Twenty Things I've Learned After 40 Years Living and 10 Years Running an Agency

Stop Yelling, Say Thank You and Put Down That IPhone

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Peter Madden
Peter Madden
Data suggests that only 5% of businesses launched make it to the 10-year mark. This year, AgileCat crossed that threshold (polite golf applause, please!). More recently, yours truly reached the 40-year milestone (amazing with this hair, isn't it?). So I thought why not share what I'll call Madden's 20 Lessons in Small Agency Ownership. Feel free to add your own!

1. Realize what you're great at and do it all the time. Realize what you suck at and stop doing it completely (and put the right person in place to do it).

2. If you want to make a point that sticks, stop yelling. (Or keep yelling and look ridiculous.)

3. Work as hard on your presentations to your staff as you do on your presentations to prospects and clients.

4. Tell your clients when you screw up and how something could have been better. They already know you blew it, but just want to hear it from you.

5. Trust your instincts. You can interview a prospective employee or client 10 times, they can say and do all the right things, but if your Spidey sense is tingling, something is amiss.

6. Read Keith Ferrazzi's "Never Eat Alone" and stop handing out your business card like a Vegas dealer.

7. One out of every 10 consultants will actually be a help to you. Finding that one is the toughest part. The right one probably asks all the questions you hate.

8. Do pro bono work for non-profit organizations that are trying hard to make the world a better place. You'll get more out of it.

9. Don't obsess about the financials (I can hear a million Wharton grads groan). You'll get lost in them and forget what the hell your agency stands for in the first place. When I think about my score in golf, I completely tank. I apply that to everything.

10. Are you completely freaking out, nervous, worried and losing sleep over something about your business? Welcome to being alive. Now calm down, move on, and step up your game.

11. Call the head of an agency you compete with and invite him out for a beer. You'll either a) really enjoy the person and learn a lot or b) hate him and enjoy crushing him in defeat.

12. Regarding No. 11, 99% of the time it will be "a." You'll talk about your family more than the work and it will become a regular thing.

13. You aren't thanking people who work for you enough.

14. Did someone working for you just disagree with a decision you want to make? Good. Keep her around as long as possible.

15. RFPs are a complete waste of time. But it's still fun to compete.

16. Throw parties at your office, no matter how humble or grand the space, for no reason at all. It's all about the people in the room, good music, and not running out of booze or ice.

17. Put your f***ing BlackBerry/iPhone down when you're meeting with me.

18. One personal five-minute call equals 12 impersonal e-mails back and forth. You also get to know someone much better that way.

19. Call the businesspeople you respect the most in your community. Buy them lunch and seek their advice. Sometimes the bigger the individual, the more generous they are with their time and advice. One good mentor is equal to 100 consultants.

20. Write personal notes thanking people you meet with and who are in your life. Besides death and taxes, the only other sure thing in life is that no matter who you are, it's exciting to get a handwritten note.

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