Every CEO’s nightmare is watching profits turn from black to red. Your company was once at the top of the market, raking in the cash. Now it’s losing money, and you’re trying to get back on track. The struggle to stay in the black reminds me of AC/DC’s “Back In Black:”


‘Cause I’m back on the track and I’m beatin’ the flack

Nobody’s gonna get me on another rap

So look at me now, I’m just makin’ my play

Don’t try to push your luck, just get out of my way…

Yes I’m back

Well I’m back in black

— AC/DC, “Back In Black”


Unfortunately, the switch from red to black doesn’t happen overnight. It requires proper financial planning and a redefined business model.


Stay on top of your finances


One thing I found is that many CEOs are horrible with numbers. When they started their business, they were adept in the technical aspects, but lacked knowledge in the financial portion. It’s safe to say most entrepreneurs aren’t financial geniuses. As a result, CEOs get in trouble either by not watching their finances carefully, not hiring people to handle their finances, or not watching the people they DO hire.

On top of having a team of financial experts, CEOs need to make sure they have the right checks and balances. Don’t give the “keys to the kingdom” to any single individual. Even as a small company, I had a full time employee who did the bookkeeping, a CPA who came in once/month for a couple of hours to make sure everything was in order and who did some mid-level work like provide me a cash flow forecast that monitors my assets, and finally I had a larger accounting firm do my business taxes (and my personal taxes).  Having these three involved made me feel comfortable that no “funny stuff” could go on.  Definitely less chance of any embezzlement.


Adjust your business model


Taking inventory and cutting costs only goes so far to increase your profits. CEOs often forget to fine-tune their business model. Sure, you’ve built the perfect business model when you first started your company. But the environment, market, or economy might have changed since then – all that factors into your bottom line.

If you’re losing money or your sales are down, it could be that what you’re offering isn’t good enough anymore. Your first step is to look at your churn. If your customers are leaving you, you should stop and wonder why.

The case could be that disruptors are coming into your market, similar to the problem taxi cab companies now face with Uber or what some department stores are facing with Amazon. You might be used to the status quo, while other individuals are constructing innovative ideas to improve an existing industry, or creating products/services to disrupt the industry entirely. When that happens, you need to pivot.  Adapt or die!


Plan ahead to avoid financial hardships


One of the biggest reasons why companies fail is because they don’t have the proper capital or financial backing. You should plan what you need to fund your business at the very beginning, whether it means establishing a line of credit, setting up your bank account, or borrowing from friends and family.  And of course, the banks only lend you money when you don’t need it, so when you are in a good financial position and don’t NEED the money, get that line of credit bumped up or a loan for some ready cash.  If you don’t have enough money or access to quick capital, you might have to pass up on a major contract. That’s a missed opportunity that could have helped you scale your business later down the road.


Stuck in the middle ground


In the book No Man’s Land, Doug Tatum discusses a point where companies are “too big to be small and too small to be big.” This issue appears frequently in the government-contracting world. Companies will grow, leave the small business arena, and go toe-to-toe with big companies like Lockheed Martin, CACI, and Northrop Grumman. You know as well as I do that they don’t have a prayer.

Companies get stuck in this middle ground area, which is horrible. They get to a certain point where they don’t have the proper processes and procedures to run operations like a well-oiled machine. If you don’t create systems, your company will lose traction and money.

There’s almost never just one reason companies lose profits. The correct financial planning coupled with the willingness to adapt, you don’t have to worry about getting “Back in Black”, because you’ll never be in the red.


“Back in black, I hit the sack

I been too long, I’m glad to be back.”

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF:  Back in Black was recorded over seven weeks in the Bahamas in spring 1980. The area was hit by tropical storms at the time, making the sessions difficult at times. Following its completion, the group mixed Back in Black at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The album’s all-black cover was designed as a “sign of mourning” for Bon Scott, the band’s original lead vocalist.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC/DC

WEBSITE: http://www.acdc.com

VIDEO: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=ac+dc+back+in+black+video&&view=detail&mid=7694DE011B7718FAF1DC7694DE011B7718FAF1DC&FORM=VRDGAR


There are many reasons that may make you feel like throwing in the towel. Sometimes the market may not be where you want it to be. Other times your product or service may not be where you had intended, so you get anxious or a little unsure. The first thing to understand is that ups and downs are part of the cycle for any business. You have to constantly evolve in order to adjust to changes in the market or its conditions.

There may be instances where a trough in the cycle causes you to wonder if it’s worth it to keep going, or to cut your losses. Things people said before – the words we knew were not true when we were confident – come back into our thoughts, trying to feed the seeds of doubt. This is the time when you have to dig deep. Pushing through problematic times is often a prerequisite for success.

You’re kidding yourself if you don’t believe it

Get up, get back on your feet

You’re the one they can’t beat and you know it

Come on, let’s see what you’ve got

Just take your best shot and don’t blow it

— Styx, “Fooling Yourself”

Sometimes it’s a mental obstacle blocking your path to success. Ask yourself a few questions. Why do you feel like giving up? What were you trying to accomplish in the first place? How did you feel about getting to that place? If you felt you could get to that place, why is it different now?

Sometimes, visualizing where you want to be gives you the extra boost when you are experiencing a sluggish period. Visualize where you can be, see it as it is already yours, and keep pushing until it comes into fruition.

Once you have done some soul-searching, answered the questions above, and visualized where you want to be, do a top-to-bottom evaluation of your company – evaluating your people, processes, and technology in use. Do you have the right people in the right places? Are you utilizing your personnel at optimal capacity? Are you keeping up-to-date with the trends in your area of business? Are your processes running fluid, with fail-safes, backups, and secure networks?

After a careful analysis, you will have a better outlook at where the value lies in your company. There are times when a business started off in one area only to find their niche in an altogether different arena.

“Expect problems and eat them for breakfast.”  Alfred A. Montapert

You are going to face obstacles in business – that’s its nature. When you get up with the attitude of looking forward to facing the challenges, it changes the progression of your day. Instead of when a problem occurs it throwing your mood off-kilter, the expectation of it keeps the flow of your day from interruption and your mood from leaning towards agitation. There are days when one problem after the next will appear, and rather than seeing it as an annoyance, view it as a challenge to master.

“The only constant in life is change.”  Heraclitus

Berkshire Hathaway, one of Warren Buffett’s many companies, started in the textile industry. Mr. Buffett had the privilege of acquiring it on the way down. Throughout the years, with careful planning and strategic moves, he was able to turn it into one of the largest and most trusted companies in the world. His saving grace was investing in the insurance industry and transitioning the core of the business away from the flailing American textile industry — a masterful pivot. Determination, ingenuity, and preparation in business go a long way towards gaining success.

My moment came during the recession of 2008. My wife and I have two businesses working out of the same office, and we had more space than needed, which was making cash flow very tight. We were also slow in downsizing staff, which put us in a hole even further! When the recession hit, nobody knew how long that it would last, and it seemed it would never end. My wife and I had to have the “are we going to have to consult a lawyer about bankruptcy because we don’t know how long the recession is going to last” talk.

Instead of folding, we decided to remain persistent. We didn’t break our lease like many people were doing at the time, taking the high road and honoring our commitments. That cost us dearly, but we decided to keep pushing forward. I remember my wife and I sending out our Christmas letter that read, “What’s worse than having one entrepreneur in the family when going through a recession?” “Having TWO entrepreneurs in the family going through a recession!” Have to keep a sense of humor.

It was a rough battle, and yet here we are seven years later and doing well. The course of events even resulted in me pivoting my business into providing new services – helping small to medium-sized business owners and it is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done! When one door closes…another one opens!

Before You Throw in the Towel

Before you call it quits, make sure you’ve viewed all options and alternatives. Maybe you give up what you are doing today and pivot your business. Examine your business top to bottom, check your people, processes, and technology. Find that new strategy, and wake up each day ready to hurdle every obstacle in your path. Keep pushing! Chances are that you’ll find yourself in an even better place than you had expected.

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF:  “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) was a second radio hit off of Styx’s seventh album, “The Grand Illusion”.  Released on July 7, 1977 (7/7/77), it became their breakthrough album, reaching TRIPLE PLATINUM certification (3 Million sold). The first hit off of this album was “Come Sail Away” which reached #8 in 1978.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styx_%28band%29

WEBSITE: http://styxworld.com/

VIDEO: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Styx+Fooling+Yourself


With all of the CEOs I’ve worked with, one of the biggest challenges they face is themselves. In other words, they get in their own way and micromanage their teams. It’s a hard habit to break since they are used to handling so many responsibilities when they first started the company. But as their company grows, they have to start giving up more responsibilities to their employees. Micromanaging your team sends the wrong message and creates a toxic atmosphere. If you want your company to grow, you must create an atmosphere conducive to growth.

Build the right team

The first step is to hire the right people, then groom, and develop them. When you’re confident in your team, you feel comfortable stepping back. Stepping back allows you to spend more time providing strategy, vision, and passion for the organization. What you SHOULD be doing!

The CEO is the visionary, and shouldn’t focus on the daily operational miniscule tasks. I know, easier said than done – and I’ve been guilty of it myself over the years. It all comes down to building the right team, and believing they can do the job.

Loosen your grip

The rock band .38 Special has a song entitled “Hold on Loosely,” which talks about a girl, who’s affectionately known as “baby.” As the song relates to business, think of the “baby” as your company and employees that drive it. I know for a fact that CEOs of small- to medium-sized companies think of their company as their “baby.”

Just hold on loosely but don’t let go

If you cling too tightly

You’re gonna lose control

Your baby needs someone to believe in

And a whole lot of space to breathe in

It’s so damn easy

When your feelings are such

To overprotect her

To love her too much

 — .38 Special, “Hold On Loosely”

CEOs need to hold on of course, but “loosely.” You can still have control, but delegate most of the work. Have meetings, checkpoints, or dashboards to keep you aware of what’s going on with your “baby.”

Allow your team to flourish

If you cling too tightly, you are going to lose control because you are telling your people you don’t believe in them. What’s more, they can’t breathe because you are stifling their creativity. Your company simply can’t grow if you don’t give your employees space to learn and grow.

Just as an expert jockey knows when to loosen the reigns a bit to let the horse run hard and be a winner, your team needs to know they can run and do great things for your company too.

Keep your A-players happy

The biggest detriment from micromanaging is that you’ll lose your A-players, and be stuck with B and C-players. You don’t want that to happen. Every successful company is filled with A-players…spend the bulk of your time with THEM, train your B-players too, and work those C-players OUT!

At one of my previous jobs, I had a micromanaging boss. I once wrote an assignment for him, and he recommended changes. I incorporated the changes, and resubmitted. He then changed HIS changes back to my original submission. “Why am I wasting my time?” I thought. I was so miserable and frustrated with his leadership style, that I couldn’t take it anymore and eventually left the company.

Just remember this:  OVER protecting your company — your baby — will only stop it from growing, much like “helicopter parents” stifle their children’s growth. Starting TODAY, “Hold on Loosely”, but don’t let go. With the right grip, watch your people and your “baby” grow beyond your wildest dreams!

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Don Barnes of .38 Special came up with the title. It was something he heard Dinah Shore say on her talk show when she had a guest on talking about giving her husband space in their relationship.  Speaking about the range of influences that show up in this song, co-writer Jim Peterik said: “The bridge was straight out of the Doobie Brothers songbook. If I look at that song, it’s kind of a meld of a lot of influences of mine from that time. The eighth notes are very Cars-like from that time and the bridge was “What a Fool Believes” upside down.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/38_Special_%28band%29

WEBSITE: http://38special.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdLIerfXuZ4

“You’re not the same person I interviewed!” “Who are you, and what did you do with him/her?”

This is a painful situation for a CEO. You’ve had a big hole in your executive team, you find someone you think is the answer to all of your problems, and it happens. You realize this person isn’t who you thought they were. They either don’t have the skills you thought they did, or maybe they came from a larger company and you thought they’d be able to adjust to your small business…but they are used to having a staff and haven’t had to roll up their sleeves and do some of the work themselves vs. delegating to a staff like they used to do.

Sometimes you find that they aren’t a culture fit or even worse…they are downright toxic!

So, what happened…how did you miss it during the interview(s) and “dating stage”? That question reminds me of The Who’s famous rock song:


Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

‘Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)


— The Who, “Who Are You?”

Tips for Finding the Right Fit

The biggest reason companies get stuck with the wrong employee is that they don’t interview the right way. I’ve seen executives glance over the over the resume five minutes beforehand, and ask questions solely based on the job description. You’re destined for failure with that method.

Instead, you should put some time and effort into devising questions that will aid your company in finding the ideal personnel fit. Shift the focus away from where they worked and went to school, to answering the following questions:

  • Does this candidate fit in with your company’s culture? Try this. Write down you company’s core values. Now ask the prospect how they exhibited one of your core values at one of their prior employers. By the way, this is also a great tool for your EXISTING employees…have them mention in weekly meetings how they exhibited a corporate core value in the past week or how one of their peers did.
  • What exactly does your company need the candidate to do? Tell them you want them to increase sales by 10% in 12 months, or increase margins by 5%, or cut expenses by 3% while still delivering at least the same number of widgits with the same or higher customer satisfaction ratings. Get specific…and make them MEASURABLE!
  • What has the candidate done in the past that can apply to the job today? Get specific and go deep! Ask the candidate what they’ve done that is exactly or very near the same type of work or same deliverables YOU need from them. And, find out what their role was. Did they come up with the idea, lead the team, do the actual deliverable themselves, or what? Don’t stop digging until you know exactly what their role was in it.
  • If the candidate hasn’t done a similar task in the past, then how would they handle a common situation that arises in your company? Sometimes, they haven’t done EXACTLY what you need them to do, but something similar. See how creative they are.

You can listen to their thought processes during the interview and determine if they would be a right fit for your team. If you don’t consider how they play a role in the bigger picture and how they will interact with your current team, then you could end up with an employee who feels like a stranger.

The interview is just the beginning. You need to have a good onboarding process too. Keep your eyes and ears open to see how they interact with you, their peers, and the people who work for them. If you find out early on it’s not the right fit, at least you know now and not months or years down the road. The old saying for small businesses especially…”Hire slowly and fire quickly.” Small business CEOs don’t have the luxury of carrying people, especially executive team members.

Give Toxic Employees the Boot

I’ve had CEOs I’ve worked with who have fired people as quickly as the first week on the job! A couple that come to mind are one who was telling everybody she met one-on-one in the onboarding process how screwed up everything is at the company and how it should be done. GONE! Another new hire who was a sales person told the CEO they had met with a prospect the first week. Well…that prospect was a friend of the CEO and had NOT met with the person. A not-so-little lie the first week on the sales person’s employment violated the core value of trust. GONE!

These mistakes do happen, even when you follow a good interview process, but you can minimize the bad hires by asking questions about core values, making sure the candidate knows exactly what you need them to do, and digging deep in your questions to make sure they’ve done these things in the past or at the very least, are able to articulate how they would handle similar situations they will encounter at your company.

Hopefully, this will mitigate the chances of you having to ask them “Who Are You?”

[Author: “I suppose I could also have used The Who’s iconic song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for this post too, eh?]   🙂

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: After the 1976 tour, Townshend took most of the following year off to spend time with his family. He discovered that former Beatles and Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein had bought a stake in his publishing company. A settlement was reached, but Townshend was upset and disillusioned that Klein had attempted to take ownership of his songs. Townshend went to the Speakeasy where he met the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook, fans of the Who. After leaving, he passed out in a doorway, where a policeman said he would not be arrested if he could stand and walk. The events inspired the title track of the next album, Who Are You?  Sadly, drummer Keith Moon died a month after this album was released.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Who

WEBSITE: http://www.thewho.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdLIerfXuZ4

As much as we don’t like to admit it, setbacks are unavoidable in business. But what really makes the difference is not whether we encounter failures – because we all do – it’s how we respond to them.

The experience of a setback in business reminds me of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing.” Even when the odds are stacked against you, you have to persevere for your sake and the sake of your company. It’s a situation I’ve certainly experienced before.

“Don’t stop believing,

Hold on to that feeling”

— Journey

The Setback

Twenty years ago I was with a telecom company that offered high-end data services. It doesn’t sound like much now, but back then we were developing 10-megabit and higher connections between cities. This was around the time when services of even 1.5-megabit was advanced!

One of our clients during this time was one of the major investment banking companies in the same league as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan. They were using our 1.5-megabits service since we hadn’t yet fully developed our 10-megabit service. Unfortunately, our company wasn’t performing up to our service level agreement.

The client called us into their conference room to discuss our mistakes, and they video recorded us like we were providing congressional testimony. They sat up on a stage looking down at us and went through EVERY single error we’ve made over the past six months. It was brutal! In the end, they decided to end business with our company. We were devastated!

The Response

As I walked out the door with four other team members, our sales executive inquired about the idea of giving them 10-megabits service between all cities in the United States. It was almost ridiculous to even suggest at the time. The highest speed the client ever had nation-wide for this type of service was 1.5-megabits – the client hesitated just for a second and then replied, “No, I don’t think so. We’re done here.”

That night the client called and said, “Maybe we should talk about that 10-megabit service.” The president of our company flew out on the red-eye from the west coast, and we met with the client.

After hammering out logistics, we agreed to move forward with the groundbreaking, cross-country high-speed data service. Before leaving the client said, “Well, don’t screw up again, because once we put our employees on this high-speed service, there’s no turning back. You guys have GOT to make this happen.”


We put together a roll-out plan…executed as if our lives depended on it…we made it happen and we exceeded their expectations. The client was so impressed and said we really stepped up. The client was so happy with the effort, they gave our operations team Christmas presents that year!

The challenge actually helped us. Not only did we save the client, but we were also able to prove our vision wasn’t just vaporware!

While pitching to larger prospects, we would mention this high-profile client with 10-megabit service cross-country. Soon, more companies wanted our services. Our company continued to grow in value, and was eventually sold in the late 90s.

“Don’t stop believing,

Hold on to that feeling”

— Journey

The selected lyrics ring especially true when starting a business. The excitement of innovation is what keeps you pushing forward through difficult times. The reason we were creating the 10-megabit service wasn’t just for the speed – it was to create something new that had never been done before! And as they say, “The Rest is History” as we have 100-megabit service into our HOMES now!

The Lesson

We could’ve easily admitted defeat when we encountered our setback. If we conceded defeat, we wouldn’t have been poised for a triumphant comeback. The success of the company was due to our resilience. We didn’t stop believing in our product and ourselves.

Do you believe in your product or service? Are you creative in handling tough customer situations? Are you able to get back up swinging when you and your company encounter a setback? If not, adjust. If yes…use the story both internally and externally to catapult your company to success!

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Don’t Stop Believing was on Journey’s biggest studio album “Escape”. Recording sessions began in April 1981, and lasted until the middle of June. Escape was released on July 31, 1981, and immediately, the album became a mainstream success. The album, which has thus far sold nine times platinum, went to number one on the album charts later that year.  And of course, we all remember it as the song played at the end of the final episode of The Sopranos.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journey (band)

WEBSITE: http://journeymusic.com/journey-on-tour/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04854XqcfCY


What does it take to be a championship team? There’s not just one secret trait to success. The rock band Queen’s lyrics to We Are The Champions hit on a few:

I’ve paid my dues / time after time

I’ve done my sentence / But committed no crime

Training: If you put the effort into something, you’ll recognize the progress you’ve made over time.

Dedication: You can’t just show up the day of the big meeting without being prepared. You have to put the time and effort into your work.

And bad mistakes / I’ve made a few

I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face / But I’ve come through

Flexibility: Sure, we all make mistakes, but it’s important to adapt and pivot when necessary.

Perseverance: It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Everyone loves a good comeback story.

And we mean to go on and on and on / We are the champions, my friends

And we’ll keep on fighting / Till the end

We are the champions / No time for losers / ‘Cause we are the champions of the world.

Additional characteristics such as having a shared fate, possessing talent, leveraging the strengths of each teammate, and having your teammate’s back are all traits of championship teams. Your team should strive to encompass most if not all of those elements.

Whenever I’m asked what was the best team I’ve ever been on, I think of two top-notch teams: one work-related, one play – and both shared the traits I mentioned above.

Fight ‘Til The End

Quite a few years ago while still in the Air Force and stationed in northern Michigan, I was on a slow pitch softball team. Because we were one of the smaller squadrons – and our mission kept some of us at work and off the diamond – we sometimes had a hard time fielding a full team. Consequently, we recruited anyone to play on the team, even if they hadn’t ever picked up a bat.

Fortunately, our lack of experience didn’t stop us from persevering. We had four or five hitters who could smash a home run at any time, and most of us could play multiple positions well. More importantly, no matter who showed up for the game, we always had each other’s back.

I’d like to say we won the championship that year, but we actually lost the three-game series to a much more talented – and fully staffed – team. In two of the games we were a man short, but we gave it our all, and lost the last game by a couple of runs. I have fond memories of my underdog team and the obstacles we overcame.

No Time For Losers

I was with the White House Communications Agency back in the mid-80s while still in the Air Force. As part of the presidential advance team, we traveled in ahead of POTUS to organize the communications infrastructure at his destination. That way when he and his staff arrived anywhere in the world, they could communicate as if they were sitting at their desks in Washington, D.C.

This is during the time when computers, radio, and satellite communications gear was bulky and heavy. We would load up the trucks, drive to Andrews Air Force Base, unload the truck, load the plane, fly to our destination, unload the plane, load the trucks, drive to the hotel or facility where we would set up shop, and unload the trucks. Within a couple of days, we would have installed a world-class operational office and communications infrastructure.

In addition to the grunt work, we were all communications experts. While we each had our own positions, it was necessary to know a little about everyone else’s role, just in case something happened to any of us. That meant the infrastructure’s backups had to have backups, too. We all knew how important each of our jobs were, and we all knew we had to complete the mission each and every time we were deployed. We were a well-oiled machine with a shared fate.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the advance teams for the first two Reagan-Gorbachev Summits held in Geneva, Switzerland and later in Reykjavik, Iceland. We had three weeks to set up in Geneva, but you may remember the Reykjavik summit was on again and off again as the world leaders were jockeying for position. When the Reykjavik trip was finally “on,” we had to do in one week what it took to do in three weeks in Geneva. This was truly one of those “failure is not an option” scenarios.

It was an INSANE schedule on a world stage and yet we were able to succeed because we had each other’s backs, and we were all dedicated to completing the mission. What’s more, we all had respect for each other, we held each other accountable, and we all pushed each other if someone wasn’t pulling their weight. Both summits were incredible experiences, and those were some of the talented men and women I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Creating Your Own Championship Team

Is your current company the best team you’ve ever been on? If the answer is no, then why not? What can you do to change it?

Gather your team and ask them to think about their best team ever, then capture all of the traits of that team. Now pick the Top 10 Traits, and ask yourself and your team how you measure up against each of them. Those traits you exemplify, keep it up. For those you fall short on, prioritize them and start working on them as a team.

In your weekly and monthly team meetings, discuss the progress you are making on those traits. I can assure you, if you work together on those Top 10 Traits each day at work, your current company will become your best team ever. Then you can proudly sing along with Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” because you’ll know it’s true.

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Written by Freddie Mercury, this song was built on audience response, with Brian May stating; “We wanted to get the crowds waving and singing. It’s very unifying and positive”. In 2011, a team of scientific researchers concluded that the song was the catchiest song in the history of pop music, despite it not hitting #1 in the charts in any major market..

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(band)

WEBSITE: http://queenonline.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04854XqcfCY


I’ve met many people – including CEOs and other top executives – who seem to live in the past. Whether it’s regretting a mistake or wishing for the way things used to be, it’s a negative source of energy that will drain you and your company.

Mistakes happen, but we learn from them and we move on. At least, that is what we should be doing. Wishing you or your company had done something differently isn’t going to change what you can do in the future to improve your situation.

Or maybe your business changes, your entire industry changes, or the economy changes in a big way (e.g. The Great Recession) and you haven’t adjusted to the new normal. Today, more than ever, a disruptive technology or business model like Uber, AirBnB, Amazon, etc., can make even the best CEO or executive yearn for the days of old. But if you’re sticking with what you’ve always done and not rolling with the changes then you’re going to be run over by the competition.

Get an outside perspective

Sometimes you don’t or can’t realize something’s wrong. However, someone from the outside might see what you can’t. That’s why joining a peer group is a great idea, because we may not even realize we’re the source of negative energy.

If you don’t have an advisor or peer group to tell you what the signs are to look for when there’s no excitement in your office, then you might want to look hard in the mirror and realize the problem is you. Your employees are looking to you for leadership. Even when you don’t know they’re looking at you, they’re looking at you.

Take ownership

It’s bad enough if employees are down in the dumps, but if you’re the CEO, everyone’s feeding off your energy. A fellow CEO once told me he was having a hard time going to work, as his employees were actually BORING…no zest for anything!

I told him it’s evident he’s “showing up” differently than he was in the past.  He has minimal or even negative energy, therefore his employees reflect that same energy back to him.  “Frankly,” I told him, “it’s you.” Once a CEO realizes how their energy affects their employees and takes ownership for it, then the company can rebound.

Don’t stay stuck for long

I have to admit that on more than one occasion, I’ve fallen into this trap of living in the past.  Now if I find myself start heading down that path of negative thinking, I mindfully tell myself to knock it off. The past is in the past.

If I hear the CEOs and executives I work with going down this negative path, I tell them it’s okay to have a pity party, but you need to make it quick so you aren’t dragging anyone down with you. This is one party where you don’t want to invite any of your employees or your team members. Make it short, and move on!

Don’t look back, ooh a new day is breakin’
It’s been so long since I felt this way
I don’t mind ooh where I get taken
The road is callin’, today is the day

I can see, it took so long just to realize
I’m much too strong not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around, oh yes I will

It’s a bright horizon and I’m awakin’ now
Oh I see myself in a brand new way

— Boston, “Don’t Look Back”

Once you put the past behind you, it is like a new day is breakin’. You will feel like a new person after you realize that living in the past has been holding you back and holding you down. When you finally realize and admit your negative energy is part of the problem, then it is a bright horizon and you can see yourself and your company in a brand new way.

So today you find you are looking in the rear view mirror on any topic, acknowledge it, learn from it, then rip off the mirror and start looking out through the windshield. The road ahead is much more exciting.

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: This is the title track and first song on Boston’s second album. Their debut album is one of the best selling of all time, so there were great expectations for this one. The song is about looking ahead and making the most of your time on Earth.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_(band)

WEBSITE: http://bandboston.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HuiH-0R6a0&nohtml5=False

When you first onboard a new customer, you immediately enter the honeymoon period.  You’re thrilled to be working with them, and they’re thrilled to have your services.  You go above and beyond to make them happy. After a few months or even years, the honeymoon period is over and you no longer make them feel special. Instead, you shift your focus to adding new customers because you are trying to grow your top line.

The honeymoon phase reminds me of this song currently playing in my head:

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here

Unfortunately, you aren’t the Hotel California.

“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man, ‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave”

Even if your service is “sticky,” or you are so deep into your client’s business that it is difficult for them to leave, you still aren’t the Hotel California.  They can and will leave you if you don’t treat them properly.

I often hear stories of how a long-time client suddenly left for a competitor.  Firstly, a long-time client shouldn’t ever surprise you by suddenly leaving.  If that customer is important to you, then you better make absolutely sure you are in touch with them and tuned into their needs.  Secondly, you shouldn’t assume your customers would be with you forever.

You can do many things to keep them happy or loyal or better yet, a raving fan of your services.  Unfortunately, there is plenty of competition and innovation beyond the exterior of your company walls, so you have to work hard to keep customers loyal and engaged.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

I head CEO and Executive peer groups via Vistage International, and we work on every business issue you can imagine. On the particular topic of client retention, my favorite quote that came out of a session was the phrase “Incumbency is not a strategy.” In other words, don’t hang your hat that all of your existing customers will stay forever while you map out your strategy. You are very likely to have at least some customer churn. However, there are also some things you can do to engage your customers to keep the churn low.

  • Use a CRM system. At the very least, you need to have some system in place to stay in contact with your customers on a regular basis.  If you don’t have a solid CRM system to help you keep track, get one as soon as possible! It’s important to track your progress, because you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
  • Send out a company newsletter. Newsletters are effective, especially if you are communicating general information your clients can utilize.  I prefer one-on-one correspondence.
  • Conduct business reviews. Quarterly or semi-annual business reviews are a great idea, and you may find in those meetings that your customers need more of what you have. You can also clue you in on where their needs may be changing, giving you innovation ideas for your business.
  • Add value to their lives. You can send them an article or book that can help them personally or with their business.  Top sales people will tell you to get to know your customers, as well as their spouses and children.  If you go out of the way to put them in touch with a Spanish tutor for their daughter, they’ll stick with you if your service and cost are even close to your competitor.  Nothing beats relationships.

Make Your Top Customers Feel Special

My client, TIPCO Technologies, is a fluid solution supplier for all industrial hydraulic, and high-purity applications to include industrial grade hoses of all types and sizes. They are the largest stocking distributor in the Mid-Atlantic region.

TIPCO started their TIPCO Platinum Preferred (TPP) program for their premier customers.  They even developed a logo, so it’s visible to all TIPCO employees, to remind them to go that extra yard with the TPP clients. The logo is also on all TPP customer paperwork so they feel special. Eventually, TIPCO’s co-owner Rob Lyons would like to have all customers getting that same level of service – deeply embedding the process into the company culture.

Imagine your company being a different version of “Hotel California” – one where your customers can leave, but they don’t want to.

The key to retaining your customers is remembering this: Incumbency is not a strategy.  What are you doing on a regular basis to keep your customers?  If it is not an intentional, measurable, formal customer retention plan, then start one today.

“Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place, such a lovely place”

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: The narrative twists in the Eagles’ title track for ‘Hotel California’ grew out of an admiring for the tandem work of another classic rock act, Don Henley has said. “Steely Dan inspired us, because of their lyrical bravery. So, for us, ‘Hotel California’ was about thinking and writing outside the box.”

EAGLES ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagles_(band)
WEBSITE: http://eagles.com
VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puHoadtIivc&nohtml5=False

CEOs are dreamers who took a small idea and turned it into something huge. It can be as simple as starting a boutique marketing agency, or expanding your services across seas.

“Dream on
Dream until your dreams come true”
— Aerosmith, “Dream On”

Visualize success

There’s no better song that channels the entrepreneurial spirit than Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” If you want success, you must first visualize your triumph. That means envisioning every detail from beginning to end to make it reality.

Athletes use visualization techniques all the time, whether it’s making that foul shot or sinking that putt on the golf course. They just visualize it going in and – more often than not – it does. The importance of visualizing success reminds me of a quote from Napoleon Hill’s Think And Grow Rich: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, you can achieve.”

The powers of mind over matter are too incredible to deny. If you wake up in the morning and believe you’ll have a happy and productive day, you will. Even if you hit a snag with a project or you fumble during a meeting presentation, your day will still end better if you began it with a positive daily affirmation.

Tomorrow morning when you wake up, visualize yourself conquering your goals, and channel that positive energy into your daily affirmations. Your dreams will become more and more attainable with each passing day.

Act on the dream

Dreaming is only one part of the equation – you have to make a plan and act on the dream. Otherwise, you’re not going to fulfill that dream – it’s just going to sit on a shelf and collect dust.

I once listened to a speaker whose speech impacted me so much that I integrated it into every facet of my life. This speaker emphasized the importance of reflecting on what you want to be and what you want to do in life. After you’ve figured that out – both personally and professionally – then you can plan actionable steps to fulfill your dream.

Acting on the dream is allowing the Law of Attraction to work in your life. First, you visualize it, then you follow where the current is taking you. In other words, you’ll be traveling on the path of least resistance – it just makes sense.

I recently had a conversation with Dan Frank, one of my CEOs I work with at Vistage. He was talking about figuring out some way to move back to southern California. He was visualizing the next steps he had for his businesses, Three Wire Systems and VetAdvisor, when an opportunity arose to acquire a company in San Diego.

Dan discovered one of his California-based executives was gravely ill, and decided he should move the company operations to California. Running the company from the West Coast was still feasible, since half the employees were located there, and half located back East. Dan had the dream of moving to California for a while, and because of the unusual turn of events, he was finally able to do so – but he had to take action in order for his dream to come to fruition.

Dream for your team

CEOs shouldn’t be dreaming for themselves – they should be also dreaming for their company. Ultimately, they should strive to create a company that draws in new employees, makes current employees proud, and challenges employees to be better every day.

Once you have a team that spurs innovation and growth, the main goal for your company should be to provide monumental value for your clients and to make a difference in the world. After all, isn’t that every CEO’s dream?

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: “It’s about the hunger to be somebody: Dream until your dreams come true.” Steven Tyler

AEROSMITH ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerosmith
WEBSITE: http://www.aerosmith.com/
VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bAoq7k3tZ0