Friday, September 25, 2009

For What It's Worth No. 9

Back in 1985 it wasn't the ideal time to start an ad agency, especially in Houston where the oil bust had taken away most of the booming big business which naturally impacted many other smaller businesses. But I was leaving a job that paid a lot of money but one which I hated and felt there was room for a boutique agency where creative solutions were unique. It would be the second creative agency I had started.

Yes I had options, I could have moved to New York and worked in the agency's parent company but that meant moving my young kids to a city that I loved but wasn't sure if it was a good place to raise a family. Hindsight is always 20/20--it would have been a perfect move, the two kids would have been better educated and the cultural influences would have made a definite impact on a future graphic designer (my daughter) and chef (my son). I also had a wonderful job offer in Dallas but preferred the landscape of Houston so start a new advertising agency is just what I and my business partner did. Very undercapitalized but we had a sweet deal in buying an existing agency whose founder was retiring.

Within a year we had lost all but one piece of business--they were not accustomed to the type of creative work we wanted to do so one by one they left. That year we swept the local Addy show with the work we had done and people were amazed that we were able to create the body of work we did with a staff of six.

But money was always an issue, many sleepless nights worrying how we were going to make payroll, pay our quarterly taxes, pay the monthly rent, the equipment leases, all the things you worry about as a business owner. Fortunately we had received some good advice from a small town accountant on the outskirts of Houston who set up our little corporation and served as our business advisor for the first two years of business. He said: never worry about where or when the money is coming in, worry about how to solve the client's problem because if you worry about the money part you'll freeze up on the creative part. And that's the advice we followed. Money was always an issue but we grew the business from three to twenty-three employees, had beautiful office space, expensive cars, a beach house and two mortgages. All the result of doing work that we loved. And by focussing our energies on solving the client's problems in interesting visual ways it lead to more awards, recognition far beyond our borders--write-ups in Adweek and The New York Times and a successful business.

Many new businesses don't make it past the first year, thanks to the sage advice of one accountant we survived and thrived. You can too. Whether you're freelance or otherwise concentrate on the creative part.


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