“Slips me a hundred dollar bill says ‘Charlie you best remember who your friends are'”

Hey, yesterday’s singalong was fun. Let’s do another one!

— ?—
[Verse 1]
Got out of prison back in ’86 and I found a wife
Walked the clean and narrow
Just trying to stay out and stay alive
Got a job at the rendering plant, it isn’t going to make me rich
The darkness before dinner comes
Sometimes I can feel the itch

[Chorus]
I got a cold mind to go tripping across that thin line
Sick of doing straight time

[Verse 2]
My uncle’s at the evening table
Makes his living running hot cars
Slips me a hundred dollar bill says
“Charlie you best remember who your friends are”

[Chorus]
I got a cold mind to go tripping across that thin line
I ain’t makin’ straight time

[Bridge]
Well eight years in it feels like you’re going to die
But you get used to anything
Sooner or later it just becomes your life

[Verse 3]
Kitchen floor in the evening tossing my little babies high
Mary’s smiling but she’s watching me out of the corner of her eye
Seems you can’t get any more than half free
Step out onto the front porch; suck the cold air deep inside of me

[Chorus]
I got a cold mind to go tripping across that thin line
I’m sick of doing straight time

[Bridge]
In the basement huntin’ gun and hacksaw
Sip a beer and thirteen inches of barrel drop to the floor

[Outro]
Come home in the evening, can’t get the smell from my hands
Lay my head down on the pillow and
Go drifting off into foreign lands

— “Straight Time”, by Bruce Springsteen

— ?—

You sang along with me, right? I know you can do it, but if you didn’t you can listen to Bruce sing it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU7-W_EnJHY

Specialization requires discipline and courage. Generating leads the way an expert does requires the same stuff plus a non-trivial amount of time.

I ask new clients to tell me about the longest project they’ve seen through to completion because I’m curious about two things. First is that I’m just interested in the answer to this question. What long-project opportunities have come their way?

Second, I’m very interested in the general question of how people change their business for the better. What things make the difference for them? What qualities help them create long-lasting change for the better?

Of course I have a theory that the best changes you can make to your business take significant time (months or years, not days or weeks) to produce results. Implementing value pricing, for example, can get you out of the $150,000 per FTE swamp and into much more profitable territory, and while that change can happen overnight, it’s usually preceeded by years of work improving your value prop, learning to generate better leads, and learning the art of navigating a sales conversation.

Your enemies as you make these longer, slower changes are usually not external. They lie within your own heart and mind.

How many bad-fit leads can you say no to before you cave? How much emotional discomfort can you withstand to change your own habits? This might be just as important as how many bad-fit leads you can afford to say no to. How much impatience can you endure on your way to a better business?

I’ve read quite a few year-end “how my business did this year” blog posts. They used to be en vogue a few years back among folks who run businesses like mine. I don’t know if they still are; I’ve since then stopped reading them. I always felt cheated out of the full picture when I read them. To be completely honest, I oftentimes also felt jealous.

To be fair, it’s not easy to show the full picture in any short form piece of writing. 

It’s not easy to give skills you’ve been slowly building in the background for years or decades their full due for how they’ve contributed to desirable outcomes years later. How your active listening makes you better during sales conversations. How your work to remain empathetic towards people in general makes you more empathetic towards your clients and more able to create transformational value for them.

Your work to make decisions that make somebody unhappy in the short term but everybody better off in the long term. Your work to remain stoically neutral or carefully upbeat in the face of difficult situations.

That kind of work is like an annuity that pays back reliably year after year.

It’s also not easy to talk about the dark times without coming across as overly dramatic.

I’ve lost count of how many times my wife has witnessed me somewhat dramatically say I’m about to throw in the towel. It happens way less these days, and at this point she does her best to be sympathetic, but I know she’s actually saying to herself, “he’ll be singing a different tune in a few hours/days. I’ll just smile and nod and be sympathetic while this passes”. And she’s right.

The willingness to keep doing the work comes right back. The knowledge that I’m building something good one day at a time swings back around. It never abandons me for more than a day or so.

I’m very interested in self-employment as a social trend. I can’t quite draw an accurate bead on whether it’s on the rise or on the decline in the US. Some US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data seems to suggest it’s on a slow rise, while some other articles I’ve seen seem to suggest that it’s holding steady at historical levels or is a less popular employment choice compared to 20 or so years ago.

I do know it’s not the easiest path, unless you like me have become essentially unemployable through years and years of making your own decisions and learning to love living with the consequences of that sometimes-dizzying freedom. I’d think I’d be a terrible employee. I started out as a terrible business owner, but I’m slowly getting better at it.

A job is a good–no, great–choice for some of you.

But if like me you’re self-employed for better or worse, then remember that it’s sometimes small decisions that make it better. Not overnight, but over months and years of doing the work.

Some of that work is direct value creation for clients, but a lot of it is work on yourself, building up the ability to make courageous decisions, building up the ability to invest with no immediate return, and building up the ability to see and capitalize on opportunity.

-P