Borrowed, Learned, & Thought (or BL&T) is a weekly newsletter sent on Mondays. In every edition, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Published posts do not include all details shared via email to subscribers. Subscribe here.
"Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for the reward; but never cease to do thy work."
From The Bhagavad Gita (quoted in "Stillness is the Key" by Ryan Holiday) [Book]
Lately, the workweek has felt more like a month — in a good way. Every day is full of energy and action. It's hard to believe what we cover in just five days. Peter, Co-founder/CEO, often jokes that discussions on Monday are old news by Friday. He's not wrong.
With this kind of momentum, it can be a challenge to extract the noteworthy bits. I take notes throughout the week, but it isn't until I sit down to write that the themes emerge and the newsletter takes shape.
I've enjoyed the exploration of this non-linear path, and today is no different. This morning, I wrote about a motorcycle ride I took last Friday. I intended for it to be the intro to this newsletter but soon realized it was better suited as an individual piece and started over. I'll publish it soon.
Going back to the drawing board is a bold move for the part of me that wants to finish writing, but the purpose of this newsletter is not to get it done. So, here we are. Back to square one. Last Tuesday, I had my first coaching session in two months — I'll start there.
I wasn't sure how it would feel to begin coaching sessions after so much time away. One thing I've learned is that coaching takes two. The coachee only gets out of it what they put in. That was top of mind for me on Tuesday.
We started off by catching up on the last two months. I did my best to fill in my coach, Chris, on the highlights and all the highs and lows. The beauty of a coach, or any third-party, is their outside perspective. After 10 minutes of me talking, Chris paused to call out a word I'd used over and over again in my recap — shitty. Shitty to see employees moving on. Shitty not to win every new deal.
Chris and I spent some time unpacking "shitty" together, but it's been on my mind all week.
Sure, setbacks hurt at first, but once you get past that feeling, you see the opportunities for growth and improvement. In that way, this past month, setbacks included, has been more energizing than the last six. I remember redoing design work in college after tragically losing my files. As frustrating as it was, the new iteration was always better.
I tell myself all of this, but clearly, I was in a slump on Tuesday and was glad Chris honed in on my word choice. It woke me up and reminded me of all the progress happening every day. All of the great people we've hired. The work we've added with new and existing clients. The opportunity to build out new services.
If there's one thing I've learned so far, it's that running an agency is full of highs and lows, sometimes within hours of each other. As much as I've come to expect that, days like Tuesday happen. I think that's okay. All that matters is where you go next.
At the end of my session with Chris, I shared a mantra that's driven me lately: treat every day like the business is failing. It may sound cynical, but to me, it means consistently showing up and giving it your best shot.
Even so, Chris offered a helpful suggestion. Fear of failure may inspire a strong work ethic, but it also prompts a fight-or-flight response, quick decision-making without logic. Not at all what I was going for, but he was right. The goal is not to act in fear.
Here's my new take: Work like the business is failing; act like it's succeeding.
The Barrel Partners and Team Leads met last Thursday for our quarterly and annual planning meeting. Props to Peter for planning and leading these meetings.
We've tried several different formats this year. This time, we started with a deep dive into company culture using Harvard Business Review's article "Company Culture Is Everyone’s Responsibility" **as a guide. This inspired a fruitful discussion. I enjoyed hearing how everyone perceives our culture and what opportunities they see for improvement. We closed with a brainstorm around our strengths and weaknesses as an agency.
Our goal for the meeting was to align with the Team Leads on what's top of mind and uncover any unspoken gaps. From that perspective, I'd call it a success.
We're collecting feedback from everyone and look forward to evolving the format next quarter. As a follow-up, we'll be meeting in smaller groups to align on how each of us can contribute to progress over the next quarter.
Over the years, we've had visioning conversations about pivoting Barrel, like going all-in on one platform or service. Our aim was not to act on these ideas but to think big. We'd often use takeaways from these brainstorms to evolve our vision, refine our offering, and experiment with new services.
Eventually, these conversations evolved into firing up a new agency, using past lessons learned as a foundation. In August, we gave it a go and launched Vaulted Oak, a support & maintenance agency, with Jason Fan, a Barrel Account Director at the time.
Months later, our focus turned to Webflow as our work on the platform grew and showed no sign of stopping. We saw an opportunity to offer a speedy, high-quality, cost-effective solution to clients looking for simple, content-focused websites.
We toyed with building an initiative within Barrel to work strictly on Webflow but knew that sitting within Barrel would pose challenges. If we were going to do it, we had to go all-in, so we put this on the back burner to prioritize other initiatives.
Kudos to Peter and Jacob Sussman, BX Studio Co-Founder/CEO. The two of them have worked tirelessly to get BX off the ground. Last year, they explored several niches and business models before committing to Webflow. Special thanks to Jacob for joining us and making BX Studio a reality. We couldn't be more excited about the future.
What recent setback is bringing me down? What's the opportunity?