Do You Live by the Code?


Unspoken Rules Every Entrepreneur Should Follow

Here at Sklar Technology Partners, we employ a landscaping service to keep the lawn around our office pristine. I’ve always been happy with their work and thought the company was run well, which is why I was floored when one of the employees who handles our account came into our office and asked to speak with me.

“I’m leaving this company and starting my own lawn care business,” he said. “Will you come with me?”

I invited the guy into my office calmly to discuss the situation, but inside I was seething.

The Entrepreneur Code

Here’s the truth, folks: There are rules in this life. You don’t eat another man’s french fries off his plate, you don’t wear another man’s hat, and you don’t ride another man’s tractor! And if you’re an entrepreneur, you absolutely don’t steal your boss’s customers. This isn’t the only rule in what I like to think of as “The Entrepreneur Code,” but it’s one of the biggest. Entrepreneurs also shouldn’t lie to, cheat on, or steal from each other. These “codes” are obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many business owners and wannabe business owners — like the lawn care employee — don’t follow them.

If Rule No. 1 is “No poaching,” then Rule No. 2 is “Don’t let yourself be poached.” If an employee of a larger company you work with tries to steal your business, it’s your duty as an upstanding entrepreneur to look them right in the eye and say, “No!” (If that’s something you struggle with, be sure to read The Art of Saying ‘NO’.)

A Lose-Lose Situation

There are two good reasons for this. First, if you say “yes,” then you’re stabbing the company you work with in the back and ruining the relationship for good. It hurts to lose a client you thought was loyal to an upstart competitor, and if they’re smart, they won’t forgive you or take you back if this new venture doesn’t work out.

Second, you will be setting this new entrepreneur up for failure. Poaching is no way to start a business. Entrepreneurs who build their companies on stolen clients are cheating the system. Instead of learning the ropes, they dive in as though they already know everything, and it inevitably comes back to bite them!

When I sat down in my office with that lawn care employee, I laid those things out for him.

“What are you going to do when you’re done stealing your boss’s business? How are you going to keep growing your company?” I asked, then, “How would you feel if someday one of your employees did this to you?”

The conversation ended when I told him no, I would absolutely NOT follow him to his new venture. The guy left my office on the verge of tears — not because I yelled at him, but because I asked him questions he was ashamed to think about.

The Exception to the Rule

In my view, there’s only one exception to the don’t be poached rule. You can and should leave your current company if they mistreat their employees or are terrible to work with. But in that case, you actually shouldn’t wait to be poached. Just say goodbye!
When the lawn care employee left my office, I immediately picked up the phone and called his boss. I told him his team member had just solicited me, and he was completely blown away. He had no idea the guy was working behind his back! I’m not sure what happened to the employee. Maybe he was fired, or maybe his boss took him back (if you’re wondering, “Why the heck would he do that?” check out next week’s article.) Either way, I felt like I did my due diligence as an entrepreneur. I upheld the code. I hope you would have done the same.

-Randy Sklar


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