As small business owners, business is
generally conducted, sooner or later, face-to-face. Anytime an
individual interacts with another individual, instant impressions are
created. It happens in the tiniest fraction of a second, and all the
processing is done completely subconsciously. Our internal computer
spits out an answer, "Watch her; she's a shoplifter." "He can't afford
that car." "I'm not going to waste time on that guy; his company is too
small." "She sounds old; not our ideal customer."
More often than not, the key component to our instant decision making
process is how much money we think he has. If every other factor is
against him, but the assessment is he "has money," the vast majority of
people will cut that individual more slack, work harder for his
business, give him more attention, and, in general, treat him better.
So, who is wealthy?
Some people are very wealthy by average income standards but still
feel, live, and act as though they're in the middle of a depression.
Others feel quite confident about their ability to make more, so they
feel comfortable with less money. I've noticed that people who use their
financial wealth as a leverage to influence others aren't people it
pays to hang around with anyway. They are the ones who build one-way
streets. You'll live under their table, scrapping with others just like
you, for tidbits they drop for their own entertainment. Some "need" a
lot while their counterparts have empty Christmas lists. The former will
be heavy on hidden monetary wealth, the latter heavy on possessions.
Warren Buffett, for example, lives very modestly relative to his wealth.
Those portrayed on the “Housewives” live ostentatiously causing a few
to visit Bankruptcy Court.
In the business world, small businesses generally mirror the value
system of their owners. Some could afford brass, mahogany and granite,
but work out of Spartan offices. Others with glass and mahogany can
barely pay their rent. I would tell you to look at the accounting – and
you really can do that for most small businesses – but the convoluted
tactics of the "big boys" are settling downward so even some small
businesses have surprisingly complex accounting.
It is also true that assets come in all kinds. A "smelly old farmer"
who can't pay his feed bill may be sitting on a thousand acres of land.
The kid covered in tattoos with a nipple ring may well be an heir and an
"A" student. He may also be working in his bedroom on an effort that
will become the next Facebook. Stories abound about how immigrants put
their kids through Ivy League schools picking up soda cans.
Is a business with a yard full of old tires rich or poor? Are old
tires an asset or a liability? It depends upon your point of view. Be
sure to ask, "To whom might this be valuable?" instead of, "How much is
it worth?” in making your assessment.
Technology is changing the landscape because now your relationship
with your bank is likely one that goes from your fingers to a computer
with no human involved. When we shop at Amazon, we have no face. No face.
Do you realize that? You're a computer file somewhere, linked to a box
on a rack that came to be there through almost complete automation. It
will be picked, packed, and bar-coded into UPS without anyone giving
exactly who you might be a second thought, so the only face that sees
yours in the entire transaction is the UPS driver.
Small businesses still work on face to face. It is person-to-person.
As long as communication is person to person, automatic assessments
will be made. That person is terse. She is stingy with her words, highly
efficient, no waste, saver, smart, powerful, wealthy. She is flowery,
verbose, and friendly.
Quick – what impression did you form as you read those words?
We make assumptions based on people's voices, diction, dialect, and
accent. We judge them based on "my Droid" vs. "my iPhone." More often
than not, especially in small local businesses, it is still very much
face-to-face and a full range of see, hear, and smell work to help us
jump to immediate conclusions.
The population today is more diverse than ever with each culture
having its own standards. As small business owners, we have all assessed
the characteristics of our "ideal clients." Now we must learn to
exercise care in the judging process that helps us decide if they do, or
don't, fit the criteria.