Going Into Business for Yourself

In a survey of Women Entrepreneurs, they were asked their reasons for quitting their jobs and starting their own businesses. The most common answers were:

  • The freedom to spend more time with my children, if I choose.
  • The opportunity to reach my full potential
  • Because I’m tired of banging my head against the glass ceiling.
  • Being my own boss

Money came in far down the list, which is interesting, since so many people make the mistake of using "Financial Rewards," as their overriding reason to go off on their own.

True, if we looked at a composite of the average millionaire, it would be someone who owned their own business. But for many, if not most, of these people, money was simply a by-product of all the right reasons they went off on their own.

While money is a poor reason to go into business, it’s an even worse reason for choosing what business to go into. I’ve had people tell me they’d decided to get into a certain industry because they heard "you can make a lot of money doing that." The truth is: you can make a lot of money doing anything, if you’re good at it, you enjoy it and you work your tail off.

There are far better reasons to choose a particular business; such as:

  • You have a talent for something (like cooking, baking, working on cars, home repairs, etc.), really love doing it and just happen to be good enough that customers will buy and use your services. One caution: Being a great cook doesn’t mean you’ll be successful as a restaurant owner. There’s more to running a restaurant than just cooking. If you’re not willing to learn and master the business aspects of it, don’t do it. Instead, think about getting into catering, or being a personal chef.
  • You feel you have something to offer that people need. Many great discoveries have come about because the inventor was attempting to make his or her own life easier or better. In the movie "Baby Boom," Diane Keaton is so unhappy with the baby food in the stores, she starts making food at home for her daughter. Her daughter loves it so much, she realizes she might be on to something. She creates packaging, starts her own gourmet baby food company, and builds into a successful operation.
  • It’s the kind of business that offers you the freedom and flexibility you always wanted. Many people start home-based businesses because they want to be able to spend more time with their families or be home when the kids come home from school. Others might want a totally opposite life-style and choose a business that allows them to travel all over the world.

The biggest reason to avoid using money as your main motivation for starting or choosing a business to go into is: money is the last thing to come.

The first few years in business will be very hard. There won’t be a lot of money. Unless you’re in it for the above right reasons, what is going to keep you happy and keep you going during these tough times?


You Can Learn From Anyone

Throughout my working career, before I started my own business, I had some of the worst bosses you could ever imagine.

One of my very first bosses (I was working New York’s Garment District at the time), actually believed you should never tell anyone they were doing a good job, because they might ask you for a raise. He was stubborn, inflexible, and never open to new ideas. He would inflict rules on his people that he himself would never adhere to.

Yet, from this maniac, who I first started working for over 30 years ago, I learned some very important lessons that are still with me today.

He taught me:

  • The single most important part of selling is prospecting. He always said, "If you chop enough wood, the chips have to land somewhere."
  • The importance of saving your money. He used to say, "You should always have some "Screw you," money stashed away; this way you’re never trapped in a job you hate." Great advice, since a few years later I took my "Screw you" money and quit working for that nut.
  • That firing people who deserve to be fired is easy. The first time I ever had to fire someone, I was nervous. I asked my boss how he did it. He said, "If someone is not doing their job, that will reflect on you, their manager, eventually. If you let that person continue to do poorly, he will bring you down with him and you’ll both be fired. So it’s him or you." Message received; never had a problem firing someone who deserved it from that time on.
  • Great salespeople are never unemployed. One of his favorite sayings was, "If you sell enough dresses, you can burn down my office." Translation: Top producers call the shots, because they’re far too difficult to replace.
  • Never attend a meeting without a pad and pen. Sounds simple, huh? But the first sales meeting I ever attended, I showed up empty handed. Haven’t done that again in the thirty plus years since.

My next boss was the total opposite, personality-wise, but just as unbearable. He was totally self-absorbed, yet had a tremendous inferiority complex along with countless other neuroses. While he was far more flexible and always open to new ideas, he always looked to suppress the talents of those who worked for him for fear they might surpass him.

However, the things I learned from him have helped me to succeed in business for the last twenty years. They include:

  • Always out-prepare the prospect. He taught me the benefits of using a script when making phone calls and how to anticipate objections. This enabled me to practice the turnarounds ahead of time and not have to think what I wanted to say while I was speaking.
  • How to write. He would make me write a thank you letter after each appointment. This not only taught me a good lesson about proper business follow-up, but it got me started writing and through constant editing, taught me how to write. The more I wrote, the better I got at it. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

While neither of these people will ever win "Boss of the Year," the point is: you should always be looking to take something out of every experience in life, no matter how bad that experience might be.


Joining Business Organizations

Many businesspeople are told it’s necessary to join a business organization or club, whether it is the local chamber of commerce, the association that represents your industry, or, the association that represents an industry your clients and prospects belong to. They’re told it’s "good for business."

The problem is most people join these organizations strictly for what they can get out of it. They pay their dues, then sit back and wait for the business to roll in. When it doesn’t, they complain about "cliques" within the organization where "only certain people benefit."

The truth is; those "cliques" usually are the people who do all the work. By the way, that’s why they reap the biggest benefits of membership. Or, as my kids would say, "Duh!"

Here are some tips on how to get into the "Inner Circle" and get more out of your membership.

1. Join with more than your wallet. Most organizations are dying for volunteers. The 2nd thing you want to do, after paying your dues of course, is find out what committee has the greatest need for volunteers. Then get yourself on that committee. Believe me it won’t be hard.

2. Don’t worry about who gets the credit. Most volunteer organization committees are loaded with non-working members. These are people who join just so they can be recognized and receive credit. This creates a real opportunity for those who want to work. Committee chairs would kill for selfless workers. Most committee chairs end up doing the bulk of the work themselves. Even if you’re not made an "official" member of the committee, put your head down, do good work and I guarantee you’ll get noticed.

3. Don’t say "No" when asked to serve. If you’re asked to serve as a Committee Chair or Conference Chair, jump on it. But, what gets you into the "Inner Circle" is not being "Chair," it’s doing great work as the "Chair."

What gets you into the Inner Circle of any organization is your willingness to think of the organization first without any hidden agenda. Since this kind of attitude sets you apart from most members, you’ll rise quicker, be noticed by more people and create a persona for yourself throughout the organization and industry. If you don’t think this will come back to you many times over, well all I can say is, "Duh!"


What’s the Best Return Policy?

[editor’s note: while Nordstrom’s does not take back everything as a rule, that does not mean the tire incident did not happen. We’ve included the Snopes link for people to investigate themselves]

Nordstrom’s Department Store is famous for its policy of accepting returns with no questions asked. In one well known instance, a customer returned a set of tires to Nordstrom’s and received their money back, again no questions asked. What’s amazing about that is: NORDSTROM’S DOESN’T SELL TIRES!

Costco also has an extremely customer-friendly return policy. On a recent visit there with my wife, I was joking with one of the Customer Service Managers about returning merchandise and said, "You folks are so great on returns, we bring stuff from other stores here and get our money back." She replied, "Don’t think customers don’t do that. And you know what; we take it back and refund their money."

You must be sitting there thinking, "What a bunch of saps! They’re getting ripped off left and right and they’re not doing a thing about it."

But let’s examine the Costco/Nordstrom’s "No questions asked," return policy vs. the "I’m not going to let these people get away with this" policy, most companies employ.

Let’s say the average customer spends $1,000 a year with your company. Let’s also say that they stay with you, as customers, for 10 years. In addition, they recommend one other person who ends up becoming a customer. That means the average customer is worth about $20,000 (10 years x $1,000 + one recommended customer who spends $1,000 a year for ten years).

Now, if we were to look at this objectively, what percentage of customers do you really think are dishonest? Probably about 2%: but since no one is smart enough to pick out the 2% from the crowd, in order to catch them, you have to treat the other 98% as if they were part of the 2%.

In other words, you have to take the chance you’ll alienate 98% of your customers in order to catch the 2% who are crooks, rather than let the 2% get away with it in order to satisfy, keep and impress the 98% who make your business grow. That doesn’t sound like a plan, that sounds like an airline.

There are so many companies bogged down in their pursuit of the 2% (do you really think there are customers who return more than the average customer buys?), they lose track of the fact that the vast majority of people are honest and detest being treated as crooks to satisfy some misguided company policy.

Here’s a good tip: from now on, every time you see a customer, visualize a tattoo across their forehead that reads: "$20,000." That should stop you from wasting time running down $100 crooks.


Everybody Sells

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In today’s cutthroat competitive economy where companies are slashing prices to the bone, it is critical to remember that no matter what your title or job description, one thing is perfectly clear: everybody sells, including you.

I don’t care if people call you a customer service rep, service technician, delivery person, secretary, accounts receivable clerk or receptionist. While you might not be directly responsible for bringing in, producing or developing new business, you are sure as heck responsible for keeping it; and that is selling!

If you come in contact with customers, you are in sales. Think about this: who is the one person in every company who speaks to every customer? The receptionist, yet how much importance do most companies put on that position?

When my wife and I built our house one of the appliances we purchased was a GE Profile oven. To put it mildly, it’s a piece of junk. After months of fighting we finally got GE to replace it with another one. However, I still would never buy another GE product. Not because the product itself was no good, but because of the lousy way we were treated by people at GE who don’t think they sell.

The customer service reps were not only incompetent, but apathetic and rude. The service technician was one of those people whose face would probably break if he ever tried to smile. He constantly gave you the impression he’d rather be doing anything aside from the job at hand. In addition, he tried to pull a fast one on the cost of the repair by stating an inflated price then telling us he would give us a discount.

On the other hand, our Sub-Zero refrigerator gave us problems originally, but Sub-Zero did such a good job of rectifying them, I would buy from them again.

When I first moved to Chapel Hill in 1997, one of the things I needed was a reliable car service to take me to and from the airport. I went to the Yellow Pages and called 4 or 5 different companies. I chose Thorpe’s Limousine and Shuttle Service (, if you plan on flying into Raleigh-Durham airport) and still use them exclusively to this day (8 years and over 40k in business with them), and do you know why? Because they were the only company who took the time to answer my questions in a polite, knowledgeable and friendly manner.

People don’t buy from companies or buildings, people buy from people and the attitudes and perceptions that they create. Every time someone from your company deals with a customer, they are representing the entire company. If they have a great experience, they’ll think you have a great company. If they have a lousy experience, you will be perceived as a lousy company. All because of the actions of one person: think about it the next time you hire.