4 Business Lessons in 40 Years

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Guest Post By Daniel Freedman

I must be a slow learner.

That was my thought near the end of Jonathan Goodman’s Strong Pro Summit in May, 2017. First, Mark Fisher dropped knowledge bombs (along with unicorns and rainbows) in a presentation called Five Lessons in Five Years. Then Eric Cressey hit it out of the park with a presentation called Ten Lessons in Ten Years.

And all I could think was: “Jeez, what’s wrong with me? I’ve been doing this business stuff for 40 years. And all I’ve learned is four lessons.”

Business Lesson

The lessons are:

– Stay Humble
– Integrity Trumps Everything
– You Have To Work Hard
– Shut The Fuck Up!

And that’s despite the fact I spent years as a media, nonprofit, and business executive. I wore a suit to work every day. I had fancy titles and fancy offices with fancy furniture. I even had secretaries. (Yes, they were called secretaries back then. I’m that old.)

At one point, I had two Rhodes scholars reporting to me. Not bad for a guy who never finished high school. I’ve had a hand in the success of such fitness brands as CrossFit, Precision Nutrition, and The Personal Trainer Development Center. If you’re a glutton for punishment, here is my Linkedin page. But enough with the #notsohumblebrag, especially in view of Lesson #1.

Lesson #1: Stay Humble

Having given the matter much thoughtful consideration, I long ago concluded I’m an extremely interesting person with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to impart to the world.  Oddly, this hasn’t always been well received.

It took me much too long to realize that a little humility goes a long way.

Business Lesson Case in point: what happened when I participated in an all-too-convincing simulation of Navy SEAL Hell Week.

My teammates would not have been the slightest bit interested in the millions of dollars I’d helped charities raise or in my journalism awards, had I been foolish enough to mention them. They also didn’t care that I was old enough to be their father and was used to bossing people around.

They just wanted to know if I could carry my weight under the log.

In other words, respect must be earned.

Most people care less about your credentials and track record than how you can help them solve their problems. (In this case: not finishing last in the log PT event and getting the whole team punished.)

So don’t take yourself too seriously. The best piece of career advice I ever got came from a mentor early in my career as a TV news executive.

“Dan, you’ve got a great sense of humor. But you should show it more at work. Relax and laugh. And let people see you laughing.”

A corollary is the old showbiz saying: “The bigger they are, the nicer they are.” I’ve found this to be generally true in fields as diverse as entertainment, science, philanthropy, and fitness.

Finally, never stop learning. I once attended a writing seminar Nate Green gave for Precision Nutrition staff. He was around 25 at the time. There were several people in the audience who had published books and/or earned Ph.D.s. They all took copious notes and thanked Nate for teaching them so much.

The most important thing I learned from Dr. John Berardi during my time at Precision Nutrition was:

Take the high road. Never speak ill of another fitness professional.

Lesson #2: Integrity Trumps Everything

If you’re not a bank robber, don’t walk into a bank wearing a wig and mask.

If you’re not a racist, don’t use the language and arguments of racists.

And if you’re not a marketing sleazebag, don’t act like one. Any short-term gains you make will be outweighed by the damage done to your reputation.

Play the long game.

Never cut ethical corners. Think long and hard about peddling dubious supplements — or any supplements at all. Consider how it will affect the trust you have earned from clients.

Remember there is no such thing as a “legit” Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) scheme. All of them will harm you. Avoid them like the plague.

Who could disagree with any of this, in principle? But,  in practice, my email box overflows with offers from hucksters promising to teach me “sneaky tricks.” Umm, why would I want to use sneaky tricks? They are unethical and are no basis for building a business. In addition to being immoral, they will most likely hurt my business, not help it.

There’s nothing worse than aiming low — and missing.

What exactly is the hucksters’ value proposition? Are they claiming to be vampires who will bite you and turn you into a vampire, too? Why should you find that an appealing prospect? In the extremely unlikely event you get rich, you’ll still be a vampire. And we all know what happens to vampires in the end.

On a somewhat related note, what’s up with the term “ethical bribe?” There is no such thing. By definition, bribes are unethical. They seek to corrupt by providing something of value in exchange for something unearned. If we are speaking a lead magnet, we are speaking of the precise opposite. Something of value (content) is being exchanged for something else of value (an email name.) The transaction is based on trust, not corruption and bribery.

Business LessonWhat all the above ethically dubious schemes have in common is the perverse celebration of deceit and sleaze.

Is that really you? I didn’t think so.

“To thine own self be true.” So you really can’t make up testimonials or make exaggerated claims. There was actually a fitness marketing agency called “The Super-Villain Group.” It seems to be out of business. I wonder why.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of enticing headlines and hooking in the audience. Hell, my media career was more or less based on being better at this than most people.

But there are certain lines that must never be crossed.

Don’t make shit up. You really can’t fabricate quotes and testimonials. Period. It’s just as bad as faking before and after photos with photoshop.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Don’t do anything you would be uncomfortable defending when your email is hacked and published.

3. You Have to Work Hard

 

Being smart and having good ideas isn’t enough.

You also have to work hard and execute well. And be resilient when the going gets tough.

Like success in physical training, success in business is built on hard work and persistence. There is sweat and pain along the way. You need to embrace the suck.

This is what I learned from CrossFit, during my time as the editor-in-chief of The CrossFit Journal.

And in my time as a non-profit executive, I had the opportunity to meet several millionaire and billionaire benefactors. All were self-made men. Guess what? None of them had achieved their success with four-hour work weeks.

The number one mistake I’ve seen in business is the same as the number one mistake I’ve seen in the gym: program hopping.

Don’t program hop.

Develop a sound plan and stick to it.

4. Shut The Fuck Up

This is especially hard for me. That’s because I’ve always had a lot to say. About everything.

Here’s what my classmates said about me in my seventh grade yearbook:

“Daniel, Daniel, clever and able;

Has so much to say, he writes on the table!”

Decades later, not much had changed. I was VP of a New York marketing and public relations agency and on a conference call with an important client.  A lot of money was at stake. And there I was, yakking away in a way that made the president of my company interrupt with this exasperated reprimand:

“Daniel! Stop talking! Let the client talk.”

I was mortified.

And I thought back to a lesson I should have learned years previously.

I had been working as an executive of a major nonprofit organization. The $50 million budget had been in development for months. The process was exhaustive — and exhausting. After hundreds of hours of work, the budget had been approved the day before by the Finance Committee of the Board of Directors. Now it was before the full board for final approval.

Business Lesson

The organization’s Finance VP did a stellar presentation. Fifteen minutes of questions from board members followed. Then there was a lull. The board chairman let the silence fill the room.

Then he said: “Any further questions?”

More silence.

Then the board chairman turned to Finance VP and said: “Anything to add?”

To which the Finance VP replied: “No.”

And then he stopped talking.

I was astounded! There was so much more to add. But the board chairman and VP Finance were much smarter than me. They let more silence fill the air. Then the board chairman said: “Are we ready to vote?” And then the budget was unanimously approved.

Moral of the story: sometimes the best thing to do is shut the fuck up.

In the business mentorship program I run with Eric Bach, here’s what we advise our students to do on sales calls with prospective clients after:

  • establishing rapport
  • offering a solution that solves their problems
  • quoting the price

Stop talking.

Live with the silence. Embrace it.

After an agonizing silence, the client will often buy — or at least begin a dialogue that leads to a sale.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Spencer Nadolsky says:

Business Lesson

I would add two final thoughts:

– Don’t be a douche

– Be nice

For starters, don’t network the wrong way. Read Sol Orwell’s post on Networking 101.

Value relationships. Nurture them. It’s been said:

“There are two types of friends: good friends and very good friends.

A good friend will help you move.

A very good friend will help you move the body.”

Find very good friends. And keep them.

Beyond that, bear in mind these two clichés. Like many clichés, they happen to be true.

What goes around, comes around.”

“You meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down.”

Yesterday’s intern is tomorrow’s boss.

Today’s advice-seeker is tomorrow’s client.

So go out of your way to be helpful. Earlier this year, I took half an hour on a busy workday to explain in detail why I had rejected a guest blog post. The rejected author became a business coaching client a few months later. That hadn’t been my intention. But it was a cosmic karma kind of good outcome.

Call me naive, but after 40 years of ups and downs in business I genuinely believe this above all else:

Good things happen to good people.

The world is full of assholes, some of whom get rich. But, in the end, good people tend to get ahead. Because you can’t hold them back. Be one of them.

Which leads to a staggeringly unoriginal conclusion:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

About The Author

Business LessonFormer everything Daniel Freedman is now Eric Bach’s business partner. They co-moderate the private Hybrid Fit Biz Facebook group for personal trainers who want to launch or expand online businesses. They also offer custom business coaching.

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