Why you should reject great advice.

When I set out to launch my own business I had no idea what I was doing. So I talked to a lot of successful entrepreneurs. I wanted to learn as much as I could about how to launch and run a company. I was looking for the standard tips and tricks. What I quickly discovered was that there are no standard anythings. Everyone I talked to had their own recipe for success. Or what I call a successipe. Which is a mashup of success and recipe. Admittedly, successipe works better as a spoken word than as a written word. But I have no editor deleting this. So it stays.

Don’t Reinvent The Wheel

When you are learning a new skill or craft, is is a great idea to talk to people who have already done what you are attempting to do. Ask questions. Listen. Observe. Borrow or steal proven plays from someone else’s playbook. It’s how we capitalize on other people’s experiences and mistakes. Which allows you to grow faster than bumbling and fumbling alone. #peeweeherman

A Memorable Encounter

As I prepared to launch my own advertising agency I met with a very successful entrepreneur. I was extremely excited to learn from him, because I greatly admired him as both a friend and a businessman. Over the course of our conversation I remember 3 pieces of good advice he gave me:

  1. Do NOT name your company The Weaponry.
  2. Perfect your elevator pitch.
  3. Focus on your Pro Forma.

This was a trifecta of good advice. All 3 points were grounded in decades of experience. But none of this advice fit with my world view. Or my approach to business. Or my appetite for risk. So I didn’t take any of it.

The Name

I love the name The Weaponry. I love that it sounds strong and provocative. I love that it elicits questions. If you want a great conversation starter tell people you work at The Weaponry. When people ask about our name, and people always ask, I have a great answer that always wins people over. I’ve written about our name in the post: What In The World Does The Weaponry Do?.

I am not trying to play it safe, or avoid a raised eyebrow. In fact, I like a good raised eyebrow. I’ve been getting them my whole life. Today, 3 years into my entrepreneurial journey, I can tell you that The Weaponry’s name has been a powerful weapon for our business.

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Just one of the reasons we love our name.

The Elevator Pitch

I hate the term elevator pitch. I have never once found myself on an elevator with a couple of floors to pitch for my one and only chance to woo a client. It’s a bullshit term that assumes we have one specific offering for our customers. That is not how The Weaponry rolls. And I knew that from the very start.

My sales pitch is not a sales pitch. It is a conversation. It focuses on unmet needs. If you don’t have any unmet needs my elevator pitch is not going to work anyway. And if a potential client ever tells me I have :30 seconds to sell myself or she will bang a gong (#PowerStation), I know we are probably not right for each other. I have written about my disdain for such nonsense in This is where I encourage you to pitch your elevator pitch.

closed yellow elevator door
I have no idea who is pitching and winning business in an elevator, but it’s not me. Maybe it’s Steven Tyler. 

The Pro Forma

Pro forma refers to a method of calculating projected financial results using certain presumptions and projections. It’s a very finance-centric approach that simply isn’t how I process the world. In fact, in these early years of rapid growth creating a pro forma feels like fiction writing.

In our first year, The Weaponry started with no clients. So our projections would have been $0 in revenue. Then, we started acquiring clients, but we had no retainers or contracts guaranteeing how much the clients would ultimately spend. So what could I project? Totally made up numbers? In years 2 and 3 The Weaponry doubled in business. I could neither predict nor plan on that type of growth either. What to do?

The Kite Flying Method

What I use instead of a pro forma is what I call the Kite Flying Method. When you fly a kite, your goal is to get the kite as high in the sky as possible. This is a matter of wind and string. To fly the kite higher and higher you let out string, little by little, based on what your wind will keep aloft. You can’t plan your kite height ahead of time. You have to react to the conditions, in the moment, based on the wind you have to work with.

asian children bridge children clouds
Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height.

To do this right I always play it conservatively. I let out less string than the wind would support. This keeps tension on the string and keeps the kite in the air. You also have to know the difference between sustained wind and a short term gust.

All of this is to say that we invest only what our revenue allows. When revenue increases, we can spend more. We have a wish list of positions we would like to hire and resources we would like to have. But we only hire or buy what we can clearly cover today. I have also written about this in a post called If you want to be an entrepreneur start by flying a kite.

Key Takeaway

There are a broad range of ways to be successful. Don’t let anyone make you think there is only one approach. You have to find what works for you, and your unique set of beliefs. It is great to have a Mastermind Group to turn to. It is wonderful to study others who have done or are doing what you aspire to do. But you don’t have to emulate them. In fact, you can do just the opposite if it feels right to you. Study, learn and listen. Incorporate the things you like. Or invent your own approach. There is no right way. Be your own boss. Be true to yourself. And do it your way.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

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This is where I encourage you to pitch your elevator pitch.

In 2015 I decided to launch a new advertising agency. I already had a vivid image of the agency in my head. So I began mapping, sketching and listing every detail of the company. I considered the business from every angle. I even created a Life Stage chart of the yet unborn business. It was like What to Expect When You Are Expecting. Except I was expecting a bouncing baby business.

The Elevator Pitch 

However, there was one detail that start-ups typically obsess over that I skipped entirely: the Elevator Pitch. It is supposed to be the centerpiece of a startup’s marketing efforts. If you’ve never heard of an elevator pitch, the idea is that you have to summarize the essence of who you are, and what you do, in a short statement that you could deliver to a captive hostage on a brief elevator ride. Apparently, lots of entrepreneurs stalk high-powered executives on elevators, thinking it would be a great strategy for winning their affection.

I’m not buying it.

I hate the whole concept of the elevator pitch. I think it is the most overrated, over-discussed element of salesmanship. And entrepreneurship. And elevatorship.

Sure, it is important to be able to succinctly talk about your business. Your Great Aunt Petunia doesn’t have enough time left on Earth to waste it on your full story. But I have never bought anything or hired anyone because of a brief discussion I had on an elevator, escalator or Wonk-avator.

In fact, I have been in business for two years. And not once have I found myself in an elevator with someone who told me I had 10 floors of verticality to perform the sales pitch of a lifetime.

My Approach

Instead of scripting and performing an elevator monologue to an audience that never shows up, which feels a little like writing an acceptance speech for an award you didn’t win, I take the opposite approach.

The Quiet Game

I play the quiet game. You know, it’s that game where you see how long you can go without talking. I was terrible at the Quiet Game as a child. Scratch that. I was the Cleveland Browns of The Quiet Game. But today, as an entrepreneur, I am quite good at it. When I meet a marketer, I don’t whip out a polished sales pitch and throw it at her. Instead, I listen.

I want to hear what potential clients talk about. I want to hear what challenges they are facing. I want to know where their pain points are. I want to identify their greatest unmet needs. I continue to grow and transform The Weaponry in response to the unmet needs of our clients. Because we are focused on solving client problems, we grow in the direction that our clients’ needs dictate.

Key Takeaway

If you want to collect more great clients and grow your business, don’t practice your elevator pitch. Practice listening. Play detective. Or doctor. Listen for the discomfort, the bottlenecks, and the solution-less problems your clients and potential clients are facing.  Discover their unmet needs. And you’ll have found your next opportunity.

*If you found anything of value in this post, please consider subscribing to this blog. You’ll receive two fresh-baked posts via email each week. Oh, and you may also dig this post I wrote about My Vanilla Ice Philosophy. Vanilla Ice himself liked it. And Tweeted it. And hung it above his bed (ok, that very last part might not be true).