Blowing Your Own Horn

Showmanship is not my thing. I’m English.

Which makes finding ways to explain the value that our consultancy provides a personal daily wrestling match. Culture versus commerce. But there is comfort in knowing I am not alone.

My father, who has been known to write a word or two, penned an article some years ago that I pinned on my office wall through three career changes. It described the differences between an English and American selling sensibility.

“We imply,” he wrote. “We infer. If the opportunity doesn’t manifest itself, we withdraw. Sell, my dear fellow? Sell, who us?”

Selling is an art form. The essence of which is built on relationships. The best I have known do so effortlessly and authentically. Most of us having long since developed an instinct for superficiality.

But even the best sales people need something to work with.

Aspirational products and services help. Easy to write. Hard to provide.

Aspiration is a frame of reference that requires a context. Those that have and those that don’t, works pretty well.

And a set of standards. Acclaimed by others, being a good starting point.

The first step to becoming aspirational comes when you apply standards to your business. The higher the standards held by a business, the more its customers see those standards as  a reflection of their own success. It’s how Goyard charges $3,000 for a bag that can be replicated for $15.

Being acclaimed by others means blowing your own horn. Or having others do it for you. Which in these days of earned audiences is much more powerful.

I owned a film editing company for a number of years. For the first eight of those I was one of the chorus who complained that at every advertising industry award show, the endless list of credits never included the name of the editor.

Even on the award for best editing. True fact.

The average :30 second commercial has 3-4 hours of film. Without an editor, it’s not called a commercial. It’s called dailies.

The best attended industry awards show in America is that of the AICP, traveling as it does to every major market. For an award show recognizing, ‘The Art and Technique of the American Commercial’ it made little sense to me that the artists involved would not be recognized. Particularly since each year’s award winner are included in the permanent archive at MOMA.

Aspiration eat your heart out.

In 2003, I approached Matt Miller, the CEO of the AICP. “I’d like to sponsor the editor credit,” I said. “I don’t care who cuts the work, I want each editor to be credited. Just put a small line in the back of the book each year that the editorial credit is brought to you by the Whitehouse."

It took a year, but to his great credit Matt refused the money and recognized the validity of my argument. Or the fact that I wasn’t going away.

Since 2005, every editor has been credited on every piece of work recognized at the AICP show. Their names now immortalized in the MOMA archive.

Building a company that people aspire to work with is step two.

First they have to value what you do.

The fastest path to which, ironically, is celebrating your competition.

Weekend Update

The Tiger Woods story has many arms and legs. All explored thoroughly elsewhere.

There is, however, a simple but powerful business lesson in his announcement yesterday.

When people start to turn away from what you're selling, it's tempting to promote it harder.

A better solution sometimes is to create demand.

By reducing supply.

Which comes with the added benefit that everyone who depends on you to make their living suddenly becomes your unpaid sales team.


The Purpose of a Company

Defining the purpose of a company is the hardest and most necessary step to building a Better Business.

Peter Drucker, probably the most acclaimed management consultant in history, believed the core purpose of any company is, ‘to create a customer.’

I mis-understood this the first time I read it and replaced ‘create’ with ‘get’.

Which is a bit like replacing ‘sell’ with ‘buy’ in your view of the world. A mistake which many companies are making at the moment.

Getting a customer is child’s play. And usually a one-way transaction. They win. You lose.

Creating a customer means selling something of value.

To them. And to you.

Money Can't Buy You Love

Chris and I were in Bloomingdale's in Manhattan last week. It was the first time either of us had stepped inside in two decades.

It's possible we'll go again. If we live to be 100.

Bloomingdale's used to be IT. When I last lived here in the early 80s it was a destination filled with atmosphere, attitide, aspiration and Big Brown Bags.

Today all that's left is the attitude.

Bloomingdale's owns Macy's. Who own Thanksgiving. And large parts of Christmas. Well, one street's worth.

Macy's is spending several millions of dollars refurbishing Bloomie's. Construction is everywhere. Which gives the impression for a few minutes that something is happening.

It is.

Money is being wasted. Display case fulls at a time. Because regardless of what they stock, Bloomingdale's staff is singularly uninterested in selling it.

In a twenty minute excursion we asked for help from five different people. To say we were an inconvenience would be to suggest that root canal during love making is a distraction. And the person who smiled at us most warmly? The man who held the door open as we left. As he pulled it closed we turned, half expecting to see the staff offer us a collective grimace before returning to the pursuits we had clearly interrupted.

Building a better business means making sure what and where you're selling comes after who you're selling to.

Because once they've walked out the door, all the fresh paint in the world won't bring them back.


I mentioned in a blog last week that we have hired a consultant.

His name is Alan Weiss. I call him the Consultant’s Consultant.

We met last Friday in New York. We talked for an hour.

But one thirty second exchange justified the entire expense. And it was entirely obvious.

When working with a customer, talk about their problems. Not your solutions. How else will you know if the former requires the latter.

Simple. Obvious. And guilty as charged.

Building a better business is based on knowing what you’re talking about.

And knowing enough not to talk about it until you’ve discovered if or how it’s relevant.

Enough said.

Value. The End.

If being liked is important to you, don’t manage a business.

Management is part art. And part science. A complicated equation with subtle shifts and eddies.

In our early days at the Whitehouse we focused first on being liked. We’d never managed a staff of any size before and we worried in case we were doing it wrong.

So we tried to make sure our staff saw us as one of them. Then we tried to make sure clients saw us as their peers as well.

Doing it wrong squared.

Like follows trust and respect. In that order. The first test applied by staff and customers alike is do they trust you ‘get it’. ‘It’ comes in many forms, but your customers and staff are there for a reason. And they want to know if you’re there for the same one.

After nine years at Loch Lomond we knew why we were there. And when we arrived for our stay in the Fall of 2007, we wanted to know whether the new management team was there for the same reasons.

Eight days later we were pretty sure they weren’t.

The Club’s new President was a man called Niall Flanagan. We were fans of his predecessor, Keith Williams. And after nine years, we knew Keith had the same views of value as we did.

I don’t believe any one person is indispensable to a well designed organization. But after nine years, the transition from one management team to another needs to be sensitively and pro-actively handled.

This one was butchered.

The announcement of Keith’s departure was a two line by-line in the Club newsletter. Which set the phone and email lines buzzing. Human nature, I’m afraid. In the absence of your story, your staff and customers will come up with their own, fueled by any kernel of information. Needless to say, by the time we arrived the stories were rampant and our antenna were up. We were watching for changes. And we found them in abundance.

Most glaring to me was that in eight days, I met Niall once. Chris has never met him. I ran into him by accident in reception. He said hello. Referenced the fact that they had agreed to match a room rate I had requested. And hurried off. He was, I thought, uncomfortable. Or disinterested. Or irritated. Or all of the above.

I decided that he definitely wasn’t there for the same reasons I was.

Taking care of your customers is an art form. A year earlier I had asked whether, on our eight day trip in early October, the Club would honor their discounted October room rates for the first two nights that fell in September. It was confirmed within twenty minutes. This year the same request had also been honored. It had taken three days and several follow up inquiries on my part.

It’s hard to quantify frustration. But when your customers start trying to, you’re already losing.

The fact that Niall’s only point of personal connection with me was to mention what I saw as a begrudging concession earned neither my trust or my respect. When I saw him in the bar over the next few days, it was always sitting in the corner with a group of members, having a drink. We weren’t invited, introduced or acknowledged.

Perception is fact. And my perception had been framed to look for change. I had a bias. I had a narrative. And Niall gave me a lot of evidence to support it.

For twenty-one months I carried that bias with me. This was not my Loch Lomond. And Niall Flanagan was not my President.

The value of providing your customers with visceral as well as practical experiences is that they take visceral with them. And as summer draws to a close each year, my thoughts turn to Loch Lomond.

It’s been two years since we were last there but we continue to receive regular newsletters. Last month’s contained a Fall Package. A lesson in staying in contact with even disaffected customers. People and circumstances change.

Visceral met economic value met Tim’s 50th birthday and our 11th Anniversary.

Expecting nothing I contacted the Club to see whether rooms were available. They were. Only one problem. Our membership is ‘in suspension’. The result of our refusal to pay dues to a Club that had changed so dramatically on our last trip.

Perception is reality. And my perception about Loch Lomond is based on three pillars. None of the staff I know is there any more. The Club’s economic situation is massively uncertain. And Niall’s management philosophy does not deliver an experience I value for the cost of remaining a member.

The first perception is not, I discovered, entirely true. My reservation request was replied to by Alison Rodgers whom we have known since our second visit. And Willie still works in the Locker Room, and Bert is the new head golf pro. We have known all of them for a number of years.

The Club’s economic condition is unquestionably in transition. But it isn’t likely to improve unless the Members get behind it. A point Niall made to me in an exchange of emails last week.

That exchange started after Alison passed on my approach to the Club’s management. Based on my previous experience with Niall, I expected nothing.

When the contact I received came from the Club’s Finance Manager, I knew that in expecting nothing I had actually set the bar too high.

A Club offering an exclusive, service-oriented experience does not serve its strategy well by having its Finance Manager correspond with ten year members about their disaffection with the Club.

Acquiring new customers is essential to every business in the world. The cost of doing so is one of its most significant expenses. But when you’re losing ten year customers out the back door at the same time, you’re writing an equation that returns ‘False’ as its conclusion.

I explained our background. Our lousy experience in 2007. And our unwillingness to pay dues until we could experience Loch Lomond 2.0 for ourselves. I was immediately offered a concession in light of our history. We could pay our 2008 dues and they would confirm our October reservation. I declined.

In response, I was told this was as big a concession as could be made because this was what other members had been offered.

If you’re going to offer a customer a concession, do so. But don’t offer a policy dressed up as a concession. It just alienates your customers further.

I thanked him for his time, told him I thought there were some valuable lessons for my blog in all this. And moved on.

The next day I got an email from Niall. He restated his position, assured me that the Club was better than ever, and hoped I would reconsider.

I explained that my one stay under his management had been closer to a Marriott by the Loch experience, detailed my issues, and told him I’d raised his management approach with the Club’s owners in 2007. In my view, his determination to extract £3,500 in dues before allowing me to return to see the evidence for myself was short-sighted. But it was his policy and he was entitled to apply it as he wished.

He replied with a long and thoughtful email which included a letter from a member describing his visit to Loch Lomond this summer. It was filled with specific examples of very high levels of service and fulsome praise for individual members of staff. It also included a series of quotes from some of the world’s leading golfers about the state of the course.

I told him I could have written both the letter and the golf course endorsement myself until 2007. But that based on what he’d provided us last time, I wasn’t taking the bet again. Fool me once....

If he was so confident in the experience we would now have, why, I suggested, didn’t he pay our 2008 dues himself. If our stay was as advertised, I would reimburse him and pay the 2009 dues as well. If not, he’d have made his own investment in Loch Lomond.

‘It can’t be more important to me than it is to you,’ is a favorite reference point of mine. And paying a business for the opportunity to give them a second chance falls firmly into that camp.

I hit send. And waited.

Speed of response has value. Sometimes as much as the response. Niall’s took 12 minutes.

He accepted. And raised me by offering to also reimburse us for any specific service we were dissatisfied with during our stay.

I would have bet the £3,500 dues he would have declined.

A lesson that there is no such thing as a sure thing. And that most of the time, articulating a win-win scenario is the first step to creating one.

We shall see if that’s the case here. We confirmed our reservations for October yesterday. And I’m looking forward to going back to Loch Lomond more than I can say.

I’m also looking forward to giving Niall a second chance. With an open mind.

A win win. Who would have thought it possible?

Talk about value.

Value - Part 3

Cost and value are tricky things because they won’t stand still.

Last year, when all of America was complaining about the price of a gallon of gas there were at least two groups who weren't.

Those who read that, adjusted for inflation, a $4.00 gallon costs less in real terms than the 28 cents charged in 1958.

And those who spend enough time in the United Kingdom buying petrol at $10.00 a gallon to think that $4.00 is a pretty good deal.

For most of us, doubling the price of gas had little impact on our habit of driving everywhere. That was because the convenience of driving was more valuable than the extra expense. But it was also because habits have value too. One of which is not having to think about them. A potential change first has to cross the threshold of being worthy of thought. A value system in and of itself.

We had stopped thinking about what it cost to belong to Loch Lomond about a second after the gatekeeper greeted us that first day. And by the time we returned for our third visit, Loch Lomond had become a habit. For the next five years, we showed up Spring and Fall. And in between thought only of the next time.

We met Loch Lomond’s owner, Lyle Anderson, briefly in our second year. Doing so confirmed that the vision articulated in the Club’s written correspondence was reflective of Lyle’s personal love of the place. Limited and sensitive development that would create long term economic viability, while maintaining the intimate atmosphere we valued so much.

Lyle owned a number of big U.S. golf resorts. Truthfully, the kinds of places that have never appealed to us except occasionally as someone else’s guests. But their success
reassured us whenever we started to wonder how Loch Lomond’s economics could possibly work.

The Club sits on 1000 acres on a 999 year lease from the Clan Colquhoun. The definition of a long term strategy. The course had been built before Lyle bought the place from the bank of Scotland, its previous developer having gone bust.

Lyle saw value in the ground that had been laid, figured out what it would take to restore Rossdhu House, the Carriage House and the Garden Cottages, added antique furniture, luxurious fabrics, a high powered management team, first-class marketing and administrative support and must have come up with a huge red number. Huge. And very red.

For the first six years of our $5,000 membership, the annual dues were $1,800 and the 23 rooms cost between £250 and £400 a night. We were conscious of all this because the Club was clearly costing a lot more to run than the revenue that equation could generate. ‘It’s a loss leader for Lyle.” “It’s where he wants to retire.” “He just loves the place. Money’s not important to him.” Rumors abounded among members and staff alike. In every case we all wanted reassurance that this magical place could go on just as it was.

The truth, of course, was it couldn’t. And in early 2004 it was announced that a membership Conversion Plan was underway.

It came in the form of the single most beautiful sales piece I have ever seen. A cloth bound, membership book in its own presentation box containing some of the most stunning photographs of Loch Lomond. Interspersed among the pages were details of the new membership structure.

The Club offered two choices. Pay $75,000 and convert into a full equity membership that in theory would provide a return on your investment in five years.

Or enjoy one final year at the Club and leave.

I know we talked about it. But not for very long. We couldn’t imagine life without Loch Lomond. Our business was doing well. The Club would finance the payment. We’d get a return on our investment. And there’d be half as many members. It would be better than ever.

In six years, an angst ridden $5,000 decision had become a no-brainer at 80 grand.

Inflation and relative economic circumstances play a big part in determining value. But as you get older, how and where you spend your time has a bigger role to play. As does with whom. And in today’s world, privacy comes with a price. I value privacy more than exclusivity. It’s an important distinction in building a business. Particularly one selling a service.

Emotional forces are powerful drivers of value as well. And giving something up requires humility as well as discipline. But in a competitive world, humility is a scarce resource.

To be successful requires a healthy amount of self confidence. Without humility that can turns into short-sightedness. And sometimes arrogance. Bad traits in business and life.

If you bring humility to work with you every day, taking its restraining forces with you on vacation can be hard to do. And perhaps unhealthy. ‘I deserve this,’ is powerful fuel for the entrepreneur from time to time. Payment for some of the challenges faced and overcome.

Leaving Loch Lomond would on some level have been a statement of failure. That we couldn’t afford it. Or didn’t deserve it. Whatever the matrix of value we used to decide to convert, the ticker tape output said “do it.”

So we did. And the results were spectacular.

Over the next three years the Club opened beautiful new rooms in hidden parts of the grounds. A world class spa was built in the Walled Garden. An amazing, sanctuary of a place with a water treatment pool that I quickly dubbed ‘the womb’ for the security and tranquility it provided. The service got even more personal, the result of a bond formed with some of the people who helped us through 9/11 which we watched live on CNN from our room in Rossdhu.

Connections like that are hard to quantify. So we didn’t. We just acknowledged their value and were grateful to be able to come back.

Funny how things change.

Value - Part 2

I don’t remember when I first asked Chris to marry me. But it was some considerable time before she said yes. Considerable as in years. Two at least.

When she finally did so it was in a middle seat in coach on a late afternoon flight from LAX to Chicago. As settings go it was less than romantic. A shortcoming that our wedding more than made up for.

Four months after we first walked up the stairs of Rossdhu House, we made the journey again.

This time as bride and groom.

Accompanied by falling rose petals and the sound of bagpipes.

Both were a surprise.

In a day of blurred memories, this moment stands out. In part because it was the culmination of so much and I've never felt more present. In part because the thoughtfulness of the Club's management to provide two touches we had not asked for, framed the moment and made it a memory.

A lesson that big value can be built on small things.

Rossdhu is the ancestral home of the Clan Colquhoun. Built in the 16th Century, it is regarded locally as the ‘new’ house, and sits proudly and gracefully in the most prominent position within 1000 acres.

The ruins of the stark, defensively positioned castle it replaced still exist behind what is now the 18th green. Dramatic contrast of the values of the times in which each was built.

The transformation of the Colquhoun estate from fortress to playground happened as a tango. Periods of peace and calm interspersed by betrayal, black magic, murder and tragedy. Mary Queen of Scots visited twice, Queen Victoria once. As did Bill Clinton.

When the former President came to stay, he was given lodging at the Bed and Breakfast down the road in Luss, the rooms at Loch Lomond all being occupied by members, and the Club’s management being unwilling to dislocate any of us for a non-member.

Value is the foundation of any business that succeeds over the long term. People spend money based on a complex series of personal equations that we use to determine what something is worth.

Those equations are fluid, and some are more elastic than others. Aspiration, scarcity, social esteem, personal esteem, and need all play a role. As you move up the value chain (or perhaps down - a debate in and of itself), exclusivity quickly becomes an essential component of a pricing philosophy. And a Club that values my residence over that of a former President of the United States is winning the exclusivity equation.

Our wedding reception was held in the Green and White Dining room. It is one of my favorite rooms in the world, in both design and personal context, and we had thought carefully about how to set it up for the evening’s festivities. On the morning of our wedding three hours of intensive work by several members of staff ensured the room was prepared exactly as we had asked.

They spent three more hours that afternoon entirely re-doing it at the suggestion of the Club’s management, who came to us with what they thought was a better plan.

To care as much as your customers about the quality of their experience is the goal of every service business. To deliver that requires a set of values and a view of the big picture that are very rare.

The Club did what we asked. They did it perfectly. And then they wanted to do it better. There are books and theses on building customer loyalty. None taught me as much as that afternoon.

For the next six years we came back to Loch Lomond every Spring and every Fall. There are one hundred year old rhododendron bushes throughout the grounds. Many as tall as trees. I would live in Scotland for a lot of reasons. The people and the scenery being the first two. In that order. Fish and chips would come a close third. But a rhododendron the size of a small house in late May takes some beating.

At first we came alone, as though inviting the outside world would somehow burst the magical bubble that surrounded every visit. But over time we started to bring guests. Sitting over dinner in Chicago as we extended the invitation, we would wax lyrical about the Club. In every case, we were told later, our friends were certain there was no possibility that our description could be matched by the reality. In every case, within a day or arrival, we were told we had failed to do it justice.

Describing physical beauty or capability is much easier than describing experience. And experience, the application of beauty or benefit, is what determines value.

In the case of Loch Lomond, what defined the experience was the people. People who genuinely cared as much about your experience as you did. Mark, Ian, Keith, Trish, Donald, Colin, Jamie, Scott, Pat, Jim, Jim, Jane, Gemma, Damian, Willie, Willie, Alison and Billy. Billy was the head chef who made it a point to make me an apple pie whenever he heard I was coming, and whose staff was so well trained that at my first breakfast after arrival, and every meal thereafter, soy butter replaced the dairy butter to which I am allergic. No request. No reminder. Every time. Which was sometimes seven months since the last time.

There is a rattan carpet on the back stairs at Rossdhu that took us from our room, past reception and down into the locker room and Spike’s Bar. I can feel the carpet under my golf shoes as I write, on my way down to breakfast before teeing off. Bacon, sausage, grilled tomatoes and black tea. And the Times.

It was like coming home. Better than home. We were made to feel like Lords of the Estate of Luss. And we tried to honor that by being benevolent ones. Grateful ones. And we counted the days between visits.

At some point during each stay, conversation between us and our guests turned to wondering about the business practicalities of all this. The rooms were expensive, and I had to keep reminding Chris that the five full bottles of Moulton Brown products that we were encouraged to take on our departure, and the complimentary bottle of Port that met us on our arrival were not ‘free.’ Quickly, however, they became part of the value expectation of each stay and a point of reference of the Club’s commitment to quality.

But the $5,000 initiation fee had begun to worry us in a different way. And as we came to experience the Club’s commitment to quality throughout the facilities and the world class golf course that had first attracted us, we began to speculate how the Club's owners could pay for all this.

It turns out, we weren’t the only ones doing those calculations.

Value - Part 1

In the spring of 1998, Chris and I joined a golf club in Scotland sight unseen. That is, I had seen it on television and read about it in a book. It looked and sounded extraordinary.

The initiation fee was $5,000, plus two letters of recommendation. I worried about both. Marriage was finally in the air and this was an expense and a distraction. Would it be worth it?

As humans, everything we do is based on a value matrix. Time and money are the most common. But we apply value to every moment of our existence. Is it better to be asleep or awake. To listen to music or news. Classic or rock. To eat now or later. Well or carelessly. To listen or ignore.

Each demands a judgement. And as a species, and as individuals, we have developed a sophisticated matrix that allows us to make decisions and move forward, or not, thousands of times a day. It happens at light speed and you’re using it at this moment, and this moment, and this one.

Thank you.

For deciding it's worth coming a little further with me.

At the core of this matrix are definitions of value. Sometimes sophisticated. Sometimes simplistic. Some are static. Some are fluid. Some are provided. Like the law. Some are personal. The trick is knowing when to re-assess them. A value equation in itself.

In early 1998, we plugged $5,000 and two letters of recommendation into our value matrix, added a magazine article we had just found about the Club to the soup and stirred.

Three months later we drove up to the guard gates for the first time as members and, without introduction, were greeted by eleven words. Eleven words which set a standard that, for the next nine years, never wavered.

“Ah, Mr Day. Welcome to Loch Lomond. We’ve been expecting you.”

First impressions are powerful. And set a tone. They define value instantly and reinforce it over time. As a business owner, your first impression is one of your most valuable assets. Making it powerful is under-valued by most entrepreneurs.

This, however, was a first impression of magical proportions. Our first visit. A rented car. No photograph. And four months before Google existed. As owners of a service business we were mesmerized by this small but powerful feat of customer connection.

Loch Lomond, we were soon to discover, was a place where magic happened on a regular basis. A breathtaking, romantic, timeless place where dreams came true. A real life Brigadoon. With the added benefit of five star facilities and six star service.

Driving into the stunning grounds on that first afternoon, past two of the most beautiful golf holes I had ever seen - the hills as backdrop to one and the Loch as backdrop to the other - I started to worry there had been a mistake. Could we really be members of this?

Aspiration is a delicate attribute for a business to instill and maintain. Too much and you seem aloof and disinterested. Too little and it becomes cheap glitz. Affected and inauthentic. Creating an aspirational brand requires taste. Maintaining one requires sensitivity and judgment.

As we parked the car, desperately trying to hide the accumulated sweet wrappers and empty Coke bottles of a three hour cross-country drive, we sat for a second and looked at each other. ‘Can you believe this?’ Chris asked, straight faced. I shook my head. ‘Let’s leave the stuff in the car for now until they actually let us check in,” she suggested.

When the pair of matching Range Rovers suddenly screeched to a halt on either side of our car - one for us and one for the luggage - the choice was taken out of our hands. Nonchalantly, we tried to act as though this was how we arrived everywhere we went.

Moments later we were deposited gently at a set of stone steps that led up to the most magnificent Georgian mansion I have still ever seen.

One man stepped forward from the phalanx of uniformed staff. “Mr and Mrs Day. My name’s Robert. Welcome to Rossdhu.”

He turned and led the way up. And after a moment’s hesitation, we followed. As we reached the imposing front doors, I stopped to survey the sweeping views of the Loch. ‘It’s quite something, isn’t it,” said Robert proudly.

I nodded and glanced at Chris. She smiled.

“Robert,” I said, summoning up my most casual voice. “Do you do weddings?”

In Their Own Words

Having a guiding philosophy by which to run your business every day is a powerful homing device in a forest full of distractions.

For Chris and I, it has long been the Terence Conran quote, "Stay Humble and Nervous."

In the choking economic climate we are living in today, an excess of either can be disastrous.

Humility is a valuable attribute in times of excess. But when the world is inwardly focused, it takes much more effort to attract someone's attention.

And at a time when everyone is hesitant, waiting for something to happen will ensure that at best you're part of the crowd.

Neither is a platform for creating the future you want.

In our case, we have long since accepted that we are skilled in what we do. But inept in communicating that fact. We would much rather talk about someone else's potential.

We have also come to realize that until we face the problem, we are the biggest obstacle we face.

Cometh the need, cometh the Mother of Invention.

In this case, Justin Spooner and Simon Hopkins of Double Shot Consulting. (Even doctors need doctors.) As I've mentioned before, no one understands the possibilities of digital strategies like they do.

In this case, they turned the problem simply and elegantly on its head. If you don't talk effectively about your work, they said. Ask the people that do. Your clients.

So we did. And they have. The first pieces are on our website. Or on Youtube. In the process we put ourselves on camera and found a part of ourselves we didn't know existed.

As a lesson in looking at a problem from a different perspective it's powerful.

As a reminder that we're fortunate to work with amazing clients, it's unbeatable.



My experience with Verizon last week was brought into even sharper relief by a forray later that same evening into the world of computer memory.

Buying a new computer quickly comes down to a question of how much memory for how much?

I like to work with a lot of windows open on my laptop. It mirrors the way my brain works. Overlapping possibilities. One idea feeding another. At this precise moment, I have 36 different windows open. A preference my two and a half year old Mac Book is having a hard time keeping up with. Though if I flipped it over, I’m sure I could fry an egg on the underside.

I came across a site that analyzed in extraordinary detail the pros and cons of the various configurations of laptops Apple sells today. One of the links was to a site sponsor. OWC.

I’m leery of buying third party memory for a brand new Mac. Partly for quality reasons. Partly because I once killed a hard drive adding new memory. Some things you only have to do once to leave an indelible scar. Like adding sulfuric acid to a go-cart battery. Another story. For another day.

I followed the link to the OWC website, and quickly realized here were two questions I needed answered if this was to be an option. Still feeling the after-effects of my Verizon customer service representative text chat, I hovered tentatively over the ‘Live Support? Request Help Now.’ button.

A couple of clients have asked me recently to explain our fees. Generally, I conclude with a variation of ‘We’ve paid, so you don’t have to.’

We’ve learned a lot in the last fifteen years about owning a business. And that knowledge took a significant amount of time and money to acquire. One of our skills is to extract from all of the pieces that are crucial to a specific situation.

When it comes to bad customer service, I was pretty convinced after my Verizon experience that I knew all I needed to know. Another bad tech chat was not how I wanted to end my evening.

In the end, curiosity, my insatiable friend, won again and I clicked the button. Firmly. If one can interact firmly with a piece of binary code.

What followed lasted ninety seconds. It will take you ten. And if you have another minute to spare after that, follow the link. As a lesson in customer service, it will take some beating.

But I hope you’ll try.


Charles: I'm interested in buying RAM for a new MacBook Pro

You are now speaking with Morgan Gray of Technical Support 7AM-10PM CST.
Morgan Gray: Hi Charles
Charles: Hi Morgan. If I buy the MBP with 4GB Ram and buy the 8GB upgrade kit from you, do I invalidate my Apple warranty?
Morgan Gray: No, upgrading the ram with 3rd party memory that matches all of Apple's specifications does not void the AppleCare warranty
Charles: And yours does match their specs, right?
Charles: Is it hard to install?
Morgan Gray: It meets all of Apple's specs.
Morgan Gray: It's relatively easy
Morgan Gray: We have installation videos available here:
Charles: Ok. Great. Thanks. One last question. If you were not using it for big media files, or rendering etc: but wanted a really fast computer, would you buy it with this 500GB Serial ATA Drive @ 7200 rpm or the SSD drive for $700 more?
Morgan Gray: I would buy it with the most basic hard drive Apple offers and then upgrade it to something larger myself
Morgan Gray: Also a relatively easy install
Charles: Ok. Thank you. You've been incredibly helpful. I'll buy the Mac and then come back to you and buy the memory.

The Pause That Refreshes

When you own a company, one of the hardest things to do is to measure your own progress. And yet, it is a critical aspect of managing a business staffed by human beings.

As a species, we evolve instinctively. It’s why we’re still here. And part of our DNA is the need to build and create.

364 days a year, we should occupy ourselves with what we’re doing and where we’re going. On the 365th day, however, we should pause and reflect on how far we have come.

Profit and loss statements and balance sheets tell only part of the story. And frankly, the longer I study businesses, the more I believe that the preparation of financial reports is every bit as much art as science. And that’s when you manage your company by the letter of the law.

You can get numbers to say anything. So use reports wisely, but don’t draw whole cloth conclusions from them.

Establishing a 365th day as a constant point of reference is essential.

At our old company we used to mark our progress during the annual Christmas party in each of our offices. At the end of dinner, we would talk specifically about how the company had changed over the preceding twelve months, and then we would do the same for every person seated around the table.

Because as a group or as an individual, you can only see progress in context. Looking ahead is aspirational, but subject to change. So the only fixed reference point you have is to measure how far you have come.

Until now, we had not applied this principle to our own Consultancy - physician heal thyself.

A couple of months ago, two very smart digital strategists that we work with at Double Shot Consulting suggested we add some client testimonials to our website. But rather than the usual written pieces, they suggested we film some of our clients and use the power of the immediacy of their own words.

That shoot happened yesterday. It was one of the more profound days of our lives. Emotional. Humbling. Inspirational. To hear people talk about how you have helped them is an extraordinary experience.

It’s also a benchmark. And so July 1st is now the day that we will pause each year and look back at our progress.

That clock is already ticking. Time to get back to work.

5 Ways To Tell Your Business is Turning Around

There’s a growing sense that perhaps the economy is stabilizing. But for most company owners, it will be a long time before revenue figures can give any kind of insight into whether their business is still shrinking or on its way back.A client asked me about this last week. Over the last five or six years he had developed a ‘feel’ for whether things were going well or badly based purely on sales numbers. But after the upheaval of the last three quarters, not only have his sales fallen dramatically but the overhead changes he has made are still taking hold.The net result is that the business he used to understand blindfold has now become blurry to him.