Here’s the issue in which we all get to contemplate our business goals for the new year: What can you do to make the Internet more than just a toy? How can you be a better leader? How can you quit the 9 to 5 rut and break out on your own (and get into the 5 a.m to 9 p.m. rut)?
I have my own hope for 2006, one that involves a new all-in-one, interactive communications and project tracking system that I have devised. It’s similar to the Internet-based software system that is described on page 10 of this issue, but more open in its architecture. I’m pretty excited about it, and will shortly share the details with you. But first I would like to take a minute to consider the rarity of this contemplative moment.
I had my eyes opened just last week, when I picked up the phone and discovered a telemarketer at the other end. He was from a company that could help me make more money and spend less time at my business and — what a coincidence — he just happened to have a representative in my area who could stop by that very next day and discuss the possibilities with me. I get one of these calls roughly twice a week and 99 times out of 100 in a year I politely (more or less) tell the caller that I am not buying and that they should move on to the next call on their list.
But once in a hundred or so I am reminded of a sign I once saw at the printing plant in Baltimore, Maryland, where the U.S. 1 Business Directory is printed. Where most every other company would have a stark warning — “No Soliciting” — the folks at Victor Graphics had a warm “Welcome Salespeople” sign that invited sales people to drop off their material, have a cup of coffee, and use the restroom. Why the welcome, I once asked the printing plant owner, Tom Hicks. Because he hoped his sales people would be treated the same when they visited a company, Hicks replied, and because he would always learn a little something about the industry when he talked to a salesperson.
So I decided this would be a chance to learn a little something, and the next day, the last business day of the year, Glen Goodrow, regional field sales manager for International Profit Associates, based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, showed up at my door.
Sure enough, I learned something and had a few of my own suspicions confirmed. Great businesses, as opposed to very good businesses, are the ones in which the owner doesn’t have to be there everyday from 5 to 9 or whenever. Bonuses, without any measurement to justify them, don’t work beyond the first year they are bestowed, because after the first year they become entitlements in the minds of most people. Profit sharing plans don’t work very well, either, because they never include loss sharing.
And then there was another idea offered by Goodrow in his sales presentation — one that I hadn’t thought of in exactly the same way. He drew a grid of four boxes, and asked me — in classic sales-speak — if I wouldn’t agree that there were important things a business owner did and unimportant things an owner did as well. Of course. And isn’t it true that there are urgent things an owner does, as well as some things that aren’t at all urgent? And isn’t it true, he continued, that we high-powered, street-smart business owners spend damn near every hour in that box that contains both urgent and important matters? Of course. So when, he wondered, did we attend to the matters that, while important, were not urgent?
Not often enough, we agreed, and we expect that such matters are exactly what International Profit Associates could help us with if — big, big if — we chose to utilize the service. At that point, however, we had to get back to preparing this contemplative edition of arguably important but certainly not imperative Survival Guide stories.
And we wanted to share with Goodrow our all-in-one, interactive communications and project tracking system. That system itself is the product of time spent on some important but not very urgent matters. Why, for example, did we manage to send out year-end bills for all our display advertisers but simultaneously fail to send out bills for classified advertisers? How could we keep driving by the supermarket and forget to pick up paper towels for the kitchen? Important? You bet. Urgent? No.
And so in one of the those non-urgent moments we did some important thinking. The result: The purchase of a three by four-foot stain-free, dry-erase surface, easy mounting message board. Priced at just $40 at Staples (and including a half dozen free markers), the board promises to solve all sorts of communication problems around here. And of course it’s interactive because pretty much anyone can add a comment and pretty much anyone else can grab an eraser and delete a comment.
Of course you could store a zillion times more information on a Palm Pilot or on an Internet website. But that’s not our problem. Our problem is making sure everybody is focussed on a few key things at roughly the same time.
It’s an important idea, but not very urgent. Give us another year, and the publication of yet another annual Survival Guide edition, and maybe another thought will come to mind. That’s our modest hope for 2006.