In your career you will have the opportunity to work with a broad range of clients. Some will help you make a lot of money. Some will help you make a little money. Some will help you grow old friendships. Some will help you make new friendships. Some will be strictly business. And some will be a party. Some will enable you to do great work. Some will help you make a difference. Some will build your confidence. Some will test your limits. Some will cost you money. Some you will love. And some, you will wish you never met. But if you pay attention, they will all help you grow smarter, stronger and more capable. So on the toughest days with the toughest clients, and the best days with the best clients, don’t forget to learn.
I am trying to become a better businessman. As Founder of the advertising agency The Weaponry, I look for any advantages, advice and examples I can get. To help my cause I regularly read books, blogs and magazines. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I meet with other business Founders, CEOs and CFOs. But lately I’ve been studying the tricks and techniques of a profession where many of the industry’s best never went to college. Of course I am talking about hairdressers. (I say ‘of course’ because it’s in the title of the post).
Hair and Me
Since I was a teenager I believed I would go bald. I wasn’t afraid of it. I just believed it would happen based on the extensive foreheads of my forefathers. For 15 years I prepared for the inevitable by shaving my head each year from March until September. Then a funny thing happened. When I turned 35 my doctor told me my hair wasn’t going anywhere. After my ‘Whatchutalkinbout Willis?’ reaction, I celebrated by letting my hair grow for an entire year. (I really know how to party, right?) At the end of that year I had to clean up my new mop. It was then that I met Angie.
Angie Eger in Columbus, Ohio is an amazing hair-ess. She cut and styled my hair well. She was really fun to be around. But she also had tough conversations with me. Everything she suggested, that I initially resisted, I eventually did. She was right about everything from long layers, to leave-in conditioner, to eyebrow taming. As I studied Angie’s approach, I recognized that our businesses are a lot alike (aside from the ear trimming). And I started using a hairdresser’s model for service with my business.
5 things great hairdressers and barbers do that you can apply to your career.
1. They listen well.
This is an essential skill in the hair game. You must listen to what your client or customer is looking for. Once you start cutting hair it is really hard to glue it back together. Make sure you are clear on the objectives and the vision up front. At Red’s Classic Barbershop in Indianapolis and Nashville, they take notes on each customer. This helps them accumulate knowledge about individual preferences, products, clippers, shave notes, and general do’s and don’ts.
Any profession can do this with their clients. Do you?
2. They always offer their professional advice.
Hair is too important to get wrong. So when the customer makes a clearly flawed request, the hairdresser must explain the downside to the ask. Or the upside to other options. Unlike missteps in many other industries, you can’t quickly recover from a bad haircut. Alexandra ‘Red’ Ridgway of Red’s says,
“The customer is not always right or reasonable, and they need to know that we have a vested interest in making them look their best.”
Do you have the fortitude to tell your clients they have asked for a mullet, and that it is no longer 1989?
3. They make you look and feel more attractive. This is the whole point of the profession. To make you look and feel great. Advertising and marketing works exactly the same way. At The Weaponry our mission is to make our clients more attractive to their most important audience. If they don’t look good, we don’t look good. Vidal Sassoon taught me that. Your happy customer is the best marketer of your work.
4. They are trustworthy. When you get your hair cut you put your self-image in the hands of another person. This can be very scary. Alexandra said,
“The sense of self related to image is precious and requires great trust. The major transformations that happen when people shave their beards, cut off a ponytail or dreadlocks are very personal. The trust involved in helping a customer through those transitions is huge.’
Do your clients have a metaphorical beard, ponytail or dreadlocks? If so, the necessary changes they must make to cut them off can be very personal. Not any old hairdresser will do.
5. You enjoy spending time with them. Above all else, I looked forward to seeing Angie. Getting my haircut with her was fun. We talked. We laughed. We developed a great relationship. This is a what separates the pros from the amateurs. You can get all of the other points right and still starve if you don’t nail this. It’s a simple fact that getting your haircut is an intimate act. The hair professional washes your hair. Touches your hair, your ears, your neck. And maybe the top of your toes (we all have issues). If you don’t have great interpersonal skills this becomes a super awkward interaction. If you have great skills in this arena you will book all the hours you are willing to work.
I will continue to encourage the team at The Weaponry to study great advertising minds like David Ogilvy, and great marketers like Richard Branson. But they will also learn lessons from Angie Eger and other great hair people. If your hair professional does something great that others could learn from, let me know in the comment section. If you are a hair professional I would love to hear from you too. If you are Angie Eger, I would love for you to set up shop in my new hometown. Because my hairdo is overdue for a redo.
Marriage is one of life’s greatest adventures. You can never be too prepared for it. Half of marriages end in I don’t. A healthy percentage of the other half aren’t any healthier. So on my wedding day I wanted to cram in one last bit of preparation. I scheduled breakfast with my three marriage mentors, my dad and my two grandfathers (who would all laugh me off the family tree for calling them my marriage mentors). At the time my parents had been married 32 years. My grandparents had been hitched 61 and 63 years.
After we sat down at Emma Krumbies in Wausau, Wisconsin and worked through some Northwoods pancakes and sausage I decided it was time for the knowledge share. I asked The Paternity, ‘What is the key to making a marriage great?’ With 156 years of experience at the table I felt like I just lit the fuse on a 4th of July fireworks grand finale. This was going to be an amazing show. So I sat back to take it all in.
Then my maternal grandfather, Kenny Sprau, crossed his arms, leaned back in his chair and said,
‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’
Um… WTF Grampy? 61 years of trial and error, nine kids and a World War, and that’s all you’ve got? I wanted to give him a mulligan and see if he could hit it past the women’s tee this time. But he went on. ‘You have to keep doing the things that got you to this point.’
Over time I’ve come to understand what Grampy was saying. When we are dating we are at our best. The unfortunate tendency is to drop the hard work, the energy, the attention, and charm we put into the relationship after the contract is signed.
This advice holds true in business as well as marriage. Treat your potential partners well. Act as if you would like nothing more than spending the rest of your time together. Listen. Make them laugh. Show them you are interesting, kind and thoughtful. Get the contract signed. And then keep doing what you’ve been doing.
If you are a creative it is easy to get precious about the work you do. It’s easy to throw hissy fits (although the best place to grab the hissy to throw it is hard to determine). It’s easy to be combative. Oh, and it’s easy to go out of business. The statistics aren’t good.
But in business, as in marriage, listening and collaborating are valuable approaches to your growth strategy. Clients and spouses alike really like that stuff. Crazy right? When you respond favorably to a client’s request they generate something called ‘good feelings’ about you. And these ‘good feelings’ make them want to see you more and work with you more. And the result is business growth.
The opposite is also true. If you are the all-time best seller at The Jerk Store no one wants to be around you. This is true of both the individual and the organization.
If you recognize complacency, apathy or combativeness between your organization and your clients stamp that out like a flaming bag of dog poo on your front porch. The behavior may feel justified today. But you’ll regret the justice leveled tomorrow when you’re trading the offspring in the McDonald’s parking lot.
At the Perfect Agency Project our goal is to treat our current business like new business. We never want to take them for granted. We are trying to re-win them every day. Even after we put a ring on it. Thanks for the wise advice Grampy. Me and Grammy miss you.
There was a time when side hustles were frowned upon in America. And I’m not talking about the Post-Disco era. Having a second gig was discouraged because employers didn’t want anyone else owning any of their employees’ cranial space. Including the employees themselves. This is ignorant. Quite to the contrary, (delivered in my best British accent) I wish everyone at my adverting agency had a side hustle.
Throughout my career many of my team members have had interesting micro-businesses. I’ve had coworkers who created and sold posters and prints, invitations and greeting cards, cupcakes and macaroons. They’ve been DJs, authors, children’s book illustrators and whiskey makers (although not necessarily in that order). Given the innovative and interesting cast of characters I’ve worked with I expect there are plenty of other business exploits I know nothing about.
I have had a small side business for the past 10 years. I make t-shirts under the brand Adam & Sleeve. AdamandSleeve.com. In 2006 I had an idea for a t-shirt that I really wanted. So I made a few. Other people requested them. And I realized that if I made enough to sell, I would get the t-shirts I wanted for myself for free. I’ve learned about sourcing, quality control, vendor relations, production, distribution, finance and customer service. Even better, I really enjoy it.
But a funny thing happens when you create your own business, even a micro-business, like selling micros. You develop a deeper and fuller understanding of all of the elements of business that your clients face. You better understand the contraints of time, money and resources. You understand the risks. You understand why they want their logo bigger.
Too often we only see a small sliver of what our clients are facing. Like the four blind men who are trying to describe an elephant based on the part they are touching. So we can’t understand why our clients don’t just upgrade all their gadgets and gizmos, or hire someone more savvy than my Grammy to handle their social media, or fly us all to Tahiti to research how far away it is.
Once you walk a mile in someone else’s cash register you can understand their reluctance to spend money. Once you have received a letter from an attorney you think twice about claiming you serve the world’s best cup of coffee. And once you realize how hard it is to hire and retain good help you understand why the client didn’t just fire that lump of a salesman who landed in the marketing department.
So don’t be too quick to discourage your people from creating their own side business. It can be energizing, insightful and rewarding. It will help them develop empathy, which is one of the most important advertising skills. And properly managed it will pay dividends for them, for you and most importantly for your clients. Oh, and if there are any extra dividends left over please send them my way. I have another business idea to fund.