See the DBL Center’s Michael Cohen share his secrets to long-term success.
DBL Center managing partner Michael S. Cohen recently chatted with long-time friend Adam Forgione on an hour-long podcast, Elevate: Stories to Grow the Mind
They began by talking about goal-setting and a philosophy Mike Cohen discussed in a prior blog post: “What does it look like to wake up every morning like you have no money?”
Keep reading to hear Mike’s tips for business success, goal-setting work/life balance, and how Mike’s career made a right-turn from stand-up comedy to running a wholesale insurance general agency.
Adam: A lot of small businesses don’t have the mindset of a 3-year, 5-year or beyond plan. Tell me what’s going on in your head when you’re thinking about that concept.
Mike: That is something I’ve done since I was a kid. I remember being 9, 10, 11 years old. I want this and I’m gonna get there. I don’t know how I’m gonna get there, but I’ll get there.
I wake up every day like I don’t have any money. Like legitimately I wake up like I’m broke. I think that empowers the staff to know I mean business.
I work a lot, but my work / life balance is perfect to me. I’m there for my children. My wife works three days a week. She puts in 30 to 35 hours a week. I work a lot, but I’m around and I don’t miss anything.
Adam: What’s the secret to that work / life balance?
Mike: The only time it gets in the way is when I overindulge in anything. It can be anything – I went out with my friends too much. I worked too much. Don’t overindulge in any facet of that quadrant and you’ll be fine.
I go to bed early – I get a lot of sleep. I laugh at the guys in Silicon Valley who brag they can get away with three hours sleep. That’s going to catch up to them. Sleep is important.
I’m not old-fashioned. I love a dirty martini with blue cheese olives. I love wine. I love a good dinner. But I don’t do that every day. Ask yourself: What’s more important? Prioritize what’s important.
Adam: I know you’ve heard this before, but you’d be really good as a public speaker.
Mike: I’ve been invited to plenty of motivational seminars, and I know what they’re going to say. It’s just instilled in me that I know what I need to do. And I think that’s why some people have said I’d be really good at public speaking. But I don’t want to give false information. There’s no right or wrong answer that works for everyone.
Adam: Being an employer and managing a team that wants to be here, wants to come to work tomorrow, what are you doing to make that happen?
Mike: I’m very blessed. A lot of firms in my industry are in a hiring freeze right now. I’m not throwing money at people, but I’ve hired new staff members in the past several months. They want to be a part of something bigger than them.
Adam: What do you do to instill that loyalty and retention?
Mike: I bring what I would want. I act as if I’m my own employee. I don’t know exactly how I do it innately, but I just know I do not make it seem like I’m superior to anybody. It’s a team effort.
It’s like the Golden Rule. Going back to sports, whether you’re a Yankee fan or not, Derek Jeter would bring you under his wing. He was a superstar, but his team had his back. I believe my team has my back. They’re important.
I give everybody a piece of the pie. There’s perks I give, which now is becoming common. I was doing that all along. I just implemented unlimited PTO. That’s what 2023 is going to bring. And why did I do that? Because I know my staff’s not going to take advantage.
Adam: A lot of people may not know that you worked as a stand-up comedian for a time. Tell me about your first comedy gig?
Mike: I was writing for stand-up comics in college and I received a call from the manager of Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown. The guy called me up and said, “Why don’t you just come out and get on the stage?” And he said, “It’s amateur night so everybody sucks.”
And I said, “Thanks for the confidence.” And I remember thinking, “I’m going to blow it out of the water.”
Adam: That’s a Michael Jordan move right there.
Mike: All I heard was “You suck!” And I went on and I nailed it! I invited a decent amount of people, but there were a lot of people I didn’t know. A woman came up to me at the end of the show and said, “You beat my son.”
And I said, “It’s not a competition.”
And she said, “No, you don’t understand. Is your mother here tonight?” And I said no and she said, “Well if I were your mother I would tell you to continue with this.”
So, then I was thinking maybe I should do this. A friend of mine did my headshots, another guy made my website. We did our thing and it blew up pretty quickly. I was doing shows five to seven times a month, from New York to Boston.
Adam: Why did you stop and continue with insurance, instead?
Mike: I was on the cusp of getting married. We wanted to start a family. I had to turn my passion into making profits. I had a blog back then, way before The DBL Center blog, back in 2004. And I wrote a post. I had a lot of people read how I used something that was near and dear to me to expand this mundane business model of insurance. I got 1,100 reads back then and it seemed like a lot. Today I have 88,000 people following me through the DBL Center blog.
Adam: What’s the angle on the DBL Center blog? Obviously, it’s insurance, but what’s the angle?
Mike: I incorporate a little bit of personal with business. That’s it. I’ll incorporate my mother. I’ll incorporate my kids. Believe it or not the most personal blogs that I do get the most traction.
Adam: Any lessons learned along your journey that we haven’t talked about that are worth sharing? Mike: I feel like I’ve been through a lot in the last five years. A lot of people have been through a lot. But perseverance certainly will endure.
Adam: Do you feel we are more productive post-Covid or pre-Covid?
Mike: I think that’s going to have to be an individualistic answer. I give flexibility where flexibility is given. The younger generation that has children is just going to work harder.
Why did I give unlimited PTO? I gave unlimited PTO because I’m not micromanaging anyone. We’ve earned trust with one another. Get the job done. At the end of the day, we’re all here to make money. I won’t micromanage anyone to do that.
I do believe seeing people in person is important, making those connections and keeping that personal connection. I make it a point one or two days a month to have everybody come in, even our remote workers. I buy everybody lunch and we just let loose a little bit. That works. Not seeing people in person doesn’t work.
Adam: If you had to pinpoint one thing, what’s the secret to success?
Mike: The magic sauce, if you want to look for the key ingredient, is consistency. But super simplified consistency. Not to overthink things. Nothing I’ve told you today has been so magically unique. If you think about it, it’s been the most mundane, basic tips… and I think most people truly overthink how to run a business.
Adam: If we can step back as a business owner, what is the simplicity of it? What are the basic principles?
Mike: It’s being humble. It’s being true to yourself. And don’t overthink things. You have to have a fire in you. If you don’t have an employer that’s driven, and you start to see that fire dwindle, as an employee, you have a problem.
I have employees who tell me to stop working so hard all the time. But that’s the kindle that keeps everybody going. It’s that gasoline.
And I make it fun. If we hit this goal, we’ll go here…
Every year, as an example, I have a holiday party. I used to do big parties. Now I’m keeping it tight. The people I’m inviting, I truly want them to be there. Those things go a long way.