Michael Janda, Award-Winning Creative Director, on the Business of Design
Lorilee sits down with one of her mentors, Michael Janda, to talk shop; specifically, the business of being a designer. Michael is an award-winning creative director, designer, and agency veteran. In 2002, he founded the creative agency Riser, which provided design and development services for high-profile brands, including Disney, Google, Warner Bros., National Geographic and many others. Michael sold Riser in 2015 and now spends his time speaking, developing books, courses, and social media content to help creatives level-up and navigate their careers. He is the author of Burn Your Portfolio and The Psychology of Graphic Design Pricing.
Michael and Lorilee discuss what it takes to run a successful design operation; from managing client relationships to utilizing data and balancing work and life.
- On Michael’s playlist: movie soundtracks, beats, and more
- The impetus behind Burn Your Portfolio
- His career journey — from copy store to successful agency
- Why self-education is key to career development
- Using data to take control of your business
- What they don’t teach you in design school
- The importance of cultivating relationships
- Balancing work and life
- One tool for our G&G toolbox
Mentioned in this episode:
Sponsored by Her-Bank.com
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Episode 10 Transcript – Michael Janda
[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It is a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives.
Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is a member FDIC equal housing lender.
My guest today is Michael Janda. He is an entrepreneur, a writer, a business coach, a Bears fan, and a bobblehead collector. After building and selling two agencies he is now a full time business coach. He is particularly special to me because he mentored me early on when I was building my design firm Thrive Creative Group. Michael is one of the kindest, coolest, and most honest creatives I’ve ever met, always willing to listen and share and give abundantly all of his best secrets of the creative business world. I am so happy to call him a friend. So with that, let’s get this episode started.
You know what’s funny is when I was thinking of the intro to say “welcome Michael,” do you go by Mike or Michael?
[00:02:10] Michael Janda: Yeah, Mike for people I’ve known for 15 years.
[00:02:14] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. That’s right. Um, well, I just did want to say welcome, and I just wanted to start right out of the gate and say, thank you for being my mentor. I don’t know if I’ve officially said it, but.
[00:02:27] Michael Janda: You have and I felt it. It’s honestly, that was a neat, that was an interesting time when you and I connected. It was an interesting time because it was, like, right at the cusp of when my agency and my career was starting to become something. And when you reached out to me, it was like, wow, okay, somebody else perceives me as I accomplished something. This is, this feels good. And so the timing of that was, was pretty interesting for me too.
[00:02:56] Lorilee Rager: Oh, good. I’m glad. I’m glad.
[00:02:59] Michael Janda: And then the, the joy I’ve seen in your career since and you growing your agency and stuff has just been, it’s just been so fun to see for sure. So you’re like, you’re like, I don’t know, maybe, it’s probably the difference in our age too. You’re probably like, you know, five or seven years behind me in career phase, as far as the size of your agency and the experiences you’ve had. And so it’s like, I’m watching what happened to me in hindsight and in the rear view mirror. That’s what it, that’s what it’s kind of felt like.
[00:03:39] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. It, and I feel like it’s like a, I don’t know if it’s like a big brother’s situation where it’s like watching, I know have having older sisters, watching them go off to college and seeing what they went through and being like, Ooh, okay, I see what they’re doing there. Ooh, I see how that turned out, so.
[00:03:57] Michael Janda: Yeah, both of those things.
[00:04:00] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, for sure. Well, I just wanted to officially say thank you for being a mentor for me many, many years ago. Um, and thanks for being on the podcast today.
[00:04:08] Michael Janda: Yeah. I was going to invite myself, like I said, if you didn’t invite me, I was going to be like, you have a podcast? You better have me come be on it.
[00:04:17] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. That’s right. Well, the big, big, first kickoff question I like to ask everyone is what song is on repeat on your playlist. Or your iPod, do people still listen to those?
[00:04:28] Michael Janda: Oh, on my playlist today. Yeah, so I, I do these things called mellow zone, uh, mellow zone playlists. And I put in there, like, a bunch of movie themes and stuff, or some like deep beat music and things, or like enigma and stuff, like these kinds of, um, just pulsing beat stuff. It’s either that, or it’s movie soundtracks. And I pile in, you know, hundreds of songs into one, and then I just loop it for months. And then I burn out the entire playlist and then I’m like, oh my gosh, I’ve heard every one of these 5,000 times cause it’s on for eight hours a day in my ears. And so then I make a new one. So I have this whole list of, lilke, Mellow Zone 2021 Q4 and Mellow Zone 2021 Q3. It’s just this stack of them. So that’s, that’s what I listened to. I do a lot of writing when I, when I’m working and I can’t have audio. I can’t have verbally, I can’t have words.
[00:05:41] Lorilee Rager: Yup. I’m the exact same way. I do instrumental. I have a writer’s playlist that I wore out in grad school. And just like you said, on loop. And, and because if it’s much, if it’s anything else that’s going to pull me out of it, like out of my head or distract me, in a good way sometimes too. But, and now teaching in the classroom, that’s the first thing I turn on is lo-fi study beats, just trying to find something on YouTube and blare it to the classroom while they work. Because, yeah, otherwise I’d be way too distracted. I like it. Okay. Good to know. Good to know. Awesome. All right. Well, I wanted to, there’s so many things I can talk to you all day, but I really wanted to talk about the origin story of, of you as a graphic designer. And I know that you have your book. I love your book. I’ve lived it. I read it. I was, you know,
[00:06:32] Michael Janda: And you experienced all of it for yourself too. Yeah. It could be your book.
[00:06:36] Lorilee Rager: So, it’s true. But, uh, the book’s title is Burn Your Portfolio and it is extremely successful from the graphic design world, but it’s so full of so many other nuggets and practical advice in the business world too. Um, but starting out, I really wanted to just, just ask, like, why did you write it? Why did you feel the need to write it?
[00:07:04] Michael Janda: I, about seven years before I wrote a book, I, I put on my goal list, okay, someday I want to have a published book. And I just put it out there in the universe, as they say, and then I just didn’t know ever what it was going to be. What, what is this book going to be? But I knew that someday I wanted to write it. And I think that there’s something interesting that I’ve seen happen so many times in my career is that once you define something like that, it’s like your subconscious brain spends a lot of energy trying to figure out how to fulfill it. And that’s what happened when you and I met, um, when I spoke in Nashville all those years ago and I gave that lecture. And I had, I gave a lecture, it was my first time ever speaking at any kind of notable conference of any kind, and I spoke about the non-design things that designers needed to have or do to be successful. And everybody else that spoke at that was speaking about design, design, design, and I spoke about non-design, just some of these little nuggets. And, um, and I had so much good feedback at the end of that. And I don’t know if you know this, but, um, Roat from House Industries, type thing, he spoke. And, um, and somebody, I was standing next to him talking and somebody came up to him and said, Hey, can you sign my, sign your book? Cause he has this beautiful book from House Industries. Anyway, so he says, oh sure. And he signs it. And then that same person looks over at me and takes his notebook and, like, hands me a piece of paper off his notebook and was like, Hey, and can you, can you sign this? So I’m like signing, I’m next to, um, somebody signing their beautiful well-designed amazing book, and then somebody hands me a scrap of paper. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is not going to do for me. And I think that was the moment when I was like, oh, I gotta go, I gotta write it. I gotta write, what, what is my book that I want to put out into the world?
[00:09:17] Lorilee Rager: Nice. That’s really, really, really good. Well, that conference, the AIGA conference in Nashville that I went to as a graphic designer, really just going to be like, I’m not, I know I need to get caught up on whatever’s new out there in software and, and see these, uh, celebrity, you know, designers and things like that. And all that stands out from that day is when you started talking business, because it was everything I was secretly struggling with. I felt like I could successfully make a logo for a bank, and I could successfully send the right files to the printer, and, and I was looking in that direction for how can I just do it faster or, or more of them and work harder and all of this, when there, I had a crap ton of work and no money in the bank. I was like, but, but I just need more work, that’s what I need. And when you started giving your nuggets out and, and telling just your story, your origin story, is when it was like you were, you’re echoing some of the exact experiences I was in the middle of or terrified of and that sort of thing.
[00:10:29] Michael Janda: Yeah. Well, congrats to you because you figured it out and, um, grew like crazy in the years to follow and bought your building and hired your team. Yeah, it was great. You did awesome.
[00:10:47] Lorilee Rager: It is, reviewing your book now in my class, in, in our, um, one of the senior level classes, we’re going through your book. While they do projects, of course. But every class period, we go through a section and re-reading it now, you know, I don’t even know, how old is the book?
[00:11:02] Michael Janda: Uh, it was 2013 is when it came out. So eight years now.
[00:11:07] Lorilee Rager: Eight, yeah. So reading it now on this other side of this one mountain, I’m sure I have my lots of mountains to climb, but it’s been so amazing to go, oh, that is what I do now or that is how we, we have this standard of service and this standard of excellence and the standard procedure. And it’s been wonderful reviewing it and hearing, I always love hearing where you started, like, was it a copy place?
[00:11:34] Michael Janda: Yeah. Alpha Graphics, man. It was Alpha Graphics. Couldn’t get a, I couldn’t get another job. That was my only job offer. So, yeah.
[00:11:43] Lorilee Rager: Right. And you just, you took it, you know, like that’s,
[00:11:47] Michael Janda: I, I felt like I took it in the chin. Because me as a competitive human, I was like, wait a second, I’m better than freaking Alpha Graphics and this is the only place I can get a job. I interviewed at agencies and stuff and no interest at all. And then I get this offer from Alpha Graphics, which to me, no offense to the Alpha Graphics lovers out there, but it’s the bottom of, it’s a copy store. And I was there, the prepress coordinator at Alpha Graphics. I wasn’t even like a designer. And, uh, for me, that’s the bottom. It was the bottom of this industry. And so it just really drove me to say, wait a second, this isn’t what I want for my career. I’m better than this. And so I just dove deep into this self-education mindset to just be, I got to learn what I don’t know that’s keeping me from standing out in the eyes of some of these more substantial agencies and clients and stuff.
[00:12:50] Lorilee Rager: Because I think you, you come out of college, or at least I did, thinking, yeah, I’m going to be in a skyrise in Chicago and New York and we’re going to be, yeah, we’re all going to be grabbing coffee and working with the biggest brands in the business. And I, I couldn’t even get hired as a receptionist at the agencies I was being interviewed at, that sort of thing. And, and I realized right then I was like, oh, I’m, I mean, my skill level has got to improve in. And even on, I’m not done, I’m done with school, but I’m not done learning, kind of thing. And so, hence, that’s why down the road, I went to the conference and, and we met. So I think, I think, um, you think you’re beginning a design life you’re beginning and design career, but it’s it’s, it may be the beginning out of college, but it’s, it goes forever. There’s no beginning and end. Um,
[00:13:46] Michael Janda: And there’s no limit or no end to the self-education side of things, the, the learning piece. I mean, somebody asked me that, I was on a podcast a couple of weeks ago and somebody said, well, are you still learning things? What are you learning now? And I was like, sheesh, the last two years, I’ve learned videography, video editing, and in Premiere. I used to edit in iMovie, which doesn’t even count, but now I’m like a Premiere wizard. I’m, I learned studio setup and lighting. I learned audio recording and leveling and just every, every little morsel that I didn’t know before. So here I’ve climbed a lot of mountains in my creative career, but I’m still learning tons of stuff. Social media marketing. Good grief. I didn’t know anything about that and had to figure out how to build an audience.
[00:14:41] Lorilee Rager: Which you did, yeah. Impressively, yes. And it’s authentic content, it’s real too. So there’s no, you know, uh, roadmap, there’s no specific list. And it was, going back to your book and your nuggets of just, you know, you can’t walk into a room and just say, well, I don’t know how to use that, and I don’t know how to do that, or I’ve never used that before, so.
[00:15:06] Michael Janda: Yeah, sorry. Yeah. Yeah. Totally, I would always say, uh, yeah, I can figure it out. Yeah, I can figure it out was like at the crux of success in my career.
[00:15:22] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah. I totally agree with that. I totally agree. Well, that’s, that’s where, um, I really, really enjoy the fact that, I think the book that you wrote eight years ago and that you had lived the previous life is still everyday real valuable content, um, when it comes to business. So shifting it to talk a little business, which I know a lot of creatives don’t want to talk about. I mean, humans as, altogether probably aren’t just super pumped to talk about spreadsheets or accounting in general. And it was, you were the first person to tell me, even if it doesn’t matter that you don’t like numbers or you’re not good at math, it does, it, it doesn’t matter, you have to know it. You have to know your numbers. Um, so the business side of creative, I wanted to hear a little bit of your thoughts, just like why, why it’s so important.
[00:16:18] Michael Janda: Yeah, well, you know, starting with numbers, since you mentioned it, numbers is, it’s the lifeblood of business. It’s data. And, and we talk as designers, especially now, the designers going to school now are exposed to data-driven design, data-driven insights. We’re talking about conversion rates and things. We’re not just building websites and launching them like you and I did back in the day. Now it’s like, wait, does version A or version B perform better and why? Is the button color red or should it be blue? Which one performs better? So data-driven insights is at the heart of a lot of design nowadays. Always been at the heart of business. You gotta, you gotta know the data of your business. Otherwise it’s like you’re flying a plane with no instruments, and that’s what a lot of designers do. Am I too high? Am I too low? What’s my fuel level? If you have no instrument panel, you don’t know, and good luck, you’re just kind of winging it and hoping for the best. And yeah, you might, you might make it a good distance. You also might crash. You just have no idea because you don’t even know where you’re going because there’s no compass. Well, once you start looking at the data of your business, the numbers in your business, all of a sudden this big instrument panel shows up and you can start saying, oh, if I want to fly to this destination, I need this much fuel, I need to turn left at Albuquerque and fly that direction for however many miles. And you become in control intentionally of your business instead of just hoping for the best. And it just depends on the designer. I mean, if you want to have a Willy nilly hope for the best career, then don’t get over it and don’t track your numbers and just enjoy making the work. But don’t come complaining to me 10 years later that you don’t have any money in the bank and that you haven’t, how do I land better clients and things because you haven’t been tracking your data. You’re just going willy nilly. But if you start, if you start tracking stuff, man, it’s, you can create a crystal ball for your business and you can decide where you want it to go and what you have to do to yield better revenue, better clients, um, more profit, all those things. So, man, that’s the reason data’s so important. A lot of creative struggle with it because they haven’t caught the fact that it can be creative. Like, looking at the data and figuring out how one data point corresponds to another data point, like your greenlight percentage, how, how many projects did you win of the proposals that you submitted to opportunities? Well, if you submitted X number and Y number you won and it was a 73% win ratio, then you want to bill more money, let’s increase the number of opportunities. Let’s go and sell more, and that can just greenlight the same percentage and sell more and then we’ll, we’ll win more. Or we can fine tune our proposal process so that we win more instead of 73%, we’re winning 79%. And what does that do to our bottom line revenue, if we make that level of improvement? Once you start looking at things like that, then data can get exciting and it can get creative and it can be fun. And I think a lot of design minded people haven’t, haven’t connected the dots to see that this is, this is actually a fun thing. For me it became super fun.
[00:20:23] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. So going back to one of the words you said in all of that, because it is so true, is you said control. And I think it’s a really important word. Obviously there’s a lot of deeper issues there, but as a designer, I feel like we are trying to control, we’re trying to control and design the perfect logo or the perfect website for the client, and we’re so looking outward at, at that level of control and the actual project, you can’t see the forest for the trees situation, when, when it was just another moment that I realized in my business, working with you, that the control needed to actually shift and look at what was behind me, what was behind, what was behind the art boards, what was behind the programs. And had I sent out the proposal? Had I followed up on the proposal? You know, those, that, that selling side and, and I don’t mean sales in a bad way. Just that making a relationship, just checking in with them, just following up. And then realizing did I even, did I invoice the deposit? Did I not? Did I follow up? I wasn’t tracking any of that because it was in the project and we had to get the deadline done. And when you said, well, speaking of the only thing you can control is when you send an invoice. You can’t control the client, you can’t control their response. Um, so yeah, control was a big thing.
[00:21:50] Michael Janda: Yeah, I like that. That’s a, that’s a, a good word for it. Like, and, and for me, and I think that’s interesting that you mentioned clients and you know, the heart at the heart of design, it’s controlling the behavior of the target audience. That’s what we’re trying to. We’re trying to get control them, to buy, to click, to think certain things. This is what we do as designers. That’s the whole objective. We’re trying to control some segment of some audience somewhere. Well, we that’s, that’s what we do as designers. Well, let’s do that in our business too. Let’s control the business.
[00:22:31] Lorilee Rager: Yes. That’s right. It’s so true. I guess, you know, it was one of those things and going into like, in my personal life, it was the same way. I was so focused on the design, I was just letting everything else go. I just thought more design, more better design, selling more logos, getting more projects, and all that other stuff behind the desk was going to be fine then. And it just, it really wasn’t.
[00:22:57] Michael Janda: No, it’s not, it’s not.
[00:23:01] Lorilee Rager: So, well good. Okay. I love this very, very much. Um, because the business side, and oh, something else I thought of, you had said, um, in your book as well about business is just being polite and communicating. Those are things they don’t teach you in design school at all, um, it’s, it’s more of just, you know, here’s the project, here’s the deadline. Get it to me on the right matte board situation. But being able to communicate and, um, uh, tell the right expectations that are what’s coming next, kind of educating the person you’re working with because they don’t think like we do.
[00:23:44] Michael Janda: No. All those things are so critical. I mean, honestly I attribute the majority of my success to that, my ability to connect with people and to be trustworthy. That’s why I had the opportunities I had. It’s not because I’m the freaking best designer in all the world. I’m a good designer, but there are a lot of great designers that just dwarf my design ability that have had less success than I have, because it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest designer in the world. If you are a freaking tool and nobody wants to work with you, then you’re not going to get opportunities, you’re not going to have success. So, just being, being good to work with and being polite and being trustworthy and having integrity and being talkative and looking people in the eye and smiling when you should smile and all those things. And follow ups, you know, making sure that these clients aren’t just floating out there wondering what’s going on with their project. So having this intuition to have touch points at the right moments, all that stuff is so critical to the success of a designer. I think we should have everybody in the world go to something called human school. We should have like a human school and everybody has to enroll in order to be able to be, um, let out into public. In human school, you learn how to be cordial and you learn how to be polite and you learn how to not be a jerk and a dirt bag. And you learn the importance of relationships and connecting with people. And honesty and integrity. You should learn all that stuff in human school. Maybe I’ll start human school.
[00:25:32] Lorilee Rager: Human school. I think it’s great. I’ve, I’ve often said when people will ask, like from a business standpoint, you know, what, what do and not do, I’ll kind of lead with, don’t be an asshole.
[00:25:43] Michael Janda: Yeah. That’s the summary. That’s the way to say in two words or three words.
[00:25:50] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Um, and then just acknowledging receipt of, of the person that sent you something, that, you know, because these are passionate, uh, clients. Small business owners that I work with, or um, retired military that’s trying to become an entrepreneur. This is their life that they are pouring out to you, that they want you to make something out of, and they deserve, you know, acknowledgement and kindness. Just, that’s just the bare bones before we even get into talking numbers and proposal. But your book taught me that and your story, if you want to tell it, of, um, your, when you were nice to you were at Fox and you’re nice to an intern.
[00:26:32] Michael Janda: Yeah. So my, my story there, and she’s become such a great friend. I was just DM-ing with her last night. Um, uh, so yeah, when I was at Fox, I was a creative director at Fox and, um, I had created this style guide for Fox Kids and Fox Family brands and stuff. And there was a marketing intern who came over and she came to my office and I had seen her this like shadowing the marketing director in a meeting or two. And she came to my office and said, Hey, um, Archie wants a few copies of the style guide. Would that be okay? So, you know, she knocked on my, on my door, all soft and timid. And I was like, sure. And you know, I get up and I go get the style guide copies for her. And I start talking to her about, hey, so how’s school going? She was at UCLA at the time. How’s school going and blah, blah, blah, and just chit chatting with her at the door. And I didn’t think anything of it. And then a year and a half later, I started freelancing. She had graduated and she had a job at ABC Family and reached out to me and started giving me work. And then more projects and more projects, and it became over the first few years of my agency, a million dollar client was because of her. And I was having lunch with her once, years into this, after we had worked on dozens, maybe a hundred projects together, I mean there was just so much work that they had been sending to me. And, and she said, Hey, MJ, you know why we, you know why I give you all this work, right? And I said, no, I assume we like working together. And she was like, you remember that time that you came, that I came to your office and got those style guides? And I was like, totally, yeah, that was the first time we ever talked. And she said, you were nice to me and you talked to me. And that experience right there, that could have just been this moment in passing that nobody, that I didn’t pay attention to, I could have just said, yeah, they’re on the shelf over there and she could have gotten them and walked off. Instead, I paid attention to her and I talked to her and I expressed genuine interest and it became this seed that grew into a million dollar client. Which turned into, ABC Family was really the catalyst for a lot of clients for me because I made so many relationships there that started going to other businesses and then, becoming Warner brothers and TV Guide and FX Networks, they all started becoming clients because of these offshoots of, of this ABC Family relationship. Anyway, that was the heart. Now I could have thought, oh, I’m the creative director. I don’t need to talk to some pesky intern. But I didn’t do that. It was just like, it was human to human, human to human, and there was no hierarchy in my mind between me and her and whatever. It was just like, oh, I’d like to have another new friend. I honestly have built my whole career on that style of business. And it turned out great.
[00:29:55] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, again, human school is needed. Human to human, there’s no hierarchy. I think, I think we have to do this human school thing for sure. Because that was one of the things where I’ve said the same about my business and where I resonated so much with your story is, yeah, I mean, my, my high school art teacher reached out when she was the head of a private school. And, and it was that relationship as a student, um, and just also not being an asshole as a student, too. And I think it, it just goes so early on in your, in your life as a human to just, just be kind. And I, I think when you think about business and you think about money and you think about graphic design, you just don’t normally go in that direction. But I think it’s a really important message that you push out.
[00:30:46] Michael Janda: But it’s at the heart of the success of a lot of, um, higher level business people. Uh, Elon Musk is not inside the Tesla plant hammering nails or screwing bolts on the cars as they come off the assembly line. Elon Musk is a showman. He’s a, he has leadership. He has charisma, like him or not, he has charisma and just the press as a result of it. And, um, Steve Jobs too. Steve Jobs had this, this whole history of being difficult to work with that you can read about all over the place and just demanding and things. But man, when you see Steve Jobs up there on stage introducing the iPhone, the charisma, the likeability, the, that he could portray during that era, he’s still the face of Apple. He’s been dead for over a decade and he’s still the face of Apple. And, uh, these CEOs, Steve Jobs wasn’t in there, you know, soldering chips onto motherboards. He was visionary and a connector, a people person connector. So you look at a lot of CEOs, um.
And it doesn’t even happen in my agency. There was a time when, and it was around the time that you and I met, where I was kind of like in the doldrums mentally of, I had just succeeded myself out of doing what I actually love to do. I used to love to design, loved to design. And now I had succeeded my way out of ever touching pixels, you know. I was, I spent all my time communicating with my team, communicating with clients, communicating with potential clients in sales environments and stuff. It was talking and human to human interaction. At some point, if you want to succeed in any career past, you want to succeed past a certain point, the reason you’re going to get there is because of these soft skills, not because you’re the greatest at whatever the task is. It’s going to be the soft skills that promote you to the point where the big CEOs, all they do is vision, um, answering questions and interacting with people. That’s their day.
[00:33:21] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. That’s so true. It’s absolutely true. And I’ve noticed, you and I had talking about it one time, I’d say even like with equipment, I no longer need the biggest robust, you know, Macbook Pro because I’m answering a lot of emails, I’m sending Slacks, I’m checking the pulse of the client and the employees. And now with teaching also the students and tracking things. And just, just kind of the 30,000 foot view. And that intuition, I do definitely trust my gut when something’s off or somebody hasn’t been communicated with or not communicated back. Um, so yeah, I think it’s really important, whether you’re going to run your business or not, or want to be a CEO or not, it’s those soft skills that will just get you farther.
[00:34:06] Michael Janda: And it’ll get you farther in life in general. I mean, it’ll get you farther in relationships, it’ll make you a better parent, it’ll make you a better neighbor, it’ll make you a better community servant. It, it’s like, whatever it is you want to choose to do in your life, if you want to accomplish something of substance, you’ve got to have some kind of handle on the soft skills that are going to help you get there.
[00:34:29] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I agree. I agree completely. Um, I did want to also give a shout out to your bobblehead collection, while we were talking about business. Business and bobbleheads. It’s a known thing, you can see them behind you, and on your Instagram. It’s so, it’s one of the first things, even my boys always they’re like, hey look, there’s your friend and his bobble heads. And they’re always trying to identify who’s who, so yeah. Yeah, tell me about this passion of bobbleheads.
[00:34:57] Michael Janda: You know what, uh, by nature humans are addictive people. We get addicted to things and honestly, if I didn’t have certain moral standards that I live by, I’d be a slummed alcoholic, broke gambler. That’s that’s who I would be. So, good thing. I have some kind of moral standards that I try and live by. Uh, but I, I get addicted to things. I, I’m addicted to work. I mean, I, I’m largely retired. I could be retired, and then what do I do? I spend nine or 10 hours a day working. And my wife is always like, why are you doing this? And I’m like, I don’t know, I just, I want to. I like it. I, it fills me. Anyway, so going back to the, the point of that with bobbleheads, well, once I started a collection of bobbleheads, uh, it was just like, oh my gosh, these are so fun. I can get freaking Iron Man bobble head that has so much character in so much charisma and so much quirky nerdiness to it. And I can buy that for like 12 bucks? Sign me up, man. 12 bucks and I get something that’s fun that I can have. It’s joy, yeah.
I’ve got bobbleheads, I order them when you know, new, when I find a new show that I love. I’m like, oh, I got to get the bobble heads of that. So, you know, I’ve got Walking Dead or Better Call Saul. Uh, last year, Breaking Bad took over my life. I was like, I finally watched it. I had never watched it before. And I was like, oh my gosh, it’s the greatest show ever made. And yeah, it’s so, so good. Every freaking episode on that is meaningful, there’s no fluff. It’s like, oh, it’s just so masterful. Anyway, after that I was like, freak, I got to buy all the bobbleheads I can find. And then Better Call Saul, I plowed through that and there’s one more season coming to that. And so I bought all those about all those bobbleheads too.
So anyway, it’s because they, the affordability and the quirkiness. I grew up with comic books. I grew up being that drawing comic book nerd, and so superheroes and movie, movies, and movie posters and movie characters and things. It was all part of the stuff that I love. And then I just started this collection. Now the, the fun thing on bobbleheads is that when we surprised my team at my agency in Christmas of 2012, I think, where we got a custom bobblehead for everybody on, in the company. And so they opened their own bobblehead at our Christmas party and it was just, it was them. We had their photos and we sent them to the custom bobblehead place them. They all had their Riser t-shirt on and stuff. And anyway, it was like the greatest joy of any Christmas present ever was that these people opening them and taking a picture with their bobblehead next to their face. The likeness on so many that were so accurate. So after that moment we started doing, uh, at your 90 days, if you, after you were with the company for 90 days, then you got your own bobblehead. And that became a really fun thing in my agency, too.
[00:38:28] Lorilee Rager: So that’s a way fun culture.
[00:38:30] Michael Janda: It was really fun. And I think it’s, you know, a shout out to trying to create a company culture, trying to create a brand, trying to be memorable for something. And it makes me happy that your son is like, hey, there’s your bobblehead friend. I’m, I’m on board with that because I’m known as that. And if anybody else in the creative industry started to try and be the bobblehead person, I, enough people know that I’m the bobblehead person that they would, that anybody else who tried to have that be their thing, they would look like the copycat of that because this has been my thing for so long and I have enough reach that, that enough people know that. So I think that there’s something to be said about trying to create something for your personal brand that’s memorable, that’s unique, that’s on brand in harmony with who you are, and that’s where I get the passion around bobbleheads now. I’ve got them, I mean, I got them all over my office and in my studio, I got bobble heads and I put them on my desk and my videos and things and, because it’s all about just that brand reinforcement.
[00:39:44] Lorilee Rager: Well, it’s, it’s really true. And it’s authentically something that you do love, so it wasn’t even like a gimmick or it wasn’t a salesy thing. It was just naturally. And it’s funny because I realized that people know me sometimes for just my obsession with chapstick and coffee or bulldogs, or, you know, things like that. And, and you, it’s okay to put a little but of personality and personal into your brand for people to recognize you. And in that, you know, niche area, you know, it’s just important. I agree with that completely.
[00:40:16] Michael Janda: Yeah. And I think you, you mentioned this, but being authentic about it too. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and said, I’m going to be the head guy. It was, that was never it. I started buying them and then I started putting them in my conference room at my studio, my agency, and then when we moved into our fancy space, I had a bobble case, a display case put into the lobby and I just filled it with bobble heads. And, um, and so it just became part of it kind of organically. But it was just all about being authentic to me and things that I love. And then it became, oh, this is the thing. Now I’ve got to go all in on it because it is a thing that is, is associated with my brand.
[00:41:04] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, no, that’s great. It’s a good one. It’s a good one. All right. All right. Well, we last, last question, topic I really wanted to ask you about is, I call this section Bears and balancing because you’re a business coach and a dad and husband, a huge Bears fan, which I learned from the day I met you. Um, and how do you find time? You know, I know this is a big question, but a lot of people really ask me this. So I, so I wanted to ask you. And I know it changes, but the time to be creative and to write and to also relax and, you know, take the dog to potty. Do you have a system?
[00:41:46] Michael Janda: Yeah. I’m not good at this, and I don’t know if you should be. That’s I look at it and say, okay, why did I have the successes that I had? Why did my agency grow the way that it did? And, and, uh, why did I have the career that I had? And it, my, my first bone that I chewed, I’m a dog with a bone, and when I decide to chew the bone, don’t get near me because I’m going to chew that bone down to nothing. And the first bone that I chewed was self-education. Because of this Alpha Graphics experience. I thought, I gotta, I gotta figure out how to make something of my career because I couldn’t get a job anywhere but the bottom. And so the first bone I chewed was I’m going to teach myself whatever it is I need to know. And I would go to work all day and then I’d come home and I would work at night. I’d eat dinner with my wife and then I’d sit on the computer and I’d figure out how to code and how to make flash websites and how to upload things and design principles. And just over and over and over again, practice, practice, practice, figuring it out. And then that led to my first batch of big opportunities in my career.
Then my agency time, it was like, oh, if I’m going to grow an agency, man, I don’t want to just have any old agency, I want to have this be something. I’m going to make a vision and I’m going to get after this. And it was like working all the time.
And, um, and, and, uh, and then, you know, now it’s the same thing. I mean, like, I, I don’t have to make freaking Instagram content and YouTube videos. I don’t have to be on your podcast to monetize my life. I have investments and things. I don’t need this but what do I do? I just didn’t like my bone right now that I’m chewing is giving back, educate, educate, educate, personal brand, build awareness of who I am and try and leave some kind of legacy in the creative world at whatever size I can leave it. And that’s the bone I’m chewing now.
Now, um, how do you balance that? Would I have been successful, like I have been, had I balanced that better? I don’t, I don’t think so. I, and I look at it and say, okay, am I, am I a bad parent? Well, I went to every soccer game and every basketball game and everything that my kids have ever been in. I’ve been to every event. I don’t think I’ve missed one, one event thing like that. So I’ve been to all of this stuff. Now, was I there mentally all the time? No. Sometimes I was sitting there checking emails on the side of the soccer field and sometimes I was sitting there stewed in my own thoughts. Sometimes I was writing a, uh, Instagram post on a burst of inspiration while I sat there on the sideline. Um, but I was there physically.
Now here’s something that happened for me when my oldest son got into high school. I was talking to him about what he wants to do in his life. And he said, oh, you know what? I think I really want to own commercial real estate. I want to buy some commercial real estate. This is a kid who was like 15, 16 years old at the time and he’s talking to me about wanting to buy commercial real estate. And I look at that and say, okay, I didn’t do a bad job here as a parent. Maybe I was stressed out on the beach vacation. But my son is talking about commercial real estate 20 years earlier than I started to think about that as a possibility in my life. So, because I was an entrepreneur living in my home and my kids were raised by an entrepreneur, they gained perspective, they gained an entrepreneurship mindset, they gained the ability to see opportunity and figure out a way to accomplish it. And, uh, I didn’t have that stuff. I didn’t grow up in an entrepreneur house, so I didn’t have those things. So would my kids have had that if I would’ve been more balanced raising them? I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s a detriment to take the bone that you want and then to chew it. I’m not advocating that you just ignore your family, ignore your kids, and let your dog potty in the corner of the house and not take them out. Uh, so there is a balance there, but that balance doesn’t take much time to try and give attention to the things you need to give attention to. But man, if you want to really succeed in anything, you got to chew that bone and get after it. In athletics, in business, in relationships, in service, in whatever it is you choose for your life. If you want to succeed at a high level, you have to get after it. And anybody who’s achieved anything of greatness has that in the wake of their story.
[00:46:53] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I agree. I agree completely. I think in the sense of, you also made a really short point at the end too, though that yeah, you don’t mean you let the dog potty in the corner, you let your own mental health suffer, you let your own physical health suffer, you don’t eat, sit at a desk and eat cheeseburgers and work 20 hours. It, there is a level of balance there and it doesn’t take that long. Like, take a 15 minute break, take a deep breath.
[00:47:18] Michael Janda: I get on an exercise bike. I just did that this morning. So get on my exercise, bike, do my 20 minute ride, and then I jump on my calls. Well, what am I doing during that 20 minutes? A lot of times I’m on my phone, checking some emails, checking some stuff, checking the stock ticker. I’m doing some work-related things. So I’m multitasking a 20 minutes span and, and that kind of stuff, you know, maximizes your day.
[00:47:43] Lorilee Rager: Yes, it really does. Yeah.
[00:47:45] Michael Janda: And, and as far as bones, you know, look at that, I look at my life, how did I survive growing an agency and stuff? Man, I’ve been working out on the daily for 26, 27 years. It’s like, I exercise five plus times per week. I’m lifting weights, I’m going doing cardio, I’m, so that’s another bone that I’ve chewed. And that bone, uh, led me to be able to manage the stresses of owning an agency and growing an agency and the drama of a bad client or bad employee or whatever, uh, came out of me being able to chew that other bone that helped me cope with the stresses of the other bone I was chewing. So, you don’t just have to have one bone you chew.
[00:48:34] Lorilee Rager: You can have multiple, yes.
[00:48:36] Michael Janda: You can have multiple bones, but whatever bone you’re going to do, go after it.
[00:48:40] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. There’s a abundant bone, bones. I noticed my agency do better when I started going to the gym. When I started to make that a priority for just 45 minutes of the day, um, everything helped. The mental health, physical health, the business, the balance, working out the troubles versus drinking out the troubles for me. So it was huge. And yeah, you can have more than one bone. And there’s abundant bones is what I’ll take from that. So, well, um, this, this has been fantastic and I could continue to talk to you forever.
[00:49:15] Michael Janda: I know. We could talk for days.
[00:49:16] Lorilee Rager: I know. We’ll have to do like a long series. We’ll just do like a month. Like we, like, we have time for that. But yeah. But there’s, there’s one last question, I’m going to wrap it all up into one big thing. I like to, for the Ground and Gratitude toolbox, ask my guests to leave a tool in the toolbox, and for, for everyone listening. And you always have really great sports analogies, you have amazing nuggets in your books, um, and, and, and everything. So I know you have a lot of tools, but what would be a tool you would leave today, um, for our listeners to help them, whether it’s get grounded or gratitude or, or, or get through a hard spot?
[00:49:59] Michael Janda: Okay. I’m going to go with the, uh, I got a couple of thoughts on that and I’ll go with the, something we didn’t talk about today, but one of the things that brought me a lot of, um, stress was comparing myself to other people, comparing my agency to this other competing agency. Oh, we’re not that good. I gotta do better at this and this, I gotta get better space, and comparing myself up. And, um, rather than the tool of comparing myself today, to me six months ago, one year ago, five years ago. So when you’re going to make comparisons between you and all the other great people that you see in the world, well don’t. Don’t do that comparison. Compare yourself today to yourself six months ago or a year ago or five years ago and look at how far you’ve come. That’s the tool that really has helped me a ton be able to manage the, the competitive stress that I imposed upon myself.
The, um, the other thing that I would say relating to that, and I know you’re teaching at university now, and so this one is, like, I think about young people, maybe it’s because I’m getting middle-aged and I have a grey beard that’s coming in now. Um, the, I’m not getting middle-aged, I’m like on the backside of the mountain, sliding down toward death. That’s where I actually am.
[00:51:35] Lorilee Rager: I’m with you.
[00:51:37] Michael Janda: Anyway, your career is long. You have plenty of time to accomplish so many things. And you and I, Lorilee are, are examples of that. You’ve worked at places, you did the basement freelancer, you built the agency, you went back to grad school, you’re teaching now and starting a podcast and still have your agency running on the side. You have worn a lot of different hats and explored a lot of different things in your career. Mine has been the same it’s, it was, you know, working at some places, having the creative director at Fox experience, big, big studio, big title, starting my agency from my basement and growing it into something and selling it, and then building a, an audience on social media, writing a couple of books, and making courses and trying to give back and explore a new career phase. Man, if I would have looked back when I was 24 years old and thought, okay, what’s my career going to be? Oh, I’m going to be a designer and I’m just going to design forever. And I’ve had so many phases of, of tangential career moments that have related to design, and I’m in another one right now. And is this the last one? Maybe? I don’t know. Who knows what the future has? I still have plenty of time of good working years to explore even more things. So, time is on your side. You’ve got plenty of time.
I have a friend who he’s, um, 50 something and is like, oh, I’m thinking of starting an agency. And he’s exploring that, and I’m like, man, you still got plenty of time. You can, you got 15 years. I mean, my whole agency run start to finish was 15 years and I made a ton of money and had all the experiences I could ever dream. You still have time, even if you’re 55 and you’re just going to do it until you’re 70, you still have plenty of time to accomplish whatever it is that you want to accomplish. So, I think time is on our side on a lot of people and, and it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race thinking, oh no, I’m out of school for two years and I’m not an art director yet, I’m failing. Or I need to start my agency now and I’m 23 years old, I got to, that’s what I want to do. Well, man, you got plenty of time because it started. Anyway. So time’s on your side.
[00:54:09] Lorilee Rager: Plenty is such a good word. Abundance is such a good word. We do. We really, really do. And, and I think, I think it’s important and kind of going back to data, um, if you compare yourself yeah, compare who you were one year ago, five years ago,
[00:54:28] Michael Janda: Look at you. And I mean, you’ve, you’ve transformed your entire life over the last couple years. So, and you’re a great example of how comparing yourself today to who you were two years ago, you’re on just this amazing path in your life that came out of some decisions that you made. And, uh, man that comparison is the right one.
[00:54:58] Lorilee Rager: It is when you’re sitting there, you know, looking down and pouting today at whatever’s bothering you today, that’s real, that really is real. But man, wouldn’t Lorilee six months ago or six years ago love to be right where I am today. And absolutely, there’s plenty of time. So this is great. That’s a wonderful tool for the toolbox.
[00:55:20] Michael Janda: Good tools. I like it.
[00:55:23] Lorilee Rager: Well, thank you so much for being on here today, so good to see you and so good to catch up for sure. I appreciate it. Take care.
[00:55:32] Michael Janda: All right.
[00:55:33] Lorilee Rager: That’s a wrap.
[00:55:34] Michael Janda: That’s a wrap.
[00:56:25] Lorilee Rager: Thank you again Michael for giving us a look into his life and his business and his bobblehead collection. And thnak you for tuning in to Ground and Gratitude. You can always find previous episodes and more info about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Be sure and join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.
Ground and Gratitude is produced by the awesome duo Kelly Drake and Anna McClain.