Reaching for the Top

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There is no magic formula for ramping up your business and getting it to take off.  Of course, people will tell you there is, and you’ll get all kinds of interesting offers to that effect.

But I’m not buying it.  Not if you want that last 10%, the upper echelon of whatever it is you’re striving for.

In my line of business it isn’t too difficult to bring about change.  My organization can make some of the obvious changes to improve the bottom line: work a little harder, be more visible, offer a new service line.  But once you reach a certain level it becomes much more challenging to grow.  It requires a different kind of dedication and passion to move from good to great.

It isn’t easy; otherwise everyone would be doing it.

If you’re in private practice and seeing 40 patients a week, how do you achieve your goal of seeing half that amount while still growing your bottom line?  Why stop there?  Would you also be able to achieve the goal above AND have the opportunity to focus on something you’ve always wanted to nurture?  A special research project, new business idea, or a book you always wanted to write.  That change requires something different.

I was reading an old blog post from the king of the top 10% himself, Seth Godin.  His simple example is a beautiful illustration of how one can reach remarkable status from wherever a person resides.  Why not a lemonade stand?

“The first stand is run by two kids. They use Countrytime lemonade, paper cups and a bridge table. It’s a decent lemonade stand, one in the long tradition of standard lemonade stands. It costs a dollar to buy a cup, which is a pretty good price, considering you get both the lemonade and the satisfaction of knowing you supported two kids.

The other stand is different. The lemonade is free, but there’s a big tip jar. When you pull up, the owner of the stand beams as only a proud eleven-year old girl can beam. She takes her time and reaches into a pail filled with ice and lemons. She pulls out a lemon. Slices it. Then she squeezes it with a clever little hand juicer.

The whole time that she’s squeezing, she’s also talking to you, sharing her insights (and yes, her joy) about the power of lemonade to change your day. It’s a beautiful day and she’s in no real hurry. Lemonade doesn’t hurry, she says. It gets made the right way or not at all. Then she urges you to take a bit less sugar, because it tastes better that way.

While you’re talking, a dozen people who might have become customers drive on by because it appears to take too long. You don’t mind, though, because you’re engaged, almost entranced. A few people pull over and wait in line behind you.

Finally, once she’s done, you put $5 in the jar, because your free lemonade was worth at least twice that. Well, maybe the lemonade itself was worth $3, but you’d happily pay again for the transaction. It touched you. In fact, it changed you.

Which entrepreneur do you think has a brighter future?”

A simple yet powerful story.  Consider some of these great building blocks when you reach for that top 10%.

Do What Others Can’t Be Bothered Doing

Maybe it involves squeezing the lemons yourself.  Or perhaps you have a depth of knowledge about lemonade no one else has.  Spend time on the little things that offer a true experience worth paying for.  Find the passion within whatever it is you are doing, and let that energy and presence shine through.  It is something that is hard to ignore.

Know Your Customer & Stick To Your Guns

You can’t please everyone, and if you try, you’ll quickly find yourself off message, burned out, and knee deep in the land of mediocrity.  Maybe this means you won’t grow as quickly, but if you stay true to your principles, goals and your audience you’ll win out in the long run.  You don’t need everyone!  In fact, you don’t want everyone.

Turn Your Career on Its Head and See What it Looks Like

Turn your service model upside down and see what arises.  You may find yourself exposed to ideas that would have been closed to you in the past.  Like free, made from scratch, lemonade.  Unexpected experiences often produce remarkable results.  Which lemonade stand makes the most money?  The “free” stand, or the $1-per cup stand.

Sometimes, when you’re working to define a path for yourself, when you’re looking to find clarity – you’ve gotta make the lemonade yourself.  And then you need to share it.

For free.



  1. Dan  June 7, 2010

    Beautifully written and right on target! This is a conversation I’ve had with several like-minded peers: how can we effectively be present and invested in our clients and give them the best service they deserve, if we are seeing 40(plus?) clients per week – hour after hour, day after day, week after week?

    For me, 15-20 is the maximum, leaving opportunity to read, write, collaborate, research and engage in other activities that, first, rejuvenate me, and also impact my bottom line in a way seeing another 20(plus?) clients would not.

  2. Cordes Simpson  June 8, 2010

    I love the lemonade stand story. I also am reading 2 of seth’s books along with yours! I think your ideas are worth contemplating especially to a new practice!

  3. Linda Peterson  June 8, 2010

    Great reminder about excellence! One of my mentors used to say “do what you love, what you would do for free, and the rest will follow”. It’s true. I love giving personal, loving attention to each of my clients. I love listening closely and remembering important stuff. My best days are the ones where I make each individual cup of lemonade. Thanks for the imagery to take into tomorrow.

  4. Mary W. Hopkins, Ed.D.,LPCI  June 9, 2010

    Thank you for sharing such a thought provoking, counterintuitive, and inspirational message. Helps to remind me that openess and generosity of spirit is never a mistake, in business or in life.

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