trivia.team.building.vendor.jpgTrivia team building vendor

It’s not easy being my own boss.

This has been my full-time gig for over six years now, planning, producing & emceeing corporate game show team building trivia events in Los Angeles, New York, and everywhere in between. Prior to that, I was doing it on the side, while working as an employee somewhere else. And before that?

Well, about ten years of miserable employment (which you can read about by following this link).

Being a self-employed entrepreneur for so long – it’s actually the longest-held job I’ve ever had – all but forces me to keep myself motivated by reminding myself just how much better it is (for me, anyway) to be my own boss. All of the amazing things you hear about people who work for themselves?

Well, they’re all true. I get to:

  • Show up when I want
  • Leave when I want
  • Wear what I want
  • Make decisions about everything and anything
  • Plot strategic direction
  • Chart my own future

Meanwhile, I NEVER have to:

  • Ask for permission
  • “Jump” when somebody says “jump”
  • Attend meetings I don’t want to attend
  • Suck up to “the boss”
  • Engage in petty office politics
  • Feel demeaned, disrespected or unappreciated (which was the topic of another recent post).

No, once you go out on your own and achieve a certain degree of success, there’s really no going back. I can’t possibly imagine going to work for somebody else full-time, not after having tasted the freedom which comes with being one’s own boss.

But then again, going back to the original sentence of this article…

It’s not easy being your own boss. Specifically, however, it’s not easy when you’re a corporate trivia host supplier.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. Why else would anybody turn down every opportunity to have gotten a “real job,” in order to do this? I already have a master’s degree and a graduate certificate from an ivy league university, I could have easily gone on to law school and become an entertainment lawyer, or maybe a journalist, or who knows even a doctor. I’d probably have a lot more stability, be making more money and have a more ordinary job, I suppose….

What I do is special. I get to make people laugh, show them what they have in common, and give them a truly unique team building activity using trivia. It’s a blast to do, I love all of the emcees I’m honored to work with, and it’s gotta be the most gratifying feeling ever to see people who didn’t know each other go into an event, and walk out with huge smiles on their faces as they chat up new friends. It’s fun, it’s positive, and it actually does what it promises to do, which is get employees to know one another cross-silo.

When it’s great, it’s GREAT. But when it’s bad, well…it’s awful.

Over the past six years – nine, if you count the three years I was doing this on the side – I’ve had to deal with uncomfortable, awkward, and downright horrible situations I’d never faced before. It’s not fun, and with time I’ve learned to deal with them better, but it’s never easy, and frankly I wish I could avoid them altogether – but it’s just part of the deal. To quote professional comedian and TrivWorks “Special Host” Christian Finnegan, who has attained a tremendous amount of success in a notoriously ruthless line of work: “If you’re a performer in the entertainment industry, you’ve gotta eat a lot of sh*t.”

Colorfully put – but it’s true.

Take this recent story, for example. Part of my job is fielding inquiries and making sales; I personally respond to every lead, and make an effort to do so promptly, if not immediately. On a recent weekend, my phone rang at 12 noon on a glorious Saturday here in Los Angeles – team building activities wait for no one, so it seems…

Now, weekend inquiries are rare for me as I work mostly team trivia for corporate groups, and the vast majority of those inquiries come in during regular business hours. I sent the call to voicemail, since I didn’t recognize the area code and assumed it was a telemarketer. To my surprise, there was a voicemail alert a minute later. I checked it, and was kind of stunned at what I heard.

The guy who left the message was calling from an event production company, and he got right to the point: he had a client who was seeking a trivia game show activation for a corporate conference, and needed to lock something in quickly. How quickly? The client wanted a vendor by Monday – meaning he wanted to have a vendor lined up and ready to go…in twelve hours.

Twelve hours!

Now, he didn’t need the actual event produced in twelve hours (though that’s not to say I couldn’t do it – I’ve turned events around with less than 24 hours between the inquiry, and me having  a professional corporate game show host leading a fully-customized team trivia contest somewhere. But man, when the prospect needs something that fast, well…

The timing was less than ideal; my wife, kids and I were literally just about to head out the door to a graduation party. But wanting to come through for this guy, not to mention live up to my reputation as the industry leader in conference trivia event suppliers, I decided to call him. He was glad to hear from me, as it sounded like he was truly under the gun; I swiftly went through my service offerings, and answered all of his questions – from the most broad (“What kind of trivia do you ask?”) to the nitty-gritty (“Walk me through the exact process of what happens from when the guests arrive, to when the event is over”).

All told, I spent about a half an hour on the phone with the guy, who then requested that I send him a proposal by that night, or by Sunday morning at the absolute latest. I gathered up my restless kids and VERY patient wife, and we went off to the party; as soon as we got back, I sat back down at my computer, and carefully put together an event proposal, detailing every possible offering I have to give. I checked everything twice, three times…then hit “Send.”

There was no reply.

At 7am Monday morning, I sent a follow-up Email to confirm that he’d received my proposal. Twenty minutes later, I received an Email response filled with questions – many of which I had already addressed, both during our phone call as well as in the proposal – and that he’d be meeting with his team in an hour, and would need my responses before then. Somewhat miffed, I provided a detailed and comprehensive reply, and sent over.

No response.

Not that morning, afternoon or evening. Nothing at all.

I followed up the next day (Tuesday), and he wrote back that he was busy with other commitments, and that he would reach out to me as his team decided which way to go (hadn’t he told me his client was deciding by Monday?)

By Wednesday, I still hadn’t heard anything. I sent another note, this one reminding him that he had requested an urgent proposal for an “immediate turnaround” with a decision to be made in twelve hours, and that I had worked through the weekend in order to accommodate – yet here we were at Wednesday, with no updates from him. What gives?

On Wednesday night, I finally heard back.

“Hi David, thanks for the follow-ups. The process, even when urgent, takes a lot of back and forth so I don’t have an answer for you yet – but they’re probably going in another direction.”

At this point, I was livid. I wrote back (having taken a few minutes to calm down, thankfully), and in a carefully-worded reply, let him know that while I appreciated the chance to submit a proposal, my time with my family is valuable. He had requested an urgent proposal on the weekend, however had I known the process would actually take the better part of a week, I could have waited to submit the proposal until Monday, instead of committing several previous weekend hours which I could have spent with my wife and kids.  

It shouldn’t surprise you that I received no response – and as of today, I still haven’t.

Now, you’re probably reading this, wondering, “Why is he telling me this story?” After all, doesn’t this sort of thing happen all the time? A prospect submits an inquiry, and eventually passes – it’s just the nature of the beast. Yes, that’s true – it does happen, quite often, in fact (when I was just starting out with this, my brother-in-law, who is in sales and quite good at it, said to me, “Get ready to have a lot of people tell you ‘no’…!”).

In almost ten years of doing this, the rejection has come in many forms:

  • The “fast no” – After ten seconds flat, they turn me down
  • The “ghost” – I respond to their initial inquiry, but never receive a reply
  • The “slow ghost” – I speak with the customer, submit a proposal, but never receive a reply
  • The “sorry, but” – They liked my proposal, but are going in another direction (or no direction)

I’m well-seasoned in being on the receiving end to each of the above scenarios. However, it’s something quite unique for somebody to call me on a Saturday afternoon, say they need a proposal by Sunday, in order for the client to decide on Monday, and then…this?

Thankfully, I forget just about every rejection that comes to pass – some admittedly take longer to forget, but I usually do filter them out, having replaced them in my head with happier things such as clients who say “yes!” But there are the occasional experiences such as this one, where I’m truly left shaking my head; where I pause and think, “Do I really want to have to deal with this for the rest of my career?”

Fortunately, I have a few ways of getting myself out of this rut. I have my wife, friends and mentors whom I can speak with, and of course my blog which I use to get things off my chest (in a productive way that doesn’t come off as venting, I hope). I also think often about what Christian Finnegan and my brother-in-law said, as well as something my stepbrother, a VERY successful attorney who is also self-employed, has told me: “You gotta deal with a LOT of crappy inquiries, but you focus on the good ones.”

And so, let’s return back to the point of this post. I posed a question up top: who would want this job? Who would want to deal with so many rude, disrespectful people, who don’t care about other peoples’ time or feelings, who treat the team building trivia vendor like dirt?

Well, the answer of course is…me! Why? Because even though I have to deal with frustrations like the story above, it’s just part of the job – and one TINY part of it, at that. Are there times when I’m spending hours on bad inquiries, on servicing poor prospects whom I will NEVER convert into actual clients? Sure. But that is such a relatively small amount of the time I spend during my workday, that I shouldn’t let it get me down.

There have been times when I’ve gotten two, three, even FOUR proposal rejections in a single day, and let me tell you, that stings. But I remove them from my mind, send out some positive energy, and before long I’ve got just as many of not more GOOD prospects in my pipeline. There’s an old adage that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. I love that, because it’s also based in truth. For every bad inquiry I get, there are twice as many good ones; for every disastrous, time–wasting proposal which goes nowhere, there are three more which are the perfect fit, and who eventually become happy customers.

This is a great job, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything – besides, trivia is becoming more and more popular every day! Thanks for taking the time to read – I hope we get a chance to work together someday!