Thoreau speculated that if you are not keeping pace with others it is perhaps because you hear a different drummer and you should march to the music you hear no matter how measured or far away.
He probably did not intend this as a recipe for business success, but that is exactly what it is.
You see, the odds are overwhelming that you are not the only one who hears that distant drummer. And if you are open about the beat you hear, the others will flock to you.
I will tell you about two entrepreneurs who succeeded by thinking very differently from the crowd, but they remained true to themselves.
They are in completely unrelated businesses but their underlying philosophy is similar--the business exists to serve them and there is more to life than the conventional metrics of success like wealth, power and social status.
Jason Leister helps service professionals get more clients and build their business. Explode their business is more like it.
Is he really different? You be the judge.
Many, perhaps most, experts advise asking for the sale early and often. Rejection is not to be taken personally and is really the beginning of a sale. Overcoming objections is to be studied and gentle persistence is encouraged, nay necessary.
Leister was a struggling freelance copywriter when he developed his first insight. If you ask for the order you become a salesperson and forever cede your power.
You also lose your ability to set your price.
His solution and what he advises his clients? Never, ever, ask for an order. Also, do not ever take orders. If a prospect comes to you and says, "I want X. Can you do it?" do not, repeat, DO NOT, engage on those terms by saying you can. Instead, ask what he would like to accomplish and why he believes that X is the way to go.
If the prospect refuses to engage in that field, let him go and move on.
You are the trusted advisor, not the hired gun. Hired guns are cheap and can be replaced. But the consigliere? He is worth his weight in gold and substitutes are not easy to find.
How do you achieve such a status?
The most important, and by far the toughest, part is to be anchored in it yourself. The hard work is done between YOUR ears.
Then, and only then, can you project this outward so your ideal client picks up on it and gravitates to you. You don't ask him--or her--to favor you with his custom. She has already decided to work with you. Price is not an issue--if you need an open-heart procedure do you ask the surgeon about his fees?
You just discuss and agree on logistical details.
All very fine, but how exactly do you go about doing this?
Leister advocates building your 'platform' and you do this early and maintain it regularly. And you deliver value, great value, often. You are indeed pitching but it never has the slightest feel of being a pitch.
Leister, you see, believes that great customers are not 'found'. They are 'grown'. And you do this by building your platform and nurturing your prospects.
And here is Leister's final piece of advice, which is also echoed by Paul Budnitz, the next entrepreneur I will tell you about--Don't ever, ever, ever 'need' your prospect to become your customer.
Paul Budnitz was already a successful serial entrepreneur with liquidity events behind him when he looked at the bicycle business.
It began as a personal interest. He did not own a car for eighteen years. He would show up at fashion shows on a bike and hand it over to valet attendants more used to parking limos.
There just wasn't a bike he liked. So he investigated.
Most persons hate to look stupid. Budnitz embraced stupidity. Bicycles were sold through a few chains but mostly mom and pop stores. He visited dozens of shops in Boulder, CO and NYC and rode all types of bikes.
He was a Zen practitioner and used 'beginner's mind' by taking nothing for granted. He asked why bikes were built the way they were, why they were sold the way they were and how the finances worked.
He found that there was a long distribution chain and therefore margins were abysmal. There was little incentive for manufacturers to improve the product and, in any case, they didn't know what customers wanted.
And, anyway, how could you make profitable significant improvements to a product that retailed for a few hundred dollars at the high end?
Budnitz knew what was 'wrong' with bicycles on the market. He knew what he found irksome and had friends who told him.
Bicycles were too heavy. They were dirty and oil got on your clothes. They could be stolen easily. They jolted the body and, if you rode often and for long, the shock absorbers worked poorly.
Well-meaning 'experts' gave him tons of advice. You had to use existing channels of distribution because alternative ones would not handle bicycles. Customers needed to see and feel them because they would not buy them otherwise. Customers were cost-conscious--you did not have much leeway on price. The best places to advertise were in the few biking magazines around and at events that took place at scattered sites.
Budnitz's Zen training came into use and he discarded every one of the 'truths' he was given.
He built bikes with titanium frames that had built-in flex so they did not need shock absorbers. He dispensed with chains by using belts and put the gears in an internal hub that was completely enclosed so no oil got on your clothes. He devised a new, lightweight locking system that made his bikes almost impossible to steal.
All of this raised his costs so he decided to sell directly to customers bypassing the distribution chain altogether. The Internet would be his channel.
He skipped industry magazines entirely and targeted high-end fashion publications like Vogue. No, he did not spend a king's ransom on advertising. His fledgling company could not afford that. Instead he told an intriguing story in a press release and included great pictures of the only two models he had available at the time.
Budnitz bicycles became a fashion item not unlike Swatch in watches. Many customers bought more than one. Most bicycles are now custom built and there is a waiting line.
Read that again. There is a waiting line for bicycles that sell for $3000 to more than $10,000.
A few weeks ago Budnitz raised prices by 20% across the board to deal with that waiting line. He could have increased production but that would have involved hiring more persons, sourcing suppliers and so on.
He did not want to do that. That is the advantage YOU have when you are clear about why you are in business and do not 'need' anything to happen.
Budnitz has just started a new business that is equally unconventional and breaks all accepted rules and I will tell you about it in a future column.
For now, ask yourself this question -What are the universally accepted 'truths' in your business? What could happen if you violated them and broke into new territory?