Posted by: brandextenders | December 28, 2010

Things I’ve Learned About Life and Business

I remember thinking as a teenager that jeez, 30 years old was really old and the common feeling at the time was you couldn’t trust anyone over 30, a demographic we referred to as “The Establishment.” As inevitably happens, I continued to age and at 30 assumed the bar had moved to age 40 and would continue to rise in decade increments as we got older because that’s just the way it was. At 40 I felt a little queasy thinking I was quickly approaching middle age, but mentally moved the bar up to 50 and continued on my merry way.

I reached that next bar a few years ago celebrating 50 years of living and decided there’s no reason to raise the bar again. I’m O.K. with my age (especially since I don’t look a day over 47 years, three months and two days…not that I’m counting!) and find many of my closest friends and mentors are older than me and certainly I trust them. So I decided to look back at some of the most salient things I’ve learned in 50 years, both in this industry and life in general. Take them for what they are; random thoughts from a guy who’s beginning to think my next car should maybe be a convertible.

What I’ve Learned about Life in General:

  • Always ask a lot of questions: This is true for all aspects of life including buying a car, a house or small appliances. In sales, most customers won’t mind and the fact is, you may end up learning something about their business or needs that will help you solve a challenge. It should be a no-brainer that questions help you find points of pain which in turn help you deliver solutions to ease that pain which in turn earn you money to pay for the cars, houses and small appliances mentioned above.
  • I’ve learned that Super Glue really is forever and it really will glue your fingers together.
  • I’ve learned that everything is somewhere including the TV remote,
    the mate to the one sock I found in the dryer, my wife’s car keys (inexplicably found in the freezer) and the missing fish from my son’s fish tank (behind the desk rigid with fear…or maybe just rigor mortis).
  • Nap often. I love naps and don’t get to take them nearly enough. I’m working on my boss to install a sleep room where one could go for a quick 20 minute nap, but so far to no avail. A recent study by Antonia Will, Ph.D., head of the prestigious sounding MW Institute for Chronobiology reports that “for 92.5% of workers, an afternoon nap increases their productivity, their creativity and their problem solving skills.” Anyone sleepy?
  • I’ve learned to take anything that might bear any resemblance to metal off when I go through security at the airport. That includes shoes, belt, watch, cell phone, money clip, coins, rings, coat, socks, shirt and pants. O.K., I don’t really take those last few things off although there have been a few times I’ve been tempted just to see what would happen. A candid camera kind of moment!
  • And finally, as humorist Dave Berry wrote, “You should never say anything to a woman who even remotely suggests you think she’s pregnant unless you can actually see the baby emerging from her at that moment.” I learned that lesson the hard way once and will always err on the side of caution by not saying anything to anyone even if they are in the midst of giving birth.

What I’ve Learned in Business:

  • Write thank you notes, by hand, to your customers and others that have helped you in business. The cool thing is, very few people write notes anymore so when yours arrives at a client’s office, it will be noticed.
  • Remember, you’re in business to make money. The lower your margins are to your customers, the less likely your company is to be able to stay in business and compete on a long-term basis. You simply can’t give the store away and then wonder why you can’t pay your bills. It costs approximately 18% of sales to run the average promotional products distributorship which means if you’re averaging a 15% margin, you won’t have to worry long about keeping up with what’s new.
  • I’ve learned I don’t want to end up like Willie Loman in Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman,” schlocking samples and peddling stuff. I want to continue to always be a resource to my customers.
  • I’ve learned that to be a resource to my customers I must remember education is a lifelong process. Despite the fact I have my MAS certification (for hundreds of hours of continuing education), I will continue to study, read and take classes because without those, at some point life will simply pass me by.
  • I’ve learned that people buy from people they like and trust. It took me more than a decade to understand there is a finite financial future in just taking orders, but there are unlimited possibilities in actually educating customers about our industry and how effective it can be to their businesses. And besides, it’s a lot more fun to work with people who trust you and value what you bring to the table.
  • And I’ve learned it’s time to quit while you’re ahead which is what I’m about to do.

I’ll leave you with this quote from a man trusted by millions, especially with their children, but who also has some wonderful things to teach us as adults. From the book, The World According to Mister Rogers:

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

With 25 years in promotional marketing, Steve Woodburn works with clients to develop creative and measurable solutions that solve their marketing needs using promotional products, uniform programs, online e-Stores, point-of-sale initiatives along with rewards and recognition. He builds long-term relationships and becomes a trusted advisor and consultant his clients can turn to for all their brand extension needs. You can reach him at Staples Promotional Products:


  1. Nice post……

  2. Not bad Woodburn,

    “Handwritten notes, sustainable margins, order taking, learning and trust” – Good and savvy stuff – Have a great year my friend. ~ Dan

    • Thaks for your kind words Dan and I look forward to seeing you in Vegas next month.

  3. Interesting article, bookmarked for future referrence, regards Michael..

  4. I see you got talent in writing articles. Waiting for more posts

    • I appreciate your taking time to read my blog and I hope you found it beneficial.

  5. This blog is paradise for me, i love all these informations, thanks for your work buddy. Waiting for more info

    • Thanks for taking time to read my blog and I trust you found it beneficial.

  6. Awesome informative post. Thanks for helpful article.

    • Thank you for taking time to read my blog and I’m glad it proved helpful. Please forward to others you know.

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