As I eased into the chair at the shoe shine booth, I half-jokingly asked the man if he could make my tired shoes look like new again. To my surprise, he answered, "You have to do a lot of things for your shoes long before you get them shined if you want to keep them looking like new!"
What followed was a five-minute clinic on shoe maintenance. "First," he told me, "you have to get cedar shoe trees. Put them in immediately after taking your shoes off at night, and they will prevent your shoes from looking like Ali Baba's. In other words, your shoes will keep their shape. Secondly, buy some lanolin cream like the stuff I'm using right now and apply it every couple of weeks. That will keep the leather soft and moist, prevent cracking and prevent embedded creases from developing."
As the lesson continued, he performed what was easily the most efficient shoe polishing I had ever experienced. I was told to only buy shoes with thick soles, since thin soles don't look as "strong or confident." He recommended that I use a shoehorn in order to keep the backs of my shoes in good shape. He also said that I should only wear lace-up shoes for business. "Loafers are for loafing," he said. When it comes to tying the laces, he told me to start by taking the right lace over the left and then tie the bow. Done this way, the bow will ride across the shoe rather than sit at an angle. "They just look more finished that way."
So why am I sharing this with you? Because I want to remind you that knowledge is everywhere, and that you can use this fact to your advantage - if you are willing to look for knowledge in all sorts of places, to listen to it when you find it, and then to act upon it.
If you read one book a month on business development strategies, you would be in an elite group. And you can do even more to gain knowledge. Study your business. One thing you might want to consider is how you attracted your favorite clients. Many business owners expend considerable energy in time-consuming and labor intensive tactics designed to attract new clients. However, they rarely attract their favorite clients through these seminars, direct mail campaigns, trade shows and cold calls. Use your time and energy efficiently: replicate your best successes. Look at where your best clients came from. For example, if your favorite clients were referrals, then you should invest your time and money to elicit similar quality referrals.
My favorite business philosopher, Jim Rohn, taught me that a formal education will help you earn a living and that on-going self-education can make you rich. It is true that income rarely exceeds self-development. Self-development shapes character and philosophy, and these will help you to build relationships with your clients. And while it is important to know your business, success also depends on your ability to develop chemistry with clients.
My best advice for improving your practice is to look around and pay attention. Look for approaches that you can adapt to your situation. And tap into the knowledge of others in your business, and to the ideas of experts. Always be aware, because you never know when the guy shining your shoes will offer you an idea that will improve your business. As Confucius said, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." But don't delay - after all, "when all is said and done, often more gets said than done." If you are committed to building your business, now is the perfect time to get busy.