The Business Vegetarian

Sandi is a business vegetarian. She knows everything about sizzle, but has never tasted steak.

The woman sitting across from me is a content marketer. She had called about a week ago and I hadn’t, at that moment, the time nor the patience to deal with her. I thought that she represented a Beachwood Chamber of Commerce member. As the immediate past president, I make time for all of our members. I agreed to an appointment and now she is here.

What is a content marketer? Her poorly written email, sent to whet my appetite for our meeting, had been filled with promises of success through buzzwords. Clearly, she wasn’t a writer. Yet, that’s what she is selling.

I knew that I was in trouble as soon as I learned that neither she nor her new employer were chamber members. Worse, for some reason she felt compelled to try to convince me of the virtues of COSE. She wasn’t listening, wasn’t processing what she was hearing, or was simply unable to let go of her preconceived notions. It was at this point that I realized that she could no longer tell the difference between reality and the BS she and her company produced.

Puff pieces. Sandi sells puff pieces. She and a crack team of faux journalists create articles and bogus interviews for one of our area’s many business magazines. You can find these publications in offices and waiting rooms all over town. The subscriptions are forever and the price is popular, free. Flip through the pages and you will see lots of smiling executives and news stories brimming with success and happiness. This is fine as long as you realize that you aren’t reading a real magazine while you are waiting for Doctor Coldhands.

My first experience with fake journalism was about eleven years ago. I had a chance to be in a special advertising section of the Sun Papers. If I bought a big enough ad, the Sun Papers would publish a nice story about me. How nice? It was great. There was a quarter page article extolling my virtues as an agent and member of the community. I wrote it. My mother was very proud.

Does anyone believe this stuff? Would you read or trust any publication with “Smart” or “True” in its name? You wouldn’t, but someone, other than the subjects’ mothers and the magazines’ staffs, must be buying the BS.

Or maybe not.

Does it matter if anyone opens these magazines or really reads the stories? The advertisers get certified audit reports that prove the distribution and educated guesses as to how many people were stuck in those waiting rooms. The news is always positive. The subjects of the articles and interviews are always happy with the product. Marketing executives and public relations specialists have a reliable partner, an outlet eager to spread a particular version of the truth. The only loser is the unsuspecting reader.

As our meeting ended, Sandi gave me her card but expressed doubts that I would remember our conversation. She speculated that I would throw out her card before she got to her car. Wrong again. I’m a steak guy. I will keep her business card. It is a permanent reminder about the dangers of getting caught up in the sizzle.

Coach C.


“Gentlemen, you are not jewelry store managers.  You are businessmen who happen to be in the jewelry business.”

The speaker, Burt K., a tall imposing man who looked like a New York Jew but sounded like a man who had lived in Dallas his entire life, delivered that line as if he really meant it.  He didn’t.  He was a terrible supervisor, possibly the worst I ever had.  But, he was proof that you can learn something of value from anyone.  You just have to pay attention.

A young businessman, a self-employed guy in his early thirties, heard that I mentor several entrepreneurs.  Most of the people I’ve coached have been insurance agents, but I have also worked with other professionals, such as doctors and attorneys, as well as retail establishments and not-for-profit agencies.  What really attracted this guy, a service provider, was my price.  FREE.  I refuse to charge for my advice.  Of course, it may only be worth what they are paying.

Our guy, we’ll call him Rob, asked for my help.  The problem was that I had already been coaching him for three months.  He hadn’t been paying attention.  Since I refused to begin every sentence or every email with the words “Rule One or Remember This”, he had missed everything.

I brought out the 2 x 4 Friday morning.  Below are a few rules I shared with Rob.  Bluntly.  I also let him know that this would all appear in my next blog.  Many of you will find the following self-evident.  Indulge me.  I know that Rob isn’t the only small businessperson that needs to read this.

1.  The customer/client/patient you are with is the most important person in the world.  Believe it and live it.  If you don’t believe it, pretend.  If you can’t pretend, do something else.

Every meeting with a customer is like being in a restaurant while on a first date.  If you are checking out the room instead of focusing completely at the person across the table, you are doomed to failure.  Unless your spouse is about to go into labor or a parent is at death’s door, put away the cell phone.  You don’t need it.  Don’t even put it on vibrate.  It’s a distraction.  Your customer deserves 100% of you.

2.  Ask More Questions.  Most businesspeople fail to ask enough questions.  You may know what you want to sell, but you may have no idea what your customer wants to buy.  Stop.  Throw away that script.  Talk to your clients.  They have made time to meet with you.  Why?  You can’t solve their problems until you know what their problems are.

I recently told a vendor exactly what I wanted.  He didn’t understand and he didn’t ask any questions.  He had no idea how important this was to me and how much I was willing to spend.  He underestimated my needs and wants and lowballed the price.  Total failure.  I didn’t get what I really wanted and he left hundreds of dollars on the table.

3. Communicate.  Some appointments can’t be made.  Some deadlines will be missed.  Blizzards happen.  OK.  Call your customers and let them know.  Don’t force the client to track you down like some escaped convict.  We will understand and forgive errors if you disclose them.  Skip the excuses.  Just tell us what happened and how you will fix it. 

Rob was surprised that the first three rules had nothing to do with his particular business.  They don’t.  These basic rules apply to all businesses, even law firms.  Paying attention, listening, and treating people properly won’t guarantee success.  They are simply the foundation.  I need Rob to master these basics before we can move on to more difficult assignments.

There are lessons to be learned from the most unlikely of sources, if we are paying attention. One of my most important rules came from an unpleasant bully who managed by fear.  Are you paying attention?  We are surrounded by teachers.


Occupying more space than ever
Looking out at a vast expanse

I’m cornered.

My error
My doing
No one to blame but me.
Too trusting
   When I should have taken control.

What once was two
Is now three
What once was good
Is now

I’m cornered.

Partnership was once revered
Now its just passé

I’m cornered.

My future
Now past
No way to reclaim what is gone.
Stopped worrying
Felt safe
   My timing could not have been worse.

What once was two
Is now three
What once was good
Is now

I’m cornered.