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.

bert drum
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.

IMG_4439
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

IMG_4440
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.

How to use a simple creative brief to build a business.

People in the advertising industry are very familiar with the creative brief. It is the input document that provides the instructions we need to create the advertising we have been hired to develop. It provides background and target audience information. It identifies what we are attempting to make, both generally and specifically. It provides a key idea to communicate, and support points to back that idea up (#BackThatThangUp.)

Let’s get cooking

The creative brief is quite literally the recipe for creating any piece of creative advertising or design. And you must refer back to it during concepting in order to re-ground yourself. Because during the creative process you often go off on tangents upon tangents upon tangents. Which makes it important to regularly revisit the original direction.

I have seen the light

Through the experience of launching my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I have found the creative brief and the process it guides you along don’t just work when you are trying to develop advertising and design elements. The creative brief also works when you are trying to build a creative business. Or any other business for that matter.

You need an input document, like a creative brief to identify what you are trying to make. But once you begin the process of building and growing a business you will often go off on tangents and wild goose chases. You will have new, random and crazy ideas you will want to pursue. Just ask Chris Gaines. In other words, it is common to get distracted from the original vision and mission.

Back to the brief

To overcome the distractions you encounter during the process of building a business, it is important to regularly revisit the original brief. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Remember what are you trying to accomplish. Revisit what the org chart is supposed to look like. Then ask yourself if you are anywhere close to that today. If not, course correct. Refocus. Get back to the plan. And start building momentum towards your original vision.

Key Takeaway

Every great accomplishment starts with a great plan. But the real value of a great plan, written down, isn’t just at the launch of an adventure. The great, ongoing value is in how that original plan can serve as a north star when we get lost, turned around, or distracted along the way. It is like the Ritalin for Business ADHD.

But you don’t have to be building a business to use the power of a creative brief. This simple document can help you chart a more satisfying life. Because it helps you identify the problem to be solved and create a vision for the future state. If you work in advertising, design or marketing and already use a creative brief regularly, consider using this Who-Where-When-What-Why-How formula to focus your ambitions outside of work. Including your side hustle. You’ll be amazed at all that little brief can do. And all that you can do with its help.

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

the-notorious-big-biggie-smalls-5-1400684427-view-1

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.

unnamed-2

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.

To share your goals or not share your goals? That is the question.

Everyone has a goal. If you are ambitious, young or greedy you probably have many. Your goals serve as the magnets on your internal navigational compass. (As opposed to your Jeep Compass). Goals are what feed your actions every day. Without goals you are in danger of drifting through life. With a goal you can paddle, set your sails, or fire up your 300 horsepower Evinrude outboard motor, and set a course across the stormy seas of life towards a meaningful destination.

Getting Personal

Goals are very personal. They represent our desires, dreams and ambitions. If your goals are large, gaudy or outlandish, like a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), they can make you seem delusional. But it is impossible to accomplish improbable feats without improbable goals.

2 Schools of Thought

One of the great questions in goalology, the study of goals (okay, maybe I just made that up), is whether it is better to share your goals with other people, or keep them to yourself.  There are two very different ways to think about this. My great friend Jeff Hilimire and I stand on different sides of the aisle. So we thought it would be worthwhile to share our opposing views.

img_0478.jpg
Adam, Jeff, some steak and a yellow pepper.

Analyzing the Analyzers

Adam Albrecht and Jeff Hilimire have interesting similarities. They were both college athletes. Jeff played tennis at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Adam was a discus and hammer thrower on the track and field team at the University of Wisconsin. Both of these cats are also entrepreneurs. Jeff’s businesses include digital agency, Spunlogic, mobile and digital agency, Dragon Army and the great web-building, good-slinging, non-profit 48in48. Adam’s businesses include the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry and t-shirt company Adam & Sleeve. Yet despite these similarities, they have very different takes on goal sharing. 

IMG_4308

Jeff’s Views on Goals:

I’m a big believer in not only creating focused, tight, and specific goals (both short- and long-term), but also that you should consider sharing those goals in order to create accountability – for yourself and through others.

Many people have goals, but very few spend the time to write them down. When you force yourself to write something down, you’re creating a new connection in your brain with that “thing”. There have been studies that show this, but I’m not going to share them here, mostly because you have Google*.

But I have found the real power of accountability comes when you share your goals with others. If you’re the only person holding yourself to your commitments, it becomes easy to slack off or move the goalposts. Even if it’s just with a buddy, asking him or her to check in on you periodically dramatically increases the chances of you holding yourself accountable.

Personally, I like to share my goals on my blog, which is as public as it gets. And it works! One of my goals is to read 53 books this year (one more than last year,) and people I know ask me when we get together, “So, how many books are you at so far this year?” At the very least it’s a reminder that I committed to something and need to stick with it. 

Not everyone needs this kind of accountability, but I’d guess 99% of people do. Let’s be real, while everyone has goals, very few people actually accomplish them. Not because they don’t have the skills, but because they don’t keep at it. They don’t stay focused, they find excuses, and sometimes they even forget. Writing your goals down and sharing them with others is at least one way to give yourself a better chance of success. 

* also because I only kinda think I’ve heard that, so I might have made it up.

IMG_4311

Adam’s Views on Goals

I used to subscribe to the theory that it was good to share your goals with others. But not anymore. There is a very basic problem with goal sharing. If you tell people you are going to start a business, run a marathon or donate 10 gallons of blood, you start feeling like it is true. Afterall, it has been stated aloud, and those words have floated from your mouth, through the ether, into someone else’s ear hole. That makes it true, right?

Wrong. Talk is cheap. You could say talk is worthless. (Unless of course you host a talk show, or are a police negotiator. In which case talk is your most valuable asset.)

The problem is that talking about your goals makes you feel as if you are making progress towards your goals. And the more you talk about them with others, the more you feel like they are real and true. Even though there has been no real progress. It is that false sense of progress that undermines many a good, worthy goal.

Goal sharing can also cause you to lose confidence in your ability to achieve those goals. If you want to lose a lot of weight, earn a lot of money or find a really hot spouse, and you tell someone this, you are likely to get negativity, doubt or laughter in return. You don’t need that. You need to believe you can do what you set out to do. Like Gwen Stefani, you need to have no doubt. And big goals produce doubt in others.

To avoid that false sense of progress, and to avoid the doubters, I like to keep my goals to myself. I have many goals, hopes and dreams that never get shared. Because I tell myself that my talk does not achieve anything. I find great motivation in showing people what I have done, rather than talking about what I will do.

Key Takeaway:

Goals are personal. And we are all motivated in different ways. You need to find out which approach works better for you. So if keeping your goals a secret isn’t working, try sharing. And if talking about your goals isn’t helping, shut up and get moving.

Despite our differences, we both want to hear what you think. Leave a comment and tell us if you think it’s better to shout your goals to the world like a Mexican soccer announcer, or keep them quiet, like Marcel Marceau.

It’s time for a new office in a new city!

When I first decided to launch my own advertising agency, I had a clear vision of what the fully formed business would look like. It was spectacular, as visions should be. Because it costs just as much to envision a multi-billion dollar empire as it does to envision a lemonade stand. So you might as well envision big.

In 2015, even though my startup was still in the embryonic-stage, I was confident that great things lie ahead. I just never knew the pace at which success would unfold. But I knew, like a 2-year old in a laundry room, the unfolding was just a matter of time.

Things Started Happening

In the fall of 2015 I ran an alpha test of our minimum viable product (MVP) with our first client. The test run went as well as advertised. (#punsalwaysintended) Then, in the spring of 2016, my home office in Atlanta, where I planned every detail of the business, became The Weaponry’s first headquarters. Suddenly I was in business. And I had the best commute in Atlanta.

By the end of 2016, as part of my life design, I moved to Milwaukee. The Weaponry’s new headquarters was my new  home office. In 2017 the business was humming, we saw plenty of runway ahead, and we signed a lease on 1000 square feet of office space downtown, on the Milwaukee River (actually it was on the side of the river).

IMG_5273
Our Milwaukee office. As they say, home is where custom designed surfboard coffee table is.

But Wait. There’s More!

I never wanted to settle for just one office. That’s why I developed my Home Office Strategy. Which means I plan to establish an office every place I’ve owned a home. This includes Milwaukee, Atlanta and Columbus. I also want an office in New England, where I grew up. So Burlington, Vermont and Boston are possibilities too.

By 2018 we had full-time employees in Milwaukee, Columbus and Atlanta. 6 months ago we started thinking about the next office. And, (drumroll app please…) we’ve decided that Columbus, Ohio will be the home of the next office of The Weaponry.

meetings_skyline_08ac1260-445a-47ce-9655-3039e6a8d6b7
Columbus, Ohio just keeps getting better.

Discovering Columbus.

Columbus, Ohio is a hidden gem. It is well stocked with a highly educated workforce. It offers an amazing quality of life. And thriving industries. We have had full-time Weapons in Columbus for well over a year. And we are eager to add more.

Back Story

I spent 7 great years in Columbus with the ad agency Engauge, before it was acquired by Publicis, and I was asked to move to the new headquarters in Atlanta. Columbus has a 3-ship flotilla of talented advertising and design professionals. And there are more great brands and smart marketers there than even John Lennon could imagine.

Getting Down To Business

Columbus is the home to well-known brands like Nationwide Insurance and Safelite Auto Glass. There are great restaurants headquartered in C-Bus, including Wendy’s, Bob Evans, White Castle, Charley’s Philly Steaks, Sbarro, Donatos and Steak Escape. There are great retail brands, including Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Express. Scott’s Miracle Grow is also growing plants miraculously in Columbus. Cardinal Health, which is the 14th largest company in America is headquartered there too.

The Weaponry C-Bus

We have collected a great nucleus of talent in Columbus, including both full-time and freelance Weapons. The relatively low-cost of living and high quality of life make the city a great draw. What’s even better is that Columbus is within a 3-hour drive of Detroit, Windsor, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville and Indianapolis. Not to mention Youngstown, Akron, Canton, Dayton and Toledo (wait, I DID just mention them!) The close proximity enables us to service clients in all of those cities from our Columbus hub.

oh_blu
What is round on both ends, hi in the middle, and loaded with Weapons?

Key Takeaway

There is a lot to love about Columbus. Which is why we are excited to be opening our next office in this great city. I look forward to sharing how we’ve gone about the process of finding our new space, and why we landed where we did. If you are in Columbus and want to be part of a great team, we should talk. Because things are about to get really interesting.

Does your organization trust you to be an insider?

One of the great debates in business is about how much information we should share with our teams. There are two schools of thought:

  1. The ‘You-Can’t-Handle-The-Truth’ Community College.
  2. The ‘There’s-No-Such-Thing-As-TMI’ Prep Academy.

I have gone on recruiting trips to both campuses. They feel very different. One has a work hard, play hard vibe. The other feels like the place where the parents from Footloose went to school.

Solving For Happy

One of the key factors of employee satisfaction is feeling like you know what is happening within your organization. Employees are afraid of being left in the dark. It makes them feel like outsiders, when all they really want is to feel like insiders. #SodaPopAndPonyBoy

A lack of information sharing makes employees suspicious, and encourages them to jump to their own conclusions. In many corporate cultures conclusion jumping is like an Olympic event, and a world-class distraction.

Low Unemployment Means Higher Expectations.

Today, the labor market is tighter than a Boca Raton facelift. Which means that we have to make sure our employees feel valued and included in order to keep them engaged (I mean actively interested and invested in your company, not committed to getting married).

That’s why I believe in this simple philosophy:

Share information to show your employees that you see them as part of the solution. And not part of the problem.

IMG_6468

If You’ve Got A Problem, Yo, Let Them Solve It.

At the beginning of 2018 all of the business at my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, was project based. We were thrilled to have the work. And the work we performed for many of our clients was steady throughout the year. However, because we didn’t have any long-term commitments from our clients it limited our ability to plan. And it prevented us from committing to more full-time hires, which would better serve our clients.

I shared this challenge with our team at the beginning of 2018. Our account leaders took matters into their own hands. They had discussions with several of our clients who regularly engaged us for projects. They shared the merits of having a fixed plan in place, dedicated employees who accumulated knowledge on their business, and the ad agency-equivalent of rollover minutes that would never expire.

As a result, by the 3rd quarter of 2018 we had 6 retainer clients who compensated us with a fixed monthly payment. That helped make our revenue stream steadier and more predictable. It makes it easier for our clients to manage their budget. The retainer commitments have enabled us to think longer term about the work we do for our clients. And it has allowed us to invest in our team and infrastructure to better serve our clients.

Key Takeaway

People love solving problems. They love showing that they know, or can find the right answers. So share information with your team. Let them solve more of your organizations challenges by giving them more of the information they need to create great solutions. Remember, leadership will never have all of the best answers to the challenges that face an organization. It’s amazing how much faster and more intelligently you can solve an issue when all of your best minds are working on the problem.

 

How I designed my life. And suddenly it became true.

On the eve of my 40th birthday I sketched out a vision for the rest of my life. I wrote in great detail about what I felt was my personal legend. By starting with the end in mind, I was able to determine the actions I needed to start making in order to accomplish all of my personal and professional goals.

It was a transformational evening.  In the last hours of my 39th year I determined the best way to grab control of my life, and design it exactly the way I imagined, was to start my own business.

I became totally focused on bringing my design vision to life. I put my plans into motion. Two years later, I launched my own advertising and idea agency in Atlanta. I named it The Weaponry. And I have been living into the vision ever since.

One Life. One Wife.

img_5405
We are family. Except on the last day of school. Then it’s every Albrecht for her or himself.

 

My wife, Dawn, gets co-creator credit on my life design. Like Al Jarreau said, we’re in this love together. Because a good marriage is like a 3-legged race, my life plan had to accommodate Dawn’s, and vice versa. We also had to consider our 3 children as part of the design. While we liked Atlanta, it didn’t quite fit all of our design requirements for our perfect long-term home base. So we had to plan our next move.

We didn’t mind moving our children while they were young. But we wanted to stop moving by the time our oldest child, Ava, reached middle school. We wanted to be closer to our families. And as a couple who grew up in Wisconsin and Vermont, we wanted winter. So we began looking for a northern headquarters for our family and bouncing baby business.

The City Search

We began looking for our 13-year home. A 13-year home would mean none of our children would have to move again before they graduated from high school. We drew a circle of acceptability around an area that included Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. All of these cities are in the Central Time Zone, which we felt was the best time zone for a well designed life, and maximum business flexibility. These cities also put us within a comfortable driving radius of our parents. And we like our parents.

img_3356
As part of our life design we like to cut down our own Christmas tree. We like them full, with a lot of sap.

In the Goldilocks And The 3 Bears analysis of these cities, we decided that Chicago didn’t offer the best quality of life (cost of living and the commute were Boos). Madison was too small for the business I wanted to build. And Minneapolis needed another ad agency like an NBA player needs another tattoo.

The Brew City Sweet Spot

After much deliberation, we chose Milwaukee as our 13-year home. It put us within a 3.5 hour drive of both of our parents. I have a substantial network in Milwaukee, that includes former clients and co-workers from my time at Cramer Krasselt. Dawn and I both graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee is ground zero for Badger alumni. The city offers a great quality of life. The suburban schools are excellent. Plus, it offers easy access to Madison and Chicago, both just 90 minutes away.

img_8439
This is the view in front of my office on The Milwaukee River. Full disclosure: this photo was not taken in January.

But I’m A Rolling Stone…

While I wanted to provide my wife and children with long-term stability, deep down, and maybe not that deep, I like moving. By the summer of 2016 I had lived in 9 different cities. I wasn’t sure I could commit to one place for 13 years. So I built a solution into the master design.

The Home Office Strategy

As part of my life design, I developed The Weaponry’s Home Office strategy.  Which is my strategic plan to have an office for The Weaponry every place I’ve had a home. This strategy would provide regular travel and consistent interaction with the friends, co-workers and clients I have made along the way. It would also make me feel like I am part of several communities, so I don’t have to choose just one.

The cities on The Weaponry Home Office Strategy list include Milwaukee, Columbus and Atlanta. Because I grew up in New England I also want an office in either Burlington or Boston. Both of which are wicked good options.

Laying The Groundwork

When I began looking at potential employees and freelancers to join The Weaponry, I was biased towards people based in the cities listed above. So I began forming little clusters of resources in the Home Office Cities to help me live into the dream. In the fall of 2017 we signed a lease on 1000 square feet of space overlooking the Milwaukee River in, you guessed it, Milwaukee.

IMG_0260
It’s great having an office where you can point at someone with both hands.

What’s Next…

Today, I am really excited about the next step we are taking to bring the Home Office Strategy to life. We have been putting a lot of time and effort into the next phase, which may mean a new office in a new city. So tune in next week, when I share the unfolding news of our HQ2. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

ancient antique antique map atlas
Our next office will be somewhere on this map.

Key Takeaway

If you want to live your ideal life you have to write down a vision of what you want your life to look like. You have to map out the steps to get you to your ideal design. Then you have to take deliberate actions to make it all come true. It’s an amazingly rewarding and fulfilling adventure. I’m typing proof.

*If you want to follow along to see what happens next, consider subscribing to get each post via email.