What Business Owners Can Learn From Madonna

I really hate when people are late.

Madonna was late for her concert at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night. How late? Oh, about two-and-a-half hours late. She kept close to 20,000 people waiting for her arrival. Not just people by the way. Her fans. Her customers. Her admirers. And their children too.

And what was her reason? “It’s so good to be back home, and I want to apologize for being late,” she told the crowd. “We had many changes to make from Europe to America, and I wanted the show to be perfect for you because my fans deserve it and quite frankly I deserve it.”

When you run a business, and trust me, Madonna’s running a BIG business, you try very hard not to be late. Your customers don’t want to hear about your problems. Or how you’re trying to achieve perfection. Or about Pussy Riot. In fact, I suggest not bringing up the word “pussy” at all. Your customers want results. They want the product or service they paid for and they want it on time.

“Sorry my plane was late.” Really? If this meeting was that important you would’ve flown out the day before just to make sure. “Sorry, there was so much traffic!” Really? If you cared about my business you would’ve left that much earlier—it’s not a sin to sit in the parking lot for an hour doing paperwork instead of timing your journey to the last second. “Sorry, my supplier didn’t deliver on time so your shipment is delayed.” Really? Or is it because you’re often a pain in the neck to that supplier, particularly when it comes time to pay his bill.

Excuses don’t cut it in the business world. And why should they? They’re almost always empty. Case in point: If someone left a briefcase stuffed with a million dollars on the center of the stage and told Madonna that the money was hers if she showed up at 8 p.m. as scheduled, what do you think Madonna would do? Would she strive for perfection? Save the world? Nope. Even with all her other millions, she’d still say “F*** perfection, F***Pussy Riot … I’m getting that briefcase!” The same goes for you and your business. When someone is late, ask yourself the same question: Would that person have made it here on time if I had a briefcase containing a million dollars for her? Yeah, I thought so. It’s not about being late. It’s about choice.

People choose to be late. Madonna chose to be late. Don’t make that choice. By being late you’re saying to your customer that you had other things to do that were more important. Don’t blame the traffic. Don’t blame that call that went over. Don’t blame your sick kid. Leave earlier. Plan ahead. End the call professionally. Get a babysitter. These are all things you could (or could’ve done) to get to your customer on time. But you chose not to. You tried to cram too much into the day. You didn’t want to spend the extra money. You had other things you wanted to get done first. Maybe you chose to spend more time with your sick child. The reasons might be good reasons. But they’re still choices.

Being late is just plain selfish. It’s a complete disregard for other people’s time. It’s saying “hey, I know I’m late, but you’ll wait because you’ve got nothing more important to do.” People are busy. They have other things to do. They have demands in their own lives. Madonna kept 20,000 people waiting because she’s selfish and narcissistic and lives in her own egotistical bubble. She doesn’t think about her customers and their lives. She doesn’t care. She’s thinking about Madonna. And considering the downward plummet of her career she might want to change that attitude.

You can avoid being late, but sometimes you screw up. Everyone does. So, for God’s sake: communicate! We live in an information world, and people expect information on demand. Madonna’s head (and music) is still back in her glorious ’80s days, otherwise she would’ve thought to have her promoters announce her status and exact arrival time to the crowd. People hate being left in the dark. Even today’s airlines, historically our worst offenders of non-communication, are getting it: You can get updates on flight status online or by text message. If you think you’re going to be late, call. This is why the Lord invented cell phones. If you’re wrong and end up being on time then hooray. But at least you’re giving your customer a heads up so that he or she can use the time productively. Keep your customers informed and own up to your lateness. It’s OK.

And offer some compensation if necessary. When people bought a ticket to see Madonna in concert, the time on the ticket said 8 p.m. Not 10:24 p.m. I’m sure her lawyers would disagree, but I read that as “I’m promising to appear on stage at 8 p.m. and sing my crappy music to my adoring, if artistically impoverished, fans.” Some of her fans had to leave early because they just couldn’t wait any longer. Did they get a refund? Considering this is Madonna we’re talking about I’m going to say no. If you inconvenience someone in your business, apologize and give some type of compensation. A discount. A free product or service. It’s not going to make up for your selfishness. But it helps a little.

As you can tell, I hate it when people are late. My dad always said “son, you’re either late or you’re on time,” and I’ve always loved that little bit of wisdom. Of course, my dad also said “vote for Perot, he’s the best man for president,” so you can’t rely on the guy’s advice all the time. But in matters of business you’ll find yourself generating more sales, achieving a higher level of service and creating more profits and opportunity for yourself if you just show up and show up on time. And please don’t show your boobs or bottom to the public either—especially if you’re pushing 60 years old, OK?