“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

— Cicero

By Richard J. Lenz

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the incorporation of Lenz. I started the company in my basement, with a spare door on top of two filing cabinets for a desk, a credit-card financed 486 PC as my sole piece of office equipment, and a heart full of hope.

For thirty years, I have been very blessed. I feel lucky and grateful to have had the support of so many generous people over the years: family and friends, mentors, clients, co-workers, and business partners. My world has been a fascinating kaleidoscope of relationships, which I treasure for the many valuable experiences we have shared, as we have climbed many demanding mountains – together.

The company’s mission from the start was to use marketing communications to help the people, companies, and causes that are trying to make a positive difference in the world. This has led to attracting clients in the fields of healthcare, science, conservation, arts, and education, who are focused on creating healthier and sustainable communities. 

It is impossible to sum up a three-decade experience in a short column or even a full-length book. When you give birth to a business, you are choosing to challenge yourself on every level – in ways both expected and unexpected. As Indiana Jones said, “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage!”

After thirty years of running a business, I have learned a lot about my chosen craft. Almost nothing in the business world has changed as much as communications in that time span. But in truth, what I really have been schooled in is human nature, both mine and everyone else’s.

Here are thirty lessons I’ve learned about marketing, business, relationships, and leadership:

  1. The single best rule of business ethics is the Golden Rule, found in most religions: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”
  2. The best rule for communication is “The Rotary Four-Way Test”: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
  3. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. You will learn that many times your first thoughts about a situation were incorrect.
  4. Integrity is everything – yours and others. Because trust is the coin of the realm. If it is present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible.
  5. If you truly, deeply care, you have a huge advantage.
  6. Leadership is not only knowing what to say but also knowing what not to say.
  7. As an owner, your job number one is the company’s survival for everyone who depends on it.
  8. Cash is King … and Queen!
  9. “Mo Money (leads to) Mo Problems” – The Notorious B.I.G.
  10. Everything is important but not everything is equally urgent.
  11. Hard work and persistence are more important than talent.
  12. Without constant curiosity and innovation, you will eventually be dead in the water.
  13. Hire the best bookkeeper and CPA firm you can afford, even before you think you need one.
  14. In marketing and advertising, clients will usually push you to do what everyone else in their field is doing. You have to guide them to understand that they need to differentiate from their competition. As Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”
  15. For clients new to marketing, your first goal is to create market awareness OF them. The second goal is market preference FOR them.
  16. Traditional media (TV, Radio, Billboards, etc.) still works. New Media (Digital, social, etc.) also works. Using both together strategically works best.
  17. Facebook, Instagram, Digital, etc. are TOOLS, not marketing STRATEGY.
  18. No one cares about the company’s good ol’ days unless they lived them.
  19. “Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate.” — E.M. Forster. Good (and bad) things will happen, but not on your timeline.
  20. Business IS personal. Relationships are EVERYTHING.
  21. Employees work for more than wages. The deepest yearning in the human heart is the desire to be important. Everyone is actually happier if challenged and given room to grow.
  22. Everyone in your company should be helped to understand that they are CEO of something.
  23. Manage up, don’t beat down.
  24. “Equal” is usually impossible to achieve but work very hard to produce “fair.”
  25. Mistakes are opportunities to learn. I’ve learned more from failure than success. And the biggest thrill is coming back from defeat.
  26. The advice you don’t want to hear (and the hardest for you to learn) is usually the advice you most need. Why? Because it was the thing you MOST did not understand. It’s your blind spot.
  27. Negative experiences teach the value of positive ones: If you are betrayed, you learn the importance of loyalty; if you are treated unfairly, you learn the value of justice; if you are ignored, you learn that listening to others is important. Pain teaches compassion.
  28. The hardest ship to sail is a “partner”-ship.
  29. Treat your contractors and suppliers as well as you treat your clients.
  30. Attitude is everything: I can cry because roses have thorns or celebrate that thorns have roses. Changing one word in your mind makes all the difference: Change “have to” to “get to” as in, “I GET to go to work” instead of “I HAVE to go to work.”
  31. And one extra bonus: Love is the most powerful and mysterious force in the universe.

Finally, there is a very long list of people who deserve special thanks for helping the company over the years. But with this anniversary, one in particular deserves a special shout out today who — except for a few months at the very beginning — has been working with me since the beginning and has been the best partner any one could hope to have. Lenz would not be where it is today if not for his incredible talent, creativity, dedication, and loyalty. And that is my brother, John Lenz.