Where are you from? Oh, no way. Do you know Ed Johnson? Oh, well then I bet you also know Jill Black? Small world, huh!
This conversation happens almost daily in my home state of South Dakota. We joke that instead of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, we have the Two Degrees of South Dakotans.
Raised on sweet corn and seven layer bars from the church basement ladies, when you’re from the Midwest you learn to stretch out your hand, give a firm shake, and make a genuine, personal connection with your neighbor. Heck, they may be farming just 10 miles away (that’s considered a neighbor btw).
Prior to moving back to South Dakota five years ago, I hadn’t realized the value of Midwestern hospitality. Growing up in the Midwest has instilled core values that have immeasurably helped me grow my design firm. Here are a few lessons I’ve figured out how to express.
The exchange I shared at the beginning of the article is an actual conversation I’ve had (Save for the substitution of names, I’ve never met an Ed Johnson. I don’t think??). In the Midwest we believe we have a special connection with the people around us, and by golly if we don’t have an immediate connection we’re going to try our darndest to figure it out.
There is genuine beauty in being connection oriented. Midwesterners are always looking to make deeper connections with the people they meet. There is rarely a feeling of ‘how can this person help me?’ Simply, it’s a true interest in people, and bringing a give first attitude to networking will improve both your business and your life.
Nearly everything we do in the Midwest has a face to it. You won’t often find brands and companies communicating from a large, faceless, Wizard of Oz veil. You will see a friendly face or a personal touch from a brand wanting to make a connection.
At Lemonly, we deeply embrace our Midwestern roots, and we’re are always looking for an opportunity to show them off. We send handwritten thank you notes and lemon bars to our clients to say thank you for their business. We’re always looking for an opportunity to take the extra step to add a personal touch. Your clients and partners will remember it, and it makes a significant impact.
We do more with less in the Midwest. Here in South Dakota, many of our ancestors immigrated from Scandinavia, Germany, or Eastern Europe. More than a hundred years ago these folks had to survive bitter cold winters, build homes made of mud and grass, and traverse the wide open prairie.
All they had was each other, and it was paramount to be neighborly. It’s part of our DNA to be resourceful, have a never-give-up work ethic, and reach out to help our neighbor.
Successful folks in the Midwest are often accused of being big fish in a small pond. Certainly our ponds are smaller, but I’m proud that we’ve chosen to work in this small pond. However, we’re constantly playing out in the ocean with our clients and competition.
Living in a small pond can actually be good for your productivity and competitive nature. I think competition is great for business, but it shouldn’t be a distraction. Many entrepreneurs get caught up in the competition and become obsessed with what their rivals are doing. In the Midwest there is a strong sense of “put your head down and get your work done.” I believe a small pond can eliminate distractions and force you to focus on what matters.
Embrace your roots
I could write another post about some of the disadvantages of being from the Midwest. There are some. The truth is you don’t have to be from the Midwest or live here to do any of the aforementioned tips. It’s just these behaviors are planted in us at a young age like the crops that are planted on the prairie every spring.
Every region, culture, and country has its own mentality and behaviors that are unique and beneficial. Embrace your roots and act on them. At the same time, steal from others and learn what they have to offer. You never know who Ed Johnson may introduce you to.