Get Out of the Weeds or Die
Get Out of the Weeds or Die
One of the toughest balancing acts we face is keeping revenue coming in while figuring out how to replicate and scale processes.
I was feeling this imbalance acutely in the wee morning hours before a presentation with a new client — an operational management consulting firm. I had launched Kaul Sales Partners successfully in the sense that my prospecting and closing chops had brought in five new clients, but I had outstripped my ability to service them.
While I had an account person in place to manage some of the nuts and bolts, I was still doing too much of the work myself: In this case, up at two in the morning because the targeted sales list I was supposed to present later that day was totally wrong. My so called account manager had outsourced the work to an online resource who had delivered him a tangle of missorted columns and mismatched contact info at the eleventh hour. It was a total mess and he didn’t even try to fix the problem. I had tried to send it back to him for repair, but then he vanished on me. I was all on my own.
As the presentation call crept closer, I accepted the reality: I couldn’t charge my client for this crappy work. I explained on the call that I didn’t want to launch their campaign on the wrong foot, that it would take a little extra time to do this step right — and refunded them their first month’s retainer on the spot.
In the short term, I was out a few thousand, which was no great joy. But the long-term implications were worse: I didn’t have a business that ran the way I needed it to.The question for us is this: Do you want another job or do you want to have a business?
During the journey to the launch of Kaul Sales Partners, I was weighing the option of becoming a fractional sales VP for several different companies. But my individual bandwidth would only go so far. The question for us is this: Do you want another job or do you want to have a business?
Larry Doesn’t Scale: Putting Systems and People in Place
Taking on the twin roles of CEO and chief revenue officer means you’ll have to find several “right hands” for key points of execution. If you’re drowning in day-to-day ops, then whatever revenue you have right now is most likely your earnings ceiling — and you’re probably going to crash anyway. You’ve just designed another bad job for yourself, as Michael Gerber correctly notes in his E-Myth book.But how could I scale the business when I couldn’t scale myself? If we can’t do this, we’re basically solo consultants who are always maxed out.
I had to figure out what things I could get off my plate so I could scale. But how could I scale the business when I couldn’t scale myself? If we can’t do this, we’re basically solo consultants who are always maxed out. So I started cobbling together a machine in between fire drills.
I tried another contract admin through Hire My Mom rather than a more experienced account manager like the last guy who — once trained to manage the nuts and bolts of our sales campaigns — allowed me to service my new clients with less brain-burn. With her onboard, I rid myself of painful episodes like trying to figure out why an email signature wouldn’t render while I was in a security line at an airport. She was assisted by a superb contract pro that I found to help me with list-building and prospect research — a move that provided a large degree of stability.
I did some barter work with Kanhai Kapadia at KGK & Company. Kanhai is a really talented consultant who helped me setup Salesforce and associated systems for templating sales activity. It turned out that my business model was attractive to seasoned, semi-retired sales people who want to stay active and keep a little money coming in. Plugging them in allowed me to scale to 15 clients within a year. I had some ops support and could spend more time being the head sales guy.
To this group I added Nick Brennan (now running his own company Watch Social Media), a polished account exec who could function as a really good traffic cop. But I was still up until 2 a.m. feverishly banging out campaign strategy and messaging docs. So I got a writer, Nate Warren from Libertine Creative Concern, who could participate in client calls and synthesize them into working campaign copy. I had to ride shotgun with him a lot at first, talking through revisions on an almost daily basis, but now he’s meshed with my admins and I only have to touch base with him a few times a month or trade comments on Google Docs or Slack. I had succeeded in working myself out of another job — which should be the goal of CEOs like us who are working every day to keep a roof over our heads.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m at the top of the mountain here, but I am profitable and, as I write this, free to run my business how I see fit without answering to investors or creditors. But every month I’m searching for ways to systematize and evolve the business so I can keep growing.
I can now offer everything from management consulting, messaging and brand strategy, sales, marketing and content campaign strategy, advanced digital marketing services, lead generation and prospecting, opportunity creation to close and provide clients a full suite of marketing and technology platforms.
Why are we able to find and close new business month after month and operate a profitable company, charge a premium and maintain high margins?
- We don’t need an expensive office where paying rent takes away from investment in items that actually benefit our clients.
- We know how to find great people and are open to best talent including recently retired folks, freelance consultants and stay-at-home parents and caregivers. These “team members” represent the “best of the best,” as I don’t practice age discrimination as is common in many younger start-up companies.
- Our team includes full-time people and independent contractors but who are not freelancers in the traditional sense. They are part of the company and fully steeped in our culture and respond immediately to client requests.
- I can work with people anywhere in the world and have easy access to the best talent. We don’t try and direct their efforts with a traditional top down approach. I view them as clients and colleagues rather than command-and-control resources.
- Somebody built an incredible technology tool for virtually everything we will ever need. Find yourself continually wasting time on a meaningless function? There’s an app for that. Learn it and get the busywork off your plate.
Some companies still don’t get it. They want to see a building filled with full-time W2 workers chained to their desks. This is changing fast. Trust your people and use the latest and greatest technology tools.Some companies still don’t get it. They want to see a building filled with full-time W2 workers chained to their desks. This is changing fast. Trust your people and use the latest and greatest technology tools.
We talk everyday on video conferences and manage tactical back-and-forth on a collaboration platform (trust me, traditional email is only going to slow you down). We work together in real time in shared documents, assign each other tasks in our sales calling software and manage our workflow in a project management solution. We have clerical support from an incredible Upworks guy in Bangladesh, have sales directors and account managers from Oklahoma to Spain and we all direct our own work efforts and bring new ideas to the company.
The idea is to invest in people, process and technology that make your customers money. Join the “Growth Hacking” movement and spend whatever discretionary profit left over each month to try all kinds of new things. Never tell yourself or let anybody work in your company that ever tells you, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Of course it can work. You probably did it wrong and gave up before you figured it out.
You may be thinking that our approach won’t work because communication, culture and collaboration suffer due to distance. In my judgement, these factors have nothing to do with physical proximity and everything to do with how the CEO of the company thinks and treats people. Everybody gets what we are doing and has full transparency into what everyone else is doing. If you can condition yourself to hold the reins this way, you can stretch your runway.
I’ve worked in offices where it was impossible to even get the attention of my boss. Today I can respond almost immediately to anybody that wants me. It’s fast and it works. At my old company I got really irritated when people left before 5:00 or came in late. I told them what to do. Today, I just ask people to block themselves out on our shared operations calendar when they aren’t working. I never ask what else they are doing. It’s none of my business as long as clients are happy. We talk about what the company and client’s need, not what tasks they should perform.
Takeaway: Challenge every investment you think you have to make and look for ways to make replicable processes with affordable tools.
Your goal should be to work yourself out of a job every 30-90 days and buy yourself the space to invent, experiment and optimize.
Since writing this article Dave Buch replaced me as campaign strategist and Glen Torregiani is our Executive Vice President of Sales. Now I don’t have to join every prospect meeting to support our clients and stretch myself to understand the product / marketing alignment for all of our clients!
If any of this resonates with you, then I would love to hear about your experiences! Reach out for a conversation — and thanks for reading!