Become a Sponge

By Michael Kline
Don’t you just love to absorb information? I suppose you’d say it depends on the subject; I hear you. As a kid in school, I paid attention in History, English, and Music; not so much in trigonometry or chemistry. Unfortunately for me, I earned a scholarship to study Chemical Engineering and Military Science. What were they thinking?!

With our children, as with our employees and applicants, we need to stop measuring only so-called aptitude and pay attention to passion. We need to stop measuring only IQ and start measuring EQ (Emotional Intelligence). When we have a passion, we can soak up knowledge like a sponge.
So, for what knowledge would you be a sponge? What information or lessons would benefit you? Not feeling passionate about learning? If you’re passionate about the benefit of the lesson, you could easily get excited about the lessons. Let me explain.
Let’s say you are passionate about buying your first house, retiring on a golf course, or whatever your goal might be. Let’s assume your work contributes toward that goal. Then being passionate about the goal, means you should be pretty excited about the work and the lessons that help you achieve more with that work. I already admitted to not really paying attention to math, but I think the equation was: if A=B and B=C, then A=C. In this case, if lessons = better pay, and better pay = goal, then lesson= goal. That’s mathematical proof. If you can’t get excited about the work that gives you your goal, you must not be very excited about your current goal.
In recent years, I’ve been trying to devour books, audio tapes, guru blogs, and as many live seminars as I can find. Here in rural New Hampshire, we don’t have much access to seminars. I suggest you take advantage of everything you can get; relax, this isn’t just self-promotion.
To prove my point of how important frequent and consistent education is, I teach my own seminar series as a service to the community. To be clear, we do charge for the seminars to cover our costs of advertising, etc. With such small class sizes, you don’t have to do a lot of math to know we don’t make a living by selling seminars. Speaking of math, when you try to calculate the return on the training investment, the results are a staggering no brainer. Kline Seminars exists to further the mission of improving the quality of life in the valley by improving the success of our small businesses. Another excellent source that is a perfect complement to my seminars is the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council’s boot-camp series. I’m looking forward to the fall lineup; from what I hear on the street, it’s going to be excellent.
Additionally, you should consider looking online for webinars or tele-seminars and buy recommended books and audio seminars on your most important topics. According to Brian Tracy (one of my favorite motivational speaker/authors), if you read a book a week, related to your field, you will have learned the equivalent of a university PhD in that field.

Finally, my best training tip ever – buy books on Audio CD’s (or download) and put them on your iPod. Now, walk an hour or more a day listening to your training programs/books. We all want to be a little healthier and we all want more time to do things like read or exercise – do them at the same time!
Become a sponge, my absorbent friend – soak up everything you can that relates to your goal in any way. You’ll quickly become unstoppable!
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website,, or e-mail,

Living an Extraordinary Life

By Michael Kline, Conway Daily Sun, Aug 23, 2011
Do you have an extraordinary life? What does it take to realize such a thing, and is it possible for ordinary people to obtain? I suppose we need to know what we mean by extraordinary. I feel fortunate to live such a life, and yet I can’t define it except to say you’ll know it when you’re there, and that if I can do it – well, anyone can.
The most astonishing thing to me is how simple it is to get an extraordinary life; problem is, it only becomes clear once you know you’ve already achieved it.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone more ordinary than me. The humblest of beginnings taught me well. A series of successes and failures taught me still more, and more importantly taught me that there is really no such thing as successes and failures; only outcomes and lessons. If I can schlep along, hammering out an amazing life, then surely you can too. Finding happiness or perhaps we should call it peace, or maybe contentment, or comfort, or fulfillment, or confidence, or faith; finding that elusive quality to define our life as amazing, is within the grasp of every ordinary person.
Is the answer money? I know you’re waiting for me to say something deep and meaningful about the riches of life not involving money. Bologna I say. I had the privilege of stating with nothing (being a slow learner, I even got to repeat it a couple times!). I’ve come to place a real value on having some money. Cash can be an ugly, divisive weapon that ruins people’s lives. It can also be an important tool that eases a great deal of stress; but so does faith or confidence. Money buys opportunities, but so does creativity. Money allows us to take care of ourselves, so we can contribute to others, which is the biggest favor we can do for ourselves. Money frees our minds and our time to pursue more leisurely thoughts and activities. These pursuits enrich our lives, expand our minds, and improve our homes, families, and community. These efforts help us find our own voices, so we can then help others find theirs, and nothing says extraordinary better than that experience. So I say money is not necessary, but it sure can help. If you have the ability to make, and the discipline to save money, life can be much easier, but remember, emotional pain and baggage has no budget. Hard mental and emotional work on yourself is the most worthwhile investment you can make, but there are no short cuts for anyone.
For me, the arrival at my happy place involves a deep appreciation of my past, faith in my future and the relationships I enjoy with family, close friends, community, and work. Work as a business coach deals with helping people make money and live a better life in a balanced and healthy way. I am so grateful I get to be of service to others and make a living doing it. Making a living is the financial reward; the love is the spiritual reward – well balanced.
I’d like to say my clients are extraordinary people, (sorry guys), but the truth is, they are really ordinary people just like you and me. They are ordinary people living extraordinary lives; even if some of them don’t know it yet.
I believe that if you are reading this article, you have the power and the responsibility to create or recreate your life into an extraordinary experience. You can do this through ordinary work, with ordinary skills, but not with ordinary attitude or beliefs. In fact, maybe I can define it after all - you arrive at extraordinary the moment you say it is so.
Your assignment is to know yourself, control yourself and motivate yourself. Try to remember who you really are and what’s important to you. Practice self-discipline and push yourself to take action beyond your comfort zone on a regular basis. Find the inspiration you need wherever and however you can, but not just in theory – make a commitment to take action right away. Get a constant source of fuel for your spirit and use it to get in the game. When you follow your passion and help someone else follow theirs, you will create two extraordinary lives at once. More importantly, you will become addicted to helping still more follow in your path. So come on, be ordinary; just do it extraordinarily well!
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website,, or e-mail,

When to Fire a Client

By Michael Kline
Imagine if you only worked with clients who inspired you and appreciated your knowledge, skills and passion. Imagine a world where most days, you felt almost guilty getting paid to do the work you do because you find it so rewarding. Welcome to my world. I consider myself incredibly lucky to get to do the work I do. Most of my regular followers know it wasn’t always this way, of course. I have spent plenty of time being grumpy, wrongfully unappreciative of my life, and wasting time placing my energy in the wrong places. Decades of hard work and lots of difficult and expensive lessons have taught me that happiness is a decision. There are plenty of people in this world whom I was born to serve. That makes me happy. I want happiness. Like you, I’m happiest when I feel productive. Productivity drives happiness. Passion drives productivity. Let’s follow our passion.
Are you doing the math yet? Passion = Productivity = Happiness = Success. If you work in your area of passion, and you work with clients who feed the passion, you can only be successful and happy.
If you truly want to grow your business and enjoy your work, you would do well to limit your work to those clients who feed your passion. It may be time to drop the duds. Eventually, you will get frustrated, limit your service to them, or get short with them. If you’re trying to please clients who are not your target market, or who don’t truly value your service, they will eventually become unhappy with you and fire you anyway. It is far better to be proactive with your less-than-festive client relationships. Here’s what I suggest:
Make a list of your favorite clients. I don’t mean just financially speaking, but that’s an important part, so let’s get that out of the way. Analyze the profitability of the relationship – those who pay the most are not necessarily the most profitable – sometimes they end up costing you money depending on the time, energy and resources they demand. Make a list of the best clients you have now, and write down why you identify them as your best. Write down if the issue is financial, friendly, inspiring you to do your best work, refers others to you, make you more inventive, a joy to work with, etc. Now make a list of your least favorite clients and their traits and characteristics that earn them a spot on that list.
Can any of the negative clients be coached into becoming a better client? If not, can you afford to tell them that you can no longer service them? You’re not going to like this – but I would argue that you cannot afford to keep them. It’s time to refer them out to someone else with whom they may be a better fit. If you take the time and energy now wasted on your worst clients, and invested it in marketing yourself to your ideal target audience (prospects with traits similar to your best clients), you will greatly improve your cash flow, your energy, your productivity and live a longer, more fulfilling and happier life.
At this point, most of you are in one of two camps. One, you argue that this is easy for me to say, but reality requires you to “suck it up” and stick with the dud clients. Or, perhaps you believe me, but you’re panicking over the thought of losing revenue. There is a caveat. If you’re going to make your life enjoyable and make more money, you’ll need a good plan to find the replacement client who will pay you more to do better work. More important than the good plan however, is to create the room in your life for the better clients in the first place, and to create the desperate need in your gut to go get the new clients, so you can stop taking the lazy, unfulfilling path of least resistance you’ve been stuck on. It’s scary, lonely and difficult; why do you think everyone isn’t wildly successful and happy?
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website, , or e-mail,

Grateful vs. Satisfied

Grateful vs. Satisfied
By Michael Kline
All the great teachers of personal success, life happiness and general well-being talk about gratitude. I agree it is one of our most powerful tools. In business, as in our personal lives, we have the opportunity to use gratitude to make our lives more fulfilling. The conflict comes when we confuse gratitude with the notion of being satisfied.
We’re told the easiest way to have what you want, is to want what you have. If we took this advice literally, and we all wanted what we had, there would be no desire for self-improvement; we would still be living in caves, and no business would ever be started. So if we don’t mean the words literally, what do we mean? How do we balance the benefits of being grateful with the benefits of still wanting better for ourselves?
First, let’s make sure we all understand the value of gratitude in the first place. Most powerful is the art of expressing appreciation for what we do have, shining our focus on the positive. We get more of that on which we focus our energy. If we focus on what we don’t have in our lives, or what’s wrong, we are more likely to get more of what’s wrong. If we focus our energy on what we do have and what’s good in our lives, we generally get more of what’s good. This goes hand-in-hand with having Faith (in the spiritual sense) or Confidence (same thing using a business word). When we express gratitude, we cannot be feeling fear at the same time. Fear of things not working out, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking like a fool, fear of losing our job, our business, our home, disappointing our family, our employer, or employees – all these fears disappear the moment you express gratitude for what’s going well. In the environment of gratitude, you are free to stop asking the question “Why doesn’t anything work for me?” and start asking “How can I create more of what I want?” When you ask either of these questions out loud, you are likely to hear your brain start thinking of answers to the question you ask. You don’t really want the answer to why bad things happen – you do want the answer to how to make good things happen – so ask the right question, and listen carefully for the answers to flow.
Gratitude is a powerful tool. Do choose to be happy with what you have. Do not be satisfied with what you have as being all there is, or all you need for the future. If you are not happy with what you have, having more won’t make you happy either. Be happy first (yes, that’s a choice). Then go about setting bigger goals and being grateful for the gifts you have that allow you to go after them.
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website, , or e-mail, .

The Important Work We Do

By Michael Kline

This past Independence Day weekend, I worked at our stores every day. In between customers, I wrote this column and worked on some seminar projects for clients. Of course it occurred to me that the 4th of July is a perfect weekend to celebrate our nation’s history and enjoy fun time with family and friends. Does working through a holiday diminish our lives in some way? Actually, I feel a little bit lucky to have the honor of working so our visitors can enjoy there long weekend with their families. Living in a vacation destination, we need to serve and entertain our visitors on their holiday. We can take off on a week day and play when it’s a little less crowded and more enjoyable anyway. But this has me thinking about the value of our work.
Is the work you do really, really important? Did you save a life today? If not, what great contribution did you make to society that really matters? If you have a seemingly mundane job, please read on.
It doesn’t matter if you are support staff at a software company, a hotel desk clerk, server, lawyer, accountant, nurse or retail clerk… the work you do makes other things possible – important things.
You are making a valuable contribution. If you’re the nurse who literally saved a life today, your contribution is easy for all to see. If you are the retail clerk at a clothing outlet who helped a mother dress her daughter for a big event which boosted her self-esteem and made her confident to grow into the hero of our future, your valuable work may be less readily appreciated, but is no less valuable to the world.
Maybe you’re the host at a campground that rented a piece of ground to a guy in a truck. That $20 plot of dirt may have allowed a father to bond with his kids in a way his generation never did. This effect of your work could last for generations of child development and respect and caring for ourselves, each other and the earth. What could be more important than contributing to the experience of a family camping vacation?!
You see, it doesn’t matter how menial your work may seem, it exists because it supports a bigger world and when you look at the bigger picture of what really happens as a result of your work – you realize you are a super hero. Your approach and attitude can change your work from mundane acts to critical, life-changing heroic acts making the world a better place.
This is important work we do; put on your cape and go save the world!
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website,, or e-mail,

Good News for Losers

By Michael Kline, The Entreprenologist
It’s true! I’m not just trying to be provocative in my title; I really do have good news for all of us who lose at something from time to time. Today’s business losers have a shot at being tomorrow’s winners. Unfortunately for today’s winners, is they are at risk for being tomorrow’s losers. Let us talk about how to get ahead and how to stay there.
In 1999, my partner and I moved to Conway and spent a year studying the local market before deciding on a business to open. We came up with what at the time, proved to be a brilliant idea; we opened the Framed Art Superstore. Our thinking was that decorative wall art for the home was about the only item for the home that was not being competitively marketed. The world was full of naked walls and the housing market was booming, building more and more naked walls every day. Our role was not to compete with local artists and collectors, but to help decorate homes and make nicer home environments more accessible to more people. We bought aggressively to lower prices and be competitive with the TJ Max’s of the world, but with dramatically increased selection. Agree or disagree on the commercialization of art, the following years proved us to be correct in our thinking.
Big trouble. One day (yes, ask anyone in the real estate business, it seems like it happened on one specific day), people stopped buying homes. The next day, consumers stopped spending on discretionary items, especially for their homes that they once thought were so valuable. Meanwhile, big-box stores starting cutting into the art pie. This winning business would become a losing business if it stayed on course. We must constantly reinvent the business, which has gone through several reincarnations over the last eleven years in response to, or anticipation of market changes.
This is the problem I see with most start-up business clients who have a great idea. What happens when the marketplace changes and the good idea is no longer valid? Many people start a business to fill a void or to do something better than the competition. The problem is they’re only measuring the current competition, not the future competition. The void exists today, but what do you do when two other so-called entrepreneurs start to fill the same void you saw? This happened with art, coffee hoses, hardware stores and mattress stores, and many others in the valley in recent years. If you are a wanna-be entrepreneur, understand that you are not the only smart person in town, and that everyone else sees the same void you see. What will you do when (not if, but when) the market conditions that support your business change? To be successful, you cannot just be an operator who has an entrepreneurial moment, then goes back to being an operator. You need to constantly be entrepreneurial, constantly reinventing your business, not only to keep up with changing conditions, but to anticipate future changes and be ahead of the trends. If you’re really clever, you might even cause the changes. The point is, you can’t win by ignoring or fighting change, change is good.
Change creates opportunities for today’s losers to be tomorrow’s winners. People with twenty years of experience do not have one moment’s advantage over you, if tomorrow’s marketplace demands a brand new method anyway. All you experienced people want to argue with me right now, and that’s good – pay attention or become extinct! Take calculated risks on something new. Focus on the customer to find out what they want to experience today, what they value today, what solves today’s (or tomorrow’s problem. If you’ve bet on yesterday’s ideas and lost, this is your big chance to bet again on today’s bright idea. You have every bit of a shot as anyone else. Get advice from people who know what they’re doing. Get a SCORE counselor for free, hire an entreprenologist, get involved in whatever trade organization you need, take classes, read excessively, learn what you need to learn to make sure you line up your necessary resources, and decide if you have what it takes to consistently be entrepreneurial. If you have one good idea, give it someone else to do. If you have a million ideas and endless energy, go do it yourself.
Every day is a new day – people tell us that when we fail at something. You also need to hear that if you succeed at something. If you’re already successful, remember you have to start over every day in order to stay on top. I think it was Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem that called both success and failure and imposter. Don’t be fooled.

Making Money from Kindness

By Michael Kline
Does Kindness Weekend have anything to do with business or is it just about school-yard bullying and politicians? I’d say it has to do with every aspect of our lives, but this being a business column, we should discuss kindness and its role in making money. I know; I’m crass.
First let’s get passed the actual business side of this particular kindness event. In life, as in business, we get that on which we focus our attention. If you want more sales, focus on your sales efforts; if you want more kindness in your life, focus on kindness. It is more effective to focus on sales than to focus on fear of financial failure. It is also more effective to teach and practice kindness, than focus on fear of bullying or conflict. Focus on what you want. This event is simply a community wide focus on kindness.
Cynics might say this is some sort of business gimmick, and I’m devaluing the message by talking about making money from it. Being involved in the event, I can tell you first hand it is about quality of life; both the benefits of kindness and making money. Kindness Weekend was conceived out of a desire solely for public benefit. To fund the event, the N. Conway Village Association invested in it to bring traffic to the valley, so it is being promoted as another reason to bring families to the valley for Memorial Day weekend. Of all the things we could create to sell for a profit, what could be more beautiful? The event is sponsored by The Evergreen Institute for Wellness, with their message that Kindness produces physical health benefits for the giver of kindness. When you do something for someone else, it can reverse feelings of depression, provide social contact and decrease feelings of hostility and isolation that can cause stress, overeating, ulcers, etc. With everything to gain, nothing to lose and no cost, who would even want to argue with that? So, what about you making a profit from all this?
Business is about making money. Some think it is more profitable to be unkind. They are wrong. K=R=P is a formula Tom Peters uses to explain the impact of kindness on business. In 1982, Tom Peters authored the world-changing business book In Search of Excellence, and more recently, his new book 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence. The formula stands for Kindness = Repeat Business = Profit. Far be it from me to challenge the mind of Tom Peters, but I would change the R to stand for Relationships. The repeat business he talks about comes from the same relationship-building trust that increases productivity, reduces turn-over, sick time and labor problems with employees. Better relationships also help negotiate better terms with suppliers. So my version of the formula K=R=P is Kindness = Relationships = Profit.
Consider an extreme example featured in a New York Times article in May 2008 – American Airlines and Southwest Airlines held annual meetings in Dallas on the same day. Airline pilots picketed the American Airlines meeting while Southwest pilots bought full page newspaper ads thanking founder Herb Kelleher for his 37 years of service. Animosity between management and labor is near impossible to navigate when there is no trust. We see this in our political system globally, nationally and locally. We see it sometimes with our own staff relationships. Without kindness, there is no trust, without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationship, we’re fighting and clawing our way through all our dealings. Kindness is no longer an option in business. It is critical to the customer and the employee and if you’re smart (and I know you are), you’ll make it critical with the supplier, landlord, neighbor and even wrong numbers. Everyone is a potential relationship.
My regular seminar students and column readers know I talk a lot about building trust. In all business relationships, trust reduces cost and increases speed. Dr. Stephen Covey calls it “moving at the speed of trust” in his book Predictable Results in Unpredictable Times. If your customer needs a lawyer before signing a contract, it is far more expensive and time consuming than making a hand-shake deal. If you have to “sell” your employees on a new idea, you would enjoy greater productivity if you had instant buy-in based on trust. This is not to say you should expect people to follow blindly doing as they are told; those days of curmudgeonly bosses are long gone. This is about leadership, which involves employee in-put, which is a form of kindness. I hear some of you grumbling, so hear me out. I know that you know what you’re doing. I know you don’t have time for every employee’s ideas. I know you want to be able to trust your employees as well, to empower them to be their best. So how do you become the cultivator of employee engagement? We have a system for that! Yes, we have a system for everything, as you have surely read in previous columns. An effective business development process has a management system that provides the framework and structure for employee engagement in an orderly fashion that respects input efficiently, maintains focus, creates accountability and drives productivity like nobody’s business. It allows for, no – it requires kindness. Good thing kindness is free.
In researching this column, I was online listening to Tom Peters lecture at Cornell University. When Tom tells you that his ridiculously over-the-top-big-time selling book In Search of Excellence really didn’t say anything more than take care of people – maybe there’s something to that. How to make it fit in the real world can be complex, but the message is simple.
Albert Schweitzer said: "Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate."
That’s good for business.
Michael Kline is a local retailer, success coach and trainer. He may be reached through his website,, or e-mail,