Faking Until Making

For almost a decade I suffered from an occupational disease that befalls many attorneys: a sincere and intense desire never ever to practice law again. When this infirmity became an overwhelming obsession, and I had a business idea (auditing lawyers’ bills for big corporations), despite twin two year-olds at home, a big mortgage, and about enough savings to last six months, I quit.  I quit even though, ominously, there were no businesses doing what I was planning, I had no customers (or even prospects), and the only businessman I knew, my then-brother-in-law, was so pessimistic he made me cry.

I set up in the “maid’s room” in our apartment, this room being a relic from when the apartment was built (between the wars) when, I guess, upper middle class people had live-in maids.  It’s tiny (about 5’ x 10’) and abuts the kitchen which, presumably, was where the maid worked.

I’d never taken a business or marketing course, and the last (and only) business I set up was when I was ten and tried convincing neighbors to pay me and my friends a flat fee for guaranteed snow removal from their driveways and sidewalks.  My parents ended that idea the minute they found out, and it’s been paper routes, cab driving, busing tables, sculpting and law school ever since.

My business plan was simple: to find companies that would let me give them our service for free; I’d make them happy, and then use them as references, establishing my new company’s credibility and make it seem like we (meaning “me”) had been doing this for years.

With my credibility rising from this free work, and my bank account falling, I became increasingly desperate for that first paying client.  One day, swiveling around in my chair in the maid’s room, a position from which, in that tiny space, I could at once type, print, fax, copy and run the postage meter, a senior insurance company executive who I’d recently met at a seminar returned my call.  As we finished up the pleasantries and I began my pitch, my twin two year-olds in the adjoining kitchen started wailing.  I cupped my hand over the phone and continued pitching, but the wailing continued.

I knew the executive could hear the crying (it was so loud, it was distracting me). And I knew he’d infer from it that my “company” wasn’t the towering, quality and IT-driven, multi-faceted, state-of-the-art corporate machine I’d implied it was, but rather just little old me at home.

“You probably hear all that screaming,” I hear myself say, not really knowing where I’m going.

“Yeah.  Pretty loud. What’s all that,” the executive responds.

“It’s our on-site daycare center,” I hear myself say.

“Oh really,” he says in a tone so cheerful that it suggests that, not only has he bought my story, but he actually is impressed that my company is so progressive that it provides daycare and locates the daycare center near the president’s office.  Our conversation moves on, him listening attentively and asking good deal-related questions, his company soon becoming our first paying client.

He and I had good laugh about this when I explained it years later.

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