The PEMBAway: A Talk With The Man In The Mirror

Transitioning from having a job as a sales rep to building a business as a sales agency isn’t easy. We’re often asked how we started to become who we are here at PEMBA. Next in our continuing series in advance of our OIA Webinar on August 18th, we’re going to share how we got on our way.

The bathroom mirror is a harsh friend. Often, it shows you what you need to see, even when you don’t want to see it. The trick is that you need to open your eyes.

I hadn’t done this in a long time. This particular morning, I didn’t like what I saw.

There were deep bags under my bloodshot eyes. The sheets from my bed were imprinted on my cheeks. Two days prior I had finished another three-week tour on the road, and was so tired that I had spent most of my precious time at home in bed. This day, there might be enough time to do my laundry and maybe polish off some office work before I needed to repack the car again for another three weeks on the road.

At this time, e-mail was not yet ubiquitous. There was a stack of faxes to go through, and piles upon piles of mail that I had abandoned hope of managing effectively and had simply shoved into paper sacks that clustered all around my desk. Buried among junk-mail in these grocery bags were bills, checks, and orders. If I worked really hard and mowing the lawn went smoothly, I might have enough time to sort through it all before I had to leave.

In the mirror, deep beneath the veneer of my own skin, there was a manic energy that told me that something was about to give. Maybe you’ve seen that look in others. Maybe you’ve seen it in yourself. I saw it that morning.

Clearly, I needed to have a talk with my boss.

That guy, I tell you: My boss had me doing two-hundred and forty days per year on the road via never-ending three-week-long road-trips.

He had me at every climbing competition setting routes all night long, and then I had to go straight to clinics at opposite ends of the territory.

He had me so busy that even though I had checks in my piles of mail I didn’t have time to deposit them, let alone pay bills on time.

According to my boss, I needed to return every voicemail we got on the machine, only I didn’t have a cellphone. How did that work when I only had maybe five days per month in the office, and these were the same days that I had “off,” at home?

And about that office: It was in my home, and it had taken over my house. I would come home from the movies on a Saturday night, go down to check the fax machine, and before long it was 2am. Did my boss know I was working at 2am Sunday morning? Did he care?

And, now that I thought about it, how much was I making, anyway? Not enough, I tell you.

It came to me right then: My boss was a big jerk.

And there he was, staring out at me from the mirror.

I had been a really good employee for myself for a long time, maybe even too good. In that moment, I decided that what I needed to be was a better boss to myself.

“So,” my boss in the mirror said to me,”what needs to change?”

This was a good start. Maybe my boss wasn’t such a bad guy after all. I was encouraged, so I went for it.

I went down to the office and made a list of all of my duties, and put stars by what I was good at and still wanted to do. I counted up how many days a year I spent on the road. Then, I figured out how many days per month I would like to be at home without any work to do, and I even added in vacation and sick days. And then I broke that down into how many days per week I would like to be home. Finally, I put a number on a piece of paper that represented how much money I needed to make in order to live my life.

And then I added it up.

By my calculations, if I cut out the extra stuff on the road I might just be able to get the road time done, and wouldn’t need to travel for weeks on end anymore. But the duties that I hadn’t starred needed to be handled, and most of these had to do with the mail, the faxes, and the voicemail. And then there was the banking, book-keeping, and bill-paying. And – fortunately – when I looked at what I needed to make and what my boss took in as gross revenues, there were dollars on the table.

I went to my boss with a proposal. He liked it.

The next day we put out word that we were hiring a part-time office manager. And we rented a small office just off State Street in downtown Madison, for $200 per month.

That guy in the mirror– my boss, my employee, both – smiled.

Things never got easy, but – from that day forward – they got much better.

That was over a dozen years ago, and it all started with a talk with the man in the mirror.

One response to “The PEMBAway: A Talk With The Man In The Mirror

  1. Dang, another really great post Brad. I struggled with this same thing years ago as a freelancer, and I still struggle with it today. Working on it though…working on it…