If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve probably been through the ringer with unreliable customers, vendors, clients, or colleagues.
About ten years ago, I came across a set of four guidelines by entrepreneurial coach Dan Sullivan called the “referrability habits.”
Here they are:
1. Show Up On Time
2. Do What You Say
3. Finish What You Start
4. Say Please and Thank You
We have lived according to these habits (to the best of our abilities) for years now.
Here are some quick notes about why these specific habits matter and what they’ve done for us in our business.
Showing Up On Time
Early in life, I received strong training in punctuality from my father.
Whenever I was spending time at a friend’s house and my Dad was on his way to pick me up, he gave me explicit instructions to be on the lookout for him.
He always arrived right when he said he would (or a little early, even), and if I wasn’t immediately out the door and into his car, he let me hear about it.
His emphasis on punctuality felt heavy-handed when I was growing up, and yet it completely instilled in me the importance of showing up on time.
As a result, for me this particular referrability habit runs on automatic pilot. I don’t even have to think about it – I’m always out the door with plenty of time to spare, and I usually arrive 5 to 10 minutes early to any appointment.
When you start showing up on time as a habitual activity, you’ll quickly notice a few things:
1. Most people run habitually late
2. Not everyone notices that you’re on time regularly
3. But some people definitely notice it and it invariably impresses them
4. You begin to notice that you don’t enjoy doing business with people who are oblivious to the value of your time and show up late without acknowledging their tardiness
Showing up on time is like the absolute least you can do to show someone respect. It isn’t particularly hard once you have the habit in place, and yet the payoff we’ve noticed in what this habit means for our business relationships has been off-the-charts huge.
Do You Do What You Say?
While it’s relatively easy to master showing up on time, doing what you say may be the most challenging of these four habits.
Here’s why this habit matters:
When you tell someone you will do something, you’ve just opened up a loop in your life that craves closure.
Doing what you say first off involves telling someone you’ll do something. So you’ve involved another human being in a course of action that will have a payoff in the future.
What happens if you don’t do what you say?
Well, you come off as unreliable and someone not to be trusted. You weaken your word, which is your power to create in the world. And you make a mark against yourself that you will feel internally whether or not you’re aware of it.
The leverage point with doing what you say comes right when you speak commitments out loud to other people.
When you attempt to follow “doing what you say” as a habit, you’ll quickly become aware of the weight of every commitment. And you’ll begin to consider the commitments you make to others more carefully.
Meanwhile, you’ll start to notice who you can rely on and who you can’t. People who regularly follow through on exactly what they say they’d do become very trustworthy, and you enjoy doing business with them.
People who don’t do what they say look less and less attractive in your eyes. You may even cut them out of your life eventually.
If you’re using the referrability habits as a frame through which to view any potential relationship, you can also create situations where potential partners make verbal or written commitments to you. Then, you get to watch and see whether they do what they say or not.
This isn’t entrapment; it’s simply asking for some accountability from the other person and then paying close attention to their actual actions in the world.
I’ve made the mistake of not heeding early warning signals about whether someone does what they say or not, and I’ve been burned because of this lack of discernment.
Life is fired at is point blank, so it’s completely natural to be unable to follow through on a previous commitment. In that case, though, guess what you can do?
Simply communicate about it.
Ask for more time, or explain how things have shifted and why you can’t follow through on that previous commitment.
The ideal is of course to always do exactly what you say, but when that isn’t possible, keep lines of communication open and strive to do better next time.
Finish What You Start
Here’s another super challenging habit that I still have a lot to learn about.
Basically, it’s very easy to start a million and one things, but it’s how you finish that determines your success.
This habit points straight at that fact and helps you stay honest with yourself about your ability to complete your grand visions and make them a reality.
I’ve finished many things in my life, but I’ve also started many things I didn’t finish.
Over time, as I’ve worked at this habit, I’ve begun being more and more careful about the projects I undertake as I now understand the high price every project requires in terms of follow-through.
Another thing this habit has helped me notice is that there are many, many, many people who talk big but act small. They talk all about how they’re going to do this or that, but then you never hear about that again and if you ask, they blush and change the subject.
This has in fact been a topic of frequent conversation between my business partner here at Greater Heights Tech — Victor Elkins — and I. How much time do we spend talking about doing things, and how much time do we actually do things?
When we released our first web app last January, we immediately received a huge burst of energy solely from actually launching something we’d been talking about for months prior. Of course, releasing version 1.0 of something is not the end-all be-all, and that launch moment led directly to our having to actually put the software out there, communicate its value, and keep it updated and improving every day.
In that sense, finishing what you start is just the beginning step. The real black belt learning comes from sticking with something for year after year and seeing it through to ever higher levels of accomplishment.
With the one-year anniversary of our release of Practrix just around the corner — and with Practrix now standing tall on version 3.0 with a ton of new features and capabilities — we’re feeling the full weight of what it means to start something more than ever.
So, yes, begin with “finish what you start.” But then move on to only tackling projects you are committed to finishing and then fully standing behind once they’re out in the world.
Your reputation is on display with how you finish as well as WHAT you finish. Be advised.
Please Say Please and Thank You
With the fourth referrability habit, we return to a simple behavior that in theory should already be a core habit for everyone in a civilized society.
The thing is, you and I both know the words “please” and “thank you” never cross some people’s lips.
Please and Thank You are all about respect. Acknowledging the innate humanness of everyone you meet.
All day long, strangers help us enjoy a better life through their actions.
Are you genuinely grateful for the kindness of strangers in all its forms? I’m talking about the fact that you have food, water, electricity, clothing — all things made by other people and provided for you at a very small cost in terms of time and money.
Then there are the people you actively interact with in your day. The ones who make you a coffee, hold open a door for you, or assist you in a work project.
Please and Thank You represent the acknowledgment of our interconnectedness and the fact that gratitude is the highest and best emotion there is.
I truly believe that if you put your entire life into a cauldron and boiled everything you’ve ever been, done, or experienced down to its essence, all that’d be left would be a strong “Thank You.”
Instead of taking things for granted, being entitled and ungrateful, believing your own hype, letting your ego take control over your heart, and generally losing sight of the things that truly matter, we all somehow know that being grateful and humble as we walk through this gift of life is the better way to be.
I used to volunteer in a hospice here in Nashville where I’d walk through the halls and spend a little time with the people preparing to die. I did this on Tuesday afternoons, and the afterglow of the hospice experience would usually carry me through the rest of my Tuesday and even on into Wednesday.
But by Thursday, that pure sense of gratitude simply for being alive and healthy with a whole future of possibilities stretched out in front of me would recede. Petty nonsense would crowd it out instead.
Basically, it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to be alive right now. It’s easy to get wrapped up into nonsense and ego and confusion.
Please and Thank You lets you reconnect with the truth — which is gratitude — while also giving respect to the people all around you who are doing the best they can and making your life more wonderful as a consequence.
The Never-ending Spiral of Referrability
Like all good things, the referrability habits never end.
I’ve been working at them for over a decade, and I still am only at the beginning.
Having them as a conversation inside our company has made things noticeably better. We work with people who understand and embody these core habits, and we avoid people who haven’t figured them out.
No, we’re not perfect, but we do the best we can while always striving to improve.
How about you?