Are you offering others promises of what you can do, or proof?

Winning new business is exciting. It means you convinced a customer or client to take a chance on you. (Like ABBA said.) But at this point, you are selling the promise of what you can do for them. Because in the beginning, the promise is all you’ve got.

The best moment in business is when a customer or client comes back for the second helping. Because this time it is not because of a promise you made them. It is because of the proof you gave them. (It’s in the pudding.)

The first transaction is based on your promise. The second is based on your proof.

The first engagement is based on hope. The second engagement is based on expectations met. Businesses live and die based on met expectations. Which is why repeat business is so important. It is the lag indicator that you are offering value and a positive experience.

If you track just one measurement on your way to success it should be repeat purchases. It is the pass-fail measure of long-term success. Because without repeat purchasers, you will run out of new prospects. And your business will be all grind, and no bump.

Recent History

Last week I had two great repeat experiences.

First, The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I lead, got a call from one of our first-time clients. We were almost done building a website for this client, and they called to tell us they want us to take on another website build for another division of their business.

Second, we had our first creative presentation to another new client. At the end of the presentation, The Boss Man told us he wanted us to work with their procurement team to get set up as an official, long-term supplier. Boom!

These second projects came because we lived up to expectations. We passed an important test. We weren’t one and done, like a University of Kentucky freshman basketball player. Which means we are running a sustainable business.

A Personal Note

The same principle holds true in your personal life. You get a first shot at relationships, opportunities, and trust based on the promise of delivering the goods. The second shot comes because you proved you were worthy the first time. Keep delivering and good things just keep coming your way.

Key Takeaway

Winning new business is simply an opportunity to prove what you can do. It is where the hard work begins. Make sure to deliver on the promises you made to that first-time customer. Because when you do, they’ll come back for more. And businesses only thrive if happy customers keep coming back for more.

*If you know someone who would benefit from this message, please share it with them.

**If this post lived up to your expectations, please consider subscribing to get the next one emailed to your inbox. The subscribe button is at the top left of this page.

To grow your business you have to find great customers yourself.

I get a boatload of emails, calls, and LinkedIn requests from strangers who are trying to sell to me. Most of them want to help me generate more business leads for The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency that I lead.

It is crazy how many people want to help me with this. It is as if they all looked at my demographic information alone and want to sell me a hair growth tonic. But if you knew me, or ever looked at my LinkedIn profile pic, you would know I may have problems, but growing hair is not one of them.

The sales promises are often quantified. They say they will deliver hundreds or thousands of qualified leads per month. To the uninitiated, unsuccessful, lazy or naive this must sound amazing.

But business growth and development doesn’t work that way. Qualified leads and prospects are not a commodity. You can’t outsource them to a stranger. The type of clients or customers you want to work with are not like crops in a field. You can’t simply run a harvester through them, load them into a wagon and sell them on the open market.

Prospective customers and clients are not all created equal. The valuable ones come from relationships, connections, and conversations. From shared philosophies and values. You and your team should find the right ones for you. Then earn their trust. Develop a mutual attraction. And decide you are right for each other.

For a stranger to spam* me and tell me that they can find me a steady supply of qualified leads is like telling me that they can find me more friends. ‘We’ll dump a list of friends on you. You’ll really like them and they will like you too.’ But it doesn’t work that way. That’s a job we have to do ourselves.

*No offense to Spam, the innovative meat. If a stranger offered me some fried Spam for breakfast we would be friends for life.

Key Takeaway

Earn your own customers and clients. Create systems and processes to find them. Develop relationships. Keep your promises. Deliver results. Create a core of happy customers that spread the word about you. That never fails.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The important thing to remember about desserts, and life.

Early this week I had dinner with an entrepreneur in Saint Paul. He’s a real go-getter. He fills his time with major initiatives that over time will lead to remarkable results. He is hyper-ambitious, hyper-hardworking, hyper-productive. Which makes me feel like I am not trying very hard at life.

My guy has been working on a new startup. The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, has been helping him with marketing, packaging, design, and all the other things a startup needs to look like a well-established business. #theygrowupsofast

The Dessert

The product is an interesting and novel dessert. (Remember, 2 S’s means a sweet treat, not a dry sandy place.) I asked him how things were going. He shared that almost everything was going well. Suppliers, facilities, equipment, funding, prospects, and strategy were all in place. There was just one challenge. The product was just ok.

To be clear, he started with a great product. But they have been experimenting to find the perfect combination of price, shelf-life, and manufacturing process. It’s the type of stuff that makes a viable business product less fun than the ideal product you would make for yourself.

Other people who were with us who had tried the latest version of the product were supportive and said that they liked it, and shared that other people had liked it too. My guy shook off the support and noted that they had recently performed taste-test research, and the results were just ok. Because like Shakira’s hips, tastebuds don’t lie.

Not Good Enough

The great problem is that when you are creating desserts, okay doesn’t cut it. Desserts have to be worth the splurge. The taste has to be worth the cost. And the experience has to be worth the calories.

A just-okay dessert is a failure. Like 38 Special, it won’t get a second chance. It has to rate as good at a minimum. Ratings of great, amazing, indulgent, to-die-for, and better-than-sex mean you have a winner.

Key Takeaway

Unless you are trying to be the low-price option, evaluate your products and services as if they were desserts. Good is the starting point. Don’t expect any repeat business or happy customers until you get to great or better. Make your offering worth the money. It’s the only way to make the work you put in worth it.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Are you getting to the root of your problems?

On Friday night a storm came through Southeastern Wisconsin and knocked out our power like Mike Tyson, pre-face tattoo. The combination of wind, lightning, and rain was more than our grid could handle. As a result, we had a very Amish Friday night.

Five hours later, when the power was finally restored at about 11pm, our internet, cable, and phone didn’t come back on. My wife tried unplugging the modem. She tried disconnecting and reconnecting the coaxial cables. But nothing helped. So we blew out the candles and oil lamps in our little house on the prairie. We tucked Laura, Mary, and Carrie in. And Ma and I went to bed.

Saturday morning we tried rebooting the stuff again. But still nothing. I asked my neighbor Paul if his bundle was functional. (No innuendo intended.) And it was. Which meant the problem was likely at our house.

We called Spectrum, our bundle supplier, and they told us we were the only ones with the outage. They sent a re-booty signal to try to get things going. But it didn’t work.

So they lined up a tech to come find the problem. But he wouldn’t arrive until Monday at 5pm. I assumed the delay was because he was coming from another state, by horse.

Then my wife had an a-ha. She said the last time she called about a problem the Spectrum service rep told her our modem was very old and likely the issue. So Dawn called Spectrum again, and they agreed that we should swap our modem for a new one.

So I drove to downtown Milwaukee on Saturday morning to initiate a modem transplant. I came home, plugged in the fresh new Modem and router, and still nothing. I felt like Yukon Cornelius licking his pick ax while looking for gold and tasting only gravel.

So we waited out the rest of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday without our bundle of digital joy.

Monday at 5 pm we were excited to finally get our bundle back. But the tech didn’t show up. At 6 pm he still wasn’t there. In fact, he didn’t arrive until 9:30 pm.

When he entered our home he asked to see where the cable came into the house. I took him to the basement and showed him the cabley-wirey area by the fuse box that seemed to be the nerve center of our home.

The tech immediately announced, ‘Your amplifier isn’t working. It probably got zapped in the storm. I’ll go grab a new one from my truck.’

He went out to the truck, got a new amplifier, installed it, and everything came back on.

Key Takeaway

Get to the root of the problem. Know where it starts. When you discover and address the core issue, everything changes. Actions become easier and more productive. And your situation improves right away.

In business and in life we don’t always dig deep enough to get to the root issue. We find other issues to address. We address symptoms. We find secondary, easier issues to deal with. But not the root causes.

Surround yourself with people who are great problem solvers. Find people who think scientifically, and can go beyond the obvious issues to find the underlying causes. Learn how they analyze and diagnose root problems. Adopt their methods. And your problem-solving value will increase dramatically.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Do people seek you out for your skills and abilities?

At the beginning of your career, you practically have to beg for an opportunity to show what you can do. Because you have no experience, no contacts, and no juice. No one looks for a specialist with no experience. A person with no experience and no skills is the easiest thing to find. Which is why no one would watch a show called America’s Got No Talent.

When I first began my career I asked for informational interviews, because there were no job openings for advertising copywriters with no experience. But as I developed my skills and gained knowledge and experience everything changed. I became an increasingly valuable resource to my employers, coworkers, and clients. Suddenly, my time and my attention were in serious demand.

Eventually, my clients encouraged me to start my own business. So I opened the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry. Today, clients, employees, interns, and partners seek us out. Because we add real value to all of those groups.

As you grow and develop, ask yourself if you are becoming sought after. (The FBI’s Most Wanted posters don’t count. But a ‘Yes’ to any of the following questions does.)

Questions To Ask Yourself.

  • Do people seek you out?
  • Is your time in demand?
  • Do people want to get your phone number, email, or social contact info? (Even if it is because you are a hottie with a karate body.)
  • Are people trying to hire you?
  • Are you approached about consulting or coaching?
  • Do you get requests to pick your brain? (I wrote about my dislike for brain-picking here.)
  • Does the media ask your perspective?
  • Are people willing to pay a premium to work with you?
  • Do you have a non-ironic fan club that you didn’t start yourself?

Who is Seeking You Out?

If you are being sought after, ask yourself the next critical question: Who is seeking you out? Do people seek you out who have no other options? Or are they people with means and resources? The more options the people who seek you out have, the more it says about you, your value, and your skills.

Key Takeaway

Commit to a career of continuous self-improvement. Develop your skills until people come looking for you. Then keep developing your skills until everyone is looking for you. That is the surest sign that you have developed rare and valuable skills. Which gives you maximum control over your career.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The best-known cure for business worry.

Businesses are complex machines. They have lots of moving parts. They need constant attention. They are challenging to maintain, and even more difficult to grow. Which means that if you own or lead a business there are always plenty of reason to grow gray hairs.

6 Things For Business Leaders To Worry About.

  1. Are you growing your business? Businesses are either growing or shrinking. And no one likes shrinkage.
  2. Do you have the people you need? Businesses are simply a group of people running a group of systems. Having the right people is everything.
  3. Are your people delivering what they need to deliver? Even the best people don’t always perform the best without the right direction.
  4. Are your products and services good enough? Are the things you deliver superior? Competitive? Still functional?
  5. Are you heading in the right direction? Industries and opportunities are fluid and constantly changing. Are you moving towards the next great opportunity? Or are you trying to rent people VHS tapes in a Netflix world?
  6. Are you going to be sunk by a global pandemic? Or do you have a plan and reserves to outlast it?

The Cure For Worry

Just as vaccinations stop viruses, antidotes combat poisons, and clothing cures nudity, there is a surefire cure to business worry.

Work.

The best way to combat anything that threatens your business is to get to work.

Work on your business development efforts to make sure you are growing.

Work on your recruiting, training and development to makes sure you have the right people in the right seats on the bus.

Work on your processes to make sure you continuously improve what you deliver and how you deliver it. Especially if you are a stork.

Work on product development and service refinement to dial into what the market wants next and is willing to pay a premium for.

Work on your strategy and plan to make sure you are ready to take advantage of the next great opportunities. And make sure you are protecting your business against the negative impact of external factors.

Key Takeaway

The best cure for worry is to do something to avoid, minimize or fix the problem that concerns you. By putting in the work you take control of a situation, instead of letting it take control of you.

*If you know someone that could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Don’t be the cheapest. Be the best.

There has been a recurring theme at work lately. My team at The Weaponry has been involved in several new business pitches. Which means we are competing with other advertising or design agencies to win a project. Sometimes there are 2 agencies. And the pitch is like a rap battle, or the knife fight in Michael Jackson’s Beat It video. Sometimes it is a Royal Rumble where you are competing with every superhero and their sidekick.

The 3 Factors

There are 3 factors involved in winning a new project from a client or customer. At least where organized crime is not involved. (Those organizations add a few other important factors. Like how much you enjoy your family, and your limbs.)

  1. The Proposal. This is the written plan detailing what you are going to offer the customer or client if they choose you. This is quite literally the overview of the product or service being offered.
  2. The Price: This is the summary of how much your offering is going to cost. Your price relative to your competitor’s price is important. The critical question is how does the price and value of your offering stack up against the other options they are considering.
  3. Your likability. Do the deciders like you? Do they trust you? Are you funny, smart, kind, good-looking or tell great stories? Do they want to spend time working and problem solving with you?

All Things Considered

Recently we have heard several times that our price was more expensive than the other options we were weighed against. However, they chose us anyway. This creates a valuable math equation boys and girls.

The Math

In this case, what we were offering and our likability combined was greater than the price we were charging for it.

Offering + Likability > Price

This is exactly where you want to be in business. When you offer superior products or services, and a combination of likability, fun, and trustworthiness, more times than not you will not lose out on price. In fact, if the other two factors are strong enough you can charge more, because you are offering more value. And everyone comes out ahead.

Key Takeaway

In any business transaction, there are always more factors at play than price. As the seller, your responsibility is to provide a superior product and service. And if you deliver that with more likable, more trustworthy people you will not only break any ties, you will add more value to the overall experience, and people will be willing to pay more for your offering. So don’t fight others on price. Compete with them on the offering itself, and on the people who offer it. And like Bob Barker said, the price will always be right.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The Weaponry turns 5 years old!

I always wanted to start my own business. Not because I was an unhappy employee or a free spirit who couldn’t stand to work for The Man. I just like a good challenge. And everything I ever heard about entrepreneurship made it seem like it was the career equivalent to bull riding. Or free solo climbing. Or streaking at the Super Bowl. I knew it was dangerous. The likelihood of failure was very high. But if you are successful, there are few endeavors as rewarding.

On the set of a recent TV shoot with Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts. I tried to steal his necklace, and he tried to defend it. It was all very subtle.

Some Fun Entrepreneurial Facts

  • There are 31 million businesses in the United States
  • 90% fail within the first 5 years
  • Only 4% ever make $1 million a year.
  • The average age of startup Founders is 42 years 
  • A first-time entrepreneur has an 18% chance of succeeding
  • 70% of entrepreneurs were married when they started their first business
  • 60% had at least one child
  • 44% had two or more children
  • 66% of start-up founders pay themselves less than $50,000
  • 69% of American entrepreneurs start their business at home
  • 80% of small businesses are non-employer businesses. 
  • 51% of small businesses make less than $100,000 in annual sales. 

Riding The Bull

With these facts in hand, I launched The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency, in 2016. I wholeheartedly believed that we would succeed. The statistics didn’t scare me. They motivated me to prove that I was one of the few, the proud, the elite non-failers. Although I am sure the failers also felt confident when they first started out. After all, you don’t jump out of an airplane unless you are highly confident your parachute will open. Unless maybe there were snakes on the plane.

A constant reminder in our offices to think.

Turning 5 Years Old

Today, I am thrilled and proud to say The Weaponry is 5 years old! We gave grown significantly each year. And despite the global pandemic, 2020 was our best year yet. Now 2021 is off to a strong start. We continue to add to our team. And we have added 2 new clients in the past 2 weeks.

From a trip to India in 2018 to work with our clients Fifth Third Bank and SLK Global Solutions. I didn’t get the White Shirt Memo.

Funner Entrepreneurial Facts

  • The Weaponry has offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus.
  • We have 24 clients
  • We have clients in all 4 US Time Zones.
  • We have clients in 3 countries: The United States, Canada and India.
  • We offer Health Insurance and Dental Insurance
  • We have a 401(k) plan with a 4% match
  • We have two red refrigerators
  • Both of our offices are in Suite #206 (Although the signs say Sweet #206. Because I thought that was funnier. Those are the kinds of dumb things you can do when you start your own business.)
This is where the magic happens.

What’s Next?

I feel as if we have only just begun, like Karen Carpenter. We have much more to accomplish. We expect us to grow and expand significantly. It is clear that we are having great success with happy clients who have hired The Weaponry 2 and 3 times as they have changed jobs. Which I think is the best compliment a client can give you.

Our 3 Pillars of Success.

Before we won our very first client (Global Rescue), I declared The Weaponry’s recipe for long-term success. And unlike that finger-licker Colonel Sanders, I am happy to share it with you.

  1. Great Creative Idea
  2. Excellent Customer Service
  3. A Fun Experience for Everyone Involved.
Me and Dan Richards, CEO of our first client, Global Rescue. We were trying to look tough while wearing polos.

What’s Next?

If we continue to deliver on these 3 points we will enjoy perpetual success. And while I am very thankful to have made it to 5 years, I believe the job of leadership is to keep a business in business forever. To do that we will have to continue to listen, learn, adapt and improve. I am fully committed to it. Just like a streaker.

Key Takeaway

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. In fact, it offers one of life’s greatest challenges. But if you want to try it, I highly encourage you. It is extremely rewarding in more ways than I have room to share in a concluding paragraph. To dramatically improve your chances of success start a business doing something you know well. Choose work you love to do. And you will have the intellectual equipment and the magnetic pull to get you to 5 years and beyond.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Hey big-picture thinkers, is it a 10,000, 30,000 or 50,000-foot view?

I like to think of myself as a thinker. I think all the time. If I was a cartoon character I would be Thinker Bell. If I was a pop star I would be Robin Think. And if I was an assassin I would be John Thinkley Jr.

I think about small details. I like to consider all the little things that matter. Because, as the band Bush sang, it’s the little things that kill. I also find great value in big-picture thinking. It is immensely valuable to be able to step back and see an entire system, business, system, or opportunity.

As a professional ideator, I spend a lot of time in both micro and macro-thinking modes. It is important to be comfortable in both. I am also quite comfortable at mecro thinking, which is what I call the medium view. Or at least I have been calling it that since the last sentence.

However, I have noticed that big-picture thinking suffers from a branding consistency issue. People can’t seem to agree on a standard elevation for big picture evaluation. I have frequently heard people refer to this as the 10,000-foot, 30,000- foot, or 50,000-foot view. I would prefer not to have to develop 3 different calibrations for big thinking. So I am hoping we can settle on one standard. Like VHS.

10,000 feet

10,000 feet sounds nice and clean. It uses a nice, round, large number. So there is good rationale for using it. Plus, it’s a 10-base number, which makes it like the metric system of big views.

30,000 feet

The 30,000-foot view sounds pretty random. Like a 32-degree freezing point. Or 212- degree boiling point. However, I fly a lot. Correction – I used to fly a lot. #covid I know that airplanes typically fly in the 30,000-foot range. So it is the highest view I have ever really experienced. It looks a lot different than the 10,000 foot view. Plus, the tallest mountain on Earth, Mt. Everest, is just about 30,000 feet. And the view from the top is amazing. (I’ve never climbed Everest, but I was a long-time subscriber to Outside magazine.)

50,000 feet

The 50,000-foot view is interesting. It is the highest of the 3 options. So, therefore, offers the biggest picture view of all. Although I have never seen the world from 50,000 feet. So I have more of a guess as to what it would look like. Perhaps at 50,000 feet, we have gone too high. There is a good chance that this elevation pushes things too far to be useful. Like 6 Minute Abs.

My View

I have chosen my default big picture elevation. But I feel like I am being constantly overbid or underbid on my view, depending on whether we are playing Big Picture Christie’s Auction House or Big Picture Name That Tune. (You should be able to tell from my last statement which elevation I use.)

The Question

So what is the correct standard for big picture thinking? I want to hear from you. How high do you go? And if you know why you choose that elevation I’d love to hear. After my ears pop that is.

*If you know someone who thinks big, please share this with them so we can all get on the same altimeter.

Don’t spend your whole life busy and not make progress.

Being busy is not the same as being productive. In fact, busyness is like Fool’s Gold. It looks like business to the uniformed. But it is easy to be busy without getting ahead. In fact, you can spend your whole career extremely busy but not make any progress. The same thing can happen in your personal life too.

The 80-20 rule says that 80 percent of the results come from just 20 percent of the work. (And that 80-year olds seen with 20-year olds have money coming out of the wazoo.) In other words, if you are spending your time on the wrong things you could get little to no results. 

Earlier in my career, when I was with a very large advertising agency, the majority of my time was sucked up with meetings. And meetings about meetings. And to the uninformed, it looked like we were all super busy beavers. But very little wood was actually chewed. And we weren’t building any damn dams.

Today, as an entrepreneur, I see a direct link between how I spend my time and the value that time creates. The goal of any business is to make money. And if you are spending time on anything that ultimately is not helping your organization make more money, you are wasting your time.

Your wasted time and wasted motions at work hurt your career. Because they rob you of time that could be used for self-improvement, networking or creating value for your organization. Those are the 3 keys to making your company more successful, rising within your organization, and earning more for yourself.

If you find yourself in meetings that are not adding value, do one of the following:

  1. Change the meeting. Take the initiative to alter the meeting to make it more valuable to your organization and the people in it.
  2. Shorten the meeting. Help fast forward to the information that needs to be shared or decision that needs to be made, and be done. Often we take a lot of time to do what could be done in just a few minutes. 
  3. Pull the cord. Just like riding the bus, you can pull the cord and ask to get out of the meeting at any time. Be polite, but clear that you don’t feel it is a valuable use of your time. If you feel that way, it is likely that others do too.
  4. Text someone outside the meeting to pull the fire alarm. That works every time.

Key Takeaway

Time is your most precious commodity. Evaluate the way you are spending your time. Look for inefficient and ineffective uses, then eliminate them. Don’t let others waste your time. The opportunity cost is too high with this non-renewable resource.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.