Don't sell the conference room table

5 Min READ

In my most recent post, I wrote "It's time to expand." Some people won't be able to relate to this statement so easily, so I'd like to expand on it further in this article. You see, I feel convinced that it's possible to not only survive in this economy, but to thrive in this economy. However, it means you have to resist the urge to contract.

Years ago, when I was writing my business plan to launch Fortuitas, I read several inspirational books. One of them was "Million Dollar Consulting" by Alan Weiss. There was one chapter where he wrote about dealing with periods of economic uncertainty. I can't quote the book verbatim because it's sitting on a shelf in my office, and like many of you I am working from home these days. However, I recall him saying "Don't sell the conference room table." 

Mr. Weiss was providing context about what you should do if you only had $100 left in your bank account. Selling the conference room table was basically saying that you had given up, and you needed the proceeds of the sale of your conference table to survive. Well, before long the money from the conference room table would be gone, and so would your business.

He suggested putting your last $100 into marketing. Why? Because that $100 in marketing could bring you some new business.

Now keep in mind that I read this book many years ago, and $100 today wouldn't buy you very much marketing. Okay, add a zero to that number and make it $1000. I don't know about you, but I could do some pretty creative marketing right now with $1000.

I actually experienced a real life "Alan Weiss" example back in 2014. If you recall, the economy was pretty good at that time. However, Fortuitas had a difficult year. Why?

Answer: It wasn't the economy. It was me. I had gotten very comfortable after a couple of really good years of business growth. I thought I could just cruise and everything would be fine. I was wrong.

Having already been through tough times before, particularly when I first started Fortuitas, I didn't think I had the strength to endure another financial crisis. I sat down with a very good friend who was successful beyond most people's wildest dreams. When I say successful, I mean much more than just money. Yes, he had a lot money, but he also had a great deal of wisdom, happiness and joy in his life--something he had even when he was struggling financially.

So we discussed my options. I could borrow money. That seemed like a horrible idea because I was already in debt. He told me, "Debt will freeze you." What he meant was that my debt would prevent me from doing anything about my situation. I was contracting as a result of my debt.

He also said that sometimes you have to take on debt. He was not contradicting himself, he was simply helping me look at both sides. If I was willing to use debt as a way to get back on my feet and expand my business, then that would be a great way to use debt.

He told me I could go look for a job. Then he paused, looked me straight in the eye and said, "I don't think you would be very happy doing that." He was right about that, because as the saying goes, "It takes one to know one."

Then he suggested I could sell to one of my competitors. There was already some interest from a couple of my competitors as well as some other larger agencies, business brokers, investment bankers etc. He asked me what I thought the value of my company was, so I started throwing some numbers at him.

At that point, he stopped me and told me he wasn't talking about numbers. He asked me what was the value of my company, meaning "What value did my company have to offer?" I thought about his question for a moment, and asked him what he meant, to which he replied, "It's not the furniture."

Wow. There's that furniture thing again.

At that point, my friend helped me realize that I was the value of the company. That was a good thing, and a not so good thing. It was a good thing because he made me see how valuable I was. It was a not so good thing because he made me see that I had failed to make the company valuable beyond just me. 

Out of all the options that I examined with the help of my friend, I decided to pursue the idea of selling the business. After speaking with some of my competitors, who shared their growth strategy with me, their acquisition strategy, where I and others on my team would fit into their company etc. etc., I came to a realization.

They were no better than I was, they were just further along on their journey. If they could grow their business to the point where they could afford to buy my company, then I could do the same.

What did I do? Well, I didn't sell the conference room table. I pulled myself up from my bootstraps and I invested in marketing.

The business recovered. It took another year before things started growing again. That same friend once told me that he built his business one brick at a time, and it wasn't a straight line. I finally knew from my own personal experience what he meant by that.

So here we are in 2020. The economy is terrible, and Fortuitas is still in business. I am grateful that we are here to serve our clients, and I am proud of the great work our team has accomplished. I can also say that the value of Fortuitas is not the furniture, nor is it just me.

As I mentioned in my last article, "I have a newfound excitement and focus, coming up with creative campaigns and new directions." These were not just words. We have literally "doubled down" on marketing, and we're having a lot of fun doing it. I've learned that when I have fun, it attracts good things to me. My sincere wish is that it attracts good things to all of you as well.

So if you are feeling sad and depressed, desperate and scared--remind yourself of your value, your company's value and don't, don't, don't sell the conference room table. Take that last bit of money that you have left, even if it's the bank's money and find new, creative ways to reach people with your marketing. The business world is looking for someone like you to solve their problem, especially now. Tell them what you do, what you offer, what you sell, or whatever else it is that can provide value to them. Then provide it to them.

Do you have the courage to swim against the tides? Do you have the strength to expand while most everyone else is contracting? That's what it means to be a risk taker. That's what it means to be an entrepreneur. Even if you don't own a company, you can be entrepreneurial and you can take risks.

As I consider all that I have just written here, one thing is clear. I am speaking as much to myself as I am to all of you. I wish you much success with your business.

Until next time...



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