Doing Business Like a Nine Year Old

I was chatting with a client the other day. He was recounting a conversation with his nine-year old son, who asked him what Daddy did at work all day.

The kid replied, you talk with your friends on the phone.

At first I thought, that’s so nine-year-old-cute.

Then I thought, what if doing business was really like that just chatting with friends.

It made me think of something someone once told me.

They claimed it was a Japanese proverb, although I have my doubts.

Research leads me to conclude, it's more likely they were embellishing to add a little provenance.

Which is disappointing because it deserves to be a Japanese proverb.

Whatever the provenance it says: if you can’t do business on a handshake you shouldn’t do business at all.

Meaning if someone is honest their word is all you need.

And if they’re dishonest a 50 page contract won’t be enough to save you.

There's something to it.

I once had a contract and a lawyer, and still ended up settling for 20 cents on the dollar when the client had financial difficulties.

Another time I managed a challenging year-long project on the strength of a five-line email and every thing ran smoothly.

Then how do you do business like friends, or more like friends?

There are undoubtedly many definitions of friendship although honesty, transparency and kindness are probably prerequisites.

Perhaps not words that immediately spring to mind in a business context.

Which despite the much hyped win/win paradigm, many people still approach like a zero-sum game.

Maybe we need more nine-year-olds in the boardroom.

Or maybe we just need to think more like nine-year-olds.

Not Every Business Needs a Brand

Mario the Tiler doesn’t have a logo. I’m not sure he even has a business card.

And I know he doesn’t have a website.

He doesn’t need one.

Everyone in the hood knows if you want decent tiling at a fair price you call Mario.

His phone never stops.

Call him and he'll come round in his beat-up van and give you an estimate.

It’s a straight-forward value proposition.

The work is good not great.

But good tiling is good enough for most people.

The price is modest not cheap.

So you get a deal and you don’t hate looking at it.

And Mario works fast so it works for him.

If you’re an architect or a perfectionist, you might want to use someone else.

Mario won’t mind.

He’ll be busy tiling, he’s good at it.

He’s even better at getting customers and keeping them.

In contrast to Mario and his van, Honest Ed's takes up a whole block.

Ed's as everyone calls it is a Toronto landmark.

In business for over 60 years, it was a big box store before there were big box stores.

At around 160,000 square feet it still is.

It sells everything and anything it can buy, and then sell, cheap.

Ed’s is a refreshingly random shopping experience.

Want a DVD for 88¢ how about Abbott & Costello or vintage TV series Dragnet?

No, how about an 88¢ baseball hat?

Sometimes when I'm stuck on a brief, I’ll stroll round Ed's incredible retail smorgasbord and free associate.

Pooch shampoo, sardines, kitsch religious artwork, clothespins, BBQs, cleaning supplies, hey I need cleaning stuff!

Ed’s doesn’t do branding, so much as anti-branding via cheesy hand painted signs that tell it like it is.

Everyone likes Ed’s.

They keep you coming back.

In contrast to Ed’s prime real estate,  Casa Rosa is a garish pink motel tucked behind the bus station, in the Mexican resort town of Tulum.

It lacks curb appeal, and if you just arrived, you would probably walk past it.

I certainly would have, if a hotel owner in Valladolid hadn’t recommended it.

That was my good fortune, because Casa Rosa is an excellent budget hotel.

Less than forty bucks gets you a spotless room with a king size bed, air-conditioning and TV.

It may lack a bit of charm, but the same amenities on the beach would cost you at least three times as much.

The word is out and not surprisingly Rosa’s gets busier every time I stay there.

I love brands, but not every business needs a brand.

Every brand, on the other hand, needs a business.

Which means getting customers and keeping them.

Not quite as sexy as selling your 2-year-old start-up for a billion dollars.

But the first step in doing an "Instagram" is getting and keeping customers.