July 7, 2020

Lessons from Harvey Mackay on doing what you love, loving what you do, and delivering more than you promise

Harvey Mackay is quickly becoming an author and thinker that will be on my most formative books list (shameless plug, you can get my list of the ten most formative books in my life, culled from hundreds of non-fiction books, by signing up for my newsletter).

I first learned about Harvey from his book Swim with the sharks without being eaten alive, recommended to me from another great non-fiction book called The top 100 best business books of all time. Since I got into Harvey a bit late, I would liken him to Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn and Seth Godin. He is like Zig because he offers a lot of knowledge on sales and that passes over into the areas of management, entrepreneurship and leadership. Through his advice, he often provides what he calls ‘quickies’ which are bite-sized chunks of knowledge or anecdotes that share an important lesson or takeaway. And he’s like Seth Godin because each of his ‘chapters’ are short, meaning that they are immediately digestible and infinitely accessible to anyone that might not have large chunks of time to devote to reading.

His book Beware the naked man who offers you his shirt offers numerous lessons categorized by different ‘courses’ on getting started, working your way up the company, selling, entrepreneurship, negotiating and more. It is a book that I wish I had read earlier in my life, but am still glad I got to it now. Here are the things that I enjoyed from Harvey Mackay:

You can be shark-bait or you can be shark-proof

You are shark bait for example if you are looking to buy a car and have no idea how much to pay for the car you want. Since the car salesman has that information, they know exactly how to juggle the payments, insurance, loans, trade-in, options, etc. so that he can come up with a figure that gives them the most profit. Once you get the information about how much the car is though, you cease being shark-bait and you become shark-proof instead.

How do you become shark-proof? The trick is to educate yourself as much as possible and to never make the same mistake three times. Why three times? The first time is forgivable. The second time, it is because we are creatures of habit that we seem to not make new mistakes. Better yet is to learn from others (through education, seminars, classes, networking) so that you never make the mistake in the first place.

What happens when you ask for a raise but get turned down

You may know the advice already when asking for a raise. Keeping proof of your accomplishments. Keeping track of the exact amount of overtime or additional work you have done so that you can bring that to the meeting. Making sure you know how the company did (if they say that they had a lousy year and that their budgets don’t allow for a raise, look at the annual report).

But let’s say that you get turned down, what do you do instead? Some of the advice here was new to me:

  • Ask for longer hours — You want to contribute your time and energy to those special projects that other people may not be willing to do or want to do.
  • Training — Will the company support you in gaining new skills or certifications? It does not have to be full tuition, even paying for a course or an exam can help.
  • Make a move — Maybe the raise and the additional responsibilities are not in your current department. Will management support you in making the move to another department where your salary requirements and career goals can be met?

The ten thousand dollar rule

Is there something that you cannot seem to do no matter what you try or do? Maybe it is waking up early in the morning or getting to meetings on time. Harvey suggests the ten thousand dollar rule (the amount of money should be big enough to get you motivated). Let’s say that you have a problem getting to work on time. Imagine that you were offered $10,000 if you were never late to work once for the next year. Would you do it? Likely yes. Except that the company is not going to offer you $10,000, only you think that they will. In this case, you know that you can do it, it is really a matter of motivation of getting to work on time.

Advice on starting up

  • You don’t need a new idea — many businesses that take for granted are profitable. They’re not seven-figure or eight-figure businesses like those in Silicon Valley but businesses such as plumbers, furnace technicians, flower shops, etc. are making decent six figures.
  • Who are your customers? The wrong answer is everyone. The right answer is big enough to be profitable, but small enough for you to be able to service it thoroughly. As Paul Graham says, do things that don’t scale when you start out and then figure out how you can scale later.
  • Why buy your product or service? The wrong answer is everyone needs it. The right answer is related to the above question, figure out who your smallest audience is that you can serve and serve those people.
  • Who is my competition? If there isn’t any competition, either you have a rare unicorn or there isn’t a market for it. Which do you think it really is?
  • What advantages do I offer a customer over the competition? It’s a good idea to know what your competition offers and how you can differentiate from them.
  • What advantages does my organization have over the competition? Related, but slightly different to the question above. McDonalds spends billions on advertising and promotion. You may be able to beat McDonalds in other categories (price, quality, cleanliness, store layout, service, etc.) but you won’t be able to spend billions like McDonalds does and pull in customers.

Learn from your competitors

I thought this was an interesting anecdote. Harvey, when he started as a salesman, found the best salesman in the office and tried to get him to mentor Harvey. He would get him coffee, offer to do admin work, anything so that the salesman could share what he knew about selling to Harvey. One day, the salesman brought Harvey along on a car ride and they went to one of their competitors parking lots. They followed a truck along to one of the salesman’s best customers. The salesman knew then that the customer was lying about their business and their budget and he went back to the office to create a new proposal based on the volume he now realized the customer used.

Don’t waste waste

I remember a story about a lumber company who took saw dust, which they thought of as waste, and turned it into firewood. They took what other lumber companies at the time saw as ‘waste’ and decided to turn that waste into another business.

This is a great lesson for your company. What do you think of as ‘waste’ at your company? And how can you turn it into something that can be profitable?


I’m excited to read more of Harvey’s books. What do you think of his advice? How will you incorporate some of those lessons into your business or life?

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