Conventional Cliche’s – Challenged and DeBunked

Now and again you hear conventional things like:


“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

“The customer’s always right.”

“Never say never.”

“The early bird gets the worm”




But what do they mean, and in this day-and-age, do they even matter anymore? Join me as I explore 5 of my biggest cliche’s and whether they are true or false today!



  1. Always Treat Your Customer Well

I’m often appalled at how I hear some freelancers talk to their clients. “Their paying you,” I always think to myself. Nonetheless, those same people seem shocked when the relationship changes, clients find other solutions, or when the client isn’t timely with responses.

The truth of the matter, at a basic, human level, is that people want to feel valued. That doesn’t always stem from your working relationship, it can extend past that.

During full-time employment, and watching contractors come and go, I saw several relationships that were based on the way the contractor treated the customer – not on their work. I heard things like, “He always calls on my birthday,” or “they do a great job of getting here quick.” It’s different for every relationship, but the small things go a long way.

I prefer to sit and talk shop with my clients. I want to know how they think, what their family is like, what they value. It not only is a great way to learn them, but it’s a valuable leveraging tool. Do not take that information with the intent to leverage client. But, invest in how they think and learn to translate; when you can speak their language you connect more deeply.

Finally, your interest has to be genuine. I got a bottle of vodka every time a certain painter nailed a job, but I knew it wasn’t a gesture of thanks, it was a gesture of bribery so we’d keep him around. At the end of the day, vodka or not, he didn’t care enough about our needs for us to do so – he badgered us for days for a check, where at a big company it had to run its course from corporate, and we’d been down the same road more than once with him. Eventually, he lost a $64,000 contract.


When it comes clients – learn about THEM – the people, not just the business. Ask questions, show interest, and develop a real give-and-yake relationship. It’s harder, takes more time, but when you treat your customer well, they’ll come back for more and recommend you. This is why I can charge $70/hr for personal training lessons, and be full to the brim with clients. Others struggle to get clients at $30/hr. I know what they want, need, and it’s only then that I can figure out how to deliver that.


  1. Own More, Be More

There was a time where if you didn’t own something, you weren’t going to be able to use the function it provided – think hammers and nails. Compounding from lack of rental services, the economic depressions witnessed by first generation Americans and immigrants placed value on ownership, the simplest way for an individual to showcase wealth. More was better. Holding on to items was smarter than having to buy them again. You didn’t throw things out. You fixed them.

In many ways, this was a brilliant approach – one I try to embrace. If I own it, I will care for it. But how long does that go on before you go broke?

Moving forward in time, baby boomers carried on the tradition of ownership as a lifestyle. Soon after, we have tv shows highlighting social phenomenon known as hoarding. It begs the question, what is the purpose of ownership if the utility is less than the cost of ownership?

Financially savvy individuals look at the overall cost of ownership a little more closely. Renting a powersaw for an outdoor project, for example, costs $15 (location based). Compare that to ownership of the same tool, $97, plus replacement blades, plus storage, and you can see the value of renting. Unless you are power sawing for a profession, why not rent, knock out all your work quickly, and return, for ¼ of the cost?

In 2011, we started to see a shift to rentals, including “access” services like NetFlix. In 2016, subscriptions are prevalent to the point of frustration, forcing us to choose whether to pay a larger lump sum for ownership, or smaller monthly payments. Now services like Quickbooks, Prezi, and Spotify are providing access to their material. Minimalists like myself go for as little ownership as possible. I like my workspace, my house, my computer, my software, and even my storage to be as useful as possible, and as lean as can be.

Bottom Line: FALSE

Effectiveness and efficiency aren’t determined by whether you own something anymore. It’s up to you to look at the overall cost of ownership (purchase price + upkeep costs + return on investment), and make a good decision. The facts usually support that moderate uses are better of with a pay-as-you-go service. Do your homework.


  1. The Customer’s Always Right

It’s summer, and I’m sitting outside helping students at Towson move into their apartments. The property had gone through a miraculous transformation – in two weeks we’d manage to paint, clean and fix nearly 200 apartments….with a 7 person staff and contracted painters and cleaners. No small feat.

A mom issues a complaint to my assistant. Given an answer she didn’t like, she wandered to my table, where myself and two other co-workers sat under a pop-up-tent, and asked, awkwardly flirting with me, asking “If I worked out?” and commenting on my figure. Hand on the hip, chest out, she was angling, and I knew it. What she really wanted to know was why she couldn’t have a spare key. The argument was that, as the person paying for the apartment, that she should have a key. Her primary concern was her daughter’s safety.

Fact was, as a young adult, 22 at the time, I was really uncomfortable with her request, though she disguised it under care for her child. Aside from that, it was a major security issue. Her daughter had roommates. The more keys you give out, the less security you have. It makes costs high when you change locks, requires an overdose of communication, and most importantly, it undermines the student.

The fact was, she wasn’t in the right, but you can’t go around saying “You’re WRONG!” to everyone that you disagree with.

We found a middle ground. I had to center the argument about her daughter, and how trying to limit her independence (much like any young, independence college student experiences) would only force a much harsher backlash. When I made my point constrictively, she was agreeable.

Long story short, it wasn’t about making her right or wrong that won her over. What worked was guiding her through what the reasoning was for the policy, and making it connectable to her specific needs and concerns. There was no overarching bad guy, just real people talking about real issues.

Bottom Line: FALSE

While there is merit in a customer sharing their opinion, it doesn’t mean that they’re always right. I do not advocate for anyone suggesting that a customer is wrong, but there is worthiness in making sure your customer understands the reasoning behind your policy, stance or communication. Using words like “wrong,” “never,” or “always” are surefire ways to distance yourself from any customer disagreement, whether they are a major company in a large contract or a sole proprietor doing small works. If you can’t avoid disagreement, be mindful of how you disagree with a client, but don’t be afraid to.


  1. It’s Who You Know, Not What You Know

Life is all about relationships. But, it’s not what you know, and it’s not who you know.

It’s how you know them.

Today our job environment is much more nepotistic than is visible. We’ve been told that hard work, dedication, and a little luck will cause those senior VP’s to notice you and take heed to your superior ethic, offering you the chance of a lifetime! They’ll give you your big break! It’s coming, just hold on!!

Why is it that certain individuals seem to get more attention, more opportunities, and more praise than others? Is it a character component, or just pure luck?

It’s not just luck, looks, or ‘work ethic,’ it’s skill.  The skill is in production. People pay for a product, which takes production. Those that can produce stand out.

I’m not talking about the “go to work and do your job” production, I’m talking about the “get out of your range and solve major problems” production. See ahead, develop vision, and identify areas of need. Then produce solutions.

I provide two services (products):

  1. I will share my previously successful solutions in the ________ fields, or I will apply my knowledge and experience to a new field to solve your problem.
  2. I will find the appropriate person that can solve your problem within your constraints (budget, time, etc.)

This approach generates worth. Hand problems to me, I demonstrate my value, and the problem will be solved efficiently and effectively. The relationship is strengthened, and my reputation and “How” I’m known, is reinforced.

When clients make referrals, or describe you and what it is you “do,” they are describing how they know you. That how is the pathway to extracting value. If you are known for being late, lazy, and unproductive, knowing the right person is not going to help your cause (a powerful foe can cripple you). If you are known for being energetic, creative, and adept at solving critical issues, knowing the right people is everything you want it to be.

When you go to make an ask (“Hey, can you help me connect to______”), or declare interest in an opportunity, your relationship is going to be the foundation for your pitch. There will be a responsibility for you to sell yourself, of course, but if you can nail the how (relationship-wise) prior to your pitch, you’ll set yourself up for serious consideration, no matter what the big break is.


Bottom Line: FALSE

What you know is irrelevant to whether you are productive. Information is abundant; production is not. Prove yourself to be a productive asset, capable of handling tough challenges and those that need production will flock to you. As a top performer, your productive output is your value, and you’ll know that you hold your worth when you are referred to often.

As you build relationships, what you produce and how you go about the process is the fulcrum for you to leverage relationships for opportunities. Continue to develop a reputation for production, and your product will speak for the relationships you are looking to form. Without production, people have no reason to assign you bigger challenges (which in turn means bigger payments), or help you reach your goals, or refer you to others.


  1. You’ll Never Be Successful if You Quit Your Job

Before you judge me for saying this from the other side of the job fence, this was my stance before leaving my job, and is now reinforced after the fact.

Fact: Your job is a role. Your role requires you to complete certain tasks, achieve concrete results, make specific decisions, and develop realistic plans.

Fiction: Your job needs you to be the best version of you.

Some companies and some leaders, are going to want you to be exceptional. The vast majority however, want you to fill your role, stay within your boundaries, and complete the objectives to which you were assigned.

“That’s not true, they love me!”

Ok, go in each day for a week and sit down and play Pacman on your computer or phone. See how much they love you then. They pay you for a reason, not because they like your character. Fill the role, you’re good. Stop filling the role, and you’ll lose your value.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in 8 months, since leaving my job, it’s that I couldn’t have possibly grown this much under that particular wing. It’s just not possible. They didn’t want me inventing new processes that were smarter and more efficient. They didn’t want me taking new ideas, building a network of support, and creating something from nothing.  They didn’t need that, they just wanted me to manage the project I was in charge of. No extras needed. Not pay for explore, conquer and return. I got pay because I was supposed to play nice.

To be the best version of you, the restraints and limitations must be completely removed. Yes, you will fall. Yes, you will mess up. Yes, you will get your feelings hurt. But yes, you will rise, and yes, you will find out how powerful you can be and how much vision you possess.

Without those experiences, continuing down the safe path means two things:

  1. You are not forced to grow
  2. You are growing at someone else’s desired pace

Neither are good options. It is possible to stay where you are and grow, that’s not my point. My point is that just because you don’t have a job, doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.

Freelancer, entrepreneur, visionary, lone-wolf….whatever you want to call this role, this journey, is fine. But for me, I grow at my speed. No one gets to tell me when I’m going too fast or too slow, and experience is my teacher. That’s worth every penny.

Bottom Line: FALSE

It is possible to become a better you at your job, but it’s my experience that I could never have become this version of me while I was living under someone else’s rules, someone else’s timeclock, and someone else’s vision for my role. By challenging yourself outside of work, you can grow at your pace. While the difficulties are immense, the rewards are doubly so, and that’s a great trade-off for any warriors that are ready to challenge their past to better their future.


Conventional ideas certainly have their place, but not without challenging them. What conventional words of wisdom have you heard lately? Do they stand the test of time?



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *