As you may have noticed, some independent barber shops and beauty salons operate with a model in which the owner of the venue rents out the chairs to contract workers who don’t have the capital to start their own shop. This is how many of the new entrants into the profession get started. In other professions, these solopreneurs associate together to face the market as a unified front. Small local realtor and legal firms operate under similar models. They are small, and they not only need to do the work, but they also must find the clients. There is minimal support infrastructure, and they finance it by pooling their resources. They compete for business that could also go to some of the bigger firms with more resources. Competition is fierce and the only way to survive is to cultivate good, long-term relationships. It’s a dog eat dog environment. I’ve even heard some of these independent professionals say things like “I don’t have a secure or steady paycheck, I eat what I can kill.”

I would feel a bit uncomfortable walking into a barber shop if I thought the barber, with all the sharp utensils at arm’s length, regarded me as prey. I would not recommend any good entrepreneur to cultivate a mindset of customers as prey. We all probably can recall a time in which we felt like such, and at least for me it has happened in unfamiliar environments – whether physical or metaphorical. Times like when I stepped out of a shuttle with the rest of the tourists, and someone approached me with an offer for free stuff that would later evolve into a hard sell of a time-share deal – I was able to escape. Or times like while touring a new city in a foreign country, the restaurateur would suggest going “off the menu” so you could get an assorted sampler platter – and as you finished savoring all the delicacies, the “off the menu” bill would arrive. It’s not only the stereotypical tourist traps where this happens, nor it happens exclusively because you’re in a foreign destination. I’ve wandered off the popular sites in many out of state and foreign cities and have had great experiences dealing with many of the local honest shopkeepers that make the bulk of hard working entrepreneurial communities out there. This happens in cities and countries that value entrepreneurs as the source of prosperity for society as a whole, and in turn these entrepreneurs value their clients as a means for them to improve their lot via the honest exchange of their value for the visitor’s money.

The mindset that makes these entrepreneurs thrive is that of seeing their customers not as prey, but as consultants. They take pride in the work they perform or the product they sell, and they analyze closely the dynamics under which each business transaction took place – how long the customer stayed, if they had an intent to buy as they walked in the door, if they asked for advice or were open to recommendations – and they make it a point of learning something with each customer that would make them better at offering value not only to that customer but to the next one and all the future customers. Over time, through deep insight, they have developed an extensive repertoire of solutions to the requests of thousands of clients, and they can predictably succeed in most situations by always being able to provide the right amount of value to the right customer based on the needs expressed. Some people talk about requisite variety, or the required accumulation of solutions or responses to problems or situations that may be thrown at you that you need to have to be successful in your everyday endeavors. This “law of requisite variety” applied to how to deal with customers, essentially says that to successfully deal with all the requests or needs your customers may have, you would have to have at least the same number or more nuanced solutions in your repertoire that address the needs they may express. This repertoire is the result of seeing your customers as consultants, not as prey, over long periods of time – as a habit. It requires observation, empathy, intelligent use of psychology.

For my attorney friend who “eats what he can kill”, it has meant spending decades cultivating deep relationships with business associates that later become friends and for whom he occasionally opens the door of his home for a celebration, in gratitude for their support. These clients are truly not his prey, they are not dead, but very much alive. They have thrived and have made him thrive as well because they have been consultants reciprocally, and have individually benefited from the collective intelligence that this habit brings into their network.

Our View from the Top – April 2, 2019