One day I might feel like a business owner, but most of the time I feel like a guy just pretending to be one.
Eventually, I’ll be found out.
And that’s fine. It’ll probably feel like being caught decades later after an art heist.
I’d been looking over my shoulder for so long, that eventually when I’m caught, it’ll feel like a relief.
Until that day, however, I’ll continue to pretend like I am and just do my best.
Except there was ONE time where I absolutely did feel like a business owner.
A few months back, on the heels of a series of talks and another best-selling book, a friend of my wife asked her if I’d be able to help with some marketing.
Specifically, it was helping my wife’s friend’s (name H.) husband – N.
N. was older than me and in most people’s eyes, successful.
Nice house, nice cars. His company even had a contract working with an EXTREMELY famous and large videogames company producing one of the banes of environmentalism – plastic video game toys.
To me, a successful business owner had two traits.
- They didn’t seek clients, clients sought them.
- They turned down work that just didn’t click with them.
And frankly, in my naivety, I looked up to and respected N. because he had nice things and the appearance of wealth and famous clients.
I went to their house and we chatted for a while. He told me about his new business idea and how he needed help.
Websites, marketing, ads etc.
And, because he didn’t know much about all this stuff, he brought his friend along to the meeting.
His friend was just some guy who sometimes did art and graphic design work. I think he owned a music store in the town.
“Mike, this is going to be a £1 million business within a few years.”
Immediately, after years of hearing old men tell me how successful they were and how big something would be, alarms bells started to ring and red flags started to raise.
Something just felt…off.
And sure enough, during the conversation, they told me about their business and how brilliant it was.
They also talked about all their success in their past businesses.
So after boasting to me for about 20 minutes, getting his pork-pie-hat-wearing “guru” friend to chip in, he asked me “so how much do you charge?”
By this point, I was about to go on a book tour and speaking at multiple events around the world. I honestly thought this would be a meeting of like-minded business owners – not an opportunity for a wide-eyed “wet behind the ears” kid to pitch to a more successful owner.
You know that feeling when someone says or does something, and you’re like “huh…I see you in a totally new light. I think you might be a bit of a bellend.”?
I replied to his question about how much I charge.
“Well N. To be honest I don’t even know if I want to take the work on yet. It’s an unproven business, with a new business model. You don’t have any sales and it’s a new venture for you in a new industry…”
He was genuinely flabbergasted. His mouth was wide open, shocked that this young upstart dared to even suggest that he might not be interested in working with him.
Hell, this kid should be gushing at the opportunity to even PITCH to me! The nerve!
I continued. “At an absolute base minimum you’re probably looking at around £25,000. That’s the bare minimum.”
His eyes widened.
And now he’s quoting 25 grand for a project?! Who is this kid?!
I could literally see him squirming in his chair.
After some back and forth, he told me that I’d need to prove that he’d get some value for £25K.
“Sorry N. I really came here out of a courtesy to Olivia and your wife (who I adore). Our team is in demand and I still haven’t heard enough proof from you that your business is worth us working with. I’m sorry if that sounds–”
He cut me off and jumped up. Waving me outside.
His mate, the music shop owner laughed.
“25 thousand?! Are you joking?! I could do it for less than that?! You can’t possibly think people will pay that, can you!?”
I got in my car and left.
Driving home, I called Olivia and told her the full story.
“Yeah that sounds like him. I’ve never liked him, but I never said anything because of how you looked up to him. I didn’t want to taint your idea of him.”
How awesome is my wife?
“And besides, he wears a black chef’s jacket when he works with his wife in their catering company.”
“What?” I was confused. He ran several multi-million pound businesses. Where did he find the time to be a chef? If he was so wealthy and successful, why did he need to work with his wife?
“He’s not a chef.” Olivia continued. “He just doesn’t like the idea of people not thinking he’s important. Chef’s command respect so he wears chef’s whites (but black ones – chef’s blacks?)”
That pretty much told me everything I needed to know.
Funnily enough, years later I see him around the office. No idea how many millions he’s made.
That was the first time I felt like a real business owner.