Nitty Gritty Application

In last week’s article, I mentioned the principle of always having a guy in a truck with not enough to do. (Which is the key to business growth.) 

That’s just a principle and isn’t necessarily meant to be applied literally.

A faithful reader emailed me back (to protect the innocent we’ll call him Tom) with the name he uses for this principal and how he applies it in his company.

It was such a beautiful nitty-gritty real-world application, I asked Tom’s permission to share it with you.

The cliff notes version is this:

A company can’t grow without SLACK built into the workload/workforce balance. As in, there’s no growth if your workflow can’t expand to say “yes” to new work coming in.

Now, here’s the detailed explanation.

“A key is to realize work isn’t linear.

Some hours of the day we do more than other hours of the day.
Some days of the week are more productive than others.
Some weeks we get more done than other weeks.

The secret is the idea of SLACK.

Basically, a 60% load is the base level for a standard work week. Which means you can crank it up and hit around 80% if it is required. But you can’t sustain 80% for extended periods of time. If you are running your crew at 80% you need another crew member.

Conversely, if you keep too many people working at 40% this will soon become the new norm.

If you hire an extra person to simply be waiting for work what will happen is the entire work team will slow down to match the work to the time.

Think of it like a car driving at 75 mph … Cruising speed … but when it comes time to pass you want to easily ramp up to 90 mph.

Run your crew at cruising speed most of the time.


The other factor in SLACK is these are people not machines.

They don’t work in a linear progression. We load WAVY.

We load them heavier MTW and heavier in the morning. PM is SLACK time.

Fridays is our SLACK day.

Fridays we have our weekly team meeting & breakfast. Each week a different person brings breakfast (we pay for it).

We kick it off by all hands, including management, doing cleanup of the shop, bathrooms, break room, take out trash (yup I get to scrub the loo too).

Friday is also when we celebrate birthdays and occasional team lunches.

But if we are behind the 8 ball, we can step it up and get to work. We can even amp up and run some on Saturday if needed.

The big idea is people are not designed to run hot for long. For the long-haul run ‘em at cruising speed most of the time. When you start consistently running at 75-80% you know you are short staffed.

There is no sin in making it fun to come to work and looking forward to Fridays leaves the team with a good taste in their mouth to finish the week. And you marketing pros know about the importance of last impressions.”

If you found Tom’s explanation and application of SLACK helpful, let me know. I’ll pass it along.

I love these kinds of real-world applications of good business principles.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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Ripcord Clause

I was talking with my good friend, Alan, this week.

A surveyor by trade, he’s contemplating taking a job as a subcontractor for a company that’s pursuing him.

He would have already said yes, but he’s concerned about the company’s tendency to overload their surveyors.

So, I told him about initiating an up-front agreement that includes a ripcord clause coupled with DEFCON levels.

In case this would be useful to you, here’s the email summary I ended up sending Alan. (Just swap the word “surveyor” for whatever industry you’re in.) ————————————————– 

Here’s in writing what I mentioned earlier about the up-front agreement and having a plan that makes everyone happy.

Define your ripcord clause and set the DEFCON levels.

Your ripcord clause is the maximum number of surveys you’re willing to process in a month. There is no amount of money or begging that can convince you to personally do any more than that.

Obviously, if you wait until you reach your ripcord level to enact a plan “b” it’ll be too late without scrambling and extra stress. Thus, the DEFCON levels.

(Real DEFCON levels count down to 1 so we’ll follow suit.)

For example:

DEFCON 5 – 50% Capacity: Note the point in the month but no action. (Are you halfway through the month when you hit 50% capacity?) 

DEFCON 4 – 60% Capacity: Start pro-rating the days of the month left against the month’s workload to that point. (Is it tracking or will you clearly hit the ripcord level? Do you need to start planning?)

DEFCON 3 – 70% Capacity: Yellow Alert. Depending on where you are in the month either start lining up help or actively shuffle/disperse workload. 

DEFCON 2 – 80% Capacity: Orange Alert. Should be handing off 60% or more of all incoming/current surveys.

DEFCON 1 – 90% Capacity: Red Alert. Should be handing off 95% or more of all incoming/current surveys.

The goal is to actually never hit your ripcord number. If you do then reevaluate the DEFCON percentages and adjust.

This is based on the principle of always having a guy in a truck with not enough to do. (Which is the key to business growth.) 

For any service based company, you cannot grow unless you always have at least one person with not enough work. This allows the company to say yes to incoming new work. As soon as the “one person” has a medium-full schedule you hire the next person.

The only companies that grow are the ones willing to counter-intuitively always pay one more person than the workload dictates.

The numbers I used and DEFCON levels are just examples. You’ll have to run your own math to make it work.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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A Profitable Emails*

There’s been a lot of digital marketing advice that time and algorithms have made obsolete.

Tips and tricks once relevant from the turn of this century are no longer viable. (They haven’t been for a while, just in case there was any doubt in your mind.)

The one thing, though, that has persisted is the power of a healthy and active email subscriber list.

Healthy and active?

Yes, modern filters and algorithms have gotten very efficient at dumping your mass delivered emails into spam folders and trash bins. If people don’t open or interact with your email enough it directly affects your email’s deliverability.

Deliverability is important because it determines if your email even gets the chance to be seen and opened by your subscriber. (And here we thought just getting a subscriber signed up was enough. Ugh. It’s never over or easy.)

So, how do you increase your deliverability?

Get your subscribers to open and interact with your email; whether that’s reading it, clicking a link, or replying.

How do you get your subscribers to interact with your email?

Strike while the proverbial iron is hot.

There’s this magical short window of time right after your subscriber signs up for your email list where your odds of getting interaction are highest.

You’re top of mind. They’re thinking about you. And obviously they’re interested enough in what you’re offering to give you their email address. So don’t disappoint them. Engage. Follow up.


By sending an automatic email every day for the first three days after they subscribe.

Now, some key points to keep in mind:

  • Don’t make them random.
  • Don’t just send the same email three times.
  • Don’t be boring.
  • Do send the thing you promised to send if you made a signup offer.
  • Do pour a lot of effort into crafting these three emails. (They may be the most important three emails you ever send.)
  • Do make the emails worth opening with good content.
  • Do make sure you’re crafting effective subject lines.

It’s big time work to set this up well.

It’s also worth the effort.

The profitability of a healthy and active email list has stood the test of time. It’s lasted while other digital marketing advice has withered on the vine.

Ready to dig in?

You haven’t missed the boat.

The boat never left.

 – Zac Smith, VC

*Yes, I know this is grammatically incorrect but I like the way it sounds. Does it drive you crazy? Hit reply and let me know on a scale of 1-10.

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Where Have All the “Good” Employees Gone?

Chivalry is dead.

At least, that’s what I overheard someone say last Tuesday in response to what they perceived as a lack of “good” employees.

Chivalry, at its root, is a code of conduct. There is no one code. It can be any code created and agreed upon by a group.

Code of conduct?

No wonder chivalry is dead. We took the teeth out of the word. Then spoon-fed it a thin broth of banalities. Non-specific words like courtesy, kindness, and gallantry. Benign platitudes open to personal interpretation.

Fed thusly, the once robust chivalry withered and starved.

Want to see chivalry with bite?

In 1891 Léon Gautier wrote his Ten Commandments of chivalry in the work, La Chevalerie. They are:

1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and thou shalt observe all its directions.
2. Thou shalt defend the Church.
3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
4. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
5. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
6. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
8. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
9. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

I’m not recommending the above chivalric code. It also doesn’t matter if you agree with it or not.

What I’m prescribing is that you look at it. Study it for its strength.

What makes it powerful?

Don’t be distracted by the words church, infidel, and God. The code’s power comes not from religious ties. Rather it is given might by a specific list of dos and do nots.

Benchmarks to quickly measure whether or not you’re living up to what you said you would do.

Want the “good” employees?

You already have them.

You just have to show them the way. Give them something to believe in. Something they can be proud of. Give them purpose. Give them mission.

Is chivalry dead?

It doesn’t have to be.

Write your company’s chivalric code and watch Joan of Arcs and Lancelots emerge.

Shining bright stars who do what’s right and make you proud.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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We Believe Adjectives Suck

Corporate mission statements tend to be all fluff and no substance.

This is because they’re based on adjectives. Which feel good when you’re writing them, but aren’t great at describing humans doing things.

And if you can’t see people taking action in your mind then it’s hard to understand what they do and whether or not they’re like you.

Which means mission statements don’t motivate or help customers connect with your brand.

Enter the We Believe statement.

Well-crafted We Believe statements hit hard fast.

This is because the first rule of writing We Believes is that it must be something that a third party could observe you doing. This level of engagement implants irresistible visual images in your mind.

Here are some examples of non-visual corporate adjectives turned into We Believe statements.


  • We believe in asking, “What else?” and “What’s next?”


  • We believe in serving others first and eating last.
  • We believe in pulling up another chair because there’s always room for one more at the table.


  • We believe in holding your hair back for you when you need to hurl.
  • We believe if you’re in the middle of helping a customer then it’s not time to leave even if it’s “quitting” time.

Team Player

  • We believe in explaining what you’re doing and why to your team members.
  • We believe people who say, “Not my job,” are right, because they won’t be working here any longer.


  • We believe in asking, “How are you, really?” a second time when people say, “Fine.” Because fine is rarely just fine.
  • We believe in giving specific compliments so you know without a doubt that we noticed you’re awesome.

 – Zac Smith, VC

P.S. Adjectives don’t actually suck. They just suck at being verbs.

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The Magic of Three

Numbers have funny personalities.

For example, 5 is a typical middle child with an identity crisis. The only odd number that gets confused for an even.

7 is a diva and enjoys being the first number you think of, and likes to accessorize when traveling.

10 is an all-around good number. Easy to work with and has a great social life, unlike 1.

1’s manic-depressive personality is draining. One day 1’s the winner. The next day 1’s lonely – even though 2 is right next to it.

Speaking of 2… 2 works hard and rarely gets any recognition for it – probably from being next to squeaky wheel 1. 2 just likes to see people together.

9 is blond, blue eyed, and says “no” a lot. 9 also likes to pretend it’s a smaller number than it is.

8 is great but flies under the radar.

6…well, we leave 6 alone. 6 is into some weird stuff.

4, the poor thing, tries so hard to not be average.

And then there’s 3.

The more you learn about 3 the more you’ll love her. 3 is striking, smart, and strong. She’s cool, quirky, and confident. 3 is memorable, magical, mysterious. She’s emphatic, insightful, and fun.

Your brain is wired for 3, it’s drawn to 3, you’re engaged by 3.

Need to zest your message? Got to demand attention? Want to woo your fans?

Choose a time-tested charismatic number and see if you don’t go just a little further.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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Oh Me Oh My What’s In a Name

Your tongue can taste four different flavors – sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
In 1908, Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda, scientifically identified a fifth flavor he called umami.
I say “scientifically identified” because people have been cooking with and enjoying umami since the beginning of time. People love umami flavor. They just didn’t know how much until professor Ikeda gave it a name.
Armed with a word to describe the delicious flavor, the globe erupted with new craving.

We couldn’t get enough.
To keep up with demand Ikeda developed a process for mass-producing umami and in 1909 started the Ajinomoto Company.
As of 2020, Ajinomoto Co. operates in 36 countries and employs an estimated 34,504 people.
Their most popular product?
Packaged amino acid you sprinkle on food to enhance it with delectable umami flavor. Specifically, an amino acid called glutamate. If that’s not ringing a bell, you’ll probably recognize its three-letter abbreviation MSG – monosodium glutamate.
The third most popular seasoning in the world.
History says Kikunae Ikeda was a biochemist, but I disagree. I believe he was a marketer at heart.
A marketer who knew the power of naming things.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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5 Marketing Lessons from Grandma

Grandmas are universally loved.

This did not happen by accident.

Grandmas may look sweet and innocent but make no mistake. Gammy Gam-Gams are canny marketing machines and they’ve been winning the war for children’s hearts and minds for years.

Let’s look at five marketing lessons Nana can school you in.

1. Grandma is excited to see you.

It’s hard not to like someone who’s always excited to see you. It’s contagious. Pretty soon you’re also always excited to see them too. Grandmamas know to take the initiative. Don’t wait on the kid to get excited. Praise them first for showing up.

Want your customers to be excited to see you? Are your staff trained to praise your customers just for walking in the door or for calling? What’s your client onboarding experience look like?

2. Grandma spoils you.

Grandma knows you don’t like being told no. So, she spoils you anytime she can say yes. And even when she legitimately can’t say yes, she’s always got a backup option to offer you.

Grandma is so good at marketing that not only will she spoil you, she’ll also have you believe you actually deserve that kind of treatment.

Are customers told yes every time they ask for something? If you can’t say yes, do you have an alternate option to offer? Are you saying yes without adding any guilt or making them feel bad for asking?

3. Grandma remembers your favorites.

You already know what’s for dinner when you visit Grandma’s house because it’s going to be your favorite food. She also stocks a few of your other favorite things around the house. How could you not like this lady? After all, she’s been paying attention to you.

Do you know what your customers like? Do you do your best to always keep it in stock and at the ready? What other things, unrelated to what you sell, do your clients enjoy? Paying attention pays well.

4. Grandma knows repetition is Queen.

Grandmas will move halfway across the world to live near their grandkids. Why? Because they know that if they want to be the favorite then facetime is key. Be present for more hours to win the time, attention, and hearts of the kiddos.

Are you consistently present in the minds of your customers? Don’t assume they’re thinking about you. Out of sight, out of mind. So, how’s your marketing repetition?

5. Grandma plays the long game.

Grandma is in it for life. She has no plan to ever stop being your grandma. So, she invests huge amounts of time and resources early on, knowing that she’s nurturing a lifelong relationship.

Have you calculated the lifetime value of your customers? How much will you spend upfront on faith, knowing that it’ll pay off in the long term?

I love my grandma, and you probably love yours as well. But that sweet old lady façade won’t fool us. Grandma worked hard to get where she is.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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Trust the Process

There are certain results that are easier to reach when you burn the goal sheet and create a process instead.

What do I mean?

Depending on your personality, some of the big far-off goals will cripple you in their enormity.

Like writing a book, for example. Even breaking it into smaller goals still smacks of herculean effort.

But what if instead of an enormous goal you were patient enough to commit to a process? What if in due course the thing your process produced could, accumulatively, get you to your goal?

Like, for example, committing to write a 200-500 word article every week. If you committed to that writing process eventually you would have enough words and content to publish a book.

Now, some will say process is just another word for goal. But it’s not. A process has orderly fixed events and systematic procedures put on repeat with no end date. Whether that sounds like paradise or hell to you, it’s still not a goal.

And that’s how you can tell if you have a process or just a mini goal. If you plan on ending your process when it’s produced a certain amount of result then it’s not a process. It’s a goal.

You can’t stick a flag in a process and move on. It’s for the methodical. The consistent.

Is a process better than a goal?


It’s just a different tool for producing results.

Have goals eluded you?

Then build a system of processes and enjoy a steady stream of results.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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Am I Actually Saving Time?

Thinking long-term is a skill set I’m continually trying to improve.

This effort is necessary because, for a lot of us, our brain naturally bends to the here, now, immediate.

This is why, even though we know every customer and client has a tremendous lifetime value, we tend to focus on what they’ll spend today. And then we make marketing and business decisions based on what we can get today.

And sometimes those decisions sacrifice the potential lifetime value of a customer.


I caught myself doing something this week that is a perfect microcosm of short-term thinking.

You know how you’ll amass a list of companies who, for one reason or another, you gave them your email address and now you’re treated to their marketing emails? They’re not spam. It’s from legitimate companies you either have or would like to do business with.

They email you something anywhere from once a week to several times a day. And while I like these companies, their marketing emails start to build up.

I was elated when I found an email app for my phone that made deleting emails super-fast. One swipe and they’re gone. Because going through the unsubscribe process is such a hassle and takes too long.

So, for a while, I’ve had this daily swipe fest routine and it was great. All the junk sales emails gone fast. I was saving time.

But was I?

I started to calculate my “lifetime value” of time spent deleting these stupid emails. And even though unsubscribing takes way longer than swipe deleting one email, it’s way faster than weeks of deletion.

The food for thought?

What are you currently doing that feels faster or more efficient in the here and now, but under scrutiny fails the long-term test?

If you thought of something, can you do something about it now? I encourage you to take the two extra minutes today to save yourself hours of the future.

And as you do, I’ll be here cheering you on.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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You Can’t Push a Rope

A good rope has some splendid characteristics.

It’s flexible and strong. It can be really long when stretched out, and yet be coiled up into a small pile.

It’s versatile.

It can help you reach things you wouldn’t be able to on your own. If you’ve got the know-how, a rope can also become other things like a net or hammock.

There are so many things you can do with a good hank of rope. In fact, there are some jobs only a rope can help you accomplish.

But for all its strengths, you can’t push a rope.

Is that a flaw? Only an unreasonable person would think so.

Having to work within the strengths and limitations of the rope does not mean it’s useless or being difficult. It just means it’s being a rope. In the right hands it can achieve so much.

Sure is a good thing people aren’t like rope.

It would make a lot of people look unreasonable.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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Universally Specific

Last week I promised to show you some practical examples of how to mine memes for content.

So, this week I’m going to share my favorite thing to steal from memes: Universally Specific content.

What’s that?

It’s content that has broad appeal because it’s relatable while also being oddly specific. This kind of content is powerful because specifics hit harder than generalities. It’s also excruciatingly difficult to create from scratch. Thus, why we’re going to farm the concepts from already popular memes.

What are the benefits of being Universally Specific?

Marketing, at its core, is about getting the public to like you better than your competitor. So, when it comes to messaging it’s ideal to cast as large a net as possible. (Side note: You cannot appeal to everyone. If you attempt to write to everyone, you’ll reach no one. Choose who to lose.)

Ready for some examples?

See how oddly specific this scenario is?

And yet, who doesn’t have at least one or two “good boxes” sitting around because they’d be perfect for an imaginary future use?

Why would we do that?

It’s our nature to hold onto things of perceived value that we’ve gotten for free. It feels like a bonus. Especially when it’s something we’d never make a special trip to the store for, or we don’t even know where to buy one from in the first place. Better hold onto it.

Here’s another one:


You too?

Because when we’re really enjoying a meal, or anything else for that matter, we want the last bite to be the best in hopes it’ll prolong the pleasant experience.

How about this one:

At the core, people bond with inanimate objects for ridiculous reasons. Which is why, even if this specific scenario hasn’t happened to you, you can understand and relate to it.

Speaking of forming emotional bonds:

Book. TV show. Movie. Doesn’t matter. It feels like we’ve been wronged when a favorite character gets killed off. So, yes. I do deserve compensation even though I’m the one who chose to read the book of my own free will.

Did you notice the common theme?

Oddly specific scenarios that are universally relatable.

It doesn’t matter what sex, religion, ethnicity, or political party you are. Because these hit on the human side of things.

Because these are highly specific scenarios, it feels like finding your tribe when you relate to one of the examples. Unlike something more general, like breathing air. (You like breathing air? Oh, that’s nice and now I still know nothing about you.)

The takeaway?

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or who your customers are. Memes may have a copywrite, but no one owns the concepts. So, mine memes for content ideas. The human side of things that your customers can relate to.

And when they relate to something you’ve shared, then in a small way they’ll feel not alone.

And making people feel not alone makes you inherently likable.

 – Zac Smith, VC

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