People can hate on Twitter as much as they want, but the Twitterverse is where I met Clemens Rettich, a small business consultant. Having sent a few tweets back and forth with him, as well as contributed to his #smbfunchat where I learned a handful of tips that helped me jumpstart my passion in consulting, I could not think of a better person to participate in the sixth interview of my Unlocking Potential series.
Whether Clemens is aware of it (obviously now he will be), he was a great inspiration for me to learn more about what it takes to successfully run a business as I often studied from his website/blog which there is a link to at the end of this post. It is an honor to be the one to share with you a bit more about Clemens, his worldview, his operation for consulting and some of the most straightforward life lessons you will learn one way or another, by Clemens or by life.
Without further ado,
Q: Everyone can read your bio by clicking on your name, so let’s dive more into what you do. What is your passion? Do you have a daily routine?
I love the beauty of things done well, of things and processes beautifully designed and executed, of those points where art, business, science, or sport come together to create something magical. My passion is to have some role to play in making that happen. In particular I love to help it happen in small businesses, teams, and organizations.
My daily routine is only moderately routine. It happens many days, but not every day. I work with clients 4 days of the week. I take 3 days to recharge, create, reconnect, rest. My days start with brisk walks and fruit smoothies… making coffee for my wife and I to talk over. Then it is time for email, client conversations, travel, shopping, organizing life… I love cooking so that is my late-in-the day pause to shift out of work for a while before diving back in again for the evening. I work about 70 – 80 hours a week.
Q: What is the biggest decision you have had to make?
To act without fear. And it is a decision I have to make every morning. Like paying your dues, this is one that you never stop doing. Paying your dues is never a thing to think of in past tense. A life to be lived fully, has to be paid for handsomely. There is nothing wrong with being afraid. True fearlessness is just another form of stupidity. It is the choice to act on those fears that matters. And I have to make that decision each morning… and sometimes several times in the day. This conversation I am about to have, or this decision I need to make, or this action I have to take, scares the hell out of me. But it needs to be done. And that decision to act without fear is the biggest one I make.
Q: How do you tug your client’s imagination and motivation? What is the core of your professional relationship between them?
The core of my professional relationship with my clients is active listening. Listening until my bones ache. When I do presentations or keynotes, I tell people that if you aren’t exhausted after a day of communicating, you haven’t been listening hard enough. Listening to every word, every implied word, and every telling silence is exhausting. That I why I try to limit my day to 2 – 4 coaching conversations maximum, and only 4 days a week at that. I’m no good to anyone after more than 4 or 5 hours of conversation.
I evoke imagination and motivation by responding to what I hear with suggestions from outside my client’s frame of reference. Nothing new there. It is the old lateral thinking, disruptive creativity, non-linear connection of ideas that still works. Most of the time the best ideas are my clients’. They just can’t hear themselves say them. So I just tell them what they just said. And I use a gift I have had since childhood: I connect “unrelated” things easily. A client can be telling me of a financial challenge, and for some reason it makes me think of another client’s story about a motorcycle they just bought. Something in the intersection of the two things creates a fresh approach to reframe the question or problem. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard myself say “Your problem isn’t A, it’s B!” The answer wasn’t coming because the question was wrong.
There is nothing particularly unique or gifted about my mind. 90% of the time there is a great idea or breakthrough of some kind it’s not because I am smart or anything, it is simply because I have outsider status and have my client’s permission to speak my mind. There are few things more powerful than an outsider’s perception, when the currency between the insider and the outsider is complete honesty.
Q: Would you mind sharing one of your biggest failures?
I can’t go into details because they usually involve others. But I can say they almost always involved one thing: a failing of confidence on my part. I fail when I make decisions based on “settling for second-best” or on not having the confidence to push through a tough patch. Dodging conflict has also been pretty consistently a disaster, so I do a hell of a lot less of that in this part of my life.
Q: What did you learn from it? What would you do differently if a similar situation occurred?
It took me about 40 years to learn, and much of that in the last 10 years, but these days I stick closer to my own sense of right and wrong. I don’t mind conflict over something I believe in. I have started to see that the worst that can happen is not a hell of a lot. I trust my own experience, my own sense of things.
Q: This series is a lot about giving credit where credit is due. It’s about reaching out to both, people who could use a little help unlocking their potential and people who can help with that unlocking. Do you have a business mentor who helped curate your passion for small business consulting? What were the mentor’s practices? In other words, how did this person make an impact on you?
Where credit is due is first and foremost to my wife and family. Their passion for great moments, for things done right, for finding that place between standing your own ground and understanding the value of others, has been critical in making me who I am. On the small business side I don’t have any direct mentors. My biggest mentors are my clients. Every one of them owns a small business that is everything they have on the financial and other levels. Yet they trust me and have the confidence in me to invite me in and work with me to change the game. This can be incredibly scary and requires huge trust, particularly if I am asking an owner to change something that they have done for years, and is connected to their own personal values. Every time the change happens, and the owner let’s go, I am in awe. I know from personal experience how incredibly hard that is, even terrifying, yet they do it with me. That makes life worth getting up for each morning.
Also, I am the collective wisdom of every small business owner who has ever brought me into their inner circle and shared with me the workings of their businesses, their successes and failures, what has gotten them out of bed in the morning and kept them up at night. All of that is in my head. Any wisdom I bring to a coaching conversation now is 90% the collective wisdom of a lot of tough, hungry, street-smart business owners who have spent almost every day of their own lives pulling on their shoes and making life happen.
Q: What is your worst fear?
Missing something. I’m not like all those wise ‘old souls’ out there in the world of patchouli oil and Birkenstocks. I can’t get enough of anything. I love being alive and learning and consuming and enjoying. I guess I’m a young soul if you believe in that kind of thing… I don’t believe in that ‘vale of tears’ nonsense or that our bodies are “just material”… I love being alive and on this earth and have no interest in waiting for some ‘other later’ reality. I like this one. A lot. There is a reason why Walt Whitman is one of my favorite poets. So ya, I’m afraid of missing stuff. I want to live 1,000 years and try it all!
Q: What is the biggest obstacle/challenge you have had to overcome?
All that stuff about fear I talked about above. The rest is relatively easy. Following a close second would be bootstrapping my business. You build up a lot of debt in the first few years, and you have to be crazy careful not to let that cross the line where it erodes cash flow in a fatal way.
Q: What is the biggest challenge todays small business leaders are facing?
Gerber got it right: failing to understand that baking and owning a bakery are two completely different things. The biggest challenge they are facing is a world of ignorance and bullshit. All that “do what you love and the money will follow” nonsense. Running and growing a small business successfully is probably the most complex thing a human being can do. The number of things you have to know about and do right, and do right consistently, every day for a decade or two, is staggering.
So no, it isn’t the economy, or competition, or offshoring, or anything else like that. Those things are huge challenges, but they are not the biggest. The biggest challenge is the romantic mythology, especially in America, of owning your own business.
Q: What do you do to continue your growth as a consultant?
Listen to my clients. Listen to the market. Respond with an ever-broader and more diversified and responsive set of products and services. My new book Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century is a piece of that. It is setting up a whole new way for me to connect with and support more small businesses to be successful.
And never forgetting who brung ya to the dance. I am a passionate believer in the power of follow-through and great long-term relationship development. I drop the ball lots, but I don’t ever stop trying to stay in touch with and add value to every business I have ever worked with.
Q: What are the golden life lessons you have learned and are willing to share with the readers from your experience as a small business consultant?
Spend more resources on keeping customers and employees than getting new ones. Don’t ever make the mistake that solid systems and procedures, creativity, and relationships are mutually exclusive. That is a myth that simply doesn’t exist in the world of the performing arts. Any ballet dancer, classical violinist, or rep actor could run circles around business people when it comes to getting that. Discipline, practice, organization, systems, all those things aren’t killers of creativity, they are the world’s best support for it.
So work harder to hang on to people, and work harder to bring more organization and systems to your business. Don’t shy away from that stuff.
Some great places to find Clemens’s work:
Have more questions, topics of discussion or simply want to give a shout out to Clemens, you can tweet him @ClemensRettich.
Stay Positive & Stick To The Fundamentals, Or At Least Learn Them First
Garth E. Beyer