The Triangle

I bought a TRIANGLE for the office. You know, the musical kind. The type you play (ding) in an orchestra. It’s a percussion instrument. This one’s more like a “dinner call Triangle,” but I think you get the picture. Its got that bright sound.

In the office we “ring it” every time we win a new project, or a new phase is added to an existing project. Tami does it at the front desk. Everyone can hear it.

Sure people can check the joblist if they want, and it gives a live report of everything that’s active. But it’s boring. There’s something tangible about the triangle. It’s audible evidence that something good just happened. It reminds people who don’t always get to see the big picture, that cool things are happening; that new business is coming in. Now I’m looking for a GONG to ring. It’ll be for really big projects over a certain dollar value, or for new work with new clients. That’ll get people talking.
The reaction is fun and it creates a festive atmosphere. It gets people talking. It reminds me of being called for dinner when I was a kid.

 Isn’t that what new work is like anyway? Like dinner time for the business?

LinkedIn, LA, Coffee

He sent me a LinkedIn request the week before I was heading to Los Angeles. I didn’t know him, but he was a “second” on my LinkedIn network, and connected to the glazing industry. I was happy to connect and accept his request. I thanked him for the connection through the message feature. I told him that I was heading to Los Angeles the next week. What a “coincidence.” I suggested that perhaps we could get together. The product he helped develop and represents was somewhat new to me, but I was curious. I wanted to know more about the company and the product. I was also traveling with my son that week as he had some interviews in LA. If he was available I wanted him to attend some meetings with me just to get more experience.

My new contact’s response was immediate; “You need to connect with two of my colleagues. I’m not available but I’d like them to get together with you. You guys can arrange whatever time that works.”

So we connected. We set up a meeting. It would be over coffee at a location  we could both reach within an hour. I hesitated and second-guessed myself thinking that LA traffic would make it a mess, but decided that I’d just “play it by ear.”

The day prior, I had a meeting with another new client prospect. A large meeting was set with the CEO, Marketing VP, Director of Operations, Engineering Manager, and others. We met in the conference room. During that meeting the question came to me, “So do you have any other meetings this week?”

“Yes, I have them daily, including one tomorrow with some folks I met through LinkedIn.  They have a specialty product I’d like to hear more about.”

“Oh we know them. In fact, we’ve used their product, says the CEO. Let us know if you find out anything pertinent that might be helpful to us as well.” (World gets smaller…)

The day came. My son was available. Traffic showed a clear, 1 hr, LA drive. We loaded up Google Maps and headed to the meeting. We arrived right on time. After navigating through the parking lot, then the coffee shop, we found our LinkedIn friends. They were sitting outside. It was warm. The air smelled fresh. A light breeze was blowing. The atmosphere was inviting. My new friends were very welcoming and engaging. The discussion started. It moved quickly to common points of reference and insights. Shortly into the discussion, it became obvious to me that there was a potential opportunity to leverage our friend’s product with people and companies that I knew (dots to connect as I say.) To connect them to people and products that had influence and application. Discussion became deeper. I asked questions. My son asked questions. We were all deeply engaged. We were looking at  product samples. I asked them to tell me more about their story. I asked them about their goals and plans within the space that I was familiar. They stated them within A Five-Year Plan.

” 5-years, I asked? You don’t have 5 years. What about two to three years?”

“What do you have in mind, they asked?”

“I tell you what I have in mind related to speed to Market. There’s no reason for you to wait 5 years. There’s front-end application for this now if the value proposition is clear. Buyers downstream need to understand the economics. This is an investment to facilitate a reduced life cycle cost downstream. There are events and groups where you need to connect. There’s Sales managers, business developers and marketers that you need to meet. You need to get in front of the right people. How about if I provide you with a proposal. I’ll help you evaluate the market channels and client prospects.”

“I think we would be very interested, they said. We’ll talk to the CEO and COO and ask them what they think.”

Much more transpired. We adjourned on time, shared business cards, created follow-up plans, and then headed our separate ways (My way was to the nearest In-and-Out Burger for lunch.)

The next week I got a message from my contact saying that the CEO and COO wanted a proposal. They were interested in what I had to offer. I asked for email addresses. They were provided. I set up a new job number. I started a proposal in draft form. It’ll be in their hands soon. There is an opportunity to help them get deeper into one of their market segments, to potentially increase their market share, their top-line revenue, and profitability. All from one simple LinkedIn connection request. From intention and interest. From a simple 1-hour connection point with people who care about their product and who want to improve their lives. All around a cup of coffee, at a table outside, on a sunny day in Southern California.

Related to LinkedIn as an example of a social media platform for business; we can simply accept connections and be done, or we can respond, be invitational, and start a conversation. When we create conversation, we may drive to a deeper level. If someone doesn’t want to engage back, they simply won’t respond. But if they do want to engage, it can quickly lead to more; and we don’t know what “more” may be. This is just one instance for me where a simple social media connection request turned into an opportunity to create and express value for both parties.

How are you doing in social media and relationship-building? Are you disregarding the potential value and connections with people, and with building relationships? Are you simply requesting and accepting connections without taking it any further?Are you posting things about yourself and your company without ever attempting to create value to others?

Everything has a context. Social media itself doesn’t build a personal relationship. It provides a connection point through a platform. Don’t simply accept a connection and sit idly without any further conversation. There’s a person on the other end, not a digital entity. There’s a person that works for a company who wants to continue improving their life, and the lives of those around them. Look for common interests or common spaces and places to connect. You’ll be surprised at the dots that can be connected over time. And even if nothing transpires from it related to business, the time invested in a relationship is worth it. People have value. People are looking to connect and build community. People have a story to tell. It’s enough to simply meet someone and share coffee together.

Here are a few follow-up thoughts and applications. These things are good to remember.

  1. Never take anything for granted. We don’t know where a connection will lead. I could write many more stories about my experiences.
  2. Initiate a conversation. A real one, not an auto-response. Make it relevant
  3. Remember, there is a real person on the other end
  4. If you are not generating potential leads through LinkedIn conversations, then you’re not getting the full impact. Dare I say, you’re not using it to the fullest?
  5. Share your email address directly in the message. Include your website link, even though it is already on your profile. It’s much easier to carry forward when you can reach each person via Outlook and set a Calendar meeting.
  6. Some of these connections and touches should lead to new relationships, new proposal opportunities, and new business. I’ve done it and experienced it 1st hand. The same is true for Twitter.
  7. Never say never, except to say “Never assume you know anything.” I’ve fallen prey to getting dry, lacking creativity, and being complacent. We know nothing about our connection’s real needs, their companies, and their desires, until we listen and engage
  8. It’s not about the number of connections. It’s about the depth of connections. Size matters, but only to the extent that the connections are relevant to your domain, interest, background, capability, values.

The next time you request or receive a connection, initiate a conversation. Make it relevant. Be interesting. Keep it succinct. As I stated in my blog post, “Inclusive or Exclusive,” you might be surprised at what happens.

A Tale of Client Acquisition

Tami: “John there’s a message on your desk from a contractor. They are looking for some documents from us from 2007. The GSU job.”

Me (not enthused): “GSU? Hmm. Let me check this out and see what he wants. I’ll call him back when I can get to it. We’ll have to get the archive company to pull the boxes and deliver to the office.”

Next day:

Tami: “John there’s a gentlemen on the line. He’s a glazing subcontractor. He’s calling about the GSU project.”

Me (slightly more interested): “OK. Thanks.”  “Hello, this is John. How may I help you?”

Glazing Sub: “I’m looking for some reference material; some calculations on the GSU project. We are removing 12 lites of glass to make way for a new bridge connection and integration of its new enclosure. The GC said that you had done some work on the project.”

Me(eyebrow raised): “Interesting; Are you doing both the demo/removal and the new cladding for the bridge?”

Glazing sub: “Nope. We are just preparing the opening.”

Me: “Hm. That sounds like a potential coordination issue. That’s a unitized curtain wall on the existing building. What is it that you need?”

Glazing sub: “I need the calculations so I can get them to an engineer to provide some anchor design and sketches for us. I need to know how to hold the remaining wall in place.”

Me: “We are an engineering firm and I was the engineer of record for the job for XXXX (no names) Glass in 2007. Have you secured someone to do the work?”

Glazing sub (future client): “Not really. I mean, I have a guy that can do it, but it’s not 100%.”

Me: “Well would you be interested in working with us? I mean, we do this stuff. I’ll send you our electronic services catalogue. I’ll include my contact information. If you’re interested, and can send me the scope of work, I can review it and see what you need. I’ll let you know what we can do, and I’ll provide a quotation. Does that work for you? What is your email address?”

Glazing Sub (interested); “Yes. That could work. It’s xxxx@xxxx.com. Thanks. Send me your stuff and I’ll send the architectural drawings to you.”

Me: “Where are you all located? ”

Glazing Sub; “Oh, we’re in North Carolina.”

Me: “Really? We have a North Carolina office and business. Do you have a need for these kinds of services on a regular basis?”

GS; “Yes actually, we do. We may need to have you guys in our system. When you forward me your info, I’ll share it with other folks here.”

Me: “Thank you. I’ll send it right over.”

Email is sent, info shared, scope of work document received, cursory reviewed. Next day; new phone call:

Me: “So describe to me again in more detail what you intend to do.”

GS: “We want to anchor above and below at the wall that remains, prior to removing the curtain wall between. We will need to have an anchor at the bottom of the top unit, and the top of the bottom unit.”

Me: “I hear you. Let me do some more digging. I think it would make sense for us to do this work for you if the scope and fee is aligned with your expectation. We know this building and the curtain wall details. Did you include budget for engineering?”

GS: “Yes we did. Any idea what you would charge for something like this?”

Me: “Hmm. Good question. Often times this type of work will be in the $2,500 range, but there is no guarantee. I can better define the fee once I dig into it.”

GS: “John, if you get me a proposal in that fee range I’ll sign it, get you a purchase order, and get you in our system. I’ll have our admin send you our information. In the meantime, we will need a W-9, certificate of insurance, and other information to get you all set-up.”

Me: “Got it. Let me get that in motion on my end.”

The next day, I review the information, pull the drawings and calculations. I know this location exactly; this 6-unit wide “notch” area in a nook of the building. There’s now a bridge intersecting it. The architectural drawings reveal incomplete detail and vague concepts at the wall system that is being removed. As I review, it becomes clear that there is much more time involved than what I outlined on the phone. I place a call.

Me: “Hey Mr. Client, hows it going? Well, there’s much more here than meets the eye and now we’ve both got quite a bit of time invested in this process. The slabs are variable depth across the three units between L5 and L6 that are being removed. The top unit is being removed right at the stack joint. Every anchor is a dead-load anchor at the floor line. The top anchor will now be exposed to the interior of the building since the stack is right in line with the top of slab. If not, there will have to be some type of mullion extension to reach the face of slab. It’ll have to stab up inside the cavity of the vertical mullion if that’s the case. The top of the bottom unit is cut at an intermediate horizontal. The verticals run-through. It’s now gonna hang  three feet below the slab. It might have to be dead-load anchored with a kicker or supplemental piece of steel spanning across the opening because there is nothing there to which we can attach. If it’s steel or a kicker, that will mean post-installed embed plates to the bottom of slab to support the steel and then some kind of knife plate or duplication of the prior anchor to the steel. Plus, the mullions will have to extend through where glass is being removed and project upwards in order to provide an anchor surface to which we can attach. We also have to re-analyze the mullions to get new reactions. Now there are two jambs with different loads as well. All the mullions are two piece assemblies. We have to check stress and deflection of the four vertical mullions remaining across the opening, define the anchor loads, and then sketch anchor concepts. This will be iterative. I can’t do it for the fee I outlined. Is that a going to be an issue?”

GS: ” Well John, I’ll be honest; I’ve got about $6,400 in this engineering budget. Can you keep it around or within that number?”

Me: “Well thanks for sharing that info. That sure makes the conversation much easier. I think I can do it for a little less. I’m in the $5,600 range right now in my tasking. That would leave some margin in the event there’s something unexpected.”

GS: “That works. Get it to me and I’ll have a P.O. in your hands by the end of the day, or 1st thing tomorrow. Can you start immediately?”

Me: “I can start next Monday (three days later) and get an engineer on it full-time.”

GS: “That works. This will be good. We are looking forward to working with you. Glad we made the connection. Thanks for taking care of us.”

Me: “It’s my pleasure. I had no idea you all existed. Shows me that no matter how much I think I know about the market, there’s always a potential client out there that has a need that we know nothing about. I’ll get that proposal to you by the end of the day.”

My take-away?

A simple phone message that I didn’t follow through on right away becomes a new client, a new project, a new relationship, a need to service, a problem to solve, a monetized activity, a collaboration, a possible future together B2B.

So……

Never take anything for granted.

Create a dialogue

Tell a story

Connect the dots

Speak from a platform on knowledge and understanding

Be clear, be concise, listen, understand

Take it one step at a time

Be humble

Enjoy the process

Working Remotely

If you own and operate a business, and if in particular you are a business start-up founder like me, you’ve got to have the ability to work outside of the office. It’s important for a variety of reasons. First you’ve got to build tools and systems that allow for efficient work whether in or out, and also have dashboard monitoring of financials, marketing, operations, CRM, etc. Without this the business has not started to become an enterprise that is scalable. Also, if you’re like me, or share my experience at all, you may have held many of the job titles or positions in the business on your growth path. This is a strength and a weakness. When you know the work and business deeply at many levels, there’s a tendency to want to over-compensate and plug the gaps yourself. This is good and necessary when bootstrapping, but it’s a liability once you’re trying to build a team and a maturing organization. Being embedded inside of the office does not allow an objective view for the highly engaged owner. You can’t see things as clearly from within, despite what you may think. People depend on you; you’re efficient; you can get stuff done; it feels good to “know your stuff.” It also is a major empediment and roadblock to future growth. You’ve got to get out of the way. Forcing yourself to “go remote” offers a step in the right direction and completely new perspective. You aren’t physically present. It CAN’T be the same. Once out you’ll be able to see very quickly where you’re over-compensating, where there are real gaps, lack of process, people isssues, unclear role definition, positives, negatives, who is stepping up to assume responsibility, and how well the business functions without you directly involved. You’ll be able to assess functionality from a people and systems-based set of solutions; from results orientation. Strengths and weaknesses are exposed very clearly. It can be uncomfortable because you’ll have to allow for new types of mistakes. You’ll have to coach to the mistakes and not fix them yourself. You’ll delegate in a way that was not known prior. Our mentality should be “always present just not always physically there.” And you should connect daily with your people so that you manifest this reality in your actions. Get used to it. Try it on. Adapt. Phones, mobile devices, cloud, computer tools, apps, and other remote tools can facilitate this while you untether. If you don’t, you’ll hit roadblocks. You’ll limit growth. Plus if you, your staff, clients, and interested observers are really thinking, everyone will know that the more sustainable an organization, the more it functions without the direct daily involvement of the owner(s), founder(s), the more valuable it is to all involved. Stay tuned as I share more experiences on this topic.

Until You Shift Your Focus

There are those days or times in our companies when we realize something needs to change. A paradigm shift needs to take place; a re-prioritization of time and leadership focus; another person to take over a role that is not being accommodated in an appropriate manner. It’s a conviction, a nagging thought, a recurring issue, a pain-point, that is becoming more and more obvious. Yet often we are not aligned with the need or issue. This is particularly true in a growth oriented environment because we will typically will find ourselves in a situation that we’ve never been before. Either our schedule, our focus, our skill set, or sheer force of habit will find us delaying the inevitable, or not really knowing exactly what to do. Sometimes those around us see it more plainly than we do. Clients often see it in first (and worst) as they are the recipient of our services or products. In these times we need to resist passivity, resist the past, resist fear or doubt, and we need to make a change; shift our focus. How do we do it? What does this look like? It can take multiple or various forms. Let me provide a few thoughts and examples from my experience as a start-up founder, and professional services company manager and leader.

1. Promote someone you trust. Hand over responsibilities to them and then coach them, rather than doing the work yourself. Do it today.

2. Develop a new job description or modify an existing one to accommodate the need.

3. Develop a process. Do it with those affected by the situation. Do it on your feet. Don’t delay. Confront every problem as an operational exercise to improve or refine a process. Revise as you proceed. Shift as necessary

4. Change your focus; shift your focus; re-allocate your time and priorities. Manage schedule aggressively. Force yourself to decide what you are “NOT GOING TO DO”

5. Get inputs from peers, from a mentor, books, resources, whatever it takes. There is a wealth of information to pull from

6. Develop an advisory board or board of directors. Meet with them. Be accountable to them. This may the best thing you can possibly do to promote continuous improvement.

7. Find a mentor. Someone who’s been there and done that (or done similar)

8. Meet with your team and work together to identify and define the situation. Work out a solution together.

9. Get out of the office; work remotely; think. Write. Monitor activity from a new perspective. Gaps and issues will be come more obvious.

10. Trust your people. Get out-of-the-way. Facilitate and support them. Stop meddling. Go do the work only you can do and stop doing the work of others

Look in the mirror, plant your feet firmly in the ground, and resolve to yourself that you are going to make a change TODAY. One thing. Until we change our focus, adjust our schedule, re-prioritize our time, re-direct our energy, nothing will change. Move forward. Fail quickly, fail cheaply. Adjust immediately. Learn. Grow. Monitor, Listen. Start shifting the focus today and make a change; advance something forward.