Marketing lessons from a 310-million-year-old fossil.
I’ve been writing this column nearly every week since June, 2006. In fact, you can click here and read all 15 years’ worth of them. There are some awesome columns buried in that archive, wisdom and observations that have aged like fine wine. (And there are more than a few that have aged like milk.)
Over the years I’ve written about my marriage and my divorce. I’ve written about my kids, and I’ve written about Agador – the nine-pound hairball my daughter Margaret laughingly refers to as a “dog.” But this week’s column is more personal than most, and I hope my message resonates.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021 was a big day for me. It marked 20 years of sobriety. I don’t need to regale you with the gory details of my drinking. It’s a sad, familiar story, marked by a lot of wasted time, wasted energy, and hangovers so frequent that I just started calling them “mornings.”
I can promise you there would be no TMN if I hadn’t made that decision to quit. I use the word “decision” very deliberately. I had known for a couple of years before I stopped that I needed to do it. I knew that drinking was getting in the way of my career and my family, and I think I was just working up the courage to make the change.
I can’t recall now why I picked that particular day 20 years ago. I was probably just plain worn out. But I enjoyed one last binge on a Saturday night, and the next day, went to an AA meeting to publicly declare – in my own version of burning my bridges – that I was putting it all behind me.
For 20 years, I’ve succeeded in keeping that particular demon at bay. I drink NA beer and I’ve tried NA wine. But today I just think of myself as someone who doesn’t drink alcohol – and it works.
Here’s the broader lesson. I looked at my life and saw something wrong. It took me way too long to actually fix it, but I did. And now my life is better for it.
Many of you suffer from business and professional behaviors you’d love to overcome. They’re certainly not medical or genetic. They’re “process” addictions, more akin to compulsions. They don’t tap into the deeper emotions that lead to substance abuse. But you’re trapped just the same by something you’re doing, over and over, that harms your business (and by extension, you) in some way.
This time of year, too many tax pros are still spending too much of your time hunched over a computer putting numbers inboxes. Or you may be supervising staff putting the numbers in the boxes, and reviewing the numbers they put in the boxes. Is that really what you want to be doing? Or are you just doing it because . . . you’re an “addict”?
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Maybe you have a staffer you struggle with. They’re rude to clients, or just not very good at their job. You know they have to go . . . but you dread the disruption of replacing them. A bad staffer is a habit you can break, just like smoking or eating too many sweets. (And ask anyone in the TMN community who’s fired that staffer if it was the right call, and they’ll all tell you yes.)
Maybe you struggle with pricing. You know you’re not charging enough . . . but raising fees will be hard and you’re afraid of upsetting your clients. Underpricing can be an “addiction,” too. It’s a habit, built up over years and years of frustration and low self-esteem. But it’s a habit you can break, just like I quit drinking.
Maybe you struggle with procrastination or analysis paralysis. (They sound similar, but they’re too very different things). Maybe you struggle with perfectionism – you just can’t stop when good enough is good enough.
We all face challenges in our lives. In many cases, we can see them as addictions to overcome. And looking at them in that light can give us insights to strengthen our resolve.
What are you doing that isn’t working for you? In my case, easy enough, it was drinking.
How is it degrading your life? In my case, I was an absentee father, a lousy husband, and a frustrated entrepreneur who didn’t have the energy and focus necessary to succeed.
Why are you afraid of changing? In my case, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to quit – and the thin facade of denial I had built for myself would crumble and fall. (Ironic, right? I didn’t want to quit, because it would mean acknowledging that I needed to quit.)
What do you need to do to change? In my case, knowing what to do was easy – no more booze. Actually pulling the trigger was harder. But I made it, one day at a time. (It really is the secret, folks. One day at a time.)
Whose help will you need in order to make the change? This may seem tough, as most of us run our own shop. But you can enlist your spouse/partner and your family to support your decision to kick your addiction just like they would if you were quitting drinking, too. And you have us in the TMN community, all at various stages of this journey away from all those numbers in all those boxes.
Tax season is here. That makes now a great time to look at your business and ask yourself if your business is working for you – or are you just working for your business? Are you powerless over your business? Has it made your life unmanageable? If so, it’s time to treat it as an addiction and get the help you need!
The Briefs is a weekly column on marketing and business planning for tax professionals and financial advisors looking to better serve clients and grow their business.
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