Today marks the 3rd year of being married to my best friend. It’s been a great journey to this point and I’ve taken something to heart that one of my best men said to me during his speech – “I hope that this day (our wedding day) will be the day you love your wife the least. Because your love for each other should grow every day.” And it has.
But enough sappiness.
As I looked for something to write about for my blog entries this week, I kept coming back to how some of the lessons I learned in dating & marriage can certainly translate to the business world. I’ve made several (some past girlfriends may say many) mistakes in both and have come out doing pretty well for myself. So enjoy the list and hopefully you can either learn some lessons from a marriage or a business perspective.
Growing up as the son of the CEO of Young’s Dairy, I ended up dating many of the girls that worked for us. I never really thought of it as a power trip sort of thing, more of me just being the charismatic guy that I was (and still am, of course). But needless to say, they all worked out poorly.
I would befriend a co-worker, things would turn a little more serious, we’d date – I’d undoubtably do something stupid and not only would I lose a girlfriend, but I would also lose a friend. So after many disastrous experiences, I had made a pact in December of 2004 to never date another girl from work. That lasted all the way until June of 2004 when I started dating my wife.
As the old adage goes, rules are made to be broken. I’ve found that in my business life, making stringent rules can paint me into a corner. Of course, I have guidelines of how I do things for my clients. But my guidelines don’t restrict me from doing the right thing, getting a specific job done for a client or getting the job done right. Saying “I never..” is never a good way to start a sentence in business, ever.
You can ask any married (or unmarried) couple out there – communication is one of the most important features of a good relationship. Being an only child, I am used to internalizing many of my thoughts. My wife has an older sister, so she is used to being able to talk things out with someone closer to her age. I’m an only child, so I talked to my cat. One of the things I’ve had to grow the most at in our relationship is communication.
Same Goes For Business Relationships
Being up front, honest and accessible is one of the things that my clients love most about me. You can look through my testimonials and you’ll see comments that back that up. There is no reason to take more than a day to respond to an email, hide when there is a problem or back out on promises. When I started my business in 2010, all I could rely on was my word that I would do a great job. Now that I have a portfolio to back up my quality of work, I continue to back up my ability to keep my word.
When problems arise, I communicate them with my client. Sure, I could hope that things work themselves out and they would never know the difference. But when they don’t – I would look even worse in the end. I also expect the same from my clients. I invite my clients to give me input throughout the process of completing their project. I would rather them be ‘picky’ (as some of my clients have proclaimed themselves to be) than complacent and unhappy.
This was probably told to us 10+ times throughout our engagement. Mostly by older couples, oddly enough. It’s a good rule of thumb though, if one of us is mad, upset or frustrated – get it out now. Letting things fester for days only makes things worse. In our 3 years of marriage and 7 years of dating we have yet to have an ‘epic battle’. We spat from time to time, like any couple does – but we both know that if there is a problem, it needs to be settled as soon as possible.
Let’s Settle This
When I take on a client, I take them on as a partner. I am helping them succeed in their project and I would expect that they are also looking out for my business interests as well. I have a relationship with each and every one of my clients. Some are closer than others, but none are any more or less important. If there is something wrong with what I’ve done to a client – I’ll be the first to apologize and make things right. And if one of my clients feels that I’ve done less than what I’ve promised, I expect (and ask) for them to tell me right away so I can make things right. I check in with my clients often to ensure that there isn’t anything that is going unnoticed or any task undone.
Something that I get reminded about on occasion is my neglect of putting my dishes in the dishwasher right away. Since I work from home, I almost always have breakfast and lunch here, which can add up to a few dishes throughout the day. I often eat while I’m working, so my dishes don’t always get back downstairs right away when I’m done. They usually get toted down in one pile, set beside the sink and then I’m back up to work.
Now this story will resonate with you one of two different ways. One, if you are a man, you see nothing wrong with this situation – the dishes will get done later. Two, if you are a woman, you see everything wrong with this situation, put the damn dishes away now.
What Is More Important?
What your client finds important and what you find important are often two different things. That’s not to say what your client finds important isn’t important, but you have to understand their priorities to make them happy. Having a clear line of communication (see rule #1) will solve nearly any problems that you may come across in a business transaction.
It’s important not to get into a battle of whose needs are more important. The true important thing is that the job gets done right in the client’s eyes. Even if you don’t want to do the dishes now, it’s better business to go out of your way a little to make sure the client is happy.
A lesson learned from my Aunt Pat at our engagement dinner. (Video may or may not be able to be viewed here). I come from a family of people who are always right. My mom is always right, my dad is always right, and I tend to be, you guessed it, always right. This gets tricky when having a friendly discussion or a not so friendly argument.
Something that I’ve really had to work on throughout my dating and married life is two fold – not only am I not always right (I apparently rarely am) but even when I am right, it doesn’t need to be noted. The good feelings that come over you from being right are soon washed away at an upset partner.
Always a Happy Boy
Some things in business aren’t worth getting into battles over. I’d much rather just go an extra step or two and make my client happy than pull out the contract and show them that they are wrong. There has to be some flexibility in how you operate your business. And the client being happy is the perfect reason to bend over backwards from time to time. If you don’t, they’ll find someone that will. And while you’ll have the satisfaction of being right, you’ll also be giving your competition a reason to be happy.
I learned this one early on, but somehow it hasn’t fully caught on. I like things being about me – I think we all do. But when you are in a relationship, you have to put aside your selfish ways for the most part and ensure that you are providing a certain amount of care for your partner. As I mentioned earlier, I’m an only child, so I got all of the attention that there was to give around the house as a kid – I’m not used to sharing.
When I moved up to Columbus in 2007 to find a teaching position, I found an apartment in Worthington that put me in the middle of all the big school districts on the north side. My apartment was simple, but nice – I kept it clean (sort of). But when Kelly moved in the next summer – I apparently had it all wrong. It got a woman’s touch, some of my stuff got the ax and some of it was permitted to stay, so long as it wasn’t visible. I’ll give full credit to my lovely wife though – she rarely ‘puts her foot down’ on things and isn’t your typical CBS sitcom ball-breaker wife. But her move in day made me realize that this wasn’t about me, it was about us. (And in hindsight, she was right – it did need a woman’s touch)
Don’t Be Selfish
Something I preach to my clients when we are developing their websites is the rule of “I”. If you have ‘I’ or ‘we’ on your home page more than ‘you’ – we need to rewrite your content. For the most part, you don’t go to a website to learn about the history of a company or where the CEO went to high school – you want to know (and quickly) what they can do for you. You must be customer/client-centric when developing your marketing message. Whether that be in a website, social media campaign or a brochure.
Same goes for business practices in general. When you sit down with a potential client or meet someone at a networking event, you need to be more interested in what they have to say than giving your sales pitch. Knowing more about your potential client’s needs will help you sell your services down the road. Plus, no one likes to be pitched by a stranger. Getting to know someone a bit will make it easier when you take the conversation in to sell-mode.
I’m still learning how to be a good husband and a good business owner. Lessons are learned every day on both fronts. What things in your day to day life do you apply to both?