How the power of positive thinking and a relentless drive to succeed helped Nick Powills create disruption in the franchise industry.
While most kids in the fourth grade were playing video games and having sleepovers, Nick Powills was busy dreaming up his first publication.
Officially dubbed “Kid’s News,” Powills had everyone in his class contribute by writing articles of their own. He sold each printed publication for 25-cents apiece during recess. Then, like a true fourth grade hero and budding entrepreneur, he took the money raised to pay for a kickball and pizza party for his fellow classmates.
That was the first of Powills’ entrepreneurial endeavors—and it certainly wouldn’t be his last. It also sparked a deep appreciation for the art and power of really good storytelling—a passion that he would carry with him in the years and decades to come.
In high school, Powills sat in the press box at Soldier Field alongside the Chicago Tribune, where he interviewed his favorite Chicago Bears players and covered a raucous game against the New York Jets. During his senior year, he landed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview Sammy Sosa for his high school newspaper. Then, after bouncing around between local newspapers while attending college at Drake University (ask him about the time he misspelled Betsy Funk’s last name in the community newspaper), Powills traveled to New York City for an opportunity that every up-and-coming journalist only dreams about—interning for Rolling Stone Magazine.
“It was during my time in high school and throughout college that I started to learn my limitations as a writer. I had always dreamed of doing big things, but people were quick to tell me that I was too young or that I wasn’t good enough. I’ll never forget when I applied to write for the high school newspaper, and they told me I had to go to journalism camp first before they allowed me to write,” Powills said. “But my energy and love for storytelling kept me going. I was relentless. I was hell bent on pushing forward even when people tried to hold me back.”
During his first day in the Rolling Stone office, his boss offered up one piece of advice: he should keep his mouth shut. But as Powills was sitting in an editorial meeting, he decided to raise his hand anyway and pitch an idea—he proposed a feature that would follow the convoluted Beach Boys family tree. Given the green light to move forward, what followed in the coming weeks can only be likened to the movie “Almost Famous.” Powills had dinner with Carnie Wilson, who connected him with Jeff Foskett—Brian Wilson’s band leader at the time. Foskett promised to introduce Powills to Brian for a one-on-one interview. So, from Chicago to Milwaukee to St. Louis, Powills followed along as the Beach Boys toured—just waiting for the perfect opportunity to sit down with Brian. That moment finally happened backstage in St. Louis after repeatedly being rejected.
“It was a surreal moment for me. I found a way to tell this story about a talented individual and how he had such an immense impact on this vast web of people. What I learned was that there’s always a story waiting to be discovered and told—you just have to know where to look,” Powills said. “The real beauty in that experience was giving Brian and everyone else in his life the chance to have this unique story told.”
After college, Powills started working at the Northwest Herald. He was made the copy editor of the newspaper’s religion section after being told, once again, that he wasn’t a good enough writer. But, just as he’s always done, Powills kept pushing forward. He eventually created his own column, where he had the chance to interview celebrities like Cindi Lauper.
“Being told that I’m not good enough time and time again became my fuel. It filled me with this strong desire to create something truly special and to prove everyone wrong,” Powills said.
So, he created a digital publication called Lumino Magazine in 2001. Targeting young professionals in the Midwest, he interviewed everyone from the cast of Office Space to Howard Dean. At its peak, Lumino boasted more than 40,000 readers.
“We did very cool things at Lumino. Through it, I was able to drive home the importance of storytelling. But I believed I could make an even greater impact on the world. As a journalist, I saw how storytelling could be used in an even bigger way—what if we could use those stories to help businesses get noticed?” Powills said. “People sell brands—not brands.”
Powills eventually accepted a position at Fishman PR, a large franchise public relations firm in the Chicago area. In a foreign industry (both franchising and PR), Powills thrived. He fell in love with the ability to help entrepreneurs who had invested their life savings into a business After quickly rising to become the agency’s youngest senior executive, Powills was disappointed to find that the innovative ideas he had to grow the company weren’t readily accepted—instead, they were often cast aside in favor of old-school best practices. Frustrated, Powills decided to walk away. He packed his bags, moved to Atlanta and decided to finally do things exactly the way he wanted.
“I saw a gap in traditional PR. I didn’t feel like companies were holding onto clients, and I saw a chance to provide a better service—a chance to stay one inch ahead in strategy, service, relationships and results when compared to other competitors,” Powills said. “Innovation would be key to making that happen.”
With that, No Limit Agency was born. This was in 2008, and it was the beginning of what Powills believes will eventually become the greatest mid-sized agency that has ever existed. The company is already well on its way. In 2016, the company even landed a coveted spot on Inc. 5000’s “Fastest Growing Companies in America” list—clocking in at an impressive No. 2,889 ranking. And with more than 50 clients, a growing team of 30 employees, an office overlooking Millennial Park in Chicago and a successful online news publication in its portfolio (and a second one on the way), it’s clear that No Limit Agency is poised for big things to come in 2017 and beyond.
“My key to success over the years has been to operate scared—I still operate scared. That’s because I had been told no so many times. I’m never satisfied when I look at my business, and that forces us to constantly improve and evolve—to always stay two steps ahead of the curve,” Powills said. “When I look at how far No Limit Agency has come since 2008, it’s remarkable. I have not found a single agency that has grown and diversified in the way we have. And it’s not just me that brought us here—it’s this collective of incredibly smart and dedicated people working together to make a difference. We’re all fueled by a belief that anything is possible. Take one look at everything we’ve accomplished over the years, and you’ll see that positive thinking really is a powerful thing.”