Football and Business – Cut To Thrive

For sports fans, and especially reporters, spring is a busy time of the year. Baseball season is starting, March Madness, NFL free agency and draft, and the winter leagues heading to the playoffs.

Football fans feel angst when because of (primarily) salary cap issues teams let fan favorites go; Richard Sherman in Seattle, Jordy Nelson in Green Bay, and many others (both of those mentioned probably in their respective team’s Hall of Fame). It’s tough on all, including management.

And we need to have the same attitude in our business. Just because someone’s been with us for a long time doesn’t make them untouchable. Salespeople know this by the size of their commission. Others, not so easily aware.

Football legend Vince Lombardi had three keys to staying on top. Two were psychological and the other was pragmatic:

“There is a tendency to stay with the players that won the championship – even if he isn’t as good as he was. And it’s the very human thing to do. However, there is no room for that type of emotion. Football is a hardheaded cold business. No matter what a player did last year, he must go if he can’t do it this year.”

Not just employees. Cutting customers or vendors is just as important. Bad customers can make your life miserable, and just aren’t worth it. Vendors not keeping current on products, always late on shipments, etc. will have your team screaming.

It’s tough because it affects others’ lives. In our case, it’s not athletes making $5-15 million a year. But it has to be done so it doesn’t detrimentally affect your or my life.

Entrepreneurs Are Different

Driving home from an evening meeting I was listening to “How I Built This,” an NPR interview show (and podcast) with entrepreneurs. This particular episode was a fascinating discussion with and story about Mark Cuban. Mr. Cuban is well known for being on Shark Tank and owning the Dallas Mavericks.

He became wealthy via a few business endeavors, the biggest one being the invention of streaming audio on the Internet. He said this came about because he wanted to listen to University of Indiana basketball games while living in Texas.

But, the point of this memo is something the host, Guy Raz, asked Mr. Cuban. At one-point Cuban was in his 30’s and a multi-millionaire. Raz asked why he didn’t just “retire” and not work. This is what separates entrepreneurs, good business people, and those who love what they do from the pack of people whose top dream is retirement. The reporter had a hard time understanding why a rich person was still driven.

I know firsthand about this because my dad went from the former group, as one of the most dedicated employees a firm could want, to the latter group after his company did something underhanded to a group of employees, including him. After he died I found a letter to his boss detailing how much sick time, vacation, and other “off days” he had, how he would use them to determine the date he could stop working, and have his retirement kick-in on his 62nd birthday.

Most, if not all, of the people reading this love what they do or are in the process of finding that something they’ll love. It really is a mindset.

“Normality is a paved road; it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” Vincent van Gogh

 

Find People Who Accept Advice

The NFL combine is going on in Indianapolis as I write this. It’s where the best college players gather with team representatives to show off their skills. They sprint, lift, run obstacle courses, and are interviewed by coaches. One veteran reporter wrote, when asked how important this event is for coaches to evaluate talent levels:

The coaches know who can play. Now they want to know who can be coached.

Isn’t that business (and life) in general? When we hire someone we want someone who can be coached. We don’t want a know-it-all, we want someone who will be a team player.

It’s just as important when seeking new clients. In the class I teach at the SBA on growing a consulting business one of my favorite lines is, “The only thing worse than no client is a bad client.” When we solve a customer’s problem we want them to participate, heed our advice, and implement it. Being stubborn doesn’t work.

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling highly technical components for an end product, providing advice, or repairing critical equipment. It’s a lot easier when your client is “coachable.”

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing.” Clive James

 

Emotions and Negotiations

There was a story in the sports section about a Toronto Blue Jays pitcher who had just gone through baseball’s salary arbitration process. He is, to put it mildly, irritated with the team. He said it was tough sitting in a room hearing how bad you are for five hours.

Now let’s put that in perspective. As I recall, his salary was going to about double and the arbitration was over if it should be about $5 million a year or $5.5 million. I am guessing the team wasn’t badmouthing or denigrating him but giving statistical backup as to why their offer was justifiable (compared to his asking price).

My question is, why was the player in the room? Isn’t this something his agent should handle? There are reasons for agents, intermediaries, and other client representatives. When it comes to negotiations we can shield our clients. Someone can tell me what they think about my client, the offer, or anything else about the deal that might be taken the wrong way (and I can do the same to them).

We all know the feeling. I remember selling a truck, the prospective buyer showed up, and the first four or five things out of his mouth were all pointing out what was wrong with the truck. He thought he was negotiating. I thought he was insulting and there was no way I was going to sell it to him unless the offer was for the asking price, which of course it wouldn’t have been.

I’ve sat in meetings where business buyers and sellers have yelled at each other, and then closed the deal. If your skin is so thin you can’t take it, use a pro.

“Human beings are the only creatures who are able to behave irrationally in the name of reason.” Anthropologist Ashley Montagu

 

Get More Done By Doing Less

On January 13, 2018 the Wall Street Journal published an article by Morten T. Hansen titled, “The Key to Success? Doing Less.” It’s in the vein of the book “Rest” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and the book “When” by Daniel Pink (last month’s newsletter). The second level headline of the article includes the line, “most top performers…have one thing in common: they accept fewer tasks and obsess over them.”

Hansen starts by discussing the “Natalie Question,” as in how Natalie did it, it being about how, “Natalie bested me at work – and went home each day at 6pm.” “Bested me” meant her work was better than his and “her analysis contained crisper insights, more compelling thoughts.” All while working a lot fewer hours.

Here are a few things I gleaned from the article.

  • Find the simplest solution, as per Occam’s razor (the simplest answer or path is usually the best one). He gives an example of how a boss had him distill a presentation down to one slide, yes, one slide.
  • Say no and/or start classifying work around its value versus internal and goals (as value is what we all need to offer). Make others realize they should not want you spread too thin so what you do gets done great.
  • The previous point is important because by having a narrow scope productivity goes up about 25%.
  • Don’t focus on activity, focus on results. He gives the example of a engineer who was always too busy given he wanted to get his reports in on time. What he didn’t realize was those reports weren’t needed or required anymore (he missed the memo I guess, as he was too busy writing reports). Or, don’t worry about how many phone calls you made, concentrate on how many appointment you made.

So how does this affect your and my world? First, don’t make work or let others make work (either make it for you or do it themselves so they can’t get to what’s important). As New Yorker’s like to say, get to the point.”

I mentioned how this philosophy is similar to what’s in the book Rest. I know when I focus and set my mind to something it gets done sooner and the result is better. It’s the same with business buyers and sellers. If they concentrate on what they need to do as part of the process, deals get done more often and quicker.

Conclusion     

This seems to be a popular topic as I’ve mentioned two books and this article. I also just received a newsletter from my CRM provider titled, “3 Ways to Be More Productive At Work In 2018.” The three ways mentioned are remove distractions, start time blocking, and say no. As we’ve moved to a faster paced world where technology is omnipresent, there appears to be a lot of research going into getting things done versus being busy. John Naisbitt was absolutely right, the more high tech we get the more high touch we need. And one thing high touch means is not feeling we have to do more just because we have 24/7 access to work via our phones, tablets, etc. (we need to do it right and with urgency).

Break Through the Noise

I had my annual client breakfast in February. My guest speaker was Aaron Blank, owner of The Fearey Group, a Seattle PR firm (www.feareygroup.com). His topic was, “How to break through the noise in a world of communication chaos.

His presentation was extremely well received by the group of diverse-business owners (manufacturing, service, software, distribution, blue-collar, white-collar, etc.). Aaron mentioned how important it is to embrace your influencers, build your brand, how SEO and PR are intertwined these days, and gave some great tips on technology projects to make the job easier.

He finished with five tips. You’ll notice how four of the five are constantly mentioned or used in this memo.

  1. Use video, including live video such as Facebook Live.
  2. Blog, blog, blog, and have guest posts and blog for others.
  3. Publicize any news (about your firm and you).
  4. Reporters still matter but you have to target them and show them value.
  5. Build a large network.

His bonus tip might be the best of all – Keep it short and simple.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” W. B. Yeats

 

It’s Been A Great Job But A Lousy Career

I got to talking with a guy about his job, he works for a major tech company, putting together  financing packages for multi-million-dollar purchases (this means he sells financing). His company was acquired about 10 years ago and that’s what led to his statement that’s the title of this memo.

He likes what he does but doesn’t love it. He’s at an age where changing jobs would be tough, and he’s not treated with respect. He told me he hasn’t had a week off in eight years and on a four-day weekend trip to New Orleans he spent most of Thursday and Friday (vacation days) putting out (work) fires.

It’s people like this, usually 10-20 years younger than this person, that allow me to have my business. They get fed up the corporate world and look to escape. When the escape pod is buying a business, that’s where I can help.

It’s also when a business owner says he or she wants to move from X to Y. Y may be a new product, new service, or new geographic area. The options are start a new division or buy a business with said product line or new territory, which is where my book Growth By Acquisition Makes Dollars and Sense comes into play.

Life is too short to have a lousy career. It’s why entrepreneurship is popular.

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime double so.” Douglas Adams

Founders Are a “Different” Type of Business Buyer

Some people will never own a business. They won’t buy, start, or get a franchise. Others are continually starting or buying companies. And there are subtle differences between the types of people who get into business.

My old friend Bill Pearsall coined the term re-entrepreneur for people who buy not start businesses. But it goes deeper. The individual business buyers I work with have developed management and leadership skills in the corporate world and want to use them to grow whatever business they buy. They understand the importance of a good foundation and since they’re not “product” people there’s less chance they’ll work “in” the business.

After working with people who started a business and considered buying another one (to grow, get employees, have a different customer base, etc.) I find most of them don’t always get you have to pay for what you’re getting.

Having started something they often ask, why would I pay (that much) for it when I can grow into it?
Neither model, either “I want to pay for a great base” or “I’ll pay a little because eventually I’ll do it myself,” is wrong. They’re just different.

Faking It Doesn’t Work

My wife and I are big fans of the show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives with Guy Feiri. In late 2017 there was a spin-off show, Guy’s Big Project, to find the host and concept for a new, similar, show showcasing certain types of restaurants (no spoiler alert, just that it’s a fun show with a surprising ending).

They started with 10-12 contestants and eliminated them over a number of episodes. When they got down to the final group they had them prepare a meal and present it to a group of celebrity chefs.

One of the contestants booked himself as being weird (and it seems he is a bit weird). What the chef judges didn’t like is how he “tried too hard” to be weird. Weirder than his normal.

There’s a lesson for all of us in this. You have to be yourself because when you try too hard you’re faking it and others will notice. It reeks of insincerity. You can’t be like your boss, father, mother, mentor, coach, or anybody else. Just because your boss wears ugly ties doesn’t mean you should.

Be yourself, it works.

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” Roger Staubach

Tax Law Confusion

As I write this I have just sent my CPA a note asking if they’re sending out a summary of the new tax law and how it affects small businesses. I’m not sure what I’ll get back. Not because of my CPA firm but because of the way the tax law was sloppily slapped together (probably with a lot of lobbyist input).

On my table are four articles from the Wall Street Journal with the following titles:

  • Apple set to pay big tax bill, touts U.S. spending
  • The one tax change that really bites businesses
  • Tax law to drive savings, buybacks
  • Some small business to miss tax break

While a tax layman I think I’m sharp enough to draw some conclusions from all I’ve read about this. One is if it’s a large corporation the odds are it will get a tax break. If you’re a small business, an LBO specialist, or emerging company (especially with a lot of debt) you don’t know what’s in store for you.

A Florida accountant who works with entrepreneurs said (in the last WSJ article listed), “My head is spinning. I have been doing this for decades and even I don’t feel comfortable.” Marshall Goldsmith, noted coach and author (What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and many more books) was quoted about taking the new pass-through entity deduction saying, “My accountant is not sure how this impacts me. I guess my answer is, ‘I don’t know.’”

Bottom line, don’t run your business like the government does tax laws. Take your time, pay attention, and do things right the first time.

“Every new year is the direct descendant, isn’t it, of a longline of proven criminals.” Ogden Nash