A Conversation with Clemens Rettich
In his new book, Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century – author Clemens Rettich not only draws from real-life case studies of small company successes and failures but also walks readers through tips and strategies on how to borrow a page from the performing arts world and deliver stellar service that will rate a standing ovation.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Given your background in the performing arts, what correlations can be drawn to motivating a workplace “cast,” identifying flaws during “rehearsal,” finding an enthusiastic “audience,” and getting the “critics” to respect your efforts?
A: We don’t motivate a cast. We provide them with roles that light them on fire. We don’t need to motivate or empower people. The whole notion makes me uneasy. Who are we to give anyone else power? The best thing we can do is facilitate the environment around our performers to allow them to do their job. Give them the big picture, the back-story, the tools to do the job, then stay out of the way.
Theatre rehearsals and performances are a model for how more businesses should operate. Rehearsals are exactly that: practice. Every time I go into a retail establishment and suggest things like scripts, role play, or direction, I get push-back along the lines of “That is so artificial; it isn’t who I am to talk like that. It won’t sound natural.” Funny. I never noticed that in the 30 years I have been watching films and theatre. That the actors sound artificial. How could I have missed that?
And when the show is over, or the scene is shot, the whole cast and crew does ‘notes’. We get together and review everything that went well and that needs improvement. The only place I see that as a matter of course in the business world is in the hotel industry. Other businesses could learn a lot from that disciplined approach to team reviews of daily performance.
Your audience and your critics are your customers. American Idiot isn’t The Sound of Music. Find your audience. If you don’t have critics, you don’t have a show I care about; it means you are so vanilla and so forgettable, I don’t even want to know. Take a position and make some enemies. Your audience will come back night after night if you give them the experience you promised them. Experience, not products or services, or even customer service. Experience.
Q: What was the inspiration to write Great Performances – The Small Business Script for the 21st Century?
A: Seeing how few small business owners really understood the fundamentals they needed to master to grow a business. Heck, most business owners don’t even know that ‘growing the business’ is what they are supposed to be doing. I wanted a book that was both inspiring and practical. And I wanted a book that shared some of the approaches to successful execution that the performing arts world already understands: the relationship between practicing the fundamentals and improvising with whatever happens when the curtain goes up.
Q: Who’s your target audience and what will be the biggest takeaway value for them by the time they finish reading?
A: Any small business owner will benefit from reading this book. The feedback I have had has far exceeded my expectations. I just met with an associate yesterday who said she had my book on her desk and a client picked up to look at it, read a few pages, and promptly “stole” the book. When my associate called her client to ask about the book, she replied “This book is amazing, and I’m not returning it until I’m done.” I gave my associate another copy. Free. You can’t buy marketing like that.
The number one thing I want a small business owner to take away from the book is the understanding that the fundamentals matter, what those fundamentals are, and how to use them to do the one thing you should be doing as a business owner: grow your business towards a determined exit.
Q: Tell us about the structure of the book and why you felt this was a practical approach in presenting your material.
A: Practical schmactical. I had fun with it. The book is divided into 3 acts and a number of scenes. Like a script. My publisher Influence Publishing and I worked that out.
The only part that ended up being a nice ‘true’ fit for the structure was Act III which is all about designing your exit from your business. The rest is just playful.
Q: With so many business titles already on today’s market, what do you feel distinguishes yours from the competition?
A: I tell the truth in a way that is both inspiring and sobering. You try to hit that balance! Almost no other book I have read (and I read business books constantly) hits that note. Ninety percent are all inspiration and no substance. Or the substance is nonsense. Can you have substantive nonsense? No real understanding of marketing, finances, psychology, statistics, etc. All of the underpinnings of what makes a real business really successful. There are no secrets. No “believe it and it will happen” patchouli-scented magic. This book is a script for a great small business performance. There isn’t anything else like it that I have ever found.
Great Performances challenges you to learn the fundamentals, practice them every day, have the courage to improvise on those fundamentals, and have the courage to design a giant vision, and the discipline to take the daily baby steps required to get there. Most small businesses fail, and there is a reason for that. It is incredibly hard. This book, if you take its contents seriously, will increase your likelihood of surviving, and even thriving.
Q: What are some of the section topics you cover?
A: ACT I: Putting People First. I talk about customer and employee relationships, how to manage them, and why retention is the most important strategy of any business.
ACT II: Maximizing Limited Resources. We look at the only 3 resources any business has to grow: time, people, and money. I write about priority management, how to go about planning your business over time, and how to manage all of the financial building blocks a small business owner must contend with, including debt.
ACT III: Planning Your Exit. The final section looks at management, and managing your business to develop an asset with real value. We talk about the incredible importance of documents like Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) in that process. And we focus on how important it is to design an exit that generates maximum value for the business owner.
Q: What part of the book was the most challenging for you?
A: Writing it. That isn’t a facetious response because while all of the content for the book was at my fingertips, and while I have been writing and teaching writing for years, I also have a business advising/coaching/consulting practice and speaking schedule that leaves very little extra time for something as significant as a book. So having the discipline to carve out the hours required was very challenging. There was no way that would have happened without the support of my wife and family. Much of the time I took to write the book, I took from time with them. They were incredibly supportive.
Q: Tell us about your online coaching program and how the growing popularity of distance learning interfaces with the principles of your book.
A: I am currently in the process of restricting the online portion of my practice. I have not been happy with the platform I was using. Currently I provide business support for clients throughout Canada, using a combination of my new online platform, Podio, and Skype (as well as other fantastic tools like Evernote and Dropbox).
I don’t think there is a direct connection between what I teach in the book and the world of online learning, except perhaps to say that if much of what business owners need to know is a set of fundamentals, those are as easily communicated online as face to face.
I am in the process of building an online community for small business owners based on the content of the book. I am rolling that out through a series of not-online workshops starting this summer. People taking the Great Performances workshops will have an opportunity to continue their learning and mentoring online.
Q: There’s no question that an unstable economy such as the one we have now is making people wary of taking personal and professional risks. Let’s say that someone comes to you and says, “I know I’ve steered my small business into a dead-end. I’d rather be doing something else but leaps of faith take time and money, neither of which I have. Should I just try to ride things out and hope the economy gets better?”
A: No. Stop now. Get a job.
One of the most frustrating and humbling things I have to do in my practice is let a small business owner know they have let things go too long and the resources they have left (time & money) are not sufficient to the task of growing the business any more. Time to close the doors.
Business owners who see things sliding wait FAR too long before seeking real help. And even when they bring me in, they are still reluctant to make substantive changes. They insist on continuing practices (or the lack of practices) that have already put them at serious risk.
There is huge value in faith and persistence and optimism. They are the most important traits of a small business owner. But the failure to get professional input and change course the very instant revenues and profits start to dry up, is almost always fatal.
Q: In your opinion, is it more challenging to start a new business from the ground up or reinvent an existing one?
A: Reinvent an existing one, unless the existing business is already VERY healthy. Change takes enormous resources and the saddest irony of all is that most business owners want to reinvent their business because they have completely run out of resources. Too late.
Momentum is everything. And as we learn from basic engineering and physics, any change in direction of a body or fluid in motion creates turbulence and draws resources.
Starting something well, even on limited resources is always easier than changing something that is off course, especially on limited resources!
Q: If you could have lunch with any famous business leader from the past 100 years, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?
A: Jerry Baldwin and the original founders of Starbucks. The transition from single shop to the vision beyond, is one of the most interesting moments in business. I would love to go over the conversations and thinking that took place in the mid-1980’s and that lead to the Starbucks we know today.
Also I would love to talk to Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines who was the great voice for putting employees ahead of shareholders and even customers in the growth of a business. I would love to ask him how he came to that conviction.
Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: So many things… but the one that seems to draw the most visible surprise when I speak to people is that English was not my first language. It was German.
Q: How has your book been received since its release?
A: It has blown me away. The reviews on the site tell the story (http://www.greatperformances.ca/the-book/the-reviews/). And it is a story I really didn’t expect.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Designing the Great Performances workshops and kicking off that process in British Columbia before taking it to the rest of the country, and ultimately North America.
Continuing to grow my business while building capacity to help my clients grow theirs.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: The best way to connect with me and with the world of Great Performances in small business is through my Facebook Page (clemensrettich#) and my blog www.smbfundamentals.com.
Of course there is always buying the book… but that crosses into shameless self-promotion.