December 30, 2013

Make Mistakes

Something that you’re going to do as an agency owner is make mistakes. It’s inevitable, and it’s something we all need to do in order to learn and improve ourselves.

You’ll make seemingly good decisions in the moment that will come back to bite you in the ass in the most unexpected ways. This is par for the course. You’ll also make what you know are bad decisions at the time that will continue to haunt you. Relish these learning opportunities. Learn to trust your gut. Listen to the opinions of others. Just today I was having a conversation with someone I trust who suggested a different approach to dealing with an ongoing issue. He was absolutely right, and I’m glad I talked to him. I was about to make a mistake.

Organizational theorist Karl Weick said, “Argue as though you’re right, listen as if you’re wrong.” This is something that it’s taken years for me to take to heart, but it’s made a real difference in my life, in the way I relate to people, and in the way we make decisions for the business. If you’re running a creative agency, you’re a boss, like it or not. You pay people to provide a specific skill or service that enables you to charge clients money for work. It’s your job to make decisions, and it’s your job to communicate what those decisions are to those who they affect. It’s also your job to take the time to listen to the people around you, people who you trust and respect, people who may be directly affected by the decisions you make for better or worse.

You’re going to screw up. Many many times. And that’s okay.

The most important thing to remember when you make a mistake is to own it. If it’s something that affects an individual, talk to them about it. If it affects the whole company, talk to them about it. If it affects your business partners, especially talk to them about it.

Here’s a list of common mistakes to get you started, along with recommended outcomes:

  • You’ll make a bad hiring decision. Deal with it quickly and honestly. Don’t make your team, your clients or your work suffer because you’re afraid to admit that you screwed up.
  • You’ll make a bad financial decision. Make sure it’s something that you can recover from, fix it, and never make that mistake again. You’ll know this one as soon as it happens.
  • You’ll enter into a bad client relationship. Just like you dealt with a bad hiring decision, you need to deal with this one quickly and honestly. Walking away from work will seem insane at the time, but you’ll gain the respect of your team and in the long run you’ll be making the right decision, helping you to avoid making the same mistake again. It’s one of the hardest and counterintuitive things you’ll do as a business owner.
  • Related to the last point, you’ll enter into a bad contractual relationship. This one’s harder to deal with quickly, but it’s like the bad financial decision. You’ll never do it again. If you don’t already have it, add professional liability and errors and omissions insurance to your business insurance policy. Do it now. Seriously, stop reading this and call your insurance agent. Required viewing for this subject is Mike Monteiro’s “F*ck You. Pay Me.”

The list of potential mistakes you’ll make is unimaginably long, but these are four that come to mind that will happen eventually. It’s inevitable. Just remember that you’re not alone, things will get better, and do everything in your power to learn from the situation and not repeat it.

Go get ’em tiger.

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