One thing I have learned is that for the most part, people express the same idea but they express it in many different ways and with many different words. It is the details in the expression, the words, and combination of words used, that give a story its colour, its texture, and brings it–and its lessons–to life.
We are unique combinations of our beliefs, values and life experiences. Differences notwithstanding, we, and our experiences, are important. Therefore, there is value in compiling and sharing these stories and the multitude of ways in which ideas are expressed. Combined, these stories weave a wonderful tapestry that exemplifies just how rich and beautiful life can be.
And who knows? An inadvertent remark or detail in the retelling of a story can stand to attention and have an impact in the world of a reader. And with that exciting possibility, perhaps the most valuable thing I can do is create the space where the stories of those whom I admire and respect can be shared.
Below are people that I have come across on my own life journey whom I deeply admire and respect. Whether it be their tenacity or courage, or relentless drive or passion, each individual generously reveals a different lens in response to the questions I regularly pepper them with.
As we continue on our sharing over this anthology, I will share tidbits and anecdotes as to why I hold them in such high esteem, and what I love most about them. In turn, I hope that you do too.
What is the best business advice you have received?
The best way out is always through
The best business advice I received was “the best way out is always through”. Gifted to me by Robert Frost, this idea stuck with me because I have learned that a mounting business challenge will not go away if one ignores it. Confront the challenge head-on. Plow through it. Move on.
If I outgrow you, I will fire you!
“If I outgrow you, I will fire you!” These were the words of one of my first clients in the early days of my advertising agency (cj Advertising). I took these words seriously for myself, and I committed to applying those words to every team member, vendor, and future clients of the agency.
Our advertising agency became very good at “advertising” for our clients, but the real business we were in was “growth”; growth for our team members, growth for our clients, and by default, growth for our business.
Sales fix everything
Sales fix everything. This was from a previous mentor of mine Tania Austin, CEO of fashion store Decjuba, and one of the most impressive entrepreneurs I have met. It stuck with me not only because this is something she’s so passionate about but also because I could negate any problem or difficulty I faced with more sales.
Inspect what you expect
When I was in retail many years ago, my boss at that time would repeat ad nasuem a simple and clear message: “inspect what you expect”. In practice, she would “walk and talk” the sales floor and inspect all the expectations she had shared the day prior.
This taught me that we all need parameters and that: (1) we need to be clear about our expectations; and (2) our teams work hard to deliver on those expectations. Therefore, we need to revisit them, praise when accomplished or course correct when needed.
I grew up intimately watching, and bearing witness to, the ethos and work ethic of my Mother and my Father.
It is seared into every fibre of my being the unrelenting nature in their extreme work ethic, the strength in their inability to take no for an answer, the bravery in their conviction to stand up for what is right and fair, the audacity in their willingness to bulldoze through insurmountable odds, and the courage in their unrelenting ability to never, ever, give, up.
I cannot remember nor can I imagine a time when the above was not the case.
Business is hard
Business is hard. When I started my first business I wanted to do it right and I wanted to succeed. So I went to the most successful entrepreneur I knew at the time, my father-in-law Kimball.
I asked Kimball for the gold nugget. The advice that would set me on a path of entrepreneurial stardom. I wanted the Glengarry Glenross Golden Leads! I wanted the SECRET.
Kimball thought about my question and simply responded, “Business is hard.”
I was crushed and thought I had been robbed. I thought to myself, “What kind of advice and insight is this?”
After nearly 12 years of entrepreneurship, I now realize that THAT was the gold nugget. That was the SECRET. When you’re doing well business is HARD. When you’re struggling business is HARD.
What I realized is the hard aspect is precisely why I do what I do. I love the challenge and I thrive on the friction. I need business to be HARD because if it wasn’t hard I’d go find something else that was.
What is more stable than depending on yourself?
The advice that sticks out most was given to me on an airplane very early on in my career. I was fresh out of college and it was my first business trip as a professional. A seasoned sales professional sat down next to me.
Shortly after takeoff, the man introduced himself and asked what I did for a living. I answered, “I am an Account Executive for a boutique marketing firm in Denver,” to which he replied, “Oh, you’re sales guy. Me too.”
At the time I had not yet come to grips with the idea of being a “sales guy” but I was, in fact, a sales guy. I was the sole salesperson at my firm and, yes, I managed the accounts after the sale but the idea of being a “sales guy” sounded unattractive to me. So I responded with a long-winded description of my job and how sales wasn’t the only part of the picture. He was insightful enough to see what I was doing, he could tell that I did not like the label “salesperson”, and he dug into it more.
We entered into a long conversation about commission structures and I said that being on commission scares me and that the lack of stability gave me anxiety. He then dropped the golden nugget of advice that changed the trajectory of my career; advice I now share with folks early in their career struggling with the idea of sales or teetering on the edge of entrepreneurship: “What is more stable than depending on yourself?”
He elaborated by explaining that sales is the lifeblood of any organization. The jobs of the entire production team rely on the ability of the salesperson to bring in new work. So the folks that thought they had stability are really just relying on sales to create that stability. Sure there are other factors but it all comes down to sales. Also, depending on the commission structure, the earning potential is FAR more than those on the production floor. So, did I want to put my stability and livelihood in the hands of someone else? Heck no!
This concept lead me to never taking a job that didn’t offer a good commission model, and eventually led me to start my own agency 9 years later.
The goal of a CEO is to make themselves redundant from the day-to-day running of the business
My mentor and business-turnaround-expert Frank once said to me that the goal for me as CEO of my family’s $120M business was to make myself redundant from the day-to-day running of the business by doing two things: (1) building a great leadership team of smart people who had complementary skills to my own rather than hiring in my own image; and (2) doing the things that only I could do in the business.
My business and I are two separate things
The best piece of advice I got was the idea that my business and I are two separate things.
For many years I saw my business as an extension of myself. It was part of my self-image and my self-worth. When things didn’t go well I would take it very personally. For example, (1) clients not accepting quotes; (2) clients not liking creative work; and (3) teammates leaving to pursue other opportunities. All of these instances left a deep mark on me and I really took it to heart.
This lead to a few different things: (1) I would react emotionally to situations and this would lead to reactions that did not serve me or leave me feeling good; (2) the physical toll on me was worse than it needed to be.
What affected me affected the company and vice-versa. Finally, I stopped enjoying the work. It became a drain on me and my life. This is by far was the hardest part.
The idea that my company is just a company and if it goes away I am still here is a very simple one but very liberating. I am able to approach work in a much more even-tempered way. I make decisions (mostly) much more logically. I recognise that Nicework is where I have poured many hours of thought, love and work into and it provides much of the life I lead. But I choose to spend my time there and could just as easily choose to spend it elsewhere.
Never mess with someone’s paycheck
I once created a bonus program I was incredibly proud of. I recall showing the spreadsheet I had spent hours creating to my silent partner, and she told me this was way to complicated, and to make commission plans simple and easy to understand. She said, “Never mess with someone’s paycheck.”
This is something that has stuck with me to this day. Being in the recruiting business for 25 years, it’s very common for people to be confused by how their bonus and/or commission programs work. The confusion creates frustration and stress, and ultimate motivates talent to leave an organization.
Done is better than perfect
Right now, I am trying to embrace the idea that done is better than perfect. I am not sure who first put that tidbit of wisdom into my hands but it continues to stick with me because I suffer (along with many entrepreneurs) from “analysis paralysis” and “constipation via contemplation”. My desire for perfection can leave some things unfinished in a desire to achieve perfection. I’ve been embracing “get it done” as an ethos.
What do you think?
Do you agree or violently disagree with anything shared in this article? Or do you have any of your own stories that you want to share? Pop them in the comments and I will personally reply.
Call to action
My goal is to help 1,000,000 people. My wish is to have these articles shared 1,000,000 times through the various social networks. For this reason, I provide this collection online for free and all I ask of you is this: If any of these articles have helped you in any way, please take a moment to share on social media, email to someone you think will find benefit, or print and leave it on the desk of someone whom you believe has the motivation, but lacks the tools to take themselves to the next level.
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