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A Moment That Taught Me

How having to pay for lunch saved me from paying for a big mistake later.

About 12 years ago I met a man who ran a successful event business. I was attending one of his Home and Garden Shows that ran every spring in my city. It was one of eight local shows he owned and managed through his company.

You know the ones, inside a local arena or community hall, two dollars to get in and you wander around from booth to booth seeing owners of local businesses in their finest suit, taking the opportunity to show you their products and services. It really is a great way to engage customers face to face.

Each of the businesses pay a fee to occupy a booth from Thursday to Sunday, marketing or selling their products or services. And he (we will call him Jimmy) would pay for the advertising of the event in the city and surrounding area, as well as the cost of the facility.

On this particular visit, Jimmy, who I had met at a seminar, gave me a tour of his operation and explained how the business worked and why it was so successful. I was not until a month later that I understood why he was so anxious to show me around. Seems he was wanting to sell the business and was looking for buyers.

Jimmy invited me to come see him at his office, which was located about 90 minutes from mine, and we would meet over lunch. I agreed to make the trip for two reasons; I was curious to know more about the business, and my parents live on the way, so I could kill two birds with one stone.

We agreed on a day and time and he suggested a local restaurant that was quiet so we could talk. I headed out that day to meet Jimmy and arrived just before noon. The restaurant was fancier than I expected but it was going to be nice to eat some place that did not have to line up to order my food at, for a change. Jimmy was already seated and working on what appeared to be a gin and tonic, and waved me over. He rose, shook my hand and invited me to sit in the chair opposite him.

When the waitress arrived I declined his offer for a gin and tonic, and choose a Diet Pepsi instead. (I tend not to drink at business meals, leaving me an advantage over my sometimes inebriated companions. Jimmy sucked down the remainder of his drink with a loud slurp and ordered another. During the time of the arrival of the drinks and the menus, we made chit chat on his various adventures in business and how successful he had become. Jimmy indicated that at his age he need to start thinking about

retirement and was look at offers for his business.

When the waitress returned, I indicated Jimmy should order first. Here is why. I was assuming that as he had asked me to drive ninety minutes to meet him, that he was looking to sell his business and I was a potential buyer, that he would be offering to buy lunch. And if this was correct there is a general understanding in business, that you do not select a meal that is more expensive than the person that is buying it for you. So, if Jimmy orders first, I will know the price range and can order appropriately. (please note the word assumed, this will be important later when you see me get schooled)

Jimmy ordered fish and chips, a medium priced meal, made more expensive with addition of a glass of red wine, the 12 oz not the 9 oz. I ordered fish and chips as well, sans the wine, and we set to talking more about his business. Jimmy went on about his operation at his office, computers, staff, contractors, etc. And how I should consider buying his company, at a rate I thought highly inflated for what his operations actually was worth. He carried on during lunch, getting so excited about his business, that pieces of white fish were flying from his mouth and spotting the red table cloth around his plate (and landing very close to mine).

As the waitress came to get our plates, a woman arrived at our table. It was his wife. He said he had asked her to join us, but as she was with a client she could only come for dessert. I rose, we shook hands, and she joined us. Our dessert, apple pie with icecream for each of them, apple pie for me, could only be consumed, as far as Jimmy and his wife were concerned with a Spanish coffee (tia maria coffee liqueur, bacardi rum, whipped cream, cherries oh yes and coffee) As they each enjoyed their desserts, his wife repeated most of what had been said earlier by Jimmy.

The time I had allotted to spend with Jimmy had long since passed, and I was very relieved when the waitress arrived with the bill. As this was a fairly classy place, she had brought the bill in a fancy leather waiters wallet and placed it in the middle of the table (avoiding the still present pieces of fish). And there it sat.

Now let's go back to the part I mentioned earlier about my assumption - that the person inviting me and try to convince me to buy his business, was going to pay the bill. Well I assumed wrong. We sat there like two gunfighters in the old west, at high noon, waiting for the first on to draw his gun (or credit card, in this case). Finally, Jimmy said, How about you pick up this one Steve, and I will get the next one. Jimmy had drawn his gun and shot me right in the wallet.

What did I learn.
And that was the moment that taught me. And actually it taught me two things, the first was not to assume in a situation like this and that Jimmy was not the kind of person with whom I wanted to get into business.

Picking up the cheque was expense, but not as expense it would have have cost me, both monetarily and otherwise to get into business with Jimmy.

Book Review

To be a successful entrepreneur, you do not just need to know how to run a business. You need to know how to run your life when the boundary between work and personal time has essentially been erased. But while there are countless books on setting up a company, there has not ever been a primer on navigating the unique emotional and personal demands of entrepreneurship. Google Books

Arlene Dickinson is a venture capitalist on the hit CBC show Dragons Den, co-star on CBCs The Big Decision and the #1 bestselling author of Persuasion. Dickinson is the owner and CEO of Venture Communications, a company she grew from a small, local firm to one of the largest independent agencies in Canada, and has recently launched Arlene Dickinson Enterprises, a company dedicated to promoting the advancement of entrepreneurs.

My Take on the Book

I have read my fair share of books on entrepreneurship but, All In is hands down the best yet. You do not read this book - you experience it. Arlene who is now a longtime friend in my mind, not only takes you through her own personal journey but through many other entrepreneurs journeys. There is so much to be gained with this book.

It is not so much of an autobiography her life, so much as it is an autobiography of entrepreneurship in general. What I mean is that it is about all of us who call ourselves entrepreneurs, every aspect of our lives from those who we live with, work with and deal with on a regular basis. As well, it is both a guide and a cautionary tale for all that swim the murky waters of the entrepreneurial world.

More often than not I will choose to read a book if the first paragraph gets my interest and excites me enough to want to carry on reading. With All In, I was all in (pun definitely intended) from the first chapter.

Entrepreneurship is not a job. It is demanding, rewarding, scary, thrilling and ultimately all-encompassing lifestyle. For entrepreneurs, the conventional divisions between work life and home life, family finances and business finances, do not exist. Work, money, and relationships are all connected for us, and at one point or another, they have been on the line. We cash in our savings, we talk business at the dinner table, we check our smartphones at the beach, we put our houses up as collateral. Again, and again, and again. To be an entrepreneur is to pursue a dream with everything you have and all that you are. There are no half-measures. You have to be all in. And that level of commitment will test your inner strength more than you ever imagined, and more than you sometimes think you can bear.

If this paragraph describes you please read this book! If this paragraph makes you want to go and tell your loved ones, this is what I have been trying to tell you, Get them a copy! They have to read this book.

In the section, Living with an Entrepreneur, Arlene tells us, For the entrepreneur, life is work and work is life. For us, that is cause for celebration a lot of the time. For those around us, not so much. She goes on to write about an experience with (and this is my favourite) Cameron Herold, business coach and mentor to CEOs:

As reported on CBS news, at a presentation to 300 CEOs read out a list of traits shared by successful entrepreneurs and asked the audience member to stand up after they had heard five that they believed they possessed. By the time he had listed nine, including: flooded with ideas, driven, restless, unable to keep still, easily irritated by minor obstacles - 95 percent of the entrepreneurs were on their feet. That is when he told them he was actually reading from a list used to diagnose bipolar disorder.

For those wondering if owning your own business is something you should do, especially if you have not been particularly successful working for others, then consider these words from Arlene (herself having been let go from previous jobs), I found my niche when I took over the reins at Venture. [her company] Right away the qualities that once caused me so much strife stubbornness, impatience, ambition, challenging the status quo, were the very characteristics of my new role required.

Personal Note:

On a personal level, this book explains so much as to the path that my life has taken been taken on over the last 20 years as an entrepreneur and before that, as I experienced the highs and lows of a career in government services. Her book has allowed me to let go of guilt and remorse for decisions I have made over the years and validated the road I have chosen, and continue to travel. Thank you, Arlene, for more then you will ever know.

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