May 1, 2012

Ask, and you will receive


In the last few months, a few readers of this column have sent me emails thanking me for my writing. The common thread in these emails has been reference to my common sense. All I can think of, as I read these messages, is how unfortunate it is that my mother is no longer living. I only wish, as any son will understand, that my mother had lived long enough to learn that her son has developed common sense. It was a long wait for her.

I have written this before: I truly believe that one of the best methodologies for learning how to become a successful entrepreneur is to talk with successful entrepreneurs within your own community. Why is it that we will shell out 500 bucks for a seminar, or spend $50 for a book, both of which purport to instruct us on the secrets of success? Yet, somewhere within every community, there are several men and women who have not only talked the talk, they have walked the walk. Their success has been field-tested, withstood the test of time — or whatever other metaphor you wish to employ.

Of even greater importance is that their knowledge is available to you for the price of a cup of coffee or a $10 lunch. And, you can call them up for a quick bit of advice, every month, if need be, for the next 10 years. Clearly, it’s a bargain!

So, there I go again with my long introduction to the issue. Here is what I want to tell you.

There is a local entrepreneur in my city, Regina. His name is Will Brandt. He is an independent auto glass installer, though he runs under the national banner of Novus, for advertising purposes. I have used his services.

The first thing that struck me is how spotlessly clean his shop is, any time of the day. The second observation was the appearance of professionalism among his staff, even the younger ones. Will runs a tight ship and he does a lot of business. He is also very personable, but not in a smarmy or used-car salesman way. Most people would describe him as a straight shooter.

 When we talk, he and I always talk about the road to success: How to find it and, more importantly, how to stay on that highway when there are so many detours. I asked Will if I could interview him, for this column. It didn’t even cost me a coffee or a lunch. We did it over the phone. As you read this, keep in mind that I am exceptionally fussy, picky and judgmental. There are very few business people I admire, very few. Will is one of them. Here is what he shared with me.

Will believes the number one reason people fail in business is a lack of focus. They don’t know who they are and where they are going. Defining who you are and accepting that you cannot be all things to all people is beyond important. It is mandatory.

A common characteristic with successful business people is that they are compulsive list makers. Will has his list, in his back pocket, at all times. It is divided into the three basic categories: a) must do,
b) should do, and
c) if we have time.

He also acknowledges that those three priorities can change from day to day, or in any given day. Without his list, he would be lost. As a compulsive list maker myself, I can relate. Lists keep you focused.

Will believes in positive thinking, which is another characteristic of successful people. His metaphor is, “I start each morning by brushing myself clean.” I asked him to clarify. He said, “Every morning, I have my breakfast and I listen to the news. There are all sorts of problems. Then there are the problems of my own life and business from yesterday and the day before that. I try to set all of those aside and approach each morning as the beginning of a perfect day. That’s why I brush myself off on a continual basis, every 7 a.m.”

I asked Will what the next building block was to the way he operates. He told me he tries never to worry about the money. An entrepreneur can drive himself crazy, worrying over every line expense and revenue dollar. You aren’t going to come out ahead everyday, so you should be playing the long game. He tries to look at what is the right way of doing things, not what is expedient. Sometimes the right way costs him a bit more but his question is, “Did the customer get the best service possible?”

Typical of the business people whom I admire, Will believes his employees are an asset, not a commodity. He is proud of them and that is evident. He invests in them. He asks them what he can do to make them better at their jobs. He listens. A new employee once told him it was the first time she had a job where she looked forward to coming to work in the morning. That is what a psychologist would describe as a positive workplace experience. That is what I call money in the bank.

When Will was talking about how wonderful the people are who work for him, my mind wandered to another businessman. This man was very wealthy. He owned five McDonald’s restaurants. In conversation with me, he said, “I can’t find people who are competent enough to order a five-gallon bucket of mustard without screwing it up!” That conversation occurred 30 years ago. I always wondered what type of man he was to work for that he had no one competent in his employ, or did he just like to complain?

When I interview successful people, and I have interviewed quite a few, it is rare for someone to catch me off guard. Will did just that when he said, “I never worry or think about the competition.” In my career, I spent too much time worrying about what everyone else was doing — from the seasonal greenhouse set up on the parking lot to the box stores. I always thought that competition is what drove many of us to become successful. He had my attention with his comment.

Will told me he once had lunch with another businessman. The fellow spent three quarters of an hour, complaining about his competitors: How they were undercutting him, how stupid they were, how they did not really know what they were doing, and so on. After listening to this man file
his litany of complaints, Will asked him, “What about your company? How are things there and what are you doing to improve the way you operate?” The man did not have much to say after that; perhaps he was stunned by the concept.

Will went on to elaborate, “We spend too much time worrying about the guy down the street. If he wants to offer prices that are below cost, let him. It won’t last for long. If he wants to take shortcuts, let him. It will catch up to him. I concentrate on how we are doing. Are we being the best we can, and where is there room for improvement?”

I asked Will if there was anything else he wanted to add. He thought about the question and his answer was interesting. He said, “I only have my Grade 10. I never took any business courses. I always wanted to own my own business and I wanted to do things right.” There you go, PhD advice from a man with a Grade 10 education. He stays on the road to success by ensuring the needs of his employees and his customers are met. As I said, there are few people that garner my respect the way Will has.

There are people within every community with similar great stories to tell. Find them. Talk to them. They will be the people who hold the light high enough for you to find your own road to success.

One final observation to share with my readers: The adage is birds of a feather, flock together. When you are at conferences, seminars and conventions, notice that after 30 to 60 minutes the successful people will be hanging out with other successful people. The also-rans will be with the chronic complainers. When I was a young man starting out, I hung out with the ‘big boys.’ I asked questions and, more importantly, I listened. Perhaps, I annoyed more than one. Having said that, however, they always took my call whenever I phoned. They always gave me their best advice and they opened many doors for me. For their kindness, I have always been grateful.
Rod McDonald owned and operated Lakeview Gardens, a successful garden centre/landscape firm in Regina, Sask., for 28 years. He now works full-time in the world of fine arts, writing, acting and producing in film, television and stage.