In January, I watched the annual group of “top lists” roll buy with disgust.
What utter bullshit.
If anyone’s top list of anything is as vertically driven as those then that person should just lock themselves in their closet. The reality is that as humans everything inspires, influences, and shapes us. For me this is definitely true. I come from a non-marketing background, and have been influenced by people ranging in levels of success, and walks of life. Most people that influence me I have never, and likely will never meet. I pull my inspiration from a much larger pool.
I am most impressed by people who hustle against the odds to achieve success, regardless of the level of success.
Thinking about it more I realized that almost daily I think about certain influencers, some I know personally, some I obviously don’t, and decided it would be awesome to share such as list.
And so here they are, in no particular order (because this grouping of people is as random as it gets).
My Mom and Dad
Why they inspire me:
My Mom and Dad instilled the relentless drive for success and work ethic I have now. A bit of a gift and a curse. What really inspires me about them is that they always provided for me and my sister regardless of external influences. They created their own paths, and careers out of nothing more than hard work.
Work harder than hard
Why he inspires me:
When I first met Neil he was a dick to me (I probably deserved it). The second time I met Neil he really showed me how brilliant he is (and he wasn’t a dick). Neil is someone I look at on a constant basis to exemplify the hustle it takes to make it online. He has also been willing to share the lessons he has learned on QuickSprout.com. He has followed a diversified path to success and that is what I admire most about him.
Try new and different paths to success
Why he inspires me:
Pete Cashmore has turned Mashable, and his own brand into one of the most valuable brands in Social Media. He jumped on social media before Youtube or Facebook were popular, or before Twitter even existed. He was truly a pioneer in the social media content space, and has continued to create a quality product over the last 5 years.
I don’t know if someone’s story in the business and overall perspective has effected me more than Rae. She is not only an amazing online marketer, but she got to where she is through struggle, which is something I associated with right away. And now that she has success? Like any one who is truly motivate, she only wants more, which can be seen by the success of her consulting company Outspoken Media. (which she is partners with Lisa Barone and Rhea Dysdale)
Why he inspires me:
I group up completely immersed in hip hop culture, and there are very few business and cultural entities that I have more respect for than Russell Simmons. If you look at the history of Hip Hop/Rap’s emergence as a mainstream form of music, almost everything flows back to Simmons. He was also the industries first mogul, and major trendsetter. Mix all of that with the longevity of his success, and it is easy to see why I have so much respect for Russell Simmons.
So this week was more of a roller coaster than usual, and like all things interesting in my life I figured I would share it.
Lesson # 1: Dante is a pimp in a tie
A bit of chest thumping, but whatever.
Lesson # 2: Transparency is KEY
This was probably the most cliche statement in 2009, so I am sure your eyes are rolling. BUT, what do you do when it is YOUR company that needs to be transparent. Not a hypothetical company, not a Fortune 500 , not a client … your company, the one paying your bills.
This week we had two issues arise with work we were contracted to do for clients. Both of them were honest mistakes, and the kind of issues that can happen to anyone, but we were at a cross roads with both clients. The issues were severe enough to warrant us being taken of the accounts. In reality, both issues were caused by circumstances that are not part of our everyday business, or that we even knew were going on (this lesson feeds more lessons to come). But that is the reality of doing business.
As a business owner do we cover our tracks, and do whatever it takes to keep the client?
No. Instead we chose to man up, take blame for our mistakes, offer swift actionable changes to benefit the client in the situation. Now by doing this we knew we were likely going to lose the account, however something interesting happened, the fact that we were transparent, willing to fix the situation, and provided excellent customer service in both cases caused the client to realize how safe there business actually was with us. We were not the company that was going to mess up, and leave them in the lurch, instead we were the company willing to protect them at all costs, despite our benefit or loss.
Lesson #3: When something is broke, FIX IT!
When your company is humming along and being profitable, it is sometimes hard to stop the machine to make repairs you know are necessary. With the above issues however, this month, we halted several of our process, and made massive overhauls in the middle of work. Very few companies would do this, but what we realized was that our mission has always been driven by Quality, in services and customer service, and if we have processes that aren’t giving our clients that one basic principles they must be scrapped and redesigned, from the ground up.
Lesson #4: If you want the most from your staff challenge them
As you can imagine the reinvention of process in our company was a huge undertaking for our staff, so I decided to sit out in the main work area yesterday to help them along. I was surprised, and delighted to see the aggressiveness and enthusiasm they had about tackling the challenge. It made me realize that the ingenuity if our staff is something we should harness via processes and not suppress. By creating challenging assignments, not only will it make the staff rise to new levels, but it will also produce the best quality services for the client.
Search & Social has grown to be a pretty important player in the search marketing space, although we normally remain pretty quiet about it. Our second venture, Second Step Search, hasn’t even been officially launched into Beta and is already cash flow positive for the entire year of 2010; no small feat for a software based endeavor. And all of this has led to my energy consistently draining.
I stay up at night thinking about things like profit margins, growth projections, and how to stay ahead of the insane learning curve that the internet poses to marketing companies and entrepreneurs alike.
None of this is natural.
Man is supposed to worry about finding shelter, food, and keeping their family unit secure. Most of our modern concerns are not bound to reality. They are concerns that revolve around money, the future, and other things we have little to no control over.
Then in the middle of concerns over nothing, sometimes reality comes creeping in, and the force between the two opposing ideas can literally cause a person to crack.
Case in point:
Today I had to go read story time at my son Dante’s school. He is 4 and attends a Montessori day school here in Tampa. Each week they have a parent come in, and this week I volunteered. Early this morning I dreaded it because I was in a horrible mood, worrying about all of the things that I become focused on during the course of a work week.
I showed up early to Dante’s school, and got to hangout with him and his friends on the playground.
I felt a swelling in my throat. Weird enough, but I moved on.
Story time was set to begin. I brought two books from home, Pog and Dr. Seuss’s ABCs, and we all headed in to hear them.
We sat down, and first up was Pog, which is a cool story that flips the concept of monsters upside down. I started to read, and again felt this swelling in my throat as I looked over to Dante’s glowing face. He was so excited to have his daddy at school, and sharing “our story time” with his friends.
I finished the first story, and we moved on to the next. It was our ritual that Dante helps me read Dr. Seuss’s ABCs since it is one of the only books he can help me read. He scooted over to me when I was ready, and began to read the first page with me.
Here I was with my 4 year old son, who was reading openly to his class. I quickly realized how impressive he was, and important to me. How Dante, his brother, and mother, our family, is the MOST important thing I have accomplished in my 29 years.
Reality crashed into my unnatural concerns and I cracked.
One page into the story I had to excuse myself. I walked outside of the classroom and began to openly weep. Now imagine that sight! You are a teacher and in your hallway there is a 6’2. 275 pound, tattooed man crying. I know some people will think this is ridiculous behavior for a grown man, but I really don’t have much respect for those people.
I was crying tears of joy. I had realized what my reality was. It was not what car I drive, how much money I make, or any number of other things I dwell on daily. It was my family. Before you say thats because I don’t have to worry about money, remember where I came from.
I regrouped and returned to story time. Dante and I reading OUR story to the delight of his class. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and I am still reeling from it as I write this post.
It’s strange how the universe chooses to bring us back down from the great heights we create for ourself. Hopefully I can hold onto this grounded feeling for a while.