Nine years ago today I started Converse Digital. And as I try and do every year on our anniversary, I look back, take stock and share the most important entrepreneurial lessons I learned.
And whew what a year it has been!
This last year was the classic entrepreneur’s hell with clients cutting budgets, or not renewing contracts only to return in a few months under a new, but different contract. The huge new contract that you’re told is yours and then almost a month later, nothing. No contract, no explanation and just when you’ve accepted it’s not going to happen – bam! You get an email with a copy of the first invoice authorized for payment.
And easily the worst part of any entrepreneur’s life, a few really great folks who’ve been with you for years leave and you have to replace them.
So what did I learn? A lot as it turns out. Read on to find this year’s lessons.
Connections Are The Core of Everything
I can’t take credit for this brilliant insight. Others, far smarter than I enlightened me.
I’ve always been more of a “if you do it better than everyone else you’ll be successful” kind of guy. Clients will find you, hire you and retain you. But damn that’s a lot of hard, often lonely work.
Luckily I finally stopped yapping my mouth long enough to open my eyes to the power of connections to create deep relationships with others. Friends, family, co-workers and yes, prospects and clients. The power of investing in those relationships is amazing. Of truly being present in them… unselfish, giving and yes, even, vulnerable — which scares the hell out of me — but I’m working on it. 😉
I’ve been working on a new keynote, Turning Conversations Into Customers, that hinges completely on this whole connection and vulnerability thing. During the researching phase, I found this great quote on trust… as a salesperson we all know about trust. We all want prospects to find us, like us, trust us so they’ll do business with us. Isn’t that what every sales trainer and sales book in the world tells us?
But what is trust? Try this definition on for size. But beware, you’ll need to stop for a moment and really think about it. And while you’re doing that, consider it in light of connecting with people, truly connecting, where you allow yourself to be vulnerable with that person.
Trust – choosing to make something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.
– Charles Feltman
Now think about your prospects and clients. What if you approached relationship building with them from this as a starting point? What if you realized that when you ask them to hire you, you’re asking them to put something they value — their brand, their reputation, etc — in a position where your actions can damage it? What if they understood that you understood this very simple, but I’d argue hugely overlooked viewpoint?
How would they feel about you? How would you feel about them? What kind of relationship would you/could you develop? How strong would it become? And finally, how hard would it be to break or for someone else to break it?
It’s pretty powerful I think.
I haven’t got it all down yet… definitely haven’t mastered it… but just trying to approach others – prospects and clients – from this mindset has completely changed how I interact, prospect and certainly handle clients, friends, Social Agents, etc.
Give it a whirl yourself and do me a favor — stop back by here and let me know how it goes or hit me up on Twitter (@TomMartin) and we can talk about it.
Only People In The Arena Matter
As I’ve been exploring connections, trust and vulnerability more I’ve spent a lot of time with Dr. Brene Brown’s work. If you’re not familiar with her, check out her special on Netflix – A Call To Courage. She’s written a number of books that are amazingly good too.
One of her points is that you should only accept and give weight to commentary from fellow gladiators. In life, there is no shortage of people that will tell you what they think of you – strangers, co-worker, friends and of course family. But when deciding who you’re actually going to listen to, only choose to listen to the ones with the courage to be vulnerable or to be “in the arena” as she puts it.
Her point of view is based on a quote from Theodore Roosevelt.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
As an entrepreneur, you’re making so many decisions that are based on nuance, context, and a host of other difficult inputs. Seldom is a decision binary, black and white. It becomes easy for those around you to judge you for your decisions and their judgement can weigh on you.
But this year I’ve tried to practice what Brene preaches — be courageous enough to be vulnerable and dare greatly. So when I’m deciding how much weight to give to someone else’s opinions, I ask myself, are they daring greatly? Are they in the arena, naked and vulnerable? Or are they hiding behind their armor and weapons, afraid to try and fail, afraid to open their true selves to the eyes of others. Afraid to appear in front of the crowd clothed in nothing but their own skin.
If they aren’t, then I set those opinions aside. They’re not in the arena. They’re sitting up in the cheap seats, clothed in protective armor, shielding themselves from the sting of arrows and cuts of swords that come with the courage to dare greatly. And frankly, that’s exactly where their opinions belong.
Never Do Anything You Can’t Undo
This is a huge one I think. I’ve actually been preaching this one to my team for years. No matter what, try never to do something or say something you can’t undo. Why? Because when you do something that can’t be undone, you set in motion events that you no longer control or maybe even influence.
And later you may wish you’d never pushed that first domino. But now that the dominos are falling, and you’re not really happy about the outcome, it’s too late to fix it. The die has been cast. And you can only deal with the new reality your actions created.
So really, really, really, think about how you react to others: clients, friends, family, pretty much everyone in your world. Think before you act or speak. There is no shame in silence. There is no penalty for inaction. There is no failure in forgiving. It doesn’t make you look dumb or unprepared or incapable or weak. On the contrary, it makes you look smart and thoughtful and compassionate — qualities that are in short supply these days.
So the next time you want to act or react impulsively — don’t.
If you think you’ve done something that can’t be undone and you’d like to try and stop those dominos, set your pride aside and apologize.
The two most powerful words in the english language are I’m Sorry. Use them more often.
It gives the other person permission to realize they’d rather forgive you than forget you.
Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you’ll do something you can’t undo, apologize profusely and truthfully, and you’ll still lose that connection with a client, friend, vendor or colleague.
In those instances, their pride may be more powerful than your apology. Or they may be hiding behind that protective armor Brene Brown talks about and forgiving you would require them to remove it first. And because they’re not ready to join you on the floor of the arena, forgiveness will not be forthcoming.
For those moments, just know that you can’t control how others process events and feelings and how they’ll react. You can only control how you process and react.
But for most situations, a truly honest, heartfelt and sincere “I’m sorry” works wonders.
So what did I learn this year???
I learned that success and happiness are all about connecting with people.
Not in the LinkedIn “hey you’re connected” way. Not in the Facebook “we’re friends” kind of way. I’ve got plenty of both.
No, in a truly human way based on being courageous enough to be vulnerable and let people see the real you, not the armored version. Interested enough to be present in the relationship, in the conversation (online and offline) and invested in creating and maintaining proximity to your connections.
If you want to be more successful and a hell of a lot happier my dear reader, make… and invest in… really high quality connections. Don’t make it a numbers game. Don’t try to network at scale.
As Seth Godin says, “find your tribe.” And as I would add, then become its best, most valuable member.
That’s what I learned this year.
Till next year’s post… Godspeed to you and may success find us both.