Because Sometimes Normal Sucks

Over a decade ago a general contractor in serious trouble came to me for business coaching. Let’s call him Dave. His revenue was down two straight years. He broke even the year before, but nine months into the current year, his net profit was negative four percent. Burning cash by the wheelbarrow, he had five months before he’d go bankrupt. It was bad.

I worried it was too late. But I also like when business coaching is a challenge. I’m so glad he reached out for help, because not only did we turns things around, but Dave taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.

I learned from Dave very quickly that he was a man of immense integrity. He was always on time, he always kept his word, and if a problem happened with a job he bent over backward to make things right. This is already rare in our world, but something else was even more significant.

In the construction industry, it’s nearly unheard of.

Contractors are infamous for their unreliability. A friend of mine built a house once and told me often with a heavy sigh, “Whatever they say, double it and add ten percent.”

Later I would dub this the “industry dysfunction” and bring the idea to the business coaching world. Every industry has one: it’s the thing that customers all know and hate about your industry, but is so typical they’ve come to accept it.

Dave was a diamond in the rough. He cared deeply, and his integrity was everything to him, but he was far too humble. He had no idea he was a leader in his industry.

We all tend to project our gifts onto others and think they’re no big deal. In a few hours, I helped Dave see his own gifts and how rare and special he was in a world where “I’ll be there at 8am” meant plus or minus an hour.

Business Coaching Made Simple

We looked at every single customer touch point from lead generation through production, flow-charted it out, and looked for opportunities for his company to give its word and keep it like a life depended on it. He went out of his way to make very specific promises, just to demonstrate that he could keep them, and he’d name it: “Here I am, at 8am, just like I said.” People smiled. They loved it. He gave his clients a new experience of an entire industry. He gave them trust, hope, optimism, and a sense that they mattered.

It worked. His sales lifted in less than three months. The following year his profit was back up to nearly ten percent, with room to grow.

I was overjoyed to help Dave. And learned something I now use to help all businesses. The question is simple: “What do customers in your industry complain about the most?” Then: stop doing that! Be the opposite.

This works for anyone, anywhere. You can use this question when you’re applying for jobs, for example. Put yourself in your prospective employer’s shoes and consider how the candidate pool looks to them. What frustrates them about it the most? Then: don’t be that. If you’re borrowing money from a bank, you can use this with the lender. If you’re asking someone out on a date. If you’re disciplining your child, etc. It’s about stepping back and seeing the bigger picture: that’s what business coaching is about. It’s fundamentally about awareness.

I have one client slot open right now and I’m looking for a business leader with the courage and fortitude to be different than the crowd. It’s easier said than done, and it takes hard work. If that’s you, or you know someone who might be interested in bucking their industry dysfunction, let’s talk, because sometimes normal sucks.

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