“Where in the world have you been?!” Gerry asked me. “I’ve missed hearing from you and was worried somehow I got dropped off your newsletter list.”
Where have I been? The same place we’ve all been – at home! But, I’ve been in another place, too. A more introspective space, trying to make sense of all that is happening around us and how to find my voice and my own sure footing amidst the turmoil.
Like you, I entered this year expecting something completely different. I’ve been thinking a lot about how scary this time has been for each of you and for our business owners, the ones who were in the midst of selling their companies and the ones who were hoping to do it this year or next. Could you use some insights into how to thrive amidst this uncertainty and to make the best use of these pivotal moments?
Historically, I’ve used my regular column to bring perspective, usually sharing a story to bring context to the common struggles I see clients or audiences facing, to help inspire us to be the best professional partners we can be for each other in this industry that can sometimes pressure us to put process ahead of people.
Of course, I’m still writing in ways that can inspire or bring insight. Yet what’s also true is that some of my writing over this period has been even more personally reflective, some of it has been angry and some of it has been despairing.
I’ve been intentional about not emoting into this space we have curated together over the years just to get things off my chest. I have been really careful and thoughtful about not contributing to what has sometimes seemed like a noisy environment lately. So, over these past several months, I’ve found myself writing and then waiting. And, often, I realized that what I wrote last week or the week before seems suddenly out of date because the news cycle is moving so fast these days.
By way of example, I wrote a column about what family businesses could learn about succession planning from the seemingly abrupt and very public withdrawal of Prince Harry from the family business of the Monarchy. Remember that big story? When was that … ten lifetimes ago? Nope, it was just a few months ago. Of course it’s relevant, but it somehow seemed “the wrong time” to hit “Publish” as the coronavirus put lives in danger and all of our lives switched dramatically into lockdown mode.
I’ve watched many advisors and organizations splash out what feels like an avalanche of content in an effort to attract new business, to not be “forgotten” or to try to secure some semblance of relevance for themselves. Like me, you might have received invitations to hundreds of webinars and virtual conferences and Zoom events over the past couple of months – all promising to send me the replay link if I was too busy to attend. I soon found myself buried in unconsumed content that I was holding in folders on my server and felt like I SHOULD watch or listen to but felt ashamed that I didn’t have the time or emotional bandwidth to take in. Probably most of it was valuable, but still – it was A LOT and it kept coming from all angles like a cacophony of voices each shouting “SEE ME!”
I have been asking myself – should I give you columns that inspire you and give you hope amidst your own despair? Or should I give you practical tips about how to approach your clients and prospects about selling their business so you can keep them moving forward? Or should I write to you about navigating your own emotions about finding “what’s next” for yourself in such times of uncertainty?
I get it. As a small business owner myself, I’ve been anxious about how to stay in front of you. How to make sure that you remembered me and what I do. AND I’ve been really worried about seeming promotional, about checking my own motives and not being self-serving, or appearing tone-deaf. So, I’ve been quiet. Publicly quiet, that is.
I issued only two columns this year Let Your Empathy Be Contagious and Being The Best Damned Provider You Can Be – both designed to bring perspective to a time when fear has been rampant. I’ve also been thoughtful about which podcasts and conferences to address you through and have said “not now” to many. I’ve chosen to not just pump out content from a place of fear and instead to ask “what is the purpose of this and how will it serve YOU.” More is not better, it’s just MORE and can easily lead to a sense of overwhelm. I’m trying to make sure that what I am contributing to the conversations out there will serve to help you to feel more settled and secure in the way you approach your own clients.
Instead, I’ve been doing lots and lots of individual calls and personal outreach – really asking “How ARE you?” Then paying close attention to the answers. I think of the people in my network as caring partnerships in my life and wrote about this in The Art of Asking What Matters. So, when I talk to Laura or Tom and hear that their daughters are nurses, I hear the deep worry in their voices about whether their sweet girls will be safe as they are helping others. And, I make a note to check in with them just a little more often – not because I’m trying to stay top of mind with them, but because I want them to know their worries are top of mind with me.
When I talk with Marty or Ben, who are still grieving the loss of their son and brother Jon, and are on opposite sides of the country unable to see each other for months in the midst of their grief, I slow down and think about what they might feel when they read a column from me. Might they feel as if the world has moved on without them and that my “marketing” feels crass and self-serving in the midst of their pain?
One day I received a text from Lisa asking how I was and telling me how grateful she was to have exited her business before all of this happened. That made me think about Laura, who bought that business and I wanted to see how she was faring – it had to be scary for her, don’t you think? A new business owner in a high-touch service business with some big debt and a boat load of uncertainty ahead of her. I also reached out to Bob, the business broker on that deal, and to the lawyers who had been involved in that transaction, too. How were they each faring?
Other days, I thought about Jen or Gary or Lyon who I knew had each lost jobs early in this shutdown and reached out to see how I could help them stay connected. Same thing with a lawyer and a banker I know who each have immune-compromised spouses at home – how hard it must be for each of them to find a way to navigate the fine line between caring for the person most precious to them and satisfying their company’s need for them to be out there meeting new business to keep their concerns going. So, I reached out to each of them – not to see how they could book me to speak to their audience or to hire me for a deal that’s gone sideways – but to see how I might be helpful to them – to support them in this time of chaos.
It is these people, these conversations, the stories that came from each call, each Zoom meeting – these are the things I’ve wanted to write to you about – to help humanize this experience for each of us – to help us not lose sight of what really matters. Who are these people in your network? How are you connecting with them? Not just marketing to them?
Contrary to what you may have been told, our business success is decidedly NOT a numbers game and when we treat it like that and content bomb our marketing out just to allay our fears of missing out, we all lose out. Here’s a conversation I had with Katie Mulligan on ACG’s podcast Middle Market Growth Conversations about how to network better during this uncertain time. I choose to not treat my business relationships as transactions and, as a result, I can trust that I will be ok and work will come my way when the time is right. You can, too. Come back to what matters. We are creating the kind of business environment and world we want to live in with every decision we make – right now.
Make no mistake, it’s also been scary for me. Like you, I entered this year with great hopes. My book The Seller’s Journey had just launched, I was booked for 18 keynote addresses between March and June of this year (and we know how that turned out, right?) I’ve had to learn how to pivot in my own business – how to deliver keynote addresses by Zoom and still feel connected to my audience. I tried to think about who helped their tv audiences feel really connected and I decided to channel my inner Mr. Rogers and Miss Nancy (any Romper Room kids out there? Remember her magic mirror and how it made you feel seen?)
I’m not immune from the panic that can lead us to try to grab business or generate revenue, all in the hope that it will help us to feel secure. I wrote about this in my column Is Money Your Security Blanket? The tools in that article apply here, too. It makes sense that we’re scared about the future and grasping for security. Keep dialing in to the things that will really help you feel secure amidst all of this uncertainty.
One of the really curious ways humans deal with uncertainty closely mirrors the way we respond to loss. In many ways, we are all grieving right now. Just naming it as grief and normalizing our seemingly crazy responses to uncertainty can help to ease the process as I suggest in Grief, Loss & Owners on the Brink. Even in “normal” times, Sellers go through a grieving process when letting go of their business, so this is a timely read and one you’ll be able to use in lots of deals in the future.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how scary this has been for our business owners, the ones who were in the midst of selling their companies and the ones who were hoping to do it this year or next. They, too, are wracked with uncertainty and grieving the many losses we have all experienced. Imagine for a moment how it feels to them to be on the receiving end of lots of pitches to “choose me!” or to get a bunch of in-bound marketing that says “Now is the time to sell!” completely ignoring the uncertainty that’s brewing all around us.
I was on a call with two fellows the other day, one of whom was insisting “The market is the best it’s ever been!” and “Now is the time to act!” I recognized some of that as positive spin. I’m not saying you need to be Debbie Downer in your calls and meetings, but I found my trust in this person waning and my suspicion rising – because his insistence that now is the perfect time to act, felt more about HIS need to find and close a deal than it was about serving the needs and attending to the emotions of the client on the call.
Right now, trust matters – a LOT – and our clients and our peers are much more likely to trust us if we can dial down our own panicked need to move things forward for our own benefit and just tune in to what the others in the room are feeling. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but slowing down, calming your own panicky feelings and being transparent are the keys to moving a deal forward.
We are undoubtedly at an inflection point. The great part is that we get to decide what kind of world we live in moving forward. We don’t need to push and shove our way through this uncertainty and we don’t have to do it that way with our clients either.
There is a better way. Stay tuned, over the next several months, I’m going to share more of how to move toward a world where new clients seek you out because your prior clients were so happy that they send everyone your way and you can relax into trusting relationships with the other professionals, close more deals and stop worrying all the time about whether this deal will close or where your next one comes from.
If that sounds like the kind of world you’d rather operate in and you can’t wait to read about it here, drop me a note and I’ll clue you in on something I’ve been doing quietly in the background that’s changing the way deals are getting done.
Meanwhile, I’d love to know what you’re struggling with now and how YOU are faring amid all of this change. And if you’re not yet connected to me on LinkedIn or Twitter and that’s something you’d like to do – the links are below.