Last week, I talked about doing the unexpected and showing value to the client or business owner if you ever expect to become more than just an ordinary worker. You must be indispensible to the owner. Make the owner feel like he cannot do without you…that you are protecting and growing his wealth. If he believes you, why would he ever get rid of you? He wouldn’t. He will promote you!
In 1997, I was 42 and had moved my family five times to different states accepting job promotions within the food wholesaling industry. Each move was for more money, but the responsibilities were similar. New faces, new challenges, but similar job duties. I became disenchanted with the food industry. I didn’t look forward to taking another physical inventory in another town, or closing another set of books. I needed a break and negotiated a severance package. I was free and had six months to figure out my next move.
I read book after book after book, mainly about business concepts. In one book, it described how an advertising guy “retired” and went into consulting. He picked up six small clients and in essence became their “ad man” on a outsourced basis. And he was making a nice living at it!
This thought resonated with me. Why couldn’t I do that in the CFO arena. Small companies need CFO duties here and there…a bank loan, a lease negotiated, a cash flow budget. Just not on a full time basis. So I founded Marklin Financial Services, LLC in 1998 providing outsourced CFO functions on a part-time basis.
And then I made my first mistake. I said to myself, “I will look to any industry but food.” I was tired of dealing in the food arena and wanted to be in other industries.
At first my strategy worked. I picked up transportation, logging, advertising and insurance clients. But it was tough being the marketer and producer in so many different industries. I was spreading myself very thin and leaving very little free time for my family.
The turning point came by way of a friend who was in management at Procter and Gamble, whom I had met while in the food industry. My friend wanted me to give a speech to his team about how the food wholesaling business worked. As a manufacturer, my friend thought having his team know more about their customer (food wholesaling) would be valuable skills in negotiations.
I quickly declined my friend’s offer, knowing that it was for free and in an industry that I wanted out of. But my friend was persistent. He kept asking. I kept declining. He said, “John, do this and you will thank me someday”.
I finally decided to give the speech, mainly to quiet my friend. But, as I prepared I started to feel a sense of confidence from the 20 plus years spent in the business. I actually thought I had some good and powerful things to say. I went to the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond and gave the speech to 25 food salesmen. Hesitant and a bit nervous at first, I got my cadence, my mojo and my enthusiasm started to build. I was connecting. I saw it on their faces. They nodded in agreement or in astonishment to what I was saying.
I had nothing but black and white templates on an overhead projector. But that didn’t matter. They were interested in what I had to say, not what was on the screen. Then it hit me. It’s all in the story, the presentation and the likeability of the presenter. The facts are a given. But presenting them in a common sense, plain old fashioned English speaking way was what was important. Connecting with them. Making them feel like their problem was your problem, and that you were going stay there until you answered or fixed it.
After the speech, I had a couple of participants tell me that they learned more about the food industry in two hours than in 20 years on the job. Whether that was actually right didn’t matter. I knew I had stumbled onto something.
Then my consulting career took off. The next day I was asked to give a speech at P&G HQ to some mid level managers in Cincinnati. The fee went from zero to $1000. It was a success. The boss loved it and wanted me back.
Two weeks later I went back and gave another speech to VP’s at P&G. They loved it. The fee went to $3500. I became “booked” with other manufacturing companies. And I went on the road and demonstrated a new skill that had previously been unknown, to them and to me.
I learned a very valuable lesson. Never throw away your expertise. Find a way to leverage it into something that is new, exciting and valuable!
And by the way, I have thanked my friend numerous times for that very valuable advice.