In this podcast:
01:06 – A boy and his boat
02:27 – Lessons in benchmarking
03:51 – Beyond Facebook
04:44 – Locking in your wins
06:22 – A mentor in discipline
07:59 – Learning compassion
08:43 – The art of trading: Why it’s valuable
10:42 – Why people buy
11:51 – Are you overly focused on price?
Hey there, James Schramko here. Today is a special episode. I’m going to talk about some life experiences that I’ve had and how they might be helpful lessons that perhaps a new generation of business owners and marketers can adapt to. Some of these ideas might be uncommon, but if you’ll indulge me in letting you know how they came about, I think that might give you enough context to really apply these because they’re almost like a metaphor.
So these are the lessons that have impacted me as a person and a business owner. Many of them are highly personal, and some of them I haven’t spoken about before. So let’s get stuck into it.
I thought I might die
When I was a kid, I remember,  my uncle gave me a boat. It was a wooden boat and it was half-rotten. My grandfather was a sailor and he was very passionate about timber and sailing. So it made sense that he would give me a wooden boat. In fact, he used to have a plaque on his wall on his office that said, “If God had meant to have fiberglass boats, he would have made fiberglass trees.” So he was really old school.
Now, what happened was I got this boat, my uncle and my dad sailed it around to where we had to pick it up, and it pretty much half sank. Half of it was rotten so my dad and I actually replaced half of the boat with some new materials. We went out sailing, and we went in a terrible storm, like it was epic thunder and lightning, just swept across the bay. And on the way in, we slammed into a moored yacht, and the sail came down on top of me and ropes were wrapped around me. It was freezing cold, and windy, and black, and I thought that I might die. Obviously I didn’t die because I’m here recording this, but it was pretty terrifying. I was only about 7 years old.
I went back to shore. Luckily, we untangled ourselves out of it and drifted back in. I vowed never to set foot in a boat again. I remember that. Later on, my parents would actually take me down to the beach and point out on a sunny clear day and show me all the boat sailing. They’d say, “Look, if those people can do it, then so can you.”
This was really one of my first strong memories of benchmarking. This is where you look at people around you and you see what’s happening, and then if you reason logically that other people can achieve something, there’s a good chance that you can. I’ve done this many times throughout my career.
I remember sitting on an airplane on the way back from Las Vegas to San Francisco, and I sat next to Tim Houston, an affiliate marketer. He was making around $100,000 a month at the time. He started to look across at me and at the time I had a job and I was earning about $300,000 a year. He said, “Why are you selling yourself so short?” I really reflect on that as another benchmark moment where once I’m aware of a new level and that I’m playing it too low a level, then I’m actually moving my mind towards what’s possible.
So the real action step from this point is have a look around you. Not so much just Facebook. Obviously, Facebook is a heavily curated environment where people are only ever posting the best of the best, generally. The best meals, and their nice car that they’ve hired for the weekend, etc. That can be very misleading.
But if you do know of someone out there, whether that’s me or someone else who is doing what you want to do or showing you that it’s possible to make a good income without being a workaholic or to pursue your daily passion and make that the priority, then just know that it is possible, and start writing down an action step of things that you would need to do to achieve that. That’s really the part two, the execution part. Knowing it is a good first step, but doing it is the next step.
Success and perseverance
After I learned about benchmarking and being able to work out that some people can achieve things while others can’t, I got back in the boat. And many years later, after pursuing sailing all throughout my school career and as a young adult, I ended up coming second in the world titles. I think that was one of the greatest anchorings for success and perseverance. This is from age 7 through to 23, or thereabouts 23 or 24. So I put in quite some time in the field doing every single weekend for a long, long time, mastering the craft, getting so good at that skill. That was an ability to lock-in wins.
I transferred my locking-in wins to my business side of things, and then I balanced out my ability to lock-in business wins with my sporting. What I found recently when I took up surfing, just about 2 years ago from when I’m recording this, not quite 2 years, but certainly in earnest a year and a half ago, I’ve applied the same principles for progression, and that’s how I’ve been able to have such a rapid progression by refining my process and benchmarking off people who are more able than I am, certainly seeking intuition from people who are more skilled than I.
Getting lessons, observing videos, watching pictures, looking at where people are putting their hands and their feet, and where they’re looking with their eyes; these things have all been indicators. So you can benchmark off other people.
My grandfather was more than generous and more than just timber aficionado. He taught me a lot about discipline. There was a time when I used to live with him. Actually out in the back garden we created a little one bedroom shed for me to live in when my family went through a financial change of circumstance.
He used to wake up very early and water the garden. He would actually wave the hose across the window right next to my bed, and it would splatter across the window like a machine gun like, brrrrr. Of course he was pretty much blind at this stage, so he would pretend that he just wasn’t aiming well. But what he was really doing was teaching me to wake up early. He was giving me some old school discipline.
I also worked for him at one stage. He had this timber broking business in the backyard, where he’d make 3% commission by matching up buyers and sellers. I turned up late once because my car broke down, I had to roll start it. I was only a few minutes late, but when I got there, he told me to “piss off, son.” I had to negotiate to stay, to be able to do my job. So he really taught me that it’s no excuse. I think that was part of where my work ethic was instilled. I had very good work ethic for the rest of my career.
I still have a solid work ethic. That’s not to be confused with workaholism. I think you can have a very strong work ethic without overdoing it. You can know when you are on, you are on. If you are going to start something at a time, you start it at that time. That’s work ethic.
Tolerance and compassion
He was a very mischievous old man. He would sit out in the backyard and we’d have our tea and biscuits that my grandma would bring out. When my grandma would walk away, he would actually toss the tea into the bushes. And he’d say, “Oh son, this is bushwhacker’s piss.” And I’d ask him why wouldn’t he just tell grandma that he doesn’t like the tea. He goes, “I don’t want to break her heart.”
So I think he was teaching me something about tolerance, and compassion, and understanding things from someone else’s point of view. I think she would have been upset to know that he wasn’t drinking the tea. But her going through the process of lovingly making that tea and bringing it out was part of her ritual and he was not going to infringe upon that.
Learning about trading
So he really did help serve others, but he was good at looking after himself and the family as well. And he had started from nothing. Like he literally built his way up in the timber trade from nothing all the way to owning timber stores and having a timber brokerage.
Working for him, buying and selling, taught me something very valuable, which is really not often taught in selling. That is that I learned about trading. I learned about being able to buy and sell because we were broking. We had to buy timber from one source, and we had to sell it to the builder, who was looking for their order fulfillment. So we had to negotiate over the telephone. Buy and sell. He was a very good listener and he could listen and tune into the tone of the person on the other end of the phone, and he could actually pick up subtleties in whether there was stress or whether they were keen to make a sale, whether they were pretending they had supply but didn’t.
He’s also very innovative. He actually had a fax machine installed in his office. This was before everyone had fax machines. And he would actually have a fax machine installed into the timber yards. He would actually insist they do this and help them install this. By doing this, it meant that he had a direct link to these places that other competitors didn’t have. So he was quite an innovator.
I learned a lot about the invisible success that is being able to buy well. It’s good to be able to sell. But if you can buy well, you’ll always be able to make a profit because arbitrage is buying low and selling high. I think later on, when I reflect on my motor industry experience, in order to make a sale of a Mercedes-Benz, I had to buy the current car from the customer. So I had to be able to be a good buyer and a good seller. So learning how to buy is important.
Learn how people consume
Learn how people consume and understand turnover cycles. Are people buying because they’re instructed to? Or are they buying because they’re on someone else’s agenda? Are they buying because they are trying to make a commercial gain? There’s different types of buyers. There’s emotional buyers, there’s commercial buyers, and you need to know the difference. If you’re in a property market for example, and you’re selling to commercial buyers, you’re going to have to have a different sales argument than if you’re selling to consumers who are just making an emotional purchase from their couch.
Question your buying habits
You should also be questioning your own purchasing habits. Why are you buying something? Are you buying this for you or are you buying this because someone else thinks you need it? That comes down to flashy cars, suits, jewellery, etc. We really should question everything when it comes to our consumption because we’ve been heavily trained how to consume. I think being aware of the sales process is a vital skill.
I would definitely suggest reading the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini because he wanted to know why people buy and how people sell, and it’s very insightful.
Focus less on price
The other thing that I notice when people buy is that they’re often focused on price. And they overlook the fact that things they’re buying may not even solve their problems. In fact, I would even ask some customers at the car dealership, “Are you buying a car or are you buying a price? Because you seem so obsessed about the price. That if it is indeed just price, then I would redirect your attention to the bicycle store across the road because they sell transport at a very low price. And if it really is just price, then you should be over there. But if you’re looking to solve your problem, your motoring problem, then you’re in the right place.”
I used to have the John Ruskin quote that a friend of mine, Sean Morahan, actually draw my attention to, and it goes like this: “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought is incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risky run. And if you do that, you’ll have enough to pay for something better.”
I think that is a great quote. People should definitely focus a little less on price and focus far more on solving their problems accurately and effectively the first time around. And I think Mercedes-Benz was a great lesson for me in how something that cost a little more can be a fantastic solution to a problem.
I’m often asked, what do I think of Mercedes-Benz. Is it over inflated? Is it just a badge? Well, the fact is I purchase Mercedes-Benz for my own use because they really are an incredible vehicle. Not just the inventor of the combustion engine with an immaculate history, but they also do make fantastic products.
So move from an obsession about price to solving the problem properly. Remember that triangle where you can have the three different points? You can have good, you can have cheap, you can have fast. You can pick two, but you can’t have all three. That’s why when I named my business SuperFast, I didn’t want to be super cheap. I did want to be fast because fast can happen where it’s good, but it doesn’t have to be the lowest price in the market. We’re certainly not the most expensive either, but we make good products.
Our coaching community at SuperFastBusiness is deliberately sold with annual memberships because the type of member who pays yearly is investing in themselves and you get hundreds and hundreds of people who are cut above your low price market and you get an amazing culture happening.
So that’s what I learned from my grandfather. The next stop is my grandmother from the other side, and she was quite the mentor. I’ll be picking that up in the next episode of lessons that I’ve learned throughout life that might help you, the business owner.
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