Why I Sucked at Owning an Ad Agency

I started my agency before I was 30 years old with no college degree, no real experience other than selling radio time, and a passion for writing. I wanted to exercise my creative muscle, produce commercials, work with clients to make their business better. All lovely notions.

People typically go into business for themselves with their one skill. But they lack the other critical traits it takes to avoid heartache and failure. For example, I had no idea how to read a balance sheet or a profit and loss statement … I figured I had an accountant for that.

I had zero management skills. My old boss used to tell me, “Managing creative people is the hardest thing you will ever do.” How right she was! Your employees are working for completely different reason than you. It’s not a family. It’s a business. I thought if you cared for employees like family members, nurture them and provide what they needed to be successful and do good work, we would all live happily ever after.

Wrong.

My codependent approach to managing staff was my undoing in the end. My naïve, yet well-intentioned method in handling people ended up in several misunderstandings and broken relationships. I trusted too much and trusted the wrong people, leaving my faith in humanity shattered.

After 32 years as an agency owner, I sold the company almost three years ago. I started in a spare room and ended up with Emmy nominations, Telly awards and other recognitions. I made a living, was responsible for livelihoods of 7 other people, and worked with an incredibly diverse roster of clients. Most of the creative now is “cut and paste”, which saddens me, and much of my work is still out there, which is a compliment to my talent and passion that started it all.

Business ownership is not for soft-hearted, pie-in the-sky thinkers. It takes structure, discipline and the ability to “know what you don’t know”.

Lesson learned.

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