Selling to Everyone is Bad, Corporate Thinking

A few months ago, when I still wanted to get business from everyone possible, I found a company who wanted me to do commercials about their house-buying business.  They’re the kind of guys who target people in difficult  financial situations and offer to buy homes with cash.   The concept they had for the commercial was awful:  explosions, falling money, and condescending commentary.   For those of you who have dealt with these kinds of businesses, it probably comes as no surprise that they wanted me to do the commercial for bottom-dollar rates.

So, I was being asked to do work for a business I didn’t like, doing a concept that I couldn’t respect, at a price that would give me much reward for my efforts.  And yet, because I bought into the stupid idea that any business is good business, I still tried to make it work. To show them where I was coming from, I pitched a new idea, and I argued that they could benefit by treating their potential customers with dignity.  That was the last time I heard from them.  Thank God.

photo by @dlprager from flickr.com/maubrowncow

photo by @dlprager from flickr.com/maubrowncow

Since then, I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about how to avoid getting certain types of clients.  First thing to go: the sell-to-everyone notion.  Money is nice, but I don’t want to be involved in projects that I’m ashamed of doing.   Those kinds of projects will probably only help me get more sub-prime clients while spreading the influence of bad businesses or ideas.  No thanks.

In his book The Art of the Start Guy Kawasaki writes, “Doing things that benefit you and your organization to the detriment of the rest of society doesn’t scale.”  Great quote, but it’s so easy to get distracted from that ideal and chase only the bottom-line, especially when things are tough.  With those house-buying clowns, I was initially just thinking about getting more experience and making some cash in the process.  I wasn’t thinking about whether their business would benefit others or whether it would just prey on people’s fears and insecurities, while making things worse in the long-term.

Don’t get me wrong.  Just because a business buys houses for cash, doesn’t make it a bad business.  If the guys I dealt with cared more about treating others with dignity, I may have thought differently of them.  A good business serves its customers and makes them stronger, more productive, or happier over time.  A bad business exploits people and doesn’t care if their customers become weaker, unhappier, and more debased over time in part because of the products or services they sold.

The stronger and healthier you become, the more the gym you frequent benefits.  Having experienced the positive results of the gym will probably encourage you to keep coming back, and your vitality will become a walking advertisement for the gym, as friends and family take note of your improved health.  But what about your drug dealer?  It is in his best interest for your sense of worth and purpose to grow, and for you to get more involved in your community?  No, he benefits most when you believe that you can only make the moment bearable with the drugs he offers.   Why would the drug dealer care if you beat your kids or wreck havoc on your community?  As far he’s concerned, that means you’ll probably become a better customer.

So is your business more like  the local gym or the local drug dealer? Are you selling solid materials and services that will add value to someone’s home,  improving over time someone’s affection for the place where he lives?   Or, does the cheap stuff you sell go bad right after the warranty expires, which frustrates your customers and leaves them less likely to trust their fellow man?   Is that new book you’re writing going to inspire others to do good and excellent things, or is your new music album going to persuade more people to slap around women and treat them like mere commodities of pleasure?  If more people would think about that stuff as they cash their lucrative checks, this world would be a better place.

I’m going to make a commitment right here not to ever again pursue a business opportunity without thinking about how it may affect society as a whole. I want to make music videos, commercials, and designs that are fun, exciting, and meaningful, but I don’t want to do degrading stuff or create work that fuels people’s worst instincts.   I know that means I’ll get less work, at least initially, but I’d rather face that and still be proud and unapologetic about all the work I’ve done.

If you think that’s a foolish way of doing business, that’s fine.  It means you’ll never contact me to work together, and we’ll both be better off.   Actually, filtering out the wrong kind of clients is just as important to me as finding more clients.  In fact, if you follow me on twitter (twitter.com/nsavides) or if you spend enough time with me, you’ll hear me talk about my faith and about some of my political views.  I don’t mind if you disagree with me about those things, but if you consider me an idiot for holding those views, then you’re someone else with whom I don’t want to work.  If you can’t respect differences of thought or if you treat with contempt something that I value, like faith, then there’s a good chance we won’t get along or that you’ll ask me to create something that I’ll abhor. I’m not doing that; I don’t sell to everyone any more.

That kind of thinking is a little nerve-wracking sometime because business is tough and competitive, but I have faith that it’ll work out eventually.  It may take longer but it’s better than dealing with the wrong kinds of clients.  I’m trying to make money and make the world better, after all.  Are you?

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