Asking Why – A Great Question

I’m known in my family for constantly asking, “Why?” Others will say something about what they’re going to do, what they want to get, etc. and I’ll ask, Why?

Sometimes I get the answer, “Because.” And no, that’s not a reason why you want to do something.

  • A client told me if he had the money (at the time) he’d like to buy a larger machine. Why? It turns out because he likes big machines, not because the business needed it.
  • Years ago, one of my clients bought a business with way too much inventory. Why? Because the owner loved seeing full racks of stuff (and those full racks turned into cash with better management).
  • An owner had way too many employees. Why? Seems he didn’t want to work too hard, so he didn’t pay attention, and therefore made less money.

A client of mine, in a buy-sell deal, made it a (conscious) point of avoiding the why question by giving the answer in advance. For example, “This information is needed by Friday because (let’s say, to keep the bank on schedule).”

It’s a great simple one-word question to ask about marketing tactics, purchases, hiring, and much more.

“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.”President Barack Obama


If You Want To You Will

I caught a small amount of the NFL Hall of Fame ceremonies on TV and was particularly drawn to Jerry Kramer’s acceptance speech. He mentioned how his high school line coach, after noticing him struggle, told him, “You can, if you will.”

At first he was befuddled by it. Then he figured it out, got a scholarship to the University of Idaho, won five NFL championships, was on the NFL’s 50thanniversary team, and now the HOF.

We can all, “Figure it out.” Now I can’t be a surgeon, engineer, lawyer, etc. but I’ve figured out how I can help others, be successful, contribute to the good of the whole, and have an enjoyable life – if I will do what it takes. One of my favorite lines, to clients and others, is, “If you do the things you’re supposed to do good things will happen.”

It doesn’t matter what your vocation, the above applies. The same holds for what you do with your family, community, and elsewhere. But it does take effort, perseverance, and (especially these days in our ever-faster world) urgency.

Kramer ended with some motivation from his coach, Vince Lombardi, which is the quote below. Sports, business, family, etc. all will thrive if you’ll do what you’re supposed to do.

“After the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot’s empty, you’re back in the quiet of your room, the championship ring on the dresser, the only thing left at this time is to lead a life of quality and excellence, and to make this old world a little bit better place because you were in it.” Vince Lombardi

What’s a Great Referral

So what is a good referral, whether you’re an advisor or a plumber?

1) Here’s what it’s not:
“I gave your name to so-and-so. Maybe she’ll call you.”

2) Here’s a medium referral:
An email introducing two people with no contact information other than the email address.

3) Here’s a good referral:
An email introducing two people with a short description of the situation, the benefit of meeting, and phone numbers for both people.

4) Here’s a great referral:
An email as per above preceded by a conversation with each party telling them why it serves them to meet each other.
Or, you get the two people together on the phone or in-person as you make the introduction.

I’ll admit, I sometimes get so busy I do number one – maybe 10% of the time. I never do number two, so close to 90% of the time I am doing an introduction with contact info, usually after telling the person requesting help to whom I’m referring them and why.

It shows you care when you take a little extra step and give personal attention.

Always Bring Your “A” Game

I recently went to watch my sons’ softball team play (a doubleheader). It’s a rec league and they have a decent team with a few guys, like my sons, who played baseball through high school, a guy who made it to AAA, and a couple other athlete types.

They were playing a team of guys who were obviously not athletes. While I congratulate them for getting out there and they were having a lot of fun, they just weren’t very good. Everybody on my sons’ team noticed this, didn’t take it too seriously, and therefore the first game was close. Well really not too close, they led by 6-7 runs most of the game but didn’t 10-run them until the sixth inning (if up by 10 runs or more once it’s a legal game the game is over, to prevent a major slaughter).

I commented to a couple players the game was lifeless, to which they agreed. They talked in the dugout between games, came out pounding the ball with six straight hits, and had five runs in the first inning. The second game wasn’t close.

Ever feel like this team felt? This will be easy. This is a no-brainer. No way will this not work. Oops, you can’t play to the level of your competition, you have to play your A game all the time, and for the whole game. In 2014 the Kansas City Royals came within an inning of being eliminated in their first playoff game, came back, won it, and made it to game seven of the World Series. Every year there are major upsets in college football (a major team loses to a team in a lower division).

I could give all kinds of examples but you’re smart enough to make the comparisons to your business. Just don’t underestimate any situation.

“Most of American life is driving somewhere and then driving back wondering why the hell you went.” John Updike

Consultants – A Mentor Has “Been There, Done That”

Things don’t always go “just right.” In fact, when starting a business it’s often trial under fire and learning from experience. Heck, even when you’re established there’s some of this.

I came up with an idea for a new “consulting program.” The words spurted out of my mouth in front of a prospective client, he loved what I said and I therefore assumed, based on one bit of feedback, that I had the next greatest thing. I put hours and hours into the marketing materials (the work itself wasn’t anything new).

It went nowhere. The prospect I mentioned it to  hired me for two small projects and that was it. The surefire idea turned out to be nothing more than another arrow in my quiver.

This is going to happen to you and when it does it’s great to have someone there to offer empathy and encouragement. That’s what a mentor does, because they’ve been there, done that. They’ve tried things and succeeded. They’ve tried things and failed. The key point is that they tried things. So they’ll know how to keep you on the right track and, more importantly, keep you off the wrong track. Or, help you learn from their and other’s mistakes.

Consultants – Expand Your Vision and Your Business

Reason one on why it’s important to have a mentor to get your consulting business to the next level.

So you can expand your vision, see the big picture and see it clearer. A good mentor will frame things down to essence of the idea and help you get rid of the clutter.

Isn’t this what we do for our clients? We provide ideas, solutions and alternatives. In the opening post of this series I discussed the importance of marketing – all the time. This is one of the most confusing areas for most consultants. Here are three reasons how a mentor adds value in this area.

  1. Vision – While teaching a class on getting a consulting business to the next level I abruptly interrupted one of the students when, while discussing marketing, compared marketing to “real work.” I boldly stated, “Marketing is real work because you don’t get to prove your expertise and provide value if nobody knows about you.” Shedding a misconception like this is invaluable.
  2.  Big picture – There are more marketing tactics than we all can possibility use. The problem is that too many consultants dabble in many of them and don’t do any successfully. A mentor will help you focus on and master those that are the lowest hanging fruit and do it correctly.
  3. Clarity – A mentoree told me he didn’t know what to say in upcoming meetings with bankers. My advice was to tell them success stories about how he helped a client improve their situation so the bank could make the loan.

Consultants and Advisors – Why Have a Mentor (or Coach)

This is the first in a series of posts on why solo consultants should consider a mentor.

The CEO of a 64,000-employee organization said that he has a personal cabinet around him. These are people he can consult with on a regular basis. Others call this their inner circle or advisory board. When it’s one person, not a group, providing the advice it’s known as a coach or mentor (and there is a difference). He also said that it’s important (for his cabinet) to know the business, to know what goes on day-to-day.

Growing a boutique, solo-consulting business is tough. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of things to do. The first wrong turn new consultants make is that they think they’re in the consulting business. Wrong! They’re in the marketing business. 100% of your time is spent on marketing until you have clients. Even after you have a full client roster 25-33% of your time should be spent marketing.

In the 1990’s I was helping my friend Ted Leverette sell license agreements to people who wanted to consult but didn’t have a niche or a marketing plan (predecessor company to “Partner” On-Call). I remember one prospect that told me that he needed to level out his work. He would get one project, work it hard for a few months and then be back at square one with no clients, no pipeline, no nothing.

This is so very important as you grow a consulting business. You need to get advice from someone who has “been there and done that.” I tell those I mentor I’m qualified to help them for three primary reasons.

  1. I’m an expert in small business and they (and me) have a small business.
  2. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve grown my business and helped about three dozen others start and grow their consulting business.
  3. I’m in the Alan Weiss Master Mentor program, which gives them access to a worldwide community of successful consultants.