“David, it’s an emergency. Call me NOW!”
That was one of about five similar messages one of my workers, a music promoter, had left on my voice mail. By the time I heard them, it was almost Midnight, at least an hour after the headliner I’d hired to perform had exited the stage.
When I finally got my guy on the phone, he was freaking out and scared.
“David, they want to be paid tonight.”
“Tell them I’ll get a check out in the morning,” I replied.
“They want cash and they’re not letting me leave until they get it. Get over here.”
I didn’t have any cash. And it was too late to go to a bank and get that much of it.
The Shady Business of Rap Music
A few weeks earlier, my company had hired a well-known rapper to headline a show for us. Everything seemed on the up and up — we paid the usual down payment by check and had a contract to pay him the rest after his performance.
To me, “after performance” meant the performer would have a check from my company a few days later. That’s what the contract said. His entourage, a group of wannabe thugs who were more hanger-ons than legitimate workers, felt differently though. To them, “after performance” meant the balance was to be paid that night — in cash.
But there was nothing I could do.
I actually liked the artist. I’d dealt with him on a few previous occasions and he was always nice to me, even if there was something about him that made me feel a little uneasy. He definitely gave off the vibe of somebody you didn’t want to piss off, but he was also very personable and had a good sense of humor.
The issue wasn’t with the artist though, it was with his people. And his people were holding my guy hostage.
I decided to go to the club.
I walked up to the door. I could hear Petey Pablo blasting from the sound system. The place was rocking, full of Omega Psi Phi brothers, who had booked it for an after-hours private event, along with hundreds of their friends.
“I’m with [FAMOUS RAP ARTIST]. Here to finish up everything from his show earlier,” I said to the door guy.
He put his right fist over his heart and tapped it a couple of times, then let me through without question.
I’ve thought about this moment over the years. Why would he just let me in? Perhaps it was because I was so out of place — the only white guy in the place and not exactly dressed for the occasion. But I think it’s also a great example of how music can connect people regardless of who they are or where they come from.
Here’s What We’re Gonna Do
Went backstage and found my friend, the artist, and his entourage.
“Apologies for the misunderstanding, fellas. I can give you a company check right now. If it’s not good, you know where my office is,” I told them.
Then something weird happened…
“Check is fine,” the artist said. He then pulled out a W-9 tax form, already filled out with his real name and tax ID, and handed it to me.
And that was that. All that drama and the end result was what would have happened anyway.
The Big Lessons
Lesson #1 – Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight
If you want success in business, you need to be able to “float.” In other words, you need to be able to approach different situations in different ways.
What exactly does the situation you’re in call for? You wouldn’t approach a suburban housewife in the same way you’d approach a Wall Street CEO, would you?
Know who you’re dealing with, meet them on their level, and then work things up to yours.
Yes, you need to play your game in business, but any time you deal with somebody else, you’re on a two-way street. Are you bringing a knife to a gun fight? Are you making a problem worse by bringing a gun to a fist fight?
Not doing this can cost you. It cost this artist — I never dealt with him again. “Thug business” may work in some situations, maybe most situations, but it doesn’t work for me.
Lesson #2 – Fill the Cracks
Are you like this artist, where you have some of your business together while leaving other parts of it in a total mess?
This guy was great about keeping track of taxes. He was great about showing up and actually doing what was agreed upon. But he left much to be desired in his hiring practices, which affected me and my workers because of how his people handled things.
All businesses have cracks, but there is no excuse for some very common mistakes, which are well known, but ignored. For example, mixing personal and business expenses in the same bank account or hiring friends instead of more experienced workers.
The things mentioned above sound obvious — and they are obvious when you look at the situations objectively. The problem most small business owners face is that we’re much too close to our own situations to be objective.
From where you are right now, does Earth look flat to you? Yes.
It’s only when you get distance that you see Earth is actually round.
You need this distance from your business to see it for how it is as well. You need opinion, other than your own, to truly make things the best they can be.
How do you do this? Get opinions. Create a mastermind. Have a mentor. Read books.
ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Friday, I give tips on how to build the foundation needed to have a successful business and platform. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for me to cover something specific, let me know via Twitter.