The Best + The Worst Business Advice I Received Yet
I love running a business. The risks, the rewards, the thrills, and sometimes even the fear are all things that I just absolutely revel in.
Like most business owners, I love advice. From when to hire (thanks, Trevor!) to finding the right workman’s compensation insurance (thanks, John!), there is so much collective knowledge that we get to pull from.
I spent some time reflecting on the past 24-months and my personal journey to get to this point and wanted to share the best and the worst business advice I’ve been given yet.
The Best: Think Big, Act Small
I used to sit at the bench of my father’s branch of an electrical distribution supply company. Every morning, without fail, his regulars would stroll in through the front glass doors, pull up a barstool, and sit for hours.
As the morning would go on, a few more construction company owners would come in, clap the back of whoever was already in a seat and pull up their spot. Most of the time, they’d come in with a cup of coffee from our local coffee shop, and after a while, they started to bring me one, too.
Everyone knew everyone.
The conversations were lighthearted and warm. What was next for so-and-so, who would win the bid on the new barn for the church two towns over.
In the winter, the conversations would last longer. No one was in a rush to go out into the Michigan snow and cold.
The shop was small and humble. My father had chosen to move from a much larger building right across the street to one ¼ of the size. This immediately brought everyone into closer quarters.
As the fog would lift, someone, usually Earl, would say, “okay, well...I guess I better get on it. Oh, and I need thirty Lithonia ARC1 LED wall mounts -- what’s the soonest you can get them to me?”
And there it was - the sale.
Within a few minutes, I hear the old printer; you know the kind from school with the holes on either side and the distinct sound of the printing bar swooshing back and forth.
Never once did anyone ask for the cost of what they needed. They just asked, ‘when can I get it?’ in between sips of their coffee and bites of their donuts.
The relationships I watched being built from that blue SquareD stool behind that counter taught me everything I need to know about running a business.
I can almost hear your thoughts, “But, Britt, that was different. Running a small electrical supply company in a tiny town no one has ever heard of is NOT comparable to running a REAL competitive business.
Isn’t it, though?
Sure, maybe your customers can’t pull up to a literal bench and drink your literal coffee, but that counter was just a meeting place, not the magic.
The magic was the connection and the belief that if you Think Big and Act Small, you’ll always be the right fit for your right fit customer.
Thinking Big means to make decisions like a damn business person. I’m not giving away my product/service at low margins because you’re a friend. I watched my father study his P&L monthly, make robust forecasting for the coming year, and work his ass off to understand what his market needed - and then deliver it.
Being a nice human being doesn’t mean that we have to stop being smart, intelligent business owners. It just means that everything I do in my business is to benefit our clients. Suppose I go out of business because I ignore profit margin, capacity, market changes, etc. I can’t be of any service to anyone.
Taking care of our two extraordinary employees to bring their best selves (and our Tik Tok of the day, thanks, Iris!) is taking care of our clients.
Structuring in a way that allows both Stacy and I to be overseeing the areas that we’re strongest in for our Tier 1 accounts is taking care of our clients.
Saying no to work that isn’t right for us, or the client company is taking care of our clients.
Thinking Big, while still Acting Small, has led BS+Co. to punch well above our weight. We’re indefinitely booked out, and our P&L makes me proud every time I look at it.
The Worst: You Don’t Sound Enough Like [Me]
I had just pulled into my drive, and I got a Slack from my boss at the time, “hey, Britt - can we talk about the recording of the presentation you did yesterday?”
This presentation was an important one. At the time, my job was to sell and deliver services to prospective clients, and the day before, I had done just that. The strategy and presentation I had created and delivered led to the close of over $150k in annual revenue.
I was so incredibly proud. This prospect was a great company. The owner, while kind, was a bit of a tough cookie. But, ultimately, we had found our counter and made the sale.
I replied to his slack that I was open and to give me a call. My phone rang immediately, so I took the call sitting in my truck.
It was apparent immediately that this wasn’t a congratulatory conversation.
“You know, Britt, what’s really wrong with this entire recording,” he said, after offering some nonspecific feedback about my choice to share that I sometimes write strategies on the back of napkins at dinner, “is that you don’t sound, you don’t sound enough like me....”
I’m sorry, what?
He continued, “Have you seen a recording of me giving a presentation lately?”
Honestly, no - he didn’t do our jobs. He didn’t create actual business and marketing plans, nor did he sell business or marketing plans to anyone.
He continued, “I need you to find recordings of me and study them. I need you to sound more like me on these calls.’
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Maybe he had a good point, and there were areas I could improve upon, but...all success metrics pointed out that my call had been WILDLY successful.
In that one conversation, I found myself teetering between wanting to be open to advice that could help me improve and struggling with trying to figure out if the last 10-years of ‘success’ that my voice and brain created had been WRONG the whole time!
This approach of mine is how I interact with every single one of my past and current clients. This is how I manage all of my clients. I never once had a client EVER give me anything but glowing reviews and feedback.
I have case studies of how useful my work has been for companies. Actual real revenue increasing case studies.
But...somehow, in one conversation, he almost convinced me that I, as an entire person, was just wrong.
My success was wrong. My voice was wrong. My brain was wrong. I was just wrong.
Thankfully, he only ALMOST succeeded.
I can’t pretend that I know what my previous boss’s intentions were when providing that feedback. I like to tell myself that it’s because he didn’t realize how that feedback was deconstructive and unhelpful.
The Real Art of Advice
It’s our job to know when we hear good advice and when we should ignore what we’re being told. It’s not an easy line to walk.
I never want to be too proud to learn, but I also wouldn’t be sitting where I am right now if I had listened to him and made myself to be more like anyone else.
Yesterday, I got to watch one of our team members upsell an account (by TRIPLING their retainer) by merely sitting at the counter and thinking big while acting small. If I had listened to his advice, I’d never make it to this point and get to celebrate her success.
I’ve built unique mentoring relationships with my clients, who give us advice daily. If I had listened to his advice, I wouldn’t even know these people.
I’m not afraid to say I write things on the back of napkins and show my clients that I am a real human being. I love Thinking Big about our company, but Acting Small with our clients.
I’m not afraid to say, “I don’t know” and ask for advice when we need it. Because workman’s comp insurance is NOT easy to figure out!
And, I’m definitely not afraid to say, “Screw your shitty advice.”