trying to protect the good name of a mom and pop…

Since the mid 70’s, I have often enjoyed going to a little steak house and sitting in a booth, drinking a glass of wine and reading a book. Sometimes I wear my deck shoes and put my feet on the other side of the booth, sometimes with my shoes on, sometimes, not. I am normally in a corner. I order my glass of wine and a rib-eye, medium rare. I always point out that I want to eat my salad before they bring my baked potato and my medium-rare rib-eye. They always do that. But, not this night. They close at ten o’clock and I was on a business call until 9:40; and, I thought “oh, dear, I think they close at 10:00.” I looked up their closing time on the internet and, yes, they close at 10:00 (I went to a franchise restaurant last week and they closed at 10:00 but they had already locked the door at 9:50), so, I called my little steak house and told them I could be there at 9:50, giving them an opportunity to tell me that it would be better for me to come some other night. But, they said, “come on.” I got there about 9:45. I got my booth, ordered my rib-eye (medium-rare), baked potato, glass of wine and pointed out (once again) that I would like to finish my salad (a salad bar) before my steak and baked potato were served. The waitress said, “no problem.” I got my salad, piled on some Thousand Island dressing, pickled okra and cottage cheese and sat down. I sipped my wine, ate my salad and read from my book.

When I finished my salad, the waitress asked me if I was ready for my rib-eye, medium-rare. And I said, “absolutely.” She brought it, I put butter and sour cream on my baked potato, mashed it up and took a couple of bites…really good. Then, I took my steak knife and cut into my rib-eye, medium-rare; and, it was not medium-rare. I kind of laughed to myself and remembered the waitress had previously asked me if I wanted steak sauce and I had said, “I hope not.” She then said, “well, I wanted to ask…some people want steak sauce, others want ketchup.” Ye gads!

I then thought of one of the funny lines that Johnny Carson used to say….”what do I do…what do I do?” It was late, after 10:00 and I saw tables being cleaned and chairs put onto tables so that they could vacuum. I knew the waitresses, chefs and management were tired and wanted to go home. But, my rib-eye was not medium-rare. It was medium. Ugh….. Do I ask for steak sauce or just eat it as is? Do I ask them to grill another rib-eye, medium-rare? “what do I do…what do I do?” I then thought of “the brand.” This was one of my favorite little restaurants. There was a mistake in grilling my steak. Was it accidental or had they changed staff and they didn’t know how to grill a rib-eye, medium-rare? Or, did they just not care?

In my opinion, this was not about my personal steak but the legacy that might transpire and hundreds, if not millions, would get their rib-eye, medium-rare, not medium-rare but medium; and, what would happen to this little steak house? It might go out of business, after, all these years. The weight of the world and the need to show courage was heavy on my shoulders. “Be strong, be courageous, defend the honor of those cooks and waitresses who came before.” So, I asked my waitress to come over, I apologized and showed her my rib-eye, medium, not medium-rare. She said, “oh, dear….let me get you another one.” I said that I was sorry and she even offered to bring another baked potato or even green beans (green beans?). I said that’s ok. I didn’t even ask for a free glass of red wine. She said it would be five minutes (that’s about right to grill a rib-eye, medium-rare). I said that will be fine.

The clock kept ticking, I finished the chapter in my book and I thought, this has been more than five minutes…. Oh, dear. Shortly, she brought me my rib-eye, medium-rare. And, the cook came over and asked, ”how is it?” I had yet to cut into it but I saw the concern in his eyes. He was just a kid. I said, “perfect.” And, he smiled and left. I then cut into my rib-eye, medium-rare; and it wasn’t. It was medium (again). I sighed and thought of Johnny Carson again….”what do I do…what do I do?” I felt the legacy of the little steak house on my shoulders, again. I can single handedly put them out of business if I don’t say anything.

I slowly cut up my steak and ate it. I then laid out my credit card and the waitress came by and took it. When she came back, I handed her five dollars (in addition to the tip I put on the bill) and said, “this is for you to say nothing to management…. But, tell the young man that my second steak was medium. Perhaps he does not know the difference between medium-rare and medium. Please do not say anything to management but go talk to him.” I showed her my steak and she understood.

As I left the steak house, I was the only customer, the restaurant was quiet and everybody was cleaning up. I looked back at the grill and there was the young man. Our eyes met, I smiled and gave him a thumbs up and he waved. I trust that my little steak house will be ok; and, in the future, when someone orders a rib-eye, medium-rare that they will get a rib-eye, medium-rare. I will find out next time.


 “young man….I have a question for you…

The story began when a friend who had met me at a coffee shop shared a dream that seemed so real to him that he wondered if it had anything to do with Thanksgiving and gratitude; or, better yet, the lack of gratitude.  He was puzzled.  He remembered a sweet, older lady standing in front of him at a craft shop saying, “young man, I have a question for you.”

The backdrop to the dream was my friend was driving around trying to find out how to get rid of a picture of a one stem flower in a picture frame.  The flower was like a long stem blue bonnet (do they exist?).  He  had been to several expensive gift shops, they smiled and said, “no, I have not seen anything like that.  It’s pretty isn’t it?”

His thoughts were: this does not go anywhere in my home, I want to exchange it for something, even for something I can give to a friend.  And, no, in the dream, he did not know who gave it to him.

He ended up in a craft shop, perhaps a Michaels or a Jo-Anns or a small shop in Snider Plaza.  He really didn’t know.  He just remembered this sweet, older lady looking at the one stem flower, smiling and then saying:  “young man, I have a question for you.  Do you really want to give it away?  Someone gave it to you from their heart, didn’t they?”

May we always remember when someone gives us something from their heart.  That is what really matters, isn’t it?

Happy Thanksgiving….





 And now…an old friend and associate took issue with my latest blog!

I published a new blog Tuesday the 16th of November that related to service-oriented owner(s) and key staff members failing to maintain a sales pipeline.  I specifically pointed out that database management, new business solicitation, email programs, social networking and phone calls were not part of some company’s ongoing business practices.

My friend and associate reminded me of the story that he had told me many times:  “Never try to teach a duck to sing.  It’s a waste of your time and it annoys the duck!”  His email quote back to me was:  “Tom, we’ve had this conversation many times, you know not to expect creative people to spend time pursuing new business:  they are devoted to their craft, not selling their services.  So, selling their services is a foreign thing they don’t do very well, don’t like to do and it diverts them from what they like and are good at…that’s where they are happy.  that’s what they live for.  Making sales calls are so distasteful, most would rather go out of business rather than have to do it.  It takes a special mindset and a special person to be able to sell themselves or their services; and, oddly that is rarely a creative person.  Strange, isn’t it, Tom?”

I would say to my friend:  “a business cannot survive if ownership only does what ownership wants to do or feels comfortable doing.   Creating and managing a company’s sales pipeline is critical to a company’s success.  There are a set of business practices that have to be managed, either by the owner or delegated by the owner to someone on their staff or contracted to someone.    Very few people in a service-oriented business can depend on referrals to generate enough new business to sustain their company; or, grow their company.   I am reminded of a comment by another friend:  “Acquiring a new client is a temporal moment:  they will leave someday”. 

For my clients, I always study the composition of their client base:  the 80/20 rule as well as the amount of billings each client contributes.  Bankers know this drill well.  One should not have a client represent more than 5% to 8% of your billings; even at those levels, a company is at risk.

I once joked with a client that “service-oriented companies are always one client short”.  They laughed and said, “and…with one less client…they would be out of business”.  Our conversation continued as they remembered when they last acquired a new client…only when they had lost a client….. They, then said, “hmmmm….maybe we should look at that”.

I would be glad to help you “look at that”.



 It was a Friday morning business meeting, the key staff was sitting around the conference table…

Sales had deteriorated; anticipated new business had not materialized and vendors were calling.  Payroll was due that day and very little money existed to pay the firm’s staff.  As a consultant, I was frankly scared for my client and his employees.  The business situation had been shared with the key staff and yet, no one was working “new business”.  No phone calls were being made although each staff member had been given a short list of prospective clients to call and pursue. 

I have found that working new business is the black sheep in a service-oriented business.  This involves uncovering opportunities and then winning over the relationship.  It often does not happen unless the owner(s) or a new business person solicit new relationships.  Seeking new business is foreign to them;  they believe they shouldn’t have to do it.  I have seen many service-oriented businesses fail because the sales pipeline dried up; and, it’s normally because it was not a priority.

During the years that I worked in large corporations, there were healthy budget allocations for research and development and, also, for sales and marketing.  Management realized that cutting edge product development and a serious investment in sales and marketing were critical to business growth.  It is also true for small relationship-based companies; and, the owner(s) rarely invest in business development.  I am often amused when companies buy software like Salesforce but don’t have anyone trained to implement or maintain it.  And, often, I have seen companies invest in lead generation and end up with hundreds of new business leads but the leads sit on someone’s desk and the phone call, the letter, the email to create dialogue never happens. 

I once joked with a client who was suffering from business loss without an active sales pipeline and I said, “what are you waiting for…..a miracle phone call”?

In other situations, management insists that they are going to divide the leads among themselves and hold each other accountable for making calls.   Bah…humbug….that doesn’t happen either.  One of the most revealing insights I have learned in working with entrepreneurs is that they cannot hold their employees accountable because they have not followed through with their own accountability.

If you need help reviewing your new business process and making it the priority it deserves, let’s have coffee.   


 Burning up my sailboat motor…there has to be a parable in this story, doesn’t there?

I have a sailboat and on the back of it is, I mean, was, a 9.9 Yamaha outboard motor.  It appeared to be more than my boat needed but the original owner was at Lake Texoma and to me, compared to the lakes around Dallas, that is an Ocean!  I bought the boat with the Yamaha motor on it….it probably was worth more than my boat.  It weighs almost 100 pounds.  It requires maintenance from time to time.  And, when you don’t go out very often, you have to be careful about water or whatever getting into your gas tank (or snakes in your cockpit, which happened!).  You also have to worry about water circulating through your propeller into the engine to keep the engine cooled (I didn’t know that).

Several months ago, the motor was stalling and I went to the marine shop (they had tuned the engine three months before) and they said that I had not used the motor enough and should let it “blow out” for about 30 minutes….that varnish from the gas clogs up the carburetor.   So, I went back and tried to “blow it out.”  After a few minutes, it started smoking, shaking and died.  It would not start again.

I went back the following weekend and it still wouldn’t start.  Now, I’m irritated at the marina and I go to a marine retail outlet and ask them if they know anyone who can work on motors.  Ah, there is a new kid who just started his own shop, he’s good and cheap.  I got his address and after about 15 voice mails (that should have been a tell-tell), he called me back.  He said it would be a lot cheaper and easier if I would bring him the motor.  So, I went to my boat, and (by myself) lifted the motor out of the boat and almost dropped it into the lake…almost a 100 pounds, remember?  I somehow carried it up the dock and then up the pier and loaded it into my trunk.  I took it to the “kid.”  I then would call periodically and only get voice mail….and, then the call came:  the motor is burned up….water was not circulating from the propeller to the motor….would be better to just buy a new motor (that’s almost $3,000!).  No way!

I went into hibernation….and, then I finally went back to pick up my motor and it was in three pieces and had been raised with a fork truck into his attic.  He no longer had the fork truck.  So, each piece of my motor was lowered with a rope.  We put the pieces into my trunk and I asked if I could pay something for the trouble….he said sure, how about $75. 

I drove around and found another marine shop, went in and they said, “oh, no, we don’t work on foreign engines but the guy across the street does.”  I went over there and sitting in a cage, smoking a cigarette was a canterkerous, older man.  I told him my story (or is it stories) and he started laughing.   He started ranting about “sailors.”  You all are alike.  You go out and buy expensive motors and boats and you take them out, what?  four or five times a year?  And you let the gas get old and it breaks down and corrodes your engine…and you don’t change the oil…and you don’t change the filter in the propeller so that the water won’t clog and burn out your engine.  I protested and said that I always put STP in my gas and he started lauging again.   He said STP only helps if the gas is less than 60 days old.  He said I should keep about one to two gallons of gas in the gas tank (I always keep about five gallons) and then I should replenish it every 30 days (I didn’t know that).  He also said that even if I wasn’t going to sail very often, I should go out every week and simply run the engine (I didn’t know that).   And, during the winter, the motor should be drained and stored…..(what a pain!).  But he thanked me for coming by and said if it wasn’t for “sailors,” he wouldn’t survive (financially).  He laughed about all the sailboats at the lake that never went out and how many came to him and didn’t understand why “their motor burned up.”   

He now has my motor and (right now) thinks he can repair if for $350….we’ll see.  But, it’s been two weeks and all I’m getting is voice mail.  I wonder if he is still sitting there in that cage, smoking a cigarette and laughing.

As I thought about the cantankerous, older man, I started laughing.  How many times have I wanted to counsel someone, not in regards to a sailboat motor, but on how to do the the 10% to 20% of their business that they don’t know to do………



 They had retained me to seek other groups to acquire; and, then the phone call came….

They were a relatively new client and had retained me to help them seek out groups that they could acquire.  And, then the phone call came:  they wanted to liquidate their partnership and have one partner buy out the other.  They asked me to facilitatie the buyout.


Even to this day, they are one of the best groups I’ve worked with:  they liked and respected each other, paid their vendors early, had great clients and served their clients well. They treated their employees with respect.  It appeared to be a model partnership.


I pride myself in being sensitive and fair when it comes to a group dissolving or merging with another group.  When one is talking about a simple partnership breaking up, it’s not really that simple.  Historical earnings, gross margin, what was brought in, what was won and by whom, all play a role in trying to determine fair value beyond the equity value on the balance sheet.

After several weeks, we had agreement from both parties.  I felt very comfortable with the document from the attorney and the liquidation process (I have a special attorney relationship that I cherish.  He lets me write the draft and then he cleans it up!  It reduces my client’s attorney fees and allows me to keep the people issues front and center; not just a money deal).

I met the partner who held the greatest number of shares at a local restaurant late in the afternoon.  He and his wife were sitting at a table drinking tea.  Although he was the majority owner, he was willing to walk away from the client relationships and start over.  And, then…another surprise.  His wife asked an interesting question:  “If it is a good deal for both parties,then, if we decided to keep it, wouldn’t it still be a good deal for the other partner as well?”  Needless to say, I was taken back.  I paused, expressed kind of a nervous, awkward giggle and said, “yes, it should be.”  The husband and wife then said, “well, we want to keep the agency.”


I went back to my office and called the other partner, who thought by the end of the day that he would be moving forward with the client relationships and single ownership.  After I told him that his partner did not want to sell but was interested in buying him out (instead), he, too, expressed a nervous, awkward giggle and said, “well…if it was a good deal for both parties, then it is still a good deal for me.”  He signed the papers later that night.  All we did was change the name of the buyer and the seller…and, that was it.


I have come behind many acquisitions/mergers that were poorly done.  Hard feelings, law suits or threats of law suits occurred.  I have a series of tests and intuitive guidelines that I ask both parties to consider in processing their buy/sell agreement.  If you find yourself in a similar situation someday where you can benefit from some sage advice and counsel, I would like to help you.


 Be careful regarding social networking….

I am still struggling with what is and what is not appropriate to share on the internet.

I think my stories of lessons learned are helpful and provide insight into communicating with other professionals.

I think my stories of business problems and embarrassing moments are probably ok; they reflect humanness and a genuine effort to help a client who is upside down.

I think my dachshund, Casey, stories are probably ok and bring some level of humor and hopefully endearment.  After all, if you can’t love a funny looking dog….

I have been to some sites that are considered social networking and would prefer to not see clients or friends or business associates “acting that way.” 

Which reminds me of a great story that was once shared with me by a very successful manufacturer’s rep; he was in his 60’s and had worked all his life to build his business which was selling luggage.  He had a beautiful home and was prosperous.  He and his wife were able to retire and enjoyed traveling; and, they, too, had a dog.  But, he told me about the time that he had gone to visit his #1 customer, a customer who represented over 30% of his income.  They had never met and had talked by phone for years, shared pictures and always talked about getting together.  Then, one summer, they got together.  My friend and his wife went to California to visit his #1 customer and stayed with them for a week.   He thought that              “a good time was had by all.”  Three weeks after he returned from the visit, his #1 customer cancelled his account and would not take his phone calls….  He never knew why.  But he gave me some sage advice:  “keep professional relationships…professional.”

If you would like to talk about affinity building through online marketing and communication, feel free to contact me at tom@tomirwinconsulting.com.  We can talk about how you can move people from suspect to trusted client (or friend).


 I’m sorry Mr. Irwin but we have to turn off the lights….

It was about noon on a Friday, sometime late in the summer, in Fairfield, New Jersey.  In the auditorium, there were over 150 sales persons singing songs about their company and the products that they sold.  It was almost cult-like (one of the executives after playing my cassette of “The Eyes of Texas”… turned to me and said, “Irwin…what in the hell is this…..”working on the railroad?”). 

I was in the office and an electric company guy came in and asked for me.  Turning to him and introducing myself, he then told me he was there to turn off the lights because my client had not paid the electric bill….I think they were three months delinquent.   I asked for the electric company’s phone number and talked to the billing office.  I knew we did not have the money to pay them.  I asked for time and the lady said “no.”  I explained that there were salespersons in the auditorium and if the electricity was turned off, the salespersons would probably quit.  She said she was sorry but without a check brought to the office….right now….there would not be any electricity.  I thought about giving her a hot check but that never really works, it just creates other issues….like district attorneys and future payments will be cashier checks, etc. (today it would be wire transfers).

With a deep sigh, I turned to the “electric man” and asked him to leave without turning off the lights.  He apologized and walked out of the room to the electric box.  I followed.  When he got to the handle to unlock it and turn it off….we looked at each other.   He paused…smiled….put his key back in his pocket and walked out the door without turning off the electricity and without saying anything.  I said thank you as he walked out the door.

In my opinion, the electric man was a brave and caring soul.  He knew he was dealing with more than an electric bill.

 It’s Friday morning, just past midnight, May the 21st, 2010 and I was wondering

My dachshund stories are now #2 to the blog about the failure of us to connect to those who reach out to communicate with us, either through a telephone call, voice mail or letter.  Nothing….black hole….silence.  “Hello…is anybody there?”

Reflecting on the state of the business environment as it is today, I thought: it’s the last work day of the week.  Some will work on Saturday and/or Sunday and go back to work on Monday, tired and still behind.  Others will leave work on Friday at five o’clock and simply think about other things.  Some have their to do lists in order, some never do. 

I am reminded of a good friend who had a high level position at Frito Lay when I worked there.  He normally left between 5:30 and 6:00 while others stayed until 9:00 or 10:00.  But, he was as productive or more so.   I once asked him “how so?”  He said that it was simple.  His manager always had a to do list that could not be achieved and instead of taking responsibility (and guilt) for trying unsuccessfully to complete it, he went to his manager with his list and said, “ok….here’s my list of things to do….which ones have priority?” 

That sensibility also reminds me of the story I heard about Tom Landry when the Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers in what is referred to as “The Ice Bowl” when the temperatures were thought to be near 50 degrees below (chill factor).  The Cowboys lost on the last play of the game; and, what did Tom Landry do on the way back to Dallas?  He sat in his airplane seat and read a book.

Another time, I can address the issues of priorities and reconciling one’s self with what has been done and what is still unfinished.  I can quote Robert Peck, Stephen Covey, Wayne Dyer, Tom Hopkins, Gandhi, Jesus, Bill W. and all the others, even Peter Drucker!  But it is interesting how we often saddle ourselves with feeling incomplete with unfinished business and we leave work on Friday without leaving work.

I have a new client who intimated that he owed it to his staff to create a work environment where they could leave work at a normal time, not look back into the evening at what had not been finished and did not have to think about work on the weekend.  I think that is quite a challenge; after all, some of us carry it with us …anyway.  It’s sometimes about us and not about our bosses or management.

At the end of a game or project or difficult client situation or simply at the end of the day….are you able to sit back and simply read a book, if not, maybe I can help you.

 “Where have all the flowers gone?” ….first verse

A close friend read this blog to be and said: ”kind of a downer.  Can you reverse-engineer it so there’s a story of someone who returned a call promptly and something great happened?”  I emailed back that “sometimes a downer is good for people.  It may help them reflect on their own behavior….”

It has been my experience, that there are far too many instances to recount of people not reaching out to each other, even in business situations….

Having worked in the service industry so long, especially marketing communication groups, I‘ve seen the human mistreatment up close.  It always reminds me of the comment by Charles Dickens when he was talking about children:  “aren’t they people, too?”

It goes both ways.  I got a voice mail the other day:  “Tom, are you mad at me?  I have called you three times and you haven’t called me back nor have you responded to my emails.”

But, oh, there are so many times that I have reached out and it is as if the voice mail, the email, even the letter went nowhere.  Hello?

What has happened to us?  Is it because at one time we had secretaries or assistants or the desk next to us (or the mom and dad) that had to answer the phone and take a message that compelled us to communicate “back?”

And with email, it takes….s-e-c-o-n-d-s….you hit reply (or type in their email address) and simply say “got your message, am tied up, let me get back to you, thanks.”  Communication is reciprocated.

I remember once trying to set up a new business appointment for a client who had been the college roommate of an owner of a large Dallas corporation.   “Tom, Dan said for us to call Joann, who is the Marketing Director, to set up an appointment for me to show our capabilities.”  I called and called and, of course, I referred to the owner’s request for her to visit with my client.  All these calls went to voice mail.  No return phone calls for weeks, yes….weeks.  I then called Dan, the owner, and indicated that I was having trouble reaching his Marketing Director.  He put me on hold, walked down the hall and then came back and said, “how about next Tuesday at 10 o’clock?”   When my client and I met with the Marketing Director, I noticed that she did not have a phone on her desk.  It was across the room on a conference table.  I asked her about that and she proudly said, “oh, I never answer my phone and sometimes I never check voice mail.” 

I have a client in Houston, a large agency, and he always seems to take my calls, even leaving a conference room to say, “hey, Bud…can’t talk now….can I call you back?”   That is special.  And, as I understand it, he has always been that way and this has kept him in high esteem with all those that know him.

The people’s  touch….where has it gone for so many of us?