Saturday, October 15, 2005

Sales training in 3 words.
No subtitles.

Our current enterprise was the creation of two friends. Start ups and emerging enterprises are usually staffed about this well. Ain't no job you ain't doing.

When we hired our first outsider the culture of the whole deal was moderately at stake. We needed someone to act as our Inside Sales Manager, someone to back up all the helter skelter street level peddling. The detail work behind the scenes to support successful sales and marketing is critical. It's not rocket science, but do it wrong and you're out of business. Doing this right requires a passion for capturing important details accurately.

We needed this person long before we ever thought about looking for them, of course, but I'm jumping ahead of myself.

Dave and I were going to meet the very first person we'd ever interviewed. Dave had seen a guy who stood out from his workplace because of his relentless ability to want to contribute in a friendly, cooperative way. He was operating like this in an environment wildly cultured up to do things exactly the opposite.

We were going to meet this person for breakfast at the Hardscrabble in downtown Streator. I made Dave agree in advance that we wouldn't make any promises. We'd just hear him out. Then we'd carefully look at other folks and make our choice. Slow, Dave. Go slow.

We were still looking at the breakfast menu, just one or two coffees into it, when I offered Dan the job. Dave just shook his head.

In a very polite way Dan asked just what the sales job description entailed. Dan had not worked in sales previously. He thought it sounded great but, well, what's the deal? What do you need to do for a sales job?

Since I clearly hadn't scripted this whole process very well I didn't have a ready answer. Sure I had the talking points of a printed job description at hand. But I wanted Dan to see the job was something I hoped would be cooler than just a listing of the parts.

As we ordered I also thought about giving him my rant about a passion for capturing details accurately, but it was a little early in the day for that.

The mission critical goal for Dan was keeping our collective asses out of trouble. The right answer to his question was obvious.

If your enterprise is to be sustainable you can't build it on lies. You can never shortchange your product or service. You need to be the best at something but never over-promise your way into defeat. You can't under-deliver. You can't execute poorly and survive. Every single thing in your operation needs full transparency, repeatability and grand slam data control. Above all you need honesty in your data and honesty in your life. Sustainable work.

Are there nefarious enterprises bilking people and running economically amok? Duh.

Are there zillions of enterprises set up to scam the system short term? Double duh.

However, that isn't you. That isn't what this is about. This is about sustainable work. First and foremost that means work that keeps growing. Next, it’s work that keeps you growing.

Starting honorable, well executed, properly documented, new enterprises looks hard. The reality is that it's far easier than wading into the world of cheating and lies. That stuff always takes far more time, work and effort than doing things right. Plus, you end up with the bonus of living a miserable personal life. Sign me up.

Breakfast ordering done, I told Dan his sales training came in a package of three words. Tell the truth.

He said “I can do that” and we shook on the deal.

Dan and I live and work in different states. Dan works in our sales office in Illinois. I work from Wisconsin. Since Dan joined us, weeks can pass between times we actually see each other. He doesn't need any direct oversight. He wants to do a great job and does. If we have stuff to work on together we find each other by phone, eMail, and all the usual suspects.

That frees me up to stay out there creating all the seeming chaos my kind of peddlers generate. We’ve since been joined by my sales partner, Bill. Being my kind of peddler he also has to meet his monthly quota of seeming chaos and he typically exceeds that goal, bless him.

Dan has to back all this up. I’ve done Dan's job in other places. It can be a miserable, inefficient mess if you’re not prepared.

Did I worry turning over this chaotic step? For his sake and mine? Of course. If this job is done wrong, you’re out of the pool, my friend.

Are there downsides to growing and expanding your enterprise so that you can do your evangelizing? Of course.

Enterprise is full of risk. Minimize it. But if you want to participate, you’re going to have to prepare, then learn to live with it.

Was there risk in hiring Dan? Sure.

Was there reward in hiring Dan? Immediately.

Why? Because Dan succeeds for all of us by minimizing the risk.

How does he do that?

Telling the truth.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ten customers in 25 years

I'm such a chronic optimist, my family and friends usually just shake their heads and wonder.

I'm the inverse of that old saying "Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get me".

Mine goes something like this... "Just because I'm optimistic beyond what can be rationally supported, doesn't mean the world isn't getting better all the time."

So, when thoughtful, generally careful folks that I read start getting nervous out loud, I have to agree that caution is a good thing.

Natural and medical disasters continue to savage our world. H5N1, bird flu is on everyone's horizon.

I don't want to trade on fear. I want to give you something to think about. Perhaps even something to be optimistic about in your work life.

I've crafted up over 30 years of virtual enterprise employment.

To me virtual enterprise does not mean hiding behind a computer screen living off PayPal. To me virtual enterprise has meant planning ways to limit the scheduled and random human contacts in your enterprise life. For a million reasons that have worked in the past, and for all the new reasons on the horizon, you should at least consider this path.

I've organized relatively virtual enterprises around small family based operations, small groups of friends spread around the country, and now also with a cool, fast, high profile company with multiple co-workers and customers all around the world.

If you want to live fully on line, go try. That's the strict vegan version of virtual enterprise. I don't know how to do that. I don't want to do that. Some people are obviously doing it, but it's not a model I can vouch for or think I'd enjoy.

All the biz models I know involve human contact, and risks from interacting with life.

That said, you can vastly limit risks you live with, at least in your enterprise life. It's possible to build a biz model around yourself that gives you increased possibilities for choosing your risks.

Elsewhere on this site is some info about Banner Graphics, the first start up that led to all this.

I now have this interesting recycling work going on, but I used the Banner Graphics section to first talk about what I thought I meant by sustainable work.

I didn't expect that I'd be coming back to that description under these circumstances. I was talking about hanging out with my kids, not pandemics.

From the Banner Graphics site...

"I was privileged to start a wonderful small business called Banner Graphics in the 1970s. My wife, friend, and business partner, Mary and I ran it for 25 years while raising our family and serving customers on 5 continents."

"We worked from our apartment, our house, from business incubators and from really great shops. We were able to keep our kids with us and control our time. Less than 10 customers ever showed up at our door in 25 years. That’s sustainable."

Read on though, friend. I want you to have MORE human contact, not less. I want you to risk MORE, not less.

Just not in retail or large group settings.

Many people will make perfectly wonderful lives in retail. Many more will thrive in office herds. Forever. I just wouldn't recommend it going forward. There are other ways. Safer, nicer ways you can craft up for yourself and maybe some coworkers. Nothing tricky. It works. You can do it. You just need to be smart in the planning and execution.

You're going to need to control a lot of data, and you're going to need to control your presence on the internet. Don't tell me you don't get computers or don't get the internet. Illiterate young people in fourth world countries get computers and the internet. People with tragic disabilities get computers and the internet. Of course you can do it. You have to. I’ll keep on this subject. Start by fixing your interface with these worlds if it's too complicated the way you're doing it now. More on that in future posts.

The internet is your information grid. The shipping grid is your slow motion internet. You can plug yourself into both systems for damn near free, except the use fees.

H5N1 will roll out in ways none of us can predict. Calamitous natural disasters will continue to assault the vulnerable.

Few, if any of us has control over the meta stuff. Learn to adapt the best you can. It’s all I know to suggest. Get yourself some independence and control wherever you can. My pitch is that you can get yourself some physical / economic / spiritual security by rigging up your own start up and emerging enterprises to get as commercially virtual as is possible.

Then I want you to eat lunch with your vendors. Picnic with your neighbors. Fly to a customer 20 states away that you should really know better. Ride a bike until you get lost and end up in the company of great strangers. Make friends unexpectedly.

More contact. More risk. Just do it on your terms. It makes living this life a lot more peaceful. You'll work harder, but you'll be driving, not hanging on in the passenger seat.

Cool, cheap, easy tools are out there. Markets that want to interact with smart, emerging enterprises are out there.

My friend, tough, dangerous times are inevitably ahead of us. But tough, dangerous times have been ahead of every generation since the beginning, much of the worst of which actually happened. And yet, we grind it out, getting smarter and better at life all the time.

Who would have thought that 10 customers through the door in 25 years looked like success?

Choose your interactions. Then get out there!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

My wonderful neighbors
at Harley-Davidson

I love great trade magazines. Gear Technology magazine qualifies. It's as global as it gets. Big league world class manufacturing issues reported in detail monthly.

My day job often involves gear manufacturing. Back in the last century, Gear Technology published an article I wrote that really went against industry assumptions at the time. Pretty cool of them.

The Publisher's Page column of Gear Technology is written by Michael Goldstein who is also their Editor-in-Chief. The September/October 2005 contribution from Mr. Goldstein again goes against prevailing assumptions. Mr. Goldstein’s piece is titled: Making It in America. U.S. Manufacturing is Alive, Well and Prospering

Citing the NY Times source article, we're reminded that, contrary to what's easy to believe, the truth is sometimes less obvious. Despite all the headlines and hand wringing, the United States still accounts for about a quarter of the world’s value added manufacturing output. This is virtually the same as it was in 1982.

Who do they look to as a representative alpha dog for our tenacious grip on doing things right? My friends and neighbors at Harley-Davidson. The domestic content of their motorcycles is higher today than it was 15 years ago. They’re setting up to export to China.

The reasons include creative, cooperative labor agreements, but also in large part to increased productivity through better technology.

That may sound optimistically warm and fuzzy to you, but it's not. I get to report to you directly from the front lines of uniquely tough manufacturing battles Harley-Davidson has fought and won. More importantly, battles they continue to win. Sure better technology can mean high science stuff, but it can also mean common sense and individuals taking ownership. Sustainable work.

Harley-Davidson was the first major corporation to take a chance on our work. They had identified the nasty back room stuff we work on as an opportunity to fix problems plant-wide.

They didn't have to fix it. Everybody else was living with the problems. Why couldn't they? Harley-Davidson decided they couldn't live with it precisely because they weren't everybody else. They wanted to get ahead and stay ahead. They still do.

They didn't want to see thick smoke from their heat treat furnaces spilling into the plant and out their smokestacks. They didn't want to see powertrain components leaving the furnaces contaminated, but "good enough".

Harley-Davidson took a risk on us when few other companies would do so.

How’d we all do? Every heat treated component of Harley-Davidson motorcycles built in the last 8 years has gone through systems supported by our equipment. Without a single service call.

When I was working a trade show in Pittsburgh a couple weeks back, I had what seemed to be half of Harley-Davidson in my booth calling out to passersby to come in and buy our stuff. Amazing.

Sure, the biz stuff is great, but the productivity contributions we were able to deliver to our friends at Harley-Davidson make it sustainable. Fixing problems.

You can see the results every time you drive past their motorcycle plants in Milwaukee. Where there used to be thick smoke coming out the smokestacks, there are now clouds, birds, and not a trace of hydrocarbon. I'm so proud of that image I use it on my credentials page elsewhere on this site to help indicate who I think I am.

Taking those contaminants out of the mix at Harley-Davidson not only helped their air quality, but it also removed the contaminants clinging to their gears and powertrain components leaving the furnaces. Defects were cut. Scrap was cut. Remanufacturing was cut. Fluid waste streams were cut. Chemical costs were cut. Transportation costs were cut.

All this happened at that time when most everyone else in heavy industry accepted lower productivity and lower quality generated by these problems. These issues were typically just swept out the smokestacks and ignored.

Just as death can come from a thousand small cuts, success can come from a thousand small contributions. Increasing productivity from one messy back room problem gave Harley-Davidson a leg up that continues to strengthen their enterprise almost a decade later.

Of course, 8 years ago, they didn’t have to fix this problem. They wanted to. Please, let that guide you.

Smart enterprises don't run from problems. They attack them. Harley-Davidson is not afraid of China. In fact, they are going after Chinese markets with products made in the neighborhood. Good on you, friends.

Why is that possible? Because as, Mr. Goldstein points out in his Gear Technology piece, "The key to being successful at manufacturing in America is increasing your productivity."

Yes, direct employment jobs in manufacturing and many others industries are being eliminated as productivity increases. If this comes as a surprise to you, I can’t help, except to suggest you get productive at something pretty damn fast.

However, many of the “lost” jobs are reappearing, redeployed as independent, stand alone enterprises, popping up and making contributions all around you. Like my day job, for instance.

Productivity contributions are pouring into the world economy in ways never possible under the old corporate models. Emerging models (yours better be included!), passionately search for productivity contributions every day.

You are only going to help by fixing problems. You're not going to help by selling people stuff they don't need. The world doesn't work like that any more, at least in the biz-to-biz markets. Fix problems, contribute to productivity. Then do it better. Every day. Every year.

You don't need high science. You do need common sense. You do need long term, sustainable relationships with your enterprise partners.

The next time you walk through a trade show and see a crowd of Harley-Davidson folks inside a booth, pulling people in like industrial carnival barkers, come on over. I'll be the guy at the back of the booth peddling as fast as I can.

Thanks, Mr. Goldstein and Gear Technology Magazine for going against the grain again.

And thank you Harley-Davidson. It's great to have such wonderful neighbors.

Gear Technology Magazine
Current Harley-Davidson smokestacks image
New York Times source article. If You Can Make It Here by Louis Uchitelle, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005. Free from your Library or $3.95 from NYT.

John McPhee in the garage

I've used the work of the great writer John McPhee to illustrate a previous point about the shipping grid.

When John McPhee writes about something, you don't need any advance knowledge of that subject. You don't have to have any prior interest in it. But rest assured, you'll come away from his writing not just informed but graced, embraced and made better by Mr. McPhee's immense talent

I've just read an amazingly informative interview/conversation John McPhee had with The New Yorker Online.

McPhee is a Pulitzer prize winner, author of 29 books, with awards and accolades from a zillion directions. He also continues to teach writing at Princeton, well into his 70s.

I was amazed at the open source descriptions John uses to describe his most extraordinary day job. He blocks out his bricks and mortar dance with creativity. It's putting one foot in front of the other. Planning. Executing. Step by step. Day in and day out. Sort of boring from the outside looking in.

However, just imagine being John McPhee looking out. Ooooohhhhh.

This is a person making valuable contributions omnidirectionally. And apparently having a grand life, in a hard working sort of way. He’s changing the world for the better, one 3 X 5 card at a time, one step at a time, one contribution at a time.

Making your own gig doesn't have to involve making widgets. It involves making contributions.

You can do it with your own unique talents and skills. You don't need Pulitzer prizes and neither does Mr. McPhee. You need a day job that brings you a little more control, a little more security, and a lot more peace of mind.

As the Q&A ended, Mr. McPhee was talking about all the pitches he'd made to The New Yorker over the course of 10 years, trying to break in. He'd wanted to write for them since he was a teenager. First ignored, then rejected. He kept pitching. That turned into rejections with notes attached. That's when he started closing in. He offered deals, like working on spec.

When the New Yorker finally started weakening, John McPhee didn't get cautious. McPhee broke the rules. He pitched an idea they specifically told him they did not want. McPhee not only pitched it but buried them in pitch. A 5,000 word letter telling his lifelong target customer why they were wrong and why his never-published-in-their-magazine ideas should prevail.

It finishes like this...

"So the executive editor said they would like to read this article. He said, No guarantees, of course. I wrote the thing, sent it to him, and it changed my existence—I ceased to be a commuter, forever; I went to work in my own garage. And I’m still doing it."

Friend, you're looking into the work of a great peddler. My highest compliment. Not an atom of negative in the term. I'm a peddler.

Whatever your enterprise, whatever you endeavor, whatever your contribution, there will be tough, difficult times. Planning and executing minimizes that stuff, but nothing substitutes for persistence and risk taking with honor.

Are you planning to start your or grow your enterprise? Do one of those athlete training exercises and picture your success in advance. Then build a plan to get there. Then execute. One foot in front of the other.

You'll have your own images of course. Yours will be better for you than anything I can suggest. I wish you the best getting there. You can do it.

But just to get you started, give a thought to John McPhee in his garage.

The New Yorker Online interview with John McPhee

John McPhee’s home page

Boomers. Yeah you.

Boomers, gather round. Button up your cardigans. Put your ears on the radio. Ready?


If you've thought about starting your own gig, now is the time. Not later. Now. We need you and your skills out here. Get out there and fix something. I don't want to meet you for the first time on the obituary page. I want to first learn about you as you're out kicking ass in some creative and helpful way.

There has never been a moment in human history where innovation and design improvements have been needed more. There have never been this many tools available to execute great solutions.

Life is not a rehearsal. Put some wheels on it, friend.

The world needs your help. You've got the skills. You've got the understanding. Fix something. Fast! Faster!!

Start your own enterprise. Start a non-profit. Start a for-profit. Become a social entrepreneur. Become a risk taker and a change agent. Start it up on the side. Start it up with a friend. Start it up with partners in town or partners oceans away. There is no perfect way. There is no single ideal organization model. Put together something that works for you.

Is it easy? Of course not. But you're got all that boomer imagination sitting around mostly unemployed. You need to plan well, execute even better, then get out there and change the world.

C'mon. There is a lot of work to be done. Your ability to execute your own solutions and create your own brands has never, ever been better. You've got a ton of life skills to build from. Put them to work.

You want more security? Make your own. You want a more fulfilling life? Don't wait. Do it yourself.

Boomers! Get busy, damn it. Don't make me use more superlatives.

Fire up you impact on the world before your chance to change the world passes.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Leave a wake.

Inc. Magazine Oct. 2005

Inc. just ran an interesting cover story. 75 Reasons to Be Glad You're an American Entrepreneur Right Now, written by Michael S. Hopkins.

It's a good perspective for anyone considering an entrerprise life. Some points won't fit you of course, but like all biz writing, if you come away with one or two things that work for you, it's worth it.

My take away piece closes the story... (pieces separated for emphasis)

"Because, in the end, being an entrepreneur is more than ever the way you can choose your path and find the deep satisfaction of walking it.

You can earn your days without being beholden.

You can make something, affect the world, leave something behind where once nothing stood.

You can turn work into meaning for yourself and for others.

You can be proud.

You can leave a wake.

Come good or ill, you can assume responsibility for yourself, and be whole and be who you were meant to be."

Well said. You can do this friend. Don't wait. Fire it up.

Plan, organize, execute.

Leave a wake.

Inc. Magazine article by Michael S. Hopkins