In my previous post, I talked about six lessons learned from a year of being in the entrepreneur’s seat, and I am thankful for your supportive comments. Now for the juicy stuff – lessons learned that were less fun, but equally as instructive, if not more so. These lessons arise from actions that I have taken or failed to take over the course of the year that, in retrospect, were clearly mistakes but seemed like good ideas at the time – like Jar-Jar Binks, or the Chevy Chase Show – but turned out badly and, like Star Wars, Arpeggio was fortunate to survive them (though the Chevy Chase Show,mercifully, did not).
- Not committing to publishing right away. This weekly blog is #12, but it ought to be #52, with the opportunity to have built up a much larger audience, and to have published that much more material that would make the Arpeggio web site more likely to attract SEO love. I always told myself that I had no time to write, but, given that each of these blogs only takes a couple of hours, chances are that, had I been more focused and organized, I would have many more readers. That’s an opportunity missed. If you think you should be writing, then write. Make it a priority. Don’t be the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. One article or blog post likely won’t move the needle. Many of them may very well.
- Not focusing my marketing and relationship development on a small number of areas. I am a member of the Buckhead and Commerce Clubs and have a desk at Atlanta Tech Village, but you’d never know it. When you aren’t sufficiently intentional about building a presence in a particular space or sector, your effectiveness decreases, and not in a linear fashion. I think your recognition in a particular group is something like this function: Presence = 1/(number of places)^2. In other words, if you frequent 10 places or groups, your presence is 1/100th the intensity than if you spent all your time in one place. That’s a lot of wasted time and energy and almost certainly lost business and contacts. I may as well have been home playing Dungeons and Dragons.
- Taking good wishes for granted and not following through. Early in this journey, I have many well-wishers, and many promises to send me all kinds of business. Somewhere in my mind I checked a box that indicated that those relationships were in a bank somewhere and I could focus my attention on new relationships. I wonder if this was the same thought process that gave us Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (really? We had to wait 20 damned years for that movie and we got surviving a nuclear blast in a refrigerator and aliens?). But I digress – I should have done just the opposite of what I ultimately did. Some of those promises to send Arpeggio business have materialized and some haven’t. I’m convinced that I would have had more business had I spent my time on existing relationships rather than trying to cultivate new ones, which is frequently a hit-or-miss exercise. The lesson I learned is that you must double down on your friends in the market, not take them for granted.
- No collateral material. I don’t have brochures. Not one. I’ve got a web site that I am happy with, and a LinkedIn profile that checks all the boxes. Arpeggio even has its own Facebook page. But, I don’t have a piece of paper or PDF that succinctly summarizes Arpeggio’s services and capabilities. I’ve long been biased against hard copy collateral materials. I have a good memory. I typically politely take people’s brochures, and I sometimes scan them but mostly I read them and toss them. Well, sometimes I read them. I have assumed everyone else would do the same with mine. I think I’m wrong on this one. Whereas I detest paper, and try to rid my life of it whenever I can, I’m still in the minority, even in 2016. People like paper, it seems. Lots of people like whiskey too – I’ve just never acquired a taste for either. Seriously – that stuff tastes like unleaded gasoline to me. There are people to whom I have promised collateral materials months ago and it’s not even close to happening (so on top of it all, I’m the chump that doesn’t follow through either – yay me!) I guess there is a reason that paper has had the run it’s enjoyed since ancient Egypt. I don’t think I’ll fall in love with paper anytime soon, but I need to recognize that I’m the weirdo.
- Failing to commit to specialization. I understand the need to specialize. I get it. There are obvious areas where Arpeggio has special strengths – emerging tech companies, intellectual property valuation, aerospace, and professional services firms. Specialization limits commoditization and makes it easier to elevate your expertise. Arpeggio is really good at transactions, especially involving technology firms, aerospace firms, alternative energy firms, or transactions of intellectual property. We are also very good with professional services firms Our actions haven’t backed up our words in this area to date. It’s scary to specialize – what if you miss out on a client because you’re not general enough? Well, that’s the point. Specialization requires an act of faith – that for every client you miss for being a generalist, there are 2-3 out there that want your concentrated expertise and will seek you out and pay you more for it. Like implementing a flat tax, committing to specialization is very easy to say, and very hard to do. That’s a year of reputation-building time lost. If you can commit to specialization with greater conviction than I have, you will do very well. Do as I say, not as I have done!
- Clients like to be baby-sat. This has been the hardest lesson of all. I need to provide some context here. In a business appraisal engagement, there is a pace of work that is typically uneven. You get an engagement signed, and then it may be awhile before the necessary information to complete the appraisal assignment comes in, or information comes in slowly, or the client is slow to review your work product. Historically, I have simply let the client dictate the pace of the engagement. I say I do it out of respect, but I really do it because I hate micromanaging anything, especially grown people who don’t work for me. The reality I am learning is this: when you are referred a client, part of the value proposition is that you’re going to take some of the babysitting off of the referring party’s plate – usually an attorney, accountant, financial advisor, an executive, or board member. While I might technically be in the right when I say that a client has not provided me with information so we can start the engagement, and that’s why not a lot of progress has been made I’m coming to learn that there is disappointment when I’m not being more pro-active and nagging the client to make sure they stay focused on this task. A big value-add that I can provide is to embrace the part of the relationship in which I become a leader within the engagement and take charge. When I pester, not only do people think I’m not being nearly as annoying as I think I am, they appreciate the nagging on some level. That’s the lesson here. Most of us aren’t nearly as annoying to our clients as we cast ourselves to be. They appreciate us being human, highly-paid to-do lists.
I wish that I could tell you truthfully that I have only made 6 mistakes since launching Arpeggio. The are simply the top 6 I can think of. I can name another 6 mistakes, and there are probably a dozen more that I don’t remember, or I just don’t know are mistakes yet. The point isn’t about how many mistakes I’ve made, but how remarkably resilient a business can be. Rarely will one mistake (or 6, or a dozen) kill a business.
Chances are you’re not making the same mistakes I did – your business may not even give you the opportunity to make the same mistakes. Your take-aways? When you make a mistake, shrug it off and learn from it. Even a Ricky Vaughn fastball just leaves a bruise. One of the benefits of being your own boss is that when you screw up, there’s no one to chew you out – and you’ll likely chew yourself out more brutally than anyone else will. In your own head, you’ll make a marine drill sergeant look like Oprah.
Next Week: Wal-Mart buys Jet for $3.3 billion. Is Wal-Mart as good at buying bargains as they are selling them?
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