Hard to believe it, but 10 years ago tomorrow (May 1, 2010), I opened the doors to Converse Digital with no money in savings, no lines of credit, no investors and not a single paying client. I know, brilliantly smart of me don’t you agree? 😉
But yet, here we are, 10 years later and the doors are still open and knock on wood, that’s not going to change anytime soon.
So as I’ve done in past years, here are the most valuable lessons I’ve learned… only this year, I’ve picked the 10 MOST IMPORTANT lessons I’ve learned over the last 10 years vs just the last year. So here goes.
I’ve studied a lot of “successful” folks over the last 10 years. Here’s the one really interesting trend I’ve discovered time and time again.
Lots of folks have 100s or even 1,000s of “friends” on social media. But when you dig a little further, you realize that it’s a wide but not especially deep pool of friendships.
Now the folks that have been truly successful. The ones that have stood the test of time, had one thing in common: within that wide pool were numerous deep pools of real friends. Folks they had strong relationships with in the real world. And it was these real friends that helped each other to lever up and become one of the best or best known in their field.
And if I look back over the last 10 years, it is really no different. A handful of great, strong relationships are responsible for the lion’s share of Converse Digital‘s income over the last 10 years.
The Value of Vulnerability
I have to be honest… this is a very recent discover for me. But it goes hand in hand with the relationships rule point. There’s an old saying that you always want to hire the smartest kid in the class. But when you think about it, the truth is that everyone is secretly jealous of the smartest kid in the class. The same goes for the best athlete, best dancer, cheerleader, etc.
As humans, we respect perfection, but we’re drawn to imperfection. Think about it. Think about the greatest book or movie characters — they’re almost universally imperfect.
We’re drawn to imperfection because it gives us permission to feel like we’re not the only broken one. To feel like we’re an equal with the other person and like we can help them as much as they can help us.
But if you hide your imperfections — you rob people from the opportunity to embrace them and maybe even help you overcome them. So be cool with being vulnerable. The results might just surprise you.
If the current Coronavirus Pandemic has reinforced anything to me, it was the decision NOT to specialize in a particular category, industry or even service offering. To be fair, this was a lesson I learned during Hurricane Katrina and vowed never to repeat.
There are tons of benefits to specialization, especially in the agency world. BUT, I’d still argue that in the end, diversification endures over the long-term far more consistently than specialization.
Never Get Comfortable
About three years ago, Converse Digital was finally hitting on all cylinders. For the first time in seven years of scrapping, bootstrapping and praying, we were finally sitting on a nice cash reserve, and generating good monthly cash flow and sales.
We had finally made it.
So I took my foot off the accelerator. I relaxed. I allowed myself to focus on non-Converse stuff.
And within two years, it was all gone. I was right back where I started. Back to scraping, scrambling and working harder than I had ever worked to keep everything afloat, bring in new clients, and keep the current ones on board.
So my advice to you… just when you think you’ve finally made it. Just when you think you can take your foot off the gas and breathe a bit… don’t.
Instead, floor it. Keep doing what got you there in the first place.
Human beings need wins. It’s customary to celebrate the big ones: new clients, new hires, new anything. But don’t stop there.
Here at Converse Digital, we celebrate every win — new campaign sold or launched, new clients, new idea sold, or even just a great presentation. We celebrate it all, usually with a cocktail, and stop long enough to appreciate the moment and the win.
It’s probably the single smartest tradition I created when I launched the company and the one that I’m most committed to never losing.
It’s also the one I’d highly recommend every company copy.
Never Fear Failure
They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. They’re right.
But go beyond that basic fear of failure. So many agencies (and companies and people) run scared all of the time. They’re so scared of failing or looking silly or just having to say they’re not perfect that they play everything safe or worse, deflect.
If you never fail than you’re just playing it safe. And that goes for client side folks that demand that their vendors’ programs always generate positive ROI.
Newsflash: if every program you produce is always generating a positive ROI, you’re missing the big homerun or career changing opportunity we’d all love to enjoy.
And if your vendors are always producing positive ROI for you, then they’re just giving you iterative ideas. And that is going to be just fine until the day it isn’t because some company somewhere decides it’s ok to swing for the fences.
And they hit the homerun you should have hit months or even years prior.
Lastly, on the topic of failure… when you screw up, just own it. Don’t double talk or place blame elsewhere. Just own it. I promise you I’ve had more success in my career by owning the plethora of mistakes I’ve made than all of my successes combined.
You know why?
Because owning failure is rare in this world and clients, and customers, they respect it. And respect, that’s what keeps you around for the long-haul.
Always Be Connecting
We live in the most highly connected time in the history of the world. Yet, research continuously reports that as a society we feel the most alone.
Humans are wired to connect and be connected.
Add to this that because of all of this connectedness, you never know who knows who. We used to have six degrees of separation and I’d argue that in so many cases today that number has dropped to two or three degrees at most.
So focus on connecting.
Trust me — as a career introvert — I know this advice scares the hell out of some of you. But take it anyway. If nothing else, your life will be richer for the effort and you might just end up richer as well.
Curiosity Creates Opportunity
My friend Chris Brogan once said that social media gave him bigger ears. His point was that social (and the Internet) gave him the ability to hear, see and experience so much more information. He’s right.
Grow big ears and use them to gain insight, information and inspiration for creating new ideas. Let that inspiration help you discover new ways to connect old dots to create new profit producing opportunities for you.
Profit + People = Prosperity
When I founded Converse Digital I didn’t want to create the biggest agency. I just wanted to create the most profitable one.
Now that doesn’t mean we gouge clients or charge unfairly high fees. But it does mean that we prioritize profitability as a primary deciding factor when choosing to work with a potential client.
We do this because profit pays for people. And I like to work with really smart people. In fact, over the last 10 years, I’ve had the enormous pleasure of calling over 25 different people “colleague.” And each and every one of them was brilliant in their own way. They all brought enormous value to our clients and taught me lessons I couldn’t learn on my own.
But you need good profits to pay for good people. And you need good people to guarantee great profit. It truly is about quality over quantity.
Or if you’re of the non-religious mind — meditate.
Either way, the point is that there is a force in the world bigger and more powerful than you.
Learn how to find and feel that force… to hear it and follow its advice. Understand how to tap into that force when you’re facing truly tough times. And never forget it during any celebration of success — remember to feel gratitude for what it gives you.
Some readers may think this silly but over the last 10 years, I’ve learned that sometimes that force and my belief in it — in my case a God — is the only thing that stood between me giving up and pushing forward.
And often, that one single decision is the difference between failure and success.
And there you have it fine reader… the 10 most important lessons this entrepreneur has learned over the last 10 years. Adopt them. Forget them. But as I settle in to celebrate this momentous occassion in my life, just know that I’m enormously thankful that you took a few mintutes to read them.
And I’d be even more grateful if you’d share them with your friends and followers.
Till next year’s post… Godspeed to you and may success find us both.