Ah, television… the “idiot box” of my youth that has become the Elysian Fields of my adulthood, where wunderkinds and veterans alike flaunt their talents in a collective output that is impressive indeed, even if, as I confessed in Part 1 of this series, Lessons from My TV: What I’ve Learned from The People’s Court, my television watching habits are perhaps not as fine tuned as they should be.
Still, my TV has delivered a wealth of entertainment and education right into my living room, and I appreciate that, which is why, focusing on the latter, I now present Part 2 of the series: Lessons from My TV: What I’ve Learned from Shark Tank.
Being passionate is not enough!
First, may I just say that that word gets tossed about so much lately that, like the word “amazing,” it is heading toward meaninglessness. Nonetheless, taken at face value it is a vitally important and deeply desirable attribute to bring to one’s work.
The thing is, however, its importance and desirability are mainly personal; having a passion to do something is ideally the reason why you do it to begin with, not the reason why someone else should facilitate your doing it, so it’s an insufficient selling point. Given the wonderful opportunity to speak directly to someone who might be willing to hire or invest in you, you will be far better served showing them how savvy, market aware, and deeply committed you are to your pursuit than you will be convincing them that you are passionate. Leave the passion to Nicholas Sparks.
Neither an under-valuer nor an over-valuer be.
That was not among the precepts Polonius shared with Laertes, but perhaps it should have been. Look, many of today’s business markets are oversaturated, and price wars are often the low-hanging differentiating fruit. I know this all too well because as a voiceover artist I now compete with every person who has ever been told she has a “good” voice and has access to a laptop with a built-in microphone, and that’s pretty much everyone!
But perceived value is a real thing, and one that will induce people to pay more than they would for a competing item or service just because they believe it is worth more. Remember this before you undersell yourself. Once you convince people that you are cheap, they will believe that what you offer is cheap as well, and the connotations of that word are not good.
On the other hand, avoid claiming to have value greater than you can prove to be deserved. There is always a reasonable threshold that once crossed puts you in a very bad light and makes you appear greedy, foolish, or both, the financial equivalent of being a braggart and a blow-hard in the schoolyard. In short order all the other kids will walk away and you’ll be left alone.
Never walk out of the Tank!
Obviously most of us will never be in the Tank, but the advice is as appropriate metaphorically as it is literally. The point is that you should never walk away, no matter how briefly, from a deal on the table, for it is very possible that the deal will be worse, if not altogether gone, when you get back. If someone is willing to negotiate with you for something that you want, keep working at it until the deal gets done. My father used to tell me that the best deals occur when both parties feel they got screwed just a little. He wasn’t the wisest man in the world, but that was very wise advice that I have always remembered, and watching Shark Tank has reinforced that lesson time and time again.
Never negotiate with yourself.
This one is as true in life as it is in commerce, and smart business people never veer from it: Once you’ve made an offer there really is nothing to be done until a counteroffer comes your way, and, yes, a flat-out rejection is a counteroffer as well. (Not a good one, but still…) Yet all too often we see nervous pitchers in the Tank recanting their hard line and sweetening a pot that no one has even touched yet. Don’t do it! Be prepared, know what you have to offer, and value it fairly. Then once you make a proposal, stick to your guns. Wait. Listen. And do not offer to trade in your guns until someone has shown you some actual other guns to consider.
When a handful of people tell you something is so, at the very least consider that it might be!
From the hothead who ignores everyone’s warning that trouble lies just ahead to the talent show singer who scoffs at the judges telling her she is tone deaf, there is no shortage of people willing to reject wholesale the good counsel of others. But if a group of people you trust, whether they be experts in their field or experts about you, are in a consensus of opinion, it is hubris or folly to disregard that opinion without giving it serious consideration first. Be open to possibilities. The opportunity will still exist to be guided by your own advice after you have mulled things over.
The millionaires and billionaires who occupy the Tank are a crafty, clever lot, and watching them negotiate countless televised pitches has been illuminating. But the final thing I could say I learned from watching all those would-be entrepreneurs haggle with the razor sharp, eponymous stars is something that I actually already knew. It’s a bit of wisdom I learned from my mom. She always told me there is a cost to everything in life, it’s just a matter of how you pay, and even on Shark Tank it’s not always with money.