Several years ago, I was introduced to a young man who was starting a company. He mentioned that he graduated Carnegie Melon with an engineering degree and went on to ask me, “If I was so good at what I do, why do I work with small companies?” The tone of the question was as though if I were any good, I’d be working with larger companies.
If not for the condescending tone, it was a valid question. This was also a young man whom I chided for asking me trick questions and had to say to him, “If you spend as much mental energy seeing how I can help you, rather than trying to figure out how I am going to screw you, then perhaps I can help your company.” You see, this is typical of many bright MIT and Carnegie engineers. They’ve been convinced they are smarter than anyone else. This fellow was already thinking he could do my job better than me.
I went on to explain to this insecure young man that I work with smaller companies because it is a niche that is very satisfying to me. These are the folks who need my expertise the most but, if not for my very successful business model, they could not afford to hire me. This is not a statement of arrogance, it is true. Small businesses, especially technical companies don’t always understand or truly value the importance of marketing and “positioning” products. Many erroneously believe that if you build a better mouse trap, people will beat a path to your door. Maybe in 1900!
Most importantly, and I could see that this young fellow didn’t have the seasoning to understand this, I told him, “I work with small businesses because I believe in the importance of small business to America and the enhancement of free enterprise and competition.” Further, I explained, “I can have a measurable impact on their success and that feels good.”
To reinforce that point, I shared an experience I had with one of my first clients, a family owned company in Medfield, Massachusetts. On one visit, the father of the president, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “We wouldn’t be here without you,” and the mother of the president used to greet me monthly with a big hug and kiss! That was extremely gratifying. Being valued by my clients for my work and contribution to their companies is what motivates me. And, by the way, I’ve been working with the aforementioned company every month since January, 1977.