Tag : risk

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196: Auctioneers Are Braver Than I Am

On the day this post publishes, I’ll be in Antarctica—hopefully ascending an ice-covered mountain. Right before I left home, one of my closest friends was praying aloud for my journey and declared, “This trip is so Ryan.” Not only do I think heaven already knew that, but most of you probably do, too.

What you probably don’t know, though, is that my clients are braver and more adventurous than I am. First: most of them are parents. That’s some high-stakes stuff bigger than any bungee jump or sky dive. Second, most have employees. After my wife developed a successful staffing agency years ago, she confirmed that I’m not cut out for that adventure. More to the point: all of my clients work on speculation. They take projects not knowing how big their paycheck will be or, in some cases, whether there will even be a paycheck on the other end of the deal.

That takes some serious guts, a risk-taking ability I don’t have.

Even though I’m not brave enough for that gamble, I try to grasp the weight of that, the stress of that. Frankly, I’m amazed at the grace many of these auctioneers show in the process—especially when there are two commas in the estimated gavel price.

Between you and me, I absorb some of that stress. I recognize that my clients are performing on a high wire that’s exposed to swirling, cultural winds. They have to be more efficient than ever in a marketing landscape with more media outlets, more subcultures, more competition, and more educated buyers than ever in human history. Along with that, my contribution directly impacts their livelihood. That responsibility makes me really want their advertising to work.

Sadly, though, I can’t always make their advertising work. Here are four of the reasons that sometimes happens.

What works might be something neither of us knows yet.

There are a lot of media and technologies with which I don’t have experience. Same goes for my clients. That includes options already in the marketplace and the ones that demand will soon bring to the marketplace. Some are niche outlets for unique assets. Others are entire platforms that will change how we interact with prospects. Yet others are entities in a particular asset or geographic market that our prospects know but we don’t.

Google can help some with the ignorance, as can interviewing the seller. Oftentimes, adding capability will mean adding vendors, who each specialize in their niche craft. Discovery of new techniques and new media requires experimentation, but that exploration may not help the auction at hand. That’s why almost every auction budget should include some testing of new techniques.

What works might cost more than we have budget to execute.

Sometimes, the best way to reach potential buyers isn’t feasible because of the asset value and the ensuing advertising budget. We can’t take the asset on a world tour like Christie’s can with a nine-figure painting. Maybe a mailing list and postage are out of reach, maybe high-profile billboards, maybe telemarketing, maybe the magazine or news site the right prospects read. Surprisingly enough, I’ve regularly seen where there was somehow no money in the budget even for Facebook, one of the least expensive tools in today’s advertising tool box.

To avoid all of this, the potential buyer needs to be identified before contract signing; and the media necessary to reach them needs to be determined before the budget is set. If you sell the same asset category on a regular basis, you can do that by consulting your buyer acquisition formulas.

What works often isn’t what I’m asked to create.

Regularly, I can’t help an auctioneer find motivated bidders because they aren’t asking me to do so. They’re asking me for something else. I’m not offended by that. I make a significant part of my income each year, generating media that:
• isn’t independently tracked for efficacy or efficiency,
• has little-to-no distribution plan [not even kidding],
• is a last-ditch, hail Mary pass at the end of an unsuccessful or even non-existent campaign, or
• is less likely to work because of its messaging, visual content, and/or emphasis

The tension for me is the balance between (A) submissively making money and (B) pushing back or asking questions that would cost me income. I’ve swayed often from one side of that continuum to the next, and I’m still trying to find the right balance.

The market may not want what we’re selling right now—or at least at the price we’re attempting.

Even the best advertising doesn’t work, if there isn’t a buyer in the marketplace to respond to it. Buyers drop out when the market is flooded with cheaper alternatives, when technology has moved on, when repair or maintenance makes even a free asset expensive, or when location of the asset or the likely buyer is a liability. Finally, there may be potential buyers but none who are comfortable with the terms and/or the process of an auction purchase.

So, market evaluation before signing an auction contract may be the most important part of the promotional campaign. Sometimes the best advertising for a brand is the advertising not wasted on projects that should be declined.

Thankfully, these four scenarios are more exception than rule; and we’re surprising sellers with superlative results on a regular basis. The desire to maintain that success challenges me to keep learning and adapting and passing along what I learn. The residual results provide for me to chase the smaller adventures you see in my Facebook posts—while I try to keep up with your professional example.

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148: 5 Business Lessons From a River at Flood Stage

My regular clients can tell you that the weather has affected my office hours a few times this year. It happened again last Wednesday. I got a morning text message from one of my kayaking buddies. He was getting off work at 4 o’clock and wanted to know if I wanted to take the risk with him to drive up into the mountains and see if the Tye River was “runnable.”

Our area had received a lot of rain over a three-day span, and it was finally starting to affect the river gauges downstream of where we like to run. It would take scouting our preferred section in-person to know the practical volume of the water. We wouldn’t know until we got next to the river whether or not the flow was within or above my current abilities. That section of river is out of cell phone range and almost an hour’s drive from my house.

It was a risk I was willing to take.

I hurried to shovel all of the urgent design off my desk in time to mount the kayak on the car, assemble all my cold weather gear, and meet Johnny at the rendezvous.

As I neared the takeout parking area, the river criss-crossed beneath the bridges of the two-lane road. Though rain was pelting my windshield, I could see clearly that the river was very high and moving fast. It seemed to have risen enough to cover most of the rocks. I wondered if that would make it safer or more dangerous than the levels I had attempted in the past—levels which required the most technical paddling I’ve done in a kayak to date.

The short answer: more dangerous. While the volume did create bigger cushions for obstacles, it made the river too fast to make any mistakes. You had to make the right reads and then the right moves with split-second, instinctive decisions. Come out of your boat once, and you might never see it (or your paddle) again.

That was a risk I was willing to take.

If another kayaker tried to chase my abandoned kayak, though, it could put his safety and equipment at risk. That wasn’t something I wanted. So, wisdom prevailed. I volunteered to shuttle the experienced kayakers, so they could paddle the run a couple times. I stopped Johnny’s truck at points where the river neared the road to capture video of their fun and got to see them play limbo under the Route 56 bridge. They finished their second run in the foggy darkness that follows dusk. Johnny said, “If it weren’t for the actual whitewater, we wouldn’t have known where to paddle.”

Because of their expertise, they got to experience an adrenaline-fueled accomplishment.

Tye River Mist
On the drive home alone, I reflected on the evening. I wanted a lesson to take with me, since I didn’t get to add this grand adventure to my life story.

I thought about the times in life where I had bitten off more than I could chew. Most of those came with regret. Underserved or offended clients I’ll never win back. Personal relationships that have withered. Tens of thousands of dollars lost from mistakes. Embarrassing race results. Debates I wasn’t ready to engage.

Then, I started thinking about the auction industry I serve. I don’t have enough fingers to count the times a client has tried a project I’ve wondered if they should’ve declined. Those are the times when I get this phone call or email: “Hey, I’ve got this auction. I’ve never sold one of these before. How would you market it?” They’re hoping I’ve helped another auction company sell something similar.

When I suggest partnering with a reputable company that specializes in their conundrum, I’ve yet to hear, “That’s a great idea.” There’s a rampant belief that bid callers can sell anything, that an auction is a universal panacea. Auction marketers who know the idiosyncrasies of one or several asset categories assume they can keep adding more.

Never mind that the more areas in which someone claims to specialize, the less specialization they can actually claim. There’s a large chance—especially with absolute auctions—to seriously damage someone’s financial situation or to waste weeks of work on a no sale.

Sometimes, it’s not a new asset class or geographic area that proves to be the big stretch. It could be the seller situation, the legal hoops, unfavorable public perception, or something else. You know what it is when you see it, just like I knew that the Tye River’s flood waters were out of my league.

We can still try to learn and grow and chase adventures or accomplishment. We just need to do so wisely.

1. Learn alongside people with more experience.

Swallow your pride. Trust a worthy guide. Share your commission instead of settling for a small one or losing it altogether.

2. Let someone else risk their boat.

If your competition wants to carry the stress and worry and hassle, that means they aren’t working on the easier deals you can take.

3. Choose incremental stretches.

Graduate one grade at a time. Enjoy each level of improvement and gained skills. Remember that those child prodigies attending Ivy League universities typically don’t have great dating, sports, or extracurricular lives.

4. Gain trust through your unselfishness.

Refer clients to their best option, and they’ll remember you for sacrificial candor. That rarely goes unrewarded.

5. Understand that wisdom often hides within restraint.

Sometimes, the braver choice is the one to walk away. At times, it’s better to learn lessons from someone else’s mistakes—and even their successes—than to experience them first-hand. I’ve regretted far more projects I’ve taken than those I didn’t.

Someday, I’ll be able to successfully market more asset categories well than I do now. Someday, I’ll run class IV or V rapids in my creek boat. When those days finally arrive, though, I want to experience them with fewer regrets. Something tells me I won’t regret passing on running the Tye River at flood stage last Wednesday—or the professional equivalents that seduce me just as much.

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