I was on a swim team of one sort or another from 1980 to 1990, but I never competed in the breaststroke because the name made me uncomfortable. In 1989 I made it to state as an alternate for the 4-by-100 freestyle relay. Yeah. That’s right. The highlight of my swimming career was warming up at the state meet. I pretty much sucked, and not even shaving my legs helped.
But I have two BFFs who were big-time collegiate swimmers. One of them, Ron Lockwood, is now the head coach of the Wasatch Front Fish Market, the most successful swim club in Utah. He built the team from scratch, going from 8 kids to 265 kids in four years because that’s how Mormons do it.
The Wasatch Front Fish Market is also the second-best name for a swim team ever. (Best name ever: the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. I swam for them when I was eight.)
Last month, Ron and I hiked Mount Timpanogos (15-mile round trip, 4000-foot elevation change, two-day wheelchair recovery) and I asked him how he got his swim team from nothing to awesome in four years. His answers blew me away.
He only hires coaches who are passionate about swimming and coaching and kids. Boring. I’ve watched Hoosiers and Remember the Titans and the trailer for Miracle. Movies have taught us that all coaches are passionate. But Ron said this is one of the few times when movies aren’t exactly like real life. Lots of coaches see their club team as just a job and a paycheck, not a passion and a pursuit.
But Ron is the head coach, and he’s passionate. He loves it, and he’s stoked that he gets paid for it. I conjecture that he wouldn’t have a passionate coaching staff if he didn’t set the tone at the top.
Are you passionate about your job? No? Then you’re doing the wrong job. If you’re truly passionate, you’ll either infect those around you with your passion, or you’ll quickly dump them (just like if you truly have mono). If you tolerate indifference in others, you’re not really passionate yourself.
People expect passionate coaches. They don’t expect passionate accountants. Find your passion in this profession, and you can’t fail. Unless you’re passionate about committing fraud. Then you’ll probably fail unless you read my upcoming book How to Commit Corporate Fraud: A Standards Based Approach.
Here’s where things got really interesting. He tried to tell me they were successful because his swimmers and coaches share a deep sense of community. So then I was like, “What have you done to build this so-called community.” Then he was like, “We have these huge barbecues every summer and we do fun things together like Laser Tag.” And that’s when I called BS. When tons of people come to eat your crappy food on questionably-cleaned and unquestionably- uncomfortable metal picnic tables on a ridiculously hot summer day in Utah, that’s not how you build community; that’s evidence that you’ve already built it.
The CPA firm that I used to work for had an annual “Client Appreciation Pool Party.” Turns out clients don’t appreciate seeing their accountants in a swim suits. This was a very expensive way to reinforce how awkward it is to see your accountant in any sort of social setting. It’s a very effective way to humiliate your staff and improve your relationships with your creepiest clients.
Charge More Money
So I pressed on. How does he really build community? This dude is so smart. He said that part of how he builds community is by charging more than what other clubs charge. Did you catch that? He gives his customers the experience they’re looking for by charging them more than anybody else. That blew my damn mind which was easier than usual because we were at about 10,000 feet above sea level.
Charging a high price motivates his swimmers (his customers) to get the full value out of their purchase. At a gym, you pay a buck or two per day for your membership. When you don’t feel like working out, you tell yourself, “I’d pay a couple bucks to avoid torturing myself.” Parents use the same logic: “I’d pay two bucks to not have an epic battle to get my kids into the pool today.” Low prices enable apathy in your customers.
By charging more, he gets his customers to invest in his product. Can we duplicate that in accounting? Hells yes we can! But it’s going to be hard.
Remember the dispassionate coaches on other teams? They probably like it when swimmers skip practice. With fewer swimmers, their job gets easier. Same with 99% of accountants. Its a job, and they don’t hate it, but they’re not passionate about it. If people just drop off their stuff and go away until we spit out a tax return (or whatever) then our lives get easier.
Bull. Crap. Charge a lot, and get people invested in their accounting products and accounting services and accounting experiences and accounting community. If you and your staff are passionate and you charge a lot, you will have customers who demand that you help them make their business amazing, and you will have staff who are thrilled to do it.
Be a Fairy Godmother
But he’s a coach. He has an unfair advantage over us accountants because he’s in the business of helping people achieve their dreams. I seriously thought that in my brain and almost immediately started kicking myself in the butt because SO ARE WE. Every entrepreneur that we serve has a dream. If you don’t see yourself as part of your customers’ dream fulfillment team, then you’re a dumbass.
A coach’s customers are the kids on his team. They don’t look at him as somebody who sells them a service. They look at him as a guy who is going to help them achieve their dreams. No swimmer is going to make it to the Olympics without a kick ass coach, and no entrepreneur is going to create a world-class business without a kick ass accountant. You don’t build community around compliance. You build community by getting everybody juiced about the journey and the destination.
Here’s a thought: if you have no desire to build a community around what you’re doing, then you haven’t really discovered your passion. Conversely: you know you’ve found your “why” when you naturally start to build a community around it.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.