Great ideas come from solving problems incrementally. Starting from the goal and creating a roadmap to it is the best way to come up with unique ideas and ways to solve problems.
Since founding Imagine in 2004 with $14 and a dream, Patrick’s expertise in brand strategy and digital marketing has helped brands from local companies to Fortune 500 brands like CenturyLink, Nestle and Comcast. His business and marketing advice has been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post and Chief Marketer, among other publications.
Eager to ramble on all things marketing, his speaking engagements include those for DC Advertising Week, DECA, Comcast’s Enterprise Connect conference, the SMPS Build Business annual conference, Bowie State University and Construction Leadership Network.
Patrick serves on several boards of directors including those of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the American Marketing Association – Washington, DC chapter. He sits on the judging panels for the International Association of Visual Arts American Business Awards and does pro-bono work for a number of charities.
Patrick lives in Gainesville, Virginia where he writes music, brews beer and tries to catch every Giants game during football season.
Where did the idea for Imagine come from?
I had been a designer since I was a kid and had drawn my first logo for a relative at the age of nine. I wasn’t aware it was a profession, even when I was creating posters and business cards at age 12. Only when I was in my late teens did I realize that I had come upon a career.
It was around this time that I started to fall in love with this magic we call branding and marketing – how a combination of color and words can persuade someone to do something they had no intention of doing otherwise. So, I was pulled in that direction, while keeping my passion for design.
It was hard for me to get freelance – let alone full-time work – where I was living at the time, in Newport News, Virginia. Fortunately, my brother came to visit me from Washington, D.C. one weekend and gave me a piece of advice that would change my life. He said, “if you want this type of work, then go where the clients are”. Within six months, I was moving to D.C. and six short months from that, I started Imagine out of a spare bedroom.
That was fifteen years ago and, while the company could now never fit into a spare bedroom, the passion and curiosity surrounding design and marketing are still there – perhaps stronger than ever.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’ve learned over the years – in part, recently, from some work done by Daniel Pink and his book When – that I have parts of the day that are best for certain types of work. In the morning, I’m the most focused so I use that time to get large tasks done. After lunch, I’m better at more analytical work, so there’s a lot more planning, admin, meetings and brainstorming. After dinner is where my creativity really hits, so I’m often up late into the night, working on campaign concepts, logos or other creative ideas.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Although I guess it didn’t start this way intentionally, I always seem to solve problems from starting with a goal and creating steps in reverse until I come up with a unique way to solve them. It’s a lot like the “Start with the End in Mind” concept. If I have an idea of what the goal is, I can work to the solution with going “ok, this solution needs this to happen, then this, then this…” until I’ve worked my way into an idea that solves everything it needs to. Where I end up is often not what I expected.
For example, we have a campaign we’re working on for a resort and we knew for certain that it had to present itself as a better alternative to other vacation activities. So, we first decided that we needed to present each specific alternative as a clearly nightmarish option. Then we developed contrasting components to make the resort stand out.
I’ve learned that when you start with what the goal should be instead of throwing a pre-determined fix into the equation, the ideas are creative almost 100% of the time and never what you would’ve prescribed beforehand.
What’s one trend that excites you?
By far, I have to say that the biggest trend that excites me today is personalization. We see it all over the internet with advertising, e-commerce and even smart homes, but I think we’re pretty close to seeing it more in our offline, public experiences.
For instance, one day in the not-too-distant future, I see walking into a restaurant, and I’m greeted with a display that geo-located my device and says “Welcome to XX Restaurant, Patrick!”. My party is seated and when the waiter comes out, they already know what I like from previous experiences and can offer things that I would truly be interested in. When I’m done, I don’t have to wait or the check – I simply pay the bill on my phone and leave.
Of course, some of these things have some negative components, namely not being exposed to new experiences or food options and a more limited amount of human interaction, so culture would need to change with the technology in ways I can’t predict. But the tech that would create the scenario above already exists, so it’s really a matter of time before someone pieces them all together.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I soak up a ton of information about both business and my craft. I have a disturbing number of audiobooks in my Audible account from listening when I drive. At work, I listen to podcasts on TuneIn or webinars while I work. I speak regularly, which always requires a good amount of research. And I learn from my team, who are also learning to perform better in their own roles.
But concentrating on business and marketing alone aren’t enough. I spend 1-2 days a week (usually the weekend) trying to gain perspective through outside experiences. Knowing all the technical stuff is good, but it usually fails at providing inspiration, so I look to other things – spending time with family, traveling, trying new experiences – as a way to provide new perspective when the new week arrives.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d probably tell him to chill out, take a breath and focus. I was so eager to accomplish things that I had more creative outlets than I could handle; therefore, I remained mediocre in pretty much all of them. I was a guitarist in a performing band, a freelance designer and marketer that took on any odd job he could find, a writer that produced countless pieces that never saw the light of day, and a drawing artist that filled a sketchbook every other month.
It’s great to be creative, but it’s just as important to have focus and become excellent at a limited number of things. It may be the only way.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Professionally, I think that privacy issues on the internet aren’t as bad as many people make them out to be. As someone who plays around with this data almost every day, I can tell you that it’s all delivered to advertisers in aggregate. I can’t walk down the street and tell you what each person would like or where they last shopped. That said, what the actual aggregators of that data can see could still be an issue if it’s used improperly.
Personally, I have this strange theory that Wyoming doesn’t exist and that it’s really just a square-shaped hole in the planet. I’ve never met anyone from there, and website analytics hardly ever show traffic from there, if at all. So, maybe they just sell novelty license plates at the edge of neighboring states and have a large fence around it, so no one falls in. I may be wrong, but it’s a pretty interesting idea and does make for some heated discussion at happy hour.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Audit yourself from time to time to make sure that you’re not taking yourself too seriously. Not only are your problems ephemeral, but so are your victories. Make sure that you’re not getting too caught up in either of them, take a step away and try to enjoy life. Get out of your daily routine and the same social circles from time to time, engage in a hobby you know nothing about. Travel to a new place where no one knows you, even if it’s only a hundred miles away. Be new to something – it really puts things into perspective.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I can’t overstate the need for specialization – finding one special thing that you do above anyone else and staking your claim to it. No business has become successful without it.
For example, although Imagine serves every major role of a marketing agency, we narrow our focus to tourism/hospitality and nonprofits/associations. We don’t do work for restaurants or real estate, because that would dilute our expertise. We study our selected industries very closely and put the hours in to execute on really good work in them. You simply can’t be everything to everyone and expect your work to have much depth.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The first time I submitted an entry to a large design competition, I lost. I figured it may have been the style or something; so, the next year, I entered a totally different piece. It lost as well. I couldn’t understand the problem. The clients loved the work, they performed well in the marketplace – I thought I did what it took to get some form of industry recognition.
The following year, I decided on a different approach. Instead of entering a piece into the competition, I volunteered to judge. I wanted to see what my competition was doing, and I learned a ton from the experience. Sure, the work was good, but what stood out to me was the effort the clear winners put into explaining the problem their work solved, its real-world applications, even going so far as to create mini-sites to showcase their work.
I judged for another year, and the result was the same. Finally, I decided to enter a few pieces of work into the competition and won on all of them. The lesson I learned from that experience is that design without a story is just a piece of art. I’ve since taken that into a broader context, that everything of value is valuable because it has a story. Not telling that story is to not give something it’s true worth.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think I have to go back to real-world personalization. The little devices we hold in our pockets can serve as beacons for far more than just marketing, and I think there’s unlimited opportunity in a company that learns how to use them to create retail and entertainment experiences based on the customers’ preferences.
Here’s another example of how they can be used. Let’s say you walk into a bar, waiting room, coffee shop, store, whatever. Based on the preferences of the people in that room, the music playing in the background can switch to something that the majority of people in the room prefer. This could be done by their preferences on Pandora, Spotify, Facebook or a myriad of other providers.
Yes, it sounds creepy, but I’m sure it’s going to happen. The first one to market – and the most responsible with the data they manage – will be the most successful.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
It’s slightly more than $100, but it was for a cleaning service. Cleaning my house takes me all weekend. For a professional, it took four hours. During that four hours, I was able to produce $1,000 of work. The math just makes sense – if you have the means, hire a professional to do the work you’re not good at, and use that time to do profitable work.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I’m a big fan of Wunderlist and use it for pretty much every part of my life. I used to work from my emails, which would often end up in clutter and confusion. I’d run late on one deadline and be far too early on another, or I wouldn’t delegate out what I could. My work was inconsistent, and my inbox was a point of daily stress for me.
Now that I work from lists, each day gets a certain number of tasks that are either due or before their due date. I only assign myself what can reasonably be done each day, and I end every day with an empty inbox and an understanding of what each day ahead of me holds. Clients get reasonable deadlines and my work is delegated more often.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The title may be offensive, but the most impactful book I’ve read over recent years – both for my personal and professional lives – has been The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. It helped me in determining what I fill my time with, and what I say “no” to.
At the time, I was working more hours than I should because I had agreed to take on too much, I was serving on 7 nonprofit boards, and I was letting people down. By learning where to give my attention and which opportunities to pass up, I can now have more focus, get more accomplished, and have time to spend relaxing instead of frantically trying to do everything I’m asked to do.
What is your favorite quote?
“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” – Anonymous
- Do your best work at the ideal time of the day. Learn the times of day that you’re the most productive at certain parts of your job. Then commit to getting each part of your job done at the right time.
- Great ideas come from solving problems incrementally. Starting from the goal and creating a roadmap to it is the best way to come up with unique ideas and ways to solve problems.
- Free time is important. Studying up on your craft is important, but equally important is time spent away from it, gaining new perspective and context.
- Trying to master multiple things is just a good way to stay busy. Instead, focus on a limited number of skills to master and get excellent at them, instead of just being mediocre at a bunch of things.
- Work from lists, not from email. Lists allow you to give a task a date and time, allowing you to organize your schedule instead of working in constant reactive mode.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.