September 22, 2016, started like any other typical day. I awoke in the morning, followed my normal routine, and drove into the office like I had been doing since 1996, when I graduated from college. I greeted everyone as I typically do, grabbed a cup of coffee and proceeded to my desk to check my social pages for any activity I may have missed during the previous evening. My first stop was LinkedIn. Once I logged in, I immediately saw a message that said “Congratulate Andrew Smith on his 5-year anniversary at Initiate-It.”
Wait. Take a deep breath. Swallow the lump in my throat.
I had missed my company’s five-year anniversary. No party planned, no lunch or celebrations, not even a happy hour. As I sat stunned and embarrassed in the face of my missed opportunity to throw a killer party, I took a few moments to reflect on this day five years ago.
It was the day that I went through my morning routine, got the kids off to school and had no job to go to for the first time since 1996. I had never felt so out-of-place, nervous and anxious, like I didn’t have a home. I can still see my reflection in the mirror as I finished brushing my teeth — the look of disbelief and doubt, the “What have I done?” moment, the moment where I glared at myself and considered myself an idiot for leaving a perfectly good job despite having relatively young children and impending bills. That was a day I will never forget — and it’s a day I would totally do again. What a great ride it led to, and the most rewarding experience I have ever encountered in the workplace.
Well, we did end up with an impromptu lunch celebration, and I did have anniversary gifts planned for all of my staff, and I even have an opportunity to raise a glass and thank all the folks who have helped along the way. I still remember what one prominent business leader told me when I started the company: “Andrew, don’t be nervous. Slow down and enjoy the process. It is human nature for people to want the best for you. They don’t want to see you fail. People want you to be successful in your endeavor, and they are going to want to help you, not hurt you. I think you will be amazed at the support you will receive.”
And wow, was I ever!
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the clients who entrusted us with their work, all the contractors who assisted in that work, all the vendors who helped and went the extra mile, all the part-time and full-time staff who jumped in at the beginning, and ultimately all the current staff and everything they do day in and day out to make this company a success. It truly couldn’t be done without you.
I would also like to give some perspective on lessons learned and things that still drive us today.
Be Humble and Thankful — Never forget where you came from and the people and companies who helped along the way. Always treat people with respect. No matter a person’s position or title, they all put their pants on one leg at a time. I like to remind myself of this daily.
Trust Your Gut — The only really big mistakes I have made were when I didn’t feel right about a decision, but I still went in the direction without listening to that inner voice. Don’t doubt that voice — that is your soul, that is your true spirit, and nine out of 10 times that little voice is right, so don’t fight it.
Do Great Work — In anything you do, never get outworked. Never be unprepared. A business prospect once asked me, “Why should we hire you?” My response was that we are a blue collar agency. We have had to fight for everything we have gotten — nothing has been handed to us. We will never be outworked and we will never be unprepared. It is in our DNA, our roots.
Treat Your Clients’ Business as If It’s Your Own — Never put your company’s best interest ahead of your clients’. A lot of the time, small businesses are tempted to make recommendations or develop solutions that are driven to profit their agency, but might be a risk for the client that may not pay off. We have made it a point to make the right decision for our client on all occasions, regardless of how it impacts our own company. Do the right thing, and you will always end up on the right side.
Give People a Chance to Fail — In other words, don’t micromanage. I think much of our success can be attributed to the fact that we give our staff a lot of opportunities to be creative and to try different ways and techniques. I think that creates such a nurturing and collaborative environment. We all get frustrated at times, but at the end of the day, happiness is the most important thing. Never forget that.
Don’t Take It Personally — Through the years we have been beaten up, kicked around and punched. We have lost new business and won new business; we have been hurt and also very excited. I never want us to quit getting better. We have learned from our mistakes, put them behind us and remained positive. I took a lot of things personally at the beginning, and then I learned to separate myself from the business and I was able to move beyond the insults, kicks and punches very quickly. Keep the business separate from your personal life, and you begin to view things with a lot more clarity.
Slow Down, Jerky, It’s Going to Take a While — I don’t care how fast you go, or how many hours you work in the day — growing a business takes time, and business moves slowly. I recall at the beginning, setting up meetings simply because I didn’t have any actual work. Things moved at a snail’s pace, meetings and lunches were rescheduled, and I thought I would never get any work. I remember discussing my time frame with another business owner. I told him that I had allocated two years for this endeavor, and he looked up at me and said through his laugh, “That’s all? You better be prepared for five years or you are going to fail.”
Lesson learned, wise old man, lesson learned.
Well, here is to the past five years! Thanks again to everyone for all the support.
Posted by Andrew Smith, President of initiate-it, a digital first, full-service agency in Richmond, Virginia. Fresh out of Radford University with a degree in communications/PR, he was quickly hired as a media planner for Circuit City. Next thing anybody knew, he was leading the media efforts for the company’s South and West Coast markets and its affiliate CarMax. Then it was off to The Martin Agency as media planner for Kellogg’s, Seiko, TV Land, and Alltel. His transition into account management came when he joined The Bergman Group in Richmond, quickly taking the lead in the agency’s efforts for Capital One, Drive Time, Sandler Training, CapTech Ventures, Sports Management International, IMG, Greenway Medical, and Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Centers.