What I Have Been Up To (Political Post)

Hello friends, family and colleagues. Some of you have commented that I have been quiet or uncommunicative, so I thought it might be helpful to provide an update as to what’s been going on. This post gets a little heavy, but gets better toward the end.

Work: in October 2020 I separated from my then-employer and have since been doing a combination of freelance bookkeeping and marketing copywriting to stay financially afloat while working on longer-term objectives. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been steadily at work developing a body of online courses. I’m not going into detail about the courses in this post as my work is still half-finished, but I’ll be sharing more about those at a later time.

Mental health: as many of you know, I have long struggled with depression, social anxiety, self-confidence, etc. The struggle has inspired me to build a body of strategies based on a combination of what I’ve learned from therapists, support groups, friends in the therapy field, and my own practical experience. I am planning to use my writing to help reshape the conversation about mental health, and to help other people who have faced predicaments similar to mine.

Politics: Like many others, I have become increasingly distressed about the fact that it has become harder and harder to escape from the negative energy of people’s political rants, diatribes, passive-aggressive jabs, jokes in poor taste, and a general attitude of malevolance and disrespect for fellow humans. This has been the single biggest stressor for me. I personally find myself feeling the greatest degree of alienation when I am used as a captive audience. I am rarely in a situation these days where I am truly “captive” in the sense that I am technically free to leave at any time, but cannot do so without causing a scene or being rude. Examples include going on a rant while in a car (leaving is physically impossible without opening a door and jumping out), or interjecting political commentary at the dinner table, when the purpose of the gathering was purportedly about something else.

You’ll notice I haven’t commented thus far about what I think on subjects like abortion, inflation, COVID-19, etc. If you were hoping I would, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Freedom of speech includes freedom of silence, and for this post at least, I’m exercising the freedom to remain silent. But I mention the freedom of silence here because the freedom of silence points to the most distressing part of the current culture war. I am finding that fewer and fewer people even believe in the freedom of speech any more. I have increasingly encountered interrogations from everyday people. Sometimes the interrogations are overt and explicit, where someone will ask questions such as “so, Dave, where do YOU stand on XYZ?”

Other times, people will try to be subtle (though most of the time, people’s tactics are more obvious than they think). Here are a few not-so-subtle tactics I’ve noticed:

1) Silence-bombing (I think I made that term up just now): making a statement such as “too bad we don’t have a real man in the White House” or “good thing we finally got rid of 45” and then waiting for a response. During the silence, I notice people trying to read my facial expressions. I have an awful poker face, so people can usually get a sense of when I’m having an emotional response, but I also notice that people often misread my face or get the wrong impression about what I’m thinking.

2) Dropping hints, such as inserting a mention of baby formula or some other politically charged topic-du-jour, then waiting to see what happens next.

3) Stage-whispering (talking in hushed tones, or making comments around corners, intending to be overheard while pretending to have a private conversation). If you’re doing this, you’re likely not fooling anyone for a second.

4) Wearing t-shirts or displaying other printed materials such as coffee mugs, pens, etc. with political slogans in settings where people didn’t come to talk or hear about politics. I’m not questioning anyone’s right to wear a t-shirt. I am saying there is a time and a place for everything. You have the right to be inconsiderate, the right to be disrespectful, and the right to act like an obnoxious asshole. Having the right to do something doesn’t make it a good idea.

5) Angle-shooting (this is a poker term that I’m loosely applying to social norms). This is a particularly dirty tactic used to coerce speech. Angle-shooting usually goes something like this: the offender makes a statement such as “I’m glad we’re all on the same page about a woman’s right to choose” or “I’m glad you and I agree that we need Trump back in the White House.” The listener(s) never made any such statement. The tactic is designed to force the listener to either remain silent (thus implicitly agreeing with the statement) or correct the speaker. Generally, the best counter-tactic is to say something like, “I never said I agreed with that,” but I consider it rude to put someone in such a position.

I may call out other tactics such as those listed above as I learn to spot and label what people are doing. I will also recommend solutions for people like me. I don’t know how everyone else feels, but the situation has grown so distressing for me that I find it harder and harder to enjoy simple things. I no longer look forward to socializing like I once did, because nearly all social gatherings have degraded into cesspools of political negativity. I have increasingly distanced and isolated myself from various social circles and traditions that I used to look forward to.

I may be thinking nostalgically, but I seem to remember a time when friends could just have dinner and when everything didn’t have to be a political statement. Now, it seems like everything we do is a political statement. The products we buy, the books we read, the shows we watch, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive…everything. So I find myself walking on pins and needles around people, wondering when the next highly unpleasant exchange is going to start, or which innocuous comment will be the spark that lights the fire.

This post is not in reference to one person or situation. I could probably come up with hundreds of examples if I wanted to spend the time.

If you read the above text and think, “You’re not talking about ME, are you?” (insert puppy dog eyes here), then you and I both already know the answer.

Now that I have the ugly part out of the way, let’s talk about what I’m doing about the problem, and what I hope to encourage others to do as well. I’m going to share here what my practices are. Keep in mind that the word “practice” implies repetition as well as trial and error. If you want to learn the piano, you have to practice many times, and it’s not going to sound very good in the beginning.

1) Reading news from diverse sources. I get my news from a combination of sources ranging from NPR, Fox News, Politico, The Daily Wire, The Flip Side, Prager University, The Daily Upside, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Tangle, The Babylon Bee, Morningstar, The Hustle, The Morning Brew, 1440 Daily Digest, and countless RSS feeds. Obviously it’s impossible to read everything, but I’m trying to get enough balance in my information diet to make sure I don’t become brainwashed by a single information source. No matter how much I read, I still always feel like the least informed person in every room.

2) Regulating contact while trying to avoid cutting anyone out. When I notice people engaging in unhealthy behaviors that make life unpleasant for me and others, I reduce frequency of contact. I am hearing a lot of talk about “cutting out negative people from your life,” and I think this is both a bad idea and irresponsible. I prefer to use periods of separation to process my own emotional responses, assess my needs, and focus on changing my habits. I may need to temporarily distance myself from people and groups where it feels like my authentic self is not welcome, or where I believe I will likely encounter tactics designed to compel political speech on my part.

3) Seeking out groups of NON-like-minded people. Like-mindedness creates a culture of snowflakes, which is what we have today. In the past year, I have joined Braver Angels, a group that actively seeks out diversity of “red” and “blue” members. I don’t believe in the idea of identifying as “red”, “blue”, or “liberal”, or “conservative”, or even “moderate”, or “independent”, but I get why Braver Angels uses color labels. I also attended an America Talks event recently, and I met a good group of folks who were interested in finding better ways to create grassroots dialogue.

4) Writing. I have been mostly silent on social media the past few years, and I think it is about time to break the silence once again. I have come to realize that trying to talk to everybody is functionally the same as talking to nobody. If you are reading this post, I am assuming that you and I know each other, and that we have enough of a relationship foundation for you to be interested in reading what I am saying. Or perhaps you are a stranger and gravitated toward this post because something about the conversation resonated with you. As I write the post, I am planning to send a link to a number of individual people who I think will appreciate the content of what I’m sharing.

5) Practicing public speaking. I’ve been part of Toastmasters for almost 15 years at the time of this writing. I believe that I cannot truly exercise freedom of speech without practicing the discipline of public speaking. We are living in unprecedented times where we can reach global audiences. Why waste the opportunity? It’s in all of our self-interest, individually and collectively, to practice thinking about what we have to say. Thoughtless, impulsive speaking is perhaps the greatest threat to free speech. Good public speakers write before they speak.

6) Creating online courses. This is more politically significant than many may realize, especially in light of the fact that education shapes culture at all levels. I am striving to make education available to more people at a low cost, with no frills, and focusing curriculums only on bare-minimum essentials required to accomplish a goal. I’m highly frustrated with the amount of time schools waste filling kids’ heads with useless knowledge, or worse, brainwashing kids with one-sided views. I believe the world needs more people — a LOT more people, to play an active role in rebuilding the education system. Like I said above, my courses aren’t ready yet, but I’m very close to launching the first one after my beta round is finished.

In case you followed my social media posts from 2017 where I talked a lot about racism, bullying, misogeny, and the other trending topics at the time, I haven’t forgotten and it’s all still on my radar screen. I’ve just been trying to find the best approach, gather the resources to make things happen, all while managing the day-to-day grind of paying the bills. I can’t fix all of the world’s problems, but I’m hoping to model small-scale solutions that other people can replicate.

If what I shared above resonated with you, feel free to reach out, especially if you are interested in being part of the solution with me. As I start to scale things up, I’ll be increasingly focused on building groups and communities. I’m going to need help to make it all happen, and I don’t have all of the answers. Sometimes, the solution starts with simple conversations. If you have any interest in visiting a Toastmasters group or a Braver Angels event, let me know and I’ll shoot you the info.

Take care and be well. I hope our paths cross soon.

Why Your Team Meetings Are A Waste Of Time (Hint: It’s Because You’re Paying People By The Hour)

If you pay people by the hour to sit in a meeting, there is no possibility of anything useful happening in the meeting. People may nod their heads and say “good meeting.” They’re saying what they were paid to say. We’ve all sat through one of those infamous meetings; afterward, one or more people muttered under their breath (or in an IM window): “That meeting could have been an email.” But time-suck meetings are not due to superficial factors like a need for a better agenda, and their impact runs much deeper than mildly annoyed attendees. 

Poorly run meetings are a symptom of a much uglier problem in an organization: a culture of disrespect. When people don’t respect each other’s time, everything goes downhill. Trust evaporates, passive-aggressive behavior ensues, and burnout sets in. Combine the ingredients of dysfunction and you have a disaster waiting to happen. You can tell a lot about a company by the manner in which meetings run. Sometimes, there aren’t any meetings and everyone hides behind email. Other times, you have meetings that are “just for show” where no one speaks the truth. In healthy organizations, meetings are characterized by what authors Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan call “robust dialogue” (from Execution: The Discipline Of Getting Things Done). People disagree fiercely and problems get solved. But sadly, in today’s world, hearty conversations rarely happen. Instead, we have the more typical company climate of finger-pointing, ass-covering and throwing people under the bus…all masked by polite, professional smiles and couched in politically correct corporate buzzwords.

A Culture Of Dysfunction

Let’s take a look at what really happens when a business stops paying its employees strictly based on their time and starts paying based on results. People treat time differently, because they own their own time. Unlike hourly employees who only need to maintain a baseline level of productivity, results-compensated employees have an incentive to make their time as productive as possible. The more they get done, the more they get paid. Hourly employees, on the other hand, are motivated only by fear. If they do not produce enough, they will lose their jobs. The hourly employee is motivated to produce only as much as required to avoid negative consequences, and no more. In fact, the hourly employee is penalized for excessive productivity. If an hourly employee figures out how to finish all of their work in 40 hours, when they used to collect overtime pay, their overtime is taken away. If they figure out how to get 40 hours of work done in 35, they are rewarded with additional work (at no additional pay).

Let’s look at the implications from a standpoint of work culture. Employee A is hard-working and honest. Employee B is lazy and selfish. Both employees are paid by the hour. Both employees have workloads that can be completed in 35 hours per week. Employee A completes the work in 35 hours, letting the boss know that some additional time is available. Employee B stretches out the work to make sure the full week is used up. The boss isn’t as close to the tasks as the employees who physically handle the work, so doesn’t have as clear a picture of how long the work should take. But Employee B doesn’t want to look bad. 

In theory, one might expect Employee B to step up the pace to compete with Employee A. But in my experience, that usually does not happen. More often than not, the less productive employees will conspire or band together, whether out loud or silently. They will engage in a campaign to either bring the more productive employees in line and get them to stop spoiling the party for everyone, or drive them out of the company altogether. Bs have no tolerance for being held accountable, and they may engage in a smear campaign to diminish the credibility of the As. Over time, the Bs make life unpleasant for the As, so that the As leave the company (usually from burnout) and the Bs dominate the work culture. The bullies take over the schoolyard.

Team meetings show a glimpse into the culture. The Bs are happy to have another team meeting, because they don’t particularly care about productivity. They get paid for their hour no matter what. The As, on the other hand, are preoccupied with the amount of work that’s not getting done while they’re wasting time in a pointless meeting. Thus, the As are more likely to push to get the meeting done and get back to work, possibly coming across as short or irritated. The Bs, on the other hand, are more likely to just stay quiet. The As are more likely to vocally express frustration. The As are more likely to protest having the meeting in the first place. The As, therefore, will come across as having a bad attitude and may be publicly chastised. The Bs, all the while, don’t really care. Over time, the As will stop caring, too…because they will be looking for new jobs. If you think you can call a team meeting to “address” this kind of issue, who do you think you’re kidding?

How did we get here, and what can we do about the problem?

Pay Shapes Culture

If I have to sound like a broken record to get my point across, so be it. We need to abolish the institution of the hourly wage. When people are paid by the result instead of the hour, the productivity penalty is removed and income caps are lifted. The A employees are free to soar, and the B employees lose their economic stranglehold on the workplace, as they are no longer guaranteed pay for every hour. There’s no room for BS when people only get paid for results. The ones who coast on minimal effort do so at their own risk. The B employees look bad, and they find themselves with no allies to gang up on the As. The A employees have no need (or time) to gang up on anyone, because they are too busy producing and making money.

Will my solution fix broken company cultures overnight? No. There’s no single-stroke solution to the problem of creating a performance culture. In most companies, some people will simply need to be fired. Other people will need to be reassigned to different jobs. Some companies may need to sell off or spin off a division, or undergo a merger or an acquisition. Other companies should just go out of business. From the ashes will arise newer, more dynamic and more competitive entities. The sad truth is that some businesses would not survive if they had to pay their people based on performance, because they are so deeply entrenched in antiquated practices that their cultures simply cannot adapt. The larger a company, the harder it is to change the culture.

The good news is, there’s plenty of opportunity for companies that are willing to embrace the model of pay for performance. My personal mission is to wipe out the broken and antiquated idea of trading time for money. Is it easy to pay the team for their results? No. You have to get solid accounting systems in place and do the hard work of figuring out who’s adding to the bottom line and who’s leeching money from the company. For many companies, the process may look like a complete overhaul of their service delivery model. But we need to think globally in a world of lightning-fast competition where business is constantly evolving. We need to think two moves ahead. And I believe that companies who are still paying by the hour ten years from now are going to get taken to the cleaners. Twenty years from now, all but a few will be out of business.

If you want to explore what it might look like to abolish the hourly wage for your company, grab a time on my calendar and let’s talk.

Why The Hourly Wage Should Be Abolished

I find it odd that people debate whether the U.S. should institute a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour, while almost no one (as far as I can see) is questioning the underlying premise of paying employees by the hour. I am convinced beyond a doubt that paying by the hour is a fundamentally broken system that has no chance of ever working. Here’s why.

Paying by the hour sets up a conflict of interest by incentivizing people to take longer to complete tasks. More importantly, an hourly wage imposes a productivity penalty on workers who are efficient and find ways to get things done in less time. Workers who are lazy or greedy learn quickly to game the system. Why cram more work into a 40-hour week with no financial incentive to do so? The game of hourly pay rewards those who stretch out the work over a longer block of time.

The problem is easy to see from an employer’s perspective, but the hourly wage does not serve employees either. The hourly wage sets up the conditions for a workplace culture of distrust and bitterness. Those who work hard are penalized for their hard work. Ever heard the old saying about how the best way to get something done is to give it to a busy person? The deal doesn’t work out so well for the busy person. Honest and hard-working employees are “rewarded” with more work at no additional pay. The system of hourly pay makes burnout and tension inevitable. Meanwhile, the lazy employees get exactly what they want: less work. The greedy employees also get what they want: overtime pay for work that could have been completed within a 40-hour week.

In theory, employers strive to reward more productive employees with higher hourly rates, but I don’t buy into the idea of discretionary pay increases. First, if you really have an accurate way to measure how productive every employee is, then what’s to prevent paying someone an automatic performance bonus, triggered when the employee hits a productivity quota? The truth is, many businesses do not have the necessary foundation in place to accurately gauge which workers are productive and which ones are not. But there are much bigger issues at play: favoritism and pride.

The hourly wage provides a band-aid that makes it easy to avoid dealing with the real issues in a business. If leadership doesn’t know who’s pulling their weight…why not? If there isn’t enough productive work to fill someone’s schedule, why employ that person full-time? Why not pay people in direct proportion to the results they deliver instead of the amount of time it took them to get their jobs done? The biggest and nastiest problem with the hourly wage is favoritism, which often takes the form of nepotism, sexism, racism, and other unfair discriminatory practices when deciding how much an hour of someone’s time is worth.

If you have to hide something, you are doing something morally or ethically wrong, or at the very least questionable. Companies threaten employees with termination if they disclose how much they’re being paid, and often have formal written policies stating as much. Everyone knows the real reason. Some people are secretly paid much more than others, and if everyone knew how much everyone else was getting paid, sparks would fly. But people talk. Grapevines are harder to monitor or control as an organization grows in size. It has been my experience that inequality in compensation structures creates more conflict, tension, and overall ugliness in workplaces than any other single factor.

The Proposal

I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of compensating employees in a business, but I also don’t see the issue as terribly complicated. My proposal is simple: pay people by the result, not by the hour. In some cases, it makes more sense to hire a subcontractor on a per-project or per-task basis. In other cases, it may make sense to hire a full-time person with a base salary and a performance bonus. In the latter case, I believe base salaries should be minimal and provide someone enough money to survive with a meager lifestyle only, with an automatic annual cost-of-living increase across the board. I would also abolish all discretionary pay increases.

My idea is by no means innovative, radical, or even new. Salespeople have long since relied on commissions to put food on the table. If they don’t perform, they don’t eat. Consequently, salespeople have little or no patience for time-wasting meetings. They have every incentive to use their time well because they control their own hourly harvest. Factories in earlier times paid “piece rates.”

At the end of the day, creating a culture of performance requires accountability and fairness in compensation. When people are paid in such a way that a good month for the company spells a good month for those who contributed to the bottom line, the resulting work culture is vibrant and thriving. Pay structure is not the only factor and by no means am I suggesting that my proposal will provide a one-stroke solution to every business issue. But I believe that hourly rates create a culture of mediocrity and work avoidance.

If you’d like to abolish the hourly wage at your company, or would like to explore the possibility of working with me, grab a time on my calendar and let’s talk.

10 Reasons Small Businesses Don’t Hit Their Numbers


As counterintuitive as it sounds, you can lose business by not charging enough. Good customers, who appreciate the value of things, will tend to avoid buying the cheapest solution because they will equate low price with low quality. The customers you do get will be a pain in the ass. They complain, blow up your inbox, leave negative reviews online, and/or demand their money back (assuming they pay their bills in the first place). No one wins the race to the bottom. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt…not fun. I’ve found that underpricing is driven by unconscious and emotional factors, which stem from “unconscious competence” (Google the 4 stages of competence). I talk about underpricing more in this video.

Lumping Your Numbers

If you don’t know what it costs you to sell something (materials, labor cost, etc), then you don’t know which service lines and customers are generating the most profit. Don’t tell me you have “a sense” of what’s profitable. I’ve seen too many shocked expressions when people were confronted with the reality of their numbers after too many years of operating on guesswork, false assumptions, and “gut feelings.” Without an accurate measure of profit by service line and customer, it is much harder to focus your sales efforts and target your messaging. You may be losing money on some jobs and not even realize it, which takes time and resources away from profitable endeavors.

Treating Your Time Like It’s Free

Successful business owners value their time; unsuccessful ones don’t. Successful business owners offload and delegate anything they responsibly can; their unsuccessful counterparts try to do it all themselves and “save money.” Sometimes, the biggest costs in a business are the ones you can’t see on a bank statement or a P&L. Every minute you spend doing tasks that someone else could easily be doing, you’ve lost a minute that could have been spent making sales, solving high-level problems for your clients or otherwise doing your best work. Attorneys tend to understand this intuitively in my experience, mainly because they get paid by billing hours and they know their billable rates. They realize that they can’t afford the luxury of letting $300/hour billable work sit undone while wasting time on $20/hour administrative tasks.

Not Tracking Time

This seems painfully obvious to me, but I’ve lost count of how many business owners have told me they didn’t think it was necessary to track where time was being spent. Invariably, these same business owners usually complain that they don’t know why their teams aren’t as productive as they could be. If you aren’t tracking time, you might just as well not bother to look at your financial statements or your bank account balance, because you’re basically flying blind. You won’t know who’s pulling their weight or whether or not you are charging appropriately.

Lack Of Workplace Discipline

Here’s one reality check: look at each employee on your team. Would you still hire every one if them if they were applying for the job today? If not, why are they still working for you? In unhealthy work environments, there’s always “that one” employee that nobody trusts, and everybody knows who it is. Sometimes, there are more than one. If you think you can ignore the problem and that it’s not impacting your sales, you’re living in fantasy land. If an employee gets away with mouthing off at the boss in front of everyone, what message do you think that sends to the rest of the team? Or when someone gets away with padding their time card or misusing a company expense account, or sexually harassing a fellow employee? All of these things happen in companies of every size when spineless management looks like other way, sometimes even claiming that someone is “too valuable” to let go.

Sloppy Or Reactive Hiring Practices

Nothing cripples a business like high overhead, and payroll can easily get out of control if you don’t have a grip on your costs and time utilization. Small business owners often have no way to gauge the true capacity of their teams, and these are the business owners who tend to make hiring decisions based on feelings. Just because everyone is busy and there’s plenty of revenue coming in the door does not automatically make it a good idea to hire more employees, especially if you don’t know how much of that revenue is profitable or how productive your staff currently is. And don’t even get me started about hiring your neighbor’s kid or your brother in law.

Throwing Away Advertising Money

It never ceases to amaze me how much money business owners will throw at advertising without having a clue if it’s working or not. While I realize that it’s not always easy to measure the impact of marketing in every possible way, there is still plenty that you can measure. Ironically, I’ve seen some businesses spend thousands of dollars per month on advertising and not bother asking their customers where they found them. Yes, I realize that customers often forget and that you won’t always get accurate data. But there’s no excuse for not even trying to gauge what works and what doesn’t. Yes, it can be hard and frustrating to market a business and it takes trial and error, but it has to be done.

Losing Focus On The Core Business

As a lifelong Jim Collins fan, I’ve found a common thread in all of the studies in his books (most notably Good To Great, How The Mighty Fall, and Great By Choice). In all of his research projects, Collins and his team compared strong businesses to weak ones, and the most common pattern I have observed throughout his books is the tendency of the stronger companies to stay focused on their competitive advantage while resisting the temptation to start doing too many different things. Small business owners don’t have bosses, and sometimes that’s a bad thing. It is all too easy and tempting to say, “Sure, we can do that!” If cash flow is weak, business owners often feel they have no choice but to do anything and everything that looks like it might bring more money in the door, but spreading a company thin is financial suicide.

Copying What Everyone Else Is Doing

There are inherent similarities between different companies, usually due to the nature of the product or service and sometimes due to legal restrictions. But there’s a difference between following standard conventions and blatant copycatting. I’m talking about suddenly rolling out new product offerings that bear an eerie resemblance to the ones your competitor just rolled out last month, making sudden changes to your marketing language to include the latest buzzwords and trendy acronyms (without really understanding what the jargon actually means), or otherwise blindly mimicking your competitors in a monkey-see, monkey-do fashion. It looks dumb and it doesn’t work—and yes, we all noticed.

Holding Fast To Obsolete Business Practices

Just as a company can drain its resources by knee-jerk reacting to every twist and turn in the marketplace, it is equally problematic to hold onto obsolete business practices. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the business landscape forever. This is just one example and history is filled with others; when the world moves in a new direction, new opportunities appear. The businesses quickest to recognize where the wind is blowing and get themselves in position early are the ones who win. Every time a major shift in supply and demand changes buying behavior, most companies are late to the party. Blockbuster Video is the classic stereotype, but the same thing happens in the small business world. Case in point: the move toward virtual meetings has changed the geography of business networks.
If any of the above sounds like you, and you’d like to do something about it, drop me a line at dave@dave-baldwin.com. I enjoy helping business owners create an objective, data-driven framework for making real-time strategic business decisions.

How (And Why) I Got Into Business Consulting

As I’ve told a number of people before, I have had two distinct careers. I spent the first ten years of my career in the technical field, working primarily with electronic control systems. It was fun stuff. Every job was like a puzzle. But something was missing; I ultimately decided that I wanted to spend more of my time working with people rather than machines. That said, the programmer in me never completely died. I learned to think in terms of systems and process steps, which ultimately created the framework for my consulting practice.

In 2007, my career took a sharp turn. At the time, I was working as a field service technician for a manufacturer of high-speed newspaper inserting equipment. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do next, but my first taste of coaching and personal development came in the form of a weekend seminar where I got a glimpse of a different future. I’ll never forget that Sunday morning when I woke up and decided I was going to start my own business. The next day, I left my notice and my job, and three months later, I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina from Pennsylvania, where I had grown up. Uncertain of what business ownership was going to look like, I did the only thing I could think to do: I went out and met as many people as I could.

I’m going to be blunt here: things did not go well. I ran out of cash and hit rock bottom financially. Needless to say, I do not recommend quitting your job without a plan, unless you have a solid track record starting businesses and you already have a clear idea of how to replace your job income.

While I don’t recommend doing what I did, I was fortunate enough to learn a lot in the process of fumbling my way through starting a business. I worked with a wide variety of companies and industries, and in the process, I became more and more clear about my personal competitive advantage. More importantly, I learned some important lessons about the realities of entrepreneurship that I hope will benefit my clients over the years to come. I’m going to list these lessons in prioritized order.

1. Self-development is not a luxury.

Changing patterns of thinking is harder and more complex than I realized 15 years ago, but in many ways, the challenge gets a lot easier when you learn to recognize its true nature. Most thinking occurs unconsciously; which means that when we pledge to change our behavior, we will forget our promise soon after. We all need to be reminded of our commitments as often as possible, because otherwise, we will revert to our old familiar patterns despite the best of intentions. It’s human nature. That’s why we all need external accountability and visual symbols in our field of view that we will see and touch often. I use alarms on my phone to remind myself of the things I need to do each day, an app to remind me to drink water, and a host of other automated systems to bug me about the things I will forget. I moved the coffee kettle down to the kitchen (out of my office) to remind myself that I don’t want to drink coffee nonstop all day. If we want to change patterns of thinking, habit change is absolutely essential.

2. The value of an opportunity is the relationship and the education.

Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, advocates “working to learn” instead of working for money. I read that book in 2002, and at the time I didn’t fully grasp what Kiyosaki meant. He tells the story of how he worked full-time as a copying machine salesman for Xerox before starting his real estate investing business, emphasizing the value of learning how to sell. I have come to appreciate that there are a lot of opportunities that don’t necessarily pay top dollar right out of the gate, but that’s not always a bad thing if you can get paid to learn a new skill, and more importantly, cultivate a new business relationship. You never know what doors might open down the road. I allowed myself to be short-sighted in the earlier years, turning away opportunities that might have been great, because I was too narrowly focused on immediate cash payment and didn’t see the big picture.

3. Cash flow comes first; following your dream comes second.

I would feel irresponsible if I didn’t follow up the preceding bullet point by emphasizing that, in all of the excitement, it’s important not to lose sight of the bottom line. Taking on projects for the sake of building relationships and education is fine, as long as there is revenue coming in to keep the lights on. That’s why it’s important not to quit your day job until you know how to make money from self-employment. If you have never been self-employed before, recognize now that you will have a whole new set of skills to learn. When there’s no boss to force you to clock in every day, it can be easy to justify a lot of unproductive activity. Mastery of time management and generating cash flow requires practice. You aren’t going to do it perfectly the first month. So make sure that you have enough financial cushion, and if you feel overwhelmed or don’t know what to do, ask for help.

4. Practice asking for what you need and offering to help when you can.

Business is a series of negotiations. We are always making asks and offers, whether money is involved or not. Relationships are not “quid pro quo” and favors do not flow equally in both directions with perfect symmetry. Sometimes, we need to be willing to ask someone to do something for us, knowing that we cannot repay the favor. Other times, extending resources to others without expectation of recompense is the right thing to do. Giving and receiving are not black-and-white. Sometimes, for example, it is necessary to charge a small amount of money for a service, at a deeply discounted price. It is not wise to overextend ourselves for the sake of helping others, nor to ask others to overextend themselves for our sake. Like any other practice, we only improve at the skill of asking for what we need through trial and error.

You can’t change your thinking by reading books, listening to tapes (I’m dating myself a bit; I remember when they used to literally be cassette tapes), and going to weekend seminars. All of these things are helpful, but only within their proper context. Real self-development happens on the job, at the dinner table, at the bus stop, and in all of the countless day-to-day moments where life comes at us with choices. Studying is only useful to the extent that we apply what we study. But we all need to read and study regularly. I have observed that I feel the strongest resistance to learning the very subjects I most need to learn.

I decided to move into coaching, in a nutshell, because everything I’ve laid out here is easier said than done. I’ve only scratched the surface in this short blog post, and there are many more layers to the onion. Regardless of how you go about building your dream, just recognize that the sooner you ask for help, the more quickly you will make progress. Shoot me an email at dave@dave-baldwin.com if you’d like to explore the possibility of working with me.

Do You Really Need that Software Tool?

I’ve heard the same story many times, and it goes something like this. “They told us we needed it, so we bought it. We paid an expert to set come in and set it up for us and train us. Here we are six months later, and we’re still not using it. We don’t even really understand what it does, but we were told it would solve our problem.”
Businesses do this with marketing automation tools, accounting software, content curation tools — you name it. Fill in the blank with any type of software you want. It never ceases to amaze me how often business owners will invest time and money on software without understanding what it does, or how it will help the business make more money.


In 1997, when I first launched into my technology career prior to becoming a consultant, I worked in a high-tech manufacturing facility, which quadrupled its size and output during a short four-year period before the tech bubble burst. The aggressive ramp-up was a great opportunity for me to learn about what it takes to scale a business. Month after month, the facility continually transformed as new wings were built, as new robots joined the assembly line and management relentlessly sought to cut cycle times and reduce unneeded steps. When you produce hundreds of thousands of parts per month, finding a way to make a part one second faster has an enormous impact.
Done well, automation can boost profitability tremendously. Done poorly, it can be a disaster. In the last twenty years, I’ve seen the full spectrum in all different sizes of business. In general, I agree with Timothy Ferriss’s comment in The Four-Hour Workweek: “Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined.” That’s a good starting place for a business that is considering investing in an automated tool or software package.
There is one key factor that makes automation profitable (or not): bottlenecks. Eli Goldratt, author of The Goal (1984), provides the best definition of a bottleneck that I have seen. According to Goldratt, a bottleneck is “any resource whose capacity is less than the market demand placed upon it.” You can also observe bottlenecks at rush hour in traffic. The busiest street is a bottleneck. Close down the busiest street at rush hour, and traffic will back up for miles. Close down a side street with little or no traffic, and few people will even notice. A bottleneck is not a problem according to Goldratt; it’s an unavoidable phenomenon. Businesses should not try to stop having bottlenecks, but rather be aware of where the bottleneck is.
Before investing time or money in a software package (even a free trial version without a credit card), I recommend asking and discussing the following questions and being brutally honest about the answers.

Where is the bottleneck in the business?

Until you know where the bottleneck is, it is impossible to know if software will help or not. Looking at the question from 30,000 feet, think about it this way: is the bottleneck in sales, in marketing or in operations? Here’s how I break it down. You know that the bottleneck is in marketing if you are not seeing enough of the right prospects. You know that the bottleneck is in sales when you are meeting the right people at the right time, but they aren’t buying. Your bottleneck is in operations if you can’t keep up with the work. From there, it’s necessary to break down the analysis further. For instance, if the bottleneck is in sales, is it because you have one star salesperson who is stretched too thin and spending too much time pursuing small accounts? Are your salespeople spending too much time manually entering data into a computer instead of meeting with prospects?
In my experience, finding the bottleneck is the hardest and most important step of the process. In a small business, the people are usually the bottleneck. It might be the business owner, who is pulled in every direction to put out fires. In some cases, the office manager or operations manager is the bottleneck. In technology companies, developers can become bottlenecks.

Is there anything we can just stop doing (or do less of)?

Before getting trigger-happy with automation, it’s important to explore different ways to solve the problem. Are key staff members stuck in meetings all day instead of doing their most important work? Does the owner deal with interruptions all day, unable to focus on high-level objectives because there are too many fires to put out? Sometimes, the solution is to stop selling an unprofitable product or service, or introduce a price increase. Other times, the solution is to eliminate redundant process steps or reassign tasks to different team members. Automation only makes sense after the team has thoroughly explored these simpler avenues. Otherwise, the business may spend time and money to get better at doing something that doesn’t matter.

What will our workday look like after the software is integrated into the business?

If software truly solves a real problem in a business, it changes the way work is done. Whose time will the software free up, and how will they use the recovered time? What new tasks will be required each day in order for the software to do what the business needs it to do? Who will be responsible for performing those tasks, and what checks and balances will the business put in place to make sure they get done? Think of any automated solution the same way you would think of hiring an employee. The software will have a job to do, and it will need a supervisor.

What is our implementation strategy?

Any software worth implementing is going to require up-front investment. The team will need to learn to use it, and everyone will need to adopt new disciplines. There will be risk involved. Data will need to move into a new system. Resist the temptation to assume that you will be able to “plug it in and go.” Will every team member need to install a new mobile app on their phones? If the software promises to integrate with existing apps, there is a world of potential complications. For instance, does everyone need to remember to check that little check box every time they enter a new client into the system? What happens if someone forgets? The devil’s in the details.

How easily can we back out if we don’t like it?

Most subscription-based services offer a trial period. However, the trial period is only of benefit if a team fully utilizes the software during the free trial and is ready to pull the plug on the last day if needed. How much time will it take to get everything on board with the new software? If it turns out not to work, will that time be a total loss? Will you be able to export your data out of the new system? (That is a non-negotiable for me. I never even consider buying software that will hold my data hostage.)

Finally…are we hiding behind software to avoid conflict?

This reality check is worth doing at every stage. For instance, if there is a suspicion of theft or dishonesty, or an employee with a negative attitude who always has an excuse for refusing to cooperate, this needs to be handled head-on. Conflict avoidance leads to all manner of dysfunction, including the tendency to try comfortable solutions first. Bob is too busy to get his job done? Let’s try automating some tasks to free up his time. Never mind Bob’s two-hour lunch breaks, or the fact that he wastes a lot of time standing around. If a team member is not pulling their weight, people notice, whether they talk about it or not.
All of this thinking and discussion may sound like a lot of work, and it is. But it’s less work and less expense than implementing the wrong software. It’s less than the cost of losing a valuable customer, and the wrong software (or a poor implementation of the right software) can cause that to happen. For instance, the free software that everyone was in a hurry to start using might be full of security holes and result in a preventable data breach.
The connected age and cloud computing have provided us with a virtual candy store filled with distracting shiny objects. Trying out new software is fun. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities! But will it really make the business more profitable? Only discipline can ultimately do that. Automated tools can amplify the benefits of discipline, but they are not a substitute for it.

Break it Down

In 1994, I took my first job as a burger-flipper at Wendy’s. (Actually, they started me on fries — I had to work my way up to burger flipper). I was fortunate in a number of ways to have the opportunity to learn a handful of things from that job: most especially, the keys to scaling a business. Wendy’s, like most fast-food restaurants, borrows from the same model that McDonald’s uses. As far as I can tell, their success can be attributed to one factor: they break it down

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3 Reasons Your Business Is Not Making Enough Money

Crisis Mode

Since 2007, I’ve worked with businesses of many types, and I’ve found one complaint to be universal: “We need more customers!” While many businesses are struggling due to lack of revenue, I find that the reason for the shortfall is often not what the owner thinks it is. Businesses that are desperate to increase revenues most often try solutions that make the problem worse. For instance, a business might throw thousands of dollars at an advertising campaign and receive little or no response, creating a more severe cash shortfall.

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The #1 Reason Businesses Leave Money on the Table

Cash in the grass with room for your type.

Small business owners often struggle year after year to bring in enough cash to keep things going. Operating in constant “survival mode” is draining and leads to disillusionment. Most tragically, it usually can be avoided. The irony of the situation is that we tend to ignore our biggest opportunity, even when it is sitting right under our nose.

Why do we do this? Continue reading “The #1 Reason Businesses Leave Money on the Table”