Hey, so I had some scheduling mixups with a couple recordings, and I didn’t get anything recorded with a guest, so it’s just me this time, with Five New Year’s Insights for Maine Entrepreneurs. Some of you may know that I cofounded a company called CorrectDeck, which reached 30MM in sales and 75 employees, so I learned a lot of this stuff then, or also as part of being acquired later, working for a big national company (a large roofing company called GAF).
- The trade show starts when you get to the airport. When you’re at the gate and you’re heading to the big trade show, odds are pretty good that someone else on that plane is going to that same show, and they could be a customer. I met one of my best prospects at the gate in Philadelphia for a flight to New Orleans – we just started chatting. He was the president of a large company and I would never have gotten to him at the show, when he would have his guard up. We keep in touch to this day. I’ve met people on the airport shuttle too. If it’s a big show, odds are half the people you see are going there. Once they’re on the show floor with their name badge on, they’re much less likely to make a true connection with you.
- Be authentic. I’m in green building and sustainability. I have a passion for it and really try to live it, driving an eco-friendly car and adding all kinds of energy efficiency measures to my house, recycling, carpooling, etc. It’s a field where you really should walk the talk, and I’m known for that, but I screw up once in a while. Once on a connecting flight to a trade show, I saw an influential reporter I know getting after me, and she sat up front. I expected to see her when I got off the plane, but she wasn’t there, so after the long day, I skipped over the more eco-friendly hotel shuttle and just grabbed a taxi. I saw Katie later at the show, and she said, “I waited for you on the shuttle – I figured you’d be there”. Busted.
- Hire for character, not for skills. You can teach skills, but you need someone who will show up during a snowstorm, figurative or literal. At the same time, be wary of people who have too much passion for your company and have no life outside it – they can be likely to think they are extensions of you, the owner, start trying to guess what decisions you would make, and cause problems with your other employees. (That kind of person should find something outside of work to pour their excess energy into – maybe you can help with that.)
- This one is from Ken Priest at Kenway: in an absence of information, people always assume the worst. For example, if someone asks you to do something, and you get right to work on it but don’t tell them, they’ll probably figure you’re not working on it. If you’re the boss, it’s even worse. You need to overcommunicate. It can seem odd, but you need to keep saying the same thing over and over. You can figure on you need to say it 7 times in some kind of public way for it to be heard. If you hear it come back around to you, then you know you’ve succeeded.
- Maine branding is free. Use it, build it, uphold it. Generations of hardworking, practical, no-BS Mainers before you have earned this for your company. It works everywhere – for aeronautics, food, and medical, for payment systems, you name it. Imagine if your company was in New Jersey – what perception would your customers have of you out of the gate? (Maybe that you were secretly operating a chemical waste dump, and that was really how you made your money.) So you know know that your customers expect this Maine authenticity, steadfastness and ingenuity of you, and live up to it. Of course, this can be a knock, too – your customers, and even you yourself, might perceive that your company will remain small and unlikely to be a national player. But you can sneak up on them.
- Lastly, if they lob you a softball, hit it out of the park. Maybe you’re on the radio or on TV. You’re expecting a tough question. Instead, they ask, why is your product so great. Well, bring it. Don’t hold back. Also, if you’re given a hard question, don’t be afraid to pause or repeat the question. It gives you time to think and formulate a good response.
That’s it! Write to me on the facebook page if you are interested in doing something with the show. The next episode will be some excerpts from the recent Envision Maine conference, including a presentation by David Shaw, founder of Idexx, who just doesn’t give a damn about the traditional rules of giving a talk at a conference, so it’s going to make a great episode. Next up after that, I’ve got a full recording of last years $30,000 Launchpad pitch contest, which is two hours worth of kickass pitches that I’m currently editing down, just in time for the opening of this year’s contest. If you’re getting ready for that, be sure to subscribe so you can kind of get into the do’s and don’ts of pitching as you see it.
And is so often the case for people who give advice, I am about to give you the advice that I really need, which is: don’t be afraid to be awesome!