Assumption is the KILLER of opportunity.
When we assume we make stories up in our heads about what our experience or expectations should be. In business the act of assumption can lead to major loss of opportunity simply because many of us aren’t aware we’re making the mistake in the first place.
Many of us do this, including me!
Last week I had the opportunity to attend an interesting workshop put on by Mark Leblanc, small business guru, author and keynote speaker. Marc’s approach to success in the small business world was straight forward – take things one step at a time and measure your success constantly.
Throughout the morning Mark covered a variety of topics ranging from the 9 best small business practices to high value activities. As the morning came to a close I caught myself laughing as I had recently committed one of the simplest mistakes people can make in business. I didn’t just do one of them, I did both on Mark’s list which he refers to as the ‘Two Deadly Business Sins’.
Are you an assumption sinner?
Business Deadly Sin #1:
If my customer wrote me a check once they’ll call me if they need me again
Business Deadly Sin #2:
If my customer wrote me a check once they automatically know all that we can do for them
(note: the word ‘customer’ is meant to reference an actual external customer however it can also be considered an internal colleague, cross functional team or business unit if you do not interact with external customers)
The first of our two delightful sins points at the assumption that if we’ve done business with a customer once they will “of course call us back the next time they need help”. This couldn’t be farther from the truth yet so many of us in sales, services, entrepreneurship, small business, you name it, fall victim to this fallacy.
Mark further shared with us that it’s not uncommon for our customers to think “Matt hasn’t called me in a couple months, he must not want to do business with us any further.” The assumption on Matt’s end that the customer will just call him when they’re ready furthers the issue as Matt doesn’t follow up leading the customer to believe he’s no longer interested in their business. For Pete’s sake! That couldn’t be farther from the truth it’s just Matt doesn’t know it yet.
The second deadly sin addresses the assumption that if you’ve done business with a client once they should then automatically know every aspect of your business, where you can help them and where you can’t.
If you’ve ever had a customer say “Gosh Jillian, I didn’t even know you offered that type of service. We would have loved to work with you but we just signed up your competitor because we weren’t aware you could help us in that area.” It’s like getting slapped in the face with a wet leather belt which leaves a welt for weeks. Your customer, who self admittedly loves working with you, went to your competitor for help simply because they didn’t know you could help them. Ouch. (and yes, I’ve actually done this more than once)
So how do we remedy this?
Let’s start by focusing on never assuming about the relationships you may or may not have with your customers or what they know about your product or service. It’s always better to pick up the phone and call rather than wait for the phone to ring on your end. Take the initiative!
When speaking with your customer ask questions about how their business is doing and which areas they need help in the most to best determine how your product or service can be a value add to their pain points. Remind them often about what you do and how you do it. Be consistent!
It’s amazing at how many things are sold to professionals which claim to be the next best thing in advancing your career. From books and seminars to workshops and online tutorials, there seems to be an endless supply of crap that many of us buy to help our careers yet few ever see any real return on investment.
There is one thing that doesn’t rely on fancy sales pitches or overdone workbooks and it can truly elevate your professional game. Best part is we all have access to it and most often it is completely free of charge.
Welcome to MENTORSHIP.
No matter where you are in your career having a mentor is highly advisable as it can be the difference between you navigating the waters of a successful career versus drowning in the murky depths of the rat race. Mentors aren’t just strategic career advisors they’re the angel over your shoulder whispering sweet nothings into your ear.
So if having a mentor was so impactful how come more people don’t have them?
Typically it’s because we’re scared to ask for help. It’s possible we don’t think we need the help, though many would object. It could also be because we don’t know where to look to find such a connection.
At the start of this year I decided it was high time to get me a new mentor. I’ve been lucky in my life to have a consistent and very good mentor in my father which I’m incredibly thankful and fortunate to have. I was looking for an additional mentor that had specific experience – growing a business from the ground up and doing so with a technical customer base.
After doing some snooping around I landed on the website of Micro Mentor. It’s like a dating site for professionals looking for a mentor, but no hanky panky is involved. You fill out a profile and then your needs and interests are matched with a possible mentor. Both parties get to review one another’s profiles after which they have an initial conversation to see if the match is a good fit. This is where I met Bonnie.
Fast forward Bonnie and I have now been working together for eight months and I’m continually impressed and appreciative of the guidance and thought provoking perspective she brings to the table. Bonnie started a technology service business in San Francisco a couple decades ago by investing a couple thousand dollars to start the company. From that start she grew the business to over 100 employees and has recently retired, earlier nonetheless, as a result of the success she experience along the way. Needless to say I feel like I can accomplish a lot knowing I have Bonnie in my corner. (let’s also not forget my father)
Why am I sharing this with you? If you don’t have a mentor you need to get one!
The relationship, when done right, will positively change every aspect of your career and outlook on business. I’m so passionate about mentoring that I too am a mentor – it’s worth every minute of my day.
Here’s what mentors, like Bonnie and my father, bring to the table and why they’re so incredibly valuable to you and I:
> Business Savvy – they bring experience and knowledge to the table that just can’t be matched by a text book or online workshop. You can’t replace real experience. Learning from a mentor isn’t just about accomplishing big feats it’s also about learning from their mistakes. Yes they’ve made plenty of them just like you and I.
> External Perspective – often times when we need advice we go to people who are close to us, most commonly that work for the same company. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing what is important to remember is that these people have a certain level of bias in their thoughts and advice. Having a mentor outside your company gives you the chance to get advice which focuses on the situation at hand rather than personal bias or internal company politics. Mentors can also share with you how they have dealt with situations perhaps in other lines of business or industries which could provide you with a fresh approach to handling a situation. When your mentor is outside your company you can also rest easier knowing you can share your true feelings and thoughts and know that information won’t get back to your boss or be passed along at the water cooler.
> Confidant – Mentor are great listeners. Like my mentor Bonnie, she’ll sit on the phone with me and graciously give me ample time to spill my guts at which point she does an excellent job summarizing the situation and delivering exceptional feedback. I trust that I can be open with her which ultimately helps my development process.
> Accountability – Mentors vary greatly in this area and how they approach it. If you are going to ask for a mentor make sure you are willing to actually implement the ideas and suggestions the two of you collectively come up with. There’s no better way to ruin a good mentor relationship than to talk the talk but not walk the walk. If you are one of those people that sometimes needs a swift kick in the ass to get going mentors can also be utilized for that, just be careful how much ass kicking you need. Mentors ultimately aren’t baby sitters and they’re not supposed to run your business or career for you.
> Comfort Zone Executioners – let’s face it, we all love dancing in the comfort zone for longer than we should. Mentors are great at breaking up common thoughts or practices to get you out of your area of complacency. When this happens true growth is right around the corner.
Back in January of this year I was less than a month away from being a first time Dad. To put it bluntly, I was scared! What do I know about raising a kid and how will I show up for our daughter so that she grows up to be a strong and healthy young woman? It’s a daunting thought process for a new parent as there is so much left to the unknown. What I hoped was that I would be able to lean on some of my leadership experiences from my career to get me through the soon to be experience of being a parent.
Six months later I’m amazed at what I’ve learned along the way about being a father. Infants have much to teach us as their souls give us a glimpse into perfection. They don’t have a negative bone in their body as their main desire in life is to be loved and cared for. Simple as that. Accomplish that and they’ll love you unconditionally. Along the way I’ve picked up some nuggets of knowledge, which mind you were bestowed on be by an infant, and are now the cornerstone for my focus in business and as a leader.
> Caring for others without expectation
I’ve learned quickly the importance and result of what happens when you give all of yourself to someone for their benefit and their benefit only. When we do things for people because we’re looking to get something in return it cheapens the relationship as the receiver almost always sees through the other person. What’s amazing is infants have this same perceptive quality. When you care for them unconditionally they love you no matter what. They appreciate and respect your kindness and give it back a thousand times what was originally offered. Leadership is the same way. Put yourself out there for others placing their careers ahead of your own and you’ll have a team of people who happily run through brick walls, achieving great heights along the way.
Even if you don’t have kids you’ve probably heard this…kids require a lot of patience. My whole life I’ve struggled in this area yet through some caring feedback over the years I’ve managed to slowly improve. My daughter requires a whole new level of patience that I’ve never had to deploy before yet I find myself yearning for the opportunity to give it. What you come to realize is that many times people don’t do things on purpose which leads to feeling of being upset, frustrated, irritated, etc which is what can cause people to lose their patience. A lot of times it’s just a simple miscommunication. When we keep this top of mind at work we can approach situations with a calmer, more understanding mindset which alleviates our need to get fired up.
> It’s the small things that count
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in life, focusing on things that are completely irrelevant to our day or perhaps even the reason for being alive in the first place. I must admit, I struggle with this often. One of the best things I’ve learned from my daughter is most of the worldly challenges I’m faced with are actually quite insignificant and the reality is that some of the smallest things in life are what really makes a difference. A great example is every morning when I go to get her out of her crib (sometimes at a ripe 5:15AM mind you) I’m greeted with the biggest toothless smile you could ever image. It goes ear to ear and immediately puts me in my happy place. It’s moments like these that are great reminders for us that life is not all about spreadsheets, bottom lines and performance reviews. If we take this same approach with our employees at work we’ll find ourselves much more satisfied with our career experience.
> The Platinum Rule of Relationships
The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself. I’ve learned from my daughter that the ‘Platinum Rule’ is far more effective as the focus is to ‘treat others the way they want to be treated’. If I take the time to do the things which are important to my daughter (like throwing blocks, yelling at trees, bouncing to music or gnawing on the couch cushions) I find she’s far more involved and happy with me than when I have her do something I want to do. (which typically means she’s sitting there supervising me from her Bumbo) This same rule applies to our employees as when we treat them how they want to be treated and not how we ourselves want to be treated it sends a very specific message that we care about them and what’s important to their cause.
While this may sound a little cliché I can assure you it is all too real. I’ve grown up experiencing a life full of grand adventures and silly shenanigans. Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of fun living life yet somewhere along the way I forgot how to have good, honest fun. How to pretend. My daughter reminds me that having fun is a state of mind and should be a source of achievement often. While that may sound daunting and rather tiresome to focus on always having fun I can assure you the other side of the coin sucks royally. When you aren’t having fun life feels like it’s just dragging on by. So now if we aren’t having fun I make an abrupt face change in what we’re doing so that she’s smiling and giggling all over again. Your employees will do the same. If you purposefully make their work environment an enjoyable place to be your employees will enjoy coming to work, rather than having a serious case of the Mondays.
It’s happening all around you and chances are you haven’t even noticed. Don’t feel bad, you’re not the only one that may have missed it. There’s a lot of attention being drawn to a specific area of our domestic workplace which stands to change much of what we know about working for corporate America in the very near term.
Meet the Solopreneur!
A Solopreneur, we’ll call them ‘Bob’ for purposes of this article, is someone who owns a business, yet has no formal employees. (W2 employees)
Bob represents a fast growing portion of the US economy and he’s got a lot of friends interested to learn more about what Bob does, how he did it and how they can get in on a piece of the action. According to the SBA Bob’s makes up an estimated 70% of all small businesses across the country. Furthermore, Intuit released a study that estimates 40% of ALL businesses in the country will be like Bob by 2020.
What does a Bob look like?
As mentioned a moment ago it’s someone who is in business and is the sole employee of that business. They’re owner, operator and doer all in one. They come in all shapes and sizes and their most popular amongst Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. In years past our Solopreneur Bob has had more traditional titles like Consultant, Contractor or even Gig Economy. They all represent the same thing which is someone who does work on behalf of others through their own means – and this type of work is growing quickly.
If we follow the laws of supply & demand we find that when there is demand for something the market typically reacts, responding with a solution. Why is it then there is such a demand for Bob? The uptick in Bob’s is caused by three major factors:
1. Our workforces’ desire for work life balance and flexibility in their jobs.
2. Company’s desires to reduce overhead costs associated with hiring full-time employees, especially as the cost of having employees continues to rise.
3. Company’s desires to continue to find more efficient means of getting work done.
With all these Bob’s running about its only natural to wonder how this might impact the overall workforce as we know it. Here are the top 7 workforce impacts that we could experience as a result of the Bob’s.
1. As more people move towards the Solopreneur career it becomes harder for companies to control their internal culture and keep their employees motivated amongst the constantly changing faces in the office.
2. The old thought process which said “to build a great company we must hire great employees” quickly diminishes as companies are hiring Bob’s who are experts in specialized areas to produce quicker than normal results. Efficiency is the driver of many of our decisions in the business world.
3. Companies become more agile as they use flexible resources allowing to bob and weave with the economic punches. (pun intended)
4. It’s possible our workforce could become fractured as Bob’s risk alienating themselves due to the isolation that comes with being on their own
5. The need for excellent leadership increases dramatically. We’re already at a deficit now with good leaders in our country but with a larger portion of our country working independently it will be crucial for companies to have exceptional leaders which are capable of meeting objectives while successfully motivating both internal and external resources
6. People who choose to go the Bob route and do so successfully may find much more enjoyment in their careers as they are making both a difference in their respective industries as well as an internal drive to truly be independent
7. Being a Bob isn’t always easy. The fact is that in order to be a successful Bob you have to know how to sell and market yourself and your services. If you’ve never done that before allow me to be the first to tell you selling and marketing a service is not easy nor for the faint of heart as rejection is common place in the Bob business. As a result it is likely many would enter into a Bob career to only sputter out in a year or two after they’ve realized it’s more demanding than a normal 8-5.
Whether you’re a fan or not of the Solopreneur, Bob phenomenon, the fact stands that it’s a growing need in our workforce. What does the Bob-life mean for you?
By the by, I happen to be a Bob myself!
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.