It’s time to find new ways to meet new people.

Business development is a vital function of any healthy business. And it is dependent on interactions with non-customers. This is why trade shows exist. They are like massive dates for people with problems and people with solutions. They are the male and female counterparts that make business work. #Bowchickabowbow Lots of business opportunities are created at trade shows. Because people get to meet, mingle and leave non-single.

Trade No-Shows

Right now, thanks to the Covid-19 curveball, in-person trade shows are simply off the table. As are most in-person networking events. Which creates a major impact on new business prospects for most companies. This is a significant problem to solve. And a significant business opportunity.

Calling It Off

New sales calls are challenged right now too. You can’t simply ask if you can swing by someone’s office to show off your cart of potions and elixirs. Because the people you want to meet with are not there. In fact, most of my clients at The Weaponry have not been in the office for 7 months. Some of them have even moved far from the city they work in, because it doesn’t matter where people live when no one goes into the office.

With all of the Zooming that is happening now, it isn’t easy to get prospects to jump on yet another video conference either. Especially since video conferencing today means inviting people into your home, where families are hosting a 3-ringed circus of work, school and personal life.

Where Do We Grow From Here?

This means that to continue growing your network and your new business prospects you have to find new ways to interact with people. So it’s time to adopt new approaches. Or act like Chubby Checker and put new twists on old ideas.

What I Have Been Doing

Over the past 2 months here is what I have done to expand my network during a time of social contraction:

  • I spoke to the quarterly gathering of Spearity clients. Spearity is a great management consulting organization. This introduced me to 40 impressive people I didn’t know.
  • I gave an in-person speech at a country club to a group of 70 people participating in a fundraiser for Chapman Basketball Academy.
  • I did 3 virtual workshops on leadership during a crisis for University of Wisconsin student athletes and staff.
  • I guest-lectured on creativity to a Marquette University marketing class via video conference.
  • I guest lectured on creativity to a Carroll University marketing class via video conference.
  • I was a guest on The Positive Polarity Podcast with Dave Molenda: You can listen to the episode or read the transcript here.
  • I was a guest on the Sport Coats Podcast with Will Jurgensen. (podcast coming soon to a podcast player near you)
  • I published 25 new blog posts.

The Results

As a result of these actions I have grown my LinkedIn network. I have received new introductions, I have had in-person, yet comically-physically-distanced meetings. I have developed great new relationships. In fact, it looks as if I will have developed at least 4 new clients as a direct result of these activities.

I didn’t make a single cold call. I didn’t ask anyone for their business. I simply gave away my time, knowledge and expertise. I gave value first. And as a result I got even more value return. Anyone can do this. Even today.

Key Takeaway

Remember it is not who you know. It is who knows you. During these unusual times you have to make sure more people know who you are in order to grow your network and improve your long term prospects, opportunities and sales. Provide value first. And good things will come your way. Even in 2020.

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

An unpublished post I wrote on March 16th, 2020.

This morning I was scrolling through a folder of unfinished blog posts. I came across the following story that I wrote on the morning of March 16th, which for much of America was the first day of the lockdown/shelter-at-home/house arrest era. I found the story particularly interesting because it was written at what I would now consider the end of pre-covid normalcy. And it was interesting to look back at my mindset as we entered the great unknown.

The event referenced occurred on Thursday, March 12th, just prior to catching a redeye flight home. Which would be the last time I flew for 6 months. I expect the drop in redeye flights has hurt Visine sales.

The Event

Thursday night I grabbed a bite to eat at a restaurant in Las Vegas. I was by myself, so I sat at the bar and ordered my food and drink. I had a burger and tots, like Napoleon Dynamite.

The guy beside me and I started talking. We were both in Vegas for CONEXPO/CON-AGG, the enormous construction industry trade show. I told him I owned an advertising and idea agency that worked with the trade show. He told me he owned a mine in Texas, between Dallas and Houston. Which means his business mined the earth. And mine mined the mind. (Which I think is what the seagulls were saying in Finding Nemo.)

We discussed then newly emerging and unfolding challenges of COVID-19, and what it meant for our businesses. I told him that it would have very little if any impact on our ability to operate. (Meaning our ability to operate as a business. We still wouldn’t be any good at surgery.)

We transition fluidly between working in our offices in Milwaukee and Columbus, to working from home or wherever our work-travel takes us. As long as we have a computer and an internet connection we are good to go.

Tex, my bar-mate, had a pained expression on his face when I finished my evaluation of our business. Then he replied, ‘Until I can figure out how to run a backhoe, dozer and dump truck remotely I need my people on site.’

This simple barstool conversation in Las Vegas made me extremely thankful for being in the business I am in. I am thankful that when we planned the launch of The Weaponry we put systems and technology in place that would allow for maximum operational flexibility. It also helped that we didn’t include backhoes, dozers or dump trucks into our operating system.

On Sunday I sent a note to the 10 core members of our team telling them that we would transition to remote work as our standard until further notice. I am sure the current situation will pass, and we will get back to standard operating procedures.  But I am not sure how organizations can declare that a remote arrangement is going to last for the next 2, 3, or 4 weeks. The only thing certain right now is the uncertainty of the timeline.

The Impact

Right now we have plenty of work to do. We have 3 or 4 major presentations this week. The work needs to be done, because it is vital to our clients’ long term plans. The release dates may shift. But we are marching on. Because on the other side of the unknown we know we need to keep moving forward with our plans for business and life. We will present our work via Zoom video conference. Which we have used for presentations several times per week since our founding. Because our clients are as far away as California, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

We have also seen some work quickly evaporate thanks to the current climate. We have had a few events canceled. Which means that film and photo shoots tied to those events have been canceled or postponed. Those things may never be rescheduled.

Like so many businesses, we are adjusting to a new normal. For our team, it is almost as simple as a Mr. Rogers wardrobe change when he enters or leaves the set of the show. We put on a sweater, change our footwear and we are ready to work in a new location. I expect we are luckier than most as we head into the new unknown.

Key Takeaway

Things will be abnormal for a while.

(this is where my draft stopped)

New Note:

The flexibility we built into the operation of The Weaponry meant that we didn’t and haven’t missed a beat during the new normal. Other companies around the world have adopted many of the same technologies and approaches we baked in from the beginning. Our comfort with the uncertainty of the future has been key to our ongoing success. Seven months later we still don’t know if we are closer to the beginning or the end. But we are ready for whatever comes next. I hope you are too.

Here’s the key to launching a successful business now.

The latest numbers on new business creation are staggering. New business registrations in Q3 of 2020 are up 77% over Q2. Which means there have been more new businesses registered in the past few months than at any comparable time in history. The Covid-19-induced disruptions have created all kinds of new opportunities for entrepreneurial-minded earthlings to capitalize on.

There are suddenly great interests in face masks, Non-Brooke shields, plexiglass, distance learning, contactless-anything, at-home entertainment (which sounds dirty, and maybe is), home remodeling, camping, food delivery and a hundred other things.

Of course all this new business creation isn’t purely good news. Much of the new business development is from displaced employees whose best, if not only option, is to start their own business and give it the ole college try. (Or, in some cases, the ole high school or GED try.)

As an entrepreneur, I find this extremely exciting. There will be great businesses that come out of this time. But not all the stories will have happy endings. (Meaning fairy tale-style, not Robert Kraft). I predict that the brave women and men who are now embarking on their entrepreneurial journeys will have one of three outcomes:

  1. Little To No success: This is due to an inability to attract customers or clients. Costumers are the helium in a startup. If you can’t find customers the business won’t float.
  2. Great Initial Success, Then Dramatic Failure: This is because they found initial customers, and delivered the initial product or service, but then couldn’t keep it going and build momentum.
  3. Huge Success:  These startups will quickly mature into real businesses and will flourish for years if not generations to come.

What Makes The Difference?

Anyone can start a business. If you can find customers you can do the work yourself and make your customers happy. But that’s not where the long term, sustainable, flywheel-style magic happens.

To build a business you have to create a system. Create Your Way. Make it repeatable. Your repeatable system is what enables you to both deliver for your current customers and attract new customers at the same time.

The system, your system, creates order, predictability and a clear division of responsibilities. It creates room for continuous improvement. It allows you to bring in help (employees) with little to no experience and contribute in meaningful ways.

The system allows you to step out for a bathroom break without the business also springing a leak. If fact, with a good system in place you should be able to take a monthlong vacation in Europe and the business will keep humming along. (Assuming American’s are allowed to visit Europe again. And assuming businesses are allowed to hum.)

Failed business owners realize too late that they didn’t have a repeatable system. A system that could be used to attract new customers, and keep them happy in a profitable way. They didn’t have a system that worked in both good times and bad (Think JJ Walker and Michael Jackson times). The didn’t have a system that enabled them to scale up and down when needed. Don’t let this happen to you.

Key Takeaway

Don’t just do the work. Or all you are is a worker working without a net. From the beginning you need to create and use your system. Think about what works now, document, follow it, and continuously improve it. It should allow you to use other people’s time to get the work done. Because if you have to do all the work yourself it is not a business. You simply own your own job. Which will be hardest, most stressful job you’ve ever had. But a system that sets you up for long term success will create a great work environment for everyone in your business. And you’ll wonder why you didn’t start your own business years ago.

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.

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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.

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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.