Feb 12, 2020
There are only 2 ways to gain wisdom: 1) learn from your own experiences and failures or 2) learn from the experiences of others. In this episode we discuss the reality of building and selling an agency with Hannah Paramore Breen, founder of Paramore Digital and author of Business Ownership- The Joy, The Pain, The Truth: A Survival Guide. This is a topic on the mind of any business leader. It’s something that’s often idealized, but rarely understood.
Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:
About Our Guest:
Hannah Paramore Breen: Former CEO of Paramore Digital, a digital agency she ran from 2002- 2016. Through the years she navigated the world of business ownership- including the highs and lows that inspire you to achieve and make you want to quit. Fast Company, Business Insider, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg business week, and the New York Times have all profiled Hannah’s candid, no-nonsense style and approach to leadership and the daily struggles that come with owning a high growth digital agency. She also has a 12.3 handicap on the golf course!
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:
[3:38] Bob asks Hannah: What was the motivation behind writing your new book?
[5:00] Hannah: “I feel like I have something to say, particularly to business owners who want to know what to do with what they’ve built, because that was my big question the last three years or so… have I become the limiting factor to the company?”
[7:33] Bob asks Hannah to speak on business being “a process of continual shedding”
[10:05] Bob asks: “In your book you discuss trying to find your #2 within the first 5 years- is that what you’re talking about here?”
[13:00] Ken asks: “Where did you go outside of your company, or could you go anywhere to find those peers?”
[14:35] Bob asks: “Being early in the digital agency space and seeing this whole world transform and being a part of it- What was it like engaging and interacting with generational differences?”
[15:42] Hannah: “You begin to not trust your staff because you know that at that age, you’re a pit stop on their way to somewhere else and turnover is very hard on project work.”
[15:50] Ken asks: “It seems more often than not in the agency world or even maybe other service businesses as well… you might end up in business without wanting to be in business, is that right? And so you don’t have that ‘thing’ that pulls you through.”
[16:41] Hannah: “Exactly… people get into marketing or creative jobs because it seems like fun… a good place to start… and I do think in the agency world you have a lot more turnover. And the thing is… clients expect it.”
[18:35] Ken asks Hannah why she chose to start an agency
[18:52] Hannah: “I was a classical piano major in college. My dad was a preacher, and my mother was a housewife… I didn’t have any kind of career aspirations… I was just on the borderline when women took off in the 70’s… some things happened that sent me off on a different path. I worked a lot of soul-sucking jobs in my career… so I’ve never had a business class or a marketing course in my life.”
[20:36] “I loved that job and that job changed my life. And it was so early in the industry that you were just learning on warp speed every single day.”
[22:35] Ken: “So would you say, the reason you got into your agency was because of the excitement and the freedom?”
[23:30] “The core values of my company that I eventually wrote like three years in, they reflected so much of frustration from the industry.”
[25:00] “So I hired a project manager, and then I hired a developer, and I needed two, and then it’s over. Then you have a company.”
[28:30] Bob asks: “What was it like being a woman-owned digital agency starting back then?”
[31:00] Ken asks about the process of actually selling her business. “So from the outside, you start a business, you grow it to $5, $6 million, which is awesome. And you sell it. That looks awesome and exciting- and I guess a lot of people would idealize that. But talk about some of the ups and down in that?”
[32:30] Ken and Bob ask where that lack of belief came from.
[34:15] Bob: “Was that something that kept you up at night? Like… this is either a home run or it’s going to fall flat.”
[36:00] “You spend months going down that road to sell, which means that you are choosing to not engage in business development like you normally would… so your business development pipeline starts to dry up… everything makes you angry, you’re emotionally wrung out… it’s not fun anymore… If you have a vision for something else, if you have the opportunity to sell your business and make good money and good multiple on your business… it takes serious consideration at least.... Because there are very few times in your life that you have the opportunity to do a deal of that size… and in the kind of industry which changes so rapidly, your skillset can be antiquated.”
[38:14] Brad asks about the relationship with her staff and what their response was to her.
[43:00] Ken asks Hannah: “Are there any things you would do differently? What are the top 3?”
[45:51] Ken reiterates 2 awesome points: “Number one, make sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing… we spend more than half our lives in business, so it has to be something you enjoy… And number two… you’ve got to build it so that it’s a smart business. It creates a profit. It’s built assets… so that ultimately, like you said, it can not only fulfill your destiny where you need to be but also everyone who works for you… this business has to be on the rails.”
[46:41] Hannah: “A lot of time the right reason for making decisions is a financial reason. The company needs to make profit.”
[48:00] Bob asks: What one thing could 60 year old Hannah tell 42 year old Hannah?
[51:23] Bob asks: “What are the things you see… starting new digital agencies these days. What are some things that you’re seeing and want to advise them about?”
[52:02] Hannah: “The lack of business acumen… there’s no way in life that a 20 something year old is right around a business… young owners are too altruistic by nature and aren’t ready to navigate the waters you get into when you start doing real business… Lean into humility.”
[54:00] Ken mentions mentoring as a way to open yourself up to be the shortcut for new people in the industry.
[55:43] Hannah: “I’d love for my legacy to be to change the relationships between business owners so that we have a much more collaborative culture.”
[56:07] Bob adds: “That’s our dream. And I think… you’ve got to get beyond the business principles and you’ve got to be willing to and be vulnerable into the personal, the psychological, the emotional, because that is the emotional intelligence around business ownership.”
[1:06:55] Hannah: “... a strong spiritual foundation for me is a reason outside of what we see every day… we’re supposed to leave the world a better place. Accepting that you’re not going to have perfect balance in your life every day is a process… so you have to let go of your own expectations of what your life is supposed to be like and reframe that for yourself.”