The Bitch Slap: The Business Unicorns Must Die

no unicorns bitch slapI’m all for dreaming. The impractical. Being unpopular. I hold no place in my heart for douchebags and think that if you’re going to run a business, you need to quit it with the whining. There are certain realities we all have to face as business owners. Today, it’s the fat lady belting out the Star Spangled Banner and I’m calling an end to some bullshit – and you’ve got Gary Vaynerchuck to thank for it.

Aside from being one of the only other human beings I’ve ever met who’s as comfortable with the f-bomb as I am when speaking in front of an audience, Gary’s got the knack for dropping mad knowledge in a way that makes it accessible. It’s the other A-word, and if you’re a marketing professional not tapping into the fundamentals of accessibility, you’re the A-word everyone usually thinks about. He was in Denver last night on his book tour for his book The Thank You Economy, and there was one line from his entire talk that made me send an email to myself so I wouldn’t forget:

“Execute in the reality of the marketplace.”

I’ll drop the Gary Vee fan girl ooze and instead, give him a hat tip for putting something so succinctly (read: accessible) that it inspired a Bitch Slap. (Holler, good sir!)

Today, you will kill the unicorns in your business.

Where are you doing business – Disneyland? Fucking Narnia? Is the case of your Macbook made of adamantium and are you followed around by a rat named Nicodemus? I doubt it. So why the hell are you managing your business like it’s a sanctuary for unicorns? I see it every day. Businesses clinging to rote ways, colleagues not wanting to acknowledge that there’s a morbidly obese woman in the background churning out a tune, a cliche brought to life while they haphazardly fumble with shit that will get them nowhere. Wishes and unicorns are great if you’re talking about a twelve-year-old girl’s birthday party, but they’re worth absolutely nothing for your business. And there’s this common misconception that unicorns feed on flowers and marshmallows, but they can only truly thrive on a diet of bullshit.

When you take the bullshit out of your business, you kill the unicorns.

So, let me throw out some ideas as to how you, too, can hunt this mythical creature that can only (given its diet) have horrific breath. The Business Unicorns must die, and you won’t even be subject to Go Daddy-like chastising for your sporting ways. Let’s get down to the reality of  YOUR marketplace. This is a great conversation spin off from 19 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business. Killing unicorns? #20.

Unicorn #1: I just need to get caught-up.

How far behind are you? (really) Let’s cut the crap and lay it out: if you’re so busy that you’re not sleeping and feeling snowed under 25/8 (that’s beyond 24/7), there is no amount of “catching up” that’s going to help you get caught up. Working weekends and 16 hours a day isn’t facing reality. For fuck sake, hire someone. Delegate. Make less money, sleep more. You’re of no use to anyone until you can feel you can pay the right amount attention to the things and people who need, pay for and require your attention. And damn, did I learn this one the hard way. We owe it to ourselves to feel that we service each of our clients with the same fervor and attention to detail. On the other side of the coin, we owe it to our competition to slam the door on them so hard that there’s no way they could ever have an “in” because we service the everloving shit out of our clients. It’s possible to get caught up, but we need help in order to do it and stay on top of the pile on a regular basis. Beats the hell out of being trapped underneath it.

Unicorn #2: It worked for so-and-so.

You know what? You’re not so-and-so. You’re Bob. Or Jane. Or (gasp) Erika. I hear this from startups pitching all the time: Well, Facebook/Twitter/TwitPic (blah blah blah) did it. So can we! No, jackass – you can’t. Here’s what you’re missing: each company and person has its own unique ecosystem, comprised of circumstances, emotions and qualifications. In order to thrive in business, you have to operate in the realities of YOUR marketplace, not one you’ve bogarted from someone else. If Pepsi tried to pull a Moosejaw, how successful do you think they would be?

Think back to when you were in school (I know – it hurts me to think about when I was in school, too. FML.) and when you saw a classmate wearing or doing something cool. You went out and bought it or tried that thing and here’s what happened to me in that case: it looked like stir-fried ass on me or I fell on my face trying. It’s like Bobby from the Brady Bunch – pork chops and applesauce isn’t a business model. When you take the time to be honest with yourself about the market you want to dominate, you’re already 50% ahead of the other yahoos out there. Given that we’re our own worst critics, be your own naysayer so that when you’re asked, “What about _____?” you can respond with confidence (as opposed to arrogance) about what you’ve done to be different and why it matters. There will never be another Facebook, just like there will never be another Coca-Cola. It’ll be something else – and wouldn’t it be shit-howdy if it were YOU?

Unicorn #3: We have something for everyone.

Bullshit. Not even Walmart has something for everyone. Why the hell are you any different? I’ve covered this issue before, but it’s definitely a unicorn and bears mentioning once again (and again…and…). Your business has a style. A personality. You do some things really well. And others, quite frankly, not so much. Stop deluding yourself into thinking everyone is your customer and start listening to your favorite, most vocal ones. Why do they love you? Why do you love them? Take THAT and build a business model from it and stop trying to be Joe’s Mortuary and Fine Sausage Emporium. This is a unicorn that’s not unlike a tribble – they spontaneously regenerate and turn up everywhere. The only way to kill ’em for good is to build the one thing they hate the most: a solid business strategy.

And now, I pass the shotgun over to your side of the table. What unicorns will you kill today? And I don’t ask idly. Go ahead and leave a comment for me and next week (sometime), I’ll pick one of the unicorns you offer up to win a signed copy of Gary V’s The Thank You Economy. Tell me what’s getting strapped to the roof rack of your Range Rover on your business safari.

You’ve been slapped.

79 comments
Zohar
Zohar

Hope it's OK to post some unicorns from the other side of the desk. Some things I learned from working for start-ups for several years: - Don't pout when your write / give out payroll checks for your employees. Even if you had to borrow money for payroll. Nobody wants to come to work in an environment where you are made to feel bad getting a paycheck. It's embarrassing for the owner and humiliating for the employees. - Get the words "they'll eventually pay" out of your lexicon. If they got service and didn't pay after 90 days as a business strategy they're not clients, they're thieves. - Taking the "above and beyond" your employees do for you and making it the status quo is demoralizing. - Running your shop in artificial emergency mode doesn't mean employees will work faster and harder, it means that they'll take their time when a real emergency occurs (because there are no emergencies, since everything is). - It's OK to drop bad clients. Really, it is. Got plenty more but I got to go back to work :)

Brad Holland
Brad Holland

Holy Shit, I must work for the Unicorn wrangler at my day job. I was told to wrap the fat chick up and throw her in our tradeshow crates for being to loud in the shipping dept. The one unicorn that pisses me off the most is the manager who is as useless as Captain Hook at a gynecologists convention. I like to call him "bottleneck" because all innovation and development ceases when the workflow goes through him. Anyway, great post and good things to think about when I finally make the jump from employee to boss.

Juan JR Peralta
Juan JR Peralta

Yeah, man, I hate when people try to sign me up for their BS marketing scheme. I don't refuse to do it because I hate money. I refuse to do it because IT'S BORING AND FRUITLESS. DID I SAY IT WAS BORING?

Bhaskar Sarma
Bhaskar Sarma

One unicorn that needs to be killed is the "I need to attend just this seminar/buy this book/take this course before I start my business" aka the information junkie unicorn. If you are thinking along these lines take this from me- you ain't going to start, ever. In case you didn't know already that's the lizard brain speak for "I am scared of this". If there is one thing that I have learned from 6 months or so in business it's that no seminar or ebook or marketing course prepares you for real world. No plan survives first contact with prospects and you will always have to improvise and adjust. Jump into the river and start swimming or walk away. Don't stand on the bank stocking up on lifejackets, breathing equipment and warm suits-that helps no one except the lifejacket sellers.

Bree Ervin
Bree Ervin

Unicorn #4 - "If we build it they will come." At my day job I work for a company that pukes out a new website every three months with zero strategy, zero marketing, zero support. We've recently begun tweeting, and blogging but again, without a coherent strategy behind these efforts, it's like shooting a shotgun over a crowd and hoping one of the pellets will magically fall on the one person who actually wants our product. Oh - and for the record there is no such thing as an organically viral marketing video. Evian spent gobs of dough and months of time making their roller babies go viral. Old Spice man = million plus dollar marketing STRATEGY. Puking videos out on YouTube is not a strategy, it's asking to win the lotto.

The Redhead
The Redhead

ZOMG - I spoon with the f-bomb. It's fucking lovely.

Sarah
Sarah

Unicorn #10: "Let the game come to me." Because I'm the best thing since sliced bread, obviously. Er... no. Get off your bony ass, saddle that *horse,* go out and sell your stuff.

Tobey Deys
Tobey Deys

Locked & loaded. My unicorn has a big-ass 'YES' on its forehead so I think I'll blow that sucker away. I'm going to start saying 'no' more often - I'll stop running my ass off trying to do it all for everyone else because they either feign ignorance or are too lazy. (sorry about the bloodstains ... I hear soda water will get those out of the rug) As always - thanks for the slap, Erika.

Laurie Hurley
Laurie Hurley

All I can say is, I might have to die my hair red! Spit up my tea laughing. I'm goin' with the negative person who ALWAYS needs more info before making a teeny-tiny decision to forward their business. Give it up! Get a life and get your ass moving. Take a chance for God's sake. Drives me nuts. And when I say, "ok, no problem, let me know when you are ready to blah blah blah, they are still going on and on. Happy Saturday!

Jennifer Duchene
Jennifer Duchene

Still rolling & snorting with laughter in the Unicorn aisle and its not the Witching un I corn Hour yet. Maybe I need a bulls eye line up, or a Identity Unicorn Defiance Kit. Too many people are in the unicorn processing business. I am definitely more than ready to pull the trigger on #1. Working in my business instead of on my business. #4 I am about ready to roast me a nice Unicorn on the barbie, with all the Unicorn "Experts" that are shelling out a slice of Unicorn Pie, or # 5 the instant success- o-meter, and those Pied Pipers that are willing to sell me the Unicorn horn for a tidy sum, more fool me for following the cry. No matter how hard I stumble up the hill, when morning comes I am back on the bottom, without a consistent persistant plan of action, just $5.99 and it dices and it slices and cuts the competition and it takes you to page one on google.... Erika thank you for your refreshing straight talking bitchslapping walk - I do need to get the hell out of Unicornville.

Dean Fitzpatrick
Dean Fitzpatrick

Dammit Erika...what did you read my mind or something?! You had me at #1! Let's not even mention #3...I've been so busy trying to be Mr. Everything to Everybody that I look up and realize I'm neglecting the very people that matter the most! My kids need their dad and frankly I'm burned out; betweem work, being a full time grad student, and psuedo businessman when I have a chance, I've become a zombie around the house. Thanks for the timely post...

Jonathan Vaudreuil
Jonathan Vaudreuil

Unicorn #2: it worked for so-and-so. Ignoring certain advice has been wonderful for me lately. I met with an advisor at a small business organization last week, hoping to get some insights into local businesses in the industry I'm targeting. Turns out his goal is to dish out his opinions like a firebug armed with a flamethrower who knows he can't be caught. For an hour straight. "You know how they say those who can, do, and those who can't, teach? Well those who can't, consult." "Stop being quirky, be more professional. You need people to take you seriously." "You better get a job - for your wife's sake." "You've gotten customers? Hey, sometimes people like you get lucky." I need to close with how in the loop this guy is: "What's this... @... thing on your business card? Twitter, you said? I think it looks like your e-mail. You should label it 'Twitter' and label everything else. And no, I don't know what Twitter is." Most of his advice sounded like, "This is how I operate, and if you don't operate the way I do you won't be successful." Considering his background was working at daddy's company, followed by a few no-name companies and dot-coms I've never heard of, I killed this unicorn. I killed listening to him, I killed his mentorship, I killed his condescending remarks, and most of all, I'm going to kill his opinions by doing my thing on my terms and being successful on my terms.

Crystaline Kline Randazzo
Crystaline Kline Randazzo

Damn! Bitch slap received! I wouldn't consider myself a procrastinator, instead the perfectionist small business owner comes out with Nazi force! I often dig in my heels and refuse to do a job/business promotion/client building because I want to come up with the perfect way/system to do it. I will research the mundane details for hours, pushing back the job for weeks at a time because I want to do it the best possible way. Thus the pet unicorn being put to death in my world is the "Perfectionist" unicorn. Even if you can't do it perfectly, it's got to be done.

Karen
Karen

Variations on a theme: #1: "I have to have all my own answers," a thinly disguised I have to do it all myself. Enough with the martyr syndrome already! In the diversity of today's world, DIY is deadly. Get off your white horse, rip that mask off, and meet your community! 20 years ago I specialized in a modality, found a niche, and prospered on and on without so much as a business card. Coming out of the B2B world today and into person to person, there's no way I need/want/could become an instant expert in everything from modality to marketing to chief janitor. Not only delegate tasks to specialists, but get great coaches for the big stuff. Every coach (and every growing business) needs a coach. And as for the olympics, the coach needs to know how to make you better, not always perform better than you! Do not choose a coach who will pander and tell you how wonderful your unicorns are! All that stuff about having your own answers may be true, but if you''ve got your head stuck up your unicorn's arse, your answers are... muffled. Find a great girlfriend coach who will damn well tell you when those jeans are too tight. Grow together and move on -- this isn't about a lifetime dependency! #2.5: "I have to dominate my market," which means do what all the Big Names are doing so I can be available to everyone. Recognize the validity of your own deepest desire. When you're really about building a business that fits with heartfelt parenting, don't follow the same mentors as people whose overriding dream is fame. 7 figure businesses are not everyone's goal, and just because someone's peddling starry-eyed koolaid doesn't mean you have to drink it! Choose and USE the tools that really fit your heart, and leave the rest of the bright shiny pieces on the table. Know when to walk away, know when to run. #4: "Do what you love and the money will follow." Here's the fine print. The money may or may not be in payment for the doing of what you love. Sometimes a successful lifestyle is built around finding enjoyable ways to do what pays really well in order to FUND what you love. Making that choice can bring great freedom and peace of mind. You're not doing something wrong. You don't have to make it work. Lighten up already! DO those things (I hope there's more than one!) that you love. And let the overflowing joy and love inform whatever you do for money - you'll find you become very attractive, and money follows that easily.

Chris Tucker
Chris Tucker

yeh, not sure mythical is all bad. everyone likes theideaofalittlefairytail. Did I say that out loud? I can tell it's Friday... So now I've subscribed to both The Redhead and The Naked Redhead blogs. Life will never be the same:)

Leon Noone
Leon Noone

G'Day Erika, I didn't sign up for your blog because you don't spell fuck, "f**k." I signed up for your blog because you give such eminently sensible business advice. You've done it again. Enjoy what's left of Easter on your side of the world. Regards Leon

The Redhead
The Redhead

You and me both, doll. What a 20 years it would have been!

Tim Weaver
Tim Weaver

Wait...you know someplace where you can get a blowjob for two bucks? As a competitive intelligence researcher, a unicorn I have dealt with (from personal and client experience) is the "we need more information" Unicorn. The thought of dealing with ambiguity before making a decision horrifies some...myself included. Occasionally, you just have to harden the fuck up and pull the trigger. As Patton said "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." Sometimes, you just have to go with the information you've got, like it or not.

SusieBlackmon
SusieBlackmon

Ha ha ha... stir fried ass. I'm just a cowgirl, albeit vintage, living and loving my passions (horses, cowboys, bullriders, etc.) through my blogs -- so I'm not out to kill, kill, kill, but have considered locking up a unicorn in my stall and making music with the business end of a bucking strap. Love Gary V, and have an autographed copy of Guy Kawasaki's great book Enchantment. Cowgirls can read. XO

Francisco Pavez
Francisco Pavez

It's a freaking slaughter house around here. I got the 'freelance unicorn', the 'I'm-a-trained-linguist-and-can-translate-anything leprechaun' and the 'I-just-need-that-ONE-client snugly bear' all up on meat hooks. There are rainbows and marshmallow everywhere, I'm ankle deep in maple syrup and there still many more to put under. I think I'll go hunting for the 'I-don't-need-to-incorporate-yet sacred cow' next.

Kristel Hayes
Kristel Hayes

Gawd I love it when you slap me like that! Do it again I said!!! Seriously, though, I'm completely guilty of #1 lately, this week marked my first serious attempt to reach out and get some help. As much as I actually heart unicorns...I'm killing that one right now!

Rita Brennan Freay
Rita Brennan Freay

Damn...about spit my soda all over the keyboard on #3......even walmart doesn't have something for everyone! Come on people...its called a target market...find yours, work within it, talk and play with them in your sandbox...it will be fun. Without it...your sunk. And, while your at it be YOU. Thanks for another great post...and a laugh on this shitty rainy day! Going to feed my unicorn some bullshit...before I shoot it.

Mandy Vavrinak
Mandy Vavrinak

The Unicorn I will stalk, kill & grill today? "Networking" (like some of the time on facebook or Twitter) that is really just procrastination before tackling the next project. Playtime is OK, but let's call it what it is. If I'm online for business, it is generating business? If not, stop calling it "work" and acknowledge the unicorn feeding for what it is... a giant timesucking waste of mental space.

The Redhead
The Redhead

I do quite like the phrase myself :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

There is so much right with this very wrong comment that I never want to be right/wrong again.

The Redhead
The Redhead

What are those lyrics from? Sounds like a song I'd like. :)

Darcie Newton
Darcie Newton

Unicorn #4- P&L or Balance Sheet. Huh? What's that? Like the illusive unicorn, so many "would be" entrepreneurs have never seen either a P&L or Balance Sheet and yet wonder why they aren't making more money. If you are going to have a business you must learn how to read (I didn't say create)...read these reports, analyze your results, tweak your business model (hopefully you have one), implement changes and rinse and repeat. I tell my clients...if you don't have a P&L, you have a hobby. Get serious and stop whining.

SuziCraig
SuziCraig

Unicorns, gnomes, leprechauns . . . whatever fantasy doppleganger you want to use doesn't matter. What you're really talking about is commitment. If I'm whining, I've committed to being a whiner. If I'm not doing the hard work required to develop an authentic presence for my business online, I've committed to being untrue. If I'm reading this article in lieu of putting off a big project, I've committed to making this a priority in place of other commitments. Words and thoughts are actions and actions are commitment, something we do every second yet don't even realize it.

Sydney Owen
Sydney Owen

As previously stated, I believe in saving the unicorns more than I do the polar bears, the whales or the pandas. Why? Because they are fucking amazing. Unless they are the unicorns you speak of, and then I will join you in killing them off. Mass exodus of business-related unicorns. If we're identifying some of the unicorns we have that need bitch slapping, I think I have a strong pimp hand so far, and it's because of blogs like yours and comments from the Unicorn Slappers in your community that have helped me figure out this wacky, mystical journey of starting a business. A journey that would be so much better if I was tripping balls on acid and riding a Unicorn down the rainbow rivers of Candy Land. Keep on keepin on. And save the good unicorns. You know, the ones that get you out of tough situations devoid of sparkles.

Jessica Northey
Jessica Northey

you make the F-bomb sexy. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside...ok move on. Love every point you made. Going to try #1. If I had nickel for everyone who calls me wanting to be the next Blake Shelton online because they are funny...news flash ONLY 1 Blake, ONLY 1 Jessica, ONLY 1 YOU....use what yo mamma gave you! As for #3 when I decided to just do Celebs & Musicians, well their Social Media that is--uhmm clears throat...my life changed. I was trying to work with ma & pa shops across the nation, insurance agencies, Real Estate Agents...set up blogs, linked in, do your Twitter, set up your this, your that...nope....when I went niche....I got noticed by the big dogs and I started knowing my playground really well and am actually able to be of immense service to my clients. You are the definition of extraordinary! Love your writing, love you....#LuvYerShow

Sydney Owen
Sydney Owen

I'd like to speak matter-of-factly here, having been "friends" of Chip and Dale, Winnie the Pooh and King Louie from the Jungle Book, that you are correct. There are no unicorns in the tunnels. Only "zoos" which is where they keep the costumes, er, where the animals sleep. YAY!

SL Clark
SL Clark

I found a Roomba at Costco for $249.99 and you bitch slap me? We'll thank you very damn much. Heh. Being a reader in these parts is a dangerous proposition; should have a FDA warning label. After putting my demons on the Payroll and better tools arriving this weekend; the buggers starve to death. Now, is selling to an Angel or VC a dreaded Unicorn or Reality?

The Redhead
The Redhead

Though I'm not a fan of how they treat their employees, they have built a successful brand.

The Redhead
The Redhead

I cannot explain how hard this made me laugh. You've just created "sloppy seconds" unicorns. WIN.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Any you, my dear Amy, are most welcome!

Nick Armstrong
Nick Armstrong

Related to Robin's - it's how much of my business can I turn over to an intern/employee without losing the awesomesauce of working with me directly. The truth is, while I'm good, so are other people; so adding someone else's perspective to what I bring could only be a good thing.

Mandi Foor
Mandi Foor

My unicorn? Being tired. I mean, what else is new?

D.T. Pennington
D.T. Pennington

Furthermore, unicorns shit rainbows. And rainbows stain like a motherfucker.

Chris Eh Young
Chris Eh Young

I fear my business is the unicorn. Time to take it out back behind the barn and give it the Old Yeller treatment. I guess it's better than waking up one day to unicorn head in bed beside me and pretending I didn't see it coming.

Carri
Carri

How about businesses who delude themselves thinking their minimum-wage employees are there because it's fulfilling and the next step in their dream career? I can't tell you how many times, when I was younger and applying for jobs at supermarkets or as a bank teller did I get the fishing-for-compliments question "Why did you choose to work at Wells Fargo (or wherever)?" The answer is rarely honest since usually it would really be "Because you pay better than Starbucks and something's gotta pay the bills till graduation day". But no one wants to hear that. At a group interview I even overheard someone say that "processing deposits is just a THRILLING idea!!!!!! I love to budget!!! Er, Business School!!!! The reality is that at best, your environment seems fairly friendly, less humiliating than Taco Bell, and I JUST NEED A JOB. If you treat your front counter people and prep people and stock people nicely, pay them fairly (performance raises over high turnover for the win!), don't dick them around promising promotions you don't plan on following through on, and run the business profitably and efficiently, they'll stay. And customers love seeing the same faces that know their name. I know when I shop or eat somewhere it throws me off if the people are never the same. Lowers my confidence in the brand as a whole.

Amy
Amy

Unicorn #1 for me: If you write about angels you have to be nice all the time. And that is total bull turd. But even tho I don't have to be 'nice,' it's okay if I am quieter. (Unicorn #2: Only the loudmouths get noticed) The right audience - er, quieter people? - will find me, and they won't be scared away by that woman dressed up in uncomfortable fake angel wings pretending to be all light and bright all the time. Which brings us to Unicorn #3: Spiritual Writing is always 'uplifting' - A complete misunderstanding (lie). Sometimes (often) life is hard. Sometimes, it sucks and I want to talk about that. So thanks Erika. (I may be 'that nice angel lady" (sigh) but I REALLY appreciate a good Bitch Slap.)

Robin
Robin

my unicorn is #1. Im still fighting with myself over whether or not to hire someone. I need to just suck it up and do it....but giving up control and the thought of having to train someone keeps me rooted in my pile of "stuff". I'll get there.....great post!! (have a copy already...just need to read the damn thing...its on the to do list) pfft! lol

Aaron Stanton
Aaron Stanton

"Oh, no, other people are doing this, too." - Yeah, that's called *competition*, and it's not a reason to avoid doing the hard work for fear they might do it better. It's the exact opposite - it validates that it's a valid market space to invade and conquer. Also, they're not going to be doing the same thing in the same way, because *they're not you*. So shut up and get to work. :)

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