What Time Did the Pencils Go Down?

I’ve written recently about the marketing opportunity that speaking can provide. But there is something more than a speech that might interest you as well—an entire seminar lasting at least one day, and perhaps two.

The topic? “How to Design a Fabulous House While Doing it All Yourself!”

Am I nuts? Am I telling you to tell them exactly how to do what you do? Doesn’t that mean that they won’t hire you and you’ll basically just be giving your advice away for free?

Well, that’s what they may think at first That’s why they may want to attend your event. But let’s face it, once they know the truth about the complexities and risks associated with a major design project, they won’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole! If they’re unsure, they can talk themselves into how much fun it might be, but after you’ve enlightened them, they’ll only want to hire you.

This “model” works in many industries. I know because I was once an employee for an absolutely masterful firm called the Geneva Companies. It was then a division of a major national bank and I think has since been sold and renamed.

What the Geneva Companies did was sell small businesses. But unlike most business brokerage firms, Geneva marketed its services through national seminars. These were two-day events that were held hundreds of times a year with the in-your-face title, “How and When to Sell Your Business For the Most Profit.” It’s easy to find lists of business owners and to filter that list by the size of the company and how long it’s been in business, or even the age of the CEO.

Geneva would do millions of pieces of direct mail a year inviting these business owners to one of their seminars. I was one of the seminar leaders that they paid an insane amount of money to after six months of intense training so that you could give the seminar exactly the way Geneva wanted, almost word for word. (Our manager would joke that he wanted to be able to look at his watch and, based on the time, know what slide a certain seminar leader in any given city was on…and he wasn’t far off!)

Just Three Things…A Hundred Ways Each

At the core of the Geneva training, and the Geneva philosophy, was that over the course of a two-day seminar, we were only trying to convince the attendee of three things.

  • They didn’t know what their business was worth
  • They didn’t know how to sell their business
  • They didn’t know when to sell their business

That’s it. Everything else we said and showed, including hundreds of slides, articles, case studies, workbooks, and flip charts (lots of flip charts!) was really just to support one of those three points.

Were We Really Teaching Them What We Promised?

The answer is, yes! We bombarded them with accurate and relevant information about valuation methods like net present value and discounted cash flow and multiple of earnings. We gave them examples of sales agreements and non-compete agreements, and consulting agreements. We talked about tax issues and earn outs and employee stock option plans.

We literally ground them into dust with the complexity of selling a business, and that’s why the inside joke was, “What time did the pencils go down?” We meant, what time did those who looked so eager at 9 a.m. to learn everything they needed to know, give up, lay down their pencils and start thinking, “I better hire Geneva because I can’t possibly do this myself!”

And that was rarely later than 10 a.m. on the first day. By then, they already understood that they didn’t know what their business was worth, didn’t know how to sell it, and didn’t know when to sell it. The remaining day and a half was just what Geneva called, “building the deficit” and thus building the case for how much they needed Geneva.

Complexity is the Key

I am convinced that managing a significant interior design project is every bit as difficult as selling a business. Yet home owners and even commercial clients aren’t aware of that…until you offer to enlighten them. I’ll go into more detail in a future post, but what I’m imaging is a 1 or even 2-day seminar in which you promise to share, “How to Design a Fabulous House While Doing it All Yourself!” And what I’m envisioning is the pencils going down as you start talking about initial concepts, measurements, structural issues, working with contractors, producing drawings, budgeting, and on and on and on.

Like Geneva, you’ll have to carefully segment who is invited to this event, but also like Geneva, the result will likely be that half of the people in that room will decide they really can’t do themselves, and instead will beg you to take them on as a client!


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