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If I knew then what I know now ... I'd be a lot more relaxed

Ad Age 23 Apr 2019 04:00

f I knew then what I know now is a series of bylines from small agency executives about the lessons they learned in building their shops.

Starting an agency is an adventure that is made up of many different emotions: supreme excitement driven by the seemingly endless possibility; the desire to achieve success; the boost to your ego from early wins; the nervous anxiety when it’s time to pay for all the staff you’ve hired to make it all happen; to straight-up stress. Your life becomes the agency–your work relationships, your spouse/partner, friends and family all have input into your venture with questions, comments, advice and  discussion. So you’re on an emotional agency roller coaster with good and bad days and hardly time and space to shield yourself. Your job is to provide the energy, the momentum and the motivation for everyone around you.

You can't solve everything at once, so don't try 
You’re the visionary that defines the creative direction of agency output, shapes the team and convinces talent to join the fight. With that comes a ton of pressure to always have all the answers, the short-, medium-, and long-term plan and how to solve every possible scenario in the future of the blossoming creative shop.

This is the biggest trap for anyone who’s every started a company or specifically anyone starting up a creative endeavor. While being smart and structured are key qualities for any entrepreneur, the mind space and focus to make light, not heat, reigns above all else. Many aspects of the daily minutiae are just that: minutiae. Nobody has all the answers since there’s such complexity in play with many factors out of your control. So, clearly prioritize what’s going to push the agency forward and don’t try to solve everything at once. Figure out what you can control and don’t worry about anything you can’t. Set clear parameters where your most important decisions are and dig deep on what’s actually important versus what only seems to be.

Avoid busy work
I started a software company when I was 26 with outside investors during a very challenging time right just as the internet bubble burst. We started the company when everything went to shit. I worked myself into a tizzy, feeding off manic energy that lasted for months and years. My days consisted of compiling lists of to-dos and pushing things in motion in every direction with not enough time to ever get to the bottom of it. Lots of those activities were wasted energy since they didn’t directly contribute to reaching our next step in the evolution of the company and I was trying to solve for every potential future issue, all under the guise of strategic planning. Or to make our investors short-term happy.

It's okay to take time away 
Now, the third startup around, I’m almost exclusively looking at what’s in front of me and the agency. I take decisions one at a time. There are few things that can drive me crazy or derail my planning. I’m O.K. with ambiguity and rolling with the punches and optimistic conviction that all will turn out all right–no matter what. I celebrate my time away from the office. Those periods are moments for reflection and to reboot. It gives you a healthy perspective that comes into play when it’s time to be back on, working on a pitch or figuring out the next move for the agency. And then it’s 100% energy, 100% positive momentum and with the mental disposition that anything is possible. And it is. 

Ad Age will be holding its tenth annual Small Agency Conference & Awards July 30-31 in New Orleans. To apply for the awards, go here.

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