Let’s talk about ego in business
Let’s talk about ego in business. There’s something I’ve wanted to put down on paper (or screen) for a while now but I didn’t know how to do it gracefully and for a purpose. But recently, an incident occurred that first and immediately made me think ‘if only you hadn’t had such an ego, imagine the opportunities’ and ‘if I ever behave like that, someone call me out, please!’
Let me start at the beginning…
During these last 11 years of business, there have been many, many times when I’ve knocked on doors, picked up the phone, and sent messages online to try and start or build business relationships. And don’t be fooled. I did this in year one, and I do it still. Because it’s valuable and because nothing can compare with building genuine, human connections rather than selling.
In 2018 Dave (my partner in business and life) and I moved to a much smaller town from the city. We moved the business too. (That would’ve been a bit of a commute!). A natural part, for me anyway, of setting up shop was physically going door to door with local businesses and introducing ourselves. Not to sell. Not to hand out flyers. Just a hello and a handshake. It felt natural. Way back in 2012-2013, I spent hours doing the same in Cardiff, as well as picking up the phone with people I admired just to tell them how much they inspired me and whether they could offer any advice or tidbits that would be invaluable to a freelancer starting out. It was a tough ol’ slog but it’s still a great way of getting to know people and building relationships has always been a core part of our culture.
Then things got interesting…
After years of this, and being a regular attendee on the networking scene, I came to decide for myself that there were three types of business owners out there. (Yes, there are probably much more but for the purposes of this I’ve narrowed it down to three.)
Type 1: The Welcomer These lovely humans were gracious, polite and only too eager to welcome you into the business community (as long as you weren’t pushy or trying to sell something). Usually, with a promise to throw some opportunities your way if they happened to fall in front of them and even offer a coffee to get to know you better. You’ll notice there are two sides to this conversation and their offerings are genuinely helpful. There’s no ego and no agenda, just great advice and if they are strapped for time, they’ll let you know without making you feel like you’re a bug in their shoe.
Type 2: The Feeder. Similarly welcoming and eager to chat and offer advice. They may even offer you a tour of their office and introduce you to their team. But, don’t be fooled. What they really want is to regale you of their journey and more importantly how successful they’ve been. They may even tell you how many cars they have, and how much their house cost and even stoop to criticising a competitor or fellow business owner. (awkward) You’ll find this conversation fairly one-sided. Make sure you still listen though, there might be some golden nuggets hidden amongst the ego, they did build a successful business after all. You may sometimes find yourself with an armful of ‘merch’ in case you feel the need to start pushing their brand too.
Type 3: The Indifferent. These can be identified by the eye roll, the sigh and the very correct feeling that you’re wasting their valuable, very important time. You probably won’t even get a conversation with them. More likely a door in your face, or if you’re very unlucky you’ll have to deal with their poor assistant or secretary who knows how rude they’re being but dare not pipe up. If you do manage to get face to face, don’t bet on them remembering your name the next time they see you, or the time after that, or the time after that. In extreme cases, they may even turn their back to you midway through a sentence (that has happened to me, honestly!)
I’ve met numerous incarnations of all three but luckily mostly type 1. Because (and I truly believe this) most people are fantastic humans and want to help each other. I’ve met a lot of type 2 as well, and despite the crazy stories (honestly, sometimes you’re left wondering ‘was that a joke’?) they do offer valuable advice, mostly. Type 3: Well, what can I say? I thought I’d come across all that I could handle but they do pop up every now and again. And another one did recently. I could tell you some pretty horrendous stories, but I’ll just share this one. I will, of course, omit names and business names because…well, I’m not an idiot.
The Big Fish in a Small Pond
We often outsource certain services and have done for years (I’m being vague for obvious reasons, bear with me) and I was keen to build relationships with the businesses nearest to us so that we could serve and be involved in the community. So I set out to knock on some doors and introduce ourselves. This particular business was well-known and had a good reputation (so I’d heard) and I thought I’d call ahead and book a convenient time to come and chat with the owner (thoughtful, right?).
I didn’t speak to this person directly but I rocked up on the day looking forward to chatting with a fellow business owner, with a few outsourcing opportunities in my pocket already to chat through and my usual cheery, enthusiastic attitude that comes out when I know I’m going to meet new people.
I was greeted by a member of the team really warmly and was ushered into the main office where I was introduced to the rest of the team and coffee was made. It was a lovely atmosphere and we chatted for a while. Winner. All was going well.
About twenty minutes in, the conversation started to slow and I started wondering if it was fair to think that who I thought I was there to meet was being a little rude keeping me waiting this long. (I had things to do, too!) The team I was talking to also seemed to be conscious I was waiting a while (awks) and one of them went off to see if there was any movement in the other part of the building. Then I remembered the really snazzy office I’d walked past on the way to the main office and that I’d seen someone sitting at the desk there.
So, they knew I was there. They must know. Another 5 minutes passed and the team member who I’d been chatting to scurried back in, followed by the person I was eagerly waiting for. Finally, I thought. Then, they announced to the room (I was still sitting there by the way) ‘Can you wrap this up quickly please, we’ve got things to get on with, you can’t be sitting and talking all day!‘
And then left.
I was dumbfounded, shocked, hurt, humiliated and disappointed all at once. They didn’t even look at me. It was then I realised there had been no intention of meeting me. That I wasn’t worth their time or even a minor effort of being polite. At first, I was upset, and then as I left (awkwardly and embarrassed), it turned into anger and then five minutes later I was just confused by this behaviour.
In my virtual pocket was a potential order from one of our biggest clients and I was keen to discuss a retainer for regular work. That was three years ago. The amount of work we could’ve sent their way is insane. If only there hadn’t been such an ego.
Then again, maybe they really didn’t need or want more work. Who knows? We have since found someone much nicer to work with.
We’re even allowed to talk to them!
I’m not telling you this in a ‘haha, tough luck’ sort of way, but to illustrate the point that you never know who you’re talking to, ever. I’m also not saying that I’m a big shot and that they automatically should’ve respected me because I don’t think that either. But I do think that they should’ve taken the time to be a decent human and meet with me and perhaps we could’ve built a really great business relationship. Or a simple, ‘thanks, but no thanks’ would’ve worked just as well.
Why am I writing this now…
As I mentioned, there was a more recent incident with another type 3, but it’s not time to share the story. However, it did remind me of this one and prompted me to share. I’m sharing it now because I’m curious if others have come across people like this and whether it’s actually completely normal behaviour. And, to work out if I’ve missed something entirely? However, I’m sure this is a familiar story to many of you.
I hope also that if you find yourself reading this and think; ‘shit, I’ve done that’, then hopefully it will make you think twice next time.
Imagine the possibilities and opportunities that have passed people by, just because they ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to answer that person, or because they just simply thought they were too busy and important to be mixing with the likes of you. Baffling.
If I had thinner skin, I probably would have left that building humiliated (well, even more humiliated) and dwelt on it for days wondering what I’d done wrong. 7-8 years ago, that’s exactly what I would have done.
These days, I know that there are just some people you can’t win over.
We must all remember to think about the bigger picture. That freelancer that’s emailing you asking for feedback that you’re ignoring because you’re too busy and important; in a few years’ time they could be working with that amazing brand you’re trying to get in with. (There goes your relationship).
That local business down the road that you think is too small and insignificant to work with; the owner is barbecuing with the decision-makers at the local council next week and they need a business like yours for a project. (There goes your relationship).
I come back to that phrase, time and time again. In fact, I’m going to get it made into a massive neon sign and hang it in the studio.
Just, don’t be a dick!
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