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Management Expert Ronna Lichtenberg

Looking for the key to your success? Look at the people around you.
March 5, 2001
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/38324

It's the first lesson you learn in Business 101: Separate your professional life from your personal life. But you don't have to pursue a MBA to know that work is strictly business.

It's Not Business, It's Personal Ronna Lichtenberg's latest book refutes that tenet. In It's Not Business, It's Personal, she talks about the nine relationship principles that can help you go beyond traditional marketing to make the most of your business relationships. Lichtenberg, the president of management consulting firm Clear Peak Communications, shared her thoughts with us on cultivating diverse and dependable business relationships.

Entrepreneur.com: What's the most important relationship principle you talk about in your book?

Ronna Lichtenberg: There are really two. Number one: Always remember that it pays to be personal. We're taught so much nonsense about how being impersonal in business is the way to make money. That's simply not true. The other one is a really hard one for most people I talk to, and that's number six: Don't waste time on the wrong people. If you start thinking about the amount of time you spend [on] people who don't give you any energy back and complaining about those people, you'll realize you can lose a lot of your day that way.

"Are you investing that time and energy, the scarcest resource you have, in a conscious, thoughtful way? Or are you wasting it-just doing the equivalent of walking down the street dropping $20 bills?"

Entrepreneur.com: What can entrepreneurs learn from reading your book?

Lichtenberg: Even more than capital, what small-business owners and entrepreneurs lack is time and energy. Most [business owners] are spending probably 70 or 80 or 90 percent of their day with other people. My argument is, look at where that time is going. Who's it going to? Are you investing that time and energy, the scarcest resource you have, in a conscious, thoughtful way? Or are you wasting it-just doing the equivalent of walking down the street dropping $20 bills?

Entrepreneur.com: In your fourth principle, you talk about surrounding yourself with the right people. Tell us how successful people find one another.

Lichtenberg: By noticing how other people react to what needs to be done. How many times have you been in a meeting where there was someone you thought was really interesting, had really good ideas, had lots of energy, who you really enjoyed, and [then] that was it. You walked out of the meeting and never followed up.

My test now is the caller ID test. If you shut your eyes, imagine seeing somebody's name on your caller ID on your phone, [and] you feel instantly worn out and tired and you don't want to pick up the phone, then you know that [person is] an energy vampire. You want to spend as little time as possible with that type of person. But if you see their name and your impulse is to want to pick up the phone, you're doing that because usually that's someone who's good for you.

Entrepreneur.com: Your fifth principle is "Diversify Your Holdings." Why is it important for business owners to diversify their contacts?

Lichtenberg: The politically incorrect truth is that people who aren't like you in any way take more effort to be close to because you have to do more explaining. When someone's really like you, it's more intuitive, easier, automatic. You don't have to explain much. With people who aren't like you, you have to work harder at it, but they bring you more value. That's why you want to have a board with people who aren't like you [and] have a different skill set.

A lot of entrepreneurs and small-business owners are people with a financial background. You need someone close to you who's strong in marketing, someone with a skill set that's not so quantitative. If you're a business owner who knows how to bring the business but haven't a clue how to keep track of it once you've got it, then you have to work harder at not just hiring people to do accounting, but being close to people who [are more financially oriented.]

Entrepreneur.com: In your book, you say that successful people constantly work on communicating their value to others. What's the best way to do that?

Lichtenberg: The best way is by talking to [people] about their business and the value you can help them create. One way that I could try to communicate my value would be to get in sort of a Miss Piggy mode-moi, moi, moi. I could tell you, 'Gee, I'm a consultant and this is how much I charge' and all the things that make it sound like I think I'm a big deal. Or I could focus on you. How can I make it as easy as possible for you to do what you consider to be a great job? That's when people will come back to you, when you make it easier for them to get what they want. You make it faster. You make it cheaper. You've thought of things they haven't thought of. That's what makes them think you're valuable. And yet we all walk around thinking it's about us.

One of the common mistakes I see people make when they first get started is spending a fortune on print materials and on Web sites that are all about them and not saying a word about what they do for anyone else and the value they've brought to somebody.