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Teamwork means… what?

Teamwork has been on my mind a bit lately, so I thought I’d organize a few thoughts along those lines.

Trust is leadership is influence

Every day of your life, people are doing a credit check on you…your trust
– Rick Warren

People learn to trust you when you are predictable. When they can predict how you will handle a situation, how you will care for a client, how you will advise or comfort an employee, how you will discipline an employee – as well as when or where, and how you will call out an employee for a solid or above the call effort.

Think about that not only regarding your service to clients, but your service to your team. What example do you set for other employees? How do you talk about clients when clients aren’t around? How do you talk about other employees when they aren’t around?

People trust those who are loyal to them. Loyalty demonstrated in others is often assumed to be the same loyalty one thinks they’re getting when they aren’t around. Loyalty doesn’t mean being soft. It means being consistent, predictable and thinking of everyone – including but not solely the company and its owner(s) in every decision and action.

Life’s battery isn’t self-sustaining

Remember, the employee’s job is one of many things attached to their “life battery”. Work, home, kids, spouse and many other things compete for and/or charge/consume the energy in that battery.

If everything is taking energy from the battery and no investment is made in recharging the battery, how long will it last?

I don’t have the right to be tired” – reality show producer Mark Burnett, meaning that he doesn’t have the right not to take care of himself.

You can probably identify things that drain your battery. Can you also point to the things done daily or weekly that recharge it? What helps your team recharge? Does your team know what saps your battery? Let them know. For me, drama and the inability to get focus time are major battery leaks.

Teamwork, motivation and ownership

Don’t expect every staff member to work at the same level all the time. Different work motivates at different levels. Energy levels swell and fade. You and other team members can impact the performance of others more easily than you think.

Don’t expect employees to care as much as you do, work as long as you do, work as hard as you do, or live and breathe your business like you do. Some will, but most won’t because they don’t own the place. For you, it’s an investment in your lifetime financial future. What is it for them? What have you done to make it more than a paycheck for them? Perhaps you have some sort of employee ownership program, but it has to be real or it may as well not exist. Employee owners have a skin in the game and they will view things differently as a result, just as you did before you were a business owner. Don’t expect people to act like an owner if they aren’t.

When team members show an interest in learning new things or deepening their expertise or skills, it’s not enough to get out of the way. Do what you can to help them get a running start. You can pay for the education, reimburse upon success, make time in their day for it, and find other ways to leverage their enthusiasm and interest. No matter what you do, don’t discourage it.

Affirmation and Appreciation

Management of mistakes is important. Perseverance, determination and endurance combine to create wins, but mistakes teach us what doesn’t work. How we recognize, debrief and analyze them to avoid repeat episodes is critical.

Make at least weekly contact with everyone. I don’t mean a wave or a smile in the shop, but a few moments or a pre-arranged chat, email or text conversation about the Weekly Four:

  1. I’ve made progress on …
  2. I’m having a problem with ….
  3. I need a decision from you about ….
  4. My goal(s) this week is ….

Keep in mind that presumption isn’t communication. Assuming that an employee knows that their long/late hours lately are appreciated isn’t appreciation. Be explicit to them and their family. A short handwritten note to the family to recognize their effort and the family’s sacrifice is more than a thank you.

What does teamwork look like to you?

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Making employees feel safe

Gary Vaynerchuk make a safety comment in a video I was watching the other day that struck me to the core. It made perfect sense but I hadn’t really thought about it from quite the angle he came from.

While I’ve always tried to listen more than I speak (thanks Dad) as well as “praise in public, scold in private” and work within a number of Jim Rohn / Stephen Covey “seek first to understand” ways, I have found that there’s a line that you can cross when managing people that can stop the flow of accurate information from them to you – and perhaps from you to them.

The deadly part is that once you cross that line it’s really hard to erase the line or cross back over it into the nice little town of Truthville. That’s the place where Gary’s comment provided some clarity.

How do you make them feel?

What Gary said was “When you make them feel safe, they start telling the truth”.

He wasn’t accusing people who don’t feel safe of being liars. He’s saying that until they feel safe around you, within your business and its culture, you aren’t giving them the option to tell the truth. Up to that point, you’ve only given them the option to tell you what you want to hear, or perhaps the “safe” part of the truth.

When people don’t feel safe, it damages every conversation. It isn’t solely about the critical, strategic discussion you’re having this afternoon. It will affect every discussion, because they aren’t comfortable where the danger zone is.

As a result, they will often say nothing, as if they have no opinion, have nothing to add, and agree with whatever’s already been said. The reality is likely that they might have something quite valuable to share, controversial / challenging or otherwise, but they don’t feel safe sharing it. Unless you’re sensitive to what you’ve done, or more accurately, what you haven’t created for them – they might appear ambivalent, stupid, shy, unthinking, not insightful and many other things that you might see as negative.

How is this costly to your business?

The obvious problem is that your people tiptoe around and say only what they feel safe saying, instead of offering their most brilliant ideas and insightful opinions. Those things are rarely going to be middle of the road safe, so they are muted. This will change the appearance of that person and their attitude.

You might even think about getting rid of them because they aren’t intellectually contributing to important conversations at the company. Who wants an employee who doesn’t care one way or the other, or who doesn’t think about the big questions the business needs to discuss, or never has an opinion?

What could be happening is that you’ve not yet created an environment that allows them to feel safe sharing the most intelligent, valuable things on their mind. When your staff members intellectually shut down, or self-arrest before providing their most creative ideas and insights, you lose.

Eventually, you may lose them but in the meantime, you have a team of folks doing their work in an environment where they are afraid to take risks, speak their mind, share their insights (right or wrong) and take ownership of a situation. If someone doesn’t feel safe, they’ll never take ownership of something because claiming ownership means they agree to be responsible when management comes calling.

Happy, safe employees take ownership

I saw a Facebook post from an acquaintance the other day. He was getting home from work at 11:30pm on a Friday night – and all he could talk about on Facebook to his family and friends was how excited he was to work for the company he works for. While I suspect his management doesn’t want him doing that every night, I’ll bet they appreciate that he recognized something that needed to be done, done right then, and that he stuck to it till it was complete.

People take responsibility when they feel safe. Ownership matters to them. People crave it but they won’t take it if it doesn’t feel safe to do so.

Part of taking ownership is telling the unvarnished, unfiltered truth when important discussions come up. The more valuable your people are, the more valuable their insights and opinions will be.

Do your employees feel safe enough to share those things with you?

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Driveway Gymnastics and the Ides of March

So…it’s almost the end of March.

Seems like the day before yesterday, the new year started.

Like many, you probably thought over some goals for the new year and made plans to make them happen. Maybe you even got started on the work required.

But again, it’s almost the end of March and in just a few days, 25% of the year will be behind us.

25% isn’t much or is it?

25 percent seems like so little when you think back to the first few weeks of January. Wasn’t that just a few days or maybe weeks ago?  Reality check: It’s moving faster than we think.

Maybe a few examples will help us get a handle on how fast the year is slipping behind us.

If the year charted the life of a 100 year old person, the days gone by in the year are enough for this person to have been born, gone to school, grown up, moved out of the house and gone to college or have been working for seven years.

If the year charted the time to walk past a line of people that included the entire population of the United States, we would already have walked past every person who lives in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Austin.

The point is that while it may seem like the year is just getting underway, really – it’s way past time to “just be getting started”.

Assess and Adjust

So, with 25% of the year behind you, can you say the same for your progress on this year’s goals?

Maybe you’re on course. If so, it’s worth taking 30 minutes to re-examine your plan and your progress to date. Should the plan be accelerated? Adjust it based on what you’ve learned over the last three months. If you’re not where you expected to be by this time, maybe you got sidetracked by “real work”. Or maybe you reached for more than might be reasonable in a year’s time. Or maybe there’s another six months of prep work before you can start to harvest the rewards of your plans for the year.

Whatever the case, the end of the first quarter is as good a time as any to take a look at the efforts you’ve made, the progress you’ve made and then adjust your plans based on what you found.

I’ve sure been forced to.

What’s broke? What’s working?

My year has been topsy turvy so far. While early-year deployments of long-running projects came off well, there have been stumbles.

Literally, in fact.

A late January ankle injury caused by driveway ice gymnastics has slowed down my work. It’s also pretty much derailed my training for May’s Spartan Sprint, a situation that’s seriously frustrating.

But how does an ankle injury affect non-physical work like mine?

Well, between prescriptions that tend to fog the brain at times and the not-so-snappy speed of hobbling around, everything seems to take longer. At times, the injury has even affected sleep. I don’t think I have to explain how that could impact work.

As a result, I’ve had to repeatedly perform the assess and adjust exercise that I just suggested to you. This episode has been a painful reminder of the business impact of even minor health issues. Learn from my pain. The stronger you are, the better you’ll be able to get your stuff done.

Fortunately, my ankle is finally behaving again, though it’s still a long way from Spartan-ready.

Take your own advice

While you might not have tried to torch an ankle like I did, you should still check your progress against your expectations (and the calendar) to see what (if anything) needs to be dealt with.

These questions might help: What’s broken? What’s working? What’s moving faster than expected? What’s taking longer than expected? What resources do I need that I didn’t plan for? What resources do I have that I should focus elsewhere?

What advice would you offer to someone who responded with your answers to those questions? Now…Take your own advice.

My assess and adjust exercise has gotten things rebooted, allowing me to get things back on track. How’s your year going?

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Like an athlete, business owners must prepare to go pro

After swimming the last race of an 11 year amateur swimming career, a little reflection…not despair.

The margin of victory for a world-class athlete seems to shrink with each advance in our ability to measure minute differences in performance, whether the race is on a track, in a pool, on open water or down a mountain.

The difference between first and second place is often measured in a few thousandths of a second, with no more than a few hundredths of a second separating the first half-dozen competitors.

For example, the winner of a 100 meter world championship swimming event beat his competitor to the finish by 4.7 millimeters, a tiny 0.0047 percent margin of victory. If your business passed a competitor grossing $100,000 in sales by 0.0047 percent, you’d sell an extra $4.70.

That might seem like a meaningless difference until it’s the margin between winning a big contract and losing it.

Like a 4.7 millimeter lead, that “meaningless difference” might be traced back to one little thing:

  • One missed phone call vs. one call answered on the first ring.
  • One bounced email vs. one personal email response.
  • One product out of stock on the shelf but sitting in the inventory closet vs. every shelf stocked and faced.

Even though businesses don’t measure performance in the same way athletes do, the strategies that athletes use to advance their performance and overcome obstacles also make sense for small business owners.

Mental and Physical Preparation

Long before the event occurs, world-class swimmers and runners see themselves touching the wall or crossing the finish line for the win. They play that “movie” repeatedly in their mind as they workout. Similar to the muscle memory that a physical workout or event practice forms, visualization helps athletes strengthen themselves mentally.

Likewise, the visualization and practice of a sales call or trade show presentation are essential mental workouts for the business owner. They’re essential to maintain the focus, composure and discipline needed to perform at their highest-ever levels, particularly when faced with world-class competition.

Mental preparation alone is not enough for the athlete or the business owner. Despite the best mental preparation, the athlete must prepare their physical body for competition. For the business owner, mental preparation does not execute the strategy, make the call or give the presentation for the business – that physical work must also be practiced before competition.

Dealing with Adversity

For the amateur, quitting can be the easiest thing to do when faced with adversity. For a professional, quitting tends to be limited to a physical inability to continue or the risk of a career-ending injury. A professional’s perseverance is rooted in the strength developed through mental preparation and is the difference between being prepared to quit vs. being prepared to continue.

Unfortunately, adversity due to an inability to recover from a known obstacle. Rather than dealing with obstacles as they’re met, high achievers in both sport and business cut their risk by preparing for obstacles in advance.

In addition to the nutrition control, physical workouts and mental training an amateur might use to prepare themselves, the professional is likely to include specialized efforts that enable them to take known obstacles in stride or when possible, avoid them. However, some obstacles cannot be avoided. When a marathon includes a hill climb at mile 22, the professional runner might practice hill climbs after a 22 mile run. By contrast, an amateur runner might practice hill climbs as one of their workouts, if they practice them at all.

Business owners can prepare for obstacles by cross-training their staff, building redundancy into critical systems, testing disaster plans, having alternative inventory providers and keeping their legal, insurance and finance systems up to date. They should ask “What if?”, “What is possible?” and “How do we prepare?” long before adversity arises.


Performance evaluation is critical to the steady improvement of any professional athlete or business owner, but most professional athletes don’t stop at self-evaluation. They use a coach.

Even though their coach cannot run as fast, swim as quickly or hit the ball as hard as today’s professional athletes, few professional athletes would dream of competing without a coach. Many athletes credit their coach as an essential factor in their ability to improve, much less remain competitive.

A good coach can observe and analyze many aspects of an athlete’s form, motion and mental preparedness from a perspective the athlete simply cannot assume. A coach’s suggestion for even a tiny change in physical motion or preparation can produce substantial improvements in athletic performance.

A business coach can have the same level of impact. Like the athlete’s coach, they make observations from an external perspective, seeing things the business owner can’t see, or doesn’t see the same way. It isn’t that the business owner is less competent or observant, the coach simply benefits from a different perspective. The coach sees beyond “We’ve always done it this way” and can ignore the internal politics or “baggage” that might blind the business owner to what later seems obvious.

Most professional athletes have a coach, yet few small business owners have one. Why?


When world-class athletes fail to win the big event that they’ve trained for years to compete in, their initial reaction might seem to be despair over the loss.

Frequently, the reality is that athletes who “lost” by a few thousandths of a second are focused on the fact that they posted their best-ever performance. The appearance of post-event despair is often about finally being able to relax and enjoy achieving a goal they’ve worked so hard to achieve – posting their best-ever performance at a world-class competition.

For the business owner, it’s not much different than what you feel the end of that big trade show, the first calm moment after a successful new product launch or when leaving the site of a long-awaited presentation that went well.

For athletes and business owners alike, the real victory comes in outdoing your best you.


I am blogging on behalf of Visa’s Go World Olympic Campaign and receive compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s.

This post was sponsored by Visa Small Business. From now through August 31st, visit to learn about Team Visa Olympic athletes who are also dedicated small business owners. Visit Visa Business’s newly-launched Facebook Page ( for more details, and follow @VisaSmallBiz for ways to help make your small business more efficient and successful. Discover more at

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Do you and your staff swim in the deep end?

Speaks volumes about the mindset at Apple.

What mindset do you instill on their first day? What mindset do you hire for?

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What’s your plywood?

“When youâ??re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, youâ??re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. Youâ??ll know itâ??s there, so youâ??re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” – Steve Jobs

What’s your plywood?

PS: Thanks for raising the bar, Steve. Be well.


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The Freedom To Hire

O OUTRO LADO DO MEDO Ã? A LIBERDADE (The Other Side of the Fear is the Freedom)
Creative Commons License photo credit: jonycunha

I‘ve been listening carefully over the last month as a number of people offered their analysis of the jobs problem in today’s economy.

One thread of discussion from a sizable number of folks really stuck out.

“It’s health care reform. No one is going to hire anyone until that’s resolved.”

Generally speaking, I understand the fear, but I think it’s uncalled for in the U.S.

Over There

In some countries, you can be stuck with a new hire “for life”.

Such policies were designed to grow employment and increase consumer spending, but like many things viewed from only one angle – they’ve also had (and continue to have) a slight to significant dampening effect on hiring.

Think about it – if you knew that the next employee you hired was yours “for life” (or say, 10-20 years), you might choose to either contract out that work – or just avoid the work altogether if you can.

Avoiding profit-generating work doesn’t exactly sound like a way to grow your business.

Not in the U.S.

That isn’t what we’re facing here in the U.S.

While you could argue about the pluses and minuses of the Affordable Care Act (ACA / HCR ) forever, what I’m hearing is a genuine HCR-driven fear of hiring.

The primary reasons stated revolve around employers concerned with ever-increasing health care benefit costs. Thing is, these costs have been rising at about 10% per year since at least 2004 in both good and bad economies without ACA / HCR.

Or they hear about the penalties for not having health insurance, which are $2000 per full-time employee per year. While that is LESS than the annual cost of providing a qualifying health insurance plan for employees, even that is misleading because the penalty doesn’t apply to everyone. Back to that in a minute.

Until you know the details, it’s EASY to see how it might make someone think twice about hiring an $8-12 an hour part-time clerical employee. Adding that $2000 cost to their $8 an hour salary effectively adds another $38 a week to their full-time pay, moving them to about $8.97 an hour.

Normally, I’d suggest that you shouldn’t have an employee who isn’t generating at least three times their wages in revenue, but in lean times, I suspect most employers have figured that out.

Still, that $2000 still sticks out.

Did I mention that many of you won’t have to pay it?

The Smallest

In addition to being exempt from penalties, the smallest businesses (with less than 30 full-time workers) get a tax credit for the coverage they provide.

According to IRS form 8941, the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit for Small Employers:

“an employer or tax-exempt organization must have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees (“FTEs”) for the tax year, and pay less than $50,000 in average annual wages per FTE. As explained in an IRS press release, the maximum credit available under this program for tax years 2010 to 2013 is 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible small business employers and 25 percent of premiums paid by eligible employers that are tax-exempt organizations. The maximum tax credit will increase starting in 2014 to 50 percent of premiums paid by eligible small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible, tax-exempt organizations for two years.”

Escaped Goats

Larger employers worry about the penalties for not providing a plan – but those don’t apply until you have at least 50 full-time employees (or the equivalent) excluding seasonal workers who work fewer than 120 days. For some employers, it will be cheaper to cancel your business insurance and pay the penalty than to offer an employee health insurance plan. Go figure.

Will this change? Like everything in business, probably.

While you take the wait and see approach, your competition is strategically growing their business.

Be Unpredictable

I’ll make it easy for you.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you don’t believe a word of this and that you think the ACA / HCR bill is going to get a lot tougher for employers.

Still, you’ve got that pesky mortgage.

Sell the work. Contract out what you have to. Bullish? Go crazy and hire someone whose work might transform your business.

The political stuff will be unpredictable no matter what you do. May as well go kick some butt.

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Ditch Diggers and Self-Starters

As much as Seth’s oft-hypocritical blog annoys me (a no-comments blog from a guy who preaches interaction?), his post on the need for external motivation is worth pointing your way: Self-starters matter.

I’m not saying that non-self-starters don’t matter and I’d never assert that motivational tools, speakers, reading and the like aren’t of value – far from it.

What I am saying is this:

  • If you want to be the one who keeps their job while others are getting laid off, you’d better be the one motivating yourself. It’s your responsibility and no one else’s.
  • If you want your business to stick around while others are wilting around you, you should be the one leading your industry to a better place before a competitor or a government entity forces it upon you; and you’d better be the one hiring the people who don’t need someone like Lombardi or R. Lee Ermey to get them out of bed in the morning.


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Corvettes Everywhere

Ever notice that when you decide to buy a new Corvette (or a F-150, for that matter), you start to see your chosen new vehicle everywhere you go?

For me, the last month has been like that.

No matter where I turn, in person or on the Net, I’ve found myself running into people during or just after they experienced an event that brushed away all the distractions that clouded their minds.

We’re talking about life or life’s work changing moments of clarity.

If you were reading a few weeks back (if not, welcome!), I discussed the arrival of some clarity (in my work) that came to me while I was caring for Dad.

I think that’s natural and we probably all go through it when we experience a change in our lives that’s as impactful as that.

Clarity has become the Corvette that’s everywhere.

The Big Game

The challenge of the “Taking Care” post requires bringing your “A game”. Often.

But do you bring it all the time?

It’s tough because it’s pretty easy to fall off the “A game” wagon if you aren’t focused on it. You get swamped or you let yourself take a job or a client that really doesn’t fit you well and you can easily find yourself doing something you aren’t passionate about.

When that happens, maybe the second string does the work. For you, the second string may not be that bad. It might even be better than anyone else’s first string.

But it isn’t your first string.

Just like those Corvettes that seem to be everywhere, so are folks realizing that their game isn’t what it could be – even if their game is better than most.

Close Enough

Last weekend, I learned that an acquaintance in Colorado had one of those moments of clarity – a big one. It came in the aftermath of a near-death experience. Given that it was Rick, it doesn’t surprise me that he was awake for it.

Rick had this to say about his moment of clarity:

On reflection I wondered why I was so apathetic about the outcome (of the life saving health care he was receiving) and now I believe I know why. I have simply not been doing the kind of work I was capable of…

That doesn’t mean he’d been doing poor work. He doesn’t. But he knew he had more in him and that “close enough” wasn’t.


Someone recently mentioned that they appreciated that I blog so regularly. Since I don’t feel it’s “regularly” I didn’t say anything since I blogged daily for years. The current pace – driven by time and passion rather than schedule – seems a tad lazy to me.

To them, it seemed amazing to write as much as I do now.

A friend of mine has taken a photo every single day since (at least January 1st, 2010). When your game is at that level and you’re using it to energize your creative side, you can’t, you won’t…let yourself skip a day because your “A” game is at a different level than most others.

Not long ago, the Flathead Beacon won a pile of awards, including best weekly newspaper in the state – garnering a comment from one judge that the Beacon is the best “regardless of category”. Realizing that a bunch of talented, award winning professional journalists have to deal with my freelance column next to their work every week makes you realize you need to raise your game yet again.

Motivating The King?

I didn’t follow the NBA Finals too closely this year. I heard there were some great games. Let’s just say I was distracted.

Sometime between games 4 and 6, I read a quote from LeBron saying that he had to get himself up for game five (and then game six) because he didn’t bring it in game four – that’s the game where the flu-weakened guy named Dirk owned it.

If the NBA Finals don’t motivate you, what could? Call me confused.

Play like it’s The Finals. That’s how a courageous King earns the right to roar.

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Pushing You Starts The Whispering

Whispering Grass
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Gallop

Earlier this week, I wrote about breaking down Chet Holmes’ “Dream 100” list of prospective customers into 10 lists of 10.

What I didn’t tell you was why I break the list down.

Asking you to name 100 random prospects would like result in an impact focused on one thing – “just the sales”.

This set of lists takes you well beyond that. Instead of having to think of 100 ideal prospects, you have only 10 of a specific type to come up with and each one has a context.

More importantly, each of the 10 groups has a specific purpose.

  • The 10 testimonial prospects need to be well-known in your market. Influencers. People or companies that, when mentioned, make people think your company hits home runs.
  • 10 CEOs you’d learn the most from – Obvious. Good to have their business, but great to have them, effectively, as business partners.
  • The 10 biggest upsides will make great turnaround / rags-to-riches stories. Powerful stuff.
  • The 10 clients to test your strengths are there because your strengths needed to be pushed – they ARE your strengths, after all.
  • The clients to expose your company’s weaknesses are there because you need to be reminded of them and decide whether to let them be or eliminate them.
  • Clients with a demanding nature are there to make your team better. Like your strengths, they too need to be pushed.
  • The transformational wave of revenue is going to be needed if you get these other things right – because a lot of change is going to come one way or another.
  • The 10 clients who need what you don’t have really need YOU. The fact that you don’t yet offer what they need will force you to stretch in your market.
  • The 10 clients who wouldn’t likely survive without your help are there for several reasons. They’ll remind you of the small fry you might be ignoring. Maybe they shouldn’t survive without your help. What will you learn from that process?
  • The 10 clients who would make you wake up in the middle of the night and think to yourself “I canâ??t believe I got those guys” are there for all the above reasons. They’ll push most of the buttons the other 90 clients will push – but in different ways.

The real reason that last category is there is to push you and your business well beyond your current boundaries as you see them.

You need to be pushed. You need to realize that you have another level inside your business that you’ve yet to discover.

PS: Getting these 100 clients will establish you as the leader in your market. Other prospects will notice you success, notice who they are and notice what you did to get them. And they’ll want some of that. Which is why you needed to be pushed.