I love a good story. And right now I am in the early chapters of a really interesting new story. Only it is not a book, movie, or TV show. It’s real life. And you are in the story too.
The new reality caused by COVID-19 is turning into one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. And we are just getting warmed up. What began as a health problem in Wuhan, China is now impacting all manner of life on my side of the planet in ways that would have been unimaginable a week ago. Unless, of course, I was watching what was happening in Italy a week ago. But I wasn’t. Because sports were still on TV.
War of The World
Remember hearing the story of Orson Wells’ War of The World radio broadcast when we were younger? This feels a lot like that. Only the Aliens are viruses. And what was a fake newscast is really happening.
Shut’n Er Down
Sports of all sorts are cancelled. Schools are closed. Amusement parks, museums and zoos are shut down. Travel is greatly restricted, and will likely restrict even further. And I am not just talking about the economy class seating.
Yet within these unprecedented times are amazing opportunities. Opportunities to connect with those closest to you. To slow down. To go for walks, hikes and bike rides. To play games at home. To cook more. To read more. To create more. And in 9 months, I expect to see a global wave of tiny little coronavirus-inspired Earthlings.
Today, there are new opportunities to volunteer and contribute. Support the organizations that support those who are most impacted by this pandemic and the economic repercussions.
There are new business opportunities all around us. The new reality means new unmet needs. And unmet needs are the seeds from which businesses grow.
There will be opportunities to lead. To take actions that help your community. Both in the prevention of the spread of the virus in your community, and in the recovery and return to normalcy after the threat passes.
A significant chapter of global, national and personal history is being written right now. Be thoughtful about the role you will play in the story. Keep washing your hands. And be patient. This too shall pass. And we will all have an interesting story to share.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
It’s really easy to start your own blog. I should know. I have started at least 8 of them. But it’s really hard to keep them going. I should know. Because 7 of mine moved like glaciers, until global warming put them out of their misery.
I enjoyed writing the blogs. But I never created a habit that kept them going. It takes time to find your groove, your voice and your writing schedule. Even more challenging, it takes a lot to attract an audience that wants to read what you are writing.
Writing No Matter Whataburger
When I started this blog I made a commitment to myself to just keep at it, no matter what. I was committed to sharing my experience as I launched my own advertising agency from dust. I thought it would help others start their own businesses. Just as I had read other blogs that inspired my entrepreneurial adventure. If the business failed and no one read the blog, at least when it ended I would have the experience and learnings well documented for myself. Which is like seeing the light at the end of my carpal tunnel.
In many ways The Perfect Agency Project blog and The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, are like twins. They were born at the same time. They have grown together. And they are inseparable. Like conjoined twins. Or regular twins who got into the Gorilla Glue.
The growth of The Weaponry has been a shared experience, as we have added team members and clients. But the growth of The Perfect Agency Project blog has been private and quiet.
Writing this blog is a solitary endeavor. It’s just me and my computer. I write down my thoughts, lessons, experiences, observations and insights that stem from working in and on my business. Then I hope that someone, somewhere will read the posts and find some value in them.
Sometimes the posts are well read. And sometimes they are not. It is hard to tell why some posts fly and some flop. Especially when what I consider to be the best, most important ideas gain very little traction.
But whether a post was extremely popular or went mostly unnoticed, I write again the next day. I have been consistent and persistent. I just kept writing. And just kept posting.
Seeing Obvious Progress
I am proud to say that on September 17th, 2019, the total number of views and visitors to my blog for 2019 surpassed the total number of views and visitors the blog received in all of 2018. Which means that it had the same number of visitors in 8.5 months in 2019 as it did in the 12 months of 2018. #FirstGradeMathYall
Insistence on Persistence
The persistence is leading to progress. I still have 3.5 months of readership growth ahead this year. At the pace of 3 posts per week, that is 42 blog posts left to share in 2019. As a result, I expect a 50% growth in views and visitors for the year. Which for a blog I have been writing for 4 years feels pretty good.
Fun Fact: The Perfect Agency Project blog has been read in 113 countries around the world in 2019.
I attribute the growth to just keeping at it. Slow and steady. Each post, whether it is read by tens or thousands, contributes to that total. And that’s progress. Truly, every little bit helps.
Success doesn’t come overnight. It comes in small steps that seem insignificant on their own. But over time the cumulative effect of all those small steps is significant progress. So keep going. Commit to creating a habit of action, day after day. Then give yourself time. Time for the results to pile up and make a difference. If I can do it you can do it. Do a little every day. And just don’t stop.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Today, May 25th, is my birthday. I consider my birthday the most important day of my life. Seriously. If it wasn’t for my birthday I doubt I’d have a wedding anniversary. Or kids. Or my birthday suit. Or a blog.
The Real New Year’s Day
I think of my birthday, not New Year’s Day, as the starting point of my year. And this year I am focused on some very important goals. Or as a Mexican soccer announcer would say, I have some ‘Muy Importante Gooooooooooals!’
My 5 Goals For The Next Year
1. Get More Aggressive. Recently I’ve done more leaping and less looking. I’ve taken several premature steps forward on initiatives rather than taking the time to properly prepare, and consider all of the possible outcomes. The results have been impressive. By simply moving forward when I get an inkling I am creating more progress than I do when I carefully consider my options. So in the year ahead, less thinking. More doing. Or as Toby Keith said, a little less talk and a lot more action.
2. Write more. I already write like I am Orville and Wilbur’s third brother. But in the year ahead I have goals to crank my typewriter up to 11. In addition to this blog that I post to 3 times per week, I now have 3 book ideas started. I also met with a couple of magazine publishers yesterday about writing a regular piece for their pub. (That’s slang for publication. I am not writing for an Irish bar.) How did this opportunity come about? I got aggressive and contacted them on an impulse, before I really thought it through. (See Goal #1)
3. Create Another Business. There is something about entrepreneurship that is like Pringles. Because once you pop, you can’t stop. I have 3 leading business ideas I am currently working through. One involves cheese. (#WhenInWisconsin…) One is a franchise opportunity (not to be confused with a french fry opportunity). And the other involves fo real estate. (#forealdo). Of course I have other ideas that get added to the list daily. So I want to bring at least one of the ideas to life in the next year. But no matter which one wins, I want to eat more cheese.
4. Become A Greater Connector. I am a dot connector. It is how I process the world. I love creating, maintaining and facilitating connections. This is my most meaningful contribution to the people in my circles. Because at the end of our days the only thing that really matters is the impact we have on each other’s lives. Wait, did that just get real serious, real fast? #crickets
5. More Quality Time With Family. I put my family at the top of the list of people I want to connect with. Like the meatball on top of spaghetti. My family includes my wife, Dawn and children Ava, Johann and Magnus. But it also includes my parents, sisters and their families. As well as my very large extended family. Especially now that I am about to make my first lap around the sun without any grandparents. Which means my generation needs to prioritize and facilitate our gatherings now that my 4 grandparents are sitting together at the great card table in the sky.
Birthdays are important. They serve as an annual reminder of the scarcity of time. To make the most of each year, reevaluate what is most important to you on your birthday. Set new and higher goals and expectations. Then charge forward to meet them. It’s how we create a life worth writing about. Which, if I’m lucky, would be book number 4.
My Birthday Wish
If you want to do me a special free favor on my birthday, please subscribe to get this blog gift wrapped and delivered to your inbox. It would really mean a lot to me. The subscribe button is on the home page.
*Also, Happy Birthday to my sister Heather. Yes we share a birthday. No we’re not twins. #howweirdisthat
April 15th is once again upon us. If you pay a lot in taxes it might feel like Uncle Sam is upon you too. This time of year people always complain about how much they owe the government in taxes. Clearly the complainers don’t know how easy it is to dramatically lower your tax burden.
Before I share my surefire tax lowering technique I should acknowledge that I am not a licensed tax professional. So anything I share here should be verified by your tax consultant, or by actually reading the IRS publications. But I am pretty sure this is not the same tax lowering strategies used by Wesley Snipes, Martha Stewart or Willie Nelson.
Tax Paying Experience
While I am not a certified tax professional, I own my own business and file taxes in 3 different states. I have been paying taxes since I was 14 years old. I have calculated my taxes on my own and I’ve used Turbo Tax. Today, I use a team of professional tax accountants. All 3 of these tax preparing approaches have confirmed my bulletproof tax reduction strategy.
My Tax Reduction Technique
My surefire technique for lowering your tax burden is so easy anyone can use it. Even better, it is legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
If you want to pay far less in taxes next year simply make far less income.
The Ultimate Tax Hack
If a lower tax bill is a high priority, simply throttle back your effort and contribution at work. Unless a family member owns the company, or you are really, really good-looking (#Zoolander), you will certainly feel an equal drop in both your compensation and your tax liability. It’s that easy to do. In fact, it is much easier to lower your taxes significantly than it is to raise them.
My Tax History
When I was in high school and college, I typically made between $3000 and $5000 working during the summer. As a result my taxes were tiny. In fact, I am pretty sure the government lost money on the time they spent reviewing my taxes.
In the first year after I graduated from college I made $21,000. My taxes were still really low. In fact, the government gave me almost all of the money I paid in taxes back to me. When I received my refund check from the IRS that year it was accompanied by a note that said, ‘Thanks for the laugh!’
My Taxes Today.
Now I make a lot more money. And I pay a lot more in taxes. In 2016 I started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Clearly I didn’t listen to those who told me that if my income goes up, my tax bill will too. In fact, this year I will pay more in taxes than I made in gross salary during the 7th year of my career. And I love it.
Reinterpreting Those Damn Taxes
Taxes are a sign of success. To pay a lot in taxes you have to make a lot of money. If you are paying a lot more now than you did a few years ago, congratulations! You must be making a lot more. If your total tax bill is obscene, even better! You must be making an obscene amount of money!
The Tax Reminder
Remember, taxes enable us to pay for things together. If it weren’t for taxes, you would have to build your own roads, your own schools, and your own parks. But thanks to the tax system, we all give a little and get a whole lot in return. Which means that taxes help us save money overall, and increase our quality of life. If you are not paying taxes it is like going to a pot luck dinner and not bringing any pot or any luck to share. That makes you a mooch. Or a free loader. Don’t be that kid.
To pay a lot in taxes you have to make a lot of money. Never lose that perspective. Be proud of that money you contribute to benefit us all. I hope you make a boatload of money next year. Then I hope you ship a life raft’s worth of tax payments to the IRS to help save us all. Be proud to pay a larger tax bill each year. It’s a sign of success. Sure, it’s easy to slash your tax bill by lowering your income. But after you’ve done that once you will realize it feels a lot better to pay a lot more.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share with them.
I spent the last hours of my 39th year reflecting on my life. I wrote down a long list of things I was proud I had accomplished so far. It was good to take a 40-year view of life. In fact, I consider this moment one of the pivotal moments in my adventure on Earth. It helped put my journey and path in perspective. After I took inventory of all the good things I had accomplished and experienced I turned my attention to the future.
I asked myself a simple question:
If life ended right here, what things would I regret not doing?
This was an exciting question. Because it would form my to-do list for the next chapter of life. At that point I felt like I was living up to most of my expectations. My personal life was great. I had a wonderful wife (Dawn), a daughter (Ava) and two sons (Johann and Magnus). My parents, sisters and their families were all doing well. I have a huge and wonderful extended family and great friends around the world.
My career was going very well. I was the Chief Creative Officer of a 275-person advertising agency called Engauge, and we were about to finalize a deal to sell the agency to Publicis, the giant advertising agency holding company out of Paris.
The 4 Things
With my personal and professional life on track, what were the things that I would regret not doing if died the next day? There were 4 things that quickly rose to the top.
More international travel. I had visited 11 foreign countries at that time. But that left about 200 that I hadn’t seen.
Starting an advertising agency.
Starting a real estate business.
This became my checklist of things to accomplish in the decade ahead.
The Advertising Agency
Within 2 years I began plans to launch my own advertising agency. And within 3 years I had actually left my job, started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and had clients in Atlanta, Boston, Quebec, Milwaukee and San Francisco.
The Real Estate Business
By the end of that 3rd year, Dawn and I had bought a new house and converted our home in Atlanta into a rental property, complete with tenants and rental income. Which meant that we had birthed our real estate business.
The International Travel
Last year I had a really exciting opportunity to travel to India to film a video for a great client, Fifth Third bank. My experience there was incredible. In fact I summarized it in this popular blog post, 20 interesting things you notice when you travel to India. Now America is the only country that reads my blog more than India.
I am excited to be making good progress on these 3 areas. Which are the toughest 3 on my list to accomplish. Which leaves just one of my goals for the decade unaddressed.
Yesterday morning when I got on the elevator to go to my office I saw a flyer posted above the keypad. There was a blood drive, from 10am to 2pm in the office space directly above The Weaponry. I was thrilled. This was the sign I needed. And today was the day!
A quick bit of background. My Dad, Robert Albrecht donates blood like it is his job. He is the equivalent of a Million Mile Flyer for giving blood. But I had never given blood myself, and have always felt bad about this. When I was on the track team at the University of Wisconsin our coaches discouraged us from giving for training and performance reasons. After graduation I simply never found the on-ramp to giving. I have no fear of blood or needles or ‘I gave’ stickers. I just hadn’t done it.
At 11am I left my office and made my way to suite 307. I was more excited than most people to donate blood. But then again, most people don’t have donating blood on their bucket list. I walked in the room and was greeted by a blue scrubbed technician. I said, ‘If you have any time slots still available I am full of blood, and willing to give some to you.’ She laughed and told me there was an open slot at 11:50am.
I was thrilled. And at 11:50am I was back and got the process started. I signed in on a clipboard and was taken to a semi-private cubicle for my pre-screening. They took my driver’s license and entered a bunch of information about me into a computer. Then they had me scan a binder previewing the questionnaire I was about to take.
Then I took the questionnaire. It was crazy. It asked if I was, or ever had been pregnant. It asked if I took any drugs, received a blood transfusion, had AIDS or Cancer. It asked if I had ever had man on man sex, or sex with a prostitute. #thingsIhadn’texpectedtoreadthatday.
When I was finished with the 45 question survey I only said Yes to one question. The technician then reviewed my answers and said, ‘It looks like we have just one question to review.’ It says that you have traveled outside of the US or Canada in the past year. I proudly said, ‘Yes!’
The technician asked where I had traveled. I told her I had been to India. She then asked me what area I visited. I replied that I had been to Bangalore, in southern India.
She then pulled out a binder to check on any restrictions that may apply, based on my travel. Once she found what she was looking for she turned the binder around towards me. She put her finger next to the word India. She then slid her finger to show me that travelers to India were prohibited from donating blood for one year, due to the threat of Malaria.
I was denied.
She told me to come back at the end of September and they would happily take my blood. She then handing me my parting gift. It was a ticket that provided free admission for four people to Mt. Olympus Water Park in Wisconsin Dells. While I love a good water park, this was little consolation for not being able to check off one my major life goals.
But I couldn’t help but smile, reflecting on the last few hours of my 39th year. That night I declared I would launch my own business. Which lead to exciting international travel. Which prevented me from donating blood. In other words, I still have unfinished business.
Take inventory of your life. Give gratitude for all you have and all you’ve done, both personally and professionally. And think about the things you will regret not doing next. Write them down. Prioritize them. And give yourself a deadline to accomplish them. Then take action. Even long lives fly by. If you don’t recognize, declare and take action towards the things you want most, they will never happen.
I am excited to have made such good progress on 3 out of 4 Decade Goals. In September I expect to knock off another. Unless, of course, I have more exciting international travel before then. Which is always a possibility. Afterall, it is on my to-do list.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
I’m not easy to scare. I’m not an anxious or nervous person. In fact, I am so normal that I am often bored by my lack of lunacy. My kids say that the only thing I am scared of is missing out on a fun time. In the past, they may have been right.
But I have a new fear that seems to have crept up on me when I wasn’t looking. I feel it in libraries and bookstores. It makes me truly uncomfortable in these places that should be quiet and calming.
So What’s Up?
I have tracked and analyzed this feeling and have discovered its source. Libraries and bookstores make me anxious, because I am now comparing all of the books I want to read with how little time I have left to read them. The equation does not work in my favor. And this freaks me out.
I love to read. Reading a book is like being the recipient of an organ transplant. Because as you read, someone else’s knowledge gets transferred to your body of knowledge. Yet, unlike when you receive a new, kidney, heart or appendix, your body rarely rejects new reading material. Even when you disagree with what you’ve read, you incorporate it into your understanding and world view.
Entrepreneurship Makes Symptoms Worse
I have always loved to read. But ever since I founded my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, my reading pace has picked up. So has my phobia. My FOLAB (Fear Of Libraries and Bookstores) is like FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Except the FOLAB stems from the knowledge, perspective, and mental stimulation I know I will never receive.
I have read several sources that say the average CEO reads one book per week. This doesn’t surprise me. Because entrepreneurs are looking for as much knowledge as they can accumulate. I turn to books as my primary source of professional inspiration and education. I pick up something useful in everything I read. I always juggle several books at once (because they are safer than chainsaws). And most of my commute is done listening to audio books. Yet, time is slipping away.
I am confronting the finite amount of book-reading life I have left. And I am in desperate need of some knowledge donors. Please share some of your go-to books that you feel I should prioritize. The average age of my four grandparents was only 95 years old.* So I may only have 50 years of reading left. Oh, my gosh. Seeing that in print is totally freaking me out. Please help by sending your reading recommendations today.
*My Grandma Albrecht is 98 and still going strong. So the average is still going up. But still…
It was December of 1999. The world was facing a possible Y2K apocalypse, and I was surrounded by cranberries. I had written a national TV commercial for Northland Cranberry Juice and was now preparing to shoot the spot in their hometown, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids (just in case you’ve never been there) is to cranberries what Nashville is to country music.
The premise of the commercial we were shooting was that the honest, hardworking people of Wisconsin Rapids put 100% into everything they do. So they would never consider putting anything less than 100% juice into a bottle of Northland. The same could not be said for those villains at Ocean Spray. Their cranberry cocktails ranged from just 17% to 27% juice. Cut to the close up of the Ocean Spray ingredient label, and cue the horror movie music.
But this story is not about juice. It is about the director. Ashley Lazarus. While Ashley Lazarus is one of the most beautiful names I have ever heard, it belongs to a bear of a man. A South African man. A man best known in America for launching the Saturn car brand with the iconic Spring in Springhill commercials. In other words, Ashley had mad directing skillz.
My first two days with Ashley were spent scouting for locations to shoot the commercial. We were looking for the most interesting locations in and around Wisconsin Rapids to capture on film.
While driving between locations in the Wisconsin countryside, Ashley, who was in his 60s, turned to me and slowly asked in his deep, South African accent, ‘Adam, how old are you?’
I replied, ’26’.
Not only will I never forget what he said next, it helped steer the course of my career, and my life.
‘Adam, eventually you must open your own advertising agency. You will be promised great positions in your career. You may even be offered them. But eventually all creatives are either passed over or forced out of agencies. The only way for you to remain in control of your career is to own your own agency.’
I had dreamed of owning my own agency since I first started my career three years earlier. But now, at 26 years old, I was told I had no choice. If I wanted to be in control of my career and my life’s path, I would have to start my own advertising agency and create my own opportunities.
That advice stuck in my head like a cocklebur to corduroy. I believed Ashley was right. Over the next 15 years I was promoted from Copywriter, to Senior Writer, to Associate Creative Director, to Creative Director, to Executive Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. But I never forgot what Ashley said. And I wanted the ultimate control over my career path.
In 2016, when I was 42 years old, I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. I also launched this blog to chronicle the entire journey (if you’d like to follow along at home consider subscribing). Today, I’d like Ashley to know that I listened, appreciated and followed the advice he gave me in the back of that SUV in Wisconsin, Rapids in 1999.
What Ashley said about my career holds true for you too. Your career path, and your life path will be determined by someone else if you don’t take control of it. You too should start your own business, or side hustle, or consulting gig. Prepare your own plan B before you need it. It’s the key to writing your own script with your own happy ending.