Well, the conversation goes like this. I smile, nod, and tell them I understand. Because I do. I’ve been there more times than I’d like to admit.
So then I usually ask a series of questions.
"Do you have a catchy, reliable message?"
One that’s tried, tested, and true?
I had a client start her brand the message: “I’m a stoner artist.” (No one cared.) After way too much chatting I got her to change it to: “I make art with weed-friendly people.” I pointed out it still wasn’t catchy and got: “Get stoned, see art.” But now the value of what she was offering was less clear, so: “Make & Bake — Art For Stoners”
So now I ask “When you yell ‘Marco’, does your audience respond ‘Polo?'”
The answer is usually…
“Fair enough,” I reply. But I start wondering other things about their brand and message now. Like, does it resonate with a specific, clearly identifiable group?
"Is it compelling to a clear tribe of people?"
At this point, their eyes usually widen & their shoulders drop down. They start to realize… they’ve neglected some very important business questions.
At least the client above was targeting a more reasonable niche (‘stoners.’)
Sometimes, someone answers ‘yes’ to one or two of my early questions, which makes me happy. Still, I make sure to dig a bit deeper.
"Can you list ten places you & that tribe hang-out?"
And they answer “Uh… one, yadda yadda, two, yadda yadda…uh…uhm…”
"Hmm, I guess not."
I’m not sure a biz will do well without a catchy message resonating with a targeted group, but all good, I’ll move on.
"Do you have a fun, effective recipe for sales?"
Sales is the lifeblood of any business. It’s like buying the groceries or washing the dishes. It has to be done or things go bad, fast. Far too often, the answer to this is:
"No, I don't."
I continue on.
"Are you a 10 out of 10 on the key business skills?"
It’s about here when the excuses start. “Well, I’m pretty good at content, I think. And uh, I’ve made some sales…
"I could improve, I guess."
And what about persuasion? Are you good at it?
Because like it or not, all the skills we just discussed require exceptional persuasion abilities. As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to convince people to stop their busy, endorphin-filled lives and engage with whatever you’re offering.
Excellent persuasion is essential.
Be honest, have you practiced persuasion like you would a sport?
Ok, you clearly have some work to do. But do you realize how much work?
"Do you have a 'renovation list' for your business?"
Most people have a list of renovations they want done in their home. Small things like fix the broken door handle, to big things like re-plumb the bathroom. But those same people’s businesses are usually in pretty poor condition. Real fixer-uppers with so many leaks, clogs, and rotting boards that they literally can’t be ignored.
They should have a list of 100 things that need renovated in their business, but they often can’t list any.
So ask yourself, do you have your own business renovation list?
"Wow. Ok. Yes, I need this."
And on that list, one thing should be a major deal-breaker…
"So can you pinpoint one key thing holding your biz back?"
Because guess what? If your business is really ‘fine’, you should be able to spot an upcoming frustration or obstacle on the horizon, and start making moves. Mark Zuckerberg could do it. Sara Blakely could do it. Steve Jobs could do it.
"Yes! It's __________."
OK, so I might be in a huff for nothing here, because…
Honestly, a lot of people actually get this one. But there’s still a problem.
The problem is, they only get it after I’ve poked and prodded. It’s not something they’re already on top of. Instead, it’s something that was way in the back of their mind until we began talking.
And even if they’re on it, usually their team isn’t up to par. So I ask.
"Is your team 5-star talent? Across the board?"
If they flub my first seven questions, do you think they’re aware enough to accurately assess their team?
"My team's about an 8."
My response goes something like:
"But what if I have no team?"
Sometimes I get asked this. Well, if that’s the case, then I ask them to name one business that became successful alone. Apple? Oprah? Google? Jordan? They all had a team whether you know any of their names or not.
And if they’re not fed up with all my questions by now, I take the convo a little further. I want to see if they’re getting the bare minimum necessary to know if their business is working properly.
"Do you spend time with the right crowd?"
They say you’re the sum of the 5 people closest to you. Which means the people you value most, spend time with most, and interact with most decide how far you’ll go in life.
For most people, the 5 people closest to them are drama-creating friends, judgy family, and low-ambition peers.
But, like the previous questions, it’s rare someone actually takes an honest look at the people around them, and admits the truth about them.
"How dare you question my family & friends!"
They choose comfortable, old relationships over achieving their dreams.
And when I see them wasting so much time and energy on low-value relationships, I start to wonder more about my conversation partner. Are they spending time on the wrong things in business too? Are they off chasing fluff, shiny objects, and creating yet another piece of content no one will see? Or are they doing what matters?
So I ask.
"What's your aim, & are you hitting the bullseye?"
Are you aiming for a 100 new followers a week? Are you aiming for 1 really big sale? Are you aiming for media coverage or interviews?
A lot of people I talk to can’t even tell me their current aim or goal. And when they do tell me, I take a look, and it’s obvious they’re no where near hitting the mark, and they don’t plan on improving.
Are they hitting the bullseye? According to many…
But it’s rarely true. Sugar-coated lies to soothe the ego.
"If you do, can you outline your plan to achieve it, & by when?"
At this point whoever I’m talking to gets pretty antsy.
They hear ‘plan’ and their eyes start darting left and right, looking for a way out of the conversation.
Being called out & not having satisfactory answers time after time triggers their fight-or-flight response.
They’ll do anything not to look foolish or sound dumb. They’ll do anything so they don’t have to admit they’re wrong and make real changes to their comfortable lives.
They often just leave the zoom call or stare, slack-jawed.
"Do you get more dopamine from working on your dreams, or from Netflix?"
Do feel that sweet dopamine rush most people get from Gaming, Netflix, or Social Media… when you’re working on your business?
Most of my interviewees don’t even make it to this question, and the ones who do are basically done with me.
Actually, they’re done with themselves. Because every one of my questions is aimed to help them. Sure, they may be brash. They may make the recipient “feel bad.” But they’re not meant to. They’re meant to reveal truths people are burying. When we can admit the truth, we can start to change it.
My questions are often the spankings entrepreneurs desperately need.
In this case… there’s no “C’mon, bros” about it. If you don’t passionately love, and get a rush from working on your business, you’re probably not going anywhere until you fix it.
So what am I getting at?
(Note: If you found this page without being pitched on my exclusive mastermind for entrepreneurs, just ignore this part.)
I’m getting at this:
Once these questions are answered honestly, it turns out most businesses weren’t “fine” after all. Usually, it becomes obvious they desperately need help. All too often, the truth is that they’ve plateaued or are bleeding out, and they refuse to ask for the band-aid. And worse, some refuse the band-aid even when it’s handed to them with love & care.
Hopefully you’re smarter than this.
Hopefully you realize that I’m offering you not just a band-aid… but free “biz hospital care” for rebel-preneurs.
Hopefully you’re smart enough to take it.