Hard Times and Happy Times

The entrepreneurial experience produces emotions of all sorts, often extending across the positive to negative spectrum and all in the same day! Most entrepreneurs will attest to the fact that there have been hard times at different points in their careers. These hard times may be the result of personal challenges, professional challenges or both. They run the gamut from aging parent issues, marital strife, divorce, rebellious children, lawsuits, financial pressures, unfair competition, loss of market share/customers, and a multitude of other mole hills and in some cases, mountains – really big mountains. Through it all, there’s a central question that we grapple with. How do we make hard times into happy times? Is it even possible?

Let’s start with the whole notion of happiness. Are you happy overall? Where do you land on the happiness scale? Are you happy some of the time but not always? Are you moderately happy or are you ecstatically happy? When you encounter hard times, are you able to maintain your level of happiness or does it slide down (or off) the scale? Obstacles are a part of life. They’ll always be there. When we sign on to be an entrepreneur, we also understand that we’re signing up for a roller-coaster ride. Our gut check is determining if we can be happy while we’re riding the roller-coaster, the bucking bull or whatever metaphor is chosen to represent the challenges we inevitably will face.

Over the course of my 65+ years I’ve learned many things about happiness. Allow me to share them with you.

  1. Happiness is a choice. First and foremost, I’ve come to understand that my happiness is 100% my choice. Where I land on the happiness scale is totally my choice. This concept may not be easy to grasp when we’re in the throes of a crisis. But I’ll be darned if I’m going to let what is happening around me determine whether or to what degree I’m going to be happy. Some may say that this sounds like a Pollyanna type of response – after all the world is crumbling around us and we’re going to choose to be happy? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. It may not be as easy to dial up happiness when we’re getting punched in the gut . . . but it definitely is a choice that we make.
  2. Go to bed with a clear conscience. My wife is constantly shaking her head. When my head hits the pillow at night, I’m fast asleep within 30 seconds or so. One of the reasons is the fact that I go to bed every night with a clear conscience. I know that my integrity is intact, and I haven’t intentionally stepped on anyone’s toes. A sure-fire way to unhappiness is breaching the trust of others. There may be other problems that crop up along life’s road, but this isn’t going to be one of them.
  3. Be grateful. Gratitude is one of the keys to happiness. I find that when I am grateful to someone and express it, I feel an endorphin rush. And because it feels so good to express gratitude, I try to do it every single day. I have found that being grateful helps to create a balance in my life that pushes up the happiness meter.
  4. Serve others. Years ago, I discovered that getting out of myself was a major factor in being a perpetually happy person. Rather than dwelling on my own inadequacies, mistakes and failures, I found that serving others produced those same endorphins I felt when I was in gratitude. When I could make others happy it became infectious and made me happy as well. I volunteered at a children’s hospital; have served as a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs; created a scholarship program for young people studying to be teachers, and many other examples.
  5. Turn the tables. Look, I said it before. Hard times are inevitable. But we can use them to learn and grow. We can use them to stimulate creativity and innovation. I have come to thrive on complexity and challenges that some might find would push them over the edge. Instead, I say, “bring on the tough stuff!” I’m not about to be defeated by hard times because they present an opportunity to excel and move to even higher levels of performance. And that’s just as applicable in my personal life as it is in my business.

Hard times and happy times can coexist. We need to recognize that happiness is a choice and it can be realized when we operate in integrity, express gratitude, serve others and use our challenges as opportunities for growth.

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.

Not Just Any Old Alarm Clock

Calvin Klein has a women’s fragrance called Obsession Perfume. It’s relatively inexpensive – around 20 bucks or so for a 3.4 ounce spray bottle. This blog is not about the perfume but it is about a particular type of “obsession;” one that is worth far more than 20 bucks.

What dominates our thoughts as entrepreneurs? Is it cash flow? How about the competition? Maybe it’s growth or perhaps it’s market share. Most of these aspects aren’t worth becoming obsessions. In fact, there is very little that rises to the level of importance to be worthy of obsession. Yet, there is one element that is so fundamental to the success of our businesses that it should be front and center as a focal point. You might say it’s the “Obsession on a Pedestal.” Everyone throughout the organization starting with the CEO should be obsessed about . . . the Customer.

Well of course, you say, it’s obvious that the Customer is important. No, I’m talking about something more intense than “important.” Customer Obsession takes many forms. There are certain business establishments – stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc., where I enter the restroom and am amazed at how sparkling clean they are. And they even smell good! That’s Customer Obsession. There are certain business establishments where I am called by name when I walk in the door. That’s Customer Obsession. Or take the case of a regular customer of a resort who developed a fondness for a particular type of clock radio. She looked high and low trying to purchase one but to no avail. She messaged the resort staff to see if they could point her in the right direction but was told that the clock was not commercially available. She was pleasantly surprised on her next visit to find a clock radio waiting for her as a gift upon her arrival. That’s Customer Obsession.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could create a culture where everyone is equally obsessive about the Customer? This utopia would have every member of the team smile and greet a Customer in a friendly manner when in his or her presence. This utopia would be a flurry of random thank-you notes, thank-you calls and other forms of true expressions of gratitude to our Customers. When a mistake occurs involving a Customer, our culture encourages a quick, heartfelt apology and a genuine attempt to make amends.

When I think about Customer Obsession, I want to know exactly what the Customer needs and wants. This requires a deep dive into data and other methods to understand what makes the Customer tick. And I want to go way beyond understanding what the Customer currently needs and wants. I must determine what his/her future needs and wants are going to be. I want my Customers to seek me out and tell me that they aren’t just satisfied. No, I want them to tell me that they are fulfilled beyond their wildest dreams.

I want to know when a Customer quits and why; and then I want to make a supreme effort to save that Customer and regain his or her trust. I want to talk directly to our Customers on a regular basis to understand as much as I can about the experience we have provided them. I realize that the cash flow, the competition, the growth and the market share are all secondary to Customer Obsession. Those aspects of our business will be fine if we have an ever expanding base of Customers for whom we are fanatical about making ecstatically happy. Finally, I want to constantly innovate with an eye on how to better serve the Customer. Running in place is not an option. We can and must always do better for the Customer’s sake.

Many obsessions aren’t necessarily healthy. However, obsessing about our Customers will help ensure that our business is healthy and prosperous for years to come.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 54 – Blind Pigs.

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.

After the Love Has Gone

Earth, Wind & Fire recorded a song in 1979 called, After the Love Has Gone. And of course there was the classic 1976 tune by KISS, Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em. There’s an eerie parallel with these titles and our relationships – with our friends and with our customers. Remember when we were growing up? Most of us had a number of friends during our school years. Then we launched our careers and families, and guess what? Many of those friendships went on hold. We found ourselves burning the candle at both ends and struggling to make the kids’ soccer games, juggle business trips with date nights, and generally keep our heads above water. Sound familiar? Gradually we sort of drifted away from all but a very small, close-knit group of friends. If we are introspective about our entrepreneurial lives, is the same thing happening with our business relationships?  

I’ve written before about my philosophy on relationships. I want to build and nurture as many relationships as possible over the course of my career for the purpose of serving them. And I’ve said before that I try to do this without any sense of quid pro quo. Deep at my core I believe that if we are truly committed to serving our relationships in whatever way possible, the Law of Attraction will bring great good into our lives.

So what happens after the sale? We work hard for six months (sometimes much longer) to build a relationship with a prospective customer. Then she buys what we’re selling. We’re elated and we make sure that the product or service is delivered in fine fashion. Then what? Six months later, what have we done to maintain the relationship? If the customer is going to buy our product or service on a recurring basis, chances are that we’ll stay in touch and continue “selling.” Maybe we take the customer to a ballgame or out for dinner. But what about a customer that has purchased something and there’s virtually no chance that another purchase will occur in the future? Do we “love ‘em and leave ‘em?

It’s rare that we find an entrepreneur who builds the relationship for the purpose of serving it. Usually there are strings attached. I’ve been on the receiving end of this my entire life. When someone wants to sell me something they butter me up and shower me with accolades, gifts and other forms of attention. If I don’t buy, they may try for a while, but eventually they drift away. If I do buy and there’s not a reason to buy the same product or service again, I’m usually dropped like a hot potato within a week. The National Sales Executive Association says that 80% of sales are made on the fifth through the twelfth contact. This means that a significant amount of time and effort must be invested to build a relationship sufficient to close the deal. This being the case, why would we not want to continue to maintain that relationship in perpetuity?

Some of us may be thinking, “This makes sense. Even though the customer might not buy again from us, keeping the relationship alive could be good for referrals.” Yes, this may be true, BUT once again we’ve attached strings to the relationship. What if we maintained the relationship because it’s the right thing for us to do? What if we maintained the relationship because we genuinely want to help other people? What if we maintained the relationship because it’s a form of expressing gratitude for all of the wonderful things that others have done for us? If we’re thinking that we just don’t have time to nurture relationships after the sale, then we are working against the Law of Attraction. There’s good flowing all around us – but if we start putting limits on our relationships we’re preventing that good from flowing our way.

Maintaining friendships and business relationships requires an intentional effort. It also means that we have to make a choice about the true purpose of such relationships. Will it be “Get Off of My Cloud” (Rolling Stones – 1965) or “Better Together” (Jack Johnson – 2005)?

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 11 – A Warm Blanket.

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.

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Calamity Jane

What would you do if you were visiting in another city, fell and broke your front teeth? And what if it happened in the evening and on a weekend? Well of course you would try and find a dentist. Unfortunately though, it’s not that easy.

A friend of ours related the story of her friend who encountered this very calamity. She was carrying a platter of meat at dinner time from the common outdoor grill in the condo where she was staying, tripped on a step and did a face plant. In the process she broke her top teeth and actually pushed one of them back at a 45-degree angle. Needless to say, she was in a lot of pain. A dentist lived in the condo building but wasn’t home, so she began calling dental offices in the city. She made contact with approximately 30 practices – presumably it was answering service in each case. Only one dentist called her back.

He was a young man and told her to meet him at his office at 8:30 that evening. When she arrived he opened the office and proceeded to make the necessary dental repairs. She thanked him profusely and his reply was the clincher. “I only hope that if my wife was ever in another city and had this happen, that someone would help her.” I have no idea whether the other 29 dentists even were notified by their answering services so I’m hesitant to make any judgments here. Suffice it to say that she only needed one dentist to respond, and one did.

This dentist clearly displayed an attitude of service. While it may seem like a rather obvious thing, our perception of medical service providers as compassionate and caring isn’t always accurate. Actually, this can be said about most professions and industries. Too often in too many fields, practitioners are focused less on their customers and more on other objectives. Does this person have insurance? Will this person become a repeat customer? I’m busy. Someone else will handle this. I just finished a 12-hour day and I’m too tired. Get the picture?

At what point do we put the needs of the customer ahead of our own? Do we do this only when it is immediately profitable to do so? A lot of businesses apparently have adopted this philosophy. Or, do we believe in serving every customer, client, patient, etc. as we would want to be served? This is a very uncomplicated subject. We either serve or we don’t. It’s totally our choice. But there is a natural law at work here. For when we do good for others, good comes back to us in greater and greater abundance.

As entrepreneurs, the rewards are enormous for putting the needs of others ahead of our own. When service comes first the profits will be bigger than we ever could expect.

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.

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No Scorecard

Question: What do you think is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship?

Answer: Entrepreneurship is comprised of a great many elements. Creativity, vision, patience, perseverance, capital and integrity are some of the more prominent components. But in my opinion, the lifeblood of entrepreneurship is the building of relationships.

We’ve all heard about how important relationships are but at times I’m not sure that we truly comprehend their vital nature – both as entrepreneurs and as human beings. Early in our business lives many of us are out to “prove something.” We want to make sure that we are perceived as worthy or serious. And at times we may not work as hard to build relationships as we could.

For many years, we had in our family of companies, a commercial real estate leasing and brokerage unit. We leased and sold office buildings, shopping centers, industrial facilities and other commercial properties. The art of building relationships was something we constantly preached and several of our salespeople were receptive to this. Many were not. Those that didn’t buy-in were focused on the transaction. They would make or receive a call to or from someone interested in a property. After some discussion if the prospect wasn’t interested in a property these salespeople would move on to work on another prospect. Other more enlightened salespeople sought to become better acquainted with the prospect, maintained contact and found ways to help that individual even if no transaction was imminent. It was these salespeople who ultimately were able to be the most successful.

Building relationships requires an investment on our part. It is an investment of ourselves in other people. Perhaps that investment takes the form of time, money or emotion. Building relationships does not focus on transactions. Instead it focuses on finding opportunities to genuinely serve others. And we’re not doing so with any expectation of receiving something immediately in return. We serve because it’s the right thing to do. When we do focus on gaining a quid pro quo we often find that the relationship we are trying to establish lacks loyalty – in both directions. Do we hope that the day may come that the person with whom we have a relationship will serve us in some way – i.e. a transaction? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with thinking this, but only because it’s the way the world works.

We can be most successful when we build relationships with others where there is no scorecard. When we have this mindset the game will be won by both parties.

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.

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The Legacy

Question: I work hard every day and have achieved success along the way. But sometimes I wonder if this is all there is. Why am I not completely satisfied?

Answer: Some entrepreneurs are wired a bit differently than other members of society. We always want more. More success; more out of life; more challenges – the next mountain to climb. There are those who might describe us as restless. This is actually what drives us to excel. But as the years go by and we continue to succeed; live life more fully; overcome the challenges and climb the next mountain, we become less energized by playing the “game.”

What more is there? At the end of the day are we just flesh and bones? What is our legacy? The whole concept of legacy is important to us as entrepreneurs. It requires a great deal of thought and self-reflection. And it isn’t something that we can know for certain early in our careers. Our perception of legacy evolves over time. But by intentionally seeking our legacy in our 20s, 30s, 40s, etc., it will become a part of who we are and help to shape us as human beings.

I have spent more time as I have gotten older considering my legacy though I wish I’d focused on it more when I was younger. Nevertheless, it has become crystal clear that my legacy is all of the good things I can do for other people. My life has become less about me winning and more about helping others win in their lives. When I am gone, do I want to be remembered as a conquering captain of industry? Or do I want to be remembered as someone who helped make the lives of others more special?

The opportunity to serve others plays perfectly into an entrepreneur’s success mantra. I’ve mentioned before that positive energy draws great good to us. And serving others certainly generates massive amounts of positive energy. I’ve found that the more I give of my time, talent and treasure, the more good things come into my life. The beauty of this equation is that it happens without any calculation whatsoever. For example, I have been part of an entrepreneurial mentoring program for a number of years. The business men and women whom I have been fortunate enough to mentor seem to benefit from my ideas and counsel. But I too have been the beneficiary in many ways. Besides establishing some amazing friendships, the time I spend with them has resulted in stimulating new ideas that I can implement in my own businesses.

It took a while for me to realize that a legacy of materiality was much less important to me than a legacy of hundreds or even thousands of other people whose lives were improved as a result of something I was able to do for them. And guess what? Material abundance has become even greater for me with this realization! It’s yet another manifestation of the Law of Attraction.

What will your legacy be? Give this question some deep thought and challenge yourself to explore the multitude of options. Whatever you decide will be right for you.

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.

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It’s An Art

Question: I am beginning to attend more social and business functions. I’m not sure exactly how to make the most of such events. Some people seem so natural at being in groups. What advice do you have for me?

Answer: Working a room is an art. Certain unique individuals walk into a room and suck all the air out of it. They have big personalities and people naturally gravitate to them. For most of us we have to expend more effort to get the results we want. Which brings us to the question of just exactly what do we want to gain from personal encounters in group settings? For me it’s about the fact that I enjoy meeting and being around other people. And it’s about collecting as many relationships as possible over the course of my life . . . relationships that I can serve in some way.

I have developed a very specific approach to working a room. I make sure that I have a good supply of business cards in my coat pocket. I generally stop at the bar for a glass of water (I’d rather not drink alcohol at these functions) and then I’m ready to launch. If I see someone I know, I’ll make a beeline to him or her and strike up a conversation. Usually this will result in the person I know introducing me to someone else whom I haven’t previously met. Ultimately, I try to meet everyone in the room depending of course upon the size of the gathering. I tend to make the first move – look the person in the eye, shake their hand firmly and give them my name. I get their name in return and then I usually ask a question of some sort. It may be about the event, the host or something I’ve observed about the person. The conversation usually comes easy after that.

My purpose for meeting people is not to see what they can do for me. It’s the other way around. I live my life knowing that when I help others, good things will come back to me in ways I can’t imagine. So, I’m not “targeting” people to meet in order to position myself to eventually “sell” them something. Over the years I’ve met some of the most fascinating people on the planet. I’ve figured out ways to help them, and my life – both business and personally – has been richly blessed as a result.

The key to success with social or business group situations is to have a well-defined purpose. If we show sincere and genuine interest in other people; are there to talk about them; listen to them; and find ways to help them, we’ll be rewarded beyond our wildest dreams.

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.