It’s All About Results

One of the TV shows I enjoy watching is Restaurant Impossible (another is Bar Rescue). On Restaurant Impossible they go into a failing restaurant and redo the:
  • Menu
  • Facility
  • Owner’s (and staffs’) attitude
The thing I really like about it is the focus on results. It’s all about turning a money losing business into a profitable venture while at the same time repairing damaged family relationships.

A good marketing person will tell you, it’s not about features, it’s about benefits. So in this case, it’s not about activity it’s about results. Examples from the small business world include:

  • You don’t have a device with the latest titanium flange, you have a device that will save 23% on energy costs.
  • Customers don’t want their taxes done for the lowest fee, they want them done so they pay the lowest amount of tax (legally) and not get flagged by the IRS.
  • My clients don’t care as much about my methodology as they do about avoiding a bad deal and getting a good, sustainable, deal.

Too often we get caught up in the features of what we do. The focus should be on the results (benefits) our customers get. Understanding why they keep coming back and/or referring others to us gives us insight into what the real benefits are (versus what we perceive them to be).

“The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.” Arthur Koestler

Football As a Microcosm of Life

In December, and besides holiday parties, shopping, and other festivities for a lot of people this means assessment, planning, and goals.

Some of the most successful people I’ve known are goal driven. Other very successful people simply do “their thing” as they know if they do what they are supposed to do success will follow.

Football teams (professional), all have the same three goals.

  1. All teams, and especially their fans, will tell you the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl.
  2. But before you can win the Super Bowl you have to make the playoffs (goal number two).
  3. And every coach will say to make the playoffs the team has to do the little things. Do what they’re taught, do them consistently, and do them correctly (goal number three and the one the players and coaches can control).

The football season is four months but only 16 games. Baseball, basketball, and hockey are six months long but have 5-10 times more games. There’s a lot more room for error when you play 80-160 games.

These latter sports are like our year; we can recover from a small mistake. Every football game is like a customer relationship. Blow one game and it could mean playoffs or no playoffs, a game at home versus all games on the road. Blow an important customer relationship and it could make the difference between a bonus or no bonus, profit or loss, keeping or losing your job.

My points are:

  • If you’re a goal-setting person, you need to do the things you’re supposed to do, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, so you can achieve your goals.
  • If you’re not a goal-setting person, you need to do the things you’re supposed to do, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, to achieve success.
  • Pay attention to the details and the big picture will come into view.

Planning a Run vs. Planning Your Exit

We were in Bozeman, MT for a few days last summer and it coincided with the 20-mile long Bridger Ridge Run. We found out this when hiking the College M, a trail from a small park to the “M,” a letter M about 100 feet long made out of white rocks, about 1,000 feet up a hill, and viewable for miles.
As we started our hike the final runners were coming in, along with event staff sweeping the run. The run itself is an A-B event with 6,500 feet of elevation gain, 9,500 feet of elevation loss, and with most of the run along a ridge over 1.5 miles above sea level (Bozeman is about 5,000 feet above sea level).
One of the sweepers told me it takes two months of work to get all the stops setup, with water, food, first aid supplies, etc. Given the terrain, it means each trip with supplies is anywhere from about four to 20 miles round trip. I can see why it takes two months (given it’s all volunteers).
I’m not a big fan of Tony Robbins*, but all this planning reminded me of something he says, “Most people spend more time planning their vacation than planning their lives.” Or, in my business world, more time than planning their business and especially more than planning their exit.
Too many business owners wake up one day and decide it’s time to sell. Are they maximizing profit? No. Do they have a solid management team? No. Are they coasting along with no growth strategy? Yes! (Do they think any of these things should affect the price? Of course not.)
This is why I wrote If They Can Sell Pet Rocks Why Can’t You Sell Your Business (For What You Want)?
Put in as much time planning your exit, and implementing the plan, than you spend planning your vacations for just one year and you will dramatically increase your chances of exiting with style, grace, and more money. It’s that simple.
* As I said, I’m not a big fan of Tony Robbins, or any of the rah-rah motivational types. However, they can have some good points. Another of Mr. Robbins’ points is, “People won’t change if they think the pain of change is greater than the pain of not changing.” This applies to personal things like relationships, weight loss, etc. and business things like hiring or firing someone, implementing an exit plan, and more.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.” J.K. Rowling

Small Dogs & Enabling Behavior

We take our dogs for a walk almost every day. One thing figured out a long time ago is micro-to-small sized dogs get very aggressive when they see other dogs. So much so I’d guess 80% of the time their owners pull them off to the side, as they know what’s going to happen.
Very considerate of them. However, it’s what happens next that’s the real issue. Most of the time we’ll hear something like, “No, no, don’t do that” in a uplifting, positive, and friendly tone. Of course dogs don’t know all these words but they do know tonality, so they hear, “Good, keep it up, I love you.” And the owners wonder why this behavior never changes because, after all, they admonish their dog every time it happens.
Do you do this in your business? Do you enable bad or mediocre behavior from employees, customers, or vendors (and even service providers)? Do you let it slide because Shirley’s been a loyal employee for years? Or perhaps Tom is one of the best at his job and you fear having to search for a replacement?
My friend Bob Champoux likes to ask owners, “Do you have a Melissa at your company? Melissa is the employee who’s been there for a couple decades, plans to retire soon, has seen technology and/or the job requirements pass her by, but you just can’t force yourself to let her go? The answer is often yes, and when selling the company you can bet the buyer won’t keep Melissa.
Now regarding Tom, mentioned above. I don’t know the how often, but the vast, vast majority of the time, when the owner or business buyer lets Tom go, the overall result is positive. The culture improves, the other employees realize it’s a breath of fresh air, and the replacement (of the irreplaceable person) is better and more productive.
People are actually easier to enable than dogs because people are skilled enough to encourage it. When in doubt, get an expert to help you assess and correct the situation.
“What we have learned from history is that we haven’t learned from history.” Benjamin Disraeli

Great Stuff Really is Great (And Sticky)

Due to some changes in plumbing we had an opening about two by four inches in the block foundation of our pump’s crawlspace at our cabin. Big enough for critters like red squirrels to go through, and you don’t want red squirrels getting anywhere close to things on your house they can chew. Things like walls, floorboards, etc.
So my plan, executed perfectly, was to spread some adhesive, fill the opening with steel wool (critters don’t like steel wool), and then fill the gaps with expanding foam, called Great Stuff.
As I said it worked great. And I even read the instructions on the can of Great Stuff, which said to wear eye protection and to not, repeat not, get it on your skin. I did wear eye protection. I also figured, so what if I get a little on my skin, I’ll wash it off immediately with paint thinner.
I ended up dabbing a little Great Stuff to fill a small opening in the foam and found out:
  • Paint thinner doesn’t remove the stuff, it spreads it.
  • Soap and water doesn’t remove it, it spreads it.
  • Goop hand cleaner doesn’t remove it, and you guessed it, it spreads it.
So my hands are covered with this sticky adhesive, which is acting like super glue whenever my fingers touch one another. I did figure out rubbing handfuls of sand in a hand washing motion removed the stickiness. But it didn’t get rid of the stuff. As some Internet research showed, nothing removes it; everything spreads it. Only time and rubbing it, picking it, or scrubbing it gets rid of it, over three days.
My lesson here is, winging it, ignoring instructions, or figuring proven methods “apply to others, not me” doesn’t cut it. My plug is business owners need to follow the plan in my book If They Can Sell Pet Rocks Why Can’t You Sell Your Business (For What You Want)? And business buyers need to pay attention to my strategies in Buying A Business That Makes You Rich.
Reading the instructions is good. Following them is much better.
“If you got it, flaunt it. If you don’t got it, flaunt it.” Mindy Kaling 

Minutia Rules

I outlined this memo in late 2015, when I first read about the first point below and when I heard on the radio about the second point. Within days the first point was all over all types of the media.
  1. Starbucks unveiled their new holiday cups, which are plain red with their logo. No snowflakes or any other seasonal designs. Some Christian groups got their panties in a bind and claimed Starbucks hates Christmas so let’s boycott them. Even though Starbucks cups never had Christmas designs, only winter designs. (At my local store the barista said it’s been a non-issue.)
  2. Football fans in Seattle and some other cities started an online petition to get Fox to not have their number one announcing team do their team’s games.

In addition, just look at modern day politics. Most people don’t want to listen to, debate with, or consider ideas even a tad bit opposing to their own. We’ve now had four terms of Presidents about whom the reports are their staff filters all information so our leader only sees what they want to see.

What does this mean for you and me and our businesses? People who are employees, customers, vendors, and service providers to all of us drove the situations mentioned above. They’re touchier than ever. It’s a, “my way or the highway” kind of attitude, over everything.
In my talk, “Networking to Increase Sales and Profits” I say don’t be an ideologue when you meet somebody. Keep polarizing and sensitive issues out of the discussion. If the other party chooses to broach those subjects, then it’s your decision on whether or not to do business with them. We could waste a lot of time trying to please everybody on every little thing. It’s good to fire customers, switch vendors, or get rid of disruptive employees. More often than not the result is more positive than we ever thought.
“Better to busy than to be busy worrying.” Angela Lansbury

Where Have All the Good Employees Gone?*

As many of you know, for the last dozen years I’ve been involved with overseas Rotary projects putting technology and training into schools in developing countries. Maybe it’s because my mom was a teacher but I feel education is the answer to economic growth and income equality (without taking from the successful to give to others).
It’s not just overseas. Look at these two statements.
  1. Business owner one – $25 million in sales, about 100 employees, “The only thing holding back our growth is finding capable employees.”
  2. Business owner two – fast growing manufacturing company, “We can’t find good people. I lot of them can’t pass a background check.”
It’s tough because more and more jobs require:
  • Some kind of technical skill. Just ask the owner of a small machine shop who can’t find people to program the CNC machines.
  • People skills. Even in this technology centric world, those with people skills always find a way to be successful.
  • Problem solving. Technology, robots, and similar don’t solve all problems. In fact, they create their own set of problems.
What I’m saying is, the more emphasis we put on educating (young) people the better off we all will be. They’ll make better choices, add to the economy, and create a better place to live.
A recent news story covered apprentice programs in the construction industry. Those disappeared for a long-time. I guess it’s time a lot of things like this come back.
“Mothers say to me, ‘My son is 34 and he’s not getting married’; I don’t know what to do. So I tell them, ‘Don’t iron his shirts anymore.'” Pope Francis
* With apologies to The Kinks (Where have all the good times gone) and Paula Cole (Where have all the cowboys gone).

It’s the People; It’s Always the People

Recently Seattle business legend Dave Ederer spoke to a group of my clients. One of his key points, concerning acquisitions, was he cares less about the numbers than ever before and more about the people.
Now, don’t think I don’t care what buyers pay, realize there are some limits to “paying attention to the numbers.” Paying the high end of the fair price range instead of the low end is fine. Grossly overpaying, crippling yourself with debt, and having no growth capital is never good.

A smart seller (and smart intermediary) will first identify the traits of the logical buyer, and it’s not “anybody with the money to buy it.” The right buyer will maintain the culture, preserve the legacy, and grow the business to the next level.

The wrong buyer is anybody who can’t achieve the above but has the money and thinks the business is cool. Usually this is someone who thinks, “making something is sexy” but their background has nothing to do with manufacturing and they don’t know a CNC machine from a 1963 Chevy.

Running a business is not easy. Not everybody can do it, and does who can do it at one level often can’t do it at another (this goes both ways, some businesses outgrow the owner and some owners try to put Fortune 1000 processes into their small business and destroy what’s there).

When selling a business, find the right buyer, realize it’s not just about the price (if you need every last dollar at an overly ambitious price it may not be time to sell), and take pride in what you’ve done.

“Living an interesting life is a precondition to being an interesting person.” Ottessa Moshfegh 

Integrity = Profits

In his final State of the Union speech last week President Obama said if a business takes care of it’s customers, employees, and community the shareholders will also be taken care of.

One of the nice things about working with small businesses and their owners is the majority of them understand this. Two of the most common results a business seller wants from his or her buyer are:

  1. The customers taken care of
  2. The employees keep their jobs
  3. And Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and other service organizations are filled with business owners (the community part).

Yes, the money is important but many, many owners won’t sell to someone they feel will get rid of their employees (second family) or mistreat their customers, driving them to the dreaded competition.

It’s not just small businesses. Boeing recently announced a long-term agreement with their engineers’ union, which surprised all the experts and pundits. It seems their new CEO values the people whereas the previous CEO was known to say things similar to, I plan to stay around and the employees will be shaking in their shoes.

Technology companies have non-traditional offices to create a culture employees will enjoy. The cost of replacing a good employee, especially a six-figure employee is tremendous. So take care of them.

A pretty simple statement buried in a political talk, but one that makes sense (no matter what your politics).

“Character is simply habit long continued.” Plutarch