“The only lifelong, reliable motivations are those that come from within, and one of the strongest of those is the joy and pride that grow from knowing that you’ve just done something as well as you can do it.” – Lloyd Dobens and Clare Crawford-Mason (“Thinking About Quality”)

DZ (a business owner I used to advise) was motivated by money. How much he was going to make consumed his thinking. Every opportunity he faced, as well as every decision he made, was measured against a single question: How much money will it make me?

DZ’s marketing copy was outrageous — big, boastful, full of excessive claims. Whenever I would suggest that he try something subtler, less direct, or more useful to the buyer, he’d shake his head at me. “I’ve tested that kind of approach before. It doesn’t work.” When I’d look at the tests he’d conducted, it was clear what he meant: In the short term, the hypey (sometimes misleading) copy got higher response rates.

I tried to persuade him that he was making a mistake, that the kind of customer he was attracting by that sort of advertising was fickle and flaky. Yes, he might spend more money initially, but the moment he saw another promotion with bigger claims, he’d be gone, spending money with that business instead. DZ was never willing to take the chance.

Another problem: DZ wouldn’t spend a nickel to make his products better. “They are buying plenty right now,” he’d tell me. “They won’t buy any better just because the product is better.” Again, he was looking at the short-term money. He wasn’t adding into his calculations the added value of back-end spending — something that would surely improve if the customer were satisfied.

Even with his own employees, DZ was motivated by short-term money. He hated giving raises. He felt that every dollar extra an employee made was one less dollar that was going into his pocket. Ditto with vendors, professional help, etc. I am surprised, in retrospect, that he was willing to pay me for my advice — especially since he took so little of it.

BJ — a woman I’m advising now — doesn’t think about short-term money in her pocket. Her motivation is profits: “How much extra money will this idea put to the bottom line?” She is proud of her products and is always thinking about how to make them better. She hires the best people she can find and pays them well. She is mortally embarrassed when she hears about a customer-service mishap and does everything she can to rectify it, no matter what the cost. When it comes to planning her business, she talks of profits. Most of those profits — her employees and customers don’t realize — are left in the business for future growth and improvements.

What do you think about when it comes time to invest in your business?

If you are like DZ, you may do very well in making the initial sales but will have a hard time sustaining long-term profits. As time goes on, you may find that it becomes more difficult to keep your business growing. Troubles will increase. Customers will complain about you to authorities. Your business life will become mired in handling problems.

Some people never take the time to look at themselves in the motivational mirror. You can do that now by answering the following questions:

1. If you knew you could improve your product in a certain way that would never be noticed by your customers, would you spend the money to do so?

2. When it comes time to give your good employees raises, do you like the way it feels when you give them a lot of money? Do you do it?

3. If an employee on commission were to make more money than you, would you resent it?

4. Do you pay attention to what’s going on in your customer-service department — or is your attitude more along the lines of “What I don’t know, I don’t have to worry about”?

5. Do you leave more than half of each year’s profits in the business for growth and development?

If you answered these five questions honestly, you know the basic nature of your character. If it turns out that you are money-motivated, spend a few hours thinking about how much better you’d feel if you had a longer-term, customer-friendly perspective.

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