How to kick start your business with one question

Updated to Business on December 14, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

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Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

One of the common questions I get asked by entrepreneurs is “How can I start when nobody knows me or knows what I do?”

“Should I cold call?” is usually their next question.

Of course you can cold call. And if you have existing relationships in your market, it is a good place to start.

And I have a ninja strategy I think is much better.


Years ago I emailed a simple question to a select group of decision makers on my list. I asked them “If you had one hour at work this week you could spend on anything, what would you spend it on?”

The results were immediate and wonderfully surprising.

Within minutes I was getting responses and they didn’t stop coming in.

Rather than complain, all the responses were positive, helpful, and even encouraging. Some people even thanked me!

Step two was to take my results and turn them into a sales message.


I put together a very simple, one-page summary of what I learned and sent it back to everyone that was sent the original email (even if they didn’t respond to the first request.) I included three things:

1. I thanked them for this invaluable feedback. I said this information is instrumental in guiding my work as a seminar leader who creates real change in the workplace.

2. I explained that my “Reclaiming the clock” seminar results in one hour of free time per day (on average), based on our follow-up research. And I briefly listed the main benefits of the program.

3. Finally, I invited them to respond by email to receive my ebook “My InBox is Full-how to get off email and get back to priorities.”


I’m sure you are expecting me to report that my inbox was flooded with requests for training. It wasn’t.

But, what happened proved that this strategy works.

Of the 100, or so, people who received the original email request, about 30 responded. I sent the results, blurb about my seminar, and invitation to get the ebook back to all 100 people. And then it got better.

–      Over one half the list asked for the ebook.

–      Three companies enquired about the seminar. One hired me.

–      Since then eight of the companies have hired me.

–      At least twenty of the people regularly attend my live webinars.

Did I get rich from this experiment? No way.

Did I start to build a tribe? Absolutely.

It’s pretty simple: if you ask for help, people are generally willing to help. And if you offer to help them (free findings from my research and offer of free ebook) they often want to reciprocate (read all about reciprocation in Robert Cialdini’s excellent book “Influence”).


Even if you only have 200 people on your list I think this is a great strategy. You have to start somewhere and those people can become advocates for your business shouting the news that you are in business.

If you are trying to break into a new market, or launch a new business I would start with research.

Everyone expects a sales call and usually they have their shields up. No one expects you to come offering to help them. The shield goes down, the conversation starts and that’s exactly why it works.