An annual assessment of professional and personal journey.
This is the ninth time I’ve written and shared some variation of this blog. If you’ve read any previous incarnations, you know I use this blog – the first blog of every new year – to reflect on the year that recently ended. I suppose you could say it’s my feeble attempt to understand who I am as an entrepreneur, businessman, partner, husband, father, and friend as I strive to become the best version of myself.
While I love to write, and it’s a complete catharsis for me, publicly sharing my victories and struggles isn’t easy, which begs the question, why be so open about those things? I pride myself on being authentic in everything I do, which means I’m the same person whether I’m speaking in front of a large group, recording a podcast, working with clients, hosting people at an industry event, or sitting at a bar with a friend over a quiet drink. That being said, opening the vein of complete transparency and honesty to allow anyone who reads this to judge the metaphorical blood that flows out terrifies me, which is precisely why I do it.
Fear is an excellent motivator. At the same time, confronting fear allows us the choice of either pushing past it to grow or cowering away from it, which, in turn, feeds said fear. I, for one, choose the former. So, with that groundwork, let’s get to it.
Professionally, where was I this time last year?
At the end of 2022, brandivate was more established and yielding tangible results for clients. Up to this point, much of the work brandivate was doing was project-based, meaning clients and revenue streams had to be replaced often. This approach made it difficult for the business to do much more than tread water in terms of growth. My goal was to round out the type of clients brandivate was servicing to balance the project-based opportunities with more retainer-based opportunities. I headed to PPAI Expo in January 2023 with a VERY clear vision of what needed to be accomplished for brandivate to shift and grow.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my “side hustle” in Promocations. By this point in 2022, my partner in the enterprise (Mr. Josh Robbins) had launched the company and had sold out our first event – the PromoCruise. We were very bullish on the efficacy of the event as well as the ones to follow. In other words, I headed into 2023 feeling very good about both businesses and eager to start the year.
Did I accomplish my goals for 2023 – why or why not?
Goals I accomplished
Add ten new brandivate clients – Once again, I hit this target with quite a bit of room to spare. I’d be lying if I didn’t share that accomplishing this goal is a tremendous source of professional pride.
Sell out all Promocations events for 2023 – Between two PromoCruises and a PromoQue, we had almost 150 people attend Promocations events in 2023, each selling out.
Goals I didn’t accomplish
Have brandivate be at a consistent run rate of $400,000.00 by 12/31/23 – There were months that this happened, but it wasn’t consistent enough to call it a win. While this is a repeat goal from last year, we did get much closer to accomplishing this mark by better mixing project-based work with retainer-based work.
Deliver a complete educational program for PromoKitchen – As my father used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” There is no doubt I intended to deliver this to PromoKitchen, but it wasn’t to be – even if I mapped out the entire scope and structure of the training. Time was the enemy here – something that’s become somewhat of a theme as I write this blog.
Take one day off every month in 2023 – As a business owner, there’s always something to do. While I did take a day off here and there, it was neither consistent nor intentional. For my mental and physical health, I’ve learned that this is something I radically need to change in 2024.
Work out three days a week for the first three months of the year and five days a week for the balance of 2023 – I didn’t even sniff this goal, let alone accomplish it. I could give you (and me) plenty of excuses as to why this didn’t happen, but they would be little more than hollow words to let me off the hook. The bottom line is that I didn’t prioritize this at all, and frankly, it caught up to me later in 2023.
What are my motivations, and how have they changed in the past year?
After a year of change in 2022, 2023 was a year where I could truly focus on my “why.” The result was a better understanding of why I do what I do and better work for brandivate clients and Promocations attendees. I’ve come to realize that I truly live and love to serve others. So, with that bit of a preamble, here are my motivations for 2024:
Provide for my family – financially and emotionally.
Create work that matters for brandivate clients to help them achieve their goals.
Deliver game-changing networking events via Promocations.
Continually give back to an industry that has given me more than I could ever deserve.
What do I need to do more of in 2024?
As I look back and reflect on what I wrote last year, I’m almost ashamed to admit to myself (and everyone taking the time to read this) that I failed at every single thing I listed that I wanted to do more of: slow down, taking more time for me and my family, being intentionally present, getting in better shape, eating healthier, and getting enough sleep.
Read that again; I failed at every single one of those.
Much like many of you, the pandemic shifted many things in my life – some positive and some negative. Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, I stopped working out consistently and never picked it back up on a measurable and meaningful basis. For someone who embraces the routine of a good workout, this is quite the shift. At the same time, I regressed in my eating and simply consumed the food I wanted to eat (yes, I’m looking at you, Sour Cream and Onion Pringles) and in the quantities I wanted to consume them.
I joked with Sandy often that I needed to stop treating my body like I was on shore leave. In November of 2023, it all finally caught up with me as I was put in the ICU by my doctor for severe dehydration. That, my friends, is the definition of a wake-up call, and I’ve embraced some radical lifestyle changes since I was discharged. I share all of this because it gives context to the below. Here is what I will do more of in 2024:
First and foremost, I need to start making time for myself. Reflecting on 2023, I realize that I ran at an unsustainable pace from one project to another until my body started giving out. By allowing myself to be continually busy, I neglected my health to the point I ended up in the ICU. I have to take time for me: cooking healthier meals, getting the exercise I both miss and desperately need, and being intentional about enjoying downtime away from work, to name a few. This is not negotiable for me moving forward.
Second, I need to say “no” more. This is the exact opposite of how my brain is wired, but by saying “yes” too often, I’ve allowed myself to be so busy that I’ve felt the stinging tinge of burnout (and the emotions that come with it) a few times in 2023. While writing and sharing that feels incredibly selfish, I also know it’s not fair to say “yes” to the people who ask when I can’t entirely throw myself into the project, board, etc. I will always strive to say “yes” as I feel it’s both my duty and obligation to give back, but in 2024, I have to give requests more thought before responding in the affirmative.
Third, I need to treat my body and mind much better. I’ve already started on this aggressively by taking the time to cook healthier meals, eat more greens and less Pringles, and exercise consistently. I can already tell the difference in my body as I feel better – both mentally and physically – than I have since the onset of the pandemic.
Fourth, I need to be more present during the downtime that I take. Going out to dinner with my wife while continually checking emails on my phone isn’t exactly how she dreamed marriage with me would be. While I don’t always do that, I do it often enough to recognize that it’s an issue. In 2024, I need to be fully present when I am with her, my boys, and my friends. They deserve my attention far more than whatever I’m looking at on my phone screen.
Last, and this is one thing I was successful in as I review this list from last year, I need to continue fostering the ever-evolving adult relationships I have with my now 21-year-old twin boys. As they have gotten older, I have learned that I must be present with them on their terms, not mine. This coming autumn, they will be seniors in their respective universities, which is very difficult for me to fathom. I hope they enjoy getting to know me as a friend as much as I do.
What do I need to do less of in 2024?
I need to worry less about people who don’t like me, regardless of the reason. Perhaps it’s that seventh-grade boy who desperately needed to be accepted that still lives inside me, but it’s tough for me to get that some people don’t care for me. To that end, I typically extend several olive branches in an attempt to understand what I did (or did not) do to cause a person to feel negatively towards me. Sometimes, there’s a valid reason, and I work my tail off to apologize, make amends, and make changes to avoid repeating the same mistake. Other times, people just don’t care for me or what I do. I need to stop burning mental calories wondering if it is because of something I wrote, said on a podcast, or even jealousy – it’s just not productive. I made great strides on this in 2023 and will continue to do so in the coming year.
Additionally, I need to be less sensitive to the actions and inactions of others. While I may have a gruff, "I don't really care what anyone does" attitude, the hard truth is that I can be stung deeply by people. As Sandy often tells me, deep down, I'm a big softie. Whether it's something derogatory someone says about me, the intentional exclusion to an event, or even those who privately cheer me on while denigrating me when I'm not around, thinking it won't get back to me, I tend to allow those things to hurt me far deeper than I would care to admit. I'll brush it off with a joke or, as mentioned above, the facade of a gruff exterior to deflect it, but it usually eats me up inside. In 2024, I need to do much less of that and realize that I can't control how people act towards me. Instead, all I can do is be the best person I can be and let things roll off my back.
What am I grateful for in 2023?
Much like last year when we lost my Father-in-Law, 2023 has ended with a bit of melancholy with my hospitalization and the unrelated realization that we wouldn’t be able to spend the holidays with my Mother-in-Law. Even so, there is so much to be grateful for. Let’s start with the professional stuff:
I’m grateful for a business partner in Josh Robbins. Yes, he’s opinionated, strong-willed, and resolute in his views on life, but here’s the side people don’t see: he’s thoughtful, caring, generous, and, believe it or not, eager to listen to the ideas of others. What he and I have built in Promocations astounds both of us, and as we would be the first to tell anyone, it wouldn’t have happened without our partnership. Next time you see Josh, just know there’s a very deep and caring human below the façade of a Beatles-hating, badge-slinging Cleveland Browns fan. Without him, I would not be where I’m at today – period.
I don’t say it often enough, but I’m grateful for one Kirby Hasseman. He’s always willing to listen to whatever weird ideas I have and give his honest feedback. Plus, there wouldn’t be a Promo UPFront Podcast without him.
I’m beyond thankful for clients that have turned into friends. I’m sure it happens in other industries, but, at least to me, this is what makes the promotional products industry so damn unique.
I’m profoundly grateful to have been recognized for my contributions to the promotional products industry. Both my induction into the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS) Hall of Fame and receiving the 2024 Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) Distinguished Service Award came as a shock to me. I’ve never volunteered my time to be recognized, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good to have it happen.
I’m extraordinarily thankful for the people who read what I write, listen to me pontificate on podcasts, show up to hear me speak at an event, or simply express support for my vision for brandivate, Promocations, and the industry at large. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: while I have an ego, it’s like everyone else’s: fragile. The kind words, messages, and texts mean a lot when you put candid thoughts for others to judge. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
On the personal side of things, it’s been a strange year. As a kid, I always assumed being an adult would be much more effortless than it is. However, the older I get, the more I realize that being an adult is essentially juggling several crises at once while trying to be the best husband, father, and friend I can be. Even so, I have much to be thankful for:
Both Drew and Mitch have become thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, and loving men. If they are the only legacy I leave behind when I’m gone, I’ll have made the world a much better place.
I’m eternally grateful for my bride of 29 years, Sandy. She’s supportive, encouraging, and believes in me regardless of what I do. I mean, she fully supported my entrepreneurial vision when I quit my job at the height of the pandemic in 2020 to start brandivate. While I don’t deserve that type of backing, I’m deeply thankful for it.
Most don’t realize the depth of love people have for them until a crisis happens. When I was in the ICU, I felt the love from so many that it was overwhelming. I get misty-eyed as I think back on the people who took the time to make me feel less alone in that hospital room.
I’m beyond grateful for friends and extended family that go deeper than simply supporting me – they love and accept me for who I am despite the many times I’ve disappointed them and myself. More than anything, I treasure my relationships with people, which goes even further this year.
How did I serve others in 2023?
For as long as I’ve been in the promotional products industry, I have fervently believed that it’s critical to give back – something I’ve referenced several times above. I have, however, learned that there is only so much I can give of myself without consequences – something else I have referred to. While I continue to be part of the mentoring community of PromoKitchen, earlier in 2023, I decided to step off the board as a chef. As part of the organization for most of the past ten years, it was a difficult decision that I did not take lightly. However, I leave with the pride of knowing that I left my fingerprints on the organization and that PromoKitchen is in fantastic hands with Ashely Colautti and the other chefs. The truth is that it’s time for new, fresh voices, and I could not give my total effort any longer. In other words, it was time.
Along with mentoring through PromoKitchen, I continue to be a trustee for the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) and will be Vice Chair, Marketing for 2024. I’m genuinely excited to help PPEF reach more people to help so many deserving college and trade-show students achieve their dreams.
In terms of serving others, I didn’t realize this until Kirby Hasseman pointed it out in his surprise nomination of me for the PPAI Distinguished Service Award: the content I create. It is challenging for me to write and share without tooting my own horn, but here it goes. Until Kirby pointed it out – and it was validated by current PPAI Board Chair, Kevin Walsh of Showdown Displays – I never really thought of this weekly blog, the videos I’ve created throughout the years, and the podcasts I’ve been a part of as giving back or serving others. However, I’ve come to realize that sharing thoughts on sales, marketing, branding, and even personal struggles on a consistent basis without asking for anything in return IS serving others. Producing content consistently for the past ten years has allowed me to embrace and accept my professional self while sharing my candid thoughts that I hope help others in some small way.
I couldn’t stop producing content if I tried – it’s just part of who I am as a marketing professional. In other words, whether you like, love, or loathe the content I share every week, it will continue in 2024.
What are my goals for 2024?
My objective with my annual goals is to make them as targeted, specific, and measurable as possible. I'm not sure I was able to accomplish that this year, but here they are:
Take the time necessary to create the type of healthy meals I need to make to remain healthy – every single day.
Move my body intentionally five days a week – every week. This can be brisk walks, a workout at a gym, or even a few miles on the treadmill.
Take off one day every month for the entire year.
Get brandivate to a consistent monthly run rate of $30,000.00 by December 31, 2024.
Add 15 new brandivate clients.
Mentor two people in the industry.
Sell out all Promocations events for 2024.
Am I who I want to be?
Even though I wrote this question, I hate it with a passion. Is anyone who they truly desire to be? Like everyone, I’m a work in progress shaped by experiences and complete with the many battle scars from what life has given me. As I write this, the wounds of my health scare in December are still very much in the healing stage. However, I know I have two choices: let that health scare bring me down or confront it head-on, make the changes I need to make, and live my life to the fullest. It likely won’t surprise anyone that I’ve chosen the latter.
While I’ll never be the person I strive to be, I can candidly share that I’m closer to being that person than ever. Growth, especially when viewed through that lens, is a victory for 2023.
Every year when I write this, it takes far more time than I anticipate. For example, I wrote this blog in about nine hours over five days. So, why do I put myself through this when it would be far easier to watch Die Hard? I do it because when I finally complete this blog and post it, I feel thoroughly cleansed from the previous year and ready to attack the fresh one. Writing has always given me solace, and this blog is no different. I share it because by being so raw, candid, and vulnerable, it might encourage someone else to pause to reflect on where they are at in their life journey. Maybe that doesn’t happen at all. The bottom line is that this is the only blog I intentionally write every year for an audience of one: me. If it helps or inspires others, that’s fantastic. However, this one is really for me.
I wish each and every one of you the best 2024 has to offer you and your families!