I’ve been on the road this past week working on the business and trying to finalize 2009 plans and see how everything is moving. Most of my close partners have my cell phone number and are familiar with the DFWVF policy (where I don’t deal with internal issues at all on Friday’s and just focus on the big picture and our efforts, Footnote #1) and occasionally hit me up on the cell phone.
Yesterday I got a call from a partner of mine (Footnote #2) who opened up with:
“I love you like a brother I never had Vlad, but your blog is killing me.”
Not the usual kind of feedback I get about Vladville, folks either tend to unsubscribe or just love the Vladville act. After all, this is not really your neutral-observer, light-hearted, cheerleader type of a place. It is a honest look at what we’re doing (be it at OWN or industry in general) so you’re either taking objection to the issues or to the outcome/reality of our business. So, what’s killing you about Vladville?
“Well, it just seems like I can’t catch a break anymore. Everyone is down, afraid, closing down, downsizing, hiding, not returning calls, not sending xmas cards, opting to DIY or go direct. It just seems the more effort I put in to do the right thing, the less of a return I get.”
Well, that doesn’t sound quite right. Are you up on the year? Down on the year? What are you changing in 2009? What is your profitability margin on sevices? How many marketing events have you held? How much marketing to the existing client base? Which new partnerships have you started? Anything in the pipeline?
There is a little trick to how I do this. I also put my own people through it. The tone you dish this stuff out in gets faster as you go along, that way it doesn’t seem like a critical put-you-on-the-spot assault, it’s supposed to hit the person from all angles and see which answer they answer the first so you can gauge roughly what is on their mind and the real reason they are talking to you. The answer somewhat doesn’t matter, but it helps establish the start of the conversation and let the person open up about what is going (not not going) on.
Business is good, we’re up on the year, more customers, more revenue….
Vlad: Great, so what’s on deck for 2009?
Pretty much more of the same..
Vlad: I thought you said things are disappointing?
Well, yeah, I am struggling with the….
Vlad: So things are not going well and you’re doing nothing to change it?
Well, umm, no.. I want to I’m just so damn busy
Vlad: Billable work?
Here and there but it’s the holidays and..
Vlad: And….? You needed some extra time to decorate the tree?
Well no, I’m just all over the place with the ad-hoc stuff and nothing really meaningful. I am taking all we can get our hands on.
Vlad: That’s where you lost da ball game, bro…
There are two takeaways from the above conversation that I didn’t even have to point back to him. First, if things aren’t doing well and you are doing nothing to change them then no change will come. Second, if you don’t like where you are and what you are doing then doing more of the same is like digging a deeper hole because that is all you’re comfortable doing while fully aware that you’ll eventually be so deep in it that you’ll never be able to get out.
The big picture to this issue is the inability to strike the balance between the operations and management of the business. People get so vested in what they do that it becomes a compulsion from which they cannot escape even if they wanted to.
Who manages you? Who oversees and guides the guy actually running the company? Who points out that your efforts are inadequate, who scores you and more importantly what are penalties for failing to meet the projections?
Most people I talk to don’t have the answer to the above, or their responses are arbitrary guesses at best. The only conclusion to that unfortunate situation is that the person is not fit to be an entrepreneur or creative type, but more suitable for a job. The ugly truth is that there is no answer or a guideline to fix the above, no book or self-help guide, you are either a motivated self-starter that takes full control over your business or you are a reactionary, direction-taking-following employee. And there is nothing wrong with either of the two, it’s just that some people need help finding where they would be happiest.
We are dealing with the forced maturity of our business. Mommy Demand and Daddy Techinvestment have forced a lot of people out of the house and onto the street and the kid needs to learn how to take care of himself. No more business development funds (allowance), no more hand-me-downs (easy loans) and no more being paid for chores (business leads solely based on networking and referrals). It’s big boy time and you gotta get a job (market for leads), pay the rent (office, software, hardware, employees) and work on your career (training, variety of services, long-term positioning in the field and community).
Think back when you were 18, 19 and 20. Remember talking to the kids that had no idea what they were going to do after high school? Remember the ones that knew exactly what they wanted and went after it even if it meant another 8 years of school? Think of your business in the same light, do you know what you want and are you willing to work for it? Or are you just taking it as it comes along, taking it easy and betting this whole negativity and millions of job losses are just media-driven frenzy stories that everything will just bounce back from?
Footnote #1: The whole meditation idea I got from Karl’s Relax Focus Succeed book. One day a week I don’t do my job, I just try to observe what is going on around me and what I/we aren’t doing right and could do better (I don’t jump to actually fix it right away, as failures tend to be chained to other problems that I am not aware of)
Footnote #2: Towards the end of the call the guy admitted he wasn’t doing anything because he was paralyzed with fear that changing his current MO would put his business in more uncertainty than he was comfortable so was just going to reduce his client base and get a part time job with his largest client.