A few weeks ago, on October 1, I experienced one of the biggest failures of my lifetime. We’d planned and delivered an event we called the Fall Jam, the third in a series of annual fundraisers sponsored by LoCo Think Tank to benefit The Matthews House. We created and printed posters, passed out handbills, posted numerous social media posts and sent emails galore to our members and everybody…and we hit about 15% of our attendance goal, and a similar % of our fundraising goal, and LoCo Think Tank spent a lot of money and many hours of staff and other’s time to make a very modest contribution to the cause.
This result was primarily the outcome of decisions I made - and I was embarrassed and ashamed - and - by the end of the evening I was glad we did it - because I and we learned and we’ll make better decisions going forward.
In this month’s blog, I’m going to explore the topic of decision. When we know what to do - we call it action - but when we’re not sure - it’s called decision - and it must be followed by action - and decisions are hard! So, explore with me if you will - or don’t - it’s your decision.
In April of 2021 we held a private fundraiser for The Matthews House in my backyard, featuring food, fellowship, and my favorite band - A Brother’s Fountain. We had 35ish attendees, and yours truly prepared the food along with a helper - and it was amazing! We raised funds, built relationships, and set a precedent for amazing “grove party” events benefitting The Matthews House.
Last year, we tried to go bigger still, and moved the party to Sweet Heart Winery, and had a nice event. Almost 100 people attended, and we raised almost as much money as we did in 2021, but - few relationships were built, and it wasn’t really in the mold of the intimate grove party vision that we’d set when I was part of the board at The Matthews House years before, and truth be told, I was disappointed.
“It was too far south”, part of me said, “outside of my primary sphere of influence”. “I didn’t have time to call people like I did last year”, another part of me said, or “it was a bad weekend for an event, with too many other things going on”, and the list goes on.
And so we move on through life, and then in December of 2022, I had a very enjoyable podcast with Kent Obermann, Founder of Tooth Zone and also the organizer and front man for The Blues Dogs. I’d connected with Kent via my involvement with Realities for Children - as both a Business Member and more recently as an Ambassador - and where his daughter (and co-lead singer) Mehgan works with the team to ensure “No Child is Left Behind.” And it’s an amazing cause with incredible reach and The Matthews House is a favorite partner agency and why don’t we have an event with The Blues Dogs and A Brothers Fountain and blow it up and have 200 people there?!
It seemed like a good decision at the time, and so we started looking for venues. Odells has a great program where they provide their facility for fundraiser events, and they had some good dates available - but we were limited to 2 hours, max, and could we really have two 7+ member bands on the stage in 2 hours, and still have time to talk about The Matthews House? - probably should keep looking. And so we looked some more and we found Chippers Lanes, and looked for some dates that would work for both bands, and Chippers, and given the business of the summer season and weekend dates we decided on a Sunday afternoon - early in football season. (which none of us thought about at the time) Not a great decision. And so we had the results we had, because of the decisions we (mostly I) made, and so now we’ve decided to bring it back to the roots and have a smaller gathering in my backyard next year - and I’m happy with the decision, and ABF will probably be my house band once again. And, I think Kent may be inclined to host a backyard party too, with Blues Dogs as the house band, and so at least there’s some lemonade to be made from the sour turnout we had at the Fall Jam!
That’s the thing about decisions, is that once you see the results are not what you’d hoped - you can make a different decision! My dad would say - or at least he said once and I really remembered it - “Decisions are hard, and sometimes we don’t really know what to do. But the important thing is to do something! And then, if you see it wasn’t the right decision, you can change it!”
This month marks the 10th Anniversary of a seminal period in the eventual creation of LoCo Think Tank, when I made the decision to leave my career in banking. I’d been forced into the decision by a new boss at the bank, who didn’t favor the split to my attention that my investigations into starting a restaurant concept entailed. He gave me 90 days to decide whether I wished to rededicate myself to my banking career, or pursue another path. I chose the path less travelled, and it came with a lot more decisions than the one I’d been on!
The very first blog I wrote - when I’d left the bank and was attempting to launch a consulting firm called Bear Capital Advisors - was titled “There’s No One To Tell Me What To Do!” - and it was both a celebratory shout - and a cry for help! A few short months later, I became a member of the first LoCo Think Tank chapter, which was set up as a DBA of Bear Capital Advisors. Now, I had a group of peers to help process my many decisions, and help me find clarity of purpose, and insight into self, and accountability to do the hard things that business owners must do to find durable success. More and more business leaders have found value in the experience of peer advisory with LoCo Think Tank in the years since, and we now feature 10 chapters with five distinct service segments. To be fair, we don’t really tell each other what to do in these chapter meetings - our decisions remain our own - but the wisdom and perspective of many eyes and brains on a challenge makes the decision process much easier - and often faster.
It was my involvement in our newest LoCo Next Level chapter that led to a scary decision earlier this month, but first I must set the stage. Over a few months of getting to know one another and our businesses, the chapter helped me understand to what extent I was the bottleneck to further growth. Over the nearly 10 years of operating the business, I have been the primary business development person and had cultivated many strong relationships, and we’ve come to find an average tenure for members of around 3 years. Some small number stay less than a year, and many stay five years or more - but the average was about 3 years. Now with ~100 members, however, that meant that ~30+ members could be expected to depart membership every year! - which meant if we wanted to grow by 20 members in a year I’d actually have to find 50+ new members.
Now, I had recognized this to an extent, and had been increasing my marketing spend over the past year to compensate. This included hiring a marketing intern that later came on full time - Alisha Jeffers - as well as magazine ads in Fort Collins Lifestyle, and radio ads on KUNC. People I know saw the ads and mentioned it, and heard the radio spots and mentioned it - and probably many strangers saw and heard the ads too. But - nobody signed up for a new membership because of those ads, nor the creative social media posts that Alisha created, nor the member and facilitator interviews. And it’s because, for our business, at least at this time in the evolution of LoCo Think Tank - marketing doesn’t create memberships. Relationships create memberships, and I was maxed out.
And so - a scary decision was made - to hire a business development person.
Scary because we couldn’t afford it - it would mean eliminating Alisha’s position to make salary room, as well as cutting our radio and magazine advertising - and scary because it would risk putting Alma on an island again, and what would I do if I lost her?! - and scary because we don’t know if it will work! But, I’d made a decision to increase our marketing spend as a means of spurring membership growth, and had come to the conclusion that it was the wrong decision - so it was time to try a different approach.
It was an emotional conversation with Alisha because she brought a lot of intellectual firepower to the team and was an incredible friend and mentor to Alma, but she was understanding - and early in the conversation she shared that she’d probably make the same decision if she were in my shoes. I provided an honoring severance, and am comfortable making a positive recommendation, and truly wish her every success in future endeavors. Alisha has been working on her own business on the side during her time at LoCo, and I’d encourage you to keep an eye out for her new website soon - Big Picture Creative Co. - using vision and art in big picture planning and coaching for individuals and small businesses.
I met with Alma soon after and shared that we’d look to hire an intern immediately to help with the social media and podcast production chores. I worked with Kim O’Neil and Drew Yancey to develop my hiring criteria and job description for a business development director, and soon had active postings for both positions! Hiring for two positions at the same time! - LoCo Think Tank going big! - but it really just means that Alma and I have been swamped - spending 5-7 hours a week in first-round interviews with Intern and BDD, trying to still make time for sales calls, and last week putting together our first Next Level Leadership Forum for 50+ key and emerging leaders primarily from the businesses represented in our Next Level chapters.
As I write this, we have a top candidate for each, and hope to have the Digital Marketing Intern hired this week, and the Business Development Director in place by mid-November. I’ve met with some amazing candidates for the development director role, and it is a scary decision to select one - probably the most important hire that I’ve made in my career. But I’ll make a decision and we’ll move forward, and if we learn it was the wrong decision, I’ll make a different one - because that’s what people and especially business leaders have to do!
LoCo Think Tank offers a safe place for business owners and key leaders to find perspective, accountability, and encouragement for the sometimes lonely journey of being the decider and making those scary decisions along the journey. If you’re reading this and you want to know more - I’m easy to find! - and I also love introductions!
And - if you’re interested in hosting a grove party in your backyard next summer, we’d love to put a series of events together around the community. I know a couple of great bands!