8 Lessons For Entrepreneurs (That I May Have Learned the Hard Way)

Happy Anniversary to me. Yep, eight years and two months ago  (May 1, 2010) I re-entered the world of entrepreneurship by starting Converse Digital with a mere two weeks notice, no money in the bank, no investors, no credit line, a wife, four kids, a big mortgage payment and lots of private school tuitions. I’ve learned a lot along the way and today I wanted to share some of those lessons for entrepreneurs with you. 1) You Need an Entrepreneurship Runway The common rule of thumb for starting a business is to have at least a few months income in your bank. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that. I didn’t have the luxury so many of my fellow entrepreneurs have, where they don’t take a salary out of the company for months or years, instead reinvesting all profits to quickly grow the business. Nope, Converse Digital had to be cash flow positive from day one. But this lack of runway has been a blessing and a curse. It’s been a curse because I’ve never really had the chance to strategically grow the company. Sure, here and there we launch little initiatives like our Social Reconnaissance Products…or our CIBER product (that I don’t even have a full webpage live for yet – just a quick landing page), usually after they’ve been on the drawing board for months or more. But on the flip side, that lack of runway makes you scared. Every day you wake up expecting the other shoe to drop — for a client to fire you or cut their budget, or for that big project you were counting on to NOT come through, or my "favorite" — a client falls way behind [...]

By |July 3rd, 2018|

Three Ways I Fill My Travel Lulls With Pockets Of Productivity

In the last year, I boarded a plane at least once 48 weeks out of 52. And I’m not alone in my travel habits: In 2016, Americans went on close to 460 million business trips. I used to be convinced there was no way to get actual work done between the noise, the close quarters, and the constant interruptions of travel. Deadlines, however, don’t care about your travel plans. I have more than 200 emails to sift through, a podcast to produce, and content to create in addition to client work. When I’m in on-site meetings with clients, my focus is on the person in front of me; travel is the only time left to get the rest of my work done. But working while traveling doesn’t have to be a nightmare. I’ve learned how to maximize travel time, whether I’m waiting in line, stuck in a taxi, on a crowded flight, or sitting in an airport terminal. Others who struggle to stay productive while traveling can learn, too. Track your progress anywhere, any time. Whether you’re on the go or in the office, using an omnichannel platform to communicate with your co-workers and keep track of project statuses is crucial. Important information should be accessible to you whether you’re working on your phone as you wait to go through customs or you’re making use of a terminal’s Wi-Fi. I use Wunderlist, a productivity tool synced across devices to assign tasks to myself and keep my to-do list updated. Its interface is simple, and it helps me keep track of tasks, communication with co-workers, potential podcast guests, blog topics, and any other information I might need. Smartphones, of course, are another godsend for traveling businesspeople. [...]

By |January 30th, 2018|

EOS Model: Why Your Agency Needs a Visionary and an Integrator with Mark Winters

Most agency owners are visionaries – able to see the future and come up with idea after idea to keep their agency on top of things. But most agency owners struggle to move those ideas forward on their own. They need an integrator to help them get things done – to wade through the details and processes. The integrator is the one to follow through and put the visionary’s ideas into practice. This perfect combination of visionary and integrator is what my podcast guest Mark Winters focuses on in his book, Rocket Fuel. Mark is a Certified EOS Implementer, working with agencies to identify this combination of the “visionary” who makes it up and the “integrator” who makes it happen and puts them together within a framework that will get your agency to extraordinary. See how identifying the visionary and the integrator in your agency can push you to the next level of success by learning: The “visionary” and the “integrator” from “Rocket Fuel” by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters How visionaries and integrators can build trust so that integrators can take control of what visionaries create What business owners need to do when they are an integrator and they need a visionary (most owners are visionaries) If you are a visionary, how to determine if you have an integrator on your team and what to do if you don’t The seven-step visionary integrator connection process for finding the right integrator How to know if you’re going to be able to sell your agency to your integrator or not (and what your exit plan can look like in both scenarios) Things that make visionary-integrator relationships fall apart The five rules and five tools for [...]

By |September 21st, 2017|

Accelerate Agency Vision by Getting on Your Soapbox

Agencies are beautiful, chaotic places to work. The nature of creative client work means the agency is always in a state of flux, growing and pivoting as clients do. The ability to adjust quickly is critical to survival, but it makes it all too easy for the agency vision to get lost in the daily shuffle. Recently, I worked with a mid-sized agency in Chicago that had good people, solid work, and consistent clients. The problem was that they were stuck. After a few years of stagnant billings and staff size, the owner decided to make a few changes. He instituted monthly “state of the agency” meetings, where he outlined the agency’s long-term vision and updated the staff on financial goals. He also established quarterly and yearly meetings that allowed the team to discuss goals and establish concrete action steps for achieving them. In the four years since instituting those changes, the agency has seen double-digit growth every year. Employees are happier and more energized, and the company is making a name for itself. On the surface, it seems really obvious:  You need a clear vision to grow an agency. But it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and, when you do, you often miss clues that something is about to go terribly wrong. Why It’s Important to Look Up Agencies that stay in tactical mode all the time will almost certainly miss warning signs that they’re wandering off-target. This is what I like to call “shiny object syndrome.” With digital marketing, there seems to be a new “shiny object” every year. Focusing on your overarching vision will keep you from chasing every shiny object that comes along and help you pick [...]

By |September 8th, 2017|

Looking For a Job? Ditch the Resume Tips and Open a Marketing Book

For many unemployed young people, the job hunt is a dismal pursuit. Books about resume writing state the importance of “standing out,” but it’s hard to showcase your achievements when everyone around you has comparable triumphs. Even that stellar academic history becomes a minimum requirement when colleges are handing out As at record highs. You’ve listed many accomplishments, but from the perspective of a potential employer, you look exactly the same as every other applicant. If you’re relying on stale resume advice, you’ll only get as far as others taking the same approach. By thinking like a marketer and creating an ad campaign for yourself, you can defy the odds and outshine other qualified applicants. Adopt the marketing mindset Marketers have been tackling the problems of differentiating their product from competitors’ and becoming the go-to consumer brand for years. It’s a constant struggle, and they consistently have to up their game to stay in the race. Like them, you want to stand out among your peers. Applying these specific marketing tactics will help you leave a lasting impression on potential employers. Appeal to your target market. Before potential employers see your name on a list of applicants, you should be working to interact and market yourself directly. Turn one-way communication into an ongoing conversation by engaging with companies on social media. Don’t forget to spruce up your online personality, and keep your digital resume updated.Through your profile and interactions, demonstrate how your personality and experiences would benefit a company and its clients. Consider writing a blog to further express yourself. Ask yourself, "If my work were a product, how would I market myself to my target audience? How would I differentiate myself from other applicants?" When [...]

By |September 1st, 2017|

Marketers, There Isn’t an Algorithm to Finding The Perfect Agency

From Match.com and OkCupid to Hinge and Tinder, online and mobile applications are taking the dating world by storm, however, the algorithm-driven processes used by these sites don’t work for finding agency relationships. Data-centric tools such as Sortlist claim to help marketers find their “soul mate” agency, much like what Match.com promises to do for singles. Sortlist and similar platforms use system intelligence to match an advertising agency and in-house marketers looking for services. But an algorithm will never be able to replace real human connection when it comes to matching agencies and companies. The AOR Model Goes MIA Today, the traditional “agency of record” model is rapidly disintegrating. Clients used to be willing to ride out the valleys of their agency relationships, knowing that the peak was around the corner. As the number of advertising disciplines continues to increase, clients are less likely to believe that any one agency can be an expert in all of them, so they seek specialists for each task. This changes their agency relationships as well, causing them to switch partners on a project-by-project basis — and making it all the more tempting to use an automated system for the selection process. Where’s the Chemistry? Marketers don’t just need an agency that meets their advertising and communications needs, they need to share a special chemistry with a partner. Tools such as Sortlist attempt to speed up the process by using context and data, but no amount of technical intricacy can mimic the human touch provided by consultants, recommendations, and word of mouth. People in the agency world understand this better than people in any other industry. Our work is based on the fact that buying decisions are rooted in emotion–that’s [...]

By |August 23rd, 2017|

Don’t Be Held Hostage by Your Rogue Tech Team

Some things creep up slowly in life, like global warming and receding hairlines. Now you can add to that list: The reign of a digital team in agencies. As digital advertising continues its double-digit growth, more and more agencies routinely rely on tech-driven campaigns to keep the lights on. And as web, mobile, and social command larger and larger chunks of clients’ budgets, the teams tasked with executing these campaigns often start calling the shots. In a well-run agency in which all departments communicate effectively and honor agency protocol, a powerful digital team can retain its autonomy without much trouble. Unfortunately, when team members stop respecting agency leadership and begin doing their own thing, they can drive projects over budget and behind schedule. I’ve seen strapped teams give preferential treatment to favorite account executives and even stonewall projects by refusing to answer technical questions. When digital teams go rogue, agency owners can find themselves held hostage by their tech-savvy employees. The advertising world is plagued by a digital talent shortage, so for many agency owners, keeping their digital divas happy seems like a safer option than letting them go. When agency owners feel beholden to their digital teams, these employees can cut leadership out of the decision-making process and severely damage the agency’s ability to function. One agency I know sold a large digital project to a new client that included a website redesign. The team put together a timeline and budget for completion, and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Weeks later, the account executive discovered that the programmers had invested 40 unauthorized hours on “improving” the site. The project was running behind and over budget, and the agency had to eat the overage. [...]

By |August 4th, 2017|

6 Questions to Help You Find Your Tribe

We make many choices that mold our personalities, but none are quite as important as the people we choose to be around. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn put it, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. This doesn’t mean you’re not the architect of your personality — you just need to make smart choices about those surrounding you, or your tribe. Choosing good company can be a tricky balancing act. We need many things from our friends and associates, including competition, honest feedback, moral support, and good judgment. I am a competitive person, for instance, and like to surround myself with people who make me want to push a little harder or reach a little higher. Alone, I might not feel the need to make that extra effort, but with the right people around me, I have the energy to go further. Rarely do I find one person who has all the qualities I’m looking for, but that’s normal. You need an inner circle of people who complement your strengths and help you improve your weaknesses. You don’t want people who tear you down or diminish your accomplishments out of jealousy — you want a group that helps you discover the best version of yourself. Ask the Right Questions to Find Your Tribe So how do you cultivate the right group? Fortunately, it’s not as hard as it sounds. You just need to ask the right questions to identify the right people to help you grow. Start with these six. 1. Who inspires me? Who makes you want to be a better leader, a better coach, and a better person? Is this person excellent at what he does? It [...]

By |June 14th, 2017|

Marketers, This Is the Best Way to Truly Serve a Nonprofit

We all want to do good in the world. Agencies have a strong tradition of taking on pro bono work for nonprofits -- this sometimes means designing a logo or creating a brochure; other times it's sponsoring an event, or even just simply offering advice. Those things serve an immediate need, but they don't necessarily make a lasting impact. If you want to make a substantial difference, dive deeper: Adopt a nonprofit for one year, and treat it like a paying client. It's a mutually beneficial strategy: The nonprofit gets high-quality attention and resources, and the agency gets an infusion of positive exposure. How Agencies Can Serve Non-Profits Finding a Great Match There are thousands of amazing organizations out there -- choosing just one is difficult. To select a nonprofit that will benefit from your services, send out an application that asks organizations to explain their mission and goals. One requirement of your adoption should be that your agency will make a quarterly presentation to the nonprofit's board, updating them on progress and next steps. Why does this matter? Because community and business leaders tend to be active in the nonprofit scene, so the potential connections could prove invaluable. When making your selection, consider each nonprofit's board membership. Does the board include individuals who would be beneficial for your agency to get in front of? Any potential business prospects? The nonprofit itself probably won't be able to hire your agency after the yearlong adoption, but if you can score just one client from its board, that's a great return on investment. Partnering with a nonprofit benefits your agency beyond the bottom line. According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, nearly two-thirds of CEOs are increasing their corporate [...]

By |June 7th, 2017|

You’re One Exercise Away From Building Your Dream Life

During a recent trip to San Diego, I was reminded of the importance of deliberately chasing your dream life. On an early morning stroll on the beach, I walked past a surfer and said, Gosh, it’s early to be out here. He replied, I have to get it in early because I have to be at work by 8. I asked what he meant, and he replied, “I’m a CPA. I’ve built my whole life around being able to do the things I love, and one of the things I love most is surfing. On weekdays, I wake up at 5, I’m on the water by 6, and then I head home, shower, and leave for work.” It struck me how intentional he was about building his life. He’d identified what mattered to him and made it happen. Chase Your Dream Life by Interviewing Your Future Self My encounter with the surfer reminded me of an exercise I’d completed years ago, when I was working with an executive coach. It’s called The Reporter Exercise, and it required me to fully involve myself in a mind game in which I was being interviewed by a reporter five years in the future. The exercise is intended to help you identify your dream life through nine questions. For it to work, you must suspend reality and slide into your future self’s position so you can see exactly how you would like your life to be. When I went through the exercise in 2007, the vision I created was dramatically different from the reality I was living. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I had a lousy life. In fact, I was happy. But I clearly wasn’t where [...]

By |June 1st, 2017|