My kids and I love that Jack Black movie, School of Rock. The other day, we were laughing at a line that Black’s character, Dewey Finn, made a group of his colleagues roll with in a lunchroom scene, “Those that can’t do, teach, and those thatcan’t teach… teach gym.”
We live in a world where people can hide and not do. They can teach about business, but not do business.
There are brokers that trade for you but don’t do it themselves.
There are professors and pastors that talk about the marketplace but don’t work in the marketplace.
It can save you a lot of trouble to distinguish between doers and talkers. You gain much more value from someone who takes risks and puts their name, money and work out there than pontificators sitting on the sidelines.
I’m not sure we can completely squeeze out safe spaces where talkers can hide and not take risk, but I do think you can pay attention and align with doers that have skin in the game.
Yes, I understand you want money. You want people to buy now. The temptation to simply expect and demand cash is so high and blinding that it’s hard for a seller to see why money becomes elusive.
In some cases when the pain is high – root canals, broken transmissions, fallen bridges – the customer goes straight to the answer. They want the full offering because the pain and the cure are clear and needed.
What about cosmetic dental work, upgrading to a Tesla or improving infrastructure for growing populations?
The sale is a bit harder. The pain is low. Your customer’s status quo is fine. And your offering feels like a big commitment. It can be delayed.
Is there a lesser first step you can start with to stir the customer’s thinking? A test drive or a new mirror can get a person thinking about something they haven’t entertained.
There’s the beginning seed.
You have to gain interest, attention and trust at the start. This is hard in a crowded, overwhelming marketplace. This feels daunting when everyone can get what they want with their thumbs and iPhone.
That starting point, not your final sale, is where you have to dig, design and consistently offer yourself. I bet your customer journey could have a bit more courtship involved. I bet you could start and build trust with a few touches that lead your customer through smaller, more comfortable steps.
Yes, you can sell more. But you have to care more first. And that means stepping back and walking that emotional journey your customer feels. You can design the journey and help them towards a bigger yes, the one you want. Caring about where they are at and how they proceed to trust you means going slower so you can go faster.
What’s easy for your customer to say yes to first? How about second?
How could you design the steps with care that lead them to what they eventually need from you?
How much value do you add? That’s the key question I ask each day when I am out in the world of business. It may not be a perfect question, but the free market is open. People are free to make decisions on their own on what they value.
We have choices and we tend to choose in our self-interest.
The great thing is that every day your customers spend money and look for value.
That’s why in your networking, you have to keep tilting the odds in your favor by being helpful and clear in what you are offering. It’s about being personal but not taking responses personally if they don’t go your way.
Consider Mark Ford’s tips on networking:
Gain interest first, earn trust later.
Always be specific and sincere in your praise.
Don’t expect to receive an answer to every note you write.
Be grateful for answers.
Suggest business only when your target person is ready.
Business is people. And the business of people relies on you being valuable out there and networking in a way that is consistent, clear and respectful.
Every day I am looking for those that would truly add value to my life. Hopefully, we connect in a way that makes life better because we met.
Your routines set you up for performance, creativity and peace of mind. We have this long road ahead to accomplish projects that matter day in and day out. And if we simply go with the randomness and urgencies of the day, we don’t win the long game. We are at the mercy of many things that simply do not contribute to our bigger goals.
That is why routine is a powerful way to overcome the traps of those temptations that would pull on our energy and attention.
If you depend on will power to help you do what you want to do, then I think you have already lost. I can tell you that will power becomes the red zone for me. I don’t have enough of it to tap into to get the things done I want or resist what I don’t want. And, there’s only a limited supply in a day. It dwindles as the day progresses.
Your productivity and creativity are scarce resources that run out and in knowledge work, we have to be excellent managers of these limited resources if we want achievement. I think from conversations with clients, being overwhelmed and constantly spun around the relentless demands of work gets them off course. Routine helps to set up habits that move what is important further along.
Habits are powerful to keep momentum going. My own habits include reading, writing, hiking, prayer, taking vitamins, saying a kind word and sleeping enough. I also do simple things like morning showers, push-ups and sit-ups. It’s remarkable how these simple routines point me towards execution each and every day.
You can even use an app like Streaks to set up and keep a habit going. If you wanted to run a race, simply set it up and don’t miss a day. The same goes for building a family culture or writing a book. Our brains are wired for habits and this can create the routines you need to move the ball.
Don’t rely on will power, emotion or hype. They are short-lived. The long game requires something more forceful and consistent. Routines set you free.
When it comes to business building, I like boring. I like creating outputs from inputs. I like throughput. Drama, inconsistencies, high stress and heroics are fantastic for movie plots. But they don’t contribute positively to profit and loss in a business. Boring helps cash flow. Cash flow makes customers, vendors, employees, and owners happy.
I am not sure why a certain level of craziness persists for so many operations. Here are my guesses:
A business owner thinks a bit of chaos is normal.
Employees have completely different incentives. Chaos and disorder might reward them with a sense of relevance (and dependency).
Growing so fast with headcount and lacking a solid culture has newcomers confused.
The business owner only cares about money and doesn’t realize the importance of strategy to get money long-term.
There’s not enough drama going on in people’s personal lives.
When I see a boring business that has cash flow working like a machine, someone prioritized making the business work and keeping first things first. They simplified as they grew. New systems, processes and people create complexity. And they were intentional to inject strategies, culture and execution to overcome the complexity. It was more than a money grab.
With the ridiculous amount of competition out there, the last thing you need is chaos and drama when it comes to operations and selling. Making customers happy requires alignment internally on all fronts. Perhaps certain niches can hide for a bit. But, someone is going to eat your lunch that comes along and builds that boring business that reliably executes day in and day out.
Are you operating on systems or charisma?
Do you have consistency or failure points that keep showing up?
Are customers leaving you regularly?
Are employees leaving you disgruntled?
Do you think chaos is normal?
The marketplace is moving so fast and commoditizing every sector. Focus on building the boring business so you can be agile enough to react. It’s hard enough out there.
The idea of growing a business is romantic. That spirit of entrepreneurship, leadership and scaling have a wonderful image of adventure and nobility. In the trenches, when a firm decides they want to grow, it is messy. It is hard work day in and day out to get the strategy clear and the people and systems moving in the same direction.
That is why the graph above on the valley of death growing firms experience is so vivid and real.
4% of firms reach $1M in annual revenue. Then it only gets harder to scale from there.
Essentially, the hardship comes from complexity. Growing revenue often requires growing teams. Teams of people need to collaborate. This growth may be linear as far as headcount goes, however, the complexity grows disproportionately in an exponential fashion.
One strategy to keep complexity lower is to use technology and systems rather than headcount. Information systems are ridiculously powerful and cheap today. And for growing businesses, they create extreme leverage. You can create information flow and access to make decisions and get things done in an unprecedented way.
Another strategy to grow is to implement strong leadership and use management approaches to foster alignment around clearly defined goals that are important to your company. This takes time. People take a lot of nurturing, repetition and trust, thus the HR systems have to be built, reinforced and robust to create the culture for growing a business past the valley of death.
The pain comes when trying to grow a business to support or create demand and the systems or leadership do not keep pace. Complexity inevitably grows and there needs to be a corresponding counterbalance of simplifying the business. Otherwise, the valley of death at each stage can crush the business. The weight of success becomes too heavy.
When you think about your business, you are never safe. Every comfortable niche is threatened today by technology and competition, which relentlessly pushes you towards commoditization. If you are a commodity, you lose relevance and profitability. Someone is, effectively, eating your lunch.
If you move from your comfortable, or deteriorating, position towards growth, you face the valley of death as you grow headcount. The task of simplifying as you take on exponential complexity becomes critical to manage as you climb.
It’s a tough world out there. But the game of business growth, while fraught with challenges, can be attained when you know where the pain is coming from. Your leadership and systems become your tools for increasing your rewards.
One of the sobering and honest parts about the marketplace is that you might try any philosophy or approach you like, but it may not work. Your great intention does not necessarily mean that others have to go along.
That can be quite a shocking realization for a generation that may have been given and expected anything and everything. Perhaps a silver spoon makes some believe everything is done for them without cost or consequence.
Others might even have a world-class invention they believe everyone in the world must have.
Entitlement, passion and conviction are powerful tools of persuasion. But, in the end, noone has to do anything with you or for you. You can’t make someone buy, cooperate or work with you.
The marketplace, because of the availability of options and choice, places the burden on you as a seller to be convincing and attractive.
Forget complaining, insisting or appealing. Put all that energy into being better. If your calls are not being returned, how about thinking of what can make someone want to call you back? What’s going on in their world and how can you be worth their time and attention? Again, be better.
We are all needing better ideas, strategies and ways to improve our businesses. There is no shortage of this need.
How about spending a bit of time seeing how you can meet all those unspoken, continuous needs? You’ll be a player of value this way.
“The good things in life cost what they cost. The unnecessary things are not worth it at any price. The key is being aware of the difference.” ~ Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic
This is a fantastic reminder in today’s Daily Stoic reading. We all pay for things and what we spend on becomes part of who we are.
Frivolous trinkets can be entertaining. A quick promise for success can feel like we are doing business. Expedience without consideration for others can feel efficient.
However, paying the real price, what things are worth, is good long-term practice to moving the needle towards goals that matter to you.
I like paying the right price for the right things. Having the wrong things in my life – activities, stuff, relationships, ventures, projects – these can completely drain me of energy, joy and free time.
Finding the right things to invest in and putting all I have into them has a much better payoff when it comes to long-term success and happiness.
Take inventory. What are you paying for that is not worth it?
Perfectionism can be the antithesis of good business. That fixation of doing things right, rather than doing the right things, can move us away from the goals that matter.
I think there’s a lot of talk on KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), but it’s hard for many people to slow down, think, and identify the core things that matter. It’s even harder to quantify what does matter. We tend to talk in qualitative terms:
That’s a nice person.
I like their work.
We are making progress.
Did the work produce a return on investment?
What percentage of progress?
If you can step back and think about numbers that matter so you can hit your goals, then there’s an accountability, focus and output that keeps the focus where it needs to be without ambiguity. What gets measured gets done. And those metrics have to be thoughtfully created, tested and transparent so everyone knows whether the right things are being done.
There are many attributes our intuition can take into account, but good measurement focuses the bottom line around what truly matters to you.
Want more revenue? How much? What actions consistently done contribute to that goal?
Want a better reputation in the marketplace? How about setting the goal front and center of getting four star plus ratings on Google and Yelp? Let your customers score you and keep the current score front and center to see how you are doing today. If you’re low, it forces you to make adjustments based on feedback.
Yes, we can bury ourselves in the many things we want to consider. But it’s hard enough to get any goal when everything is working against you. But you can get one or a few that truly matter and put all your energy into closing the gap.
Pick a goal. Design the way to measure progress towards the goal. Then work relentlessly to stay honest with yourself and others that contribute towards that metric.
I keep up with a lot of blogs in my reader and I came across this article from a fun, candid article at Budgets Are Sexy. I like reading articles from bloggers that put the raw truth of their journey out there. It’s bold and courageous of them. This article was a reflection and a great reminder that value is perishable.
We are not working in an economy where we will be doing the same thing in five years. Here’s a guy that lists 36 jobs in his journey and how he rounded back to his core, but he was always exploring new options and opportunities.
It’s a strange thing when we run across friends 10 or 20 years later. They are usually doing something totally different.
And often, we have been doing something far from the path we were once on as well.
What you consider value today does tend to have a half-life. Automation, competition and efficiencies change the value equation all the time. You might have charged a premium before, but then the world gets smarter and everyone can do what you are doing. That’s when you have to change course or reinvent yourself.
I think there’s sectors where you can hide out for sure. It’s one strategy to combat innovation. I’m not sure it’s that safe or secure. It’s simply defense and fear.
If you simply operate with the security that today is a snapshot of what you may be doing or offering, you can stay relevant, fresh and engaged. You can keep observing and pushing into new areas where your value can be recognized and compensated for.
I don’t think there’s this job out there that will make you feel secure. Nor is there a product that will be a hit for the next 10 years guaranteed.
I do think you are a living, breathing person that can be continually valuable. You are only perishable if you bank on some kind of false staying power rather than increasing your abilities over time. Keep moving and embrace that journey of doing many other things yet to come.