Play As Well As You Dress

(originally published in Screen Magazine 6/27/12)

Recently I sat down with my dad and played cards. He’s a good man, my dad. He worked his butt off to help raise his seven kids. For most of his life, he had a full-time job, a part-time job, and then did what he could on the weekends to make ends meet.

He never sat me down to talk about a proper work ethic, integrity, or even relate some of his business skills knowledge. He probably didn’t have the time. No, my dad (like so many others) led by example.

Every once and a while, he threw out small pieces of advice that I put in my brain bank, and would use throughout my career. One such piece of advice came when I was getting ready to play golf at the age of 17. My dad said, “You play as well as you dress, so dress well.” He continued to explain that if you respect the game and dress appropriately, the game will respect you back and you will play well.

I don’t recall if I played well that day, but I’ll never forget those words of advice. Play as well as you dress became a constant reminder in many things I embarked on.

Many people dress up when they go to church, have a big meeting, go on dates, etc., but what is their everyday dress code? On several occasions, I wore a suit and a tie to my recording studio. Not because I had to, but to serve as a physical reminder that I needed to be professional that day. There was nothing on my agenda other than to be good at my job. For years, I never wore shorts to the places I worked. Not only do I have the ugliest legs in the world, but I also thought that the simple act of wearing full-length pants would remind me that I was there to work, and not be on summer vacation. Now these days, mind you, I sometimes wear shorts to work. But they’re not the same shorts I wear to clean the gutters at my house.

This by no means is a knock on anyone who wears shorts or ripped jeans to work. In fact, if your job is to be creative, I think you should dress as funky, cool, and creatively as possible.

My point is: respect the position you hold, and dress appropriately. If you dress in sloppy, unwashed, or disheveled clothes, there’s a good chance your boss will think you don’t care about your job.

I’ll leave you with this, a quote from the movie Bull Durham.

“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press will think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.” – Crash Davis

The Power of Words

(originally published in Screen Magazine on 6/13/12)
As I picked up my pizza last night, my son asked the owner of the restaurant why he named his place Prima La Pizza when he obviously serves much more than pizza. Frustrated (as if he’s been asked that same question many times before), he turned to me and said that adding that single word ‘pizza’ has cost him sleepless nights. He continued, “All of my pasta recipes were brought directly from Sicily, but the sign outside suggest that that the only thing I do well is pizza.”

I wasn’t really in the mood to have a lengthy business conversation with my ‘pizza’ guy, so I simply shrugged my shoulders as if to say. What are you going to do?

As I got into my car, I concluded that A) The owner of Prima La Pizza should have read my recent column about having a road map for success before naming his business, and B) People still don’t understand the power of words.

I see it all the time in business, someone comes up with a clever name, incorporates their business, and then immediately realizes that they may have chosen to be clever over profitable. Or perhaps they name their business after themselves, and then years down the road, when they want to phase themselves out, they’re forced to re-brand & re-invent. Seriously, whoever came up with the name Just Tires should be fired immediately if he or she hasn’t been fired already. By the way, Just Tires has added tune-ups and oil changes to their repertoire.

Poor word choices are also being made in business emails, texts, social media updates, and more. There is a great deal of power in words, and often times the person on the other end of your message isn’t receiving the same thing you’re sending (if you know what I mean).

I have also found that a lack of words can lead to confusion, and even keep vendors from getting awarded projects. I don’t know how many estimates I’ve seen that didn’t include a descriptive summary of the project. In my opinion, it’s hard to conclude if you’re right for the job if all I see is numbers. When I receive an estimate with a well written paragraph or two describing what needs to be done, and how the vendor intends to go about doing it, I get a sense that this company was really listening to me. Even if it basically repeats everything mentioned in a conference call, I feel that this company understands the scope of the project.

It’s not just the written words that can get people in trouble. I know an editor who answered a client’s question with a one-word answer. They rarely worked together again. To make a long story short, the client asked if a specific effect was possible. The editor took a minute, and finally said “Yea”. The combination of the long pause and the word “Yea” suggested to everyone in the room that the editor didn’t want to take the time to do the effect. It appeared that the editor was frustrated that he was being asked to do one more thing. In actuality, the editor was just thinking about how to pull off the effect, and what devices he needed to accomplish the goal.

I guess my point in all of this is… choose your words carefully.

• When starting a business, take the time to consider a name that reflects your capabilities as well as your business personality.

• When writing an email, make sure that if a complete stranger skims through it, they would read that email exactly how you intended it to be read.

• If you’re putting together an estimate, tell a creative and quick story about what’s happening on screen, it just might help you get the job.

• When speaking to clients, understand that every word you say can and will be used to determine if they will keep coming back.

How Much Money Do You Want To Make?

(originally published in Screen Magazine 6/6/12)

In early 1996, I was sitting in an accountant’s office discussing new business strategies. Towards the end of the meeting, the accountant asked, “how much money do you want to make? At the time, I thought it was a stupid question. Two weeks after the meeting I finally realized the point that accountant was trying to make. How much are you willing to spend/risk in order to achieve your goals?

A few months ago, I made an appointment with a frustrated employee who was thinking about starting his own creative editorial shop. He had several questions for me, like: How important is it to have a downtown presence? Should I seek out a partner or angel investor? What is the right number of initial employees? After listening to his questions and concerns, I had only one question of my own… “How much money do you want to make?”

The great thing about starting your own business is that you have the opportunity to set your own goals. You can set out to build a national chain of auto repair shops or, like my mechanic, choose to have one small garage and refuse to open your doors on Fridays.

I have great respect for both types of business owners. Those who have unshakeable ambition, and set no limits to what they can accomplish, and those who have a clear understanding of what they need to be truly happy.

When I first started a business, my annual sales goal was a million dollars. When I reached that goal, I set my sights on two million a year. I never reached that two million annual sales goal. In fact, I fell well short of it. In retrospect, I wish I would have been honest with myself and picked an obtainable business sweet spot. I should have kept updating my annual goals to reflect my changing priorities, but I didn’t. It’s kind of like sitting at a blackjack table with a solid goal of how much you want to win. When you hit that point, it’s best to walk away. If you don’t, you’ll find your stack of chips dwindling before your eyes. In business, I chased a number that didn’t exist, and ultimately couldn’t exist.

So my advice to those of you who (by choice or not) are starting a business of your own would be… Find your own sweet spot. Understand your personal priorities, your goals, and how much money you need to have the life you want to live. Once you have that number, you’re better suited to answer those hard questions that face new business owners. Best of luck, be bold and experiment. Above everything else, enjoy the ride.