Don’t Lie About Who You Are

I don’t care if you call it your purpose, your “why” or your mission.  

What I do care about is this:

1) That you don’t lie about who you are

This is human nature that fuels business nature. We lie about who we are because it is easier to think about an ideal that we see and/or admire. We often find ourselves wanting to be like someone we admire (Or at least an idealized version of someone we admire). And we do the same with our businesses. But your business, just like you, is unique. It has its own personality, quirks and mannerisms. The right people will be attracted to it for all of those unique traits and the wrong people will be turned away. Why would you want it any other way? 

Want to have more fun running your business?  Let it be itself. Warts and all.

2) That you are wildly persistent about proving it.

If you can get straight about who you are then what you MUST do is figure out every possible way you can demonstrate and prove it to your staff, clients and the market. Writing it on a poster, in your brochure or on your web site is not proof.  I am talking about the ways you impact human beings with what makes you real and unique. The moments you create for people. As large a moment as when they use your product or service and as small as a note you put on your invoice. How many of these moments can you create?

If you are a funny group of people, write a joke book.

If you have insane technical expertise then create a seminar or write a book.

If a client does not know everything they should know then set up a lunch to change it. Even if that means an expensive plane trip. 

The possibilities are as endless as your imagination and your guts to start trying new things. 

Anybody can make a claim. Very few prove it. 

F@#K My Pride

“The walls of pride are high and wide. Can’t see over to the other side.” — Bob Dylan

In the middle of 1996 I sat down in “the big chair” after being promoted to President of a middle size freight and logistics company. More than 140 in staff, 6 offices and 150 million in revenue flowing in and out of the organization. While that may sound great, the real picture was not a rosy one. We were losing money. Clients had gone bankrupt on us, (as they fought through our last recession) leaving us holding the bag. An industry, flailing in response to the same recession, was giving away services for less than half of our normal fees and clients demanded we match competitive quotes. Our bank was breathing down our back.

I remember it so vividly. Looking out across my desk was like looking at a landscape littered with business wreckage. So many things urgently needed my attention that is was hard to know where to begin. But more than anything, I felt alone in the battle. Like any competitive industry, if the staff thinks the ship may be sinking they look to jump to another ship. My core team was more than loyal but human nature is what it is and they had families to feed. So it was up to me to deliver on the challenge I accepted, alone.

My friends, old and new, looked to me as a young but smart business person. “I am sure you will figure it out” they would say. So how could I tell them about my deep fear and worry? What would they think of me if they knew the truth?

So many things need to get done. So many things…

I picked up the phone and called a business owner I respected and asked for a referral to a business turnaround expert. Specifically I said, “I do not want a management consultant that will tell me to buy low and sell high or write a giant report. I want someone who will tell it to me straight and call me out when I bullshit myself.”

My first call with his recommendation, Charlie Bahr, lasted well over an hour. When we were done I asked the two questions that were left to ask — “Can I afford you and can I afford not to afford you.”

I made the hardest and smartest business decision in my life and spent the money we didn’t really have because getting the company back into the black would be worth 10 times what I would pay him. My business and those that depended on it were worth that risk.

He supported me as advertised. I now had someone who had looked out over the type of horrible business landscape I was in many times before. I could tell him the naked truth and he wasn’t going anywhere. He called me out on my bullshit with candor, empathy and integrity.

Within 6 months we were back on track. We adjusted our focus and made some smart moves into higher margin businesses. We executed a plan that had a manageable number of objectives. Within 12 months we were back to profitability.

Charlie remains one of my closest friends to this day. He was worth 1,000 times what I paid him.

But here is what is more important, I should have called him 2 years earlier. But why didn’t I? I knew the business was stumbling and tried everything I could think of to fix it. But I never asked for help. Sure, I talked to marketing, design, PR and communication agencies looking for some “secret sauce” and paid handsomely for them to build up the facade of a business that deep down I knew was cracking at the foundation.

What I could not see was what so many others also never see until it is too late — It was the business end of the business that needed attention. And very few like to get involved on that side. It’s not sexy, the underlying issues are not clear and the outcome is far from certain. There is no “magic bullet” other than grinding work, tough choices and demons to face. But leave it alone in this battle and you will continue to feel alone. The end of the story ends badly. And it will end.

Over 15 years have passed since I picked up the phone and called Charlie. Since the business turned around we were able to sell it in early 2000. A few years later I hung out my own shingle to help business owners never have to go through what I went through. To help those that are brave enough to ask for help before it is too late. To realize what I have after all of these years, most business need not fail. I wrote a book and an eBook about what I learned before, during and after those tough times.

Having now helped dozens of business owners, entrepreneurs and CEO’s through their own dark times there is one common threat they defeated before I could help them. It is the same demon that caused me to lose 2 years and my smile before asking for help. Pride.

“Pride Makes Us Artificial And Humility Makes Us Real.” – Thomas Merton

Please tell me a single thing that your pride will fix or make better? Just ONE. Tell me how pride will help you when there are a dozen critical decisions that need attention and you are only one person trying to figure it all out? Tell me how pride does anything but become what will torment you for many more years after the business is gone (And I speak from experience here, it will). Pride is as much a business persons enemy as fear. I’d say more.

Somewhere pride has become an important piece of armor in business. It does not work. My clients, the ones that asked for help, are some of the smartest and bravest business people I have ever met. They replaced the false shield of pride with one of courage. They dropped their armor. Their businesses are all thriving because they chose it over their pride.

Don’t confuse pride with integrity like I did. I don’t care who you call as long as you call someone and tell them the raw truth and, yes, talk about your pride.

In the toughest of times, my pride betrayed me by masking my real fears and kept me alone with my pain and stress.

Well, guess what, f@#k my pride.

The Man In The Glass

When you get what you want in your struggles for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to a mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
Some people might think you’re a straight-shooting chum
And call you a wonderful guy.
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest
For he’s with you clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most dangerous test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

Author unknown

New eBook: Don’t Perfume The Pig

When you are ready to sell your business, will your business be ready to sell?

Selling my business 11 years ago taught me many lessons that I learned in the process and in the years since. Distance from “the hurricane” of running a business has many benefits.  I have tried to distill those lessons and what I see and hear while working with so many business owners over the course of my career. The result is this little eBook: Don’t Perfume The Pig. My hope is that, when you are ready to sell your business, you will be better prepared than I was.

As with my first book, I think it is important to deliver practical information in a quick read with as little “filler” as possible.  I hope you find it valuable, a good reference and something that will start your thinking about your own business and what you want it to do for you.  

I also hope you will share it with as many business owners as you can. 

Click here to download “Don’t Perfume The Pig” as a FREE PDF.

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My special thanks to the great Kevin Cornell for the amazing cover design.

Life Is Too Short To Be A Boring Company

Spotted this on the blog of Dustin Curtis and thought it was a great find. Despite Groupon getting clobbered in the public markets, the sentiment and approach to how they think about their business and the purpose they want it to serve is terrific.  

From their S1 filing (Emphasis added is my own):

We want the time people spend with Groupon to be memorable. Life is too short to be a boring company. Whether it’s with a deal for something unusual, such as fire dancing classes, or a marketing campaign such as Grouspawn, we seek to create experiences for our customers that make today different enough from yesterday to justify getting out of bed. […]

We believe that when once-great companies fall, they don’t lose to competitors, they lose to themselves—and that happens when they stop focusing on making people happy. As such, we do not intend to be reactive to competitors. We will watch them, but we won’t distract ourselves with decisions that aren’t designed primarily to make our customers and merchants happy.

Innovating Around Your Customer Waiting Time?

I just finished re-reading Tom Kelley’s excellent book: “Ten Faces of Innovation.” It remains one of my favorite business reads. There is a section towards the end of the book that focuses on “the subject of waiting – an unavoidable element in most customer journeys- and I believe that the way you manage those critical wait times can make all the difference in how your company is perceived.

Too few consider that the entire time your current or potential customer is waiting for you they are interacting with your brand and your company.

Mr. Kelley points out a variety of strategies to keep people informed, as they wait, that mainly center around music/messages on hold and that friendly voice that tells you your expected wait time. These options are certainly better than dead air but they have existed for over 10 years. It’s simply old news and really doesn’t dramatically change the experience of waiting. If I am waiting for you, I am already inside YOUR customer experience. So… make it an experience! There simply has been too little innovation in customer waiting time.

And there is an opportunity for you to seize.

If you do not know where waiting is occurring within your customer experience then that is the first place to focus on. Find out and write them all down. Figure out what they are doing while they are waiting. Are they on hold? on a line? Are they lost in the dark while waiting for a delivery? You don’t need to put together a task force for this or have a bunch of meetings. Grab a pad, call 10 customers and ask them.

What information could you be giving them during this time that would make that time truly valuable and memorable? Implementing innovation in just this area will make an enormous impact. Make it a goal to implement just 1 new tactic In the next 30 days. Repeat as necessary.

The Mind Of A Leader

The mind of a leader must be free—a mind that can dream and imagine. All new things were born in dreams. A leader must have the courage to be a nonconformist, just like a scientist. He must dream, even if he dreams alone or if people laugh at him. He must not let his heart falter.

- Shimon Peres