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Marketing Agency Exposed Podcast

Mar 4, 2020


Fear - the most detrimental emotion. What’s worse is making decisions in this irrational state. Yet so many people live and operate in this state daily. In business and in life, there is no shortage of things to incite fear. As an agency leader, you know more than most about the dangers of fear-based decision making. Honestly, most days you probably feel like King Solomon… “cut the baby in half!”. Balancing demanding clients, financial challenges, personnel issues, taxes, accounting, market shifts, and about 1 million other situations while inspiring an encouraging and transparent office culture that inspires great work on a high level can seem impossible. Well, it turns out leadership is not for the faint of heart. It’s downright hard. This is no easy task, and there is A LOT of room for fear to sneak in and sabotage your decisions. How can you create the financial stability that your business needs without turning off clients or putting your personal finances in jeopardy? Where do you turn when your brain is stuck in a state of unreality? We get vulnerable about some of our fears. We dive into strategies we have learned for coping with this pressure and what has given us the most relief and encouragement through this process. 


Resources Mentioned: 


Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:

  1. Fear is useless beyond the flag it raises about a potential threat and puts you in an irrational state not optimal for making sound decisions. Learning to control that fear and put it in its place means freedom.
  2. Health (physical, emotional, spiritual) and Preparation (planning) is the first step to clearer and more level-headed decision making.
  3. By recognizing fear and having the tools to manage it, you will be able to make better decisions and take healthier action that allow you to thrive rather than react in any situation in life and in business.


About The Guys: 

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000 -2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob: 

Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:

Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken: 


Show Notes:

[1:25] Bob: “We wanted to talk today about fear, anxiety, and not being controlled by it… How does it control you in the business situation, for those of us who are running agencies, work at agencies, engaged with agencies, whoever you are…”

[2:06] Bob: I failed at this miserably in my business and I was driven by fear many times and made a lot of bad decisions that cost my business, myself, my people that work for me… I learned a ton, I am thankful for that… I know I was not alone, even though I felt like I was.”

  • Fear-based decision making is something that “plagues and can wreak havoc… but can also be a really good way to shore up and protect your business.”

[2:57] Brad relates fear in business with thinking about the unknown. 

  • “For me personally, it’s not having clarity on my business that immediately brings me fear… I have to get to the point where I don’t have to know everything because I can’t control everything.” 

[3:25] Brad: “I can’t control whether a client decides to do something different and no longer wants to work with us… or if the economy tanks and we go through a recession and people quit spending, I can’t control a lot of that… from the unknown.”

  • Brad asks about things that others have done to be proactive instead of reactive based in fear.

[4:10] Ken speaks about how not making fear-based decisions is a core personal value. 

  • “Fear is a really detrimental emotion, right? When it pervades past the initial emotion of showing you that there’s a situation that needs your attention, that’s great but beyond that, if you’re not aware of it, it just takes over.” 

[5:07] Ken asks: “Have you ever made a really good decision based in fear? Probably not… How many things have you NOT done out of fear? Because fear is one of those emotions that actually stops you- it’s used strategically sometimes in the marketplace to stop you from doing something.”

  • “Getting a handle on fear, I think is one of the most practical things you can do as a business owner and a leader.”

[5:50] Ken: “I don’t think anyone can control their fear… that’s a hard thing to do. What you can do is be aware of it and once you’re aware of it you can manage it appropriately. That takes a lot of conditioning… it’s like a muscle, not like a switch that you flip on an off, but a willpower that you build up over time.”

[6:25] Bob: “I think we should talk briefly about some of the psychology around it… one of the most helpful things for me is understanding that your brain doesn’t know if something is really happening or not. It’s all about what your senses are, what you’re thinking and feeling, and then your brain acts accordingly. And so that’s where fear can paralyze us as business owners.”

  • This is a state of unreality that your brain goes into, this world of possibility that anything could happen. But your brain doesn’t know it’s unreality- it thinks it’s happening. 

[7:55] Bob tells us a story about a new VR game that simulates falling off of a building, and relates it to the idea that your brain doesn't know what’s real or not- you know you’re safe but your body still produces the adrenaline and sensation of falling. 

  • “I really think if enough people could understand that small part of how fear affects us, it would be really helpful.”

[8:54] Brad adds: “If you have fear, you’ve somehow experienced something similar in the past where it wasn’t a positive thing. So the more you can overcome the fear and go through experiences and see the positive outcome, the next time you go through that, it’s not going to be so fearful.”

  • If you think about the things you deal with on a day to day basis that are rooted in fear, then take a totally opposite perspective of those things, think about what’s the worst that could happen. 

[9:52] Brad: “If the worst were to happen, you might have to go through a little bit of hardship, but comparable to other people in this world, all three of us have it made. So it’s this attitude of gratefulness that we’re grateful for what we have and that we really don’t need all that much to be beautiful human beings.”

[10:33] Brad continues: “For me, it’s a constant battle with myself of really, how should I react to this and how can I have a sound mind going into this so that I know I’ll be clear-headed through the process where I’m not owning that fear to the point where it becomes unrealistic.”

[10:57] Ken: “I think that’s an important aspect of combating fear is identifying the source of information that’s creating the fear in you… Seeking truth is really important right? In business and in life… Can you trust opinion? Are your interests aligned with the people that are giving you those opinions?”

  • Ultimately, your brain doesn’t know what is true and what isn't. So the worry that you allow yourself to have, the rabbit trails you go down actually tell your brain that these things ARE happening. 
  • Step 1 is figuring out what the Truth is.

[13:00] Bob adds: “The only person that has your best interest at heart concerning your mental

wellbeing is you.” 

  • OWNING this truth is the next step. 

[13:53] Bob: “Don’t isolate yourself- talk about your fears… As a business owner you carry so much internally… those narratives can go to some pretty crazy places in your head… Sit down with trusted friends and advisors to talk them through.”

[14:34] Brad speaks on when he feels the most fear. When there’s already a lot going on in your business and you’re already running on low fuel, the fear and anxiety can really take over. So it’s important to take a look at your calendar and start removing the things that aren’t necessary, to give yourself space to think clearly.

  • He suggests first looking at the way you’re taking care of yourself and work from there. 

[16:15] Ken speaks on how intentional you have to be with this- taking care of yourself and your body has to become an initiative in your life.

[18:00] Ken: “Whether you like it or not, you're in that position where you need to come prepared, be conditioned to lead your organization appropriately. That’s just the role you’re in… and you have to accept that. And once you do, it’s like okay that means I have to live a life that has these qualities to it because I need to be conditioned.”

[18:46] Brad: “It’s really hard to lead a company when you’re just reactive.”

  • How do you become proactive so that you can prepare for these moments. 
  • “How do you take that fear and flip it on its head and have it become an experience that’s positive?”

[20:10] Brad speaks on the power a client has to put additional pressure on a team, and how important it is to communicate with the client early on to put more demands on how they will work with you. 

  • “So it’s just being more clear, clarity is always key. Understanding what we will do and what we won’t do… so that in the case that their expectations are different, we can try to eliminate that.”

[21:41] Bob asks the guys to speak on the “guard rails” that they keep in place to keep them on a healthy track. 

  • Belong in 2 buckets: Financial guards for your business health, and then relational and client guards. 

[22:24] Ken: “I believe the business world has some potentially fatal, or sort of toxic relationships that happen, or modes of operation…. They don’t come from a bad place, they’re almost accepted.” 

[24:43] Ken speaks about the way Metacake approaches client relationships “Hey, we want to be able to serve your and over-deliver with the value that we create… we have to be extremely excited at the end of whatever we do. And the only way we can do that is if we can focus on that and not have to worry about being paid.”

[25:45] Bob: “That comes down to processes right? So a clear statement of work, clear agreements… not just that you create them and your clients sign them, but that you go through a reading process and an understanding of what hours you work, when, how you communicate, what’s expected from them.”

[28:02] Ken: “I think that it’s important to challenge traditions appropriately, to make sure they’re actually done in healthy ways.”

[28:15] Bob asks Ken how Metacake figured out how to solve the billing issues that plague a lot of agencies. 

[28:36] Ken was told by a mentor that the #1 threat to your existence is cash flow. 

  • Oftentimes, cash in the bank is seen as a sort of nebulous thing that is always pushed off and away. You have clients that don’t pay in 60, 90, 120 days and so mentally you think there is a lot more cash in the bank than there actually is. And it can be devastating for small and large agencies alike.
  • “The reality of what it is, that means you don’t get paid for 3 months, can you float everything for 3 months? Arguably, that’s more of a loan and you should be getting paid interest on it, right?”

[31:15] Ken continues: We wanted to solve the cash flow issue… we went to electronic payments and split the payments appropriately over the months of the engagement. So whether that’s a retainer or whether that’s a project, we just spread it out sort of evenly.”

[32:53] Bob asks Ken how long it took Metacake to transition away from the traditional pay structure of agencies.

[34:15] Brad speaks on the pain of back and forth to get payment from some clients, and how much time, energy, and attention that this process that take/waste. 

[35:00] Ken adds that when you’re in this back and forth with a client, it’s a big and important unknown detail that you’re not in control of- and THIS allows fear into the equation immediately. 

  • “One of the things you can do to combat fear-based decisions is preparation… and one of the main areas where fear manifests is in finances… if you can find some security around that, it’s worth it… I shoot for having one year of operating capital in the bank. That is a lore more than most financial advisors say you need, but for us that’s one of the things that allows us to say ‘Hey I don't’ want to be hiring and firing staff all day long.’”

[39:23  ] Bob asks Brad: “What about Anthem Republic? What are some key things that have eliminated fear and anxiety for you?” 

[39:38] Brad responds: Service agreements that have more guidelines and guardrails, early communication. 

  • “I’m making sure that that capital is being invested so it’s making money while it’s sitting there.”

[42:50] Ken adds: “That’s one area I think most business owners may or may not be first in… but either you’re really versed in it or you have no clue… Should you have a financial advisor?”

[43:09] Brad: “A business owner has to be financially healthy in order for the business to be healthy financially.

[44:33] Ken: “You being healthy first is the only way that you can lead a company that makes everyone else healthy.”

[44:37] Brad: “And that helps me as well with my fear personally. If I feel as a whole, I’m okay, for the time being, then even if my business feels like it’s struggling or you feel like you might be losing a client or some financial resources… it’s not 2 ships that are sinking, right? And that helps alleviate some of that pressure for me.”

[45:14] Bob asks: “If you are working on yourself and you want that to permeate your atmosphere at work as well? Do you guys provide any opportunities for your staff? Because they might be internalizing a lot of this themselves, right?”

[47:22]  Brad: “The challenge is how to you be transparent with employees so they understand.”

[48:13] Ken responds: “I believe fear is spread so easily and it’s almost like as human beings, it’s like we want to spread it… for a lot of people it’s sorta like gossip or anything else, maybe it helps us feel better… but as a business leader, it’s not rational.”

  • Ken invites a friend and local pastor as a counseling resource for his team, on a private basis. 
  • Internally, Metacake has a culture of not spreading fear and anxiety. Not suppressing it, but dealing with it in mature and healthy ways.

[51:07] Bob asks about the way The Guys deal with anxiety and fear personally. “I know for me, I’m learning how to be present and breathe in those situations… Do you realize how shallow your breathing becomes when you are doing this kind of stuff?”

[52:21] Brad adds that turning back to scripture is incredibly helpful. That and “having a heart of gratefulness… to look at everything I do have and not what I will lose.”

  • Sometimes our anxieties and fears actually revolve around things that are not that valuable in life. So returning to gratitude has really helped to relieve stress. 

[53:55] Ken speaks on how there was fear in his formative years concerning immediate safety, so he realized early on that the only way to take control of that fear is through seeking health in every aspect of his life: mentally, spiritually, physically. 

  • “To me, being a leader, in a family or a business or whatever, is a very high calling. If pro athletes train and condition for a game, how much more important is your own training and conditioning in life?” 

[56:58] Ken: “I don’t think God has fear for you- I don’t think that comes from God… and you might even say that faith and fear can’t coexist.”

  • Faith is a big component because, like we’ve discussed before, when your decisions are based on something that is greater than you, whether that’s a purpose or a mission or a connection to a higher power, that takes the pressure off you, and that can help balance out any fears that come.”

[58:34] Bob speaks on how releasing responsibility can be freeing- “I’m only responsible for me, not my employee’s lives or clients lives. And I’m not responsible for the way my clients feel about me or how they respond to me. My job is to know that what I’m doing is the right thing to do.”