Let someone help

This past week seems to have been a perfect storm of paths crossing about getting help from coaches, mentors and teachers.

In the past, I have suggested a few times that you should seek out help from those who have been where you are, struggled with some of the same things – and let them help you overcome them. These stories are no different. The key is letting them in.

Three little things

In the elevator at a trade show, a guy tells me he got off the golf course that day – playing in a tournament at a trade show. He said he had a pretty good day on the links – was driving straight and long. Despite that, one of the guys playing with him was out-driving him by over 100 yards on every hole. They were on the same team, so the very long driver (who also happened to be a scratch golfer) suggested that the guy I shared the elevator with could improve his game by tweaking “three little things”.

Despite being a pretty good golfer, elevator guy said “Sure, I’ll give them a try.” Before that day on the course was over, these three little things made an almost-instant improvement in his accuracy, consistency and distance. His improvement before the round was substantial enough to mention it hours later in an elevator.

What three little things are awaiting your arrival at a place where you are ready to listen and learn?

Mister C

Recently in a local paper, the retirement of a long time English teacher was announced. A guy who was lauded for coaching oh so many state speech and debate championship teams, for making high school English the best class of the day, and for being far more than “just a teacher” to many students. When the story of his retirement hit Facebook, a number of students posted multiple paragraphs long thank yous about the impact this teacher had on them – in some cases, despite never having him as a teacher. One of the stories that went unmentioned was about a student who was struggling with a number of things – including some typical teenage angst with authority figures – and went out of his way to challenge the teacher via their work. Rather than handle this with more authority and repression as many of us might, this teacher created an environment that allowed the student to find their way, gain respect for the teacher and eventually recognize that teacher as their mentor – and a role model to guide them along with their parents. Eight to ten years later, the respect is still there. While Mister C is more than a coach to a generation of students, he’s very good at that too.

What would a serious coach with high expectations ask you to do to improve yourself? If you know these things need to be done – why haven’t you done them?

Sometimes you have to ask

People won’t always offer unsolicited advice – at least not the ones who you’d really like to get it from. Many of them are used to being asked for their help, only to see it go unused or ignored. Quite often, their help will come with terms. They might be living highly scheduled lives and will need a commitment from you to meet during the only time they have available. Consider it a gift that someone with this much going on is willing to let you into their sphere.

I’m doing ok, I don’t need a coach

Even if you’re the best in town, you might not be the best in the state. If you’re the best in the state, you might not be the best in your national market. No matter how good you are, there are always coaches, mentors and others to learn from. Most of them have a knack for observing things about your performance, methods and practices that you might not notice, or might not see the importance of. That’s what their insight is for – to help you see the things you can’t see on your own.

The things you pick up from someone who has gone beyond where you are will often be little, but transformative things. Prepare yourself mentally to let someone like this into your life so they can help you become an even better version of you.

A generic conversation about being specific

MISTY MORNING
Creative Commons License photo credit: kelp1966

One of the things you have to be careful about is making your business too generic.

The conversation…

Them: Could I get you to comment on a booth graphic for my company?  We are pretty simple here and need a banner for a trade show booth. Wondering if the fonts are ‘old’.

Them: (Sends booth graphic, which says the company name, what they do and “Manufactured in Montana USA”)

Me:  The “Manufactured in Montana USA” line should stay no matter what else you do. It’s fascinating how much “Manufactured in Montana USA” improves response vs. “Made in Montana”.

Lesson: Test *everything*.

Me:  This banner tells what you do but it doesn’t say why I should talk to you instead of everyone else who does what you do. What separates you from the others who do what you do?

Them:  We have a large variety of in stock materials, very fast turnaround on materials and parts,  specialize in small run orders.

Me:  Probably too much to put on a banner. Is small run unusual in your business?

Them:  It is in our particular niche.  It separates us from a couple of bigger competitors.  They refer to us when someone wants a small quantity.

Them: It’s also an attraction for the government contracted items as they will only need 32 of something so a lot of competitors won’t take the work.

Lesson: Know what makes you special.

Me: Think about these:

“We specialize in small run orders” vs “We specialize in small run orders. We’ll make 32 of them, if that’s what you need.” (Specific vs. generic)

“Very fast turnaround” vs “Three day turnaround” (“Very fast” has many meanings. What does it mean to you?)

“We stock 1000 square feet of 214 different materials so we can get your order out quickly without material delivery delays” vs “large variety of in-stock materials”.

Me:  Being specific (such as “three day”) provokes them to ask someone else exactly what their turnaround is (for example), without you saying a word about your competitor.

Them:  We’d be on the offensive for once!   This sales stuff is not in our DNA (it was the grandfather’s gift, no one since then)

Me:  Is he the business’ namesake? If so,  I’d be tempted to incorporate a good head shot photo of him (in context of the business) into your signage but thatll greatly change the banner price if the timing and cost make sense.

Them:  Interesting .. to make it more personal?

Me:  Exactly.

Me:  I do have another suggestion for a change for the banner. If you only want to buy it once… “Since 1961”

Me:  If you want to buy the banner more than once, this is the year to say “Fifty years…” or “Our 50th year” etc.

Lesson: State your strengths in strong specifics, no matter how obvious.

Me:  Since its a family affair, you may want to work in “Three generations” and a progression of pics of you, dad, grandpa.

Them:  That’s a really great idea.  Helps with that story you want people to get into.

Me:  Exactly. The question everyone enjoys answering: “So, how’d you get into this business?”

Lesson: Business is Personal.

Me:  Do you guys have booth giveaways?

Them:  Notepads was the plan. We are working up materials and sample parts to display on our table.   Stuff to show off our capabilities.

Me: How do notepads provoke people to think about your product? Alternative: What would it cost to make a 4″ rounds of a mildly heat resistant and hopefully liquid resistant material you use in production?

Them: I think we could make that happen.

Me:  I’m thinking coasters with your company/logo/URL/phone # embossed on them. Put your work in front of them all day, every day. A notepad will get left on a plane or in a hotel room. These won’t be.

Them: We would have to figure out a way to put the printing on there but its a great idea.

Me:  I figured you might have a means of embossing, but I wasn’t sure.

Them:  We are a crafty bunch so now that you’ve given me the idea…

Them:  I really appreciate the help.   This is a new world to me.

Lesson: Use congruent tools to get them thinking and talking about you.

 

Old gray haired white guys

A couple days ago, the Lakers appeared a little vulnerable against the Magic after a game 3 loss.

It appeared that the Magic focused a little more and worked a little harder on fundamentals than the Lakers did, as a result, their shooting improved and nothing the Lakers and Kobe could do would stop them.

It doesn’t matter if you have a 46 inch vertical leap if you can’t make a layup or a free throw, much less play defense or make your way across the court without someone stealing the ball from you.

Small businesses have the same issues to deal with: Focus. Attention to fundamentals.

As I see businesses struggle with sales, customer retention, customer service and effective marketing, more often than not, ignoring lessons in fundamentals from old gray haired white guys are at the root of the problem.

No, it isn’t just white guys, but there just aren’t many business icons in their 70s and 80s who aren’t white, simply because of the way things were in the US 40-50-60 years ago. Naturally, there are exceptions, but this post isn’t about race relations so let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Experience is cheaper if you can learn its lessons from someone who already paid the price for it.

When I say old, of course I mean “much older than me” ( just like you do).

I’m speaking of guys like Zig Ziglar (born 1926), JimRohn (born 1930), John Earl Shoaff (born 1916, died 1965)  and Earl Nightingale (born 1921, died 1989).

Yeah, I know. Those dudes are either really old or long gone. That’s just a short list of folks, but rather than go on, I have something else to deal with that’s far more important.

Your mind. See, I know what you’re thinking.

You’re 23 (or 33, 43, 53, take your pick), an entrepreneur and there’s nothing some crusty old white dude can teach you about business. This is the iPhone age, the internet age and those guys would freak out if they had access to what you have.

It’s a big mistake to think that way. Keep in mind that those generations didn’t have some of those things – so they invented them

One of the simple things Zig teaches is to get everything you want, help someone else get everything *they* want.

Simple but powerful – and easy to implement in your business. If you put some thought into it, you can easily find a way to leverage that idea so that it creates revenue opportunities for your business.

I’ll leave it to you to discover the other things these men taught but I can’t make a better suggestion to you than to discard your prejudices and just listen.

Then take action.

PS: Yeah, I realize the photo is of a woman. There are smart, old, white-haired women that you can learn from as well.