The Universe is a generous place, and it’s a lot smarter than I am.
It communicates through intuition.
I have a stubborn streak. It serves me well when I direct its attention to the abundance of positive and amazing, wonderful and worthwhile, experiences and people in my life. However, if I’m not paying attention, that stubborn streak gets hijacked by ancient voices and lights me up with fear and negativity in service of one of my biggest bêtes noires: scarcity.
To be generous takes courage and faith in “enough”: that I have enough, that there is enough, especially money and time. And that I am enough: wise enough, smart enough, savvy enough, thoughtful enough, kind enough.
The stubborn streak, on its dark days, tramples generosity with a thunderous stampede that can almost drown out the seemingly delicate, ethereal, voice of intuition.
I had an interesting conversation today.
Sometimes people who “meet” me online, who hear or see me speak at one of the dozens of broadcasts I give all year long, write and ask to set up a phone call. They have questions, and those conversations are the start of relationships that can turn into a professional engagement (or, in sales terms, a lead that converts to a sale; a person who decides to engage me and become a client).
Once upon a time, I talked to people answering their questions about Federal contracts all day long. When I worked at the Embassy, I did just that. I took every call, and answered all the questions, and the days I loved most were the ones where someone would say, “Wow, I never expected to get such great service from my government!”
It was WONDERFUL.
And I got paid for that.
That was one of the very best parts of public service: the SERVICE part. The fact that I got paid as well as appreciated to be someone’s superhero surprise of the day was even better.
It was an endless delight: to be useful, and valued, and financially compensated for that without having to sell anything.
Running my own business…not so much.
One of the things I learned (over and over and over, and so I share this with anyone who is thinking how great it would be to run a consulting business) is that, as a solo consultant, the amount of time one spends doing non-revenue-generating stuff is absolutely staggering. Sure, maybe you get paid a couple hundred bucks an hour, but most weeks nowhere near the forty or fifty or sixty hours a week you’re working involve getting paid for that time.
Remember I talked about stubborn? I’m sure there were a lot of ways I could have figured out some alternative ways to actually run a business — to break out of what Michael Gerber describes as “The E-Myth” a lot sooner that I have. Such is life.
When one’s business is small (as mine is), time is the most scarce resource. As one of my favorite business profs used to say, “There’s only 24 hours in the day, and you’ve gotta eat and you’ve gotta sleep.” (I’ll save for another day my musing on comparison as the thief of joy as I muse at what creates the wildly varying differences among what each of billions of individual humans accomplish with those same 24 hours.)
So when I’m speaking for free (and I do a lot of that), I’m doing lead generation. There are easily a dozen ways that someone who hears me speak can get in touch with me and ask to have a conversation. I spend some of my time having those conversations. But there are only so many hours in the day. Who’s worth having a conversation with?
I’ve got gaps in what marketers call my “product ladder”. In one kind of business model, one has a set of related offerings for people at different stages of need, and different price points. That way, someone who likes you and needs your expertise but can’t afford your big program, can solve some of their problems, get a little bit of help, with a smaller offering that will help them along their way, and keep them engaged and connected with you perhaps until they CAN afford a bigger program.
Thing is, it can take almost as much of a sales person’s time to sell an inexpensive program as it does to sell an expensive one. There is calculus somewhere about the economics of sales calls, but in a world where time is finite, it’s easy for the roaring chorus in my head to remind me, “You can’t talk to just everybody. Not everybody is a prospect. Qualified prospects are worthy of your time. Other people should get the politely-drafted reply that goes something like, “Based on your application, it appears that your company is not in a position to invest in my program right now. However, you might to look into my book, Amazon #1 Bestseller “Government Contracts Made Easier…(or whatever other more self-serve offer or download I have that they can click and buy)”.
I almost turned down someone’s request for a meeting because the meeting application email he’d sent me suggested that his company seemed too small and at too early a stage to become a client.
But…really, how important is fifteen minutes of my life, if I might make a difference for somebody, get them on the right track… who am I to be so important? (I put down a footnote that that voice sounds a whole lot like Brene Brown’s “Who do you think you are?” voice, and that’s a problem I’ll have to tackle another day).
I am often reminded that I got to find my way to where I am today because so many people have been kind to me, and given me 15 minutes or an hour or more of their time at critical points in my life. Famous people, former ambassadors, international public servants, just because I wrote and asked. When I was considering a career in the foreign service, I will always remember being bowled over by the response I got when I wrote to Stephen Lewis, at the time Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations. I wrote to him and he replied, “You ask so many questions that I could not possibly do them justice in a letter. Please call me at my home in New York so we can speak.”
And I did, and we did.
I’m neither rich nor famous, but I have the same capacity to be generous to others, to people I barely know, as those people did who had never heard of me..
To spend 15 minutes of my life just being kind to someone is its own gift — given and received. Even (as happens usually) when someone isn’t a prospect, it feels almost as good as writing a thank you note to just give someone a little lift and encouragement, especially when it’s my last call at the end of the day.
So I decided to take the call. In fact, I was kind of embarrassed about how I got started, because I had been cleaning up my sales and prospect backlog and forgot about the time and then had a call that went long so I was actually late for the call I had promised to this fellow. That was unintentionally rude on my part — not the experience I want anyone to have with me. I was grateful for his graciousness at my tardiness.
I made the mistake of heading into the call by telling him that I was glad to talk to him and answer his questions, but I was really sorry that I really didn’t have anything to offer him besides my book and maybe some webinars he could pick up from a partner who re-sells recordings of some of my classes, www.Govology.com.
I asked him what was on his mind. He said he’d learned a lot from last week’s session I had given about Simplified Acquisition, and wanted to know if I could tell him how to build relationships that could turn into simplified acquisitions.
The downside is that that’s not a question you can answer in 10 minutes. In fact, it’s something I spent 25 years avoiding, and then everything about the last six years on the path to mastering, and it’s now at the very core of the things I teach my clients. I just haven’t figured out how to teach it fast or in a quick download.
The end of the day can also be a time when I can feel tired and depleted. I had just gotten the email from my bookkeeper about bills coming due next week, and was confused about where the money was coming from to pay them (it was there somewhere but my scarcity circuits had gotten triggered).
That left me wrestling with feelings of despair that I tried to keep out of my voice as I explained to him that I was embarrassed to have only have one offer — an eight-week private consulting program that I had already started to make the assumption would represent a major or even untenable investment for a company his size. I almost plunged into just making an introduction to my training partner who has a different program and lower price point but covers the same principles of Federal sales for her clients as well as when she teaches for mine.
But I slowed down and started asking a few more questions. And discovered that even though the company is small, he and two other people are handling sales and business development for the Federal market. That’s often a more important criterion to qualify a client than how big the company is.
I noticed I was rushing, and the tug of intuition slowed me down for long enough to be generous again, to stop making assumptions about the person I was just getting to know.
In the end, he did ask for a proposal. The person he wanted to connect with was… me. I will see what happens next week.
A story for another day: how I spent 25 years avoiding everything to do with sales, only to find myself slammed face-first into my fears so hard that I shattered them forever.
I will tell you this: the day you truly understand what sales is (and what it’s not), you have a lifetime enrollment in Generosity University.
It’s a credential that’s recognized everywhere.