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The car you drive brings unintended consequences

The car you drive brings unintended consequences

Most people who turn up to meetings with clients or prospects by car appreciate that the car you drive sends a message.  If it’s too old and cheap, they wonder about your success level and it can be a credibility issue.  If it’s too new, shiny, and expensive they think they’re going to be paying for your lifestyle in some way.

Over the years, I’ve seen successful business owners deliberately drive an older model car because they are conscious that the message they send needs to be consistent.  I even had one client who used to rent a sub-compact specifically to go to client meetings.

The same problem applies to your office, which needs to convey exactly the impression you want to communicate.  I remember going to the opening of the new offices of a large law firm a few years back.  The offices were lavish, and there was a high-end opening party to which they had invited their clients.  I heard one of them proclaim in a loud voice, “I paid for most of this!” 

Coming back to the cars, there is another way in which driving an expensive car can hurt you.  When I started my computer service company I drove a new car, but it was a very modest, understated model. As I became more successful and we grew, I felt like regarding myself and eventually got the car of my dreams, a Mercedes 500 convertible. 

At that time, I was still giving my top employees company cars, and sadly, but unsurprisingly, my management team took a keen interest in what I was driving.  Suddenly, I was faced with the request from them (as a team) to have a Mercedes as their company car. It was a difficult request to turn aside because the company was doing so well at that point, and before I knew it we had a fleet of them.  This increase in status seemed to flow inexorably further on down through the company, affecting everybody who was the fortunate driver of a company car.

One of my clients thought that he could have this both ways. He bought a Ferrari but kept it secret from his staff.  The wheels came off (not literally) when he took the car in for repair and they delivered it back to his office instead of his home thereby blowing his cover and creating quite a stir as the company wasn’t doing so well at the time.

The moral of the story, is that you need to think through the unintended consequences of the car you choose to drive.  My decision to drive a nicer car probably cost an extra $750 per month initially.  That $750 per month got multiplied at least five times because of the knock-on effect on culture and expectations, making it a very expensive choice. Worse still, when things weren’t going well financially and we were looking to cut expenses, we were left with lease payments we couldn’t get out of.