A few years ago, I decided to change my business model by moving to an invite- and referral-only system. This meant saying goodbye to some of my biggest clients – some world-renowned brands and big businesses – following some difficult conversations on why we weren’t necessarily the best fit for each other. It also meant saying goodbye to a lot of income in the short term, and as someone running their own business, that’s a scary leap.
At first, the people closest to me thought I had lost my mind. They wondered: ‘You’ve worked so hard to attract international brands and clients, why would you walk away?’
The truth is that it was the most difficult business decision of my life.
It was also the best one.
Here’s the thing: the way things were going, for many years, I felt more like a substitute teacher more than anything else. Allow me to explain.
As a keynote speaker and corporate trainer, I would travel around North America and I would always hear the same things. People would say to me: ‘Hey, can you come in and solve this problem?’ or ‘Hey, can you come work with my sales team to get them motivated again?’ And so I would come in, and I would do the work, but I never felt like I was having the impact that I wanted to.
Do you remember when you were in high school and you had a substitute teacher for the day? I’m going to take a wild guess here and say you weren’t particularly engaged on those days. That was how I felt doing these corporate training events. I knew what my audiences were thinking, which was probably something along the lines of: ‘Whatever, I have to sit through this thing and this guy will be gone by lunch.’
This bothered me – a lot – because I didn’t want to just be the guy making a living. I wanted to be the guy making a difference – and I wanted the clients to experience measurable results.
When there’s no follow-up, no measurement of success, it’s hard to feel like anything you’re doing is making a difference. I felt like I was swimming upstream, trying to convince these clients that we would work better as long-term partners, and then facing the same obstacles over and over again.
I knew something needed to change. And thanks to one chance encounter at a speaking event in San Francisco several years ago, I discovered what that something was.
I had just finished my speech when a fellow speaker and best-selling author came up to me and said something that I’ve never forgotten.
She said: ‘Shawn, I just saw your speech, and the one thing I would suggest is: don’t change who you are and what you do. Just change your audience.’
Fast forward to today, and I work with a small group of amazing business owners, family-owned companies, and people who act like owners – exclusively. I provide them with clarity, focus, and accountability that lead to new opportunities, income, and time off. How did these incredible individuals show up in my life, you may be wondering? I made the difficult decision of working only with people who are a good fit; people who are open to sharing their vision for the future – personally and professionally, and are committing to taking action.
These are people with whom I can cultivate long-lasting, meaningful relationships – people like Kevin Cassidy of Cassidy Paving and Jim Kaloutas of Kaloutas. These are people who had the courage to start their own businesses, people who value their teams and treat them like family, people who share certain keys to success:
1) They create their future. These individuals have a clear vision of where they are going personally and professionally and are active in creating the life they want.
2) They don’t hide from the truth. They have the courage to have tough conversations with themselves and others.
3) They have a bias for action. They make a habit of getting uncomfortable and quickly moving into action.
4) They invest in themselves. They invest in the people, programs, and resources that will move them closer to their future vision.
Some people believe that every job involves working with people you don’t like, at least some of the time. I don’t buy that. The thing is, when you actually commit to a model that allows you to work with the kinds of inspiring and energizing people that I do, the benefits are immeasurable.
When you commit to this model, you don’t really need marketing, because your clients do all the marketing for you. Think of your favourite restaurant; you can’t help but tell people about it. When you are able to put your all into the success of a few fabulous clients, they’re going to feel that love and they’re going to want to spread the word. That’s what these clients do for me, and I am forever grateful for that.
I read an article once that said you need 1,000 true fans to make it as an entrepreneur. I only need about five; five clients in the whole world with whom I’m a perfect fit, and provide with an exceptional experience that they can’t help to share it with other, just like them. That’s what I have now, and it never would have happened had I not made that one difficult decision.