What Gordon Ramsay Taught Me About American Businessmen

by Paul Reda

I'll admit that I watch my fair share of reality TV and my favorite genre is "a smart guy comes in and fixes all your business shit" like Kitchen Nightmares (the OG British version, not the American one that revolves entirely around yelling), Spike's Bar Rescue, and CNBC's The Profit. I'm consistently baffled by reactions of some of the owners on these shows; they have a business losing gobs of money and in danger of closing, but they fight The Fixer at almost every turn even though he's come to save them. Didn't they invite him to come? Don't they want to make money?

I was watching The Profit last night while yet another fight about “You can't change the name of the place!” was happening when I finally realized what's going on here. These owners aren't running businesses to make money, they're doing it because they want to be A Businessman. Goals, strategy, execution, all don't matter. They just like saying, “I'm a business owner.”

I end up coming into contact with these people a lot in my job. When we meet with a potential client there are a ton of questions we ask to help determine what's the best course of action for their businesses. Questions like What's your target audience? What are your goals? How will you know if we've succeeded? Many times they'll have totally vague answers or maybe even none at all. “But I've made some sketches of the logo, and you need to make it pop!” they'll say, or “I really want the design to be so cool that people want to share it!” Their focus is entirely on impressing people and they haven't given a lick of thought to things that actually involve running a business and making money. But isn't that why we're doing this?

What's harder: getting a job or starting your own business? Well, to get a job, you have to find an opening, send a resume (maybe a cover letter too), interview, interview again, then maybe a third time, and cross your fingers. There are gatekeepers. You have to impress somebody. To start your own business you just need to send $500 to the Secretary of State's office and congratulations! You're what makes America great!

In America, being labeled “a business owner” gives you a shocking amount of totally unearned, immediate respect. You're the backbone of this country! You're a job creator! You're what really makes us work! That's the American Dream! I have to admit I've seen it happen to me. When someone asks me what I do, I tell them— “I own a web development company.” In many cases, they suddenly seem impressed with me, their eyes filling with a grain of new found admiration, as though they're thinking “Ah yes, A Businessman!” I think that's what these misguided owners are chasing. What they really desire is the respect and control that comes with the station. The real reason they bring in The Fixer is because the business is going to have to close and they will no longer be A Businessman. It's not really that they're losing money, if they cared about that they would have made changes years ago. They weren't in this for the money. They were in it to feel important, to be The Boss. Their name on the building. Their logo to be cool. For them to be an exciting go-getter.

As part of our No More Bullshit stance for 2014, we've become totally honest with everyone who contacts Ethercycle. Brutally honest. We tell people: Your non-responsive website is giving your audience a subpar experience. Your website is huge and slow and it's driving people away. That font is unreadable. Why are there so many steps in the checkout process? Where's your call to action? How does that make any sense? Why do you think that's going to work? Did you think about this at all?

And you know what? It's worked out swimmingly for us. It immediately bifurcates our client base: there are those that can explain how things got this way and can accept our criticisms as part of the building process, or there are those that push back, pay zero attention to our expertise, and insist on pressing forward with their own uninformed plan. You can almost hear them say “How dare you speak to me this way, I'm A Businessman!” Guess which side we would rather work with?

Before you do anything with your business you need to ask, is this something that makes me more money? Or is it just to stroke my ego*? We care about our clients achieving their goals and we do our damnedest to make that happen. We know you know a lot about your business, but we know a lot about what we do too. If you want solutions, sometimes you need to let a Fixer come in and take the reins. In the end, everyone will win.

*And I realize that's ironic coming from a guy who just wrote an 800-word blog post telling you how to think.

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