Reading from a Fire Hose
My measure for how interesting a client’s product or service offering is comes from my wife’s reaction to hearing about it from me. If after listening to the description Megan asks incredulously, “That’s a thing?” I know we’re talking about something truly niche and unusual. Think back to Mary Tyler Moore’s eponymous 1970’s television show when her character dated a guy who made the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces. As incredibly helpful as those little things are, when was the last time you wondered who was responsible for manufacturing them? Well, someone has to and let’s take a moment to be grateful for that.
Surely our level of excitement over certain offerings and inventions varies. For example, I’m not that elated about what Spritz is up to. The Boston startup has developed some form of flash technology for reading. You see, we apparently waste gobs of time working our way across a page or screen and Spritz aims to fix that by eliminating the gaps. So rather than taking this post in left to right, meandering from word to word, if Spritz has its way you’ll be peppered with one word at a time with one letter in each being red to help you focus. Call it digital flash cards for millenials weaned on raves and ecstasy. And at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old bump on a log, it’s just not for me.
Apparently, time has gotten so tight we’re no longer able to simply enjoy reading. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as the next nut when it comes to impatience. For whatever reason, being third in line at a coffee shop or at the pharmacy drive-thru window now feels like an abomination. “What the hell are they doing?” some of us angrily wonder aloud. “What’s taking so long?!” It didn’t used to be that way and I suppose we can be thankful we always have a smartphone at the ready to help us kill those seemingly eternal 90 seconds of inactivity. But when it comes to reading, it’s just a shame we’re in such a rush.
It was Megan who taught me to enjoy reading. She constantly has a book going in either print or digital format, often working through one of each on a given day. What was once for me a laborious chore is now something to look forward to, even though I can only fit in an average of 15 pages each weekday morning. And I’m not sure where I got my love of the Sunday paper, but it exists for me to this day in all its smudgy, page-snapping glory. Something about old-fashioned reading and reflecting doesn’t get old and surely doesn’t need to be sped through. Oh, I get it, those of you with young ones at home may roll your eyes due to your lack of free time. You can understandably challenge this post with, “Hey let me get through diapers, dinner and baths and then talk to me about free time with a book.” Perfectly understood. In my house, our baby is now 6’ 3”, so it’s a bit easier than it once was to schedule the time.
For all the e-newsletters we get announcing the latest and greatest thing, I learned about Spritz in the Ideas section of a recent Sunday Globe. The article is already starting to yellow a bit here on my desk. It sits there as a reminder that perhaps not everything needs to be improved upon.
Perhaps you’re aware that General Motors has been having issues with defective ignition switches in some of its older-model small cars. Apparently, these problems have festered long enough for the automaker’s employees to develop rather creative vocabulary to describe how the cars operated, revealed in the discovery of a 2008 training document that identifies some 68 words you shouldn’t use in the hallowed halls of GM. The end result? As reported by the AP’s Dee-Ann Durbin a couple of months back, a $35M fine levied by the US government along with a traffic jam’s worth of headaches.
What words are these, you ask? Are they similar to the ones George Carlin long ago identified as those that can’t be uttered on television? No, not at all. None of these words is dirty per se, unless of course you’re accountable for producing cars that don’t spontaneously combust, in which case they’re downright filthy. For example, the word defect is a no-no at GM simply because it can be interpreted as a legal admission of some sort of problem. Same goes for the words terrifying, horrific, and evil. You see, when you describe the operation of an automobile as “terrifying,” you’re kind of admitting that it’s poorly made and may cost someone their life when they climb behind the wheel. The mind wanders when it comes to “evil,” however. Short of the car actually hurling personal insults at the driver, you figure it’s gotta handle pretty badly to be considered demonic, right? (Either that or perhaps it’d be appropriate to be leaped in a single bound by a motorcycle man named Knievel.)
It’s also frowned upon at GM to say a car is a deathtrap or a widow-maker or apocalyptic. And as fun as it might be to say Chevy Hindenburg, you can’t because that’s on the banned list as well. Surely there’s a less-menacing way to say “potentially disfiguring,” right? Good thing, because you can’t say that either. And let’s stick to the facts, shall we? While it may be tempting to announce a certain car is “a lawsuit waiting to happen,” it’s best just to say what part of it doesn’t work and leave it at that.
But no matter. You likely don’t work at General Motors. If you’re reading this post, you probably own a business and/or advise others who do. In that case, take a lesson from all this and simply apply it in your world. What words and phrases shouldn’t be used in your company? Well, if you’re on the path to selling your business, let’s hope no one’s saying “she’s taking on water” or “we’re sinking like a stone.” And hopefully no one ever says “bail,” “mayday,” or “dump it quick.” Those who prepare for the eventual exit never need to say these things.
The key word to always treasure and respect is leverage. You have it now. You’re not for sale, even if someone approaches you with a so-called sweetheart offer. Hang onto your leverage as long as you can as you calmly look down the road at the eventual sale of the business. Do research, get advice. What, you don’t feel like you have a lot of time? Fine. Present yourself to the world as relaxed and at the same time get busy planning. And naturally, as GM execs would tell you, the situation is never “Kevorkianesque.”
To Fee or Not to Fee
Bleary-eyed last night after another long day at the office, I was catching up on email newsletters in my inbox. Yes, I should have been relaxing or reintroducing myself to my children, but so it goes sometimes, right? One article said to avoid business brokers who charge an up-front fee. I wondered, what? Is this a joke? I checked, reading it again; it wasn’t. Scarier still, the piece was written by… a business broker! Good Lord, I thought – this is absurd. Here’s a guy who not only places zero value on his up-front efforts, he’s telling the world to run from those who do. Wow.
So, let me get this straight, I thought. The article admonishes would-be sellers to “choose a reputable broker, one who only charges a commission.” So, let’s say straight-commission broker – call him Bob – takes 20 – 30 listings, somehow advertises them on the web, and plays “spaghetti selling”: throw a pile of it against the wall and see what sticks. “Hey, it’s a numbers game,” our fearless broker says, certain in his belief. “Timing is everything.” And Bob waits.
Compare that against a broker – oh, let’s call him Chris – who limits the number of engagements he does to six. He charges reasonable fees for valuation and engagement and a commission upon success. Chris (named thusly by his mother as “carrier of the cross”) is a long-suffering, guilty Catholic who doesn’t rest unless he works every engagement every week, moving the ball forward in some meaningful way, leading to at a minimum feedback for each of his clients as to what the market is saying. Yes, he charges fees to cover some time and overhead (mainly office and association expenses), but he also works tirelessly to earn said meager fees and sleeps knowing that he’s doing everything his simple mind can conjure to hopefully help sell his clients’ businesses in clean, expedited fashion.
Chris is the guy sellers are supposed to avoid? Go with Spaghetti Bob instead? Huh? If the article’s author has his way, business owners will end up calling brokers and asking, “Do you charge up-front fees?” Those who do – few as we may be – will confidently answer “Yes”… and then hear a click. Hang up! Run for cover! Why? It is a sad state of affairs when we’re chicken to charge for our time. Sadder still when we’re Chicken Little, scrambling around spouting decades-old advice when all a business broker did was figure out what sucker should buy your faltering restaurant. Oh boy.
Murphy Business in Franklin charges up-front fees. If the sky doesn’t fall on your head, please always feel welcome to call to discuss this and other matters.
How Accountable is Your Organization?
How accountable is your business? It’s understood that you’re accountable – to yourself, your loved ones, etc. But what about everyone else? If you’re building a team, from administrative help to associates, you’re probably keen on how accountable each person is to themselves, to you, and to the fine organization you’re building. What’s one more thing, just one more thing, each of these people could be doing? Is there one more key activity that each person could do to contribute? Maybe the person answering the phones could call a few clients to check in. Perhaps your office manager could ask for referrals. Maybe your associates could book one more job per month.
Hey, it’s the start of spring, so while everyone else is half-asleep at the switch and dreaming of warmer weather, make sure you and your team are maxing opportunities by optimizing activities.
And you know the classic definition of commitment, right? “Commitment is the willingness to do whatever it takes no matter what within the scope of integrity.” Well, it’s been updated: wedge the phrase “and be held accountable” in the middle of it and you’ve got yourself a more powerful definition. It means you’ll do what it takes no matter what and be held accountable no matter what.
As you hit mid-year and spring turns to summer, you may not be as accountable as you should be and you may not realize how easy it is to fix this problem. Sure, we make it seem like a big deal, but is it really? An old colleague used to say, “If you’re finally ready to get serious about the career you’ve chosen to feed your family…” you’ll commit to most anything to accomplish your goals. And, of course, he’s right. Challenge: If you’re really trying to accomplish great things in enhancing the value of your company, firm or practice, won’t you commit to doing some of the little things a little more often? Doesn’t it make sense to have the same standards for everyone else in your operation? Don’t wait… act now!