The Story.Business Series

At the wheel

In 2003, I sent an email that almost sank my company. 

In it, I told our biggest client what I really thought of him.

To be clear, I wasn’t being brave or principled … it was a colossal, testicle-tightening mistake. At the time, his group represented 70% of our business.

Here’s how it happened.

A colleague emailed me, requesting the client’s email address … and asking what I thought of him.

No problem. I hit reply, typed the first few letters of the client’s name into the address box so that I could copy his email address … and then wrote a few honest words.

Because you are human – and have done the same thing at some point in your life – you’ve probably already guessed my mistake.

I sent the message without deleting my client’s address from the TO field.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

(Excuse the language. To be fair, I didn’t say it out loud, just sat as my balls climbed back up into my body.

“Rude and unhelpful.”

That’s what I’d called him. 

And it didn’t matter that it was true.

All that mattered was the hammer … and when it would fall.

A day passed. Then another.

Then the client called up … and offered us more work.

Wait? What?

It turned out the email had gotten his attention. 

Turned out he valued honesty 😳

I know. If you are thinking that I was one lucky fool, I wouldn’t disagree … but here’s the thing. I had always tried to be honest with my clients … just not in a career suicide kind of way.

In any case, it’s the underlying truth that matters.

Stories build businesses.

Especially the ones that others tell about us.

That client became one of our biggest advocates. He spread our story, recommending us for numerous projects across the years.

That’s the thing about great stories – they spread.

This is a powerful multiplier, but it comes with an evil twin.

Without a story, we’re kind of invisible…

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P.S. The pic was taken around 1995 on a yacht delivery job. The weather was somewhat inclement.