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Street Smarts:
Diamonds in the Rough

By Ed Freedman

People often say to me, "Ed, you're so young to be so successful. How did you get so lucky?" My response is always the same: "Luck has very little to do with it." I feel very strongly that the way in which we conduct ourselves in both our professional and personal lives directly correlates to how much success and failure we experience.

I recently opened a discussion on The Green Sheets Online's MLS Forum by posting the following:

  • Every MLS has their own way of doing business. What is your personal business philosophy, business ethic or strategy?
  • Do you follow it in your personal life as well? - If so, how do you apply it?
  • Are there any books, seminars, etc. that you've read or attended that have helped you develop a general philosophy for building your business and successfully working with customers, colleagues and vendors?

The discussion was quite lively. Here are some of the comments:

"Philosophy: Treat people as you expect to be treated. Pace your rates to make a good living, not retire on a single deal. When you're smilin', the whole world smiles with you." -Q

"My approach to merchants is one of personal integrity. I live, work and play in the same community, and I don't want a merchant approaching me on the street with my family or friends present and calling me a liar or thief because I made a quick buck off them. My approach is to honestly disclose pricing and to advise the merchant that they are ultimately buying 'us' for who we are, what we stand for, and ultimately educating the merchant.

"I believe most merchants will switch because you are honest and have really provided a benefit analysis. Unfortunately, the early termination clauses currently in place do not allow for most merchants to leave their current ISO.

"Most merchants haven't spoken to their current ISO in months or sometimes years, which is why I will telephone my merchants at least once a month to remind them that they are processing with us and to let them know we are nearby in case they need any assistance. It is more difficult to break a relationship than it is to break an acquaintance." -Jesse Seguara

"I have found visiting or calling a merchant once a month to be counterproductive. I have tried this approach but stopped it because every time I would call a merchant they would say, 'Hey Rob the service is great but how about lowering the rate a little bit?' The rate would be 1.59 plus .20, how much lower could I actually go?" -amsprocessing

"My strategy has lead to a good business ethic:

  1. Make money one transaction at a time, no advanced commissions. All AS EARNED. When you make it one transaction at a time, you can lose it one transaction at a time. When there are no advances, you treat even the smaller merchant with respect.
  2. Network with those that can help you make sales and keep sales. Software providers and accountants control the monies, installs and service.
  3. Only hire salaried salespeople to handle additional network leads, as needed.
"The end result has been low merchant attrition without having to keep merchants with large cancellation fees or misrepresentations. I have hired my family and we are having fun building our wealth. One thing that I apply to tough personal decisions, as well as business decisions, though, is to say to myself 'what would I do if there was no money involved?'" -Desdinova

Okay. Now, it's my turn. I certainly agree with many of these thoughtful responses. I agree that the Golden Rule, treat others as you want to be treated, is a pretty good guiding philosophy. To enhance that philosophy, let's add a little Buddhist approach. There are certain Buddhist philosophies that can be applied to real business problems with great success.

After graduating college, I went to work as a Merchant Level Salesperson, and I was relatively successful. I was signing up accounts and making decent money. I had a nice apartment, a nice car, etc. Compared with other people my age, I was doing pretty well.

However, I encountered roadblocks when I attempted to take my business to the next level. I struggled with vendor partners. I had trouble finding sources of capital to grow my business. I felt like some good things were happening but also some not so good things, too. I compared this to what I often experienced on the golf course. Occasionally, I'd hit that ball on the "sweet" spot, but more often than not, I'd get that broken bat feeling in my hands as I duffed another one into the woods.

I wanted to find out how to hit the ball on the sweet spot more consistently on the golf course as well as in business. I was convinced it wasn't just luck. There had to be more to it than that. I figured it was something I could learn to do, but I just didn't have enough time to get it done.

Then I found a book that helped me understand what I was doing right, and what I needed to work on. The book is titled, "The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Strategies for Managing Your Business and Your Life," by Geshe Michael Roach. I recommend every MLS read it, not only once but over and over, especially chapter seven, "The Correlations, or Common Business Problems and Their Real Solutions."

Here are some excerpts from "The Diamond Cutter" that have influenced my personal and business philosophies:

"You can't just blindly trust what you grew up with-whether it was taught to you by your elementary school teachers, or parents or the people at church or temple. You can't just blindly accept what is popular or legal or accepted at any given time in that little part of the world you call 'home.' You can't follow one way of doing business just because that's the way other people are doing it right now.

"You spend so much time doing business that you should be willing to spend a little time figuring out how business really works. In the end, it would save you years of your life if you could figure out the basic reasons why business success does or doesn't happen in the first place.

"Success, personal or business, is a result-and all results have causes. When you repeat the same causes, you get the same result. If you're doing business in a way that doesn't always produce the same results, then you haven't found the causes. If you don't know what causes the result you want, then you're just being lazy, and don't be surprised when you don't succeed."

STOP right now and re-read the above excerpt. Life has very little to do with luck. It's about results-"and results have causes. When you repeat the same causes, you get the same result."

There are certain people who, when presented with a business problem, can clearly see the right thing to do. There's no hesitation, no question in their minds. These people are often called brilliant or insightful or guys with the "magic touch."

And, let me tell you that there's nothing more fun, exciting or fulfilling than to be one of these people-the ones who rip up the market like Greg Daily, Joe Kaplan, Paul Green, Bob Carr or Paul Garcia. They're like Barry Bonds who consistently hits home runs and readily admits that the ball looks as big as a watermelon just before he whacks it.

What do these outstanding professionals use that makes them so successful? Perhaps it's all about instincts. Is there anything more frustrating than being the guy who, at one time, had the right instincts but doesn't feel them anymore? This is even worse than not ever having felt them in the first place. The bottom line: It would be nice to know how to recognize and use these instincts on a regular basis.

"The Diamond Cutter" presents 46 'Common Business Problems and Their Real Solutions' that may stimulate and encourage those instincts. Here are just a few:

"Business Problem #1: Company finances are unstable, in a state of constant flux.

"Solution: Be more willing to share your profits with those who have helped you produce them, and be very strict about never making a single penny through any improper action. Remember, the amount you share with those around you is not what determines the strength of the imprint; rather, it is your willingness to share whatever you have made, even if it's not a lot.

"Business Problem #8: You find yourself second-guessing your own decisions; you are developing an inability to be decisive in business matters.

"Solution: This particular problem comes from two rather disparate causes: failing to care for your employees, and other management around you, and representing yourself as something to your customers and suppliers that you are in truth not at all. Avoiding this one is very difficult in today's business world of smoke and mirrors, but if you are able to represent yourself exactly as you are-in short, if you're able to maintain a high degree of integrity-then your own mind and business decisions will be crisp, decisive, and effective.

"Remember, it is not a question of your customers slowly finding out that you are a straight shooter and then believing you more in the future. The imprint from straight shooting rises up to your conscious mind and actually creates a reality around you in which people are honest, your decisions are made fast and clear and money comes easily.

"Business Problem #9: You want to make a purchase of another company; you see a business opportunity that's sure fire but which is going to need some cash, and you're having some trouble raising it.

"Solution: Quite simple. Stop being such a cheapskate in your business dealings and your personal life. Give, give, give to others; make sure deals are win-win for both sides. Again, it's not the amount of money involved, it's maintaining-all day long-a truly generous, creative, flowing state of mind that wants to see everybody prosper.

"Ben Franklin was perhaps the greatest statesman, scientist and businessperson in America's history-and his response to competition was to invite all his competitors to join a new society called a Chamber of Commerce, dedicated to finding ways to work together to expand markets and make everybody involved richer."

In summary, may I suggest the following: First, read "The Diamond Cutter." And as Roach says, "...take a little time figuring out how business really works."

Secondly, "It is essential to understand that, in terms of content, a positive result (business or personal success) cannot come from a negative cause (such as hurting or cheating anyone else)."

And finally, both your personal or business worlds are reflections of your integrity, or lack of it. Your success is driven by the good or bad that you do to the people around you. Learn how to be consistent in what you do that's good, and you can pretty much design your own future...and that future will come out just the way you want it.

My next series of columns will focus on making sure all MLSs become experts on selling at least one new product or service to add to their credit/debit processing service offering. Not only will I introduce different products and services, I'll teach you how to sell them. Look for my posts on this hot topic on The MLS Forum.Your opinions are important to me and to this column.

Please send any feedback on this subject and any other issue to Be sure to include your name and company if you want to be recognized. Your voices need to be heard.

"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."

-John Wesley

See you next time where the rubber meets the road.

Ed Freedman is founder and President/CEO of Total Merchant Services, one of the fastest-growing credit card merchant account acquirers in the nation. Ed is the driving force behind all business development activity as well as the execution of Total Merchant Services' marketing plan, including recruiting and training independent sales offices and establishing strategic alliance partnerships with leading vendors, so that Total Merchant Services can provide its customers with the highest quality and reliable services available.

To learn more about Total Merchant Services, visit the website at To learn more about partnering with Total Merchant Services, visit or contact Ed directly at

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