Years ago when I founded Bula Network it was a very informal side project that I felt warranted a name, even though it wasn’t really a business. It was a service enterprise spawned by the CEO’s, founders and business owners who reached out to me to get my perspective on a variety of issues they were facing. Sometimes the work went deep, diving into specific numbers. At other times it was more high level, talking somebody off that ledge that we call find ourselves on every now and again. That’s why I found myself using the moniker – “network” – because of the scope of things. Because I podcast people began to assume it was a network because of that, but that’s not how it began.
When I left the c-suite, the work and the enterprise became more formalized. What had begun mostly as a passion project to help out friends and acquaintances was now something I needed to market so I could create a sustainable business. It was about 8 years ago when it began. To say it’s been difficult is an understatement. And I can’t overstate the learning that has taking place.
Any business experiences missteps and I’ve certainly made plenty. Even with a lifetime of experience the market – and life – teach us how little we really know. And how much more we need to understand.
When Bula Network was a side project it was mostly directed toward retail, sparking one of my first podcasts, REMARKABLE RETAIL. Years of running luxury retailing companies meant that my biggest circle consisted of people involved (at some level) in that arena. Very quickly it widened to other areas where high touch service was the mandate. I soon left remarkable retail behind, mostly because I was bored with it having spent my life there. I was also seeing major shifts in the retailing landscape, which drove me away emotionally and mentally. However, the skills required of operating at high levels in retailing translate to just about any enterprise, organization or industry you can name. Especially so in luxury retailing, where customer experience is supremely important.
It’s always been, and will always be about PEOPLE. Some people are into a variety of aspects of business building. My life’s focus has been on the people who make it happen. My ability is implementing workflows, processes and systems that are congruent with helping people perform at consistently high, predictable levels. I’m not your guy if you’re wanting to take your business from launch to where it can escape the gravity of risks that often cause businesses or organizations to crash and burn. I am your guy if you’ve escaped gravity, which happens at various times for each organization, and you need to find a higher altitude. Some business builders are great in stage 1 where you need liftoff. I’m not a stage 1 builder. I’m a stage 2 through whatever builder. Never satisfied with the existing success.
Sometimes an enterprise is struggling even though they long ago escaped gravity’s pull. Other times they’re doing well, but stuck. I can encounter businesses stuck in success just as easily as those stuck in failure. Success has its own demons that owners and leaders find particularly challenging. Some refuse to contend with them because success feels so comfortable. Until it doesn’t.
When I was a young man I was taught the magic of marketing summed up in a single phrase, “Be an aspirin, not a vitamin.” Whenever we have an ache or pain we quickly reach for a pain reliever. Pain makes us reach. Vitamins might be preventative, but because they don’t likely impact our lives in the short term, we don’t think much about them.
I admit there have been times when I neglected to follow that advice. Or when I thought I was being an aspirin, but my target market wasn’t willing to remedy their pain. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? But I’ve learned the hard way that some people – some spaces – have enormous pain, but they’re resigned that it’s just how things go. They’re not willing to take an aspirin. That’s the small, but important, nuance to that brilliant marketing advice – “Be an aspirin, not a vitamin.” It presupposes that people in pain will take an aspirin. That’s not always true. And I’ve violated what I knew to be true by pushing for people to understand. It rarely works.
For the last 5 years or so I’ve had an idea that I finally started pursuing late last year. I was attracted to this group of people practicing a specific and narrow part of law. Yes, they’re attorneys. I love what they do and have great respect for their work. The genesis of my idea was to take my lifetime of experience to serve a group that had spent their time learning and getting authorization to practice their craft. They have pain. Every group does. But something weird happened as I began to speak with dozens of them. Well, two things actually. One, mostly they were unwilling to devote any time to a remedy. They’re in the habit of paying somebody for turn-key solutions. What I was offering was much more powerful, but much more personal. It was in teaching them to fish, not in selling them one. Most had no interest in putting in even a minimal amount of work to do that. Not because they’re lazy, but because they’re crazy busy. They couldn’t see themselves taking on another project, or any more commitments. Even if taking that on would change their lives forever. Two, that viewpoint was so engrained in most of them they couldn’t see a future where their lives weren’t under the dictate of an overbooked calendar.
I’ve earned my stripes convincing – or trying to convince – people of what is possible. Experience taught me that it’s usually a waste of time to try to influence an entire group to see something they simply can’t see. Or something they refuse to see. How can you know the difference? And does it really matter? You can’t and it doesn’t.
So I pulled the plug knowing that I would never be able to help this group, even though I was only attempting to serve a small number of them. For me, the toll of trying to escape gravity was too high. Because there are other people desperate to reach a new altitude in their life and business. I figured I’d take my own advice that I give to every client. “You have to view your life as a limited resource. Make sure you invest it as wisely as possible.” I wasn’t doing that so I decided it was high time I listen to my heart and my head.
It’s also why I’m pushing more toward my roots and my special gifts – people. Whether I’m sitting with a CEO, founder or executive the problems universally revolve around dealing with and leading people. Sometimes it means managing the work performed by people. But whether we’re working with a service professional like an attorney, or a manufacturer, or a software developer, or a city management team – their problems, challenges and opportunities all have one thing in common. PEOPLE.
I’m still very focused on growing great businesses and careers. Higher human performance remains at the heart of it all.
The lessons for you?
- Know what you’re good at. Really know what you’re great at.
- Know what you’re not good at. Really know what you suck at.
- Bet on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Shore up what you can, but don’t waste too much time being something you’re not.
- Put your strengths in the form of an aspirin. What pain can you help eliminate? What problems can your strengths remedy?
- Just because a market is in pain doesn’t mean they want or will pay for relief. Don’t assume it.
- If people embrace their pain, feeling it’s “just how things are,” then walk or run away. Waste no time trying to convince them. Leave them alone in their misery.
- If people want relief from their pain, but aren’t willing to pay for it…run away even faster!
- Make sure you serve people you actually enjoy being around. Few things are worse than being stuck with customers you don’t respect or enjoy. That’s being trapped.
- Marketing is easier when you get all this put together so your view of yourself changes to where you realize there are people out there waiting for the relief only you can provide. Believe in yourself.
- The aspirin or pain reliever you buy is the one you believe works. Belief is critical. Find prospects and customers who believe. Walk away quickly from everybody who doesn’t.
I’ll build on these ideas in upcoming episodes, but for now — ponder these things. Apply them to your enterprise. See how you can provide value to people able to see it. Serve people worthy of your product or service. Help the people you can and stop pushing so hard to serve people who aren’t likely to embrace your work no matter what you do. The work is still about people connecting with people. It’s about people serving other people.
Subscribe to the podcast
- Click Here to Subscribe via iTunes
- Click Here to Subscribe via RSS (non-iTunes feed)
- Click Here to Subscribe via Stitcher
If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.