Guy and Umault
“It’s Now a Critical Part of My Business” – A Dryrun Client Case Study
Our co-founder, Blaine Bertsch, recently interviewed long-time Dryrun client Guy Bauer about his journey from freelancing to running a creative agency.
As the founder and CEO of Umualt, a Chicago-based B2B video ad agency, Guy has had his fair share of business ups and downs. We’re so grateful to him for being open enough to share how he got through the rocky patches and, with the help of Dryrun, how he’s managed to create long-term stability.
Keep reading for some great advice from an accidental entrepreneur who has come out the other side of a cash flow crunch with a stronger business than ever. He doesn’t shy away from the details or the hard-earned lessons learned.
I never wonder about the numbers now, I really don't. I used to wonder. Now I know.
The Accidental Business Owner
Like many creatives, Guy started out as a lone freelancer. After being let go from his job in Chicago Morning Radio in 2009, he found himself sending out over 200 resumes and hearing only crickets back. It was the recession, so options were slim, but Guy managed to lean on video skills that he’d otherwise only seen as a hobby.
His first freelance job was editing puppy videos for $50 and thanks to a great review, that gig managed to propel Guy to the next job and the next. Now he has a full-time staff of 30 people and a stacked portfolio of video ads for major companies.
The problem is, Guy never meant to start a business. He was simply trying to survive unemployment and as he likes to joke, it’s been 14 years now and he still never found that job he was looking for. Growing the company was a matter of keeping up with his clients but there was no plan to guide it and Guy is the first to admit that he had “zero business acumen” coming into things.
He had heaps of talent but no idea how to manage his finances. His cash flow management approach was, like many creatives new to business, solely about logging into the company bank account and seeing how much was there. In 2018 however, this all came to a head.
“Eight years of awful decision-making came to bite me,” Guy describes of that time, “And we had to make major changes in the business.” That’s when Dryrun’s dashboard began to play a critical role for Guy and his company.
How Dryrun Lifted the Fog
Dryrun’s dashboard and financial modeling capabilities are all about helping businesses see ahead. Guy shared a great comparison with us, describing Dryrun as a tool that lifts the fog so that as a business owner, you can better see the terrain ahead. In many ways, creative agency owners are simply trying to drive the vehicle of their business through the ups and downs, while staying in one piece.
As Guy puts it, “[Dryrun] allows you to make decisions today that impact how you’re going to drive the car three hundred feet from now”. You can steer without “wondering if there’s a cliff over the next horizon” and with far less stress because of it.
That’s all thanks to the financial clarity and cash flow management that Dryrun empowers business owners with. Before the fog lifted, however, Guy had to learn some tough lessons about what a cash flow crunch can do to a business and the errors we all make when we can’t see the full picture.
Learning From Cash Flow Errors
Something that Guy touched on that we’re sure most creatives can relate to is the myth that success simply comes from producing quality work. Of course, maintaining a certain caliber of creative output is important but as Guy learned, “the way to sustainable success is by running a proper business and doing things like cash flow projections.”
It might not be as fun as putting together a video ad, but having strong financial systems in place is what allows creativity to truly fly. Without it, however, the consequences can be dire:
The Negative Impact on Company Culture
There was a period at Umualt when the mood every day was determined by the company bank balance. “If there’s money there that day,” Guy describes of his attitude, “You’re happy. If there’s no money in there that day, you’re sad.”
Guy admits now that this stress seeped into company culture and affected his ability to lead his team effectively. It was almost impossible for it not to. When everything is determined by flat numbers on a bank balance, with no extra insight, things get overwhelming quickly. It’s almost impossible to be a patient, creative, and thoughtful boss with that hanging over you.
Relying on Your Bank Balance Isn’t Enough
Not only did relying on daily bank balance checks as a cash flow management approach backfire in terms of company culture, it did nothing for the financial health of the company either. As Guy learned with Dryrun, your balance might show a pessimistic number while the overall state of the business could actually be quite positive, and vice versa.
Dryrun’s dashboard shows everything that’s coming in and out, as well as projected revenue over time and the long-term expenses that need to be looked out for. Instead of a balance figure, creative agency owners get a full view of their business’s financial past, present, and future.
Now almost five years into using Dryrun and looking back on the days of using bank balances as band-aids, both Guy and his colleague, Hope, often find themselves coming back to this learning: “Any one number in a vacuum is not accurate by itself – it's only the combination of numbers that can actually tell you the true story.”
Now Guy says that he’s “addicted to the numbers” and the insight it offers. “It’s fun!” he admits. Seeing your business from the inside out with a tool like Dryrun might seem intimidating but really, it’s what can open doors for your business’s success.
You Need a Cash Cushion for Better Clientele
Referencing David C. Baker, Guy chatted with us about the idea that having a cash cushion hugely affects what work you feel you can say yes or no to. If there’s panic over cash flow, it makes it much harder to turn down difficult clients.
He describes the “spiral down” from that point as bad clients simply leading to more bad clients which can easily keep you from paying attention to the ones you actually enjoy working with. Taking on projects for the sake of it, rather than because it’s a good fit, often means a massive workload with very little integrity to it. Difficult clients can suck time and money but if you feel you have to take the work to stay afloat, how do you change things?
“The ability to say no comes from cash,” Guy notes, but having that cash cushion isn’t simply about revenue, it’s about having an effective cash flow management strategy in place. That’s what allows a creative agency to approach decision-making from a strong position, rather than a desperate one.
“[When] you’re not in such a rush to book projects, you can wait for the good ones. The good ones empower you,” Guy says. We all know that clients who pay on time and are fun to work with are the ones that usually lead to the best projects. You get to let your creative energy loose, while also building a positive client relationship that could benefit the business side of things for years to come.
Overworked With an Extended Overhead
It isn’t simply the quality of clients or projects that can suffer when you’re saying yes to jobs without a strategy in place. Alongside these issues, Guy also discovered how negatively this spiral can impact a creative agency’s workload.
If you’ve found yourself with a crazy amount of work and an increased overhead your business just can’t seem to stay on top of, Guy has a reality check for you: “I promise it has nothing to do with creative effort, or not hustling enough with all those hundreds of clients.” Instead, he asserts that managing these areas better “comes from knowing your business”.
Dryrun makes it so much easier to map out what your capacity is so that you don’t exceed It and accidentally threaten the quality of your output in the process. We also provide you with the opportunity to run new scenarios. That way, you can see how a big job would impact everything from revenue to overhead before you even say yes to it.
Riding the Ups and Downs
One of the experiences that we’ve found is true for almost every creative agency is that work, and the revenue earned from it, will never be a steady thing. In January of 2023, Guy Bauer’s video production agency made more sales in one month than it had in the last half of 2022.
“Stay alive for the windfall,” Guy encourages but with that, he notes how useful Dryrun was in helping him understand “the value of a day in business”. Armed with that information, he was able to ride out the inevitable lows of running a creative agency and stick around long enough to see the highs. Not only that, he knew how to make the ups last as long as possible.
Managing his cash flow with the next months ahead, rather than the next day, is how Dryrun changed things for Guy and his business. The reality is that the financial uncertainties down also translated to psychological ups and downs for Guy as an entrepreneur. On how Dryrun and better cash flow management improved this for him, he shared the attitude shift it brought about: “Never mind the revenue and all that stuff, but just you as a person, managing a team and trying to keep calm. You know, it does actually smooth that out.”
Nothing can eliminate the natural peaks and valleys of running a creative business. What we can do at Dryrun, and what Guy describes our software as helping him with, is show the bigger picture. Not only does that make it easier to hang on through the tough times, it also helps businesses prepare for them.
A Clear Head with Dryrun
When we asked Guy what Dryrun helps him unlock with his business, he had this to say: “It unlocks our ability to just execute what we want to do.” Budgeting, planning ahead, and maintaining a sense of stability no matter how much work was coming in, were all possible with Dryrun in a way that Guy had not experienced before. “It’s now a critical part of my business,” he says.
The impact this had on his mindset is perhaps the aspect we were most moved to hear about. As Guy points out, “When things are in the right place and managed well, and you have insight into what's going on, you can sleep better at night and be more creative the next day.” When cash flow is managed properly, rather than guessed upon using bank balances and panic, there’s a perspective shift. The positive impact this can have on creative output and the general culture of a company is huge.
Now that he’s not just a freelancer anymore and has a whole agency to run, Guy has tried to remove himself from as many of the smaller business tasks as he can. Tools like Dryrun have helped to free him up so that he can focus on being the creative wizard that first got this business off the ground. That said, any time Guy needs a refresh on what’s happening, he checks the Dryrun dashboard, calling it a way to do a “vitals check” on his business.
It shows him everything he needs to know about what’s happening and what he needs to look out for. This eliminates the guessing game too many agency owners play and helps build long-lasting success.
Now It’s Your Turn
“What [Dryrun] gives you,” Guy explains to us, “Is the ability to manage things properly … and make business moves not under duress but with confidence – the ability to think clearly and not have to just wonder. I never wonder about the numbers now, I really don't. I used to wonder. Now I know.”
Thank you to Guy Bauer for sharing his inspiring journey and proving that even without a business background, creatives can build highly successful companies – they just need the right tools.
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