Mitch Schneider: Talk is Cheap – It Takes Money to Buy Whiskey! – UnderhoodService
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Mitch Schneider: Talk is Cheap – It Takes Money to Buy Whiskey!

Having a vested interest in a project, an idea, a concept and/or your own future, in the way of sweat equity (time, energy, effort, physical or emotional investment, and/or cash) brings with it an entirely different level of involvement because of the sacrifice implied…”It takes money to buy whiskey!” But, what does all that mean? I think it means that unless someone has a vested interest in your future or mine, we almost have a responsibility to take whatever that person has to say with a grain of salt.

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"Talk is cheap — It takes money to buy whiskey!”

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The first time I heard my friend utter those words, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly he was trying to say. Then, all of a sudden, it came to me! Anyone can say anything at any time for any reason almost without consequence, especially if there is no personal investment, no “skin” in the game, as it were…“Talk is cheap…”

Having a vested interest in a project, an idea, a concept and/or your own future, in the way of sweat equity (time, energy, effort, physical or emotional investment, and/or cash) brings with it an entirely different level of involvement because of the sacrifice implied…“It takes money to buy whiskey!”

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But, what does all that mean? I think it means that unless someone has a vested interest in your future or mine, we almost have a responsibility to take whatever that person has to say with a grain of salt.

Let me give you two examples, one from a local newspaper, and the other from one of the most respected (and well read) business magazines published today. The first is a response to a reader’s question regarding the current economy and “workplace staff reduction” (the polite and politically correct way of saying “layoffs”). The question came from a business owner agonizing over the current economy and an almost vertical decline in sales.

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His is a well-established manufacturing business with a crew of more than 100 dedicated and loyal employees on the job for anywhere from five to 15 years. You could sense the anxiety in the owner’s question. After all, how do you tell someone who has been with you for 10 or 15 years that their services are no longer necessary? How do you “walk away” from a relationship that has served both parties well for so long, especially when a number of those employees have indicated that they would be willing to work fewer hours for less money, or, even for free?

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The columnist, a well-respected consultant and coach, had the following suggestions based on information he received from a specialist in staffing across all industries:

First, ask your employees for their suggestions regarding cost-cutting measures that could forestall a reduction in staffing. Second and third, put a hold on any wage increases and postpone any “company-wide” bonuses. Fourth, re-examine your benefits package and either reduce the benefits themselves, or increase employee participation if the cost of those benefits is shared. Fifth, pay close attention to overtime — reduce it or eliminate it where and whenever possible. Sixth, ask if any of your employees would like to lay themselves off! Seventh, ask all of your employees if they would be willing take leave without pay or work fewer hours in order to keep everyone on the job.

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Those were the suggestions that somewhat applied to us. There were another seven or eight that were far more appropriate for larger, perhaps, even multi-national companies. For instance, it isn’t likely that you and I would be able to save money by cutting back on “travel,” and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t need a consultant to tell you not to hire anyone new when business was challenging enough to be concerned about “staff reductions.” I suppose we could offer an incentive for early retirement. That is, if we had a retirement program in place to begin with. But, how many of us do?

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You still have to ask yourself: What does it cost anyone to give you generic advice of this quality? What is their investment in your future or mine; in the relationships it’s taken a lifetime to build?  

Talk is cheap…See what I mean?
As mentioned, my second source of information was an internationally respected business publication more likely to be read in a corporate boardroom than in your waiting room or mine. I was introduced to it years ago while presenting a series of shop management classes for a large warehouse in Virginia, and happened to mention that one of my passions was management and leadership literature during a conversation with the president of the company. He pointed out that most of the books I had read had appeared as introductory articles in this magazine up to two years before they grew to book form.

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In this particular instance, it wasn’t just one article, it was the entire issue — 112 pages if you include some very expensive advertising space — the equivalent of 20-plus articles of varying length.

The one article that really got my attention, however, was focused on how a large corporation could take advantage of these difficult times, positioning itself for profit and growth as the economy begins to rebound — something we all have to believe in. This particular article even came with a checklist. And, as you may have already figured out, I’m a big fan of checklists!

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As difficult as it might be to draw parallels between the world this magazine is written for and ours, there are parallels. And, while there may be no reason for us to be concerned with “share price,” (unless, of course, your stock happens to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange), the need to focus on business fundamentals and “current business practices” really is universal.

Aside from that, it really isn’t reasonable to start concentrating on tactics and strategies designed to help take advantage of the current economic conditions as the economy begins to emerge from the recession, when you haven’t first minimized your company’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

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The advice here was to pay attention to Cash Flow, the revenue tide that flows in and out of your business responsible for the ebb and flow of your check book balance. How? By creating a weekly report documenting the “cash tide” or the flow of cash in and out of your business. This suggestion is just as valid for you and me as it is for General Electric.

The difference? It isn’t likely the author’s subsequent advice to pool cash across business units is equally valid, unless you have multiple business units.

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The next piece of advice was to manage customer credit carefully. Just about all of us have felt the pressure of a cash crunch created by a fleet account (or, two…) or a key client that’s months behind on a “house charge.” Too many of us have had to go to the bank to borrow money, sometimes at usurious interest rates, to keep our own boat afloat just because we allowed a client to run their business on our capital!

The author suggested managing working capital aggressively, even to the point of using up excess inventory. And, of course, there were the obligatory admonitions to reduce debt and to secure additional lines of credit — all things easier to accomplish in good times, rather than in bad.

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Regardless of the nature of the industry you are in, if you couple these suggestions with the need to reduce cost and to increase efficiencies and productivity throughout your business — something most of us have already started to recognize as critical to current and future business survival — you start to develop a fairly accurate roadmap for success. Throw in the need to protect margin, to resist the urge to lower prices or to skimp on service, and you might have the beginnings of a pretty sustainable business model. Certainly, a business model most of us could live with.

In the same article, the authors talked about share price and divesting non-core related businesses: tapping sovereign wealth funds for capital, or “off-shoring” to reduce cost. But, I’m not sure those tactics would apply to many of us, at least to none of the shop owners I know.

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But, you have to ask yourself one simple question: What does this advice cost? Not, what does it cost the company paying for that advice. But, instead, what does it cost the company providing it?

Certainly, there is a cost to acquire the data necessary to make those suggestions, as well as the costs involved in measurement, analysis, feedback and evaluation. But, what does it cost them if they’re wrong? In both cases, save the cost of subscription, the advice was free, and if you don’t get what you paid for, what right have you to complain.

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But, what happens when you do pay for that advice? What happens when you pay for the whiskey and then can’t get it down?

Equally as important and perhaps even more tragic is what happens when you pay for that information and fail or refuse to incorporate the data you have just purchased into the daily operation of your
business?

I guess my friend was ultimately right in his assessment…Talk is cheap and it does take money to buy whiskey!

No matter how good the information you receive might be, no matter how powerful the value, especially when the “whiskey” is free, don’t kid yourself — there will be a cost.

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There will be a cost associated with that whiskey, even when the talk is “cheap.” You will have to integrate what you’ve learned into your business, and that takes time. You will have to alter the way you do things based upon what you’ve learned, and that requires effort. There is likely to be a learning curve, and all too often that learning curve will be fairly steep, and that takes energy. And, all of it requires change. Change demands tolerance, patience, dedication and commitment. And, these are just the emotional costs!

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What about the costs accompanying changing anything that impacts the very DNA of your organization? What about the changes associated with doing different things, and doing things differently? And, what about the costs associated with those changes?

Talk is cheap, and so is advice, especially when it’s free! And, it does take money to buy whiskey. And, it takes money to change anything you do, or the way you do it!

Every once in a while, however, it’s worth it. Every once in a while, the whiskey is sweet and smooth, the change is necessary and the results are positive!

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