Tag: work

Business and money

This is business. We make a thing, and we sell it at a profit. The money we make enables us to continue to create something that people want, and to support our customers as they use our product.

Rachel Andrew on ‘the Business of Web Dev: The Local Shops of the Web’ from A List Apart

The other day I was speaking to my boss about the reasons for being in business.

At the very basic level, a person is in business because he or she can provide a product or service to society that proves valuable to that society to the point that other members of that society are willing to trade their own services or products for what the first person can offer.

This is not about making money. This is about survival. We seem to have forgotten that.

Money, however, is how we measure value in our society. So we try to make as much of it as we can to prove our value.

But sometimes we cheat.

Remember when the teacher at school used to say “if you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself”? You thought that was bullshit, but it’s not.

When you’re cheating at business you’re pretty much pretending that your value is higher than it is. At some point people are going to realise that they've been duped and your value will drop to even lower than before.

If you want to not cheat, you have to work out how you can best be valued. That part is difficult because it takes honesty, time and humility.

A problem I’ve had with people building businesses just to flip them is that it implies that they are not committed to the product they’re making.

Where I work, we create things to improve other businesses. We help people achieve their real value. Those people show us their appreciation of our value by giving us money and we use that to show the value of employees and help improve our own business.

We’re not in business to make money. We make money to stay in business.

Professionally ticked off

Two people checking their todo lists

Here's the thing about being in business: you never want to look unprofessional. If you don't think you're in business, look around you. Do you have a job? You're in business. Does someone give you money in exchange for goods and services? You're in business.

There is a level of service expected in business and it is called "professionalism". If you are looking unprofessional, you present the opposite of the level of service expected.

One of the ways I get around this problem is with a todo list. You know those moments when you're working and you think: "I'll just check Facebook or Twitter,"? Those are moments when your mind is wandering and wants something else to do. Chances are you have something else to do. If you aim to be professional, you bloody better have something else to do.

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Little Bo-Peep

A while ago I asked my personal trainer (PT) if I should ask my friend to get in touch. We trained together a couple of times and my friend had very quickly fallen off the self-improvement wagon. PT told me not to. The theory being that if he wants to become fitter my friend will take the steps required and contact PT himself.

If there is any sense that PT is chasing my friend the dynamic of professional service provider and client shifts. No longer a professional relationship, PT is doing my friend a favour by checking up on him. The relationship is then dependant on a whole different set of emotions. Instead of my friend wanting to improve, and PT is in the improvement business, it becomes a game of guilt. My friend feels guilty because he hasn't sought his own improvement and that becomes his soul motivation for turning up to training.

That scenario reminds me of dentists and mechanics. How often have we put off going to the dentist or the mechanic because we haven't taken care of our teeth or cars in the way they told us to? How many times have you had your dentist tut-tut or actually scold you while in the chair. They might think they're doing it in a friendly way and they're definitely doing it with your best interests in mind, but that tiny action infantalises rather than empowering.

Guilt does not lead to responsibility. Responsibility comes from a desire for self-control and self-improvement. As such we can't be responsible for other people. When they want the help they'll seek it. If they are only doing damage to themselves there is nothing we can do to protect them.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently because I find myself in a similar position. One of the things I do is help people improve their work/life balance and achieve their goals by helping them understand what's important and then look at what tools they have at their disposal to help achieve those goals.

In work like this, I sometimes receive partial payment up-front. I put in a lot of introductory work and research to tailor sessions for particular clients and I've found that they aren't always willing to put in their own work. If I don't get some payment up-front I end up losing out on the deal.

The desire to chase clients, to encourage them to do their homework and contact me to organise a session is strong. It feels like bad customer service to just ignore them until they get in touch. After all, I'm holding onto their money.

Chasing them is not going to help them improve themselves. Efficient work practices and personal fitness are both about taking responsibility for one's actions. There are penalties we face for not taking that responsibility: bad work/life balance; poor health; increased ongoing car costs; loss of teeth.

Providing a professional service is not doing someone a favour. It is maintaining a business relationship with remuneration for work. The money has been paid up to a point and the services should stop at that point. If there is more take than give in any direction, one party is being screwed and nobody wants to be in that situation.