Chapter 1, Part 1: Are you groveling for business?
Does running your own business ever make you feel like a glorified butler scurrying after your customers’ every whim? Do clients make you feel indebted to them for the pleasure of hearing them rant and nitpick?
Many people start a business to get out from under the nose of a demanding boss only to find themselves working for an even more demanding customer base.
That is the situation Alex Stapleton finds himself enduring in this excerpt from my new book Built To Sell: Turn Your Business Into One You Can Sell. The book is a parable about the owner of a small ad agency who decides he wants to sell his business only to find out it is unsellable. With the help of his mentor Ted, Alex sets out on a two-year journey to transform his business into one he can sell. The lessons he learns along the way provide a roadmap for business owners who would like to turn their business into something they can sell.
This is the first installment of a multi-part series — I’ll post a new excerpt every Monday, Wednesday & Friday so you can follow along as the story unfolds.
Alex Stapleton wheeled the Range Rover into the parking
lot of First National Bank. He grabbed his portfolio from
the back seat and sprinted to the doors. A quick check of his
watch made it official: 9:06 a.m. He was late—again.
As a regular visitor, Alex’s name was on the list at reception
and the security guard waved him in. He found an open elevator
and hit the button for the 18th floor. He took his first full
breath of air since leaving his office.
John Stevens had worked at the bank for seven years. He’d
landed a job as an account manager straight out of business
school. He spent a few years lending money to small businesses
and then got a job in marketing at the bank’s head office. Premature
bald, and pudgy, he seemed angry at life for the cards
he’d been dealt. John had no formal training in marketing, yet
he insisted on directing every detail of Alex’s work.
“Sorry I’m late, John. Traffic was . . . ”
“Did you bring the mock-ups?” John asked Alex impatiently.
Alex unzipped his portfolio, wiped his brow, and settled in
for the long haul. He unveiled the first design and John didn’t
flinch. He waved Alex off the moment he began to explain the
designer’s vision for the piece.
“Let’s see the next one.”
After Alex presented all eight concepts, John took his time
before selecting a design and then gave his instructions. He
wanted the picture reduced, the font changed, and the red to
be more orange red instead of the pink red selected by Alex’s
designer. John droned on with more feedback. Alex felt as if he
were back in primary school. Despite being woefully unqualified,
John seemed to relish his new role as art critic. Alex left the meeting
room promising John another round of mock-ups by Monday
morning. He pulled out of the parking lot feeling broken.
If John Stevens were the exception, Alex could have lived with
it. Unfortunately, John represented the bulk of Alex’s clients:
marketing managers with crappy jobs who seemed to like pushing
around their marketing agency.
Alex had started The Stapleton Agency eight years before,
after a career at a blue-chip marketing agency. He started
doing logos and brochures for small businesses and gradually
moved up to becoming an Approved Vendor for First National
Bank. Having Approved Vendor status meant that the bank
paid their bills and kept The Stapleton Agency on a short list
of alternative suppliers to their Agency of Record. When the
bank’s main marketing agency rejected smaller jobs, the bank
summoned The Stapleton Agency.
When Alex started the agency, he dreamed of working on
important campaigns with large budgets. He imagined directing
models and actors between booze-soaked lunches with
chief marketing officers. He wanted to be part of the scene.
Instead, he was trying to figure out how to explain to his
designer that she would need to work through the weekend
because the client—a middle manager who had never taken a
design course, doing a job he was completely unqualified for—
wanted the red changed to “orange red.”
Alex’s problem is that his ad agency is not differentiated and his client John Stevens knows it. The Stevens character is bossing Alex around because he knows there is a long line of agency guys like Alex who would love to work for First National Bank.
To avoid being pushed around, narrow your focus so sharply that you offer something that is hard to get from anyone else. That way, customers will treat you with respect knowing they can’t get your expertise elsewhere.
In the next post, Alex desperately tries to hang on to a $48,000-a-month client.
John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell: Turn Your Business Into One You Can Sell