I was asked for some advice from an ad agency owner who had seen his business cycle fluctuate to frustration.
It was obviously taking a toll on him and he needed someone to talk to and some re-assuring, because no matter how long you’ve been in the business, doubts about self-worth are as common as a lonely, hot paved winding road in Texas. I know, I’ve lived there.

And so, here I was face to face discussing various business philosophies of the ad game and doing everything I could to prevent myself from being an ‘advice monster,’ figuring out what wise nuggets of wisdom I could tell him. Then the words blurted out:

Everyone is looking for the ingredients to the secret sauce, but there aren’t any! 

Actually, I take that back. In my opinion, over the years, there are few powerful ingredients:

1. Decide what you want to be and decide what you want to do.

2. What kind of a person do you have to be to do what you want to do?

3. When Curly in City Slickers pointed his finger and said ‘this is the secret to life,’ take his advice: focus on one thing.

4. Develop your story and become ‘famous’ to a select few. With a story, you have no competition.

5. Don’t under-estimate your years of experience.

6. Understand the difference between ‘knowledge’ and ‘doing.’

7. Don’t fault anyone for not being able to get where you want to go, except the person you see in the mirror.

8. In everything you do and everyone you meet, create a memorable reaction.

9. Sleep well with a good conscience.

And here’s a silver bullet for retirement: Don’t expect anyone to buy your agency. Make as much money as you can and sock it away – because you’ll need at least 2-3 million for retirement.


It’s challenging running an ad agency in today’s volatile landscape where clients want more for less and the knowledge curve becomes higher to climb every day. Joel Cohen makes ad agency owners lives easier by bringing successful ad agency leaders together online to share ideas, resolve issues and experience the comfort of being part of a support team, rather than working in an isolated vacuum, where you’ll never know as much as you need to know to become truly successful.