Do good work!

Now that I’ve given the message in three short words you could stop right here and read no further, and yet I do apologize in advance for the length of this week’s blog as I feel this topic is of such importance to warrant its length. I hope you can take the time to read on.

I’ve been conducting an informal survey of late, asking small business people that I interact with who seem to have thriving businesses how they market their companies, and the answer seems to be pretty consistent: they don’t.

Seriously, the continuously busy thriving small businesses in our communities typically don’t market themselves.

Recently I had a need for a locksmith and found a local shop on Google. When I entered their business I found them to be very busy with lots of people buzzing around and many waiting for service at the counter. I also noticed a real customer orientation in that they were constantly checking with waiting customers, assuring them that they would be right with them and calling up more staff from the back to help out and so on.

I had an antique box that I needed to open, a family heirloom, and through the course of them working on my box I noticed a certain dynamic among the staff, an eagerness to serve. So I asked the two owners, a Mother and Son team, what kind of marketing they do and the answer of course was none, they’re not even in the phone book, although I found them on Google. Their only investment in marketing was a good quality website. So I asked them what their secret is and the answer was, “We bend over backwards for our customers. We’ll take a call at 2 o’clock in the morning if someone needs help.”

I have a good friend who runs a local construction company who also does no marketing. He doesn’t even have a website or a Facebook page. In fact he still carries a Palm Pilot. How then does he acquire new business? Word of mouth. Not only is he completely unconcerned about his company’s lack of marketing, he has more business than he knows what to do with.

This is a consistent story and I would invite the reader to ask many of your favorite small businesses the same two questions – how do you market and what’s your secret – and share the answers widely.

So the simple formula to success is do good work and your customers will do your marketing for you. Yet, what is the precursor to doing good work? It doesn’t just happen automatically does it?

The answer I believe is related to a forbidden little four-letter word in the business world called LOVE. Love of doing good work, love for our employees, our colleagues and our customers. We won’t see the use of this word expressly forbidden in any employee handbook or shareholder annual report, rather it’s an implied rule that is rarely breached.

Why is that? What is it that we fear about treating our work and the way we do business as an expression of love? Could it be that the culture of business, the unwritten, unspoken pervasively held belief system we hold, the assumed axiom of commerce, is that doing business and doing life are separate things; that we can be loving to our families, our communities, in our charity work and spiritual practices, but business is business?

It’s not just small businesses that have the freedom to do their work with love, there are notable examples of large companies doing this, for example South West Airlines,, Patagonia and Costco to name a few. Each of these companies consistently enjoy healthy financial bottom lines and yet hold to a higher purpose; taking care of their employees and creating an enjoyable work environment, which translates to large teams of people with infectious enthusiasm and a continuous dedication to pleasing customers, which then translates to happy customers doing their marketing for them.

The formula works for companies large and small, yet we tend to find it in practice more so with small family owned businesses, which speaks to the rarity of its employment in large institutions. Small companies are managed by people, where as large institutions are managed more so by share-holder return on investment, financial calculations, technology ownership and “management principles.” It’s not that it has to be this way, only that the unstated pervasive agreement is that profit is king and a concept like l-o-v-e is quaint and without a place in the world of “real business.”

So back to the point of this blog, the simple formula for success is doing good work and my supposition that the precursor to doing good work is working with love. It’s possible to do precisely good work on a consistent basis, but be very difficult to work with. I’ve released at least a couple vendors in my career that did excellent work, but were too difficult to deal with. One can force oneself through self-discipline and hard work to do quality work, but without the love factor it’s hallow and meaningless. Which is why so many large institutions with great products can still fail, because they have lost their vision and passion for helping people and began treating their employees as though they were numbers on a spreadsheet.

Insert l-o-v-e into your work, do work for the love of it, love your employees for their uniqueness, individuality, talents, skills, experience, perseverance, and also for their occasional foibles that inevitably flows from being human, and watch your employees extend that love to your customers, and your customers telling all their friends to give you there business.