our time on Earth that we will want to carry with us wherever we go next.

Do you create the best kind of heat?

We’ve reached the end of February, and across much of the country it is still wintry cold. But the low temperatures don’t bother me. That’s what happens when you grow up in Vermont, where cold air flows thick like maple syrup. Of the four seasons we experienced in Vermont (Summer, Leaf Peeping, Skiing and Mud Season) two of them are predominantly cold. And one is wicked cold.

To warm the chilly air, most homes in Vermont have either a fireplace or a wood burning stove. The two look, work and produce heat differently. Just like people.

The Fireplace

The fireplace is by far the more popular of the two. It is written about, sung about, and helps add value to your home. Fireplaces are highly coveted because they look beautiful in action. They are romantic. They create ambiance. And they are the perfect backdrop for showing off both bear skins and bare skins.

brown beside fireplace near brown wicker basket

Wood Burning Stove

The wood burning stove is far less popular. They are not sexy or romantic. In fact, they are often located in the sensible center of the home, rather than in a cozy family room, living room of master suite. The visible opening to the burning action is relatively small.  Which means there is a lot less to look at, and not much to sing about.

Hot or Not?

But the wood burning stove has one major advantage over the fireplace: Heat. You see fireplaces are more show and glow than go. They are highly inefficient at heating  anything but the toes next to them and the chimneys above them. In fact, most of the fireplace’s heat escapes up through the chimney, like Andy Dufresne.

On the other hand, the wood burning stove quietly cranks out enough heat to warm your whole house. You can load the stove at night, ignite a hell-strength fire inside, drop the damper like it’s hot, and heat your home all night long. Like Lionel Richie.

ash blaze bonfire burn

 

The 2 types of employees.

Employees are either fireplaces or wood burning stoves. When you are recruiting staff for your team, don’t get fooled by the bright lights and dancing flames of fireplace people. They talk a good game. They give the illusion of action. They show up and show off in meetings. But they generate very little action on their own. And little to no useable heat.

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Burn Baby Burn!

To create a great team you want to collect as many wood burning stoves as you can get you hands on. (Actually you should keep your hands off of them, and read this post I wrote on Matt Lauer.) You want those people who can create the most heat with the least amount of fuel. People who are more go than show.

Fill your team with people who use their time and energy efficiently. People who don’t need to poked and rolled to come to life. These are the team members who get their work done when no one is watching. They produce surprising amounts of heat. And you don’t need to sit right next to them to benefit from having them on your team.

At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, we are full of wood burning stoves. We have recruited a team of smart, self-starters who put a premium on results. No one needs to be poked, prodded or doused with lighter fluid to get going. A fireplace employee simply wouldn’t survive in our environment.

Key Takeaway

There are two types of people. Those who put on a good show, and those who generate heat. If you want to assemble or be part of a red-hot team, focus on the quantity of heat produced. Not the dancing flames.

Why it is so valuable to be shallow.

The single greatest challenge of entrepreneurship is finding a way to get clients to buy what you are selling. It is the pass-fail measure of business success. You either sell things or you don’t. Not even Kellogg’s can sugar-coat this. Close simply doesn’t count.

When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I wanted to make it easy for potential clients to engage in a small project with no long-term commitment. Because I knew that if clients tried a small project with us they would like the results and come back for more. It’s the same technique used by razor blade companies, crack dealers and Pringles.

Under No Pressure. (Ding Ding Ding Digga Ding Ding)

In my business development discussions I started talking about our engagements like swimming pools. I told prospects, ‘If you know you want to commit to a serious engagement with us, you can cannonball into the deep end of the pool right away. But if that is not how you want to start, and I don’t blame you if you don’t, we have another, more customer-friendly approach.’

Testing the Waters

I then invited all prospective clients to think about working with The Weaponry like walking into a zero-entry pool. Which means that if all you want to do is get your toes wet with a tiny project, we’re up for that. And if you like the way that feels you can go a little deeper, say, to your ankles. If that goes well you can proceed deeper and deeper, until you’re in up to your knees, your nethers, or your eyeballs.

Along the way we found that clients loved this no-pressure, earn-your-depth approach. It has been instrumental to our growth and business development efforts ever since.

A Business Is Born

I was reminded of our zero-entry pool approach a couple of months ago when my wife and I went to see the movie A Star Is Born, a movie that also started slowly, and took 10 years to make. The signature song of the movie is Shallow, by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. On Sunday night Shallow won the OSCAR for best song.

When I first heard the song it reminded me how The Weaponry came to life in the shallow waters of low commitments and small projects. But one line in particular stands out to me every time I hear the song. It’s at the end of the chorus when Lady Gaga finishes with the line ‘We’re far from the shallow now.’

Getting Deep

This entrepreneurial journey I am on with The Weaponry is far from the shallow now. Today the business has major commitments from major brands. We have deep-end-of-the-pool retainers. And while we are still happy to have clients engage with us for projects that are measured in the hundreds, most of our client engagements now are measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. And our total revenue projections are measured in millions.

By March 1st we should take possession of our second office in a second city (not the improv theater troupe). We have 18 active clients that span from Florida to San Francisco. And I attribute much of the depth of our current success to starting in the shallows. The shal-lal-lal-lal-lal-lal-lows.

Key Takeaway

Great big things start as great small things. The key is to get going. If you are thinking about creating a business, a habit or a movement, start by asking for a small, easy-to- make commitment. If the first small step is a success, take another step forward, into deeper water, with even greater results. Small step by small step you will make steady progress. Before you know it you’ll find yourself far from the shallow. And thankful you took that first small step that started it all.

How to overcome obstacles by not thinking about them.

If you want to accomplish great feats it helps to be delusional. Because doing the really hard things in life takes so much work, luck and timing that it is nearly impossible, if not impossible to do. Which means that having a warped sense of reality may be your greatest asset.

Ignoring Stop Signs

When I set out to launch my own advertising agency, there was no reason to believe it would succeed. There was so much I didn’t know. But I just kept ignoring the many signs that told me I should quit. In the process I blew through so many stop signs that I should have had my business driver’s license revoked.

The Little Writer Who Could

I started my career as a copywriter, and suddenly I was taking on all aspects of a business. I was the head of accounting, human resources, operations (though thankfully not the kind with scalpels), account service, and project management. I was also in charge of buying everything from paper clips to health insurance plans.

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I was like Bert, steppin-in-time, sort of.

I was like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, playing every instrument in a one man band. Beyond tooting my own horn, and marching to the beat of my own drum, while trying to carry a tune, I also had to recruit other good, talented, musicians to join my micro-band. At the same time I had to book paying gigs for us to play. Writing about this now is starting to make me sweat.

Ignorance is key

Only by ignoring how crazy your undertaking really is, and how slim your ultimate chances of long-term success actually are, can you succeed.

Inspirational Movie Quote

One of my favorite movies is the hilarious Aardman claymation film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits. The lovable but bumbling lead character is The Pirate Captain, voiced by Hugh Grant. The movie is so dense with wit that I discover something new every time I watch it.

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The Pirate Captain and his luxuriant beard.

Recently a line I hadn’t taken any notice of before jumped off the screen at me. The Pirate Captain was discussing a far-fetched plan with Charles Darwin. Darwin, being no dodo, informed the Pirate Captain that his plan was obviously impossible. Not to be deterred,  The Pirate Captain had a wonderfully short, sweet and appropriate response to the doubting Darwin.

‘It’s only impossible if you stop to think about it.’ -The Pirate Captain

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The Pirate Captain doesn’t think about the impossible. He just does the impossible.

Of course The Pirate Captain is right. We should not think too much about the difficulties we take on. Your thinking will naturally focus on the reasons to believe you will fail. Stopping to think about your challenges often stops people in their tracks. Too much thinking will cause you to stumble into hoops, instead of jumping through them.

Key Takeaway

It is easy to be intimidated by the process and the obstacles you face when trying to do something difficult. So don’t think about them. When the mission is important but the obstacles are many, just start moving, doing and making. There are solutions to nearly every problem. And there are immovable objects that move once you do.