Several years ago, before I opted to open my own public relations firm, I was having coffee after church. That Sunday, as I lamented about bills piling up and typical family/work related woes, my friend, John, said to me I had the wrong attitude. He then went on to say that I needed to retire. Missing his prime point about attitude, I went on to say; “Come on John, I can’t retire. I have no money in the bank and certainly am not independently wealthy.” To which he replied; “You’re missing my point. I am talking about attitude readjustment. What do people do when they retire?” To which I replied; “They do anything they want.” (Now a days I don’t think anything they want is entirely true, but…)
He said, “That’s right, now think about how life would be different if more people took on a retirement attitude. People would do what they want and theoretically would be happy, because they chose what they want to do.”
I have practiced that philosophy ever since.
But, there are caveats to living that lifestyle. First of all, nobody ever really lives as foot-loose and fancy-free as the philosophy would suggest. None-the-less, there are basic benefits to be had by the attitude.
Recently, I interviewed Jim Wilfong of Stow, Maine who provided some insights to why the philosophy can work through his principles for business success. He was the keynote speaker at the most recent Blaine House Conference & Resource Fair for Small Business.
In essence, he would say the following principles are significant to living the retirement attitude:
Commit to life-long learning
People in my circles all spend enormous amounts of time learning. Reading professional publications, especially those you don’t agree with philosophically, all add to your passion for what you believe in. Following your passion will lead you to successful business opportunities.
Commit to integrity before profits
The hardest part of running my own business is getting employees to not concentrate on the money. Integrity of service is far more important than money and ironically, when you provide the service, you don’t have to worry about the money.
Commit to giving more value than expected
We have all heard that age old saying: “You will always get more than you give.” I know that is true in my own life and, you know what, giving often does not cost that much. The tough part is convincing ourselves that giving is always a good thing. Beyond the money, it feels good. Recently, I gave a pro-bono consult on fundraising strategy. The lead person in the organization called me recently to say they had already received results beyond expectations and that spirits have been lifted from “impossible goal” to “maybe we can do this!” I can’t get paid enough for that kind of reward.
Commit to writing a business plan
On the surface, most successful companies make it look simple. By-and-large, I have found that they make it look simple because they have a plan, which is based upon good research. By contrast, organizations without a plan are usually just that—at best, one hit wonders.
Commit to hiring or contracting smarter people than you
It’s not difficult for me, but I always make sure that I surround myself with people smarter than me. By so doing, I never cease to learn. It’s not difficult because people are always quick to accept accolades and are willing to help you out in the process. By contrast, most people are intimidated by engaging people who are more intelligent because they think they will steal their idea or money. That can happen, but usually does not.
Commit to never undervalue your product or service
I talked recently with a professional who was charging for his services based upon what one vendor was willing to pay. Certainly, that is the proper thing to do, if that is the going rate. But, when most people in the business are charging more, you are probably leaving money on the table. Why does a hot dog cost $4.50 in a New York City airport? Because they know they can get it. Why does a public relations practitioner cost a minimum of $55 in Maine per hour? Because, that is a bargain depending upon experience.
The formula from Flawless Consulting is to determine your realistic year-long salary based upon salary surveys and experience (the operative term here is realistic—as in experience). Take that salary assignment, divide by 48 (to accommodate vacation time—which is never realistic) and determine you r weekly and ultimately hourly charges. Then take that number and multiply by 4 (because you will likely never bill 40 hours per week and have to dollar-average to get to your desired salary).
Commit to investing in marketing and branding
You can never stop marketing and branding—I would emphasize, you can never do enough one-on-one communications activity or one-way communications awareness campaigning.
Commit to think globally and act locally
This relates to commitment number 1, life-long learning. You need to always think about your business from a global perspective. Why should someone outside of Maine, say Japan, care about you. Then, once you’ve answered the question, apply the answer in a local way. Jim answered this by citing a Vermont cab company who recognized that global companies were coming to Burlington to meet with IBM et al and needed constant support for Email, Web, Phone and other electronic connectivity while they traveled from Montreal to Burlington or Boston to Burlington and vice-versa. He established an electronic cab, which surpassed the services available and made his services known to the companies served and the Internet.
Commit to investing in Information Technology
Originally published in the Kennebec Business Monthly in May 2001 as part of a monthly guest series on public relations and marketing.