I was ready with a list of reasons why that might not be a good idea, but I didn’t even bother with them. I knew we were done.
Now losing a client is never good for a young agency (Winbound was about a year old at the time.) But this was the latest in a string of clients that we’d lost.
As the owner of the business, this hurt. But on a personal level, the news couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Upstairs, I heard the voices of my wife and two children as they talked and laughed. It was summertime, the kids were home from school, and my wife had just left her teaching job. None of them sounded like they had a care in the world.
Downstairs, in my office basement, things were much different. I hung up the phone, laid down on the carpet, and curled up in a fetal position. My business was in trouble, and thanks to a risky decision my wife and I had made, now our family was too.
Here’s a video overview of this post.
My daughter’s dream and our big decision
My wife Sharon and I have two kids — our son Sam, and our daughter, Anna. At this point in the story, Sam had just graduated high school, and Anna still had two years to go.
Sam’s high school path was pretty typical. He was an athlete, got good grades, and was now preparing to leave for his freshman year in college.
Anna’s story was different. She wasn’t interested in the same school experience as Sam. She had started dancing at an early age, and had become very good at it. In fact, at some point she’d decided that this was the career for her — she wanted to be a professional dancer.
Anna in 2015
Anna was already doing online school and touring with a national dance convention as an assistant on weekends. To really take the next step, however, she needed a higher level of dance training during the week.
And she wasn’t going to find it in the small Wisconsin town where we lived at the time. So, we looked down in Chicago for a training program. We found a good one, and Anna was accepted. After much discussion, we decided to sell our house and move to help her realize her dream.
Moving to Chicago from McFarland, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison, was only a two-hour jump geographically. But it still caused a major upheaval in our lives.
We were in a pretty comfortable position at the time. Sharon had a secure job that she loved. Now she’d have to quit teaching and find something more flexible so she could make the trip back and forth to Madison to help care for her elderly parents.
My folks were a bit younger, and, as they lived only an hour away from us in McFarland, they regularly visited us. But now they’d have a two-hour drive, including navigating through the madness that is Chicago traffic. The thought terrified them.
We also had a huge circle of friends in the area — from former college roomies at UW-Madison who still lived in Madison to the community where we had raised the kids.
Last but not least, on the business front, I had built up a great network of business contacts in Madison. But in Chicago, I knew no one.
“It’s all you, Greg”
Logically, the decision to move seemed outrageous. Yet something was telling us this was the right thing to do for our child — the one who had never fit into our small town the way our son had.
Our friends thought we were crazy. I’m sure our folks did too. And they didn’t even know the financial risk that was involved.
My wife loved her teaching job, and we all loved the security it gave us. She was the “benefits earner” in the family. We’d relied on her for not only her salary contribution to the family income but also the great medical and retirement benefits she received as a teacher.
But with moving to Chicago, we would now have to count on my business for everything. And at this point, the company was only just a year old. The company was small in size, and our profit margins were even smaller.
And there wasn’t much to fall back on if I failed to deliver. Most businesses have 3–6 months in cash reserves, but Sharon and I were living paycheck to paycheck. And one of those paychecks was about to disappear from the equation.
I distinctly remember telling my sister-in-law Amy about our decision. She looked at me and said, “It’s all you, Greg.”
One thing missing: Results
A few months prior to my curl-up on the carpet, things were looking much different. I did the math on the revenue from my clients and, even with the lack of reserves, as long as I held our current client base (or expanded it), we were in good shape.
Actually, the growth potential was looking good for my young business. The need for more online content for websites and social media was really taking off (this was around 2014), and I felt confident enough in my company to move forward with the move to Chicago. So, Sharon quit her job, and we sold the house.
But then things started to slip. Clients loved our content, but they weren’t seeing any results, as in no new leads and no new business. And one by one, we started to lose them.
I felt uneasy, but not panicked. I knew as long as we didn’t lose any of our bigger clients, we’d be ok.
And that’s when the call came in — the first big client had bit the dust. And I had no assurances more wouldn’t follow. I now found myself assuming the fetal position, with doomsday thoughts in my head while the happy voices of my family chirped upstairs.
It was all me — and “me” was failing.
Get up and get on with it
It was at that point that I remember reading Tuesdays with Morrie. Written by Mitch Albom, it’s a great book about the conversations the author had with his mentor, Morrie, who was dying and nearing his final days.
Every morning, Morrie said he would have a fifteen-minute pity party in bed when he’d cry like a baby. Then he’d get up and get on with his day.
I had to get up off the carpet. If dying Morrie could do it, I damn well better do it too. I had people upstairs, as well as clients and employees, who were all counting on me.
I had to figure out a way, and I knew what it was. Our marketing agency was cranking out content that looked good and read well, but that wasn’t enough. We needed content that could generate results. It needed to sell.
“Make it so they can’t fire you”
My dad had given me some great career advice: “Make yourself so valuable that they can’t fire you.” Getting up off the carpet, I decided to follow his words of wisdom.
Over the next few years, we altered our approach and our deliverables. We tweaked, experimented, failed, succeeded, and eventually we created marketing that delivered what our clients truly wanted: an online presence that also produced leads for their sales teams.
How did we do it? I realized that we couldn’t just produce marketing “fluff” — about how our clients were “the industry leaders” who delivered “exceptional customer service” and all that blah blah blah.
No, we came up with a different approach, one that infused a sales approach into our marketing services. We called it the “Digital Twin” sales and marketing framework because the marketing content we produced for our clients was functioning like a salesperson online.
And as we found new success, we could see that there are a lot of sales-driven companies out there facing their own “fetal position” moment. Their old ways of cold calling and relying strictly on trade shows are drying up. They needed to pull themselves up off the carpet, just like I did.
My happy ending started by getting up off the carpet
Our adventure in Chicago turned out to be an amazing one. Not only did Anna receive some incredible training by exceptional dancers, she learned how to take on the challenges of a big city. It helped her gain the confidence to move to LA at the age of 18 and pursue her dream to become a commercial dancer, backing up singers and appearing in videos.
From L to R – Anna in LA – dancing at an event – on-stage with Sebastian Yatra
And that dream has come true. As a backup dancer, she’s appeared in countless videos, performed at Coachella, appeared on the Carrie Underwood show, and eventually landed a job as a backup dancer for Sebastian Yatra, a Colombian-born singer who was on the El Canto soundtrack and is on the rise. (This is her in a video with Sebastian — she holds the cane with him at the :46 mark.)
Winbound has also thrived, using the Digital Twin framework we mentioned above. It’s been quite a journey to this point, and I’m looking forward to building on our success for our clients, our team and our family.
So what were the lessons learned from the experience?
Be mindful of status quo pain. We are naturally resistant to change, and we’ll take on a lot of pain to avoid it. But you should always be measuring the pain of maintaining the status quo vs. the pain of change, and take measures to avoid that fetal position.
Embrace the “all you.” My sister-in-law’s words scared me, and they might scare you. That’s natural. But you know what — life is all you. So embrace it. You have all the power in the world to change the lives of your clients, your company, your family and your own. Make it happen.
Follow the dream — be it big or small. Anna is literally shooting for the stars with her dream. But it doesn’t have to be that big. Success for your sales and marketing program can be a dream; as long as it’s something that makes you feel like dancing for joy, it qualifies.
None of this happens without taking risks, folks, and you’re going to have some missteps along the way. Those will pale in comparison to the pain of the fetal position. So pick yourself up off that carpet, and let’s get to work!