If you’ve not listened to episode 183, do it. This cartoon will illustrate my point made about halfway through the show.
Have a safe, happy Labor Day weekend!
leveraging connection & collaboration for improved performance
If you’ve not listened to episode 183, do it. This cartoon will illustrate my point made about halfway through the show.
Have a safe, happy Labor Day weekend!
Is your toilet clogged? Or maybe a sink?
Hey, it happens. Drains get clogged and we’re suddenly stuck.
I’m not a professional (or even an amateur) plumber, but I am a professional plunger! For business owners.
Being stuck is a universal problem. It happens to everybody…sometimes.
Business problems are like most problems. They vary. Sometimes we’re really seriously stuck and nothing short of sharp-shooter professional help will get us unstuck. Sometimes it’s less serious and we can grab the nearest can of Drain-O or Liquid Plumber and presto! Problem solved.
Here’s the reality of getting unstuck. We have to shake things up. We have to do something differently. We usually have to insert some force.
When our plumbing is stuck – clogged up – we have to exert force via a plunger or a chemical or a Roto-Rooter man.
Not in an unsafe way. Don’t go to your garage and grab the first container that says, “ACID.” I’ve known people who did that with horrible results. They just made the problem worse. Bad move.
Most of us naturally do the same thing with a plumbing clog. We grab a plunger. Or we go buy a can of a chemical drain unclogger! We know that running more water into an already clogged sink won’t likely help it drain. We know we have to remove that clog and we know that’s going to take using some new force.
Your business clog isn’t much different. Drastic action is often needed. That doesn’t mean you get dynamite and blow things up, but it does mean you need some element of force. That’s what today’s show is all about.
Do me a favor? Do you prefer really short show notes (blog posts to accompany a podcast) like these? Or, do you like blog posts that will stand alone without the audio? That sounds crazy, huh? I mean, this is a podcast, but I know some people like to read. I want to make the show notes beneficial to you. I’d love to hear your feedback. Just use the contact form or hit that “send voicemail” button to the right. Thanks!
Five years ago I was winding down a 35 plus year career spent in retailing. Becky McCray, a small town entrepreneur maven, mentioned a terrific blog post. I wasn’t terribly familiar with Becky at the time, much less the fella who wrote the post, Jon Swanson. The post dealt with Jon’s role in helping a retail cooperative during some training exercises. He provided the consumer’s perspective. He ended his post – dated March 14, 2008 – like this…
Big is about consumers. Small is about artists. Big is about changing people to your world. Small is about preparing people to change their world.
I began to trust Becky from then on because she bestowed “best small business blog post ever” on Jon’s post.
I’m not sure why, but the other day I remembered the post. I hadn’t read it in years, but I went back and read it over again. I had to visit Becky’s site to find it, but there it was…as powerful as I had remembered it.
When the post came out I was part of a major merchandising and marketing group that represented billions (BILLIONS) of buying power. Retailing was in my blood and had been since I was 16. So, it resonated with me as I suspect it might anybody involved in independently owned retail. I was leading a small business, but it was a big, small business with revenues under $20 million. The whole “big box vs. small retail” was one very familiar to me.
Today, I’m no longer involved in retailing, but I’m still an advocate of small business devoted to helping small business owners successfully face their challenges.
I began my business career as a teenager selling hi-fi gear in a local stereo shop. Instinctively, I engaged people because I shared their passion for music and the gear we all needed to play our favorite records. It was easy because I wanted them to hear their favorite music like they had never heard it before. I was excited to sit down with a shopper, put their favorite record in a turntable and have them enjoy the record on a system unlike anything they had ever owned before. But mostly, I enjoyed helping them build a system that wouldn’t break their budget, but would still be far superior to anything they had. I was an audiophile, but I was an audiophile salesperson with a purpose – give the customer so much value that they’d have to spend a lot more to get something better!
Shoppers appreciated it, but I suspect they first appreciated how into it I was. That passion lasted for a long time as I spent my entire life involved in the consumer electronics industry. But it wasn’t about retailing, or stereo gear, or the consumer electronics business.
It was and still is, about helping people get something valuable.
When I was a kid I was confident enough in my knowledge of what I was selling to know I could help shoppers better than anybody. It didn’t hurt that I was so competitive either.
Today, with a lifetime of business building experience behind me and a lot of energy and passion still in the tank, I’m even more confident in my abilities to help provide value. For me, small is about being more discriminating in who I help. But as I re-read Jon’s post I was taken back to the days of my youth and I remember specific encounters with shoppers I tried to help who we called “the magazine readers.” These were the people who didn’t really know stereo gear, but they were so fearful of being duped they spent time learning just enough about the specs involved in various gear to be dangerous (i.e. the sound pressure level rating of a loudspeaker which indicated how efficient it might be – translation, how much power it might need to play loudly). Sometimes they could be difficult, if not cantankerous. In the first few months of selling, I tried to sell everybody. I stopped doing that – not because anybody trained me, but because I figured it was a waste of time for all of us. The shopper and me!
Well, okay. That’s not entirely true. There’s a point in making money, but that’s not my primary point. I hope it’s not yours.
How are your customers benefited by what you do, or what you provide?
What value do you provide that they can’t get elsewhere?
Why should they choose you over somebody else?
These are all questions that too few business owners wrestle to the mat. It’s a grind. I’ll warn you up front, if you’ve not spent time duking it out with these questions (and many others like them), then you’re not putting in the necessary work to build a sustainable business with predictable success.
Sometimes I encounter a business owner who wants to know a short-cut to the winning the fight. They’re looking for some knockout punch they can use to end the fight early. There is no such punch. This is a grappling match, not a fist fight. It’s down and dirty with lots of twisting on the ground trying to find the right hold. There’s a tremendous amount of straining and sometimes it’s exhausting. And it’s a mental fight where your head is telling you to just tap out and quit. Rest and relaxation are just seconds away if you’ll give up. That voice in your head can grow to a loud scream. And we find that we’ve got two opponents, not one. We’ve got the business challenge and we’ve got ourselves to overcome.
Who are these prospects?
Who are your ideal customers? The people you most want to serve?
Can you define them in very specific terms?
• How old are they?
• Are they men or women?
• Do they reside in a specific geographical location?
• How educated are they?
• What’s their income?
• Are they married? With children?
• What do they do in their spare time?
• What kind of car do they drive?
• What books do they read?
• What TV shows do they watch?
• Are they Mac or Windows’ users?
• and many other questions (as many as you can think of and as many as you can quantify)!!
How can you provide value if you don’t know who you’re serving? How can you make sure you’re providing the best value for them until you first know who they are and what other options are available to them?
Tim Sanders‘ book, Love Is The Killer App, deserves a mention here. It’s a terrific book all about being valuable to everybody around you. It’s an ancient principle of giving to others without an expectation. It’s about being nice for the sake of being nice. As Sanders says, “Nice guys don’t finish last. They rule.”
It’s a more modern take on Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends And Influence People,” a book that holds up remarkably well.
It’s a time tested formula for improving yourself and your business. Help others get what they want and need. In return, they’ll help you get what you want and need. The key is to put their needs above your own.
And that ain’t easy!
But I have good news. Actually, great news! Because putting the needs of others before your own needs is so difficult – most people don’t do it. For many, it just doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t make sense to them. They don’t get it.
For others, they suspect it may be true, but they’re fearful it may not be true. Besides, look at all the evidence of pompous, self-serving Kardashian types who earn millions a year. They’re not providing value, we think. But they are providing value…to somebody. No, not me. I could care less about them, but when TMZ and all the other moronic shows report every Kardashian move, the value is in entertainment. People clamor to watch these people just like millions of people clamor to see the most popular YouTube vlogs of people who don’t provide me with much value. But, I’m not their ideal customer. That doesn’t mean somebody else doesn’t find value because the numbers don’t lie. At the time of this podcast, Kim Kardashian has over 18.3 MILLION Twitter followers. A lot of people are getting value.
Never assume that what’s invaluable to you is invaluable to everybody. This is the genius that is business. You can find your focus and seek likeminded people who will love what you do. Others will hate it. That’s okay. I don’t much think Kim cares about anybody but the millions who love her.
Is it easy to be a Kardashian? Man, I don’t know. We all may envy the money, but I sure don’t envy the lifestyle. Or the fame. Or the celebrity. Or the superficiality. But that’s just me. I’m weird.
What about YOU and YOUR business?
Can you put others ahead of yourself? If you can, you will begin to find yourself rising above the throng. It’s an enormous competitive edge, but you can’t fake it. It requires complete dedication. It demands you take it seriously every single day. Once you set out on that course, you can’t go back. Or you’ll fail. Miserably.
You can’t do the right thing by putting others ahead of yourself only when you know it’s not going to cost you much. You’ve got to do it even if you know you’ll be making some short-term sacrifices. I’m not talking about laying down to every scoundrel who would take advantage of you, but I am talking about doing the right thing even when it hurts. Because it’s the right thing to do. And you know it.
I’m also talking about that Kim Kardashian focus where you ignore the haters and naysayers. You’ve got people to serve. You’ve got people who need what you have. You’ve got customers who will have to settle for something of lesser value if you don’t serve them. Get busy doing the right thing by them so they can change their world.
August, 1980. It was a record setting summer. 42 straight days of triple digit heat in Dallas, Texas. No matter that we lived in Oklahoma at the time. It was no cooler “up north.” Records were set all across this part of America in the summer of my son’s birth.
Rhonda and I were married on January 2, 1978. Young and very much in love. Almost 2 years later we found out we were pregnant. I was completely unprepared.
The fear of unpreparedness is a special kind of fear. Steve Farber calls it, OSM! There’s a reason he was the first person I followed when I jumped on Twitter years ago.
Steve described OSM as the feeling the ski jumper gets as he attempts his very first jump. I’ve never done that, but I was once a first time dad and I can’t imagine anything scarier.
Like Red Forman, chastising his son Eric for flirting with his cousin, I feared a web-footed child or some other freakish thing. I was honestly worried about the physical well-being of the baby and my wife. I don’t remember being fearful of much else, although I’m sure I was worried about money. Who isn’t?
Every doctor visit made me a bit more easy that things were progressing well. During the rest of the winter and into Spring Rhonda did well.
Then summer hit.
The heat came rolling in stronger than normal. And around here, normal summer heat is HOT. When people back east or up north say, “Man, it’s hot today. We’re in the 90’s” – in Texas and Oklahoma, we laugh. That’s a cold front in the summer for us. We commonly say it because it’s true, “It’s 105 in the shade.” And in West Texas, there is no shade. I pity those poor folks.
In the summer of 1980 the heat was unbearable even in the shade. Nothing was green except our envy of cooler climes.
Rhonda was entering the 9th month of her pregnancy. Miserable doesn’t quite properly describe it. Swollen ankles and feet. I even had to get wire cutters and cut her wedding ring off her swollen fingers after we were unsuccessful in prying it off.
Then the pains began. On a Saturday in August, 1980. We drove to the hospital and my web-footed fear amped up. Now, I’d have been thankful for just a web-footed oddity. I was worried about much more. Don’t ask why. There was no logical reason for it other than I was a novice dad without a clue. I feared for my wife’s life. I feared for the new born baby’s life. Shoot, I feared for my own life! As far as I could tell, none of us were going to make it out alive.
The pain and vomiting began. I never saw it, but back in high school I remember kids describing Linda Blair’s performance in The Exorcist. At any point I fully expected Rhonda might sit up in bed, turn her head completely around and kill me with fire that would shoot from her eyeballs.
I had played football and seen (and heard) knees torn. But I had never seen this level of pain before. And I had never felt this level of helplessness either.
Like a dutiful klutz I kept a cold wash cloth on her forehead. Boy, that’s quite a remedy for inscrutable pain, huh? A cold wash rag! Well, it was the best I could do. That and hold that stupid little hospital blue plastic barf container that is shaped to curve around the side of your face. It’s not the color or the shape that fails so much. It’s the capacity of the stupid thing. That, and the fact that it’s open exposing the bile that comes from an exorcism, or birthing a child.
The hours went on. Rhonda refused pain medicine, a decision we were both regretting with every passing hour. The hours clicked by with the pace of those larger vehicles that transported the Apollo missions to the launch pad…moving inches every half hour or so. “How long can this go on?” was the question on my mind. By now Rhonda was completely out of her mind.
Guys, if you’re not yet a father, let me explain something to you. When you’re wife exhorts you to enter the delivery room with her, refuse. I did. Of course, my wife had enough sense to not care – or even want me in there. She didn’t want me holding a cold wash rag on her forehead at this point. She likely just wanted me out of the room and her life at this point.
So when IT was time. They rushed her back to the delivery room. We were into hour 17 of labor. Hard labor. I went to the waiting room to chew what little was left of my finger nails. I was now working on the cuticles. Next stop, bone!
Hoyt Axton may have sung about working your fingers to the bone, but I was gonna chew mine to the bone!
Early Sunday morning, August 17, 1980 around 6am (I may be off, but that’s the best I can remember given my state of prettification) we were no longer a couple. We were now three. We had a son!
I just thought I was out of the woods until I saw him for the first time. A nurse or somebody strolled by and showed him to me. He was red as a beet, but that wasn’t the surprising thing.
I was the father of a Conehead. A beet red Conehead.
I had no idea a human could survive in such a state, but there he was – my son. The Red Conehead. No, I wasn’t ashamed. I was too astonished to feel anything, but relief that this nightmare was over. Months of tortuous weather including Spring tornado season in Tornado Alley, followed by weeks of “will-this-ever-end” summer heat and now, my child will never be able to play football or hockey or any sport requiring a helmet because he’s a Conehead.
I didn’t know his head would take on a normal shape. Nor did I know how long that would take. Amazing. Both his skull’s ability to morph and my ability to be clueless.
I said it then and I’ve said it since, but it bears repeating. I had never loved my wife more than at that very moment. And I can’t fully explain that. Maybe other dads out there can understand it. I suspect you can.
The pain. The suffering. The sacrifice. The months of travail followed by hours of pain strong enough to make you puke – it all humbled me like nothing ever had. Nothing had even come close.
I was reduced to a small, insignificant puddle of muddy water in the floor.
We named him Ryan.
After a few hours I went home, cleaned up and dressed for Sunday morning worship. At church I’m sure folks congratulated me, but I confess I don’t remember anything about it other than going. I was mentally and emotionally spent. And feeling more helpless with each passing moment. Feeling totally unprepared to begin a journey as a father. Feeling not yet grown up enough myself to make this trek.
But there he was. A son. Born to a 23 year old version of me. And a 23 year old version of my wife.
Here we are 33 years later standing tall as proof that idiots can raise wise children. He’s a middle school assistant principal with street smarts, ambitions, skills I can’t imagine possessing and a family of his own. Thirty three years ago I thought we were all going straight to Remulak.
Instead, we wound up in Dallas/Ft. Worth. All of us.
That was just the beginning of the story, but for now – that’s all you need to know even though there’s so much more to tell.
• Like how bad his temper was (is) when he loses at sports. We like to focus on how competitive he is.
• Like how badly I felt (still do) when I popped him with a rolled up towel during horseplay, but it really hurt him ’cause it worked better than expected.
• Like how sad I was to sit with him on the front entry to our house in Oklahoma as we closed the door and headed to Dallas.
• Like how I love to watch him skate (still). Ice or roller hockey, it doesn’t matter to me.
• Like how we spent years together involved in hockey, including a 4-year stink at UTA.
• Like how amazed Rhonda and I were to get him out of college, successfully…with a degree.
• Like how my heart almost broke when he told me he was leaving to move to Missouri.
• Like how my heart mended when he told me he was moving back home.
• Like how we felt to see him get a Master’s Degree.
• Like how proud we are to see him excel in a career that suits him perfectly.
• Like how it feels to hold his children like I once held him (and his sister).
• Like how it feels to know he’s a phone call, text or 2-mile ride away.
• Like how it feels to worship at the same congregation then, and now.
• Like how proud I am to be his dad.
Happy birthday to my son, Ryan.
I love him very much!
The song is “How Lucky” by John Prine. No, I’ve not lit a cigarette, but I have considered the question, “How lucky can one man get?”