Quid Pro Quo: Taking Help and Giving Back

Taking help without giving back can create resentment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. And don’t be selfish with your time when others could use some of your expertise. Quid pro quo – giving back is important.

Offering Helpquid pro quo

An acquaintance of mine once asked me for comments on his company’s web site. He was looking for suggestions that would help generate more site traffic and provide an easy to navigate experience for visitors. Their goal was to increase awareness among their client base, agencies within the Department of Defense, so they would have stronger brand recognition as they bid on contracts.

The reason he asked me is because this is my area of expertise. My company has a good bit of experience building business web applications. Before we embark on a project, we do a lot of research to simplify the design flow. If we can make the site so straight forward that it doesn’t take much thinking to find and navigate, then we know we are on the right track. This kind of work takes a lot of time to ensure we are using the right words, images and structure.

I was happy to help and quickly put a plan together, which his staff implemented. I didn’t charge him for this since I was doing it as a favor.

What Happens When You Don’t Reciprocate

A year later, I needed a some guidance on a project. I asked him if he could spare some time to chat.  No response. I politely asked again. Radio silence.

I was not terribly bothered by this since I figured he must have been very busy at the time. Quid pro quo didn’t even enter my mind.

Then, another request came in. He asked if I could look over a new web-based human resource system they put together for sourcing candidates for their job openings.

I gave him a few pages of comments which his staff took and improved their system. It didn’t take me much time because a lot of this is second nature to me. Again, I did it as a favor and did not charge him.

A while later, I needed some input on reaching buyers at government agencies and knew he had the expertise that could help me sort out some questions. I asked for help and got the same lack of response I had experienced earlier.

This time, it did bother me. His silence portrayed him as a very selfish person, someone I no longer cared to help.

The concept of quid pro quo bubbled to the top. When someone reaches out and you help them, but they don’t help you when you are in need, it gives rise to resentment.

Making Yourself Aware

He is a very nice guy in every other respect. But he is not tuned into giving back and as a result he doesn’t see that his lack of response turns people off.

If someone asks for help and you have the expertise to chip in, do it. If you think this type of thing isn’t for you, look back to the last time someone helped you out. You might be surprised to see the village you live in has been giving you a boost. Quid pro quo.

Get in the Zone

When you’re extraordinarily focused for a short period of time, you are in “the zone.”

No Interruption Policy

Getting in the zone at work means no phone calls, no texts, no tweets, no meetings, no dialog with anybody, no checking your friends’ Facebook posts,  no interruptions  – period , except for an occasional sip of Red Bull.

We’ve all been there. You know it works. Getting in the zone empowers you to focus with laser-like accuracy on a specific task, problem or issue that requires your utmost attention. Everything else is tuned out. There is just one mission: get your task done.

It’s hard to get in the zone for long periods at a time. It’s like swimming underwater. You need to come up for air and have a change of pace.

All too often, we never allow ourselves to actually get in the zone. There is always an interruption. We use the interruption as an excuse not to focus. At the end of the day, we haven’t accomplished nearly as much as we could have. It doesn’t have to be like this. You can squeeze out so much more juice out of each day with a small shift in your mindset.

Pretend You’re Going on Vacation

Think about the work day before you leave for an extended vacation. You are so focused on making sure that everything you are working on has either been completed or your colleagues know the next steps to address in your absence. You are able to get in the zone.  You take a shorter lunch break and avoid all distractions so you can wrap up in time and enjoy your vacation. Getting in the zone is forced upon you so you ensure that everything on your “to do” is knocked out.

What if you planned in advance to get in the zone as if you were about to go on vacation the next day? How much more could you accomplish at the office tomorrow if your mind was dead set on completing a series of tasks that are important. Tune out the noise, the “triviata.” Only hone in on your mission and make it happen.

This magical day of accomplishment usually won’t happen by itself. You need to mark it on yourcalendar. I often take an imagination day  just to allow myself to get in the zone about business strategy. Other days, I schedule in 2-3 hour blocks of time when my phone is on do-not-disturb and my door is closed.

I can’t do this all of the time. When I do, this technique of pretending I’m going on vacation and allocating concentrated time to focus gives me a boost of energy followed by a sense of accomplishment.

Tell me about ways you focus to accomplish your tasks and goals.

The 4 Worst Investment Decisions I Made for My Company

When you build a company, you have to make investment decisions on where to put your money to achieve the highest growth. Here are the 4 worst investments I’ve made and my lessons learned:

  1. B and C quality staff members. An average performer costs twice as much as a top performer. A below average performer costs you many times that. This is hands down one of the worst investment decisions I have ever made. I used to think that some people were too expensive for me to hire and so I would hire a lesser qualified person whose salary was more within my self-allocated budget. Bad move. Hiring anything but an A player for your team spells trouble. A players may appear to cost more initially, but their productivity level far exceeds anything a B or C player can do. A players spot opportunities, B and C players just get by or look for the status quo. To infuse innovation in your company that will fuel your growth, invest in the top performers. A really good A player will do more for your company than hiring two B and C players.
  2. Products we built without sufficient market research. Ugh, the money I lost not thinking through our products and feature sets gives me a twitch. We built some of our products based on instinct thinking “of course people would love this, we’ll save them so much money and it’s faster, too.” Had we just asked potential clients whether they would buy such a product, we could have saved an immense amount of time, money and lost opportunity costs. The worst investment decisions ignore basic market research.
  3. Print advertising. I’ve had a lot of sales people from publications call on me and several of them were so polished that I succumbed to their pitch and bought print advertising. While this type of advertising might work for some companies, I have never seen it work for any of mine. Maybe it’s my price points which require a lower cost for customer acquisition. I just don’t think as many people respond to print advertising these days. It is certainly not an easy metric to measure compared to online advertising. Whatever the reason, I have found print advertising to be one of the worst investment decisions for my businesses. I should have put that money into public relations.
  4. Consultants hired without setting extremely concrete goals and expectations. Consultants are valuable. We finally got the hang of hiring them – after losing a lot of money to ones who were better at selling their services than doing the work. When we analyzed what went wrong with previous contracts, we found that we never really set extremely clear expectations. It was our fault. Had we outlined in detail what we wanted out of the project, we would have had a much better chance of success. We goofed up like this with technical consultants, marketing consultants and even business advisers. Lesson learned. We now list out specific goals with absolute clarity on the results we expect. If a consultant isn’t on track, we terminate the contract quickly to cut our losses.
In the end, each one of these so called investments turned into an expense and, in some cases, a burden. This list doesn’t include the investment opportunities I missed – there are plenty of those, too. In terms of allocating existing dollars with the intent of earning more dollars, these are by far the worst investment decisions I have ever made. What are some of yours?

Best Time to Call

I’ll bet your work day is packed. You have meetings, colleagues stop by with questions. There are all sorts of distractions.

So what is the best time to call on a prospect? Their day is probably a lot like yours.

Try calling them at 8:05 am or 4:50 pm, even 5:30 pm.

Why is the best time to call so early or late in the day? Simple. Most executives start their day early and end late. They are at the office far past 6:00 pm. I know I am. The only times I leave early are when I have another appointment that I have to get to.

Before and after normal work hours, most of their staff is gone. That means they are in the office and usually not as distracted. That’s the best time to reach without getting a quick brush off or having to talk your way past the gatekeeper.

If you run your own business, you know exactly what I am talking about. Who leaves to go home at 5:00?  Very few executives do that.

If they aren’t in their office, they are certainly checking email when they wake up and before they go to bed. And when your message has less to compete with (i.e., fewer other emails they have to scroll through compared to what they get during the day), you stand a higher chance of getting a response.

In fact, my company, MailerMailer, just released our latest email marketing metrics report based on data from 1.2 billion email messages. We found that emails sent during off-hours generate the highest number of clicks on links within the message.

In other words, reaching people before or after hours gives you the best odds in getting their attention. Not only is it the best time to call, but is also the best time to send them email.

The Fastest Way to Build Business Relationships

To succeed in your career, you have to build business relationships. There is one thing you can give your business acquaintances that they will value immediately, positioning you in their minds as a source to watch.

What your prospects and clients value most of all, more than your sage consulting advice, has to do with them, not you. It goes right to the heart of their success. You likely encounter this relationship-building element all the time, but since you are not tuned into it you may not notice.

Give Prospects What They Really Want

What is this magical element? Business leads.build business relationships

Every company needs new and repeat business to grow. Finding leads and converting them into sales is always the top thought of the CEO — always.

You might be thinking, “I’ve got enough trouble finding leads for myself, how am I going to find them for my prospects and clients, too?”  The reason you don’t see those “other” leads is because you are not looking for them. Yet sources of leads are all around you and you can use them to build business relationships quickly.

Example: I subscribe to a weekly email alert from my local government. They send out solicitation notices for projects set aside for local small businesses. They buy just about every type of product or service you can imagine: janitorial services, printing, paper clips, advertising, computer services, everything.

I saw an announcement for web design services. My company doesn’t provide this service so usually I would delete that message. But some of my target market does web design. So, I forwarded that announcement along with a simple note that read “Hi Steve, I thought you might be interested in this lead.”

Tune In To What They Need

The amount of goodwill I created from that simple message, one that I would have otherwise deleted, went a long way in building a business relationship. People might not reply to other messages you send to them, but they never ignore a business lead. They will always appreciate your gesture.

There are sources of leads all around you. The next time you are at a networking event and talk to someone who might be a good fit for another person in your network – or even someone else you just met – let them know. Build business relationships by connecting two people who may have synergies. You will create goodwill for everyone.

Every time I share a business lead, I receive a reply thanking me even if the lead isn’t a good fit. My message shows that I am looking out for them, not trying to sell my services. And that builds business relationships faster than anything else.

Negative Words That Hinder Progress

i'm bored“I’m bored.”

Those are two of the most negative words you can say – and think. There are so many things in this world to do. So many places you can go. So many people you can help. There is no reason to ever be bored.

A study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience reports that negative words shut down higher level mental processes in your brain.

When I hear someone say they are bored, it always surprises me. Lazy Sunday mornings are a great time to catch up on reading, learn something new, practice an instrument or go for a stroll.

If you find boredom setting in, don’t say those poisonous words “I’m bored.”  Instead, reset your thinking. Get your bucket list out and pick a goal you want to achieve before you die. Take action at that very moment to make strides toward that goal.

Don’t have a bucket list? Then it’s a great time to write one – it’s a lot of fun since it is a painting of words that describe experiences you want to have in your life.

Avoid turning on the television or hopping onto Facebook. Take a slow moment in your life and turn it into a deliberate pause, one that gets you thinking and taking action.

You will feel a dramatic change, one of accomplishment and not boredom.

Business Threats and How Leaders Adapt

Business threats are everywhere. At the beginning of the dot com bust years ago, an acquaintance, I’ll call him Sheldon, asked me about a business problem he was facing. His company specialized in consulting services for a large-scale e-commerce product that had just gone belly up. Many organizations had deployed this product so there were maintenance contracts that Sheldon’s company could take over.

We met for lunch to talk about his woes. He opened the conversation with this statement:

“So, if you know any companies that are looking for maintenance or consulting work related to this product, let me know.”

I didn’t know of any. So, we discussed ways he could find organizations that had invested in this expensive product and ask to take over their maintenance efforts. That would sustain his company – at least for for a little while.

The Perils of Ignoring Business Threats

To me, the writing was clearly on the wall. He was encountering a major business threat. The fact that the product company was going out of existence meant that the organizations who had invested in it would eventually switch to something new. Any support contracts that Sheldon could get would be short-lived. Adapting to change had to become top priority.

We spent a lot of time talking about ways to adapt his business. If he didn’t adapt, his business would become extinct. He had one really big thing going for him: several smart people on his staff.

When you provide consulting services, you need to stay on top of the latest trends, tools and so on. The product they specialized in was on its way out, but his team could learn about newer products and offer consulting services for those. Adapting to this business threat was going to be critical if he wanted to survive.

Sheldon appeared to be absorbing a lot of the dialog. We outlined his next steps and I felt good about his prospects.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, he closed with this comment:

“So, if you know any companies that are looking for maintenance or consulting work related to this product, let me know.”

I was floored. What did he just say? He was still focused on the dying product. Didn’t he listen to everything we talked about?

Soon after that lunch, Sheldon and I lost touch. The product he serviced is a distant memory to those who bought it. He is now working for another company, no longer running his own.

Sheldon ignored all of the warning signs. He wasn’t committed to adapting his business so the markets ate him up with his head still buried in the sand. His inability, or unwillingness, to react to imminent business threats also cost his staff their jobs.

Get Help to Spot the Warning Signs

Reacting to business threats is the difference between a thriving business and one that will die. Sometimes, we aren’t the best ones to see threats to our businesses – or careers.

Stay in touch with colleagues you trust and ask them these three questions periodically:

  • What threats do you see to my business?
  • What changes do you think I need to make to stay competitive?
  • Where do you see my industry going in the next 2-3 years?

Don’t ignore their comments. They could be sharing red flags just in time. Be sure you acquire the skills you need fast so you can adapt to the market before you become a casualty to changing tides.

Benefits of Vacation

No time for the benefits of vacation? Many of us work long hours and take little time off to unwind. The thinking goes like this: the more I work, the closer I will get to my goals. One of those goals may be to earn more money.

Think back to a morning when you had a good night’s sleep and ate the right foods for breakfast so your body was full of energy. How productive were you at the office that day? You were probably crushing it! No obstacle could get in your way. You made the calls you needed to make, your enthusiasm on the phone was contagious and you probably made significant strides to accomplishing your goals.benefits of vacation

Now think back to a time when you didn’t get enough sleep or perhaps you ate something that didn’t agree with you which caused your mind to be distracted. Your productivity was low. You probably procrastinated on some important tasks and you definitely didn’t feel like you made progress toward your goals.

But I’m Running a Company

Senior positions often require an intense amount of work. I used to think that the “go, go, go” attitude was the only way to success. I found myself burning out and not being able to focus, then wondering why I wasn’t achieving the things I had hoped.

It was all caused by stress. I didn’t give myself permission to relax. Yet the moment I took a step back and allowed myself to not think about work, the moment I let go of the pressure of performing, I very quickly became more productive and full of ideas.

One key is to make sure you don’t spend vacation time being as busy as you are at work. You’ll be more tired when you’re done and will feel that to get the benefits of vacation, you need to go on another vacation.

Benefits of Vacation

A vacation has a way of restoring energy just by changing your environment. Taking time out for summer reading, relaxing on the beach or under a shady tree and letting your mind wander enables your thoughts to go beyond the confines of your office.

It is, as my old colleague, Larry Robertson, says, a deliberate pause. This break allows you to decompress so that when you return to work, you think entrepreneurial thoughts. It allows you to imagine scenarios that you can pursue. It allows you to spend structured time day dreaming, connecting dots and slowing down.

Even if it takes you a little time to adjust back into the work day, that’s okay. Vacations are as important as breathing.

So relax. Work will be there when you get back.

Passion and Work

I hear a lot of people say the old saying about passion and work: “love what you do and you’ll never work another day in your life.”

That’s hogwash.

The bottom line: if you have a passion and pursue it, that’s a wonderful thing to do in your life. You will be happier. But that doesn’t guarantee that you will make money from it, which means you may still have to “work.” To make a career out of your passion, you need customers. Otherwise, your passion is a hobby.

Passion by itself doesn’t make money

I know a lot of people who love to paint or write music. There is no question they should pursue their talents. It will make them happier and feel more satisfied.

When you have a stack of your paintings in the basement or a library of your own music on your computer, what’s next? If you want to monetize your passion, you must think like a business person.

You may have heard stories of famous actors losing all of their money because they were not financially savvy. They were remarkable at their art, their passion. Yet their lack of business awareness led to financial insecurity. Dancers, pottery makers and others start studios only to have their business of passion fail within a few years.

For passion and work to go hand in hand, you should not only learn how your industry operates, but also explore alternatives to traditional ways of earning a profit.

For example, if you love writing music, being a famous performer isn’t your only path to success. Many artists now license their work to stock music libraries where they earn a small royalty for each use. Some even give their music rights away for free to companies to use in their marketing because the exposure helps them leverage their other work. Got a friend who runs a company? Offer to write a jingle for them. Want to be a movie maker? Make a video for a company – if your video goes viral, you’ve got a promising way to make money from others who want the same results.

Separate passion and work

There is a myth that if you pursue what you love, then money will follow. That is largely untrue. To see money from your passion, you need to actively pursue it. And if you don’t enjoy the money-making part of selling your passion, then well you’re back to working, right?

If your passion doesn’t involve business or pursuing money in some way, a more liberating mindset is to separate passion and work. Acknowledge that you will have to work to earn money. A dancer has to promote her studio. This requires marketing and sales skills, plus bookkeeping and management to operate the business (the IRS doesn’t care about your passion, just that you paid your share of taxes).

Hire people to support the skills you don’t have, but don’t think for a minute that you can only focus on your passion and not your business. Someone will take you for an uncomfortable ride if you only pursue your passion.

Power Questions for Executives

Don’t ever ask this “power question” to an executive: what keeps you up at night?

It is not a power question. Quite the contrary.

Fred, the chief executive for North America of a large multi-national company, was very clear and direct. In an interview described in the book, Power Questions, by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas, Fred made some excellent points about why this question can result in you being escorted out of the door.

The bottom line: it shows that you didn’t do your homework. You could come across as not knowing enough about the executive’s business to ask informed questions that delve into specific issues they are facing.

The right power questions can show off what you know. They can also help build trust.

Instead of asking something cliche, do your homework and ask timely questions about topics they are dealing with. Some examples of intelligent power questions for executives:

  1. How is social media affecting your clients’ decision making process about buying your products?
  2. How do you see the economic crisis in Europe affecting your ability to export?
  3. What is your strategy to offset market share erosion from lower-priced competitors?

Each of these power questions for executives shows that you are aware of an issue that they are facing. Ask them to your boss, his/her boss, even the company president. The smartest senior executives will pick you out from the crowd as someone to watch and possibly nurture into a leadership role.