About anentrepreneurswords

R. Lee Harris grew up in Manhattan, Kansas and has lived in the Kansas City area since 1977. A 1975 graduate of Kansas State University, Harris began his career with Cohen-Esrey, LLC as an apartment manager two weeks after he graduated. Now president and CEO, he is involved in apartment management, development and investment; construction and tax credit syndication on a nationwide scale. Over the course of his career Harris has overseen the management of more than 27 million square feet of office building, shopping center and industrial space and nearly 60,000 multi-family units. He has started dozens of business enterprises over the past 40+ years. In 1991, Harris wrote a book entitled, The Customer Is King! published by Quality Press of Milwaukee. In 2012 he authored the book, An Entrepreneur's Words to Live By. He has mentored a number of business people over the years and has been a long-time participant in the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program. He and his wife Barb have two grown daughters and one grandson. They are active in their church, community and university.

The Swivel Headed Entrepreneur

A good pilot has his head on a swivel. He is constantly scanning his instrument panel as well as the skies around him. There may be other airplanes in the immediate area to avoid. Maybe there are TV towers or smokestacks to miss. Engine performance gauges must be monitored, and navigational displays are critical to comprehend. All of this can be summarized in two words . . . situational awareness. Without situational awareness we are more vulnerable to physical dangers around us. A lack of it can result in an auto accident, stepping off a curb and breaking an ankle, or starting a fire when the grill is too close to the house.

In the entrepreneurial world, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold. Now, you may be wondering how this concept applies to business situations. It has less to do with physical proximity and more to do with possessing a sixth sense about a multitude of factors. As entrepreneurs we can attain a much higher degree of success as we develop our entrepreneurial awareness. For example, how well do we sense what is happening in our marketplace? There is more to this than just crunching numbers. The key is to look behind the empirical data and understand what is truly happening. Here is a simplistic illustration. A quick look at market share might show that our firm is way out in front of the competition. And yet, we know that a start-up company has won three of the last five contracts for which we have competed. Not enough to move the market share needle but could signal trouble down the road. Situational awareness would have us take immediate action to understand why they are winning, and we are losing, and then do something about it.

Situational awareness from an entrepreneurial perspective involves a deep understanding of our customers and what makes them tick. Customer satisfaction surveys help in this regard, but we may need more than data. In person meetings are the best bet for getting a good read on our customers. If not in person, the next best option is a phone conference. At the root, we are looking for little tells that might indicate whether our customers are 100% in our camp. We encountered a situation a few years ago where we thought our client was totally satisfied with our services. Our team was convinced that we had performed as well as or better than expected. And yet, I had a gnawing feeling that something was amiss. When we dug in deeper, we learned that the client was hiring a competitor. The reason had nothing to do with our performance and everything to do with the fact that a corporate decision had been made to consolidate its business to a national company. I have always wondered whether we might have saved the business by doing some things in a radically different manner had our situational awareness enabled us to act sooner.

Finally, we must keep our finger on the pulse of our team. Are we on the lookout for signs of tension, boredom, or anxiety? It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day chaos that we all experience and miss the signals that are flashing relative to our team. Perhaps an outgoing team member who normally participates in company activities gradually pulls back and is less gregarious. Without situational awareness, we could easily overlook that this individual is headed for the exits until it is too late. Realizing this sooner might have given us a chance of resolving whatever issue is causing our teammate to look elsewhere.

Situational awareness at the entrepreneurial level requires a certain degree of intuition. But even more important is our being intentional about having a deeper understanding of that which is happening around us. Then we are less likely to unwittingly step off the cliff and into the abyss.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Mind Control Entrepreneur

I am sure that it is no surprise to know that the most powerful machine on earth is the human mind. A quick check on the Internet reveals many fascinating facts about the brain. How accurate they are is up for debate, but interesting, nonetheless. For example, the brain can store an estimated 2,500,000 gigabytes and operates with 86 billion neurons that travel 150 miles per hour. The average attention span is 20 minutes (12 minutes shorter than ten years ago), and we are finding that easy access to information is making it harder to remember.

Entrepreneurship is a mind game – maybe close to 100%. How we manage our thoughts has a direct impact on our probability of success. I know people who are brilliant at a genius-level but cannot function in society. Emotional and psychological issues are too much for them to overcome. For most of us however, mind control is a learned behavior. We have the capability to fine tune the way we think in such a way that our mind-power is amplified.

Our thoughts and emotions are inextricably linked. I have found when my emotions overwhelm my thinking nature, that’s when trouble begins. We entrepreneurs are especially vulnerable to a wide range of emotions that can run rampant and wreak havoc. Think about it. We learn that a major customer is taking its business elsewhere, and immediately our mind may go to the darkest possible depths. We see our business collapsing; the bills cannot be paid; our key team members see the writing on the wall and bail on us; the bank calls our loan, and on and on and on. What is worse, we may begin making decisions based upon the fear that is manifesting from the loss of this customer. Panic ensues and our thinking is so clouded that our decision-making process becomes impaired.

Back in the late 1970s, I started flying every week. In 1981, we had our first child, and I allowed my mind to play tricks on me. I became obsessed with the notion that the odds were going to catch up with me and I was going to die in a plane crash leaving behind my wife and young daughter. It literally got to the point that I would become physically ill each week, forcing myself to get on the plane. Eventually I was able to understand and resolve the root of this fear and as a bonus, became a pilot and flew my own aircraft. One of the reasons I was inclined to do this was to put myself in a situation where I had to practice mind control, or the consequences would be dire. Panicking in an airplane at 10,000 feet can certainly accelerate the expiration date on a human being!

Here is what I learned from this experience. Most of the time, things are not nearly as bad as we imagine them to be. It is easy to blow negative (and positive) experiences out of proportion. I learned that before making decisions, I need to pause for a moment, step back, and assess the situation. This may sound obvious, but we often overlook the obvious. Now, decades later, I refrain from making important decisions if I am fearful . . . and if I am euphoric. I wait for the emotions to pass and then proceed accordingly. Finally, I learned to try and get to the bottom of why I feel the way I do. Why am I angry? Why am I thinking thoughts of lack and limitation? What is the source of my fear? Why am I so “over the moon” with joy about something that has happened? In some cases, I want to control my mind to eliminate the negative thoughts, and in other instances I want to allow my mind to replicate the positive thoughts that resulted in my good fortune. Deep breathing, saying positive affirmations, and meditation are very helpful in making this happen.

As entrepreneurs we will always experience a wide range of emotions. The test of our fortitude comes when we can control our minds in such a way that we do not allow our emotions to overwhelm our ability to maintain our equilibrium and make sound decisions.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Get-Rich-Quick Entrepreneur

If I had a nickel for every book on how to get rich . . . I would get rich quick! I have spoken with countless entrepreneurs who wish they could find a sure-fire way to get rich quick – though none of them have ever succeeded. The notion of getting rich quick has been around for my entire adult life. Thankfully, I never paid much attention to it because I believe that it is unlikely to happen. When I was in high school, some of my classmates were all abuzz about a series of poker games in which they were participating. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s and conversations went something like this, “Wow! Jack (names have been changed to protect the not-so innocent) won $340 and Sam lost $460!” Oh, and by the way, the guy who won $340 lost it all and more a couple of weeks later.

For some reason interest in getting rich quick seems to be snowballing. Take cryptocurrency for example. I recently heard an entrepreneur talking about “investing” in one of the major cryptocurrencies which has seen extraordinary highs (and periodically falls off the cliff) in the past few months. I shake my head because this is pure speculation, not investing. Generally, speculators are looking for a quick score. Lottery ticket sales are skyrocketing especially as the jackpots reach stratospheric levels. The online poker industry supposedly grew from $58.9 billion in 2019 to $66.7 billion in 2020 according to an article in The Sports Economist publication dated October 10, 2020.  

Yes, there are anomalies – an entrepreneur here and there who invents something or develops a software application – and nearly overnight, this individual is filthy rich. But remember, for every example (the media only reports about these anomalies) of a get rich quick success, there are millions upon millions of us who do not get rich quick. The sensationalized nature of these stories becomes a siren song to entrepreneurs who have been laboring for a long time trying to get ahead. I am here to tell you . . . do not be swayed by the song you may be hearing. Often, those who try and play the get rich quick game end up in a worse position financially and have even developed unhealthy addictions that can ruin lives.

I know that the advice I am about to give is going to sound old-fashioned but trust me when I tell you that it is as sound today as it was in 1975 when I launched my career. There is no free lunch. You can dream about becoming rich all you want, but it will not make you rich. Skip the schemes and concentrate on your passion. You will have to make sacrifices along the way. Some may involve time while others may be financial. When we are younger, we tend to be very impatient. We want to take a helicopter to the mountain top rather than trudging through the thin air, slipping and sliding with every step. I have said it many times before, but when I chased the almighty dollar, it was always just beyond my outstretched fingertips. And it was frustrating beyond belief. After I began concentrating on living my passion for reasons other than making money, I began making real money. By then a couple of decades had passed in a flash and I was working a lot smarter and effectively. There were still setbacks along the way, but I rolled with the punches and persevered.

There is no silver bullet or magic wand. It is still all about hard work (and eventually “smart” work), resilience, maintaining a positive attitude, and keeping the passion front and center. You probably will not get rich quick. But you will have a fulfilling life and may eventually accumulate the wealth you seek.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Entrepreneur’s Three-Legged Stool

We entrepreneurs have no shortage of books and other resource materials at our disposal to understand how to win in today’s environment. We are barraged with a multitude of tips, tactics, strategies, and a host of other concepts. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone insists theirs is the right way. Ask any coach or consultant and undoubtedly each will have their own secret sauce. I have no issue with any of this and believe that this diversity of ideas is healthy for entrepreneurship as a whole. Fortunately, no one individual has it all figured out . . . so we continue to seek. As one of the “seekers” I might as well add my thoughts to the mix.

My approach involves a three-legged stool, and it is a very simple calculus. The first leg is that of Culture. For most of my career I was not very focused on Culture and we certainly didn’t do much to promote it. Our Culture just kind of happened in a laissez-faire manner. Oh sure, we had a company picnic every now and then as well as a Christmas party; and from time-to-time we would undertake a community service project. But for the most part it was nose-to-the-grindstone – chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out. However, I have learned a lot over the past few years, and I am now drinking the Culture Kool-Aid – lots of it. Why? Because I have found that Core Values matter. Not just to the company but to each member of our team. And we really live our Core Values every single day. As a result, we now have a team of people who have a common alignment and purpose. We are able to connect with Millennials and Boomers alike and productivity has markedly increased. While Culture is more than just Core Values, they serve as the foundation for a Culture.

The second leg of the stool is Product. With the strengthening of our Culture, we have become more creative and innovative with respect to the products and services we provide. The positive environment that has emerged in our companies has enabled us to shine a spotlight on our Product set. We are constantly making tweaks every chance we get to differentiate from our competition that which we offer. “How is it different?” has become our mantra. We have become much more targeted with our marketing and sales effort in a manner that complements our Product refinement. A clear focus on Product has been the impetus for a much more strategic approach to decisions that we make as opposed to the small-ball tactics that we used to deploy.

Finally, the third leg of the stool is Customer. Many companies pay lip service to their customers. Everyone recognizes that without customers we do not stay in business very long. But to succeed entrepreneurs must go far beyond basic customer service. We must do the deep dive into understanding what makes the Customer tick. It is more than just needs and wants . . . it is also a more comprehensive understanding of buying patterns and lifestyles. It is about anticipating what the Customer will value. Thus, the value proposition becomes the Holy Grail. How does the customer experience attain complete and total fulfillment?

Maybe I have oversimplified this, but everything else seems incidental beyond Culture, Product and Customer. Without a strong Culture how can we possibly create a great Product and take care of the Customer? Without a great Product, our Culture begins to crack as team members become demoralized and the Customer eventually suffers. And yes, without the Customer, there is no point in a Culture or a Product. 

Culture, Product and Customer. A three-legged stool that looks simple but is strong enough to support a long winning streak for us as entrepreneurs.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Advice from a Boomer to a Millennial – Part 2

A few years ago, I wrote a blog offering advice from a Baby Boomer entrepreneur to Millennials. Now, I have some additional thoughts to share.

  1. Create your own opportunities. Nothing should stop you from creating and pursuing your own opportunities. They are not going to be handed to you, so do not have an expectation that someone is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Here is an opportunity that I think would be perfect for you.” I was very fortunate early in my career to work for an entrepreneur who allowed me free rein. I had certain roles and accountabilities that I was expected to perform. But after that, I was free to dream and take the steps necessary to make those dreams a reality. It was important that the opportunities I created did not conflict with our organization’s values and goals. I made more mistakes than I can count, but none were so serious that they would have sunk the ship. Too many people today seem to be in a “waiting mode.” Rather than dreaming big dreams and making them a reality, they think that someone else is going to give them direction and structure. Believe me when I tell you that this mindset will only end up in frustration and resentment the longer it persists.
  2. Work for/with honorable people. Another fortunate aspect to my career was the fact that the entrepreneur for whom I worked was an honorable man. He was tough and old-school with many of his leadership traits and tendencies, but he was as honest and fair as the day is long. I had job offers along the way but always thought, “I am able to create my own opportunities and work for a person of integrity. What more could I want?” The grass-is-greener syndrome that many people face was never a factor for me. Now that I lead our collection of companies it warms my heart to know that one of our five core values is Integrity and we have created an entire organization with hundreds of honorable people.
  3. Make your own happiness. We have all heard it said that happiness comes from within. This is 100% true. How many times have you (or a colleague) said that when your compensation reaches a certain level or you have a specific amount of money in the bank, that you (or a colleague) can relax a bit and be happier? There is no question that material wealth can make life easier. But easier does not necessarily translate into happiness. When we make our own happiness, we are channeling our passion in ways that are satisfying to us. Passion and happiness go hand in hand. Find your passion and chances are you will be a happy person.
  4. What the heck is boredom? This one stumps me. I have never been bored a minute in my life. And yet I hear adults talk about being bored all the time. As a kid life was full of wonder and excitement. I grew up in a time long before video games, the Internet and 24-hour stimulation. If any of us kids ever thought about being bored, our parents would read our minds and make us go pull weeds in the yard or scrub out garbage cans. My grandkids talk about being bored which is amazing considering all the toys and tools to which they have access. Boredom comes from being too one-dimensional. If we are curious about all things in life, there is never a chance to be bored because we are always learning something new. I will never forget Saturday afternoons as an eight-year-old grabbing the World Book Encyclopedia annual update and reading about so many different things. If you tend to become bored, consider creating a bucket list of things you would like to learn and do, and then get to it. This does not have to be the “Climb Mt. Everest” type of aspirational bucket list but could be as simple as learning to play the piano or reading a book in a genre that you would not ordinarily consider. Simply put, boredom is a complete and total waste of life.
  5. Live a positive life. We all have a choice to make. Do we maintain a positive mindset or a negative one? Other people do not dictate our mindset. To me, the choice has been a total no-brainer. If I can be positive and happy or negative and miserable, what choice is there really? Life is far too short to wallow in despair and negativity. If there is only one piece of advice that I can give you, it is to always, always, always stay positive and look for the silver linings in everything, for they are there.

Here is wishing you the ability to create your own opportunities, work for and with honorable people, make your own happiness, never be bored, and live a positive life. YOLO!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Warm Blanket Entrepreneur

I was waiting for a flight and a lady came to the ticket counter from an adjoining gate and asked the attendant if an announcement could be made about the status of the flight from that gate. Apparently, it was past the departure time; the monitor revealed nothing, and there was no airline person at the gate. A few minutes later an announcement about the delay was made, but not after several moments of irritation on the part of the passengers waiting for that flight.

Why is it that so many companies communicate so poorly with their customers – especially when things are not going quite right? Common sense tells us that communications should be amplified in such instances. And yet it seems that there is a bit of a “run and hide” mentality when the train runs off the tracks. Airlines may be the worst where this is concerned – we all have more airline stories than we can remember. But this malady is shared across the business spectrum. While visiting a resort community in California, I walked past a grocery store that had a sign on the door at midday saying, “Closed – Computers Down.” Customers were trying to open the locked door and shook their heads after reading the sign. What a missed opportunity!

There are a couple of reasons why this happens, neither of which are good. The first is a cultural issue. If a company adopts the philosophy that the customer comes first, then its response to anything going awry impacting the customer will be immediate, complete, and ongoing communications. Anything less is contrary to a customer-first culture. We entrepreneurs must decide if we are going to embrace such a culture and if so, determine the steps that we are going to take to ensure that come hell or high water the customer will always be wrapped in a warm blanket. Which brings us to the second reason why many companies fail at communicating effectively when things go wrong.

A company may have every intention of effectively communicating with its customers through thick and thin. But unless there is a clearly defined strategy that translates into actionable steps for every member of the team, there is no way that successful implementation can happen. Take the airlines for instance. I have trouble believing that they do not have great customer service as an intention. However, there is no other explanation than there is a disconnect somewhere between their strategy and putting it into practice.

In our respective organizations, we can make certain that our strategy and implementation are seamless through simulation. This involves identifying every possible mishap that could occur, causing issues for our customers. Next, we can create a step-by-step process for dealing with these problems while maintaining a constant focus on how we smooth the way for our customers. It will require a combination of urgency, honesty, straightforwardness, empathy, clarity, and frequency. In other words, we are going to quickly tell our customers what has happened in clear and concise terms. We are not going to lie – if the airplane is broken, we will tell them that the airplane is broken and not make up some other excuse. We will apologize for any inconvenience and take the necessary steps to make things as painless for the customer as possible – even if it costs us some money. And we will continue to communicate early and often until the situation is resolved. Every member of our team will know exactly how they are supposed to make this happen and we will practice, practice, and practice some more.

If we truly care about our customers, our bottom line will be the better for it. Thus, we should do everything in our power to make sure that the customer has a positive experience even when we have trouble delivering our products or services.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Inspirational Entrepreneur

“. . . we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’.” Winston Churchill uttered these words during World War II and led Great Britain through one of its darkest periods in history.

“. . . I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King made this proclamation at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, witnessed by 250,000 civil rights supporters.    

Have you ever heard of Patrick Henry Hughes? He is an amazing story. Born without eyes and a congenital birth defect that prevented him from straightening his arms and legs, Patrick became an accomplished vocalist as well as playing the piano and trumpet. He even became a member of the University of Louisville Marching and Pep Bands, and a UP Premiere movie, “I Am Potential,” is based upon his life and success.

What is the common theme for these three individuals? Inarguably each is an inspiration. Churchill inspired his countrymen to stand strong during the difficult days when Britain was under siege. King inspired millions seeking equality in their everyday lives. Patrick Henry Hughes as served as an inspiration for everyone who has encountered a challenge – and haven’t we all?

As entrepreneurs we want to be inspirational leaders. We want to lead inspirational organizations. We want our mission and vision to be inspirational. But sometimes the notion of inspiration can be confusing and even elusive. Exactly how do we inspire? I have looked high and low and there is no handbook. There are as many definitions as there are inspirational quotes – the quantities are massive. Here is an equation that I have developed over the years that I believe stimulates inspiration.

Passion + Authenticity + Conviction = Inspiration

This formula can be measured by the likes of Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Patrick Henry Hughes. Is there any question that each had incredible passion for their cause? And is there any doubt as to their authenticity? Think about it. How could anyone play-act the power and impact that each had on society? Finally, they never wavered. They never quit. They stood by their beliefs no matter what. When we genuinely have a deep and lasting positive passion; demonstrate it in authentic ways, and are steadfast in maintaining this passion, we cannot help but inspire others. People are not inspired by wishy-washy. People are not inspired by fake. And people are not inspired by quitters.

Inspirational intelligence exists in great leaders. By emulating the inspirational formula, Passion + Authenticity + Conviction, we too can motivate others to join with us in doing great things.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Entrepreneur Communicator

In today’s business world there is a constant drumbeat for clear communications. And without a doubt, we will find a lack of clear communication at the root of many of the issues that we have with each other. OK, I get it. We need to communicate clearly. But here is something you will not hear as often. There is also a need to simplify our communications. Sometimes we may think we are communicating clearly when in fact the message we are conveying is so convoluted and complicated that our audience gets lost.

I am involved with a venture capital business that screens large numbers of start-up companies in the biotech space as we look for potential investments. One company stands out from the rest – not because of the product it was developing, but because its pitch was so impossible to understand. We have some technical people on our board as well as advisors with whom we work, and no one understood what the pitch was all about. This company used highly technical terminology and language that no one ever hears in day-to-day conversation. I suppose that it is possible that the product could have been an amazing breakthrough in its field. But we will never know because we declined to invest for the simple reason that we could not understand the pitch. Here is an excerpt from the pitch summary.

(XYZ) technology allows RNA to be manufactured using well proven large scale fermentation processes. Prior to (XYZ) manufacturing innovations these large scale fermentation processes were not viable because of the ubiquitous and unavoidable presence of RNAses (enzymes that break down RNA) in the fermentation process environment. (XYZ) technology sequesters, inside a protein capsid, the RNA as it is produced thus protecting it from RNAse degradation. This protein capsid protects the RNA allowing subsequent isolation and purification. There is also a high level of interest in using the protein encapsidated RNA as a delivery mechanism.

The preceding is an extreme illustration of overly complicated communications. But there are countless examples that occur daily to a lesser degree. I moderate panel discussions at several apartment industry conferences each year. We talk about many aspects of the business including debt, equity, construction, and operations. Often, we have audience members who are new to the industry. While the subject matter can be complex at times, the bigger problem is all the acronyms that are the plague on our house.

It does not matter whether the communication is written or verbal, we must redouble our efforts to simplify, simplify, simplify. When we write like we speak, we tend to accomplish this objective. And if we think before we speak, it is likely our communication will be understood. Guarding against ego-creep is also in our best interest. We have all seen the pontificators who like to show everyone how smart they are by spouting a bunch of intellectual-sounding mumbo jumbo. Staying humble and being respectful of the audience’s desire to understand what we are communicating should be our guiding principle.

A man or woman of few(er) words conquers rambling purveyors of verbosity every time. Striving for clarity and simplicity in our communications will ensure that we are persuasive and convincing.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Anti-Gotcha Entrepreneur

I purchased a couple of new beds for our home at a national mattress store. One was a fancy model that is adjustable, vibrates and has other bells and whistles. I would normally pay for such a purchase outright, but the mattress store was offering free financing for a year. I thought, “what the heck, why not?” So, I paid the monthly principal amounts over the course of 12 months like clockwork. Toward the end of this one-year period I started looking for a payoff balance to show up on the monthly statement, but it never did. Then I received a statement showing a large amount of “deferred interest” that when calculated produced an exceptionally high interest rate.

In looking back at the previous month’s statement (four pages of legal-size paper), I found a single sentence in small print advising me to look elsewhere in the statement for an acceleration amount. I finally found the payoff figure – again in small print. Unfortunately, I had missed the deadline by ten days and now owed over $3,000 in interest charges. I called the national bank that had purchased the paper from the mattress company and pointed out what my intentions had been from the outset and that the small print notice was deceptive and easily overlooked. I spoke with a supervisor and then a manager who ultimately cut my interest cost by 75%. I still contend that the interest should have been fully waived.

The national bank involved in this incident was clearly playing a “gotcha game.” There is no doubt in my mind that they intentionally used fine print and required the customer to hunt through the bill to find the amount owed. This is despicable behavior and does nothing to help the cause of entrepreneurship. I am not a fan of a lot of government regulation, but it is situations like this that trigger calls for more regulation in the first place. 

As entrepreneurs we should look at our business practices to see if we too are playing the “gotcha game.” Are the documents we use with our customers very clear relative to what is owed as well as the terms and conditions for payment? Or are we using fine print, misdirection, and incomprehensible language to obfuscate and confuse the customer? And if we are doing this, what is our end game . . . to shake down the customer for extra dollars?

Companies that are winning in today’s environment are focused on culture, product, and the customer. Profitability at any cost is not part of this calculus. Businesses that gouge their customers like the national bank with which I dealt, will ultimately suffer through new regulatory initiatives and/or customer abandonment. We entrepreneurs have a golden opportunity to identify competition that is perpetrating such behavior and differentiate ourselves in striking fashion. With the right messaging, winning customers from the bad actors should be relatively easy.

The integrity we maintain with our customers is one of the most valuable assets we possess. Playing the “gotcha game” can quickly turn that asset into a liability.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Dumpster Fire Entrepreneur

Dumpster fires are tricky devils. They usually start out as nothing. Just a bunch of trash sitting in a big metal bin . . . and then someone flicks a cigarette butt or empties hot coals from a grill and the smoldering starts. Who knows what is really inside the container? It could be aerosol cans, used motor oil, acetone, automotive batteries, paint thinner and a host of other accelerants. After smoldering for a while, the fire gets hotter and hotter until it becomes a raging inferno. If the dumpster is too close to a building, the entire structure could ignite and burn to the ground. Discovered early enough, a simple fire extinguisher could put out the blaze in a matter of seconds. But once it is out of control the fire department may have a battle on its hands for hours.

There is an obvious parallel between dumpster fires and the minor irritating problems that entrepreneurs encounter every day. We all experience situations that we tend to ignore. Perhaps there is a petty conflict between two members of our team. Maybe it is a nagging customer service issue or a piece of equipment in the plant that is not functioning properly. We know the problem is there, but we simply choose not to address it wishing and hoping that it will just go away. After all, we have bigger crises to deal with. Right?

But we all know what eventually happens. The conflict between team members blows up big time and someone quits or is be fired. Other team members are dragged into the drama which impacts productivity and damages our culture. The customer service issue results in the loss of a customer and perhaps a nasty post in the social media world hurting our brand in a much broader way. Now we are in damage control mode involving multiple members of our team who are trying to restore our reputation. And that piece of equipment in the plant that was not functioning properly? It finally breaks completely, shutting down the entire production line in the process. Oh, and one of our team members was injured when the machine finally died.

Each of these situations began as a small smoldering dumpster fire. Immediate attention (the fire extinguisher) would have resulted in a solution that put out the fire. The wider ranging consequences of inaction would have been avoided. This leads us to conclude that we need to look for small problems every day and intentionally take the necessary steps to fix them. I know that I have small festering issues that need my attention. But sometimes I just do not want to face them right now. So, I give myself a 24-hour pass and make sure they pop-up the next day on my task list. I have learned that it takes discipline to handle the small stuff or else I will eventually have to spend a whole lot more time and money untangling things later. I have found that the 24-hour pass approach works well for me. And I may even find myself thinking about what the solution will be before the end of my self-imposed deadline. Unfortunately, there is no other trick to it other than “just do it.”

Small seemingly inconsequential problems can explode into dumpster fires that consume our lives. It is better to take small incremental steps to solve the problems as they arise and then we will not have to call the fire department because our house is burning down.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.