Episode 429

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It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of day-to-day agency life. We all have a million things on our to-do lists, and they just keep growing. But part of being a successful agency owner is being present and open to what’s right in front of you.

Doug Fleener knows all about what it means to run a business intentionally. With history as a business owner and a rock bottom moment that led him into recovery, he’s had to learn some truths about life the hard way. But from that, he has developed some core principles to help business and agency owners live more intentionally.

His six core principles can help anyone start their day on the right foot to make incremental but powerful life changes. All it takes is one day to wake up and decide to make positive changes, and if you take anything away from this episode, it’s that intentional actions create intentional results.

This episode is packed with action items that are not only simple concepts but also easy to implement. I have no doubt that Doug will leave you feeling inspired and ready to start 2024 with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed inspiration to take intentional action toward making your year great.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

core principles

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Learning to live in the day and making each day a little better
  • Taking responsibility of yourself to make positive change
  • Intentional actions create intentional results
  • Practicing relentless simplicity in life and business
  • Thinking of 3 things you can improve each day
  • Micro habits that feed greater improvements
  • Helping others to help yourself
  • Mastering the ability to be present
  • Having more intentionality throughout your day
  • Implementing the 6 core principles and applying them to your business

“When you put a bunch of good days back to back to back, that's how you create success.” - Doug Fleener Share on X
“What are the truest high levels of priority? Make sure that each day you're taking those intentional actions to create those results.” - Doug Fleener Share on X
“I work with a lot of business owners, and I just love it because they've worked so hard to get where they are. But what got them there isn't going to get them where they need to be.” - Doug Fleener Share on X
“If you improve three things a day, at the end of a year, you've improved 1,095 things.” - Doug Fleener Share on X
“Just put one successful day together after another successful day. It's not about making big resolutions. Just ask yourself, ‘Am I going to do better than yesterday?’” - Doug Fleener Share on X

Ways to contact Doug:


Hey, before we get to the show, I just wanna remind you that we have created a private Facebook group just for you, our podcast listeners. There are almost 1500 agencies, agency owners, inside that Facebook group every day talking about what’s going on inside their shop, asking for resources, gut checking decisions, talking about everything from pricing to hiring, to biz dev. All kinds of things are happening there. We’re starting conversations. You guys are starting conversations. What I love about it is the community’s coming together and sharing resources, encouraging each other, and just sort of having a safe place to talk about what it’s like to own an agency. So all you have to do is head over to Facebook, search for a Build, a Better, Agency Podcast group, or Build, a Better, Agency Podcast.

And you’ll find the group. You have to answer three questions. If you don’t answer the questions, we can’t let you in. But they’re simple. It’s, do you own an agency or do you work at an agency? And if so, what’s the URL? What are you trying to get out of the group? And will you behave, basically? So come join us. If you haven’t been there for a while, come on back. If you haven’t joined, join into the conversation. I think you’re gonna find it really helpful. All right, let’s get to the show.

Running an agency can be a lonely proposition, but it doesn’t have to be. We can learn how to be better faster if we learn together. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build, a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market with 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here. And yep, you are right. I am back with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Excited to talk to our guest today about his new book and sort of his life focus as he sort of winds down his career. He’s had a very illustrious career. He is also had some interesting bumps in the road that have caused him to think differently about life and work, and we’re gonna dig into that. Before we do that though, I just wanna remind you that if you have not yet done the planning for 2024, it is time for you to do that. So it actually, it’s past time. You should have, you should been working on it several weeks ago.

We have tools for you on the website. There’s a blog that says, planning for 2024. And it’s got some great links to a life plan, which I think is super important for us as agency owners. And a business plan. A one page business plan that’s super simple to fill out, does, it does require a fair amount of thought, but the actual completing of the plan is easy, and that makes the following of the plan a little easier. So head over to agency management institute.com and under resources, click on blog and you’ll see the blog post there. So we’d love for you to download those tools are absolutely free, and we would love for you to take advantage of those planning tools to set yourself up for success in 2024.

Alright, so our guest today is a gentleman named Doug Fleener. And Doug has written a book that is all about, and this is me paraphrasing his book. I, I will let him paraphrase it himself in a minute. But it’s all about the idea of owning your day, which, if you own enough of your days, you get to own your year and your life. And how do we do that with intentionality and purpose? So Doug has had some interesting life events that have sort of shaped his view on this and have allowed him to put together some principles and some practices underneath those principles that I think will all find super valuable.

So without further ado, I would love to introduce you to Doug Fleener and dig into his life story and the, the learnings and outcomes that came from that. Doug, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks Drew. Thanks for having me.

So, tell everybody a little bit about what prompted you to write the book and sort of the overarching theme of the book.

Well, I, for about 16, 17 years, I did speaking in consulting, traveled the country, working around customer experience, did some, and also in retail. Then about six years ago, a client asked me to run his company. Didn’t really wanna do it, but he was great salesperson. And so I did that for six years. And it was a title company, law firm. We were based on interest rates. So when interest rates went down, the business skyrocketed, perfect timing. And then as their interest rates went back up, I needed to lay a bunch of people off and eventually said, you know, you need to lay me off. So I was trying to kind of decide, you know, what was that next thing to do, kind of in the twilight of my career, if you will.

And I was working with a coach and we were looking at the different things that have happened in my life and what have you. And, and so what the, and tell you how I got there. So the book is about about 37 years ago I was a cocaine addict and bankrupted a family business. Hmm. And so I’ve been on this journey of recovery. And in the conversations with the coach, what he really helped me connect the dots was how the elements of recovery really helped me be successful. And some of the elements of success of in business helped me in recovery. Hmm. So I wrote this book based on what I’ve learned in recovery that can be applied to anyone in business, especially business owners.

And, and so it’s not, again, a recovery book, but it’s based on the tenets of recovery.

So the book title the Day makes the year and makes a life with sort of, the subtitle really sort of tees up the idea that you believe that there are some core principles that if we apply those in our lives on a daily basis, sort of change the trajectory of everything. Yes,


So talk a little bit about that. What, what are the six principles and the accompanying practices that, that we could consider deploying into our lives?

Right. Well, well the first one is when you first get into recovery, right? So you’ve been living this life of lies, cheating, hiding, alcohol, drugs, right? Whatever your addiction is. And so one of the things you, you know, you come to a complete stop and you have to learn really how to live your life differently. And so one of the first things you learn is how to really live in the day. You know? So in the beginning, successful is just getting through the day without taking drugs, right? Without drinking, without scaling, without lying. And so that first principle, and it’s really in the title of the book, is that it’s really about the day. You know, everything that you are gonna create in your life, your happiness, your company’s success, growing your business, growing your profitability, everything happens in a day.

Yeah. And so, you know, when you put a bunch of good days back to back to back, that’s how you create success. And you know, one of the things I saw a lot in business is people have a lot of aspirations, a lot of things they wanna do with their company. And, but each day they’re just kind of going back through and through kind of the task, if you will. So it’s really about, at the end of a day, can you just say, Hey, I had a great day. I had more success than I did the day before.

Hmm. Yep. Makes sense. Okay.

That’s the first principle. The second principle is taking responsibility. That, I like to think that owning everything that happens in your life is really your superpower for personal and professional success. When, when I was newly clean and sober, these guys told me that whenever there’s something wrong, it’s within me. And I gotta tell you, man, it upset me. ’cause it’s like, Jesus, you know, I’m giving up alcohol and drugs, and now I gotta be a doormat. And what they really were teaching me Drew, is that what they’re teaching me is that when I own everything that happens to me, I have the power to change it. I can’t change what I don’t own. Right.

And so that was really, and, and for me, that was probably the one that was created. One of the biggest impacts in my, in my career, in my work is because when I get up against something, it’s not like the economy is out to get me or the man or what have you, or an employee or whatever, no matter what’s taking place, if I own it, I can change it.

So talk a little bit about what owning it looks like in practical terms.

Great. So I think, you know, first and foremost, I think owning it is not being a victim of it. Hmm. Right. The second thing is, is that owning it is looking at the situation rather than the person. Ah, okay. You know, so, you know, so you got a big project going on, you got some deliverables, and an employee calls out sick, sick, and you got two things you can either go to, all right, what are we gonna do about this? Right. Or you can really start to look at the employee and say, you know what? They disrespect me, they don’t appreciate me. Right. And none of that gets the project completed.

Right. And, and you still have to solve the problem.

Right. Whether that person is there or not. Yeah. But if you own it, you can change it. Yeah.

Alright. So what’s principle number three?

So principle number three is that intentional actions create intentional results. You know, when you’re, when you’re the owner of an agency, you know, you could probably wake up and create a hundred ideas of things you need to do, you know, and, and so the thing is, is that we need to really prioritize what are the actions that’s truly gonna drive us to the results we want. And so, you know, and, and I like, one of the thing exercise I like to do with people is each day, or at least get them to understand, is what are their true priorities? Right? Your priorities right? Is client, you know, keeping your clients happy and right, and satisfied.

It’s driving revenue, it’s it’s profitability, you know, at home. It’s being a good, you know, a good father, a good mother, a good spouse, and understanding what is really the truest high levels of priority. And then making sure that each day you’re taking those intentional actions to create those results. Yeah. And you know, I think sometimes Yeah, I, I, I work with a lot of business owners and I, I just love Right. Because they, they’ve worked so hard to get where they’re at. Right. But what got them there isn’t gonna get them where they need to be.

That’s right. That’s

Right. And so, yeah. So understanding what are the right actions on a daily basis.


The fourth one is one that’s kind of near and dear to my heart is practice relentless simplicity.

Talk about that.

Well, thank you. There’s a, you know, there’s kind of a saying in recovery, right? That, you know, recovery’s not so complicated, right? You just don’t drink, don’t drug, what have you. Right. But we as humans are incredibly complicated.


And so you can look at any situation and be able to say, really just pull out, get it first, get rid of all the emotions


And really get down to just the what are the couple things that really matter. Right. And if we go back to that example that we had on someone not showing up for work, you know, instead of getting complicating it all, you know, what do we gotta do? What are the next couple things we need to do? Yeah. You know, what, we might have to actually call in somebody or what have you. And so I think that’s a, that is a, that’s a skill that can be developed. And, you know, and I, and I think one of the things where agency owners could really benefit is, is when they think about their communications and what they’re putting out there to their employees, I saw a graph, a little graphic I saw once was, had all these dots on it and it said, here is what we’re telling our people who work for us.

And then over in the middle was single dot, and it says, this is what we think we’re telling them.

Right. Right. Right. Yeah, I think it’s really about simplifying this. I think that’s a, I think that’s a challenge for everybody in this sort of busy, complicated world. And I think, you know, when, you know, we were just with some agency owners yesterday, and, you know, they have some tough decisions to make around their business, and they have to make an announcement that is factually very simple, but the nuance of it and the implications and how the audience is gonna receive it, and what they’re gonna think they meant. And like, it just gets super complicated and in an effort to manage what might be or might not be thought, right. The message all of a sudden gets super bloated as opposed to, here, here’s, here’s the facts, here’s how we feel about the facts.

And, you know, we’re open to answer questions about the facts. Right. So Yeah. Hard to do. And I,

Yeah, and I would agree. And you know, one of the little things I’ll, I’ll teach managers do is, you know, when an employee brings you an issue, just tell me what you wanna do. I’ll tell you if I need the backstory.

Yeah. Right.

Right. And so backstories is really creates complication.

Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah. Yeah, I can see that. Okay.

Number five, principle is really about improving three things a day. And, you know, one of the things that has got me far in my recovery as well as in my business success was really, I learned very early on working for a gentleman of, I was former director of retail for Bose Corporation, and I worked for a guy there who, you know, one of the things I saw in him is he just got better every day. You know, he was the smartest guy in the room, but he was always still learning. Hmm. And so I learned is I have, I had to keep getting better. I need to improve my business, I need to improve my work, and I need to improve myself.

And, and, and so you hear a lot of people talk about they’re gonna improve by 1% a day, God bless ’em, but I have no idea what my 1% is. Right.

I’m just not, you know? Yeah. It’s hard to count that. Right?

Yeah. I’m not that smart. I don’t know what is a percentage, but what I can do is say at the start of my day, what are the three things I’m gonna improve? Or I’m gonna at least start out with an idea of how to improve something in my business, something in the way I work, something in the way I treat people the way I am at home. And if you improve three things a day, you know, at the end of a year you’ve improved 1095 things.


Yeah. E exactly. And, and again, they don’t have to be big. Right. You know, I I I like to think that at any time I’m moving towards success and the person I wanna be, or I’m moving away from success and the person I wanna

Be. Yeah. Every choice sends you in one direction or the other. Right?

Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. I don’t believe we’re ever sitting still.

So, so do you have some sort of go-to Micro habits or Micro sources that sort of feed that three to three improvements a day?

I do. And I, and, and it’s something that probably when I mention it, a lot of people are gonna roll their eyes and, you know, but every morning, rather than jumping into email, rather jumping into the news or sports or whatever, I, I pull up an app and I journal Yeah. And I quickly just write out, so I’m on a Mac, and if you’re on a Mac, the, the day one app is a terrific app free, and if you wanna run multiple, I run multiple journals. And, you know, every day I just write out kind of who I wanna be and what do I want my company, how I want my company to be better. It’s also when I just kind of work out, sometimes I’m feeling cranky, I’m feeling nervous, I’m fearful, you know?

Yeah. Fear drives us a lot more than we ever wanna admit.

Right. For sure.

And you can journal that out by just, why am I feeling this way? Yeah. It literally takes 10 minutes. Yeah. And it’s, it’s a great practice. So I do that every morning at the end. I do it every night.

Hmm. Okay.

How I do. Right. So I created that kind of, that accountability loop.

And are there, are there, you know, is for you, is it a learning something new? Is it a thoughtful practice around something different or new? Is it, do you ever seek feedback from other people about how, what, what something might be that you could improve?

Yeah, I, you know, I, I do think that I, you know, I stay close with a lot of people. You know, kind of, when you’re head of a company, you’re self-employed. Right. You gotta, yeah. As, as a friend of mine says, you know, you gotta be careful to be, keep reading your own press clippings and breathing your own air. Right. Right. So, so I, I like to check in with a lot of people and when, you know, I’m asking how they’re doing, and when they ask how I’m doing, here’s the key is I’m honest, you know? Yeah. You know, I’m feeling a little, I’m feeling a little cranky. I’m feeling a little this and that. And, and the, the, the really, one of the things that improve three things a day works is that even if I don’t know what is I need to improve in at the start of a day, I am looking for them.

Yeah. That’s, that, that’s probably the key, right? Absolutely. Is that your, your antenna is alert to, to what’s possible. Right.

Yeah. And what, and and here’s another quick little thing that I do, is I, my goal is, is just to be a better person than I was the day before. Yeah. Hey, look, you know, 37 years ago when you, when you, you know, I, I actually woke up in a blackout on an airplane, and, you know, I had bank rubbed to this family business. It really affected my father, who God blessing me, forgave me. But, you know, when I, I was not a good person.


And so I have to continue, I had to continue to learn how to be a good person, but I needed to continue to do that. And so one of the little exercises I have is every, every morning pops up in my phone as a reminder to do five good things a day. And, you know, when I, when I’m very intentional in those actions Yeah. It pays off. And, and it’s funny ’cause my girlfriend, I’ll go get her. I went and got her coffee this morning and she, you know, she’ll jokingly say, all right, well, you can check off your first one. Right, right. Well, obviously it’s not why I do it, but I check off the first one.

Right, right.

Yep. And it’s a simple little thing, but it works.

Yeah. It’s, isn’t that funny, I, before I got married, I had a friend who was talking about the fact that her husband brought her coffee every morning. And I thought that was incredibly sweet. And so when I got married, well, actually before I got married, but now as I am married, I bust a hump to bring my wife coffee every morning. I’m almost always up before she is. And there’s something that just, I just like the way that starts our day, our day together, it’s sort of an act of service. And it, and you’re right. It, it does change sort of your mental and emotional trajectory a little bit. Something that simple.

Absolutely. And I, and I think for everyone who’s listening is that Right. Success is really made up of a lot of little small things.

Yeah. Right. Well, and I think for most of the listeners, they’ve kind of checked the box on the big things. Right, right. So, so it really is about these incremental improvements. Yeah.

Yeah. And, you know, and, and the thing that I, I learned is that when I get out of myself, I have a, you know, I have this natural self-centeredness, and again, sometimes it’s served us well. Right, right. It’s helped us create our company and get us promoted, or get us wherever we’re going. Yeah. But you know, it’s, it’s kind of, again, like a superpower. You can use it for good or not use it for good. Right, right. Use it for good. It puts me in a place to succeed.

Yeah. All right. So I think we have one more principle, right? Yes.

Yeah. And that’s, and that little conversation really sets up the last one, which is, I, I think something that most, most people do, but they don’t necessarily think about it. But it’s a principle. It’s called give to get. And look, the, the more you help others, the more you help yourself. And, you know, I I, I think it’s important that we give back to Yeah. The world. Especially as we get up a little more in age and we start to become successful. And I can look back and look at all the people that I wouldn’t be talking with you today if they hadn’t gave me a little something.

Yeah. Right.

Right. They gave me an opportunity, they gave me confidence when I didn’t have it. And, and I think it, when we give it, I just know that it comes back in many ways. And it’s, but it’s something that I think we have to really keep intentional into the, for forefront of our mind.

Yeah. I, I, I, I believe that when you come from a giving heart, and it doesn’t have to be big things, it doesn’t have to be money, it’s, it’s just a mindset that, you know, when you do that and you do it from a place of gratitude, then, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a very healing and healthy place to come from every morning. Yeah,

It is. And I think, you know, and, and ag