Lessons from My Father

My dad was a small business owner for almost 25 years. From the age of 9 through college I worked with him. This small retail establishment was in many ways my school. I didn’t learn math or literature or science there. I learned people. There has never been a more valuable thing to understand if you want to be successful in this world. And I don’t just mean financially, I mean making a real difference.
Unfortunately I forgot just about everything I learned.

Just about 10 years ago my oldest child was born. At that point my wife and I were not sure whether or not she wanted to go back to work, so we decided to start our own micro-business as a way of making some extra income.I had always been a writer, so we embarked on a resume writing adventure.

Starting out I felt I needed to compete with others who had a much larger footprint in the marketplace. They had large staffs, I had me. They had huge advertising budgets, I had none. They did massive volume, and therefore charged relatively low prices. So, I did my best to be cheaper. I presented myself as a much larger company with multiple email addresses that in actuality all went back to me. I did my best to be one of the big boys in the field. Over the years it allowed my wife to stay home and home school our kids while still keeping a roof over our heads. But it has never really thrived.

Then I started thinking about the lessons I’d learned watching my father all those years ago. I asked myself: what made him successful? He had to compete against stores much larger, with bigger staffs, bigger advertising budgets and cheaper prices, yet he thrived.

I realized what he did, and I failed to do, was build a business relationally based around just dealing with people. He didn’t deal with customers so much as deal with friends. Some were old friends, some were new friends, some were one-day-only friends. But the point was he related to people on an individual basis. People were treated justly, fairly, and that made a difference. This was what he could do that other, larger, more multifaceted, businesses couldn’t do. It is what made him stand out.

So over this past summer I changed my business model entirely. I stopped trying to pretend I was something I was not. I dropped the pretense that I was a bigger business than I was. I redesigned my website to make it perfectly clear I was a one man show. That I was a teacher who wrote resumes as a side business, and that I was damn good at what I did. My business emails became much more personal. I looked at my clients less as paying customers and more as people who needed my help. Payment would come, but that was secondary.

I also stopped trying to compete with bigger companies on price. I raised my rates- considerably. But I told people exactly what they were getting for their investment- me. Not a big-box style service, but a personal writer who would walk them through the process, make them more comfortable, and provide them with a product they would be proud to use.

And what did following my father’s implied advice get me? The best two months I have ever had. More clients have of course meant more money, but something even more important has happened. I have started to really enjoy my work. And I have gotten emails like this one from my most recent client:

I think you hit a homerun! I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this! You most definitely have a special gift! How you were able to transform my resume into something I would never have been able to do….is amazing! Don’t be surprised if you get more business …. because I will definitely be recommending you to all my family and friends that are in need of professional resume builder. I will keep you posted on my career search. 

What makes this so impactful to me is this one line, I will keep you posted on my career searchThis really means a lot to me because it means this client and I made an honest connection. Yes I provided a service for a fee, but I also connected relationally. That will probably lead to more business and that is great. But more important is the fact that it leads to a more fulfilling job. It took me almost 10 years, but I have finally implemented the business lessons my dad taught me about how to treat people justly.

If I haven’t said it before, thanks Dad.