I am a HUGE fan of business reality TV! While others may be catching up on The Bachelor, I unwind by watching shows like The Profit, Billion Dollar Buyer, Shark Tank, Undercover Boss, Blue Collar Millionaires, and more.

For as much as I tune into these shows, I’ve been watching somewhat passively, rather than actively applying what I’ve learned and translating these insights into my own business, and the businesses of my clients, many of whom are coaches.

This is the first of a series of posts where I’ll review a business reality TV show episode and share my insights about how it applies to a service-based business. Because as we know, TV and video are all about what you can SHOW and tell, which frequently means these shows highlight retail/warehouse locations, or products you can make into the “hero” such as on QVC. But there are many insights to be learned for service-based businesses and that’s what I look forward to sharing with you.

This past November, The Profit kicked off their new season with an episode in Cuba, which really highlighted the differences in how businesses operate in a country that only recently allowed the opportunity for people to own businesses (albeit with heavy restrictions and regulation). It took my breath away the entrepreneurs who are really breaking new ground and doing whatever they can to make a better life for themselves. Quite frankly, it was humbling to see how modest they live and how scrappy they are in their businesses. It’s a picture that I remind myself of whenever I have even the smallest ~tiniest~ complaints, defeats, disappointments or struggles.

Burner Brothers bakery was featured, run by a brother and sister. It amazed me that the brother is a trained engineer and the sister was a dentist. They sold cookies out of their home and expanded into a bakery and catering service. Their employees come from engineering and law, but saw the opportunity to make more money in this new business environment. The owners trained them to become chefs step-by-step. Perfect example of scrappy – they use an oven from the 1920’s – incredible! They purchased some ingredients from private vendors at the local market, but then other ingredients (e.g., milk & eggs) could only be purchased through the government run stores. Obstacles don’t faze them. They recognized that their immense success was partly due to the lack of competition in Cuba, due to working within stringent restrictions and hurdles and since free enterprise is so new there; whereas trying to establish in the States or elsewhere would of course be met with immense competition.

Another business profiled was a seamstress who custom creates high-end business shirts. Their “facility” resembled working in a small closet, with the outdoor corridor/entryway to get to her business was incredibly long and narrow – the owner joked, “most of my clients aren’t fat.” Good thing, LOL! I’m not sure if it’s just for show, but it’s fun to watch Marcus Lemonis’ self-deprecating humor when he gets measured for a shirt, and how he so honestly answered another gentleman’s questions from everything from his finances, to his social/dating life. Marcus also tends to “dress the part” – often biz casual, not flashing an expensive suit, and talking one-on-one with the owners and employees. It’s so fascinating to me how Marcus’ conversations mimic a coaching conversation from the perspective of simply asking questions and really listening to everyone’s input. He’s not one to “talk over” people (unless they’re big ego-maniacs, which happens) but rather he genuinely listens to get a lay of the land of what the circumstances are that are holding back the business.

What Can We Learn and Apply?

Scrappy and Resourceful

When Marcus arrived at the airport, his arriving cab was from the 1960’s, the bakers used a stove from the 1920’s, and the seamstress/employees were using sewing machines as Marcus said, “from another era.” As much as we think we need the latest training course, the latest technology, the latest, newest, greatest tools…this episode really opened my eyes that we can really do so much more with what we already have. These business owners really, truly made the best possible use of the resources available to them. Not having the newest tool is no excuse for lack of success.

The Importance of Duplicating Success

When Marcus met with the brother & sister bakery owners, they were contemplating opening a restaurant as their second business. Marcus recommended instead they duplicate the success already demonstrated in their bakery. The owners were excited to start something new (you’ve likely heard of “shiny new object” syndrome). It’s easy as a business owner, to get distracted from perfecting the “formula” that’s working for us and implementing a system to make it work over and over again. I don’t think Marcus was discouraging innovation by any means, but rather encouraging the owners not to miss an opportunity to first max out what’s already working so well and has proven profitability for them.

It’s Never Too Late to Start

No matter your career, your degree, your lack of degree…guts and passion and a persistent work ethic in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, was the consistent theme for success. This was one of my favorite episodes, truly an inspiring, “must-see-TV” for every small business owner. You can watch the full episode here > The Profit in Cuba 11/14/16.

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