Resolve That Nobody Steals Your Time

It took me a few days later than usual to find my New Year’s Resolution. It’s not to lose a few more pounds (although that’s fine with me) or the other usual stuff.

This year, I’m going to protect my professional time like nobody’s business.

I’m going to make more meetings count.

I’m not going to attend cocktail hours to merely exchange business cards, but to connect.

I’m going to value the increased speed in helping someone clarify a decision, whether that is a yes or a no.

In short, everything I do has to go somewhere beyond that original meeting.

Here’s why I was inspired. I was recently in a conference call where it took the better part of an hour for me to discover that there was not a fit. Actually, scratch that. I knew it was going nowhere within 15 minutes. I was being nice for the rest of the time.

It was my fault, too. I should’ve done what the people at Sales Results, Inc. taught me, namely, to set an agenda and outline the purpose for why we were meeting (and there’s so much more to it than this, which they can teach you).

Your skills are valuable. Your thoughts are valuable. Your opinions are valuable. Those need to be channeled somewhere beyond sharing a Grande Mocha and wishing each other well. It can’t just be the answer to “what do you do?”

You have no time for tire kickers.

You have no time for people trying to get free advice off of you.

You have no time for people who don’t understand your value.

You have no time for people who are simply too paralyzed by fear or layers of bureaucracy to do anything.

Similarly, you have to ask yourself how much work you want to put into educating someone on what you do/what value you bring before they become a true lead.

That is why I have all the time in the world to educate people on how social media may play a role in their business’ success, but I have no time to educate people on the relevance of social media. It’s here. It’s not going anywhere. And if you don’t understand that by now, I doubt anything I say will change your mind to the contrary.

And even if I do convince you, does that mean you’ll want to get started? Ha. No. You’ll be skeptical, thinking this whole social media thing is a passing fad. Let’s not kid each other.

It’s amazing how some people stroll into networking settings and brag about the 20 groups they’re members of. That’s not smart. That’s inefficient and throwing¬†at a dartboard blindfolded. The way I see it, you should work to identify the very core groups you want to be a part of that are right for your brand’s mission.

People who expect you to do a dog-and-pony show at the initial meeting are misguided. It’s not a time for that. It’s a time to learn about one another – and that goes both ways. Go to each other’s website. See each other’s LinkedIn profiles. As much as I hate people who say, “Google me,” you should, well, Google them, their company and other relevant companies in their space.

What all this has to do with branding is that you say a lot by the company you keep and how you approach that company. Make the process of making your strategic partnership team really, really hard.

Make the process of being your client a selective process. Not everybody can get into your club and that’s a good thing. So stop right now by saying a good client/referral for you is “Anybody who….” No. Stop. It’s not anybody. It’s a specific type of person. Drill down and know it so you can recite it by heart. Again, it is your TIME and there’s only so much of it to go around. So why the F*** would you give it away to anyone who wants it?

This spreads to social media as much as anything. Content creation, curation, distribution, research, reporting, etc. is not something you easily slip into your week, especially when you sit down to a meaningful blog post or scripting a video. Unless you want to just pump out a bunch of posts without meaning or understanding for how it fits within the overall brand. I personally don’t prefer that.

The larger picture of this is that having no discipline with who gets your professional time means those you care about in your personal time may suffer. Oh, I’m sorry I couldn’t be home by dinnertime, honey. I was taking a long meeting with a prospect who, as it turned out, wasn’t a prospect. Or I was on the phone for an extended period of time advising someone who has no business running a business but wants me to be their therapist rather than their marketing strategist.

That’s not their fault. It’s yours. For not screening them quicker. For being a pushover with someone who wants to pick your brain free of charge. For not steering them online to check out your business or sending them material in advance of a conversation. For cheating yourself out of the time it takes to create something people can value and share and talk about. You said Yes to people who didn’t deserve it and now you have to tell someone or something you love No.

That’s the bigger complication of liberally giving out your time without any rhyme or reason. And seeing it as more precious is exactly what the most important professional and personal people in your life deserve.


What the cabbie and Southwest Airlines taught me about agency efficiency

Today’s post skews a bit toward agency management but team productivity is good for all types of managers to think about.

The other day I was taking a cab from the north side of Chicago to downtown. Usually, there are several different ways you can go to get to your destination. And every time, the cabbie asks, “Which way would you like me to go?” For the passenger, it’s like a game of chance. Why should I have to decide this? Shouldn’t he know which way is fastest? Yet, even when I say, “whichever way you think is quickest,” I invariably can’t help but feel I’ve been taken for a ride in a bad way.

But this time, the cabbie did something that surprised me. He took me down a route that nobody else had where he didn’t even have to ask me which way I wanted to go – he just took me. And the way he took was absolutely the fastest and cheapest fare I had ever paid. Amazed, I said, “Why thank you. I’ve never gone this way and to be honest, it’s the lowest amount of money I’ve ever had to pay.”

He replied, “I know. What most cabs don’t get is that the faster I get you there, the faster I get to the next fare. They try to draw out fares by going the long way and taking more time but it never works out in their favor like my way.

Sometimes agencies act like those other cabs my newfound friend was referring to – they draw out each assignment over more time rather than less for the purpose of giving themselves a nice steady feed of work. Hey, we all want steady work in times like these. But if we try to draw out each project as much as possible, we’re only hurting ourselves. If we do a great job and get paid sooner, we’ll come out ahead by either that client giving us additional work or hopefully that client referring us to another potential client.

Note that I’m not advocating speed. I’m advocating efficiency. Agencies routinely confuse the two. If we know a project should be done in a certain amount of time, we shouldn’t milk it for all it’s worth for so much extra time than we need to. It becomes almost an issue of ethics and honesty at that point. So let’s look at this from the positive angle – if we say it will be done in 3 months but actually get it done in 2, we’re opening ourselves to begin new projects with that same client vs. sitting around and collecting money on work that’s already been done.

Southwest Airlines does an excellent job of managing time and expectations. Over the last several years, I have made dozens of trips on Southwest to different parts of the country. Almost every time, a person comes on and says, “I’m sorry Ladies and Gentlemen, but we’ll be taking off a few minutes later than we’d like.” Lo and behold, by the end of the trip, they not only make up the time but actually get there several minutes early. Every. Single. Time. As if they planned to do that all along. Which they probably did.

What will you do with the extra time? Be proactive (a common complaint people tend to have about agencies) and do some brainstorming on additional ways you can help the client’s business without them asking you to. Then you can potentially upsell your client on that work or at the very least, demonstrate how you think outside of what’s requested. Don’t tell me you won’t do this until you get paid for it. That relegates you to “order taker” status and makes you less of a proactive thinker.

Or let’s turn the focus inward. Fill the time with additional new business efforts. Use it to work on your own agency’s self-promotion, which is never, EVER considered slacking off.

Remember, it’s not about speed. If you’re feeling like your team has no margin for error as you’re churning and burning, that’s not efficiency. That’s about speed and turning your agency into a factory. I don’t think there’s much value in being the speed demon of agencies. But there is tremendous value in being the agency of doing things smarter to achieve financial goals faster – even if it’s a matter of hours. I’m talking about understanding what you absolutely need to deliver the kind of product you and the client can be happy with in the most sensible amount of time.

For example, I once told a client that we’d have the ads done to her by “end of day.” But her end of day was different from my end of day. Her end of day was around 3:00pm because she had family obligations at home. To make her happy and meet our goals, we needed to adjust by about four hours to buffer in time for her to review the work and make any possible revisions. She didn’t need to sit with it forever. By getting that work done and wrapped well before 3:00pm, it allowed our managers to think about new business tactics, our designers to check out inspirational websites, even for us to take a break for darts. So you never know the positives that can impact not only your client relations but internal relations.

Point being that if you act like that cabbie who surprised me and choose the route of efficiency over milking each project, you may get your client faster to where they want to go and get yourself onto the next project that much faster. If you’re worried about how you’re going to fill the space with work, that’s a new business issue you needed to address a long time ago anyway. In that event, maybe you ought to give someone like Steve Congdon at Thunderclap a call. If it’s an operational flow issue, that would be Rob Jager at HedgeHog Consulting.

What other excuses do you have for not getting to your best ideas more efficiently?