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The blessings, tests, and surprises of 1 year as an agency owner (and a whole-ass human)

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The blessings, tests, and surprises of 1 year as an agency owner

I always knew that, by the time I sat down to write this retrospective on my first year as an agency owner, that I’d have a lot to say. 

Now, before I dig in, I have to admit that while I don’t think I’ve ever had a clear vision of what I would be talking about today, but I will say I am arriving here at this moment in time in a headspace I don’t think I could have possibly imagined — and I mean that in the best way possible. 

There are things I thought I would spend a lot of time on that got put on the back-burner (with intention) for other priorities. I made decisions I never thought I would make. I faced challenges that proved the strength of my convictions and values. The blessings I’ve experienced by simply serving the humans who need our help are countless. 

Heck, I spent months trying to distance myself from the “agency” label, only to realize that, oops! That’s exactly what I want to embrace, because I believe in what a HubSpot partner agency can and should be.

Of course, when you own your own business, the journey you walk is your own. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other by sharing our unique lived experiences and perspectives. 

So, whether you’re already well on your way with your own business, or yours is still currently a tantalizing “what if” lingering in the recesses of your brain, I hope what I share here will be of service to you — in whatever way it is that you need most at this moment in time.

The content I didn’t create, the HubSpot certifications I didn’t earn

I’ve gotta be honest, this was one of the biggest surprises that came out of this year. Out of the last 11 years I’ve been operating within the HubSpot and inbound universe, I have created the least amount of content than I ever have. 

Have I still created content? Sure.

Have I still written down my thoughts and shared them with you? 100%.

Have I participated in a few events? Yep!

Have I been podcasting? Haaaave you met the HubHeroes?!

But I’m nowhere near the lean, mean, video and content machine I’ve been known as in the past. It’s a weird thing to wrestle with the fact that I’m simply not spending the time on it that I thought I would be, and it’s something I will be changing in the coming year. 

The other side of this equation is that I hit a point this year where I also had the fewest HubSpot Academy certifications than I’ve ever had. In focusing on this business, I wasn’t as focused on re-upping the certifications that were expiring. 

🔎 Related: The true power of HubSpot Academy (HubHeroes Podcast)

What’s weird is that I know the perception of who I am in the HubSpot ecosystem isn’t predicated on your ability to peer inside the HubSpot portal to see how many certifications I have at any given time. And a lack of certifications on my part most definitely does not mean I’m not spending almost every single moment of every single day voraciously learning and consuming and expanding my knowledge of HubSpot. (Totally the opposite!)

Now, if you know me, you know I’m a guy who loves learning and a challenge. So, like content, your boy is going to be back dominating the certification circuit soon — in fact, thanks to HubSpot World Certification Week, I’m already making my way back up the Big Orange Sprocket ranks.

Still, if you asked me what were two pretty big surprises about this first year of ownership, these would be it. But that’s because this first year as the owner of my own agency had some bigger revelations and blessings waiting for me … 

Sometimes, I don’t even know if I know what I’m doing

For more than 10 years, I’ve had a blast creating educational content, podcasts, and videos. Ever since my first INBOUND experience in 2012, I’ve just believed so deeply in the core of what the inbound methodology really is.

I’ve always had this superpower of simplifying the complex for others, and this is rooted in my deep caring and loving for the HubSpot humans who need help in this space understanding how things work and why. 

Before starting this business, I was having fun doing it. I was enjoying life. I knew I was doing what I meant to do. Those things are still true. I’m still having fun, enjoying life, and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt this is the work I’m meant to be doing. None of that has changed, although we’ve added some business ownership goodness sprinkles on top (I’ll get to that soon)

But one of the most surprising things that happened to me was something Dan Tyre said to me last September:

“Dude, you are inbound in human form.”


I thought that. I may have even said that out loud, I can’t even remember. His words really hit me, and then he continued to challenge me as I tried to see in me what he was seeing. 

“How many people would you help for free?”

“Ahhh, man, no way. They’ve got to pay me, man,” I laughed in reply.

“Bullcrap,” he said. “You’ve been helping people for free for the last 10 years. How many people do you think have watched one of your videos? Or multiple videos?”

To his point, I didn’t even know how to calculate such a number.

“You need to realize, George B. Thomas, that your brand is much bigger than you think it is. You’re already a billion-dollar brand, because the amount of revenue you’ve affected with HubSpot users and businesses that they own is in the billions.”

I don’t share this to brag. But if we’re digging into some of the biggest surprises I experienced this year, that is near the top of the list. To hear someone tell me I’m inbound in human form, and to quantify the potential impact of the work I’ve done over the years was eye-opening in all the right ways. 

And I’d be curious to hear from you all in hearing that story, what ways are you potentially limiting your understanding of your impact? How many of you right now are doing incredible work, serving others, not realizing the true measurement of the impact you’re having on this word, in your own unique way? 

Never underestimate the power of what you do, no matter what it is you do or how small you think it might be. 

Because I’ve been sitting here thinking I’m just the luckiest guy on the planet who gets to kick it, HubSpot-style, every day of the week … and it’s my job! But apparently there’s a little more to it than that, and it makes me more motivated to explore how we can continue to improve the lives of others.

Standing by my values and convictions

Of course, when you own your own business, you’re going to run into roadblocks that put your values and promises to the test. 

So, this year, I’ve had to say “goodbye” to opportunities when I didn’t expect it. Because it was the right thing to do. I’ve had to say “no” to revenue when I didn’t expect it. Because it was the right thing to do. 

There were moments where I felt like I had to stand up as the Dominic Toretto of this HubHeroes family. Look, say what you want about Fast + Furious, but I freakin’ love those movies, man. Dom is literally willing to drive a car through the air and potentially die for the safety and security of his family. 

Sure, that’s Hollywood, you might say. But what about generals in the military leading troops? Or heck, what about Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last? When you’re the leader of an agency (or, hey, even you’re our guy, Dom!), you need to protect the people who’ve said yes to you and your vision.

🔎 Related: Business owners, it's time to make education a priority

I want to have an agency where my employees can show up and know they’re being brought into my center, my circle. I want them to feel comfortable enough to be in that space without fear of someone trying to pull them down or micromanage them to the point where they can’t breathe. 

More importantly, what this past year has reinforced to me is that I want my employees to know that I am their first line of defense. 

And even though some members of my family even asked me, “Are you sure you’re good with this decision? It doesn’t scare you?” — those decisions were easier than I thought they would be. 

It’s a strange contradiction, right? These moments we face are tests of the highest magnitude, no doubt about it. But if your core values are strong and your commitment to them is iron-clad, these moments are only hard because they are so easy.

Because, think about it … it’s not hard to know what the right decision is (although sometimes it can be); usually the hard part is the follow-through. But it’s so worth it. 

The best nuggets of business wisdom

Before I officially struck out on my own, I tried to do as much learning as possible from those around me who had walked this path before. Some of it was pretty direct and tactical. For example, set aside 30% to pay taxes, so there’s always freedom in the knowledge that you’re safe when Uncle Sam comes a-knockin’. 

But probably one of my favorite bits of advice that has stood me in good stead over this past year has been, “There are no mistakes, only lessons.”

Sure, I’ve had some moments where I’ve thought, “Well, that didn’t turn out quite how I expected,” or I had to make what some might consider to be a “tough call” (like I talked about above). But every single one of those moments, I knew I would tuck them into my brain immediately. 

“I’m going to remember you,” I’d say to myself. “This experience happened for me, not to me, and this was the exact lesson I needed to learn today.”

🔎 Related: You need to write (and market) like a human (+ examples)

For example, earlier this year, Jorge Fuentes joined the team as my first HubHeroes sidekick, after months of me saying I’d never hire anyone. Then, not too long after that, I made the moves to hire a project manager, because expansion with Jorge had clearly been the right thing to do. Turns out, Jorge was the absolute right call, but hiring a project manager was not.

Before we filled that project manager role, I realized it was the wrong move. But only after my wife challenged me about whether or not it was the right move. Is that what the role should look like? Is that the person you really need right now? Yes, at that moment, I could have filled that position but, ultimately, I chose not to. It ended up being a blessing due to other opportunities that came up from a business standpoint. 

When you work for yourself, there’s no one to tell you not to do something

Now, I am very lucky to have my wife and family to challenge me and ask me questions. However, there’s no one really who can tell me not to do something. 

This can sound dangerous, but it’s something I’m very mindful of going into this second year. How can I temper myself? Do we need as many tools and software subscriptions as we currently have? What checks and balances do I need to instill within myself to make sure I’m making the best choices?

“Buckle up, George!”

This is what I’d go back and tell myself at the start of this journey. Buckle up, bud, because you have no idea what ride is in store for you — and I say that in the best way possible.

The first few months of this journey, I was living in the energy of, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I can always go get a job. I’ll be OK no matter what happens.”

It makes sense, right? We’re trained from birth to have a Plan A, and then a Plan B or even Plan C. You’ve gotta be prepared for all potential outcomes, you know? In this case, though, I would go back and tell myself to double-down on this plan and focus on making this business happen, without fear or subconsciously diverting some of my energy toward “worst-case scenarios” that never materialized. 

🔎 Related: The HubSpot partner agency model isn't broken (we are)

There’s a lack mindset when you move forward in the world with that kind of energy. Where you’re swinging for the fences and going big on behalf of yourself, but privately saying, “Well, if it doesn’t work, I’ll be OK.”

Because if you want to show up in this world with #1 energy, you need to believe you’re good enough and you need to bet on yourself to make that happen. Over the past year, I’ve stepped out of that mindset of Plan Bs and Cs and Ds by pushing beyond my comfort zone in very big ways. There are no barriers, we can create whatever we want to create. We can become whoever we want to become. 

As I look ahead to this second year, I’m asking myself a ton of freakin’ questions, but the two big ones currently on my mind are:

  • How do I build a micro agency (the right way) and a media company at the same time? How do I make those things work together?
  • How can I guarantee the work we’re doing is always moving the HubSpot community forward in the most human way possible?

But I’m doing so with an abundance mindset that looks to what’s possible vs. “What’s my backup plan?” Because this year has taught me over and over again there’s a blessing in every lesson and every redirection.

For those of you who are on this journey

Whether you’re already in a business owner seat or you’re thinking about taking the step out on your own, I do have a few thoughts I want to conclude with here.

First and foremost, keep in mind that you will not be walking my journey, nor will you be walking anyone else’s journey who you may consult with for advice. You will be walking your own journey, forging your own path paved with unique highs and lows. 

🔎 Related: Why go HubSpot and inbound? (HubHeroes Podcast)

If you’re still questioning whether or not you’re good enough for this journey, though, that’s where you need to start. Because it’s so easy to find a thousand reasons to say “no” to yourself — taxes are hard, payroll sucks, how do you even begin to think about insurance, and on and on. 

All of those mental barriers you struggle with all tie back to fear and the relationship you have with it. Remember, you don’t fear the past, you fear the future. So whatever is scaring you, you need to confront those demons and make a plan to work through it.

And then focus on learning and growing and betting on yourself 1% better every day. 

Heck, that may apply to some of you who are already sitting in the driver’s seat of your own business. “I thought I was cut out for this, but was I wrong about that?” You’re the only one telling yourself that, and what you tell yourself you are (or aren’t) capable will determine your reality. 

Quit letting fear rule your life, and start focusing on how you get better each and every day with the decisions you need to be making. 

Because, if you’re one of those folks saying to yourself you’re not sure you can do this, and you got to the end of this article … are you sure about that? Because here you are, reading this article, and that’s a small bet on yourself right now. Some part of you believes, and that’s the part of you that you need to nurture.


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