I’m in the process of creating a process for creating processes.

Most businesses fail at some point. That is just a fact. I knew that 5 years ago when I began making plans to launch my own advertising agency. So I bought the book The E-Myth, because a bunch of smart people recommended it as a way of, well, not failing.

The E-Myth

The book is great, and I always recommend it to anyone thinking of starting their own business of any size or shape. I also recommend it to any business owner who hasn’t read it yet. In fact, The E-Myth is like my Frank’s Red Hot. I recommend that sh#t to everyone.

But I didn’t just read The E-Myth once. I study it. It has become one of my most important reference books. In fact, I handle this book so much it looks like I don’t know how books work. See the pic below. It looks like I tried to open it on the binding side until someone suggested that the other side might offer less resistance.

My copy of The E-Myth indicates I don’t know the proper way to open a book.

One of the key tenants of the book is that there should be a predictable, repeatable process for everything. I fully believe this. From the beginning, I established processes for my team at The Weaponry to follow. I have regularly revisited those processes, modified them, and added new processes.

But I have never been satisfied that our processes are as good as they should be. Which is the point. When people tell you to work on your business, not in your business, they typically mean, improve your processes. Unless those people are roofing consultants. In which case they probably mean you need to do some work up on top of your business.

Back to Business

Today, I am revisiting our processes again. In fact, last night, just before I went to bed, I went all the way back to the beginning, again. I asked myself, ‘What is The Weaponry’s process for establishing processes?’ And here is what I wrote in the notebook on my nightstand. (I translated it into type below so that non-chickens can also read it.)

My nightstand notes.

Process of Processes

  1. Figure out Step 1
  2. Write down Step 1
  3. List each subsequent step to a successful conclusion
  4. Follow established process until it reveals a flaw. Or until a better process is revealed.
  5. Modify process to eliminate the newly discovered problem, or to improve outcomes.
  6. Continuously evaluate each process, looking for flaws, and better ideas that will lead to better results.

Note: Always run the best process you know until you know better.

Note: Even this process process can be constantly improved until a better process process can not be found. At which point the process process will be perfect. (Then check the Vector Victor.)

Note: Run everything the organization does through The Perfect Process Process. 

Note: You will be able to do, make, and deliver anything with this process.

Key Takeaway

Creating a well-run business requires great processes. Creating great processes requires a strong process process. Figure out yours. Then use it. And perfect it until it can’t be improved any more.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

How to land your first customer as a startup.

Launching your own business sounds fun and exciting. Right up until the moment when you have to find your first paying customer. Because a business without customers is like a kite without wind. It just won’t fly.

A friend of mine wrote to me yesterday about a major challenge his startup is facing. He said that like Carmen Miranda, he has had several fruitful conversations with prospective clients. And he was excited about next steps. However, at some point in each conversation it came out that the prospect would be his organization’s first customer. After hearing that, all of them ghosted like Patrick Swayze.

Which comes first, the business or the customer?

I expect my friend isn’t the only person to ever deal with this issue. In fact, every business ever created has had to transition from fantasy-business to reality-business by acquiring their first customer. If you have had this challenge, or are concerned about it as you begin your entrepreneurial journey, here are some tips for getting over the humpty hump.

9 Ways To Land Your Startup’s First Customer

  1. Give Away Your Product Or Service For Free. This approach doesn’t technically give you your first customer, because customers are those who pay for your offering. But what it does do is give you proof of trial. You can point to someone you have worked with. You can refer to a user who has enjoyed your product or service. It can give you a testimonial to leverage. It can offer an example of where and how you delivered. All of those things help make your prospective customer feel like you have the experience they want.

2. Start With Friends and Family Start by turning to those who are most likely to want to help you succeed. If you are making a relatively low cost consumer good or service, approach your friends and family first. They will want to help. Unless you are one of the Menendez Brothers.

3. Site Examples Of Your Personal Experience. Maybe you haven’t offered this service or product under your own banner, but you have done this sort of thing in the past through a business you worked for.

For instance, if you are a barista, a financial planner or a home cleaner who has worked for someone else, and now want to start offering the same type of service on your own, point to the examples of how you have done this extensively in the past. Now, you are excited to offer your customers what you have spent years perfecting.

Even better, you have fixed all the problems your past employer had when offering such goods or services. In fact, the reason you were inspired to go out on your own was to offer an even better product than you could have when your hands were tied by your prior employer. Then show them the rope burns around your wrist to make the whole hands-tied-thing more believable.

4. Offer A Money Back Guarantee. The reason people avoid working with new businesses is because there is an inherent risk involved with working with a new entity before they get the kinks out.

The key is making yourself a safe choice. You can do that by offering a money back satisfaction guarantee. If wasting money is the customer’s concern, and it often will be, a guarantee helps a great deal. However, losing valuable time is also often a concern. And that you simply won’t be able to give back to them unless you have a Delorean and a flux capacitor. So understand when a prospect’s concern can be alleviated by offering to return their money if they aren’t fully satisfied, and when it can’t.

5. Seek Out Other Entrepreneurs. The people most likely to want to see you succeed, after your friends and family, are other entrepreneurs. They have been where you have been and just needed someone to take a chance on them, like ABBA. Someone who was willing to forgive a little early-in-the-game wonkiness. Entrepreneurs love startups. Startups are nostalgic and inspiring to those of us who have been there before. Use that against us.

6. Partner With Another Company That Already Has Credibility. There are lots of ways to sneak in the backdoor. One great way is to tuck yourself into an already proven entity. It’s how The Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow snuck into the Wicked Witch’s castle. In the beginning, my startup partnered with many respected organizations. Those businesses vouched for us. And that was all we needed for client approval. Everyone wins. And it opens up even more possibilities down the road.

7. Sell Your Prospect’s Role In Your Founding Story Every company magically transforms from dream to reality when they acquire their first customer. And that founding story will be told for eternity. This is your customer’s chance to be part of your history and the story you will tell for years to come. The opportunity will be appealing for many. It’s appealing to me. Practice your pitch until it becomes an irresistible Disney-esque story.

8. Offer Steep Early Bird Discounts There are plenty of services that provide sticker shock to new shoppers. Take weddings for example. The photographer, venue, catering, flowers and dress all cost way more than you would have imagined. If you want to break into the wedding game, offer a cure for the sticker shock by offering a soothing, doable price. This is how you get your foot in the door. You will be solving 2 problems for the happy couple. First, you will be offering the service they need. Second, you will provide room in their budget for the other things they really want. A discount on your first gig is no loss to you. In fact, lowering the barrier to entry to get your first clients can unlock the path to millions of dollars in revenues in the future. And with a little luck, your business will outlast most marriages.

9. Work With Former Clients Or Customers. If you already have a proven track record of success with happy former customers they should be the first clients you approach for your new venture. Customers know that people, not businesses are the key to delivering a great product, service or experience. And if you have delivered for your customers in the past, they will expect that you will do the same for them in the future.

This is how I launched my business. After nearly 20 years of working for other companies I started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. I talked to 5 former clients about my plans in order to get input, feedback, and hopefully interest in my new business. All 5 of them told me that if I did what I was planning to do they had work for me.

Global Rescue was The Weaponry’s first client. CEO Dan Richards and I have known each other since 7th grade. So we had a high level or trust. And he became one of my biggest cheerleaders. Doesn’t he look like a cheerleader?

In fact, my Original 5 became my biggest cheerleaders. They wanted to see me succeed, and wanted to be part of that success. I think they felt as if they helped discover The Weaponry, in the same way Clive Davis discovered Whitney Houston. Let those former clients in on the experience. Let them help mold your offering to meet their needs.

Because your former clients have history and trust with you, and they know you are starting something new, they will likely be more forgiving of you as you navigate the process for the first time.

Like so many others, I started The Weaponry as a side hustle. Not because I thought of it as a side hustle, but because I wanted to breathe life into it and gain momentum before I quit my day job. And I knew that my trusted former clients would understand why I needed to meet early, late or over a lunch hour. They wouldn’t expect me to be responsive throughout the day, and they would be forgiving of the various other quirks that came along with a startup side gig. And sometimes an understanding first customer is all you need.

Key Takeaway

A business is not really a business until you have your first paying customer. But there are multiple ways to find that legitimizing customer. Don’t worry about making a profit on your first client. Simply get the deal done. And you’ll have proof that someone else has trusted you with their hard earned money. That’s often all a prospect needs to hear. Then keep looking for that next customer as if your business depends on it. Because it does. Good luck. And get going!

*If you know someone who could benefit from these ideas, please share this post with them.

If you want to start a successful business find your one thing.

Yesterday I talked to a good friend of mine about his entrepreneurial ambitions. He is a rockstar who has held impressive positions with 5 elite brands that everyone in America knows. Thanks to COVID-19 he is now starting the next chapter of his career. This is an exciting opportunity for him to do something new and self-directed. Like a Spike Lee joint.

As he told me about all the things he has in the works right now I was impressed. There were interesting partnerships, licensing opportunities, consulting requests, new product development ideas and brand building thoughts. It was like a Thanksgiving table full of opportunities. And everything looked delicious.

A blessing and a curse

Having many options in front of you is a gift. It is also a recipe for entrepreneurial failure. Because entrepreneurship doesn’t require dabbling and exploring and nibbling at a number of interesting things. It requires you to focus your attention on one thing completely. Like a hitman.

Dreaming Vs Doing

When you have many opportunities available to you, you are still in the dreaming phase. You are considering the possibilities. It is exciting. But it is still fantasy. And there is a big difference between dreaming, dabbling and doing. Which sounds like a Fred Flinstone-ism.

The Weaponry

When I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I was completely focused on my mission. I threw all other options aside. I put all my eggs in one basket and then focused on the basket as if nothing else mattered. Because it didn’t. That focus made all the difference.

Getting Obsessive

To be successful as an entrepreneur you have to become obsessive. You have to roll a rock up a hill to get started. Which is hard. And it can’t be done while texting. Or with one hand in your pocket. Unless maybe you are Alanis Morrisette.

If you are thinking about starting your own business, pick something you are really excited about and focus on that one thing completely. Think of it as your one nail to drive. Then hammer away at that one nail until the job is done. Don’t touch, tap or tickle another nail until the alpha nail is hammered home.

Once you have the business humming it will afford you new opportunities to do more. You can pour all that you learned bringing the first business to life into the next. A successful first business will also provide additional funds to deploy towards your next venture. You can repeat the process over and over, and make many great things happen. But start with one. Just like Brian McKnight.

Key Takeaway

If you are thinking of starting your own business, think singular, not plural. One business opportunity should step forward and take all of your attention. Find the one idea among the many that you are most excited about and feed it. Fuel it. Fixate on it. And force it to happen.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

It’s time to think beyond the bear in the trail.

I am a long term thinker. I view lives and careers as long journeys with lots of transformation along the way. I expect to drive my own change and growth. Which comes through a combination of planning and action. Or what might be called plaction.

The Bear In The Trail

However, the COVID-19 crisis has caused me to take my eye off of the long view. Over the past several months I have focused almost exclusively on short-term thinking. It’s as if I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and suddenly encountered an ornry bear blocking my path. Instead of focusing on reaching Mount Katahdin, I needed to focus on the bear-virus, and live to hike another day. As result, true long-term improvement initiatives have been on hold for months. Darn you bear-virus.

Back In The Saddle.

But today my team at The Weaponry will gather again to think about our long term vision for the first time in months. We will open our planning and improvement session by describing what the fully formed version of our advertising and idea agency looks like. Then we will focus on what we need to do to close the gap between the ideal version of The Weaponry and the organization that exists today. However, we will have nothing to do with The Gap closing at your local mall.

We then assign each person a set of tasks, or rocks, to complete over the next 90 days to help us improve our organization. This approach, which is part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) outlined in the book Traction by Gino Wickman, has proven to be a highly effective way of helping us grow and progress. Because it ties our vision to meaningful and fruitful actions. Which helps us gain traction towards our goals.

Traction
This is a great resource to help you drive continuous business improvement.

Thinking Long Term

To achieve your long term goals you can’t remain in survival mode for long periods of time. You have to work with purpose towards your vision. You have to recirculate the ideal vision with your team and consider the next actions necessary to reach your vision.

This approach is valuable for organizations. And it is valuable for each of us as individuals. We need to know where our own north star is, and navigate towards it. Even in challenging times. Evn in bad weather. And even after wrestling angry bears.

Starting The Second Half

As we start the second half of the year, remember what you planned to do 6 months ago, before COVID-19 blew you off course and threw you into survival mode. If your original 2020 plans no longer apply to the new world reality, make new plans now.  What can and should you do now to progress over the next 6 months? I know this may be challenging. But in the inspirational words of Arthur Ashe:

‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.’  -Arthur Ashe

Key Takeaway

Move forward. We have been doggy paddling long enough. it is time to reimplement some time-tested swim strokes. Remember where you are headed. Or, if you haven’t determined where you are going, now is the time to decide. Determine the short term actions that will lead to your long term goals. Be purposeful. Be consistent. And you are sure to be closer to your ideal 6 months from now.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

What we can learn about all this craziness from Charles Darwin.

2020 started like any other year. New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day came and went without incident. But by St. Patrick’s Day we had hit the shamrocks. Churches were closed on Easter. Brunches were unavailable on Mother’s Day. And on Memorial Day (my birthday), George Floyd was murdered by the artists formerly known as Minneapolis police officers.

Halftime

As we hit the mid-point it is clear that 2020 is going to be a different kind of year. The 4th of July fireworks will be largely DIY. Basketball will be in a bubble. Popular institutions that have reopened may reclose becuase they are a little too popular to curb the spread of COVID-19. Statues, monuments and names are being changed in an effort to stamp out racism (or what we may call eracism). And entire industries will have to find a new path forward following the disruptions and disallowances of the past few months.

Another Chapter

However, this is not the end of the world. Far from it. This is simply another chapter of change in the book of human history. As we face new and novel challenges it is valuable to get a little big-picture perspective. And who better than Charles Darwin to shed a little light on our current situation? (Ok, God would have been even better, but Chucky D is still solid.)

Darwin

Charles Darwin, best knows for inventing the Darwin Awards, properly spelling Galapagos, and for his role in the hit movie The Pirates! Band of Misfits, also created a few popular theories. Including the following:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.  -Charles Darwin

Change

Change is inevitable. There will be changes to our economy, to our environment and to our political leadership. There will be changes to industries, to culture and law. There will changes to facemask wearing policies. There will be changes to bar and beach access. And changes to the rules governing how we ride elevators. Strange, I know.

There will also be changes as a result of the Me Too movement and the Black Lives Matter movement that will change outcomes for rapey and racists humans. #SorryNotSorryHarvey. And there will be more movements. Ones that we can’t imagine yet. And they will serve the greater good as they bring on more change.

Survival

The individuals, businesses, industries, cities, states and countries that respond well to these inevitable changes will survive. It doesn’t matter if you are smart, or were in a position of strength before. The only thing that matters now is how well you respond and adapt to change. That is the rule that governs the game, and always has.

Key Takeaway

Change is inevitable and never-ending. You must respond. Understand what works now. Embrace change and the opportunities it affords you to reinvent yourself, your career, your business and your community. Keep improving. Keep adapting. There is so much good ahead. Make sure you are prepared to enjoy it all.

*If you know somoene who could benefit from a friendly reminder from Charles Darwin, please share this with them.

An important spark on my entrepreneurial journey.

Today I am at the beach vacationing with my family. I am also working. This is the reality of entrepreneurship. When work needs to be done you do it. Even if you are at the beach. Even if it is your birthday. Even with a fox or in a box or wearing socks.

IMG_2322
The sunrise this morning from my balcony as I write this post.

The Night Shift

On Sunday night, Father’s Day Night, I worked until 2am. Late in the night when my family was asleep, and my keystrokes were the only noise in the hotel room, I was reminded of a story from 6 years ago.

Cathy Maas

In the spring of 2014, my great friend Cathy Maas contacted me. I worked with Cathy, who is everyone’s great friend, for several years at Engauge. She is an excellent brand planner. And by 2014 one of the world’s greatest food companies had snatched her up and made them their Director of Consumer Insights.

One of the brands Cathy worked on needed some strategic concepts written for an upcoming round of new product research work. I told Cathy I was happy to help. Although when I discovered the timeline I realized that the whole project would need to be completed while I was in Florida, on spring break with my family. I took on the project anyway.

The Taste Test

On that vacation, my family and I had fun each day on Marco Island (which was also one of Cathy’s favorite places). Then, each night after my wife and 3 small kids went to bed, I would fire up my laptop and work on my side project like Rumplestilskin.

IMG_4583
My babies on Marco Island back in 2014.

I loved everything about that project. I thought the work was fascinating. I loved feeling like I was the head of my own ad agency. Albeit an ad agency of one. And I loved that the money I was being paid for the project would pay for our family’s vacation.

Start Me Up

That experience lit a fire in me. It gave me a glimpse of how I could create an advertising agency, develop great work for great clients, and provide for my family without being someone else’s employee. The door had opened just a crack. But all I needed was that little crack. Kinda like Whitney Houston.

George Mort

At the end of my vacation, I had lunch with my snowmobiling buddy George Mort. George had moved from Wisconsin to Marco Island. I was inspired by my freelance experience, and I told George that I was seriously thinking of starting my own agency.

George is a wise guy. I don’t mean he’s a mobster or a dude who gives frankincense and myrrh to a newborn. But George is a genuinely wise guy. And I remember George’s response to my entrepreneurial plans like it was yesterday. He said matter-of-factly, ‘This is the time to do it. It’s now or never.’

It’s Go Time.

I knew George was right. So I got to work. And less than 18 months I had planned out my agency in detail and landed my first client.

IMG_4640
My family and George Mort at his home in Marco Island in 2014

Today

Six years after Cathy Maas sent that spark project my way, The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, is 4 years old. We have offices in Milwaukee and Columbus. I am working on vacation. And I couldn’t be happier. Over the past few days I’ve been swimming and boogie boarding and enjoying time with my family. I have also been working on clients based in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas and Milwaukee. Because I chose now over never.

Thank You

Thank you Cathy Maas for providing a spark. My journey has been propelled by hundreds of important and inspirational events. But this one was special. It allowed me to see what the future might look like if I started my own agency. And today, that future looks exactly the way I thought it would back in March of 2014 during those late nights of work in a hotel room on Marco Island.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Did you know that you own a business?

There are two types of business owners. The first type are those who work in their business. They do whatever needs to be done to deliver the goods and services the business produces. They are doers. They are time-to-make-the-donuts types. They make the business run.

Then there are business owners who work on their business. They are like race mechanics who are tinkering with and tweaking the machine to make it more powerful, more capable, more efficient, and easier to work with. Like Ricky Bobby, they want to go fast.

The business owner who simply works in her or his business never creates a better business. They never grow beyond the limitations of there current inputs and processes. They are hamster wheel owners. And they will never get ahead.

No Limit Soldiers

But the business owner who works on his or her business will know no limits. They will continuously find ways to improve the machine. Sometimes in small ways. Sometimes in transformative ways that make the new version of the business so different from the old that you wouldn’t recognize them as the same organization. Kind of like the Bash Brothers of business.

Those who work on the business create growth organizations. These are the success stories. The highly profitable businesses that attract the best and brightest to join and contribute their ideas for improvement. This is the most rewarding organization to be a part of. And it contributes the highest returns to its employees.

The United States Inc.

Our nation is a business too. You and I are the nation-owners. And we have to decide whether we are going to work in the business or on the business.

woman women united states of america flag
As Americans, we own this thing together. Never forget that.

If we simply decide that we are going to work in the nation, then we as the owners are not growers, increasers or improvers. The nation we hand down to our children will be the same one we inherited. We will be the forgotten ownership era who did nothing to increase value.

However, if we decide to work on the nation there is no limit to how much better we can make this business of ours. Abraham Lincoln worked on the business. So did FDR. And Susan B. Anthony. And Martin Luther King Jr. And Team America, World Police. They were all owner-citizens, just like you and me. Yet the visions they had, the decisions they made, and the actions they took improved our business in immeasurable ways.

Get To Work

Today, as nation-owners, we all have the ability to work on the business in large and small ways. Voting helps. Speaking out helps. Taking action helps. Fixing the system to work better for all Americans helps. By improving the system we can add more fuel,  more horsepower, more capacity, and more contribution. Which leads to more output, greater results and a more prosperous nation for all.

As nation-owners we should expect profit sharing. When the nation does well, all who contribute enjoy a bonus. The more who contribute the greater the bonus will be.

I like a good bonus. I expect you do too. So does Gordon Gekko. The promise of a bigger bonus is how you get Gordon to buy into the plan.

Key Takeaway

Our nation is like a business. It is time for us as the nation-owners to work on the business. Let’s turn this business of ours into a high-powered, smooth-running, high output machine. Because when we do, all shareholders will enjoy greater dividends. And we’ll be able to pass down an even greater asset to the next generation.

*If you know a fellow nation-owner who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

I’ve been teaching my son about business. And here’s what I have learned.

Being a dad can be hard. One of the great challenges for me as a dad is not laughing at the really funny but inappropriate things my kids say and do. Potty humor has not lost its power over me. I regularly get in trouble with Dawn, my parenting partner, for laughing at things I’m not supposed to laugh at. I am told that I am encouraging my kids’ behavior. But hey, I want to be an encouraging Dad.

To counterbalance my chronic immaturity, I also try to be a good influence and teach my kids important life lessons. I have been reading Dale Carnegie with my 13-year old son, Johann. I have read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. to my now 14-year old daughter Ava. And I  am currently reading Rich Dad. Poor Dad. with my 9-year-old son, Magnus.

Magnus is really fun to teach about business. Even though he is only 9 he is displaying the same type of interest in business ideas that he has in sports. Which is great, because business is the ultimate competitive sport. And because Magnus is now my retirement plan.

IMG_6832
Me and Magnus and our hair and some wind in Astoria, Oregon.

As we read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. Magnus is fascinated by the good financial advice offered by the book. He now knows that assets are things that make you money and that liabilities are things that cost you money. He knows that poor people work for money and that rich people make their money work for them.

Over the past few weeks, Magnus has shared a steady stream of business thoughts. He has a notebook that he is filling with ideas. The ideas range from a garage cleaning business to a business idea for boys with long hair. Because Magnus has long hair, like his father. And like 9-year-old girls. Which I expect is why he likes wearing baseball caps. And why he doesn’t like wearing pink dresses.

Magnus and I have talked about business processes, research, pricing, margin and the value of good employees. What started out as a father wanting to teach his son a few important ideas about business has turned into a son asking lots of great questions to extract more information in order to help him paint a more complete picture in his head.

Last weekend as we were working on a yard project, Magnus revealed with great excitement that he came up with a business that he and I could partner on. I was proud and curious about what he was thinking. So I asked him to tell me more about his business idea. He started by sharing that he picked out a great name for the business already.  Curious, I asked him what the name of the business was going to be. He said, ‘We’ll be Madams! It’s a combination of Magnus and Adam’s!

It tried not to burst with laughter. He was so proud of his name. It was the perfect mashup of our first names. But little did little Magnus know that it also sounded like this 9-year-old boy thought it would be a great business idea to run a brothel. It seems I have much more to teach. 

Key Takeaway

Take time to teach your kids, nieces, nephews and neighbors what you know. Whether it is about business, how to fix a lawnmower, applying first-aid, or any of the millions of things in between, your knowledge is valuable. Pass it along. You may be surprised how enthusiastically a child responds to your teaching. It can help develop confidence and prepare them with life skills. But it could also expose them to a career path or hobby that will positively influence the trajectory and quality of their life. Who knows, you may also enjoy a good laugh along the way. Because kids say the darndest things.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

We’ve returned to the office. And it feels great!

On Tuesday, March 10th I flew to Las Vegas for work. I went to CONEXPO, the word’s greatest gathering in the construction industry. The coronavirus was just beginning to make the world weird. But its intensity seemed to be growing by the hour. That evening when I met up with my clients and coworkers for dinner I told them that I expected that we would return to a very different world when we went home that Friday. But I couldn’t have predicted the full Bruce-to-Caitlyn transformation we were about to experience.

Hand, Elbow, Wave.

Over the next few days, I saw trade show attendees go from shaking hands to touching elbows, to no contact at all. By Thursday I did the unthinkable. I canceled our spring break trip to Florida which was just days away. Then my children’s schools said they would be teaching kids remotely for the next 2 months. We were becoming the Bizzaro Albrechts.

Lockdown, Go Ahead And Give It To Me.

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, canceled all film and photo shoots scheduled for March and April. We postoponed client workshops. We decided to start working from home on Monday, March 16th. Other businesses were declaring that they would be working remotely for a defined time period. I felt the future was unknowable. So I simply told our team and our clients that we would be working from home until further notice.

One Month… Two Months…

Over 2 months passed before any further notice. But as Memorial Day weekend approached I felt it was time to re-evaluate. We have offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus. Wisconsin’s Safer At Home order expired on May 26th. Although in a surprising turn of events, a Wisconsin court order actually nullified the Safer At Home order more than a week early. Which was weird. But this has all been weird. Like that Yankovic boy.

The Announcement

On Friday, May 22nd, I called an afternoon agency-wide Zoom meeting. I told our team that starting on Monday I would be returning to the office and that both offices would be open for anyone wanting to return. However, the return to the office was not mandatory. I asked the team to consider their own timeline for a return.

All Rights Reserved
On May 26th we played the themesong to Welcome Back Kotter all day long. 

Tuesday, Woo-hoosday!

On the morning of Tuesday, May 26th I drove to the office for a regular day of work for the first time in 74 days. A coworker’s car was in the parking lot when I arrived. It was a great sight. What was even better was entering the office and seeing a coworker again without the aid of a teleconferencing platform. It was the closest I hope I ever get to knowing what it feels like to see your people again after being released from prison.

Back To The Future

We have now been back in the office for 2 full weeks. I am thrilled. I have also learned a thing or 2. Or maybe 7. Here are those 7 things:

7 Things I’ve Learned Since Returning To The Office

  1. I love my commute. My morning drive gives me time to collect my thoughts and transition to work mode. I like cranking hype music on my morning drive. My drive is my pre-game routine. My evening commute also offers a chance to unwind, crank some more music, drive 9 mph over the speed limit, and properly remove myself from work mode before I get home to my wife and 3 kids. It’s kind of like The Intcredible Hulk transitioning back to David Banner, and casually ditching his shredded clothes like nothing ever happened.
  2. I like office-mode. My home office is quiet and separated from the rest of my home. But it doesn’t allow me to separate my work life and home life distinctly. So I felt as if I was in work mode almost constantly for over 2 months. Which I was. But if you don’t want to fry your brain you’ve got to keep em separated.
  3. My office is like a creative studio. My office at The Weaponry offers a great place to think. It’s a place to be in a space of creativity. It’s a great space for in-person collaboration. I love that. It’s my thinkwell. Everyone should have a thinkwell, don’t you think?
  4. My office looks better on Zoom. The wall behind my desk is a solid red. It pops on video conferences, both as the cleanest and most distinct look. Plus the big windows in my office bring in plenty of light, which helps add to my Zoomtastic lighting package. I dig that.
  5. I like spending time with my co-workers.  It is much easier to meet and discover solutions face to face. It feels different. A workplace is a community, with a culture and an energy. It is most powerful in person. I am thankful to all of my coworkers who have come back to the office. It’s great to see you again.
  6. I feel safe. I am confident that my co-workers and I have been safe and careful in our approach to COVID-19 avoidance. We are not hugging. Or sharing our secret handshakes. Or practicing CPR techniques. We are being respectful of our distancing. I hope these are not my famous last words. I want my last words to be, “It was fun while it lasted.’
  7. We need leaders to get back to normal. Yes we need to be safe. But we also need to get back to normalcy.  I wanted to be get back to the office as soon as I could.  I hope that others who can return safely do. It’s a form of positive peer pressure. Or maybe we’re just canaries in the coal mine. But last Friday when I saw the jobless claims number drop by 2.5 million people I knew we were on our way back. And I am proud to be on the leading edge of the return.

Key Takeaway

Be safe. Be smart. But let’s get back to work and back to normal as rapidly as we can. We are better when we collaborate, work and grow together. It’s how we build culture and relationships. We are social creatures. And there is a lot for us to talk about. I hope to see you in the office real soon.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Need a job? 14 tips for interviewing in crazy times.

It’s that time of year again. College seniors should be triumphantly crossing the stage and grabbing their pricey diplomas to the proud applause of their relieved families. Only this year things are different. Thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, graduating seniors haven’t seen their classmates in months. Graduation ceremonies are on a laptop. And students are stumbling out of college to find nearly 40 million adults out of work and willing to stab them with a fork to get the same entry-level jobs.  

Under these conditions the smiles, pride, and sense of accomplishment of the college grad are short-lived. The student loans are coming like the Educational Grim Reaper.  Empty-nesting parents’ once again have birds in the nest. And everyone needs worms.

Find A Job Like It’s Your Job

Whether you are a new graduate or newly unemployed, it’s time to find a job. Except now, because there are many more candidates than there are jobs, you need to bring your A-Game. If you are anything like I was when I graduated from college you don’t have a clue how to land that first job. I have learned a lot since then. Here they are in a particular order.

12 keys to successful job hunting.

portrait of a man in corporate attire
Looking good is always a good idea.

1. Request an informational interview.

This is the single best advice I can offer. It’s a free audition for you and the employer. And if the person you are calling won’t take the time to help out a young prospect, or an experienced candidate who needs a hand, you don’t want to work for that selfish bastard or bastardette anyway.

2. Research the company you want to talk to.

If you really want to talk to an employer you should know something about them and their company. To impress, show up with as much knowledge as you can find on the business you’re interested in, and its clients. A great tool I recommend using to do your research is the internet. Because it has all the information ever accumulated by mankind. #noexcuses

3. Work Your Network.

Use Linkedin to see if you have a connection to someone who works where you want to work. Do your research to see if you know someone who can introduce you to someone at that organization. Having an insider vouch for you is like cutting to the front of the line. Ivy Leaguge kids know to do this. You need to too.

4. Make connections.

I’m not just talking about people networking. Make connections between the organization’s needs and your own areas of knowledge and expertise. I got my first job because I knew a lot about farming. And the advertising agency I called for an informational interview had a new client that manufactured farm equipment. The agency seemed to know nothing about agriculture. So to them, I was like Doogie Howser in flannel.

5. Write down your talking points and questions ahead of time. 

If you don’t have any questions for your interviewer you suck at interviewing. Because it indicates that you aren’t thinking, or are not interested. Both make you easy to move to the reject pile.  Yet it can be hard for humans to come up with a good question when you are asked if you have any questions. So script you questions before the interview. You’ll get extra points if you tie your question to some research you did on the company. One of the great things about video conference interviews is that you can keep you written prompts handy for reference at all times. Heck, you can stick Post-It notes all over your interview space if you want. This is like legal cheating. Do it. It helps.

man taking notes in front of his computer
Come prepared with talking points. Because it is hard to think on your feet when you are sitting down.

6. Show up with a pen and paper.

If your interview is in person make sure you bring a pen and notebook and demonstrate that you have them. It shows that you are prepared. That you are gathering information and taking tips and advice. It is a sign of respect to the interviewer. It says, ‘I would like to capture the pearls of wisdom you are sure to drop.’ Employers assume anyone who would show up to an interview without a pen and paper will forget to do other things too. Like zip their fly, wash their hands, and bring their corporate credit card when they are taking a client to lunch. Demonstrating that you have the pad and paper says more than you realize. Even if you never use them.

7. Show up a little early.

Don’t get carried away here. There is a proper amount of early. Too early and you look socially awkward. And late is the kiss of death. This is also true for a video conference interview. Log on a few minutes early to demonstrate your timeliness. Just being there when the interviewer logs on will make a good first impression. As long as you are clothed. For tips on how to look good on camera see this post I wrote about looking good on camera for a TV interview from home via Zoom.

8. Dress professionally.

Determine what that means in your world. For my first interviews out of school I borrowed a suit from my college buddy, Greg Gill Jr. Greg is now a judge and wears a black dress to work. I have never worn a tie to work since. But I made good first impressions. And I got job offers. Remember, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. And you are never fully dressed without a smile.

9. Practive telling your story.

You have an interesting story to tell about what you know, what you have done and what makes you a great addition to any organization that would hire you. Practice telling that story. Make it concise, funny and interesting. It should get better every time you tell it. Like a standup comedy routine. People love stories. Telling a great one will give you an unfair advantage over others you are competing with for the job you want. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. It’s how great candidates get noticed.

10. Lose the like.

If there is one thing that reminds me that you’re still a kid it’s using like the word like like way too like much. While on the topic of language, I would also like you to stop saying, ‘to be honest…’ or ‘to tell you the truth…’ Those indicate that the rest of what you said may not be fully honest or truthful. Also, avoid pairing kinda or sorta with really. Those words are opposites, and they negate each other. It’s like putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room.

confident young woman sitting on office chair in old aged artist workshop
Don’t dress like this. Unless you are interviewing to be a belly button model. 

11. Prove direction.

It’s great to be open to various possibilities. But I want to hire someone who knows what she or he wants. So know your skills. Know what interests you. Have a vision. And don’t get lost on the way to or from the bathroom.

12.  Don’t drink at the interview.

Interviews in some industries, like advertising agencies, can be tricky. Especially if you show up late in the afternoon or on a Friday. The beer is often available and encouraged (this is starting to sound like an ad for advertising). Don’t play along. The dangers outweigh the risks in this case. Demonstrate your self-restraint. Ad people are really good at drinking (see Mad Men). And there are always plenty of permanent markers around and artists who know how to use them on your face.

13. Talk about how you and your friends never use Facebook or Instagram.

Even if you are on Facebook all day every day say that you can’t stand it. Businesses are always trying to spot the next trend they know nothing about. Kids, this is the ace up your sleeve. Tell them about the cool new things you are into and how you are rejecting all previously embraced media. Your stock will rise. Trust me. For the experienced unemployed, make sure you know about TikTok, Snapchat and Dingle. Okay, I may have made one of those up. You should know which one.

14.  Follow up.

After the interview, send a note thanking the people you met for their time.  This is important in several ways. It shows that you are considerate. It shows that you follow through. And it ensures that the people you talked to have your contact information. Send a note in the mail or by email. Both work. Email makes it easy for them to reply to you. A mailed note always feels special. And retro. Here’s the story of a great follow up note I received after an interview.

 

Key Takeaway

A good interview, whether in person, on the phone, or online is all about being prepared. Do your homework. Know the company and the people you are meeting with. Prepare your talking points and your questions ahead of time. Bring a pen and paper. Don’t drink. Where clothes. Smile. And follow up. Good luck!

*If you know someone who needs a job right now, please share this post with them. Let’s give them every advantage they can get.