I became a business owner after a 30-year agency career. The move was exciting and terrifying, in equal parts. As a creative guy, I worried about my management skills. As a corporate guy, I worried about my sales abilities. And as an old guy, I worried about my stamina.
On the third anniversary of the founding of this company, I submit 5 lessons learned.
The natural workday starts at sunup. Probably no surprise here, but when freed from a punch clock, people get to work earlier and work a bit longer. It’s not 9:00 to 5:00. One independent tells me he reports for work at 3:00 in the morning! Many claim to start by 5:00. For me it’s more like 6:00 to 4:00. 10 hours. But the afternoon includes a relaxed lunch, exercise and catch-up email. The day’s long tail can stretch into the night. But there’s almost always tea in the afternoon. Literally. Quite civilized.
The gestation period for a new agency is 9 months. New businesses take time to develop – 2 to 3 years I’m told. In my case that period was an ironic 9 months. Only 9 months. Though I had something like morning sickness almost every day during that period – serious nausea induced by a corkscrew spiral of a learning curve. Pushing this thing out (a metaphor too far?) was hard work. But once born, my baby’s been a blast.
Beware caffeinated yapping. With free Internet access, Starbuck’s has become our new national conference room. I schedule the vast majority of my new business meetings there or someplace just like it, usually around 9:00 in the morning. But while a large latte feels like the minimum rental, that extra jolt, coming as it does after 3 hours of dosing, often sends me spilling. The best salespeople shut up and listen. Machine-gunning prospects with spittle and words rarely leads to new client relationships. Stick to the decaf.
Clients still need third-party insights, but the party is small. For the first two-and-one-half years this was an agency of one. Now it is one plus part-time (with payroll and everything). But this business is not likely to grow into a major employer (though I’m happy to be proven wrong). Gone are the days of a 100-person agency serving 20-person businesses. The imperatives of real-time marketing demand the ratio of in-house to outside resources sit at around 3 to 1.
Age has its advantages. Not many. But they’re significant. “Dye your hair” was the advice I got from an old friend in the business when I first went out. I resisted. I don’t have that much hair to dye. Still, there’s no question that much of marketing is a young person’s game. And grey has few advantages. I had to take myself back to school. Literally. I started teaching college (and cribbing notes from the textbook for my business proposals). But there’s a calmness that comes from having traveled around this track a few thousand times. And among my many hard-earned competencies, calmness is my most valuable.