Make it Complicated or Keep it Simple?

Apple and Microsoft are trillion-dollar companies, very successful, have lots of smart people so why can’t either of them figure out how to have an email program without glitches? Email has been around for a few decades, so you’d think they’d have figured it out. 

Apple mail stalls on my laptop when getting new messages. Sometimes to the point of having to close and reopen the program. It slows down my desktop to the point I don’t use it anymore.

Therefore, I use Outlook on my desktop (and Jessica uses it for business email). We agree, it has a horrible search function, you can’t drag emails from one folder to another, and it keeps refreshing itself. Most annoying is when all of the emails in the Inbox disappear and you get a cheerful message about how nice it is to have an empty inbox. Then they reappear, sometimes with new date and time stamps. Sometimes with duplicate copies. Friends have shared they have issues also, some the same, some different. 

Outlook is over 30 times as big as Apple Mail, Contacts, and Calendar combined. And when things get that big, they’re like how battleships can’t maneuver fast, like an attack boat. Are both companies filled with people trying to make things perfect?

Just like in business. Small businesses should be able to move faster and have more flexibility than large ones (Amazon maybe being an exception). It’s one reason why people want to own a business; so they can make decisions and see the result of their actions.

And now is a good time to buy a business, or buy another one. Any time there’s a catastrophic event, like Covid or the recession (or both), it pushes owners thinking of exiting over the tipping point. To take control and benefit themselves from their hard and smart work.

“A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.” (Author) Terry Pratchett 

When it’s Yours You’re More Passionate

Recently we had the last real harvest from our garden as we picked tomatoes, arugula, lettuce, figs, beets, zucchini, and spaghetti squash. Then we got our first frost (the zucchini bit the dust). There’s nothing better than a salad you picked that day. The marinara sauce from our tomatoes puts to shame anything from the store. Just a little example of doing something yourself and loving the results.

Business ownership is alluring to many people because they feel they can do it better. When those people realize they don’t have a revolutionary idea for a startup, they often decide to buy an existing (mature, profitable, and fairly priced) business. It’s the pride of it being yours. Your decisions, control, creativity, etc.

I get it. We all have things we do that give us satisfaction beyond having someone else do it. Those things may be sewing, woodworking, tearing apart an engine (and getting it back together), and more.

When it comes to business, whether a one-person firm or a company with hundreds of employees, it’s freedom and success. Expect it to be more popular in the next few years. Why? It’s the economy, stupid (thanks to James Carville for the line).

Recently someone asked me if the economy is driving a lot of people to entrepreneurship. My answer was, yes, slowly, and every economic downturn pushes people over the entrepreneurial tipping point. Recessions push buyers to the market, many of them just waiting for an excuse, and it also pushes owners to sell. My guess is that in today’s market, owners of good businesses who’ve been contemplating selling are moving on it. They’ll stand out in the crowd of damaged companies and they know it.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity.” Amelia Earhart

Ask the Right Question or Get the Wrong Answer

Here are a couple questions reporters asked (the wrong way.

  • Reporter (to football QB): Do you think other teams have figured you out?
  • QB (rolling eyes): Based on one game? It’s the only game we’ve lost all year.
  • Reporter (to President Trump): Why have so many more Black people been killed by police than White people?
  • President (correctly answering the question that was asked): More White people have been killed by police than Black people.

In the sports Q&A the reporter made an assumption based on (at the time) an isolated incident (and the future showed it was an isolated incident). He should have asked an open-ended question like, “What happened today (to cause the bad performance)?”

In the political case, the reporter meant to ask about why a higher percentage of the Black population versus the White population, not about an absolute number. But she didn’t phrase it correctly. She got the right answer to the wrong question.

When I teach my class on growing a consulting business at the Seattle SBA/SCORE office I make a point that sales is asking questions, and asking the right questions is an important component of the process. Sales is not what we imagine happens when we think of a used car lot.

Good lawyers, good consultants, good interviewers all ask good questions. On the flip side, those being interviewed for a job need to ask as good or better questions about the position and the company. Business buyers and sellers both need to ask the other party good questions, open-ended ones to get insights.

Asking the right questions is just one of the topics in my upcoming book, Getting the Deal Done, which is now at the designer. It is 61 short chapters, each a strategy to get a buy-sell deal successfully closed. I wrote 50 of the chapters and 11 deal making friends each provided their expertise via a chapter.

“All humans are stupid, but the smarter ones at least have a handle on their own ignorance.” John Cleese

When You’re Sunk You’re Sunk

Forbes.com reported bankrupt Chucky Cheese is spending $2.3 million dollars to destroy 7 billion prize tickets, which would fill 65 cargo-shipping containers. Why? Because it’s about 25% of the $9 million cost if they were redeemed for prizes. 

We all deal with sunk costs. Buy a new car, decide you don’t like it, you’re out the 20% they say is the immediate market discount. Invest in a new machine, it’s not what you really need, you’re out.

Things like above always remind me of a past client who bought a (what turned out to be) great business for next to nothing (and this is not a pitch like the books and courses on how to buy a good business with little to no money – which doesn’t happen). 

How did this happen? The company expanded from Seattle into Portland, it wasn’t going well, and they got stubborn, as in, “We’ll sell our way out of this.” They didn’t. And, at a peak of the real estate market they bought a building. The buyer got the Seattle operation by paying off the State Department of Revenue, the phone company, and the top supplier. He later told me, “I knew it was a good business, I just didn’t know it would be this lucrative.”

About 8-10 years ago I came up with what I thought was a compelling idea for a line of service to potential clients. It wasn’t as compelling to them as it was to me, so I dropped it. The costs (mostly time and energy) were sunk, gone, and that was okay. I learned a lesson, picked up one client (five projects, none for this idea), a few good marketing tactics.

I mention these things because in the buy-sell world I see all the time owners (and their intermediaries) trying to convince buyers the failed advertising campaign is really profit because it didn’t work. Or, the ops manager who wasn’t as good as he or she claimed is really profit because it was a bad hire.

No. That’s business. That’s life. If you don’t try things you won’t learn what doesn’t work. Not every decision is a good decision (meaning didn’t live up to its potential). The good businesses often just have made more good decisions than not-so-good ones.

“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” Dave Barry

The Deep Dark Web and More Scary Things

It’s Halloween season so let’s discuss scary things. I recently took advantage of the offer from www.cyberstreams.com to have them run a free Dark Web scan. As I’m writing this, I get a weekly newsletter from Sweeney Conrad CPA firm and one of the articles is titled, “Email attacks up 667% following rise of COVID-19 worldwide.” The statistics are from (cyber) security firm Barracuda.

Obviously, the slimy bad guys (and gals) are out there and after us more than ever.

I received my Dark Web scan report and found it pretty “gentle.” Only five breaches, one from a LinkedIn breach, two from a group affiliated with a business group I’m in, and two miscellaneous ones. None got access to my passwords. So I called David Henderson with Cyberstreams to discuss it and here’s what he told me, with the first point the most important:

  • 60% of breaches are from human error. That’s right, it’s you or your employees causing most of the damage.
  • The above could be people using the same password or a variation on many different sites. For example, someone at one of their clients used (and I’m changing the word) platinum, platinum1, platinum8, and other variations. Once breached, the bad guys try variations of platinum until they get a hit.
  • When a website you use is breached, like LinkedIn, change all of your passwords.
  • Use two-factor authentication.
  • Don’t use your business email for personal matters.
  • Make sure your data is backed up and safe from ransomware (meaning, not on an external drive connected to the system all the time). Use cloud backup that’s protected from ransomware.
  • Do security awareness training (like Cyberstreams does) as well as ethical hacking (testing your people).
  • Use a password service like LastPass, and make sure your password to your service is very strong.
  • 60% of companies with major data breaches go out of business.
  • David’s company is just like yours or mine in that they get attacked all the time. He has 14 people plus past employees. His last scan found 21 accounts with data breaches (not his system but sites his people had been on) with 41 total breaches.
  • Get cyber insurance, it’s inexpensive.

The abovementioned article on phishing also pointed out how one blackmail attack was detected 1,008 times over two days and how most attacks start by a person clicking on something they shouldn’t (click on). I know every so often I get 10-12 phishing emails at the same time, with the same message. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a large firm, small firm, or an individual – they’re after you. 

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” John Steinbeck

Businesses and Workers – It Must be Teamwork

Two interesting articles appeared on September 6. The Seattle Times published a Los Angeles Times article titled, “Instacart shoppers face unforgiving metrics: ‘It’s a very easy job to lose’” and American Compass released an essay titled, “Conservatives Should Ensure Workers a Seat at the Table.

The Times article covers the harsh metrics imposed on Instacart shoppers including ongoing tracking of order filling, notices to employees via an app when they’ve earned a 10-minute break, and monitoring the words employees use with customers to make sure they use the preferred script. They offer low wages, keep employees from getting enough hours to have benefits, and drive them hard. These are the jobs people leave regularly creating turnover and training costs for employers.

The American Compass is a conservative organization so it’s a bit surprising they wrote what they did about unions, including, “Rather than cheer the demise of a once-valuable institution, conservatives should seek reform and reinvigoration of the laws that govern organizing and collective bargaining…” They make the case it’s a mutually beneficial relationship when owners, managers, and workers work together.

Compare the above to most small businesses. Talking to business buyers, I regularly hear about how they like building teams, helping employees grow, and improve. Business sellers often seem to care more about their people keeping their jobs than the price they get for the business (as in, I’ll take a little less from someone I feel I can trust to take care of my people).

Unions came about because of horrible working conditions. In my opinion, one reason they’ve lost membership is they became too rigid and too political (for private sector workers). 

It’s interesting to see how things could swing back with influence from both sides of the political spectrum. It’s also fascinating to see how some technology-based service companies (like Instacart) are returning to the employment practices reminiscent of 100 years ago.

There has to be a balance between management and workers because animosity hurts all.

“Take a rest; a field that has rested gives a better crop.” (Roman poet) Ovid

Passion and Emotions Win the Battle

I’ve been really into the Murder Book Podcast by Michael Connelly, author of over 30 mysteries and executive producer of the great series, “Bosch.” The podcast is about a 30-year-old murder that’s finally brought to trial, is filled with interviews with key people, wiretap recordings, and courtroom recordings.

Listening to the closing arguments, I was struck by three things and how those things can benefit all of us:

  • Passion was oozing from both the defense attorney and the prosecutor. There was no doubt about what they wanted, how much they wanted it, and what they would do to convince the jury, even if it meant stepping over the line and getting admonished by the judge. In business it should be obvious to everybody how much we like (love) helping our customers/clients.
  • This wasn’t TV where all the actors are good. This was real life and the defense attorney was a soooooo much better presenter than the prosecutor it was ridiculous. The defense attorney  sounded like a high-quality professional speaker. When listening to the prosecutor you hear a lot of “ah,” “um,” and “like.” It reinforces why we should know what we’re saying so we sound like an expert not someone making it up on the fly.
  • The emotional tug at the jury was based on facts. They both pulled facts from the case, added influence to them, and strove towards a compelling argument. In other words, they were like a good salesperson pointing out why what they have solves the customer’s problem (after asking questions to determine what is the actual problem).

To summarize, passion, presentation skills, and fact-based emotion will help all of us.

“Inviting people to laugh at your while you are laughing at yourself is a good thing to do. You may be the fool, but you are the fool in charge.” Carl Reiner

When City Slickers Go Camping

I was reminded of the Billy Crystal movie City Slickers when I saw the following, which would be funny if these people weren’t damaging our planet:

  • A Seattle Times article on how the Cascade wilderness areas are being trashed (organic and inorganic waste) by city people deciding to get outdoors during the pandemic but not knowing how to act (as in, carry out their waste).
  • A neighbor who loves the isolated outdoors said a deep-woods campground that usually has half of their 30 campsites available was filled with large RVs the last time he went there.
  • A recent Wall Street Journal human interest article about city dwellers experiences in the outdoors. The two best stories are about the young lady who didn’t bring a sleeping bag because it was hot out, camped in a valley, and said she had never been so cold in her life and another lady who was appalled by campsite restrooms (an outhouse I’m assuming) and drove over a mile to a gas station to relieve herself.

So what does this have to do with business? The analogy is there are a lot of people who get into business with the same amount of preparation as the city slickers described above. I get calls regularly from people wanting to get into business (often starting one) and it’s usually to create a job using their skills versus growing a business (I refer these people to the local SBA/SCORE office so they can get a mentor and counseling). 

Advice: 

  • Know why you want to do what you’re going to do.
  • Get the right help to succeed.
  • Realize getting into business (or exiting) isn’t easy. 
  • Plan.
  • Make a decision; analysis paralysis doesn’t help anybody.

Things always look better and easier from the outside. Just like, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” It’s only looks easy, better, or greener when you don’t do the things you’re supposed to do and do them correctly. Doing it the right way takes more time and effort, and it’s worth it.

If You Don’t Have Time to Do It Right, When Will You Have Time to Do It Over” John Wooden

Lowest Common Denominator

Realize what I give as examples below represents at least part of our customer/client base, which is why we can’t assume too much about people, good or bad – too many people just don’t pay attention. It’s also why my wife proofreads my memos and newsletters; because if I start using industry jargon and she doesn’t understand it I know I have to change the language so all readers will get my points, not just those in my industry.

On September 15 I was watching the NBC Nightly News while working out. They did an imitation Jay Leno bit with “people on the street” interviews. The question was, “How many people in the US have died of COVID-19 so far?” The answer is below; see if you know it without cheating, using Google, or asking someone.  Here are three of the answers:

  • Close to 100,000.
  • Tens of thousands.
  • They said it was 100,000 but took that back and it’s about 1,900.

A couple days later I had a routine doctor’s appointment and got to talking to the nurse. I asked if her hands got dried out because she was putting on sanitizer every few minutes. She said, yes, they do, we try to be careful, and then shared a story about a patient. She also works in the ICU and said the guy, with heart issues and diabetes, went to Sturgis, had a good time, came home with COVID, gave it to his neighbor, ended up in the ICU, and died.

Look, for everybody like those mentioned above there are at least an equal number who know what the heck is going on and what to do. The problem is, you can’t automatically tell the two types apart until you engage in a dialogue, ask questions, and get to know them. When you get to know them you build trust and a relationship, which is when a win-win arrangement is achieved.

“There are three sides to every story: you side, my side, and the truth.” Robert Evans

I Didn’t Sign Up for This

We’re doing online training with our adorable puppy Coco and it reinforces our feelings we lucked out and got a great dog. We see and hear the other dogs and their owners on the training and feel fortunate.

One lady was quite frustrated with her puppy and said, “This is not what I signed up for.” My guess is she got a puppy, like a lot of people got dogs, because of the Covid pandemic. I’d bet she thought a puppy/dog would be like her cats (she referenced her cats).

As mentioned, our puppy is very well behaved and I don’t think it’s just luck, or us. One of the trainers we interviewed asked a few questions about our household, the puppy, and our other dog, Dobre, an 11-year-old Lab mix. She said Coco is emulating the older dog, who is laidback. She even emulates him when it comes to chasing tennis balls, which is a lot of fun when they chase the same ball.

A puppy learning from an older dog is like life; it’s great to have a mentor/coach/advisor. It speeds up the learning process and allows us to be more efficient. The most important aspect is having a coach or mentor is to have them to point out what not to do. Been there – done that is a powerful teaching tool.

And while I advise and coach clients, I’m not referring to only business situations. A business owner should be mentoring their employees, helping them grow, even if they grow out of the job. Parents nurture their kids to make them productive adults. Coaches help athletes, dancers, actors, musicians, and more. 

Get someone to help when you need it. Be that help when you can.

“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” Napoleon Bonaparte