Pumpkins, Afros, and Sunglasses: Juggling People in Business

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The academic professionals I was working with simply didn't understand my vision. I might as well have been walking around with a pumpkin skirt, Afro, and sunglasses on the back of my head. They just didn't get it.

In fact, in the early days of my start-up venture, I experienced the most discouragement when I would arrive back at the office from any kind of faculty meeting. Wallowing in my despondency for days, I would rack my brain trying to find ways to convince these people that this idea would fly if they just backed me.

After a few months of these periodic wallowing sessions, I realized that the only way to get myself reinvigorated was to spend time with students: my actual users and clients, the ones who were going to be using the system. They had showed me the gap in the market in the first place. They understood.

As soon as I started talking to them again, the lights would start flashing like New Year’s Eve fireworks. The plan would all make sense, and my energy would be renewed. Vision intact, I was able to plot the next strategic move to get “Mr. Head-of-the-Department” into my camp.

This is business: this talking to the right people at the right time, learning how to win over the unbelievers by harnessing the absolute fanatics.

Looking back on those early days, I can identify four camps of people:

  1. My online system users/clients who had a problem I was trying to solve.

  2. My employees who blindly believed in the product because their salary depended on it.

  3. My mentors and the government agencies who were backing the business. This group believed in the product enough to encourage it but were removed enough to critique it in a healthy way.

  4. The higher authorities who held sway over the first group.

Looking at this list, it is a fairly accurate representation of my larger career, and here is the secret I have discovered along the way:

  • Spend 80% of your time with your clients.

  • Spend 15% of your time with your employees.

  • Spend 3% of your time with your mentors and the people backing you.

  • Spend 2% of your time with the people who need serious convincing.

This is no hard and fast rule; there is no scientific backing behind my theory. But hard-earned scars have taught me that dividing my time this way among the people I interact with does work.

And so a new week was starting. It was a Monday morning, and I had set up a coffee date with a group of engineering students. As I dressed for the meeting, I thought again of the afro-pumpkin outfit and the sunglasses on the back of my head. I smiled to myself as I considered making a pitch dressed in such outrageous garb. Except with this group of students, it might not seem so outrageous.

With this group, I would fit right in.

As a professional or business owner, what has your experience been? Where do you spend the majority of your work time? Do you think there are business situations where this ratio will definitely not work?

This article is part of an ongoing series on business lessons learned in the day to day setting of a small business tech environment. Other articles in this series are linked below.

Image by Vox Efx. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Claire Burge, High Calling Photo Editor.