BL&T No. 116: On My Mind Last Week


This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"A study from Harvard Business School shows that we learn more when we couple our experiences with periodic reflections. Even though people prefer to learn by doing, 'participants who chose to reflect outperformed those who chose additional experience.'"

From “The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You" by Julie Zhuo [Book]


Between the short holiday week and team members and clients out on PTO, last week was relatively quiet regarding client projects. I thought I'd use today's newsletter to explore some passing thoughts throughout the week rather than one or two major themes.

"Comping hours for retainer clients can backfire if we're unclear about why."

There have been a few situations recently where it made sense to comp hours for clients.

Examples include:

  • The client is running out of hours for the year. We don't have a contract in place yet for 2023. Outstanding tasks only require a few additional hours to complete.
  • We offered a complimentary service that became more involved than planned. The client has no hours to allocate to get it done, but we have resources available who can.
  • We spent more time on a task than planned. Billing clients for the overage will require a Change Order or deprioritization of other tasks.

We comp hours to help the client and show that we value our partnership; however, comping hours can erode trust without proper framing.

For instance, the client may appreciate us not charging them, but if they believe we made a mistake, they'll expect it. On top of that, they might begin questioning our expertise and ability to estimate, creating other challenges down the line. If we feel the hours in question are entirely on us, we may decide not to report them; therefore, no comp hours needed.

All in all, there is no template for how to handle these situations. Every situation warrants a discussion. I'm grateful to have our Weekly Accounts Review system in place to make space for these decisions in real time.

"It's rewarding to see folks I mentored move on, build upon what they've learned, and grow."

Last week, I had a chance to catch up with a former Barrel designer I managed and worked closely with for five years. During this time, they went from being a junior learning the ropes to a lead overseeing more junior folks on the team.

I look back on our time together fondly. As much as I guided this person through challenging projects or situations, their focus, proactivity, and eagerness to learn helped me grow as a manager.

It was nice to hear about the projects and initiatives they're working on now and how their experiences at Barrel shaped their path today. It's tough to lose good people, but rewarding to see them continue growing and be happy in their careers.

"Whenever we inherit a client's website to maintain, we should expect to uncover unforeseen challenges and make time to get familiar upfront."

We found out last week that a client we recently signed would not be continuing our relationship in 2023 due to budget constraints. We'd been working with them on several initiatives to improve their current site and had planned to do a website redesign next year.

The client had been price sensitive since day one. We knew their budget for this year and worked with them to create an achievable roadmap after reviewing their current website. After getting into the work, we learned that the planned initiatives would take longer than anticipated. In the end, these unforeseen challenges led to us comping some hours and issuing a Change Order for the remaining.

In hindsight, we could have been more stringent in qualifying this client, not getting caught up in how excited the team is about the brand. Instead, we modified our typical maintenance agreement to accommodate their needs, but without an in-depth understanding of their current codebase, we couldn't deliver as intended.

The next time a project like this comes along, we will resist jumping right into the work. Instead, we'll propose an upfront paid audit to get to know the client, understand their website codebase, and identify potential problem areas — all before providing estimates on what it will take to improve it.

If the client cannot afford this or the timeline is too tight, we'll know the risk of beginning work without these measures and either find another approach or pass on the opportunity.

"Is there a cause for this pain, or is it me?"

I've been dealing with intermittent pelvic pain since early October. So far, doctors have been unable to diagnose it, but I'll be getting more tests done in early December.

About a month ago, I listened to a podcast (Infinite Loops #126: The Mind-Body Connection) on the mind-body connection, more specifically, the work of the late Dr. Sarno. His controversial methods live on in his 1991 book, Healing Back Pain, and were instrumental in healing podcast host Jim O'Shaughnessy's pain, who was contemplating back surgery as a last resort before discovering Sarno's book.

All this to say, I've been returning to this podcast in my mind a lot lately. The pain comes and goes, but it is frustrating to manage without a diagnosis. I've been doing my best to stay positive and work through it, but sometimes, I wonder how might mind may or may not be playing a role. I haven't picked up Dr. Sarno's book yet, but it might be next on my list.

"Was I on-stage practicing with a band last night, or was it a dream?"

My friend Joe is reviving a local music venue I spent the better half of my high school years performing in called Puck. I wasn't old enough to be there legally, but they let me and my friend Kyle in as performers every Wednesday on open mic night. We had been playing for years prior, but Wednesday nights at Puck were where we polished our set and tried out new material. We later went on to host our own shows there for events like CD releases or the holidays. Our last show at Puck was in August 2010.

Puck closed during the pandemic and hadn't opened its doors again until this month. Puck became a staple in Doylestown, so the town has been thrilled to see Joe giving it new life.

This Friday, Joe is performing a set of old country tunes with a cast of musicians. He and I were chatting when I threw my hat in the ring to join him for a song. I keep telling people that I'm waiting for music to pull me back in — this felt like that moment. That was a week ago.

This weekend, Joe let me know what song he wanted to do together. I didn't have much time to practice until yesterday, and then hours later, I was heading to join Joe and a few other guys for practice at Puck. It felt great to dust off (literally) my guitar case and learn a new song with a purpose.

It's hard to articulate what it felt like to walk back into Puck after all these years. There were so many memories going through my mind that it was oddly difficult to have a coherent conversation with Joe when I arrived. I ended up reminiscing with Kyle over text.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled to get back on stage at Puck on Friday. Joe and I are performing a version of "Blue Christmas" by Elvis.

If you're looking for some archival footage of me at Puck, you're in luck. (Thanks, Kyle)

Thought Starter

How can I build upon what I learned last week and make progress this week?


The E-Commerce Corner

Ignoring Black Friday doesn't seem to be an option for most brands today. For those brands whose values don't align with discounts or sales, they're finding other ways to participate in the buzz. Examples include offering exclusive gifts, limited run discounts or giveaways, and early access / sneak peak at new products.

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