Good things happen when you give good first.

In March I got a call from a marketer who was looking for help. Her team had been working on a repositioning effort for many months and just hadn’t cracked the code. She was looking for a new perspective. And I had one.

The Proposal

Over the next few days we developed a Zoomy relationship. We had several discussions.  Then I proposed to her. Meaning, I shared a proposal for The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, to help her and her team with their challenge.

Turned Down

A few days later I heard back from her. She shared that unfortunately, a few of their client projects had been paused. And a spending freeze had been implemented. So they wouldn’t be able to begin the engagement with The Weaponry.

The Response

This was no surprise. These are challenging and unpredictable times. So I responded with the following note. (Names have been changed to make the note sound more colorful.)

Thanks for the update Magenta. These are crazy times. But things will get better. And when you are ready, I hope we can work together.
In the meantime, if you think I can be of any help as you are finding your way forward, I am happy to talk to you and Cyan, and offer any advice I can at no charge, under my Phone-Calls-Are-Free promotion.
I hope you have a great week and that we are all back to normal soon.
-AA

The Offer

Magenta responded that she would love to take me up on my offer to talk with her and Cyan, the CEO of her company. A few days later we Zoomed. And I offered as much advice as I could in an hour and 2 minutes. All for free. Because I had it to give. And I thought it could help them find their way through a challenging business environment.

The Note

A week later Magenta sent me another note. She had great news. She told me that her company would love to move forward with me and my team at The Weaponry. But now they wanted to expand the scope of work because they saw how we could help them beyond their original request.

The Reminder

That note from Magenta was one of my favorite emails of 2020. Not because it represented new business and new opportunities for The Weaponry. But because I believe so strongly in providing value to others. And that when you give freely to other people, without expectation, good things happen. And that email confirmed my beliefs. (Not like I confirmed my beliefs when I was in 8th grade with bread and wine. But you know what I mean.)

Key Takeaway

Share your time, talents and knowledge with others. We all have the ability to provide immense value to friends, family and total strangers. Right now your experience and insights can help others in profound ways. If you think I can be of help to you as you are finding your way forward, I am happy to talk and offer any advice I can at no charge under my Phone-Calls-Are-Free promotion. Shoot me a note at adam@theweaponry, and we’ll look for a time to talk.

The Weaponry turns 4! Here are 4 things I have done right along the way.

This is a big week in my world. On Sunday my family and the rest of the Christian Club celebrated Easter. Which is like Christmas for us sinners. But this week we are also celebrating the 4th birthday of The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I founded, on April 12, 2016.

When I first launched The Weaponry I was living in Atlanta. If you would have told me then that 4 years from now The Weaponry is thriving, with offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus I would have been thrilled. But if you would have then told me that no one actually worked in either of those offices I would have given you my best Whatchu-Talk’n-Bout-Willis look.

Celebrating our 4th birthday during COVIDPALOOZA makes for an interesting time. All of the Weapons are working together apart right now. But the business is well positioned during this unusual time. Which provides me an opportunity to reflect on the past 4 years.

Top 4 Lists

This week, to celebrate The Weaponry’s 4th Birthday I will share Top 4 lists. To begin, I am taking a look at what got us to our 4th anniversary and put us in a good position to weather the Corona-Cootie storm.

4 things I did right to help us get to our 4th anniversary.

1. I Took Action. 

Everyone has a dream. And I dreamed of starting my own advertising agency for a long time. But to actual start your own business you have to move beyond dreaming to doing. Starting in the fall of 2015 I took an endless series of small actions that led me to today.  So if you want to make sure you don’t die with your dream still inside you, take action to make it real.

Suggested readings to spur your action:

2. I Saved. (Not Like Jesus)

As a professional creative thinker I take lots of risks with idea exploration. However, I am fiscally conservative. I have been cautious with our expenditures, our office space and our staffing size. I have been conservative about leaving cash in the business, versus taking it home as part of my return. As a result, The Weaponry has strong reserves to outlast this downturn.

3. I Planted Seeds.

Business development is critical to creating a pipeline of opportunities. Over the past 4 years I have stayed in touch with old friends. I’ve made hundreds of new friends. I have had phone conversations, chocolate milk meetings and lunches. I have volunteered my time, I have guest lectured and given talks. I write a blog. I have given interviews and served on committees and boards.

All of those things are like planting seeds. You never know when they will sprout or what they will turn into. But over the past month, since we have been working from home, I have had 5 new seeds sprout into either new business opportunities or actual new clients. So keep planting seeds and watch what happens. #AndyCohen.

4. I delivered

The best source of new business is a happy client. And you develop happy clients by delivering for them. We have grown by keeping our clients happy, and expanding our work with them. We are also expanding by having happy clients leave for new jobs and bringing us with them to their new companies. We have had that happen multiple times already in 2020. I have a really great team. And I appreciate all that they do for our clients. It is why we are still here, and still growing strong.

Key Takeaway

To develop a successful business you have to take action. Without action you are just a dreamer. You have to save money so that you are prepared to weather the storms that will surely come. You must keep planting seeds by creating and nurturing relationships and providing value to others. Then you must deliver the goods. Nothing grows a business like happy customers. None of it is easy. And none of it is that hard. It is simply the price you have to pay to get what you want in life.

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

Are you settling for the opportunities that come your way?

Over the past couple of weeks I have had several conversations with unhappy campers. Ok, so they weren’t really campers. They were entrepreneurs who were dissatisfied with the opportunities coming their way. As a result, they were not working with the types of clients or customers they wanted to work with. And they were not generating the level of revenue they expected.

The Cause

As I talked to these entrepreneurs about their challenges a common theme emerged. Each of the unhappy non-camping business owners told me that they were not actively marketing themselves. (Audible Gasp!) They said they are generating their leads from word of mouth alone. (Even Audibler Gasp!)

Out of Control

Generating business via word of mouth alone is a mistake. It means that you are not determining the types of clients you work with. Instead, the quantity and quality of clients approaching you are limiting your business. Which means you are not in control of your brand, or your growth. Janet Jackson would be disappointed.

Being Lazy Is Crazy

If you are not actively marketing and promoting yourself you are settling for whatever comes your way. Which is like going to a singles bar, and waiting for people to come talk to you. That is a lazy approach. And not likely to lead to your happily-ever-after ending.

Don’t Float. Drive Your Own Boat

I have been to singles bars, back before I was double. And the ladies who would come talk to me were not the same ones I would choose to talk to myself. They were the most aggressive ladies. Not the most attractive, smartest, nicest or most dentally impressive.

But I was not about to settle for less. I had a clear vision of what I wanted. And when I first saw my wife I was quickly in hot pursuit, like Sheriff Rosco P Coltrane. I wrote about it in the post It was an ordinary day until I got on that elevator.

Build Your Business

Since before I even launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I identified the types of clients I wanted to work with. I spent a disproportionate amount of time focused on developing relationships with my ideal client types. As a result, The Weaponry works with a lot of really great clients in interesting industries. Just like I envisioned we would.

Key Takeaway

Don’t settle for the opportunities that come your way. Go after the opportunities you want. Find the clients, customers or employers you want to work with. Then actively promote yourself to them. It’s the only way to build the business, brand and life you imagined. It takes more work. But it’s worth it.

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

To be an entrepreneur you need to know where clients come from.

2019 has been a very good year for my business. Lately, The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I started in 2016, has felt like the prettiest girl at the ball. Despite the fact that I am not wearing any makeup and haven’t had my hair permed in months.

Reflecting

As I reflect on this great year, I have been thinking a lot about our clients. Because the key to success as an entrepreneur is your ability to attract, maintain and grow clients. If you are considering starting your own business you need to start thinking more about finding clients than finding Nemo.

Daddy, Where do clients come from?

Clients don’t come from a client factory. You can’t buy them at a store like ClientMart or Clients R’ Us. The don’t grow at a pick-your-own client orchard. And they don’t fall from the sky on clienty days. So where do they come from?

My Client Roster Evaluation

Understanding where clients really come from is critical for aspiring entrepreneurs, startups, or any business who has forgotten how to grow. That’s why I decided to evaluate our client roster to determine where each of our clients actually came from. The following is a list of how we found each of our 19 clients (N-n-n-n-nineteen, nineteen).

How We Met Our Current Clients

  1. I was introduced to the Client by a mutual friend.
  2. The Client is a former co-worker I have stayed in touch with.
  3. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  4. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  5. The Client found us through my speaking engagement.
  6. The Client came to us because of one of my co-worker’s relationships.
  7. The Client is an old friend of mine.
  8. The Client is a new friend of mine.
  9. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  10. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  11. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  12. The Client came through a friend’s recommendation.
  13. The Client came through one of our other Client’s Recommendations
  14. The Client is an Old Friend
  15. One of our business partners recommended us to the Client.
  16. A former coworker recommended us to the Client.
  17. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  18. The Client is a former Client who I have stayed in touch with.
  19. The Client is a New Friend.
IMG_5170
My good friend, former client, current client, and amazing tennis player, Marc-Andre Dubois and I have known each other nearly 20 years. 

Key Takeaway

Clients come through relationships. Maintaining and growing your personal and professional relationships is key to business success. When I first launched my business I quickly realized that much of the hardest work of entrepreneurship, which is developing and maintaining genuine relationships, I had begun decades earlier. If you want to start your own business, side-hustle, or simply help your current business grow, start by focusing on your own relationships. Because that’s where all the best things in business and life begin.

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

Do you know what your bottleneck is?

Just like every party has a pooper, every bottle has a neck. You learn that in Bottle Anatomy 101. But what you might not have known is that every business, machine and human has a bottleneck too. The bottleneck is the singular constraint that limits an organization, object or person from accomplishing more, creating more and earning more.

Lessons of Entrepreneurship

I spend a lot of my time thinking about bottlenecks. It started when I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. As an entrepreneur, you have to spend a lot of time working on your business, not just in your business. By doing so you find that both you and your business have limitations. Unless you are Master P. #NoLimitSoldier

Finding Bottlenecks

A great way to know what areas of your business you should work on is to simply look for the bottlenecks. These are the areas that limit everything else a business can accomplish. They can be processes, equipment, people or money. In some cases your bottleneck could be too many long necks. (You can learn all about that by listening to Garth Brooks music.)

Delivery

The Weaponry’s bottleneck is not how much work we can deliver. Because we are organized in a way that allows us to scale our team when necessary to meet surges in demand. I am confident we have the right kinds of people too. So that is not our current limiter either.

Business Development

Our bottleneck is related to business development. We have discovered our businesses limiter is about awareness that we exist and what we can do for our potential clients. Which is perhaps the most common bottleneck in business. It is why advertising and marketing agencies like us exist in the first place. Alanis Morissette would say this is ironic. Don’t you think?

They Don’t Go Away. They Move.

Because we know awareness is our bottleneck we make it The One Problem To Solve. By increasing our awareness we can increase demand, which increases our business. Once awareness is no longer our limiter, our bottleneck will move somewhere else in the business. It may become our bandwidth, financial resources, location, skill sets, or the types of snacks we have in the break room.

As the business grows and evolves the bottleneck will continue to move. But by paying close attention to the business we will identity the new bottleneck, and the solutions needed to improve our business. Which is like winning at Whac-A-Mole.

Key Takeaway

The single most important thing you can do today is identify your bottleneck. Ask yourself what your greatest limiter is. Then address that limitation. Because if you open that limiter you open all kinds of new possibilities. This is true in business and in our personal lives. So find your bottleneck. Widen it out. And you will find new levels of success.

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

Sometimes the most important thing to work hard at is patience.

Hard work is important to almost every variety of success. Unless you aspire to be an outstanding subject in a sleep clinic, you have to put in a lot of effort to achieve your goals. That’s why it is so important to pursuit the things you are most passionate about. It is much easier to put in long days of work when you are genuinely excited about the work and the mission.

However…

While hard work is important, it is not the only contributor to business and personal success. Since I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I have found that the most surprisingly important ingredient to our success has been patience.

Patience

There have been dozens of times over the past 2.5 years when putting in more hard work would have worked against us. That’s because our clients and customers, (and potential clients and customers) have their own timing that has nothing to do with us.

I have had exciting conversations about great opportunities that then took a long time to materialize. I am talking about gestational periods of a year or even 2 years. There are other opportunities that I still expect will materialize 3 years or more after our initial conversations.

That’s a long time to wait for a cake to bake. But there is nothing I, or any of my teammates can do to speed the process along. In fact, calling and asking and pressing the client, or potential client, would only hurt the opportunity.

Key Takeaway

Recognizing when you have done all the hard work you can to generate a new opportunity is an important skill that pays huge dividends over time. Because once you have reached a critical point, less is more. Let the timing that is out of your control take its course. But don’t give up. This is a hard perspective to master. Master it anyway.

*If you have a story to corroborate this need for patience instead of more work, please share.

**Also, this post had nothing to do with people in need of medical care. Thanks anyway spellcheck.

Why it is so positive to focus on the negative.

I am a naturally positive person. I like to start with the positive. I like to end on the positive. And I like to fill the middle with as much positive as I can. Yet, I don’t claim any responsiblity for my positivity. As Lady Gaga once said, Baby, I was born this way.

Team Meetings

On Tuesday mornings I meet with my entire team at The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I launched in 2016. I share updates on our clients, people, and growth opportunities. We discuss our long-term vision for the organization and our progress towards that goal. And yes, it is a positive experience.

The Good

This Tuesday I gave an update on our latest developments. The headline was:

In the past 3 months we have added 8 new clients in 5 different states.

I walked through the new additions, gave an overview on what we are doing for each of them, and mentioned the people who had either helped us secure the business, or who were already working on the accounts.

The Bad

After sharing the good news of the week I asked the team to keep looking for the peas under the mattress. I want to make this agency the perfect place to work, and the perfect partner for our clients. The only way you get to that point is by removing the elements that cause discomfort. I want to find the pain points and confusion. I want to know what is causing slowdowns and bottlenecks and head scratching.

Why So Negative?

It is easy to ignore your problems, especially when things are going well. But if we do, we won’t improve our machine. And if we don’t improve our processes, procedures, structure and people, we will never achieve the elusive goal of creating the perfect agency.

The Paradox. (Or is it a Pair of Docks?)

Admittedly, it is a little odd, especially for an optimistic, can-do, positive organization like The Weaponry to focus on the blemishes, weaknesses and flaws. But, Mama, that’s where the fun is.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of growth is eliminating weakness. By shoring up our weakest points the machine gets stronger and stronger. The entire team can feel it when a reoccurring problem goes a way. And when it does, we can then focus on the next issue up. There will always be a next issue up. But just as with technological advances and innovation, as challenges are solved, the new challenges that take their place are smaller and smaller issues.

Key Takeaway

If you really want to be great, don’t just acknowledge or admit your flaws. Seek them out. Root them out. Mark them in highlighter. Then develop a plan to eliminate them.  We use the EOS Rocks system, as outlined in the book Traction by Gino Wickman to take on our issues, gain traction as an organization, and continue on our path of organizational improvement. We are not perfect. But we want to be. And we are committed to getting as close to the dream as we can.

*I’d love to know your thoughts on either of the following questions:

  1. Do you feel that your organization makes a priority of discovering and eliminating your organizational and operational flaws?
  2. Do you try to proactively identify flaws in yourself, your outlook, your processes, your knowledge or your procedures in a quest for self-improvement? Or, do you beat yourself up over your shortcomings?

The best business development technique I know.

There are two types of jobs:

  1. Those that require you to attract new clients.
  2. Those where you just show up and work for the clients that someone else attracted.

I have had a significant role in attracting new clients since the 3rd year of my career. In fact, I spent so much time earning the trust of prospective clients throughout my career that it gave me the confidence to launch my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016.

One of the questions I have been asked most often over the past two years is: Where do you find your clients?’  There are a lot of fun answers I could give. Because all of our client relationships seem to have a fun origin story. But a couple of facts stand out. 

4 Fun Facts About Our Clients.

  1. Our first four clients at The Weaponry were clients I had worked with earlier in my career.
  2. Two of our clients have now hired The Weaponry for two different businesses.
  3. One of our clients has now hired The Weaponry for three different businesses.
  4. One of our collaborative partners has introduced us to 8 new businesses that have become clients.

Key Takeaway

Doing great work for your current clients is the best approach to business development.  Those clients will recommend you to others. They will hire you again when they change jobs. The partners you collaborate with will see how you treat your shared clients and recommend you to other clients they work with. It has been a key driver of growth for The Weaponry. So, as Bill Belichick would say, ‘Do your job.’ Because when you do, more opportunities will come your way.

Why you should give it away, give it away now.

A year and a half ago I was in a fender bender. I was hit by a woman who was hit by a distracted driver, who didn’t realize that everyone else on the road stopped at a railroad crossing. I wrote about the experience in the post, Could You Pass The Fender Bender Test. While waiting for the authorities to show up, Laura ‘The Bumper Thumper’ and I began talking. We quickly struck up a friendship. It turns out that Laura has her own marketing business too.

Chapter Two

A couple of months after the incident I got a call from a potential client about a new marketing challenge they were facing. We agreed to meet face to face, and I invited Laura to bring her face to the meeting too.

The client was dealing with a new law that was dramatically changing the way they could market their service. More bluntly, their primary way of finding customers was now illegal. (So tawdry, I know!) The change posed a monumental threat to their very existence. They needed to quickly replace their old marketing approach with a new one, or there would be no business. (dun, dun, dun)

Laura and I met with two of the partners for two hours. We discussed numerous potential solutions to the problem. As I had imagined, Laura was a valuable asset. She asked a lot of smart questions. She had a very good understanding of the industry, and the major players in the market. Best of all, she didn’t hit anyone with a car.

When we left the potential client’s office, Laura said,

‘You really give a way a lot of ideas for free.’

She’s right. I do.

Here’s why I give ideas away for free.

I love free samples at the grocery store. Nothing sells me on your southern ham, spicy cheese, mango salsa or Fruity Barky Bites like tasting it myself. That tiny plastic cup worth of your product gives me everything I need to know to purchase more.

My business does not make Fruity Barky Bites. At least not yet. We produce ideas. So when I meet with people about their marketing challenges, I dig in. I start thinking through solutions with them. I offer up initial ideas worth considering. I get excited about solving the problem. They get excited about having the problem solved.

People don’t like to be sold to. They want to be in a position to buy. So rather than sell a client on why they should work with The Weaponry,  I like to offer people a sample of what they would get if they work with us. If they like it, they will want to buy. If they don’t like what they hear, they will pass. And both sides win.

Key Takeaway

I believe you should always add value before you try to extract value. Prove your worth. Make new clients and customers feel as if they have received more value than they have paid for. Give them a test drive so they can imagine the future. Once they decide to buy, don’t slow down. Keep over delivering. Always make them feel like they are getting more than they are paying for. Even when they are paying a lot.

*If you found value in this post, and would like more free samples, consider subscribing to this blog.

This is where I encourage you to pitch your elevator pitch.

In 2015 I decided to launch a new advertising agency. I already had a vivid image of the agency in my head. So I began mapping, sketching and listing every detail of the company. I considered the business from every angle. I even created a Life Stage chart of the yet unborn business. It was like What to Expect When You Are Expecting. Except I was expecting a bouncing baby business.

The Elevator Pitch 

However, there was one detail that start-ups typically obsess over that I skipped entirely: the Elevator Pitch. It is supposed to be the centerpiece of a startup’s marketing efforts. If you’ve never heard of an elevator pitch, the idea is that you have to summarize the essence of who you are, and what you do, in a short statement that you could deliver to a captive hostage on a brief elevator ride. Apparently, lots of entrepreneurs stalk high-powered executives on elevators, thinking it would be a great strategy for winning their affection.

I’m not buying it.

I hate the whole concept of the elevator pitch. I think it is the most overrated, over-discussed element of salesmanship. And entrepreneurship. And elevatorship.

Sure, it is important to be able to succinctly talk about your business. Your Great Aunt Petunia doesn’t have enough time left on Earth to waste it on your full story. But I have never bought anything or hired anyone because of a brief discussion I had on an elevator, escalator or Wonk-avator.

In fact, I have been in business for two years. And not once have I found myself in an elevator with someone who told me I had 10 floors of verticality to perform the sales pitch of a lifetime.

My Approach

Instead of scripting and performing an elevator monologue to an audience that never shows up, which feels a little like writing an acceptance speech for an award you didn’t win, I take the opposite approach.

The Quiet Game

I play the quiet game. You know, it’s that game where you see how long you can go without talking. I was terrible at the Quiet Game as a child. Scratch that. I was the Cleveland Browns of The Quiet Game. But today, as an entrepreneur, I am quite good at it. When I meet a marketer, I don’t whip out a polished sales pitch and throw it at her. Instead, I listen.

I want to hear what potential clients talk about. I want to hear what challenges they are facing. I want to know where their pain points are. I want to identify their greatest unmet needs. I continue to grow and transform The Weaponry in response to the unmet needs of our clients. Because we are focused on solving client problems, we grow in the direction that our clients’ needs dictate.

Key Takeaway

If you want to collect more great clients and grow your business, don’t practice your elevator pitch. Practice listening. Play detective. Or doctor. Listen for the discomfort, the bottlenecks, and the solution-less problems your clients and potential clients are facing.  Discover their unmet needs. And you’ll have found your next opportunity.

*If you found anything of value in this post, please consider subscribing to this blog. You’ll receive two fresh-baked posts via email each week. Oh, and you may also dig this post I wrote about My Vanilla Ice Philosophy. Vanilla Ice himself liked it. And Tweeted it. And hung it above his bed (ok, that very last part might not be true).