[44/250] This one tiny change could shift the entire state's economy

The change is "employ just 1 person".

As a place to do business, South Australia is a pretty shitty place. But it isn’t because of the location; it isn’t even because it’s at the arse-end of the world. In this instalment of The Next Five Years I argue that it’s because its goals are wrong.

First, the context

South Australia flaps its gums a lot, but in terms of taking action it’s just a climate change rally. Lots of shouting, loads of wasted time, nobody actually doing anything.

It’s a great place to live, don’t get me wrong. And I love the lifestyle.

But the bullshit messages it sends to itself is enough to make you stick your fingers down your throat and vomit up your breakfast.

Many years ago, as I drove through Adelaide in one of the very first times I’d been here as a grown up, I saw all these flags up and down the major roads yelling SA GREAT!

‘Why,’ I wondered aloud to my partner at the time, ‘does it have to say that to the people who live here, if it is actually great? Why wouldn’t it say that to people interstate, like Victoria does?’

This all burst forward into my mind today after reading some wankery on LinkedIn talking about how South Australia has to look up and out of its own state if it’s going to be profitable.

Like, is that actually a question? I thought that was a given.

It’s a numbers game, and an attitude game

South Australia has 1 million people in it. Of that 1 million people, 75% of them live in the city. Of those people who are employed in this centralised population, the majority are employed by small businesses and the government. A small business, according to Fair Work Australia, has fewer than 15 employees. So, basically, unless you have a government job, there’s a really good chance you’re employed by a small business.

In my experience, in business associations, and in professional associations here, what I’ve seen is a total unwillingness to take action to grow, or to stand up and do something more amazing.

I’ve stood in amazement at networking events, watching conversations like this:

‘You’ve got a great business. You should grow locally, and then think about maybe trying to get some clients in Melbourne or Sydney. Once you’ve done that, you could expand to Brisbane. And maybe then think about overseas.’

Sounds fair, right?

Except that the person on the receiving end of that comment (it’s a true story) is in an industry that has about 40 well-known people globally. If she was going to “grow” in South Australia the way the man was advocating to her, she would be wasting her time trying to educate the people who don’t even see that they have a problem—instead of selling to the people that want what she’s offering, who are in the US and in Europe. (She knew that that’s where they were, too, by the way.)

I stepped in, having myself built a global business from an Adelaide flat, thanks to the internet.

When I said, in front of this boring Adelaide man, ‘Or you could sell your product globally by working out how to do it online instead’, he gave me a shitty look and walked away.

The woman beamed. She said to me: ‘Nobody’s ever suggested that to me before. They all say grow here first.’

I shrugged. ‘Don’t listen to them.’

But of course, they would suggest that to her, because that’s how they see the world. They think that having a global footprint from day one is actually impossible. They were born in a town that exists between the hills and the sea, and that faces the setting sun. They think this is all there is; they don’t even drive to the rest of the country. They fly it instead.

You may be feeling that I’m sounding agitated and annoyed. Well, I am. If it makes you uncomfortable, then (respecfully) deal with it.

Most South Australian leaders (not necessarily political leaders, but business leaders) bang on about things, but do they ever actually DO anything? No. They spend weeks every year in conferences patting each other on the back, but does it ever result in change? No! Do they ever actually support a business that isn’t supporting destruction (either individual, via alcohol; or on a nation basis, via war)? No.

Do they ever actually sit down and work out a plan for increasing the numbers of employees in every one of South Australia’s small businesses? No.

Growing this economy means changing the goal

If someone—a politician, a chamber of commerce, a business association—set a goal to see every small business in South Australia grow enough to employ 1 more person, then we would finally have an actually meaningful metric.

More to the point, it would massively shift the local economic needle.

Let’s run some numbers.

In 2018, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that Greater Adelaide had 112,737 businesses inside it.

Of those, 33,767 employed between 1 and 19 people.

If every single one of those businesses was able to employ 1 more person, at a full-time salary of $50,000, then that’s an actual shitload of money (more than $1,000,000,000 available just for salaries). More than this, if there are 33,000 more people employed at an average income, then it has a ripple effect on the local economy: More spending, more construction, more babies. Everything!

Just looking to create ‘jobs’ isn’t enough. You have to create jobs as a result of growing existing businesses. And create an environment that supports that growth.

This is a basic law of the universe. Without the right conditions, nothing will grow. That’s the same for flowers as for online communities, and it’s exactly the same in business.

How would you inject more than a billion dollars into the local economy? I don’t know. You don’t know. The question is far too big. But if you went out and you found out what every single business needed in order to gain another $75,000 revenue, you’d probably find that the shift isn’t that big a deal.

For some, it’s coaching. For others, it’s a restructure. For yet others, it’s access to some kind of funding that will help them develop product. Everyone will be different, but at least you’d know what to work on.

It’s tempting, I know, to drill down to sexy industries like wine, or space, but it doesn’t have this effect. What it does do is make one industry artificially robust while ignoring the rest of the state.

Instead, having a meaningful and specific goal, like ensuring that every small business grows enough to employ 1 more full-time person, within four years, is the best thing anybody could do! It’s specific, it’s measurable, it has a time limit. It forces thinking about what is stopping them from employing, and it spurs thinking about what it might achieve.

More importantly, it takes the Jargon Wheel of “massive action” and “collaboration” and gives it spikes. In pursuit of the goal of growing every business so much that it employs at least 1 more person full-time, it would create conditions in which action comes from collaboration.

It would be inevitable.

It would even stop the domination of those same wankers who run the business associations and give advice - because suddenly they’d have to think very differently.

The nature of this place is reflected in its associations

I say that having been this week to an expo of the largest small business association in the state; largest beyond the local chamber of commerce anyway.

Here’s my experience:

  • park car

  • walk to where I imagined it was

  • no signage in the trafficked areas of the facility

  • walk around for 20 minutes trying to find it, because there are no signs

  • find it eventually in the south-westernmost corner, hidden, without signs

  • talk to people in there who said that they thought it was a waste of time, and who wondered aloud why the association didn’t advertise it.

Brilliant experience all round, I’d say. Almost everyone there was someone from a stand.

I ran into a friend there, who said that she only turned up to show a bit of support. That was entirely the reason why I turned up, too. And then she wondered out loud why it was that they never advertise events to anyone other than their members.

My friend cocked her head. ‘Kind of defeats the purpose of an expo, doesn’t it?’

What else could I do but agree?

When I queried the chairman about why it wasn’t held in the highly trafficked areas, around the other businesses, he replied huffily:

‘Well Renewal SA is impossible to deal with and anyway these people give me the space for free.’

Fair enough, then, I thought. You’ve got Poor Man thinking, and clearly this is all about you. It gave me an immediate insight into why the association doesn’t grow, and why South Australia is peddling backwards at a rate of knots.

Creating change doesn’t happen because you talk about it. It happens because you take small steps, consistently. That’s at the heart of every massive shift.

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” - Robert Collier

[43/250] Unhelpful mentors

Yes, they exist.

A couple of months ago, I sat next to an elderly man who was a sales coach. It was in his house, a situation in which I had misgivings the first time I went to meet him; though the presence of another female went some way towards mollifying me. I remember thinking, man, if I’d known, I would have declined the opportunity.

When I walked in, I noticed that he had set up the seating arrangements so that he was sitting on my right-hand side. I knew that he’d done this intentionally: The first time I met him, he explained to me that my ‘yes’ side was my right-hand side. The theory goes that if you sit on someone’s ‘yes’ side, it’s harder for them to say no.

I did wonder if he remembered that he’d told me.

He didn’t know that I was using him as a training exercise in some new negotiation techniques that I was learning.

His intention was to sell his own service; I knew that.

He had the balance of energy in his favour: I travelled out of my way to his place, which was literally his place. My job therefore was to bring the energy back into balance.

That meant getting him to talk, because the person who talks the most has the least amount of power in any negotiation.

Ahead of time, I’d done my research. I knew that he was a ladies’ man, and that his past inability to keep his hands to himself contributed to the demise of his marriage. Therefore, I dressed accordingly and put on my very best Feminine Airs.

I also knew that he had been an orphan and that loads of his behaviour was a result of a desire to be loved. That desire was the entire reason why he’d done the things in his life that he had done. I had in the back of my mind a few ways I could use that to my advantage.

Right, so, back to the story. I’m in his apartment; he’s sitting on my right-hand side. I’d done some seriously deep research about this guy and had an insight into the type of person that he is, informed by a prior interaction. In that prior interaction, I’d asked him loads of questions, and learned about him; he had asked me none.

During the meeting, I was able to predict what he would say, what he would ask, and respond accordingly. The result was that he was blown away.

Apparently, not many people know what an old-school networking response is. You know that old trope? Respond to “what do you do” with a question, and then use the question to provide vision about what you do? Networking 101.

Let’s be honest: It wasn’t hard. He’s an old-school sales guy, and old-school techniques are available in more texts than you can imagine. He even ran through the pricing so fast that it was impossible to follow, in a deliberate attempt to confuse me. In fact, even in retrospect, I believe that he deliberately shifted the numbers around.

So yes, I was confused. I interrupted his monologue to ask him to explain it. Of course, he got impatient. Fascinating, no?

When he came to try and close the deal, later, I said no.

In fact, I emailed him telling him that the negotiation had to slow down because his stated values didn’t match his behaviour. Boy, didn’t that light a fire!

In asserting my own power in the negotiation, he got aggressive, which I predicted. He was a very predictable animal, truth be told. His true colours were a lot different from his shiny public exterior. He believed not only that my husband was an influence in my business decisions (er, wrong matey), he failed to ask any questions or become interested in anything in my own world.

In 2019 that’s like shooting yourself in the proverbial foot and then asking a prospect to the bullet out of your flesh.

And then he said something that was really unhelpful.

He told me that if my business wasn’t making a minimum of $100,000, that there’s no point in being in business. He asked me point blank what the fuck I’d been doing for the past five years. (Minus the swearing, but I’ve added it because that was absolutely his intent.)

I didn’t say anything. I simply looked at him.

This man had no idea who I was.

He had zero conception about my business or how it functions.

He’d never bothered to ask any questions about my goals, or dreams. He wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in my views or thoughts.

He had no desire to understand whether this was my first business or my tenth; or the revenue model; or the sales process; or anything.

Instead, he was trying really hard to upset me and confuse me, so that I would simply agree to his preposterous sales proposition.

Dear reader, I have no need to tell you that it didn’t work.

Despite all of his attempts to get me to say yes - from the suave presentations, to the body language, to the sequence of his statements, from the outset I was only ever going to say no to him.

The problem is that this guy is mentoring people who don’t have any negotiation skills. They have very little exposure to different ways of thinking about business, or sales. Many of them have worked as employees for their entire lives, and are going out into forays into business in their autumn years.

They are happy to confess that they have no idea, and don’t know where to start.

It’s unfortunate for them that he’s such an unhelpful mentor because they can’t see that they are unwitting actors in his pyramid scheme, even when he tells them to put a slide into their sales presentations that are about him! A sales pitch for his own business, inside other people’s sales pitches, even when it doesn’t fit.

It’s genius, you have to admit. Talk about clever sales gen. It’s unethical as fuck, but it is clever.

It’s true that Brutal Pixie didn’t crack $100,000 in revenue for its first six years. But here’s the thing: Today is the Pixie’s 6th birthday, which is bloody brilliant, and I am stoked. It’s been alive for double the length of time of my last longest-lived business.

To me, this is an epic achievement.

And even though I sometimes moan that I’d like a pay rise (and no, I can’t just ‘give myself one’ because I am a custodian now and not just ‘working for me’), the raw and unforgiving truth is that having a business with the lifestyle I want has been more important to me than having money.

Don’t think that isn’t tough to admit. Ha!

Over the past six years, I’ve been working on becoming the person who can handle a growing business. If the Pixie had grown any faster any earlier, I would legitimately have bailed out of it, and by now I would be another cog in a corporate job somewhere.

Sales are important to growth, sure.

More important is being the person who is capable of achieving it and sustaining it.

When a company is run by its founder, that founder is the foundation. The term itself, as a noun anyway, means ‘to set a foundation’. This is from the Latin, fundator, from the early 15th century.

So if that foundation is shaky, you have nothing.

On this day, this 6th birthday of Brutal Pixie, I can confidently state that we’re on track to sail past $100,000 for the first time. And in the meantime, I’m just here, in the background, working on being who I need to be to shift the business from babyhood to childhood.

It’s a different person from who you need to be to start a business. Wildly different.

Happily, I’m achieving that without the ‘help’ of millionaires who don’t realise that it’s long past time for them to retire.

[ 42/250 ] Balancing on both legs

and feeling the momentum

Being able to balance on one leg is essential to your long-term health. In fact, according to some researchers it’s a major indication of a healthy brain. And, therefore a predictor of age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s Dementia.

It’s also critical to your ability to walk.

If you can’t stand on one leg, walking is impossible. Try walking without standing on one leg.

I write this while standing on a balance board, on one leg. My leg is in turnout and my right glute is burning white-hot like someone stuck a poker into my hip. I tend to favour my strongest leg, because - shifting legs - my left leg is lazy. The glute doesn’t switch on the same way, my inner thigh prefers bed to being woken up, my left knee doesn’t switch on, and the balance board tilts like a mofo.

But I can still write an entire paragraph while standing on a balance board, on one leg, on my non-dominant leg.

Wouldn’t it be nice if balancing on both legs in business was as easy?

If you don’t know what I mean by ‘balancing on both legs’, I mean keeping everything perfectly in order, in a state of perfect and strong equilibrium.

Just as your body will suddenly give way, due to a weakness you hadn’t noticed before, so will your business tumble if you don’t pay attention to the weak spots.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve had that happen to me in businesses in which I was running blind. And as a dancer, I’ve had it happen to me physically.

It’s amusing to me (now) to see the parallels (and I’m not talking about the position of your feet!). It happened when I was at a Royal Academy of Dance intensive, about three years ago. I was 36 years old. I’d literally just come out of the sanguinary sloth of summer holidays, a time in which we eat and drink and lounge about, and hadn’t done any physical exercise at all, much. I ploughed straight into a dance intensive, which meant 8 hours of classes every day for 5 days. By the third day, you feel like you’re made of glass: Even opening your eyes in the morning is a world of pain, let alone moving one leg forwards to get moving, to start walking, to wash yourself is agony. But that’s normal. The fourth day at my last intensive, I ended up with an extremely sore lower calf; so sore in fact that it made me alarmed. Walking on my foot was perilous. I bailed out of the contemporary dance class and went straight to a physio, who saw me within two hours of onset.

She poked and prodded and tsked and hmmed. Then proclaimed, ‘You have achilles tendonitis. You can’t do any dance for at least six weeks.’

She went on to explain that my gluteus maximus was weak, and that - over time - this weakness had pretty literally cascaded down my leg. The result is that my achilles was carrying the impact of that side of my body, that my intrinsic muscles had grown slovenly, and that it was inevitable.

There was no way I was going to avoid it. It was just a matter of time.

The same thing happens in business. As a solopreneur, not being able to see the weaknesses in your own system results in blowouts. Sometimes those blowouts require rest. Sometimes they require surgery. Sometimes they destroy what you’ve created.

Learning to balance on both legs requires you to switch on all of your muscles, to pay attention to your business’s physiology. It’s a matter of staying alert on everything, all at once, all the time, and also - somehow - breathing.

And then, just like with a tough ballet class, showing up, day after day; even when you don’t feel like it; even when you think it’s hopeless; and making it work.

Put like this, it all sounds terrifyingly dramatic, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.

If you put all your eggs into the basket, but the basket’s handle is weak, you’ll smash your eggs.

In the past week at Brutal Pixie I’ve moped about how I’ve ended up at the end of my 30s without anything to show for what I’ve achieved. And then, the night of the dark moon, I realised that that is all past.

I know the weaknesses. I am doing the exercises daily that strengthen the weak muscles. In comparison to Me As Past Founder, I have an entirely different physiology. The five-year plan is robust; it’s already paying off. And it will pay off in spades provided I show up, day after day, even when I don’t feel like it, even when I think it’s hopeless, and make it work.

Which is why, in this first Official Spring week (unofficial spring began in July, according to the magpies here in Adelaide), I not only have the space to think and create and work effectively, but I am excited as fuck for what’s coming up next.

I feel like, for the first time in ages, balancing on two legs is the order of the day.

[ 41/250 ] The Art of Letting Go

(Because it really does take an artist.)

Artist. /ˈatəst/ noun. Someone skilled in an applied art or industry.

According to Australia’s national dictionary, the Macquarie, the definition I’ve given you is obsolete. The idea of an artist being someone skilled in applying themselves to an industry or craft - or even the production or expression of beauty - is obsolete. These days, if you’re an artist, you are only a practitioner of the fine arts, or a performer.

‘It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words,’ wrote George Orwell in his seminal volume 1984.

So, we’ll just let it go and enjoy the broader (more appropriate) meaning of the term.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Happiness comes from letting go. But what does ‘letting go’ actually mean?

For those of you who are in your own businesses, your experience is probably like mine has been. It’s an experience of holding on, of grasping at a whole lot of differently shaped and textured balls, alarmed when they fall to the floor, cheering when you can carry them for a short distance, and being exhausted at the end of a day (or week).

People talk about 'juggling’, but the act of juggling is different. It’s an act of power.

Juggling suggests that you not only have balance, but strength, ease of movement, great timing, and intense, focused concentration. In real life, I can juggle just three balls; and I’ve stood in wonder and watched people I know juggle six or more: Their ease belies the effort and concentration, and that’s where their power is.

Is letting go about giving up?

It’s not, but isn’t it tempting to see it that way sometimes!

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way
- Lao Tzu

Rather, the deceptively simply phrase letting go is truly about:

  1. Being present enough to experience whatever is going on right now.

  2. Doing the work right now that will move you forwards

  3. Taking advantage of any Doorways Of Opportunity that open in front of you.

  4. Allowing the outcome to occur for you, in whatever shape it happens to take.

Jim Carrey’s commencement speech at the graduation of the Maharishi University of Management's class of 2014 is instructive:

Letting go is about releasing your grasp on the seductive illusion of control. There is no control, just as there is no try. You do it, you experience it. Your only task is to be where you are.

As a business owner, this may be terrifying because you might feel like you’re letting go of your sense of control. Your mind is a whirring machine, adept at tricking you into thinking that thinking is helpful.

But, just like social media, thinking is only helpful if you direct it and use it effectively.

This notion of Letting Go occurred to me this week as a result of three things:

  1. The death of my father-in-law on Monday (technically, stepfather-in-law, but meh technicalities. Vale, Bob, you fascinating and beautiful man.)

  2. A lesson learned via meditation

  3. Watching people on social media create meaning that is not isomorphic to reality, which (because of its disconnection) forms beliefs that then come to life as Minds Fixed In Concrete. Sheesh. I decided these are not my people and made a snap decision to delete my social media accounts.

You see, you can do all the things that the Spinfluencers tell you to do in business and in life. You can follow the rules, follow the trends, hang shiny baubles on yourself and dance along to the beat of the world. You can pretend that Doublethink is your thing, use NewSpeak to be one of the cool kids and not be kicked out of the collective.

Or you can acknowledge that it exists, and appear to function in the same timing, but sing yourself a different song.

Brutal Pixie is today a great business, which is growing. My lifestyle is today designed so well that I have space to work on the projects that might even define me as an artist after I’m dead.

Acknowledging that all of this might change tomorrow, that something else might come to life, and be more meaningful to me is one thing. Prising my fingers away from the hem of its skirt is quite another.

The question is, if I (and you, in your life) don’t learn to do this, could you ever really say that you functioned without limitation?

Food for thought. Love to hear what you think.

~ Leticia

Loading more posts…