One Wrong Letter Cost $2,000, Ruined a Friendship

As I mentioned in my last article, my keg delivery business taught me the value of being diversified.

My very determined competitors helped me learn that one (did they really have to flatten all FOUR tires?)

By my second year in business, I had added custom-printed shirts to my service offering. That addition helped me learn another valuable business lesson: the importance of details. A very expensive lesson as it turned out.

College campuses back in the 80s – as now – had a lot of parties.

Back then, custom shirts were not as readily available as they are today. There was no Internet to order from, and FedEx was in its infancy.

Organizers for pep squad rallies, football rivalry games, and fraternity and sorority houses were desperate for a fast, reliable way to get custom printed shirts for their events. I had found a unique need for my existing customer base and began working hard to build my custom printed t-shirt empire.

My hard work seemed to be paying off when my good friend Tommy Journell was gracious enough to introduce me to his university’s booster club leader who needed 144 premium printed sweatshirts.

I was so excited!

This was a great order, and I would clear approximately $1,500 – big numbers for a college kid back in 1985.

The sweatshirts were literally still warm from the screen printing process when I picked them up and hurriedly drove them to the campus. I proudly handed a sweatshirt over to my newest, biggest customer like a parent showing off his newborn-future-hall-of-famer.

My customer, looking puzzled, said, “You are kidding me, aren’t you?” Concerned, I quickly asked what was wrong.

“Well, Rod, we spell our university W-I-T-T-E-N-B-E-R-G. Your shirt says W-I-T-T-E-N-B-U-R-G. We can’t accept these.”

After all that work to get the order, I was reminded of a key rule of business: details matter.

It was an expensive lesson. I lost that order (plus any future orders from that university) and I was out the $2,000 I had to pay to have the now-worthless shirts made in the first place. Worse yet, I had let a great friend down by not performing to expectation.

All because I did not pay attention to the details.

I never forgot that lesson and have applied it to every business I have owned since. While I am still not the best at details, I learned to surround myself with people who are detail fanatics.

Here at One Degree all potential new employees must take an Attention-To-Detail assessment test before their in-person interview. If you can’t help me with details, you can’t help my customers.

What are some ways you can prevent detail mishaps from ruining your business?


Know Your Limits

Like me, if you are not detail-oriented, admit it and focus on working around your limitations rather than ignoring them.


Embrace Mornings

Even the most detail-oriented people can’t be “on” all the time. If you are the type of business owner who burns the midnight oil, reserve your more detail-focused tasks for earlier in the day when your mind is sharpest.


Use Assessment Tests

Make sure you know your potential new employee’s strengths and limits. No matter your strengths, you want detail oriented people supporting your customers.

At One Degree we use as they have a lot of great tests to choose from.


Use a Second Pair of Eyes

Whenever possible, get a second pair of eyes on any important project before it’s too late (if only I had learned this point earlier I wouldn’t have been out $2,000!)

If you are a one-person shop, lean on a family member or friend. If all else fails, check out and hire someone to check your work on a per-project basis. It’s cheap and relatively easy.


Embrace Technology

If you are detail challenged, the last thing you want is a business model where you have to input critical data in multiple places (point-of-sale software, general accounting software, customer tracking software, e-newsletter lists, even handwritten notes in multiple places).

Whenever possible, look for software that can perform multiple tasks with the same data. We are big fans of here at One Degree as its platform is extremely customizable.


Check, Recheck, and Spot Check

This can’t be said enough… if it’s mission critical, it’s worth checking at least once to be sure it’s correct.

A great example: here at One Degree, our Asset Manager double checks a customer’s contract for accuracy before our sales operations team sends it to the customer, then again at two other points in the process before the contract is actually initiated. Why? Because our Asset Manager knows if we have to go to court to collect on that contract it had better be accurate or a judge could throw it out!

Getting the details right for every customer can be the difference between a customer becoming a fan of your business or your business striking out and closing its doors. I learned it early on with my t-shirt debacle and continue to re-learn it all the time: In business, details matter.

Yep, every friend and family member got a W-I-T-T-E-N-B-U-R-G sweatshirt as a Christmas present for years.

Remember, if you know of any local business owners that I should interview, please email me….oh, and please spell their business name correctly.