The Business Builders Show With Marty Wolff

Continuing with my theme of sharing some of my recent podcast shows, I have something really special for you this week. Recently, I had the great fortune to be able to speak on C-Suite Radio show, The Business Builders Show, hosted by Marty Wolff. Marty is a highly respected executive coach and business consultant who has, over the past five years, read hundreds of business books and interviewed hundreds of guests.

I’m proud to have joined that number of individuals, particularly for a radio show focused on something that means so much to me. Helping others to become informed, inspired, and educated so that they can grow their businesses and best help their clients.

You can reach the podcast using the link below: 

I hope you all enjoy!

ps I have a great opportunity to share with all of you as well! Next week, November 15th at 2:00 pm Eastern Time, I will be presenting a webinar alongside Ann Hermmann-Nehdi discussing 4 Secrets to Change Your Thinking And Grow Revenue. I think it will be a really interesting experience. You can reserve a spot on the webinar at this link:

So Money Podcast with Farnoosh Torabi

Recently I’ve been invited to participate in a number of podcasts, a format that is becoming more and more popular every day. The experience has been fantastic. Through it, I’ve met a number of amazing radio hosts and podcasters. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of their programs. I’ll be sharing links to each of them weekly over the next few months. I believe that all of you will find value in them, and maybe you’ll discover some of your favorite podcasters along the way!

This week, I’m sharing my podcast with ‘So Money’ host Farnoosh Torabi. She is an award winning financial correspondent, best selling author, and television personality. ‘So Money’ provides candid conversations about money with the world’s top business minds, authors and influencers.

In this episode, Farnoosh and I talk about the Give to Get technique, some shorthand for calculating what your time is worth, as well as my personal ‘So Money’ accomplishment. You can reach the podcast by clicking the following link: 

I hope you enjoy it!

My Chat With Darcy Eikenberg


This week, I have something really awesome to share with all of you.

Very recently, I had the opportunity to make a video/podcast with the fantastic leadership and career coach, Darcy Eikenberg, owner and founder of Red Cape Revolution. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with her, and wanted all of you to have the opportunity to see this. In it, we talk about some of our favorite parts of my recent book, The Snowball System

You will be able to access the video, transcript, and link to the audio only version for our chat here:

I hope you enjoy it!

Every Time a Bell Rings…

Here is the secret area of margin: relationships.

We have talked over the last four articles about the importance of margin, having just a bit more than you need. And so far, we have talked about three different types of margin: strategic margin, measurable margin, and process margin.

But the most important type of margin is relationships. I am not a huge fan of “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It implies expertise doesn’t matter, and I can tell you expertise does matter.

But it misses another point too. Knowing someone is helpful, of course, but it really is only half the battle. The other half is what do they think of you. Do they think of you positively? Would they say they are better off having known you? Have you been a giver to them, or a taker?

This is where margin in relationships comes in. Here is an example.

Take two people, completely equal in the other three areas of margin, and a bad thing just happened: their strategy for their technology start-up did not work out. They just ran out of funding and they are late on getting their product to market. With no revenue or funding in sight, it looks like the end. Five years of work down the drain.

Person A is a taker, someone that was always taking from their relationships. They only called when they need something, not keeping in touch. You know the type. Everything is all about them.

Person B is a giver, someone that is always there when you need an ear, someone that connects people together, someone that checks in proactively to see how you are doing. They add value in every interaction. Sometimes they add value by giving a new idea, others just by making you smile. They are authentic. They are about you. 

Person A is sunk. They have no relationship margin built up. Person B, however, will either find a way to save the start-up, or quickly find a new path. At the same time, Person B will likely be thinking about everyone else who will be impacted, not just themselves.

Relationship margin is magical. You cannot see it, but it is the powerful force that moves us all. My favorite two examples of not having or having margin come from the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

One of my favorite lines comes from Mr. Potter, who says, “George, I am an old man, and most people hate me. But I don’t like them either so that makes it all even”. It is something sad, but true in its own way.

My other line comes what Clarence writes in the Bible he gives George: “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”

None of us are either 100% Potter or 100% George. We are somewhere in between. The more we can invest in others, the more relationship margin we can build, the better off we will be.

Positive margin in our relationships might be invisible, but it is out there, working hard to help us every day. Invest in it heavily, always adding a bit more than you take, and people will come out of the woodwork to help you when you need it.

So, to conclude our five-part series on margin, I will leave all of you with this advice. Investing in your relationships is one of the most essential and powerful things you can do for yourself, in business and in life.

The Magic to Meeting the Deadline, Every Time

You manage processes in your business and personal life all the time.

In business, it might be sending in the RFP response or checking in with clients. Personally, it might be sending your kid’s school forms or designing and booking that trip to play ultimate worlds in Sardinia, Italy.

Margin in your processes means you have more time than you need.

That time is critical.

Margin is so important in all aspects of our life. In the past few weeks we have talked about having strategic margin, talked about measurable margin or having a margin in our goals, and talked about margin overall, especially how the belief “I do my best under pressure” is not supported by the research. In fact, the opposite is true. Pressure inhibits our cognitive ability by devouring precious thought patterns by overanalyzing our process, time remaining, and other worries. Under pressure, much of our brain is taken up worrying about what and how to do our task.

Timing margin, as result of this, is an incredibly important type of margin to have. Here are two simple ways to have timing margin to avoid the worry and meet the deadline.

The first way of getting timing margin is planning ahead. I hate to bring this up, because I struggle with it. I really have to focus to think about planning ahead. The great news is that when I do, I feel the urgency sooner, and I move things around to allocate the time I need to complete something and complete it well. That margin of time helps immensely.

I find the second way even more powerful for me: Give myself adequate time to start with! For example, say I am working with a client and we have promised something to them. I have such a “pleaser” personality that I typically blurt out the earliest date possible when I am committing to a due date. This is horrible mistake. It can work fine for one task, but I do it for all my tasks. That leads me to overloading my to-dos, and all of it is my fault. I set my deadlines too early. What I try to do now is add a buffer, or margin. Instead of choosing an early date, I will double the time, or pick a due date farther out. This overcompensates for my weakness.

Margin is important, and lack of margin causes stress. Lack of margin in timing is what I experience the most. The good news: it is the easiest to fix.

Whatever your critical business development tasks are, find a way to create some timing margin. Maybe the target for sending in the RFP response should be the day before its due, instead of the moment its due, so you start earlier. Maybe annual client planning should be done in November for the new year instead of February. These small changes, adding just a little margin, make a big difference.

I really struggled creating a clever conclusion here. Maybe I should have planned and given myself some more time work on it.

BHAG or SMART? Finally, the Truth About Goals

Goals are great. Don’t just take my word for it, take Edwin Locke’s. When talking about goals, Locke is the most cited researcher. Some people have said he is likely the most cited researcher of all time.

Locke’s epic meta-study on goals, where he and his team reviewed 110 other peer-reviewed studies, found that goals matter. Simply setting goals correlated to higher performance in 90% of the studies they reviewed. Many of the studies did not even track what people did after they set their goals. It appears that simply writing a goal down has an immediate positive impact on performance.

But how ambitious should we be in setting goals?

Should we go for BHAG: Big, Hairy, and Audacious? Or SMART: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related? Some people even promote SMARTER goals, adding more criteria like Ethical and Rewarding to the mix.

Dr. Brian Redmond at Penn State University wrote “Goals should be set high enough to encourage high performance, but low enough to be attainable.”

Someone setting a goal for themselves should set it at the level where they think there is a chance to reach the goal – but it will be difficult. Setting the goal too low does not provide motivation. It is too easy, so there is no challenge to drive you to increase performance. Setting the goal too high causes a person not to try at all. People will lose their motivation and quit before they even start.

Life is full of assumptions – assumptions for how many hours a project will take, how much budget you will need, and how much X it will take to get Y. When you are setting a goal, add just a hair of buffer to your estimate of what it will take to achieve your goal, to give yourself margin. Having that extra bit of wiggle room reduces stress and lets you do your best work.

Here are some examples of using margin in attaining goals:

  • If you are using a training plan to run a 3-hour marathon, maybe you shoot to run your training intervals listed in the 2:50 plan.
  • If you usually need 500 hours of business development work a year to reach your goals, maybe you shoot for 550 hours.
  • If you need $X in your pipeline to reach your goals, add 10 or 20% to that just to be sure.

Planning for average means you will be short of your goal half the time. That is where adding just a small amount of extra margin in your goal setting comes in. Just adding 10% more effort, dollars, and activities could increase your chance of success to 80% or 90%.

So set SMARTER goals that are high enough to challenge you, but low enough to be realistic. Make sure to write them down to have an immediate positive impact on you realistically attaining them. Then try to find ways to add some margin to your goals.

And go for

One Thing That Lets Me Do My Best Work, Stress-free

“I do my best work under pressure.”

I’ve heard this plenty of times. I certainly get the concept in the moment. There is not much time left, your adrenaline starts pumping, and you crank it out. Makes sense, right? But the reality is, the research does not support it.

I highly recommend the well researched book called Performing Under Pressure by Hendrie Weisinger, PhD. In it, Hendrie and his coauthor say clearly:

  • Pressure adversely impacts our cognitive success,
  • Pressure downgrades our behavioral skills, and
  • In pressure moments, most people perform below their capability.

Why? With all the extra adrenaline produced in the heat of the moment, we should have super powers. We don’t.

Researcher Roy Baumeister dug into this in his classic study Choking Under Pressure: Self-Consciousness and Paradoxical Effects of Incentives on Skillful Performance. He found that extra pressure increases our conscious attention to our own process, and that this takes away from our ability to utilize our skills.

Pressure dials up our awareness of what we are doing in a way that hurts our doing. We start asking ourselves, “How much time do I have left? How should I approach this?” For me, even if I did get some benefit of adrenaline to get one thing done well, I would be exhausted and unable to complete the next task or the rest of my day with vigor.

There is a better way, however. One thing that makes all the difference. My friend Shawn Blanc taught me a very important concept: Margin. Margin is when you have more than you need, just a little extra providing a buffer.

Margin might mean having more time than you need, or having some extra money in the bank in case of emergency. It might mean when you need that important favor from someone, you’ve created margin by helping them immensely in the past.

It is almost easier to describe lack of margin however

Lack of margin means you have five hours of work to do in two. Lack of margin is when you do not have the savings at home to handle an emergency expense and you have to turn to your credit cards. Lack of margin is when you have leaned on someone else over and over, never adding more value than you took.

Having margin is a beautiful thing. When you have margin, you can march calmly and confidently towards your goals. Your deadlines are met. Your relationships are strong.

There is only one way I have found to build margin. It is by investing early, in all facets of life.

Here are a few examples:

  • Timeline margin: Invest early in your projects. Get ahead. Feel the sense of urgency before others.
  • Strategic margin: Shoot one notch higher than needed. If you want to run a 5K in 23 minutes, build your workouts to finish in 22. In business development, build the pipeline twice as big as you think you need.
  • Analytical margin: Create your budgets so you have extra. This lets you invest opportunistically at home or at work. Take the monthly savings number your financial advisor gives you and add 20%.
  • Relationship margin: Add more value than you take, every single time, with every single person. Value can be helping someone network, proactively giving them an idea or simply being enjoyable to be around. Shoot to add more than you take and you will have awesome relationships across the board.

Margin is powerful. It is important. In my own experience, margin correlates to doing my best work with less stress. When I look back on my life, the times where I was stressed have also been the times where I lacked margin. The times I’ve thrived have been when I have had margin. The abundance brings about taking things to the next level, achieving more than I thought I could.

Having margin is magic.

The First Time I Thought About My Life’s Passion

It was 1989 on a beautiful fall day. Bryan Keller and I were walking back to the Delt house on Ball State’s campus. Bryan and I were the President and House Manager of our Delt Chapter at the time, so we knew each other well. We started talking about our futures, what was next for us after graduation, and that’s when he asked me one of those questions that was so simple, so obvious, it threw me for a loop.

“Mo, you’ve been voted best recruiter for two years in a row. Why are you studying to be an actuary? Why are you not going into sales like a lot of the other guys?”

I was stunned. I didn’t have a good answer. His question made me think.

I loved the math of being an actuary. I loved that it was hard. I loved my friends in the actuarial science program who I studied with every day.

I also loved solving people problems: asking people what their goals are, helping improve them, and figuring out how to meet their needs.

In fraternity recruitment, I was selling Delta Tau Delta. We were leaders on campus, with something like three of the last six student body presidents, two of the last four IFC presidents, and my favorite: two of the last four Homecoming Kings. If someone liked the idea of developing leadership skills, I could show them how being a Delt could get them there. No other fraternity could compete on that positioning.

Back to Bryan’s question. I remember feeling like I needed to have a plan. The truth was, I didn’t have a plan. I was an actuarial science major as a Senior because I had chosen it as a Freshman. I just never thought about changing my direction.

So, in answering him, I fell back to my strength: math and statistics. With some nervous confidence, I said something like this: “Well, if I just go into a sales job, I might be good at it, but I’d have to compete against everyone else that’s in sales. They’re probably good at it too. But, if I can power through and pass all these actuarial exams, I’m sure someone has to sell actuarial services. So, I could really shine at doing sales stuff as an actuary someday.”

Bryan sounded impressed, like I had mapped this out with real statistics and a long-term strategic plan. “Wow, that really makes a lot of sense,” he said. “You’re going to kill it.”

He had thrown me a curve ball with his question. I had closed my eyes and wailed at the ball. Luck struck, and I hit it over the fence. Half astonished, I reflected on my own answer after we arrived at the house and parted ways.

It did make sense. I was really onto something and I ended up pursuing that path.

Years later, I finished my last actuarial exam. I had to take 24 exams, all with a pass rate that averaged about 35%. Few got through it. It was a hard path. It took a long time and a lot of focused work for me to succeed in getting my FSA (Fellow in the Society of Actuaries). It is a hard profession. As I increased my expertise at my craft, I landed in roles where I needed to do business development as well as provide services to my clients.

There’s a commonality across any profession that is really hard. It takes years, sometimes decades to gain the expertise needed to guide clients to the right decision. Think of the whole professional service sector – lawyers, accountants, consultants, architects, engineers, and others going through 30, 40, or 50,000 hours of schooling, training, and work experience until they’re named Partner or Senior Partner. Other industries like health care companies, outsourcers, and technology providers are all are in the same boat.

It takes years of experience to get good at a complex craft. Then one day, lightning strikes. You’re named Partner or Account Manager. Now your entire future and compensation depends not only on your experience and the service you provide to clients, but also on a new skill: business development.

I’ve found over time that the harder a profession is to enter, the more time it takes to succeed at a complex craft, the fewer professionals want to put forth the effort to become great at business development. Many will say “I didn’t join this profession to sell.” What they don’t realize is that selling is just using their big brain and problem-solving skills to design a great buying process, always with the client’s best interest in mind. Nothing more.

And there’s good news in that.

Business Development can be taught. It’s a set of skills just like your core expertise. At BIG, we’ve trained more than 10,000 people in BD skills. I’ve seen massive improvement first hand and in data. My favorite quote at the end of our classes is “Now I see. I can do this!”

The answer I gave Bryan that fall day in 1989 proved to be my path. I became an actuary, added business development skills for myself, learned how to balance the competing demands for providing services to my clients while doing BD, and I now teach other professionals how to do business development the right way. Teaching these skills to others has become my life’s passion! I love that the BD system I initially built to help me succeed in my career has helped many other people rocket forward in their professions. I’m super glad that Bryan made me think about how I could combine sales with my technical skills. It continues to be a fun ride!

The Best Way To Say Thank You

Adam Grant is one of my favorite researchers. He’s a professor at the Wharton School and his book Give and Take is one of the best business books I’ve ever read. It aligns so well with our teachings at Bunnell Idea Group that I have multiple copies, because our clients kept buying it for me when they saw all of the similarities!

His research aligns so well with my thinking that it’s almost like he created some weird mind reading machine to pull out and conduct all the research I wished could be done, showing me what works and what doesn’t. One of my favorite examples is that Givers are more successful than Takers. The most powerful relationships are mutually beneficial, not one-way. Another favorite is gratitude.

Grant and his colleagues at Wharton looked into the power of gratitude in business relationships. In one part of a study, participants were asked to review a cover letter. After giving their feedback, they were asked to review another. Half received a basic request that only acknowledged the first review. The other half were explicitly thanked for the first review before being requested to do more.

Believe it or not, the rate of follow-through doubled in response to a simple thank you. How would you like to double the number of prospects you turn into clients? Grant even tried this outside the lab, measuring the effect of gratitude on the efforts of call center workers. A visit expressing gratitude from the director of annual giving led to a 50-percent increase in the volume of phone calls made. A little gratitude goes a long way.

My friend Ned Morse at BCG has taken this thinking even deeper. Ned is one of the top coaches of CEOs in the world. He taught me that being specific about what you’re thankful for is the most powerful.

Firing off a quick “Thank you!” email reply is better than no reply at all. But Ned taught me to go the extra mile and say something specific: “Thank you for your extra effort! Our client Jane noticed you sent the analysis at 1:36 am and couldn’t believe you went the extra mile on such short notice. She’s providing a reference for us on Friday for that $1.2 million dollar deal with XYZ company. Your hard work made a positive impression at a critical time. Thanks again – I know you missed your family dinner that night. It means a lot to me.”

Being specific like this drives the point home, making that thank you even more meaningful.

Now, it’s my turn to thank you, specifically!

Thank you for reading our articles, watching our videos, and forwarding them on. We truly appreciate you sharing our content with others. We love your emails and calls giving us feedback and support. I especially love hearing how you used one of BIG’s techniques with success. Thank you for being a part of our special community: one that’s efficiently growing business, helping others, and having a blast.

Thank you!

Being Thankful

You’re somewhere. Hopefully, somewhere great. Somewhere you’re happy with.

Wherever you’re at, you would not be where you are without the help of others. Probably many others. Of course, your parents and family. But many others too. The salesperson who helped you find the right aisle at Home Depot, the work colleague who is always going the extra mile, and that client that’s been with you since the beginning. Even that friend from college that never showed anyone those pictures of you running the Lotus Block Trot.

They all have something in common. You are thankful for them. Thankful they trusted you. Thankful they invested in you. Thankful they were helpful when you needed it.

We are all somewhere. We are somewhere important. And, we would not be there without others.

Enter, gratitude.

Thank you” might be the most powerful and underused phrase in the world of business and family.

In business: Thank you for that referral. Thank you for providing feedback on my presentation. Thank you for helping me think through my growth plan.

At home: Thank you for making dinner tonight. Thank you for cleaning up the school project after it was done. Thank you for taking out the trash.

Please” may be the magic word, but “Thank you” is enchanting.