Episode 81 – Why, and When, a Professional Services Firm Should bring Recruiting In-House – Member Case with Don Goldstein

Your ability to recruit talent is critical to scaling a market-leading boutique. On this episode, we interview Don Goldstein, CEO of 5Q Partners and he shares how he decided to invest in an internal recruiter and its overall impact on the organization.

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that are familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander and I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode we’re going to discuss recruiting and in particular how recruiting changes as you move through the three stages of a boutique process, firm grow, scale and exit in the early days. Recruiting is typically done by the founder. There’s a small number of jobs that need to be filled, and he or she can shake the tree, so to speak, and fill the spots. Then you get a little bigger, maybe into the early stages of scaling and the number of jobs to fill and the types of roles multiply. And you start using, using external recruiters. And it’s expensive, but it’s still manageable because you’re not hiring, you know, dozens or hundreds of people. Then, of course, you have a lot of success and now recruiting becomes really difficult. You’ve got to hire dozens, hundreds. In some cases, believe it or not, thousands. And using external recruiters can get very expensive. And sometimes those firms themselves aren’t built for scale. So you bring recruiting in-house and you start making it a core competency of your firm. And given that we’re in professional services where people drive in business, having a talent supply chain is mission critical. So that’s what I’m going to talk about today. And we’re very lucky. We have a great guest who’s in the middle of all this. His name is Don Goldstein, and he runs a cybersecurity firm called 5Q. Hey, Don, it’s good to see you. 

Don Goldstein [00:02:11] Great to see you. Great. Thanks for having me on. Sure. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:14] Would you please provide a proper introduction to the audience? 

Don Goldstein [00:02:18] Sure. So I’m Don Goldstein with five Q. We are a managed security and I.T. services firm nationwide actually now. And we serve primarily the commercial and corporate real estate industry, which is vast and broad. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:38] Right now, Don, we wanted you to come on today because you recently brought recruiting in-house, as I understand it. And I would love for you to explain to our members and those that are listening to this kind of how you used to do it before, how you do it now, and what what caused you to make the recent change. 

Don Goldstein [00:03:01] Sure, Greg. So. When you talk about in your book. That. Personal networks are not scalable for your clients and for your new hires. That is exactly the kind of thing we ran into. So as soon as we hit a certain point there, there really wasn’t anyone else we could turn to within our network. To go find the right people we needed that had experience in the industry and so we had to look at other means to do that. Using outside recruiters can be effective, but when you’re in scale mode and hiring literally dozens of people, that becomes extremely expensive. And it also bottlenecks your people because they’re having to do a lot of the screening and interviewing. So we felt when we hit a certain point, which was right at the end of 2021, we had to make a change in the way we recruited. We were fortunate enough to find a tremendous internal recruiter. Who became available to us and started right at the beginning of December, which was exactly at the time that we were poised to scale in early 2022. So it couldn’t have come at a better time for us. And it’s been game changing, literally. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:35] Okay. So this is a great use case for us. So at the risk of asking a question that might reveal sensitive information and if it does, feel free to decline. Give me an idea of the magnitude, like how many people are you hiring and what do you anticipate the hiring need to be? 

Don Goldstein [00:04:56] I can give you some exact numbers. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:58] Okay. Thank you. 

Don Goldstein [00:04:59] So since the beginning of December 2021, so it is now been. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:05] Five months. 

Don Goldstein [00:05:06] Almost 45 and a half months, close to six months. We have hired 40 people. Wow. With our internal recruiter. 36 are still with us. In other words, I would say of the 40 we had four miss hires. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:22] Wow. 

Don Goldstein [00:05:23] Which we identified quickly and took care of quickly as soon as we identified that we had done a mishire. And that’s going to happen. Sure. In a company like ours, especially where a lot of our people are expected to travel 80 to 90% of the time. And you don’t really know until they come on board how they deal with the travel part of that. Mm hmm. So we hired 40. We dropped our cost per hire to just around $1,000 per hire or 1.3% of salary. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:02] Oh, my goodness. 

Don Goldstein [00:06:05] Now, included in those 40 hires were six internal referrals. Mm hmm. And how we deal with internal referrals is we give a $2,000 bonus at hire, and we give another 2000 at year one. Mm hmm. And I also want to say, in addition to those 40 new hires, the 36 we have with us and we expect to keep with us. We promoted nine people this year. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:34] Wow. 

Don Goldstein [00:06:36] So part of what we’ve had to do is exactly addressing the questions in your book. We’ve had to move from generalist to specialist because of the kind of work we do. The people that got us here couldn’t necessarily get us where we needed to go, and we also needed to make sure we had a manager of our employees. We had the ability to move people into those manager positions and doing it internally. Is just great for retention. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:10] Yeah, no doubt. Yeah. I mean, employees love to see their peers getting promoted. They know what those peers did. They earned it. You know, it gives them hope that that might happen to them because you believe in internal promotions. I’ve got to come back to these numbers for a second because they’re astounding. So 36 out of 40. I mean, what does that 90%. You have a 90% success rate, which is. Yes, which is incredible. I mean, hiring is good as we can get at. It is still a little bit art, not all science. So that’s a huge success. Right. The the drop in hiring cost of $1,000 per hire. What was it when you were using external recruiters? 

Don Goldstein [00:07:49] It was anywhere between 8 to $10000. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:53] Okay. Per hire? Yeah. So, you know, if you say 8 to 10 grand savings per hire and you hire in dozens of people, I mean that more than pays for an internal recruiter and then some. 

Don Goldstein [00:08:04] Right. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:05] I want to ask you a little bit about how you make the internal recruiter successful inside your firm, because first off, it’s hard to find one. And I’ll come back to that in a moment. When you find one in you, you give them this type of assignment. I mean, this is a busy person. How did you make the recruiter successful? 

Don Goldstein [00:08:26] So what? Our starting point was that we have a director of h.r. Who is external. Mm hmm. We do not have a dedicated director of h.r. Interest. We have a part time person who has years and years of experience, and he could not continue to deal with the hiring piece, even using external criminals. He just couldn’t he just couldn’t keep up himself. And so working with him, we were fortunate enough that he had the ability to help us identify that person. I’m not sure we would have known enough to to realize what it took to find the right person. Mm hmm. We found someone. Who frankly, you know, we just weren’t sure if she was going to be able to pull this off for us. But what she did immediately was she leveraged external services. If you want me to name them, I can. Yeah, please. One primarily. Which was. Which is indeed. Mm hmm. Which is a great place for the kinds of I.T. and cyber people we needed to find. And she just knew how to leverage that and how to qualify people. How to position. The rules we have. Another thing that I have to point out was we have two main offices, Atlanta and Dallas. We realized during COVID, especially with people who are traveling all the time and the fact that we’re able to make remote work, work for us is that we didn’t need to worry about location anymore. As a matter of fact, having diversity of geography has helped us in many ways. So now we have employees, and I believe the last count was 17 states. And so once we took the handcuffs off of our recruiter and say, find the right people wherever they are. That just opened the doors wide for us. Mm hmm. And one of the other things. That made this successful. What? She just wasn’t looking at this from a hiring perspective. Just get a body in the door. She learned our business. She worked with our team. She understood the questions she needed to ask to qualify before she turned the candidates over to our hiring managers so she wasn’t wasting their time. Yeah, she literally was doing hundreds and hundreds. I tried to get the number. She stopped counting at some point. How many people she screened? But she was able to very successfully bring over. To our hiring managers, people that would really make the next cut. Mm hmm. So the other thing that she did was she paid very close attention to the process, very close attention to not only the hiring process, but the onboarding process. So she helped us get better in all of those areas because she really dug in and figured out what it took to be successful in not only hiring, but retaining those people and having a great experience in their first week, which just meant that that allowed us the ability to leverage our internal recruiting even more. And that referral business. The other thing I would point out. And I made this clear because it’s really part of our core values. I really wanted more diversity. On our team. Mm hmm. And I’m happy to say of those 36 hires, 50, 55% represent minorities. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:28] Wow. 

Don Goldstein [00:12:30] And in I.T.. That far exceeds the norm. Yeah, 25% women and other minorities. So this has also been a game changer for us because. It’s really added to the depth of knowledge and experience and just the culture of the company and it resonates with our clients as well in this industry. Commercial real estate, as you know, primarily has not been looked at that way. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:11] The numbers are just astounding. I had one tactical question since this is a teaching call and you’ve given us such great information. I was really surprised to hear and I think it’s a great idea that the recruiter owns the onboarding process. Is that true? 

Don Goldstein [00:13:26] The recruiter is part is a major part of the onboarding process in terms of following up with the employees, making sure that their experience when they come on board is a good one, and then asking them once they’re onboarded, how was their experience and what could we improve on? Yeah, that, that was huge for us because we just didn’t have that before. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:49] Yeah. 

Don Goldstein [00:13:49] That muscle. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:50] And very often there’s a handoff there. The recruiter brings them in and then hands them off to somebody who runs the onboarding process. And at times that handoff can be a little awkward and the employee doesn’t have a good experience. And you have some infant mortality, which obviously we want to we want to avoid. 

Don Goldstein [00:14:05] And I can give an example of that. Great, a great example. So one of the things we would do because we wanted to get our engineers on board and billable as quickly as possible. Yeah. Day one, we would send them with their other engineers out to a site to learn our process of our assessments that we do at the properties. She came back to us and said, Don’t do that anymore. Give them that first week to get their feet on the ground. Don’t. Don’t have them travel the first week. Have a have a program in place to ease them into that. She also made a great suggestion for US cyber engineers because we have some really, really good top technical talent. To make it meaningful for them, give them homework. So when we bring on a cyber engineer that first week, we give them homework. So say we’re going to take them out and have them do cyber assessments in a property. One of the homework items we give them is assess your home network from a cyber perspective and tell us what the results are. I’m giving away a little bit of the secret sauce, but I don’t mind doing that because it’s something like that that has really resonated with our new people. They love it and the fact that we’re not putting them on the road. That was only because she came back to us and said, Stop doing that. That’s not a good way to bring your people on board the first week. Right. Give them a week to breathe. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:35] The numbers are astounding across any industry, but in your space IT services cybersecurity. I mean, the job market is so hot to be able to be able to do this. The way you’re doing it is is really remarkable. I guess one last follow up tactical question, Don. What are the recruiters accountabilities? How do you measure his or her performance? 

Don Goldstein [00:15:58] So she reports on a weekly basis, because we do use the EOC model and we have hiring metrics. I’ve already named a few of them. Yeah. We measure the cost of the new hire and we do that on a rolling 12 month basis and now it’s down to 1000. Once we get to December, when we have a full year, it’s going to be far less than a thousand. The other thing we measure is retention. Mm hmm. So our retention has gone from in the thirties to right at 20%. Mm hmm. Meaning attrition. 20% turnover. Yep. As opposed to in the thirties and even higher prior to that. I’m expecting to get that down to low teens. We also measure. The time to hire. One of the things that we ran into in the beginning of this year, which was unexpected because usually first quarter for us is the slowest quarter historically. This year. It was the biggest quarter we ever had. So I had more work than I had people and we were scrambling. So what we did when we brought our recruiter in was we basically said to our hiring managers. If you think this is the right person during your interview, make a verbal offer on the spot. Hmm. That’s a little risky. Mm hmm. Right. You still have to go through all of the checks. The checks after that. But what we were seeing was we do we’d have interviews. And then by the time we get to another level of interviews, that candidate was already gone. And I didn’t want that to happen. So instead of having multiple interviews, we did more team interviews so we could get it done faster. And if that team. Felt that they had the right person right then and there. They were empowered to make the offer. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:05] Yeah. Another example of iterating your process. Right. And adhering to a process to hit these numbers and you’re measuring it with metrics. I mean, I could talk to you about this for hours. And of course, we’ll have a chance to to have you with the member Q&A session. But unfortunately, Don, we’re out of time this morning or this afternoon, I should say. But it was an incredible, literally incredible role model example of how to do this. And this is a hot and hot issue for lots of our members. So on behalf of the members and the membership, thank you for contributing this morning. 

Don Goldstein [00:18:39] Thank you, Greg. My pleasure. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:41] Okay. And for those that are interested in this topic and others like it, pick up a copy of our book, The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. And if you’re interested in meeting exceptional people like Don and you’re focused on professional services, consider joining our mastermind community and you can find it at collective54.com. Thanks again, Don. Take care. 

Don Goldstein [00:19:06] Thank you. 

Episode 80 – How a Founder of an HR Consulting Firm Escaped a Lifestyle Business – Member Case with Sue-Ellen Watts

Scaling a boutique beyond a lifestyle business takes money and commitment. On this episode, Sue-Ellen Watts, Founder & Global CEO at Wattsnext Group, sheds light on how she embraced a lifestyle business to fund a new venture that she can grow and scale. 

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that aren’t familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander and I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we are going to discuss what to do if you’re trapped inside of a lifestyle business. A lifestyle business is something that is a great business. Happy clients, happy employees, decent income. But it’s really not going to scale beyond that. And it’s certainly not going to be something that is a sellable asset in the future and not an asset that can create generational wealth. Nothing wrong with the lifestyle business. I mean, who doesn’t want a great lifestyle? But if your aspirations are more than that, sometimes a lifestyle business can actually be a trap because things are good and it’s tough to walk away from things that are good. You only walk away from it. If you want good to become great and we have a member who’s our role model on the call. Her name is Sel Watts, and she has just about the most courageous story of anybody I’ve ever heard of someone who was trapped in a lifestyle business and was so determined to get out of a lifestyle business. She made some dramatic changes to her life, and I thought she would be a great person to have this conversation with. So, Sel, it’s good to see you. Thanks for being here. 

Sel Watts [00:01:55] Thank you. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:57] And if you wouldn’t mind, maybe provide an introduction of yourself and a little bit about your story to the audience. 

Sel Watts [00:02:04] Yeah, sure. Well, I started my first services business in Australia 15 years ago. It’s a consulting business, people performance and engagement. Basically, we work with small to medium businesses and fast growth start ups in everything relating to their people. And when I started that business, I had really nothing going for me at all. I had no qualifications. I had never been in business or grown up in a family business. I was in a new, new city or new city in Australia. I didn’t have any contacts or networks. It was the start of the global global financial crisis and I had no money and I had a three month old baby. And so I really if I’d asked a business coach whether I should start a business, I’m pretty sure anyone would have said, You have nothing going for you. But I did have two things. One was I had a really clear vision of what I wanted to create. And at the time, I wrote this vision to say that I wanted to build this company to be internationally respected and and to disrupt the industry. Because I got into the industry because I really didn’t like it at all. And I felt that it was misunderstood and could be could be so much more beneficial to companies. So I had. So I had a really clear vision and I had a bucket load of naivete. I just I had no idea at the time that I had all those things going against me or that I didn’t have anything really going for me at the time. I just didn’t realize that it wasn’t actually until five years in when people started asking me to talk about the business, that I was preparing my talks and realizing that I actually didn’t have much, much going for me at the very beginning. So. So anyway, I mean, I think it’s when you have less to lose, it’s easier to be naive. I don’t really have that luxury now, but I always had big plans from day one and I had so many people knocking me all the time saying I’d never be able to do that. I ended up having three sons every time I fell pregnant. Some people would say, Well, are you going to close that little business now? No one ever thought that it was going to become anything. And anyway, for the first five years, I just put everything into it all my time. I really just spent every cent and every spare second outside of raising babies into this business. And I, you know, I really didn’t have any idea, but I’ve always invested in coaches, mentors, conferences, like really addicted to self-development. And so once I got five years in, I was sort of starting to burn out a bit. And I and I had this coach said, you know what? You need to start taking something from the business. You need to get yourself a nanny. You need to buy a house that’s more suitable for, you know, a growing family. You need to just get some things. Around you that will make it easier. And that was that was the best advice, because it was one of those things where I wasn’t willing I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to keep putting into the business. But it was taking its toll. And once I did that, I was then able to take it to another level and and that was really exciting. And I was sort of thinking, well, like we growing fast. I had another baby and I kept it going. We just grew year on year, but it was always and so. So what happened then was I started to have a nice lifestyle. So for the first time in my entire life, I could afford to have some nice, nice things. I bought myself my dream car and we started to go on some family holidays and I started to shop in the expensive shops and you know, it was great. I had grown up pretty in a difficult time. I had a difficult childhood. So this was this was starting to be like, oh, this is interesting. And I remember I remember a time when I was like, it’s funny because before every time, every month, every client, when every time I hit budget, everything was a bonus. Because when I started, I didn’t I didn’t have any idea what I was going to have to achieve anything. But once I started living, the lifestyle every month was I have to get this budget, I have to win this client because I had created this lifestyle and it was it was fine. I could afford it. But it did change my feeling about the business. And then I hit my ten years and I was just a bit over it, to be honest. I was very proud of what I’d done. I’d built the business from nothing, with nothing, and I’d had three children at the same time. And and as I said, I’d I’d had so many people tell me that I was everything that I was doing was wrong and that I was selfish and I was a bad mother. And like, it just went on and on and on. So I was really proud. But I was. I think now I was burnt out and I felt like I wanted to I wanted to be involved in something that was more exciting, if you like. So I sort of where I got to. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:36] Yeah. So let’s let’s jump in there because there was a lot and there was a great story. And your story is very similar to many that wind up trapped in a lifestyle business. They hit that ten year window. I don’t know what it is about ten years, but there’s something about that ten year mark that everybody says, hmm, maybe I want to do something more interesting. So the next part of the story, as I understand it, I’ll give you a chance to explain it, is, is that you walk away from the nice house, the nice car, the wonderful family shopping in the fancy shops, and you literally get on a plane and fly to New York and start over. So pick it up from there, please. 

Sel Watts [00:08:13] Yeah. So I didn’t come to New York till I was 35 and I kept coming was so when I was starting to get really burnt out and sick of the business, I kept coming to New York three or four times a year and stay for three weeks. People were saying, What are you doing over there? I don’t know. I mean, I think I was really just running away from the business, to be honest. And I was here and I just felt like, oh, my gosh, this is the entrepreneurial playground of the world. I want an opportunity. This is the this is the big pond that I need to be in. This is where I need to be. And so I spent two years commuting. So I lived in New York, my family was still in Australia, and I would fly back every six weeks to see the kids basically. And then I would come back and try and see if I could get my company. What’s next? Started in the US in New York, and I’d spend the days, you know, going from meeting to meeting people telling me over and over again, You’re never going to make it here. We don’t need your services here. And I’d get on the subway at the end of the day, and I’d cry all the way back to wherever I was staying and, you know, and then I’d get back up again and and do it all over again. And I did that for two years. And and at one point, I said to the kids, Look, I really want to I really want to try and do this New York thing. But there’s three things that could possibly happen from this one, I could go and make it, and it’s a huge success and we make lots of money. It’s amazing. Two, I go and I can’t make it and I come home with maybe a little bit less money and amazing experience or I lose everything we have the house, the businesses, everything, and they were like, okay, have a crack mom. So I was like, okay, everyone knows what I’m doing and and I walked away. Now an interesting part was putting when I stepped away from the business in Australia is everything I wanted. I wanted to go and get out of it and go and do new things. And at that point I had invested in another company in GPS tracking company, which is I’m still in and growing. But that wasn’t that. I still it wasn’t what I wanted to spend all my time on. But when I left, I stepped out of the business. I was surprised by how I reacted because this was my decision. I wanted this. I was going to New York, but when I would sit in the board meetings in Australia, I was like a toddler crying because someone stolen my toy. I found it really hard to adjust to being the founder and no longer the CEO and people coming up with ideas and implementing things that I didn’t like. And that was a real adjustment. And what I learned from that was, you know, people can’t do it as well as I can do it. And I think this is what traps people in businesses. And I realized that if I wanted to go and chase my dream in New York, I had to be okay with them doing 70%, maybe even 60% of what I would do either stay in the business and it’s 100% how I want it or I keep the business. It funds me to go and do my dream and it’s not quite as good but get used to it. And I did. And now that I think doing a better job than I was. And so anyway, I kept trying and I really didn’t think I was going to make it. I, I was constantly with my coach saying, I don’t know if I can do this. It’s just I can’t seem to get any, any runs on the board. And he just said to me, You just got to find another way. You got to find another way. And this was not just business. It was how do I relocate? How do I relocate my boys? How does the education system work? The finance system? How do I get a visa? It was just overwhelmingly massive. And at the same time, everyone was saying, What are you doing? Don’t you miss your kids? How can you be away from them? You know, just enormous criticism. Anyway, I got them here unbelievably, and they arrived six weeks before COVID hit. So they got here. I got them settled, got them into school. And I was ready to just. Hit the ground running and that weekend everything shut down and they were home schooled for 18 months. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:23] My goodness. The timing of that is just unbelievable. And yet and yet here you are. You persevered through all of that. 

Sel Watts [00:12:33] Yeah. I mean, there were lots of people saying to me, when you’ve got to come home, it’s it’s irresponsible. And also, obviously, their dad is in Australia and he he couldn’t fly, was going to come here every six weeks. Those ten months when he couldn’t come, couldn’t save them. So it was a lot of pressure on the family. And here I was with suddenly three kids at home being home schooled and and me trying to get a business off the ground, which had just tanked because I hadn’t had I didn’t have enough of a runway. And and and I’m not domestic at all. So I was way out of learning. I had to learn to cook and use the washing machine. And I was nearly every day I was like, oh my gosh, I’m failing. But it was because I wasn’t doing anything that I was good at. But everyone was saying, you know, this is terrible. You need to come home. And I was I commuted for two years. I’m not going home. I’ll never get back here. And I really believed in the come back. And I have a very romantic view about New York and and being an entrepreneur in New York. And so we just stuck it out. And I think our our Aussie culture made it really easy, made it easy for us. We were sort of very relaxed about everything. And, and the what’s next in Australia funded has funded me to be here. So my core company is the reason that I could do it. And I think if I’d sold that company I wouldn’t have had the funds to do what I’ve done. And you know, it’s a good company to get through any sort of economic crisis because either business is booming and they need staff and they need help with that growth or the world is falling apart and they need to work out what to do with their people. And so we we sort of can get through those rough, rough times. But the two businesses in Australia thrived during that time. Everything fell apart here. But I knew it was just a matter of time. I knew I just needed to ride it out, you know, deal with the fact that I felt like I was pouring all my money down the New York train and my counter in Australia was horrified by what I was doing and and I was like, you know what? I started this business and I, I spent ten years like working nonstop and raising my children so that I could, you know, have the freedom to live, dream, live my dream. And this is it right now. And and I believe I’d back myself. I believe that, you know, I’ll get through it and, you know, be successful. But it’s it’s been an incredible journey. And I think that being able to look at what’s next because there were times when I really hated the business and I was just over it. And so many things that happened in the time that I’d had it and so much in my own life had changed. And I it it took some time for me to sort of put a different lens on and look at it in a different way and see it. I he’s a good example. I used to call my business my baby. I’m sure you’ve had lots of people talk about, Oh, my business, my baby. And I remember one day because in 2016 I nearly lost everything. I had a really tragic year and I was sitting at home and I was looking out at my car and I was thinking, You know what? I’ve always called my business my baby. But babies run your life. They tell you when you can sleep, when you can go out. They are in charge. And I thought, this isn’t right. I looked at my car at the window. I thought, No, this business has to be my vehicle. This is the this is the vehicle that’s going to take me where I want to go. And I need to make sure it’s healthy and running well. And I can bring on passengers and get rid of passengers. But it’s it’s a vehicle for me. And when I changed, when I realized that that changed everything to me, I looked much more strategically at my lifestyle business and what was possible for me, and I think that helped a lot. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:34] It’s such a fascinating story. So to dramatically summarize, the way you got yourself out of being trapped in a lifestyle business is you got on a plane and flew to a strange place, brought your kids with you and started over that. Yeah. Fair to say. Yeah. And do advise that type of boldness to other members that might be trapped in a lifestyle business and and what gave you the courage to do it? Because it would have been easy just to coast. 

Sel Watts [00:17:04] Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting because at tough times when I’ve been here, I’ve thought, well, I could go back to Australia and have all the money I need and not really have to work that much and go to the beach. And I’d have a pretty nice life, but. I think most business, most people that start their own business or most entrepreneurs don’t do it for the money. They do it for the challenge and that ability to see what’s what’s possible and what they can achieve. And I think that that’s never ending. It doesn’t matter how successful you become or what goals you hit, you always want to see what else you can do so that the whole coasting was just it didn’t even I didn’t even consider that it was only those few tough times when I burnt the dinner and I was really struggling. And then I was like, I should probably I could go back. But I think for people that are I mean, I know my story is very extreme and and I think people have and also like when I started this journey, I was like 42. So I was like middle of my age. Like my age. My kids are 15, 13 and nine. You know, most days I had a lot of great reasons why not to do it. You know, the kids are in the middle of their school and, you know, I’m too old and all of those things. But I think that I’m a I’m a big believer that you should never settle in your life and that you should chase your dreams and you should not think about what society expects of you. You shouldn’t think about the top, like what how old you are, and just go for it and back yourself. And, and as we say in Australia, have a crack and know that if it doesn’t work out you’ll be okay if if you’ve been able to be an entrepreneur in any capacity, my belief is that you’ll be okay. So when I started I had nothing and I never had anything growing up. Everything I built, I built myself on very shaky foundations. So I was like, Well, if it doesn’t work out or if I lose everything, then I just start again. And so there’s this just belief that I’ll work it out. But there’s the worst possible thing that could happen is if I just settled and I knew that there was I had so much more potential and I didn’t do it because I was afraid. Yeah. And when I think about, you know, my kids and I, I remember thinking to myself, if I could only teach them one thing, what would it be? And it was to chase their dreams. It’s like just no matter how unlikely it is, no matter what someone says, just do it. Because even if you don’t make it, the journey will be well worth it. And then I thought, I can’t tell them to do something that I’m too afraid to do. I can’t say go and live my dreams because I was too gutless to do it. So I was like, I’m going to give my kids a front row seat and dream chasing and and have a go and and we’ll and we’ll just go for it. And the journey has been incredible. 

Greg Alexander [00:19:58] Yeah, well, listen, I could talk to you about this forever. It’s such a great story. And we have the member Q&A. I’m sure this will be an incredibly powerful thing, but we are out of time. But so, listen, on behalf of the members, I just I want to thank you for contributing because I think you’re an inspiration. I think sometimes people settle, and I think it’s a real tragedy not to chase your dreams and to have the courage to do it, which you clearly have so far. So thanks for inspiring all of us. 

Sel Watts [00:20:29] Thanks, Greg. I appreciate the time. 

Greg Alexander [00:20:32] Okay. And for those that are interested in topics like this, I encourage you to pick up a copy of our book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scaling of Professional Services Firm. And for those that might be interested in joining a community and meeting extraordinary people like yourself, consider joining our mastermind community, which you can find at collective54.com. Thanks again, Sel. We’ll talk to you soon. Thank you. Bye bye.

Episode 79 – How to Attract an Unconventional Buyer for a Tough-to-Sell Small Consulting Firm  – Member Case with Marc Weiss

A strong market position can indicate excellent competitive positioning. On this episode, Marc Weiss, CEO of Management One, shares how he positioned his firm for a successful exit with an unconventional buyer. 

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander and I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to discuss market position. What I mean by market position? Well, some boutique founders want to sell their firm some day and positioning their firm in such a way that makes it attractive to a potential acquirer requires some thought. And there’s lots of ways to do this. And some traditional and some are unconventional. And there’s a particular set of best practices, if you will, to to leverage when you’re a smaller firm and you have a unique set of possible acquirers. And today we’ve got a guest who who did exactly this and successfully exited recently. And we’re very fortunate to have him with us today and hear about his story. His name is Marc Weiss. And Marc, would you first welcome and would you properly introduce yourself to the audience? 

Marc Weiss [00:01:33] Hi, everyone. Greg, thanks for having me on today. Appreciate it. Marc Weiss, the CEO of Management One and founder. In the process of selling, we’re almost ready to close, so there’s no flag. So I feel pretty comfortable about it. So we’re good to go. Glad to share my experience. Thank you. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:54] So, Marc, just for a context, would you explain what Management One does? 

Marc Weiss [00:01:59] Management One provides inventory planning for independent specialty retailers. So we typically service the mom and pop marketplace and we forecast their sales and their inventory. And therefore, we’ve created one of the most sophisticated cash flow tools ever used in in retail. So a retailer knows, you know, how much business they’re going to do. We do a break even analysis to know what their financials look like and they spend more money on inventory than anything else. So we can manage the proper flow and investment in their inventory. They can have a very positive outcome on their cash flow. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:35] And Marc, you founded this firm. 

Marc Weiss [00:02:36] 35 years ago. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:41] So it’s obviously a great success story to stay in the business for 35 years. And the retail sector is is really saying something. 

Marc Weiss [00:02:50] One with one product. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:51] Yeah, really. I mean, that’s really it’s amazing in retail, let’s just say, has gone through quite a transformation over time, probably more so than any other industry, right? 

Marc Weiss [00:03:01] Yeah. The last five years have been remarkable. COVID accelerated everything like it did many industries. But, you know, a lot of things are bouncing back to the way they were a little bit. But it’s all about adaptability. And one of the things that we really work hard to do is adapt and change. And actually we didn’t have to change for almost 30 years. Know what we did really worked was just a matter of upgrading our technology. But fortunately, right before COVID hit, we decided to change our platform and and did, you know, created, you know, really created a lot of disruption in our own company, but put us in a position to be where we are today and actually put us in a better position. So yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:44] So first question for you is. You’ve been doing this for a long time. Obviously love doing it. Why did you decide to sell? 

Marc Weiss [00:03:55] A couple of reasons. One is we’d gone to Cuba right before COVID, and I got Legionnaires disease from one of the hotels. I was really sick, and I was about 12 hours away from being put on a ventilator. So I remember making a promise to myself that if I was given another chapter in my life, I wanted to do something with it. So, you know, I hit I’ll hit 70 this year. And I also felt like some of the passion was starting to go away. And I asked my cousin, who’s a successful doctor, I said, why are you? He retired at 65. As to why did you retire? He said, I didn’t, you know, I stopped reading the journals and I felt like I couldn’t be the best doctor for my patients. And I knew it was time to quit. And I feel like I kind of hit the same stole things. He has to go back to business. But what we do fundamentally I’ve been doing for over 35 years and the people we’ve hired actually are doing a better job at it than I am, and I feel good about turning it over to them and I feel like I would be in their way and I’ve contributed to the level one two. I want to do something else now. Great. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:03] Okay. Next question is sometimes boutiques the typical exit path, which you didn’t take and why I find your story so interesting as either sell it to a private equity firm, they they sell it to a large strategic, they sell to their employees. Those are those are the three most common ways. Right. You sold it to an individual. Right, which is really brilliant. So tell everybody a little bit about this individual, how you met him, how this whole thing unfolded. 

Marc Weiss [00:05:35] Yeah, it’s, you know, just the serendipitous story I, I had gotten. We get we get offers. We have three or four offers. We might turn them all over to our president. He looks at them, examine them. And, you know, he said, Marc, when you’re ready to sell, let me know and I’ll start pulling the trigger. But there was one in particular that came through for some reason. The email struck me in a way that it was written that I actually responded, which I never do. And we kind of got into a conversation. This was about 21 months ago, and we just kind of hit it off. And I said, Well, what brought you to us? Why are you why do you want to buy my business? And he said, Well, one of my good friends was an MBA, owns a retail business in Seattle and, you know, covid had hit. And we were I think it was like maybe June or July of 2020. And she said, oh, she said, I work with a I know you want to buy. I know you’re looking to buy a business. I work with a business that maybe they’re interested in selling. And he said, Well, what what’s good about why do you believe in this business? And she said, Be the last people I’ve fired before I had to turn off the lights, I’d be the last person. And he said, nobody ever talks about their vendor that way. So he said, I was blown away. I respect her a lot. She’s a bright person. She uses data effectively. So I decided to reach out to you. And so from that conversation, our relationship grew. I wasn’t ready to sell then it was covid, I knew I had to lead the company out of it because we’re in retail. We were we were hit hard, you know, in the early days we were, but we had rebounded by December. We had all our business back, but we stayed in touch. And then an interesting thing happened. And so I we use EOS and in December of this year, my my son who runs our planning department now he’s in charge of product development. We are actually developing new products. He called me and he said, Dad, who do I report to? And I said, We report to my our present resources of number 5 to 54. He’s done. He’s on the the scale side. And he said I dont know who to report to. And I said, well you report to Mike. He said, Well, you’re interfering too much. So that night I went to bed and recognized that I really am not the kind of CEO I hoped to be. I really can’t stay, keep my hands out of the cookie jar. And I woke up the next morning, called this individual and said he’s still interested in buying the business. And he said, yes. And I said, here’s my number. And he said, I can make that work. And there we are. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:18] Wow. It’s really amazing. I mean, what I love about that story is this started by a happy customer. 

Marc Weiss [00:08:26] Yeah. So you. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:28] I mean, that phrase that they’re the last vendor I turn off before I turn off the lights. I mean, that’s quite a phrase. So I mean, we’re talking a lot. 

Marc Weiss [00:08:36] We’re very fortunate. We have a lot of raving fans. A lot of our business comes from independent retailers who are in market or carrying our our budgets around with them. And other people ask questions and we get a lot of business just by the referral system within our our. Our clients have been very loyal and very I’ve told our clients that I saw when I started the business 35 years ago. We’ve gone through their own sales. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:01] Yeah. So also we’re talking to Marc Weiss right now about how to position your company for an exit, how to make your company attractive to a potential acquire by having a great market position. And we’re reminded of the obvious, which is build a great company first, have have fans instead of clients. And it makes it a lot easier to sell your firm when you’re ready to sell your firm. As Marc is his healthcare and his willingness, their desire to retire. Okay, so let’s come back to this individual sometimes. Like, for example, if I got approached by an individual, I would be skeptical because the number I would have in my head is typically would exceed what an individual can afford. So how did you qualify the individual that they had the funding to pull the deal off? 

Marc Weiss [00:09:50] Yeah, that’s a great question. It because it’s it’s a, I guess the word genre, but it’s a whole niche that I never knew existed. It’s called self funding. And this individual’s got a group of people who invest with him and literally pay his salary to help find a business in all his expenses for 2 to 4. They give him a two year window to do it, and he was very close to buying another business. But the seller jumped the price at the end of the deal by 30%, and he said, No, we’re not going to do that. That was after they invested a lot of money in due diligence. So there is he’s self-funded and there’s a lot of them out there. I just happened to follow in No. One. I was kind of curious about it, and I was I did some research about it and that’s it’s it’s it’s it’s moral, but it’s a more robust industry than I knew about. And I talked to one of the person buying the business. I talked to one of his key investors. And I said, because it was hard for me, Greg, even today, I mean, I’ve gotten to know this person over the last two and a half years. Well, I’ll just get his name’s Nate, so it’s called by his name. I’ve known Nate for two for over 20 months, and it has really been a great journey. So, you know, I felt like there’s good chemistry. He really got to understand who we are. And it wasn’t just a transaction for me. It was also needed to be a it needed to be the culture needed to be sustained. I mean, he’s for 35 years in a company, you feel like you’ve built a great culture. We don’t have a problem attracting people. There’s a lot of good we’re a virtual company, so a lot of good things about the company that I wanted to stay in place. And I was afraid if I sold it to a private equity firm, you know, it wouldn’t be there. You know, you and I had talked about an Aesop or something like that, but I wasn’t going to get the kind of money out of it that I wanted. So these self-funded opportunities are there and they’re real. And when I talked to one of his investors, I found out that they’ve been in this for 20 years and they’ve done 52 of these transactions are these businesses with capital. So that was important to me, that they’ve kept all the businesses, they help them. They haven’t gone in to change them. They look for businesses that help other businesses succeed and other people succeed. And they they seem to, at least on the surface, share our core values. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:15] And what did they find attractive about your firm? 

Marc Weiss [00:12:21] What they found attractive? It was the opportunity of what we were doing. We didn’t have a lot of you know, the competition in our space is really people who use Excel spreadsheets. And we’re much more sophisticated. We have much more sophisticated information. You know, we’ve got they call it greenfields. We’ve got 860 clients. We’ll hit 1000 this year because we’re at a growth rate of about 35%, 33% last year, 35% this year. So I think they saw the real opportunity and that we are in a market that’s underserved. I mean, there are literally hundreds you know, there’s I think close to 100,000 businesses that fit into our model. And we’re also in multiple verticals. So, you know, we do everything from college bookstores to a mom and pop dress shop or men’s store on the street. So we’re we’re we’ve got we’re in over 22 verticals. So we’re, we’re pretty diverse, which allows us to sustain ourselves in, in, in any almost any economic area. Yeah. And, you know, I was reading Chapter 29 and one of our our best year retention was actually in 2008, you know, when people would, you know, when economic when there’s economic turbulence or recessions, they’re a friend to us. So I think the other part of it is we’re pretty much recession proof business. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:42] Interesting. And without violating any confidentiality agreements, I’m sure you’re governed by in terms of the structure of the deal. Were you able to get enough cash at closing that made you happy? Was there an earn out? Like what were some of the terms? 

Marc Weiss [00:14:04] So yeah, it was kind of an odd thing. I have to be careful what I talk about, but I had a happy number that I had to walk away with the net number. And so we’re, we’re, you know, so I got the net number and I also I also got a I have also an equity, you know, business on top of it. Okay. So I own about 7% of the business after the deal’s closed. So I get another bite of the apple. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:27] So these self-funding groups, which this is a breakthrough for many of our listeners because they have firms similar size to yours and they might be, in some cases, too small to attract the right type of investor that they may want to sell to. Because for them, like you, it’s more than just a transaction. So these self-funding groups are funded well enough to get to your happy number. 

Marc Weiss [00:14:52] Yes, they’re well-funded. Nate’s going to have, I think, seven investors and he’ll be the majority shareholder. But and, you know, I been one of his key investors that I talked to said I’ll write a check tomorrow for the whole business. Wow. But so they like the business. They like the model. We also have a great management team. They want to buy businesses where they don’t have to do anything except invest in the resources that’ll help the business grow. Yeah, when you’re a small business, everybody works a lot of hours and you’re overworked. And that’s true in our business. So my team does an amazing job and we just launched a new platform which really stretched our resources. So I think that they’ll be able to bring resources to bear that’ll help the whole company. So I think they work for businesses where there’s an opportunity to add resources in the right place. There’ll be a board of directors. So I think that, you know, we fit that kind of we fit that that model. Part of what they like about us is that a naked come in and replace me as the CEO. Mm hmm. He’s already bought into our ten year plan. As a matter of fact, he came back to me and he said, you know, us goes out ten years, but I’m thinking about where management one can be 15 or 20 years from now. So that was music to my heart. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:08] Yeah, for sure. 

Marc Weiss [00:16:09] And I think that I think that. So therefore I think there’s a real opportunity for these self-funded businesses. And by the way, I’m getting just in the time that we took, I signed a letter of Intent February. I’ve gotten two or three requests from different self-funded groups almost weekly since then. So they’re out there. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:32] That’s interesting. Well, Marc, we’re at our time allocation here, but you’re such a great member. You have such a generous spirit and you’re always willing to contribute. So on behalf of behalf of the membership, I appreciate you coming on the show today and sharing your wisdom with us. 

Marc Weiss [00:16:49] Again, if anybody has any questions or thoughts or anything, just feel free to contact me. I’m happy to share my journey. And one thing I want to say, Greg, is I really thought hard about making sure the pipeline’s full when you sell it, our pipeline is full. So when they takes over, I’m going to feel very good because he’s got a whole rush of business that I wish I was here to participate in, so. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:11] Oh, that’s fantastic. All right. Well, listen, for those that are interested in this topic and others like it, you can pick up a copy of the book. Of course, it’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. And for those that are not members yet but might want to be and meet inspirational leaders like Marc. Consider joining our mastermind community, which you can find out. Collective54.com. Thanks again, Marc. Appreciate it. 

Marc Weiss [00:17:36] Thank you. Have a good day. All right.

Episode 78 – How a Consulting Firm Redesigned the Organization to Successfully Deal with Pricing Pressure  – Member Case with Jeff Pedowitz

Labor is the biggest expense for a boutique and has the biggest impact on profitability. On this episode, we interview Jeff Pedowitz, President & CEO of The Pedowitz Group to discuss how they creatively redesigned their organization to solve increasing pricing pressures.

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. On this episode, we’re going to discuss organizational structure, and this is a very important topic for boutique pro serv firms because we are people, businesses and how you organize your labor dictates a lot of things such as your profit margin, your client satisfaction scores, your employee engagement scores, etc.. So it’s a really big subject and we’ve got a great member to be our role model today. His name is Jeff Pedowitz and he has a company called the Pedowitz Group. And Jeff’s with us today. Jeff, how you doing? And please introduce yourself to the audience. 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:01:12] Thanks, Greg. Definitely glad to be here. Hello, everybody. So I am Jeff Pedowitz. I am president, CEO of the Pedowitz Group. We built digital revenue engines for our customers. So for all those businesses out there, we’re constantly trying to drive revenue in digital world. That’s what we specialize in. We do strategy, technology and execution and end shop. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:35] Okay, very good. So, Jeff, the reason why I asked you to be on the show today is that your firm has scaled to a very nice size. You’ve been at it for a long time. And you’re on the journey now of. Restructuring organizationally and leveraging different talent pools. And I would love to maybe start off at a high level and have you explain to the audience, you know, why you decided to come up with a new organizational structure. What led you to that? And then we can dove into, you know, how you went about determining what the right approach was for you. 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:02:11] Sure. Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call it new because I’ve had the relatively same hierarchy in place for a while. You know, that some people understand things around. But one of the things I started doing a few years ago was really developing a core team around me and delegating while the day to day responsibilities, including sales. So today I have a full executive team. I have announcer, I have a marketing person. I have chief strategy officer, chief financial officer, Chief Services Officer and they are all essentially running the business and providing the guidance and the leadership and the vision. But I can step away. They can run the business now and all the tools to be, etc.. So that was really an important part of our scale, was really getting me out of that entrepreneur organization where everything that you run for me, we still we’re dealing with some, some legacy issues and married people and working at it for a long time. But we’ve really turned a corner on that. So even before the great resignation hit, I think as we work with technology now, our resources are in high demand. I mean, for years we recruited they command very high salaries and a premium. And up until last year, we actually had very, very low turnover. We were running about 5% per year, which in the consulting advertising industry. That’s fantastic. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:33] That’s best in class for sure. 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:03:35] But last year it caught up with us. Know last year we and our services team, we ran about 40% turnover. And most of that was just great resignation combined with some of the bigger technology vendors who are also our clients like Salesforce, Adobe, we’re paying ridiculously high salaries, things that even at our size we just could not compete with. And we were already paying our people very well. So while we certainly have, I would say now year over year, our average salaries increased 30% from where we were a year ago. As you know, growing in professional services and more and where rights don’t just have people sacrifice margin want to just double the salary in a low cost format a resource last year that was making 100,000 and my client was paying me 200,000 an increase into 130. Maybe they’ll pay to 60, but they’re not going to pay much more in that. And they’re not going to pay 300,000 for the same person that was doing the same job. Now, if we redesigned the services and added more value, of course they won’t. So it’s a matter of we’re trying to rebuild the plane while our client I have existing market conditions that enterprise customers for discerning and they also know they can get the labor if they need it to by going offshore. So we’ve had to retool and strategically rethink how we want our labor force to be. So what we decided a year ago was for the lower end type of work, the execution work, data management, reporting, research, execution type of activities. We’re going to move those offshore. So we’ve been setting up resources in Colombia and then we want the people that are here to be the architects, the strategists, the engagement managers, the account managers, the people that are very client facing to be very versatile. And we will happily continue to pay them even more money than they’re making now because the value proposition will be there and then we’ll be able to kind of bifurcating. So we’ve been able to continue to be a competitive payer to pay the people that are really delivering value really, really well. And more than that now. And at the same time, move some of the other labor that we’re overpaying for because we’re able to turn that around and get value living out offshore. Mm hmm. So the net effect is we’re already doing pretty well with our gross margin. We’re running about 52%, but we should be able to get up over 60% by that by the end of next year. And then we’ll be able to take some of that free flowing capital from the margin and reinvest it not only on the employees, but into additional sales and marketing that will fuel our growth. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:12] Great story, great rundown and so many things to ask you about. The first question I’ll ask is when does when deciding what is kind of high end strategic work versus low end execution work, drawing that line and therefore determining what could be sent offshore? Sometimes our members struggle with that. They tend to think that everything is strategic. Even the tactical execution is super important, and oftentimes it is, but sometimes the clients aren’t willing to pay for it. So how did you draw the line between what to keep onshore and what to move offshore? 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:06:49] What’s the very last thing that you said. It’s what are the clients willing to pay for custody? It doesn’t matter what we think the client is, what makes the market and the client determines what the value is, not us. So if the client says, I’m only going to pay and I can pay more than $50 now for email execution. We can think it’s as strategic as we want to be able to talk about deliverability with, talk about all the stuff the clients don’t want to pay us now. So we’ve been able to get pretty good information from our customers. And just seeing as the deals come in, what clients want, pay for what they’re not. Yes, because we work with a lot of technology and we now support over 601. Calls term for new technology. And it comes out like, let’s say some of the new ADX technology comes out for things like snowflake or merchant platforms. Clients will pay a premium for that for a short period of time, right. Until they get up and running. And then they view it more as a commodity. Then they will then want to drive the cost for ongoing OpEx to support and maintain technology in our business. Clients do not consider that to be strategic architecture and strategic figuring out what systems to invest in, how they should fit together, how data should the business processes? The math, the technology that is strategic running and supporting the technology itself is not strategic. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:11] Interesting. And sometimes clients might not know, but they think they know. So they might say to you, Hey, Jeff, I’m only willing to pay 50 when? Because it’s not strategic, but you know it is. Do you let the client stub their toe or do you. Do you speak up in that scenario? 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:08:30] I think it’s it depends on the situation and what else we’re doing with the client. And it’s a bit of a give and take. Yeah, but I think there’s a healthy we want to be respectful. We challenge our clients and let them know, know ultimately we’re trying to build a long term relationship. Yeah. And it’s also about the people and the personnel over doing the work. Even more important than the work itself. Mm hmm. You know, in consulting and such a relationship business, actually, one of the biggest challenges we have is a resource gets assigned to that project. And the client, they want that working really well, but the client doesn’t like it when that resource changes and gets to account because they become very attached and they’re convinced that nobody else in our team could possibly do that, even though that’s not true. But it’s just that trust and that bond gets built. So I do think that in so much it’s not just the type of service, it’s the person and the skill and the value of your trusted advisor to your customer. Then the client will tend to pay more for someone that they trust versus someone, of course, if they don’t. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:32] Now, once you decided what needed to be moved offshore, there’s a lot of choices there in lots of parts of the world. What part of the world did you choose and why did you choose it? 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:09:44] So we deferred to last year, so we started trying out different contractors in different parts of the world. So India was definitely an area that we know and we’re still using a bit more as a partner. Costs are higher, but we know what we’re getting. We work with and some firms over in the Asian region, particularly in Cambodia, which is an emerging market, there’s a lot of strong tech talent that people are very good. But the time zone challenge was was difficult. We work with a lot of marketing teams and in our business and it’s a little bit different than, let’s say, I.T. projects. The collaboration is more in real time. It’s not a follow some type of approach. But we can start something, we send it offshore, they work on it while we’re sleeping and come back the next day. The clients wanted me to back today and use time zones and collaborate, so we were having difficulties getting the resources over in Cambodia to work on our time zone, the cost for fantastic work and labor. At 15 or $20 an hour. I was skilled, college educated, smart people, but not the time zone. We had been familiar with Colombia and the Latin America market for a while. We have a couple of our competitors that work down there. We’ve caught some good things, so we started looking into it. And then the more that we talked to different resources, we became more convinced that that would be a good market for us to enter into if bilingual, college educated, good culture, hard working family values, which are very much in line with our approach and our value system. So, you know, this has not been without its challenges. Our original goal was to get this up and running in the first quarter of this year. We had a very good recommendation from from one of our investors and he was going to work full time for us. He had set up an 800 person shop down in Columbia over the last five years. So he was an expert down there, you know, unfortunately had a personal family situation. So he had to opt out after just a week on the job so that we were scrambling. But we were able to through our. National networks. We reached out, people were great. We actually got eight referrals on different resources to use down in Colombia. We interviewed them all. We selected one and we’re now working with this partner account to set us up. So by the end of this week, we’ll have our first two full time people hired and our plan is to have 20 people by the end of this year. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:10] Wow. That’s an aggressive plan. And in did you decide to hire a firm and partner with a firm? And did you decide to hire directly, you know, one at a time kind of thing? 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:12:23] We split it so that we we are working with a firm called Sava Consulting. So they are basically doing all the recruiting and it’s they are technically managing all the employees or their employees. We pay them and then they pay the employees. But we employees are fully white label there are some are not working for anybody else but we don’t have to deal with the benefits or paying taxes in Colombia or doing any of things we pay them. However, we also have the option as we start to build our practice areas to convert any of these people into actual CPG employees at any time. So we thought this gave us the best of both worlds. It gave us expertize down in there and mitigating our risk at the same time. That way we don’t have to set up a Latin America LLC. We don’t have to deal with paying taxes and doing all that stuff in a foreign government. But we still get the talent and the Labor and the partnership and all the resources as if they were our employees. So obviously, check back in with me in 3 to 6 months as a separate. Right, because it’s still relatively make sense. I certainly want to tell everybody that we’ve cracked the code. We’re really just getting started on our journey. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:31] Yeah. Yeah. Well, the reason why I wanted you on the show is sometimes many people need to be doing what you’re doing, but they’re not even getting started on the journey. I mean, most of our boutique founders are in similar situations where they have clients that are willing to pay a premium for some services, but commodity prices for other services. And unless you get to some version of this, then you’re going to have a tremendous margin squeeze and it could put the business at risk, especially in this high inflation, high wage inflation, great recession environment that we’re in. My last question, Jeff, regarding this particular avenue here is, you know, you said you got a bunch of people to go talk to and you interviewed them all. What did you learn during that interview process and what advice would you give to a founder who’s starting on this journey about how do you even know what good looks like? 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:14:21] Well, first of all, I was pleasantly surprised at the sheer response that we got, because at the time that the person opted out was one of these things where I at at that moment, I certainly was not an expert in offshore labor or working with Colombia in particular. Whether or not whether we go there, you know, this is still really important. Where do we find resources? So yeah, I suppose it was a momentary situation, where am I? But I think like any entrepreneur, I got faded pretty quickly. Right. Okay. But this is still the right decision for us. Let’s move forward. Let’s just start reaching out and asking for help. And I think one of the first things I was surprised, pleasantly surprised about was how much help there was just by asking the question. And I think that’s one thing I’ve learned. I wish I would’ve learned this earlier in my career as a CEO, how and when to ask for help? You know, I was on my own a lot. I made a lot more mistakes that were made because I didn’t think that there was anybody I could turn to. So having networks like Collective 54 is great because I realize there’s a lot of people out there that can help. You just have to be willing to ask the question and to listen. Yeah, so myself and my business partner, who’s my chief service officer, we listened. We took copious notes, we interviewed and we learned business. We learned a lot. You know, remind first of all, that much like the states, there are different ways to do this. You can go the route like an ADP, you can hire direct. We learned about different parts of the country and what each country, not just Colombia, but different countries and what they brought to the table. And I learned that there’s four different taxing authorities within Argentina and it’s incredibly complicated. I learned there certain provinces to stay away from and certain. And so, I mean, it was very, very educational over the course of two weeks. And so ultimately, you know, given everything else that we have on our plate right now, we decided going with someone that already knows how to do this and do this well, even though we’re going to be paying a little bit more, like if we were to go down and hire people directly in Colombia ourselves, we would probably pay them an average of 18 to $20000 per year for a college graduate. That person that has similar skills to what we have here in the US that’s maybe making 120,000 what the service. Using the market up 30 to 50%. Mm hmm. But it’s still very, very cost effective. We’re still be able to make great margin, but may take care of all the headaches for us. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:59] Yeah. Yeah. Very good. Awesome. Well, listen, we’re out of time, but on behalf of the membership, I just wanted to thank you for your contribution today. You know, the way the collective works, as you got to contribute to the collective body of knowledge. And you have, you’re always doing that. Today is another example of that. So thanks for being a great member and being here today. 

Jeff Pedowitz [00:17:17] Thank you. I appreciate it. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:18] Okay. And for those that are interested in this topic and those like it, who can pick up a copy of the book, The Boutique, How to start scale and Sell the Professional Services Firm. And for those that are interested in meeting great people like Jeff, founders of scaling professional services firms, consider joining our mastermind community, which you can find at Collective54.com. Thanks. 

How a Founder is Scaling Her Marketing Agency by Getting Prospects to Come to Her

Ali Schwanke
Ali Schwanke

Episode 77 – How a Founder is Scaling Her Marketing Agency by Getting Prospects to Come to Her – Member Case with Ali Schwanke

Invest in your marketing and let your customers come to you. In this podcast episode, we interviewed Ali Schwanke, CEO & Founder of Simple Strat, to share how this professional services firm elevated its inbound marketing strategy and improved win rates.

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:16] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that aren’t familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale, and exit your firm bigger and faster. 

My name is Greg Alexander, and I’m the founder of Collective 54, and I’ll be your host today. Today we’re going to talk about defining a market. And let me set this up by suggesting why this is important. You know, many like to say, and I agree with this phrase, the riches are in the niches. And as founders of boutiques, our members have to pick the right market. It’s got to thread the needle a little bit. 

It’s got to be big enough to matter but small enough where you can dominate. So we’ve got a great role model with us today, someone who’s got some experience with this, and she’s willing to share her learnings with us. Her name is Ali Schwanke. And Ali, I would love it if you would give a proper introduction to the audience. 

Member Case Study: Ali Schwanke, Simple Strat

Ali Schwanke [00:01:19] Absolutely. Well, thanks, Greg, for being here. Yeah, as Greg said, I am Ali Schwanke, and I’m the founder of a business called Simple Strat. And we are a HubSpot consulting agency that started about six years ago. And we have worked with folks all over the nation in helping them get more out of their HubSpot instance, which is a marketing technology and software platform.

 And also increasing the effectiveness of their content on that platform once they get their bearings under them. So we’ve been doing that for the last six years, but myself, I’ve been in marketing for almost two decades now. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:51] Okay. And Ali, what’s a typical client look like for you? 

Ali Schwanke [00:01:56] Sure. So our clients that have the most success with us are between about five and 200 employees. And they have a strong propensity to grow efficiencies with their business. And they are primarily B2B because they have the need to track information inside of a technology platform and then eventually get the most out of the reporting and analytics that come with that function. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:18] Okay. Very good. So the reason why I wanted to speak to you this morning is I understand that you and your team have been redefining your target market a bit and yet that answer you just gave me was very crisp. You should be proud of that answer. That tells me that you really have given this some thought. 

You mentioned an employee count range, etc. So why don’t we start with what first made you think about maybe redefining your target client and redefining the market that you’re going to compete in? 

Scaling a Business: You Need to Define Your Target Client and Market

Ali Schwanke [00:02:48] Sure. Well, a lot of professional services firms and agencies are not excluded from this. They’re kind of like that  story of the E-Myth, where they have someone who’s really good at a craft, and they just start an agency or start a company. And you go from being able to do the work to thinking about building a company around the work. And once you do that as an agency, you realize that you are competing with everybody and their mother and their son who went to college for social media. 

And the word marketing is so vague, and I think it is for a lot of folks. So when we started saying initially, when Simple Strat started, we were going to focus primarily on helping folks with marketing strategy because there weren’t as many strategy firms out there. What I failed to realize at the time was that strategy is something that is not defined just by marketing. You’re now competing with firms that do business strategy and all these other things. 

So as the firm developed, we found a specific line of success in helping folks navigate HubSpot. And what we realized is, if we can get really, really good at that platform and know it better than any of our competitors and focus only on that platform, we have a competitive advantage of simply focus. And that focus allowed us to then narrow that target market to teams that really appreciate our expertise and have the value and a budget defined for engaging someone like us. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:11] Okay. So the path to getting to it towards this new focus of HubSpot, it sounds like, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth that you were looking at where you were having success and then said to yourself, maybe that’s where we should focus. Is that how it happened? 

Ali Schwanke [00:04:28] It did. I’ll say it happened in a little bit of a backward way. We said initially we became a HubSpot partner. There are lots and lots and lots of those out there. We did that about five years ago, and at the time, I think me and my inexperienced mind was thinking we become a partner. That’s our niche. And we go. 

Well, what happened is we did a lot of things to try and promote that partnership. And I’ll tell you, Greg, nobody cared. Nobody cared. So very similar to the story that you published in Chapter eight of the market when we started publishing content around our competitive advantage and demonstrating that expertise online, that’s when things changed for us and the focus became real. So it’s very interesting. I would do it all over again the same way. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:14] Yeah. So let’s talk about that a little bit, because it’s easy to fire up a spreadsheet and say, “Okay, so there’s 5000 companies to go after. And these are the vertical industries and the geographies and the job titles and the sizes that we want to focus on.” But sometimes, we often forget we have to figure out how we’re going to reach them. 

You know, there’s the TAM (total addressable market), and then there’s the percentage of that TAM that you can reach in boutiques like yours, like the one that I had, like our members. It’s not as if we have a 10,000-person salesforce that can go out and reach all these folks. 

So you started producing content and that content started getting out there. That was your reach. Instead of salespeople, you were using content as to extend your reach. And then that content was attracting people to you. That’s how it was working. Okay. Right. And that must be some great content because there’s a lot of content out there about inbound marketing in HubSpot, etc.. So how did you develop content that kind of penetrated the noise? 

How Simple Strat Brought Prospects to Their Firm Through Great Content

Ali Schwanke [00:06:26] Yeah, I think what we found is there was a lot of companies that are writing similar things. And to be frank, when you become a partner with HubSpot, they do their due diligence in helping you sort of build your business plan and your approach. But I’ll say that I’ve been in this long enough to see that at first they were encouraging you to be called an inbound agency, and then they were encouraging you to position yourself as a growth agency and now position yourself as a robot. 

Well, if you think about this, they’re telling all of their partners similar advice. And so great, we’re now in this sea of competing with each other in these same terms. And we did a little bit of analysis of the market of looking at this sort of unserved population. And that was there are a lot of things you can do in HubSpot, but the number of instances that I have seen where the first thing I say when I open up the portal is what’s going on in here. They don’t want to admit to their agency that they don’t know what they’re doing. 

And so we found if they can find content that’s very basic things like, here’s how to set up your lifecycle stages or, here’s how to have here’s how to do a portal audit. There was no content online for that because that is content you have to see. And we already had an advantage of being able to produce video tutorials. So we just leaned into that and that lesson was people, if they see your expertize online first, they trust you before you even make a sale. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:56] It’s so true. I mean, you just referenced one of the chapters in my book, and a book is a version of content marketing, and people read it. And if it resonates with them, they reach out to us and hopefully become a member. I mean, that’s how it works now. 

You mentioned video. I want to go there just a little bit because a lot of our members, I think, aren’t using video as well as they could. And these days, you know, people are consuming content on their phone. Video tends to lend itself really well to that, particularly short clips. So tell me a little bit about what you’re doing in the video bucket. 

Ali Schwanke [00:08:30] Yeah. So I’ll tell you what we did wrong first. I was a firm believer of video back when I started in 2016. I said, we need video. I hired a videographer. I had planned on selling video services to folks as well. And I’ll tell you, Greg, I think I made a whole $5,000 off of this video person. 

Mostly what they did is produce video for us. And in doing that, what I learned was two things. One, there’s two types of video. One is video that is thought out on how to do something. And then there’s video that’s entertaining and kind of what I would call rabbit hole video. You find yourself watching clips after clips, after clips. 

And so for us to go lean into that video piece was we learned that the video content that was out there, people were talking about themself a lot. They weren’t actually thinking about the viewer first. And so we said if we just create short to the point videos that were well-produced and highly searchable, I think we can win. 

So we put a small bet out. We put a certain amount of very, very low production value videos first and saw those succeed. And then we invested in a full channel and it was about six months until we saw that really kind of transact for us. But once we started getting traffic, then we started talking about how to convert the traffic.

 We didn’t  have this like grandiose thing all at once. We grew as we learned. And I think that’s one piece that makes a lot of folks nervous about video is they want to see results after two videos or three videos. And it’s a cumulative effect that we now dominate the YouTube channel for the search of HubSpot. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:00] Interesting. So a boutique like yours is the dominant player on YouTube. 

Ali Schwanke [00:10:06] If you type HubSpot into YouTube, my face will be on at least four or five of the ten results. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:12] No kidding. Wow. That’s quite an accomplishment. 

Ali Schwanke [00:10:15] At the moment. Like, let’s hope that that continues, right? 

Greg Alexander [00:10:18] Yeah. That’s a little bit of an arms race for sure. Yes. Okay. So you mentioned the next stage was learning how to convert once you started getting the traffic. And that’s a big component about defining your target market, which is what our subject is today. 

You know, sometimes we realize that we have to reach this large market and we’re going to do it through content marketing in all of its forms. And you throw the content out there and all of a sudden you start getting lots of inbound interest. But you’re catching the wrong fish. You can’t win. So how did you learn more about your target market based on what was coming to you in response to this content that you were creating? 

Scaling a Consulting Business: How Simple Strat Learned More About Its Target Market

Ali Schwanke [00:11:01] Yeah, I’m a big believer in constantly observing your audience in the way that they talk. So what a lot of teams I would  think miss when they’re looking at their total addressable market. So for instance, if I said I believe my total addressable market needs rev ops because that’s the buzzword right now. I will tell you in having conversations with sales and marketing leaders, rarely do I ever hear the word rev ops. 

And even right now, if I run a keyword search report on that, the volume is low. And that’s because it’s a word we use to describe it in the marketing industry. But the actual thing folks are looking for is, can I have a function that’s accountable for sales and marketing in my organization? So when we’re looking at the way that your total addressable market talks about their products and their needs and their pains, that’s the content to create. And then you have to sort through and say which one of those is closest to a sale? 

So in our case, if they’re having issues with their sales reporting, that’s a problem they’re looking at solving immediately. If they just want to figure out how to optimize their blogs better, that’s longer to revenue for them. And so they might not be willing to pay as much. So we focused on the content that you see immediate gain and then we’re continue like we have a next thing that we’re rolling out that helps address some of that stuff higher on the. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:23] So some of our listeners right now members are going to say, this is fascinating. I’ve never met anybody who can dominate the YouTube channel like Ali has. And it’s hard to do. And what I’m taking from our conversation is how incredibly focused you are on the client and how you’re outward in and everything you think about. 

That example of rev ops is a great one. I mean, that’s industry lingo, but the clients don’t use it. So it’s not valuable. It’s valuable to the other HubSpot partners, but it’s not valuable to the client. I have some members who say, “I don’t have time for this. You know, I’m super busy. I’m a young growing firm. And who’s got time to do this?” I’m sure your to do list is just as long as theirs. So why do you make time for it? 

Ali Schwanke [00:13:11] So I didn’t have a business that existed when we all saw each other a lot in person. Like, I definitely have been to conferences and I’ve networked and I’ve had a lot of success in that early in my career. But we now live in an environment where you don’t go to one master trade show a year and build all of your leads. We now live in a world where that’s happening every single day, and to say you don’t have time for that is like saying 25 years ago that I don’t have time to go to the largest trade show in my industry. 

And if you don’t have a mindset of value, you will not make time for it. But I will say if you do not create content based on what your audience finds valuable, and you talk a lot about this in the book and we talk about a lot about it in the Collective. If you do not create content based on what your audience is interested in and just what you want to say, it will not convert for you and you will have a failed experiment. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:04] And for those that say I don’t see a client spending thousands and thousands of dollars with me, that came through a social media channel like YouTube. What would your response be to that? 

Ali Schwanke [00:14:19] Sure. Some of this comes down to education of marketing and what it is and how it’s defined. I will say the majority of founders that I have worked with in the professional services industry, their initial perspective of marketing and marketing spend is what I would call direct response. Yeah, I have a coupon. I turn in coupon. I see that coupon led to sale B2B sales. And especially when you’re involving a human in their expertize, there is a high degree of trust. There is a lot. 

It’s actually not marketing at all. What you’re doing is psychologically driven and we are complex beings and we make decisions with our level of logic, which sometimes is zero and it’s all feeling. So if you make them feel that they’re learning things from you and trusting you, you can sell them sometimes whatever you want. That’s not a good practice, but once you gain that trust, then you are simply depositing additional coins in that bank that keeps that trust for a long time. 

Yeah, and that’s again, it’s a mindset. I will say conversion wise though, you do have to have a content offer that brings them value and actually shows a small piece of what you can actually do. It has to be tied to the overall value. And if it’s not, then it’s just a fancy download. 

Bringing Clients To Your Door When Scaling a Business: Knowing Them is Key

Greg Alexander [00:15:34] This has been a great conversation. And just to summarize, you know, Ali started and she had a really large definition of a market strategy which can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. And it was outside of her niche and then she narrowed that down by becoming a HubSpot partner. And then even within the HubSpot ecosystem, if you will, she got even tighter by focusing on a specific type of company to go after. 

And then really what I learned today, which was really fascinating, is the code that she’s cracked, if you will. She’s figured out how to reach this tightly defined market in a cost-effective way with a high conversion rate. And she’s doing that through content marketing, in particular on YouTube. And if you type in HubSpot into YouTube, I mean, she’s going to be the dominant provider there, which is quite a thing for sure. 

So, Ali, we’re at our time commitment here, but the way the Collective works is that we all contribute to the collective body of knowledge. You know, every time a member contributes, the other members benefit. And that’s the give and take nature of this. So on behalf of the membership, I want to thank you, because that was a big contribution. I learned a lot today. 

Ali Schwanke [00:16:42] Yeah, thank you. I have learned a lot from the Collective and I know other members have as well. So thank you for what you’re doing. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:48] And members I’m sure many of you are anxious to speak to Ali because if she’s doing this for her firm, she can probably do it for your firm. So feel free to reach out to her via the member portal and have a follow-up conversation with her. 

Okay. And for those that are interested in this topic and others like it, you can pick up a copy of our book, The Boutique: How to Start, Scale, and Sell Professional Services Firm. And for those that are listening to this and are not members and are interested in meeting fascinating people like Ali consider joining our mastermind community which you can find at Collective54.com. Thanks again, Ali. Take care. Ali Schwanke [00:17:24] Thank you.

How an IT Services Firm Built an Executive Leadership Team

Matt Rosen
Matt Rosen

Episode 76 – How an IT Services Firm Built an Executive Leadership Team – Member Case with Matt Rosen

The quality of the executive leadership team is paramount as professional services firms grow, scale, and exit. In this episode, we speak with Matt Rosen, founder, and CEO of Allata. He shares how he structured his executive team to replicate himself, developed a succession plan, and spent time working on the vision of the future.  

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that don’t know us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. 

My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder, and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we have the privilege of talking to Matt Rosen and the leader of a company called Allata, which I’ll introduce in a moment. We’re going to talk about building a quality management team, and how he’s done that at his firm and hopefully learn a few things along the way. So, Matt, it’s good to see you. Would you introduce yourself to the audience, please? 

Matt Rosen [00:00:54] Yeah. Thanks for having me on the show, Greg. So my name is Matt Rosen, and I’m the founder and CEO of Allata. Allata is a tech consulting firm based in Dallas with offices in Pheonix, Boise, and Provo. And what we do is we help companies with their most complex technology initiatives from a strategy, architecture, development, and data standpoint. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:14] Okay, awesome. And Matt, when did you find the firm to grow? 

Matt Rosen [00:01:18] I founded the firm back in 2006. It was just myself and a developer. And now we’re over 220 people and growing quickly. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:25] It’s an incredible story. It really is. Congratulations on all that. So let me set up the topic because I asked you that question about when you founded it and where you are today because you’ve scaled so fast. And I think one of the reasons why you’ve done that is because you’ve been able to build a quality management team, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of them. 

And it’s a big subject because sometimes, founders that are growing like that hit a bottleneck eventually. And that is, they’re kind of the hero within a group of helpers. It doesn’t work, you know. There’s just too much work for one person. And you got to hire senior people or develop senior people. You have to give them enough autonomy to make the contributions that they need to make, empower them to be successful. And I think you’ve done a really good job with that. 

So I’d like to start with an opening question, which is at a high level, explain to the audience kind of the organizational structure of your leadership team that reports to you by role. Maybe, I don’t know if you need to mention names, what by role? And tell me how you came to that conclusion and why you built it the way you built it. 

The Structure of an Executive Leadership Team Matters

Matt Rosen [00:02:35] So where we’re at today is I really have three direct reports. I have a chief strategy officer and she owns sales,marketing,go to market offerings as well as our partnerships. I have a chief technology officer and he’s really looking forward to the technology direction, what new trends d we should be jumping on. He’s also my personal helpdesk when I run into issues. And then I’ve got a chief operating officer, so the Office Leadership Report is sent to him. 

So I have leaders for four different groups in the company. There’s Dallas, Pheonix, Virtual and Boise, and then he’s got all our back office functions from recruiting, H.R to finance. And so really everything falls to the three of them. And underneath them they’ve got leadership structures and sales and marketing, especially at a delivery level. There’s four group leaders that almost all the consulting resources roll into. 

And then we’ve got practice lead. So for strategy, for architecture, for product and design, for technology solutions and for data, we’ve got vice presidents that head up each of those service lines, if you will, and people are really matrixed across the organization into their office leaders, as well as the practice leaders. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:51] What I find remarkable about your story is you’ve been around five or six years. You’ve grown like crazy, and yet you personally only have three direct reports. Now, I know underneath those three, they have their teams, but that’s pretty remarkable. 

Sometimes I see guys and gals like you with eight to ten , and they’re living almost miserable lives because there are not enough hours in the day. So how did you get it so tight to only three? 

A Professional Services Firm Needs Great Leaders

Matt Rosen [00:04:18] Well, you have to have really good leaders. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. You’ve got to have people that you can set goals for. You know, I’m not a micromanager. I’m not even really a macro manager. I said high level goals, and I get the heck out of the way. I hire bright people, you know, I do have one-on-ones with the three of them. 

And I probably talk to the layer below them at least every other week. But, you know, we’ve got a real structured way in which we do a sales meeting every Monday. We do an operations meeting every Tuesday. I’m always in on those, or people are sending me a synopsis of them. So it gives me just enough information really to run the firm. And it took a while to really trust folks and hand things off, especially in the sales arena. 

That was based on one of the recommendations you made when I was early on in the Collective was, “You’ve got to stop being the hero sales guy.” That was really hard for me to let go of, but I finally have found a leader who came from a large firm, and she brought a lot of process with her and is now leading the sales team and is a very effective seller herself. 

A lot of it comes down to finding people that are great at doing the things that you don’t or can’t do well, empowering them to do their job, and staying out of their way unless they’re just not meeting their goals. They know that people are going to do things the way you do them. And that’s okay. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:27] Yep. Okay. So, awesome story. I’m really proud of you for what you did on the sale side, and it was hard for you to let go because you enjoyed it. I remember talking just. 

Matt Rosen [00:05:37] I still get involved. I still get pulled in from time to time, but I’m not actively leading sales cycles. I’m spinning them up from time to time but I’m handing them off. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:44] Yeah. And it’s tough to let go of the things that you really like to do. So that’s a great story to hear that you’re doing that. I know that your company is not for sale, but given your growth, I imagine the phone rings. And one of the things that potential acquirers are always looking at as part of their diligence is the quality of the management team. 

So if someone came to you with an offer you couldn’t refuse, you know, some crazy number that you’d be ridiculous if you didn’t take it. Do you know who your successor is and who you would hand the firm over to? Or would you plan on staying after the sale? And then if you were to hand it off, does everybody get pulled up the org chart, so to speak, so that the thing doesn’t fall apart post-sale? 

Matt Rosen [00:06:28] That’s a great question. You know, we’re not for sale. If some crazy offer came along, I would foresee myself sticking around for a couple of years to make sure that there was a smooth transition integration. Ultimately, I built this firm because I didn’t want to work for others, and know I wanted to build a firm that was sustainable and successful with or without me. 

So, you know, there definitely is a succession plan in place that we’re executing on. There’s definitely a couple of folks that could, with some training and tenure, probably step into my shoes. Nobody’s replaceable. It takes time for them to grow into the role. 

And what we’ve got is a really good mix of people that were career consultants and a mix of people that were in the industry. I had a lot of clients that were VPs about those that I was going to work for me. You’ve got this really nice group of leaders that have either consulted their whole careers or sat on the side of the desk of those that we’re selling to. That adds a lot of credibility when working with clients. 

How Professional Services Firm Owners Can Leverage Executive Leadership Teams to Their Advantage

Greg Alexander [00:07:25] Awesome. Glad to hear that. Sometimes when I talk to members and I suggest that they do what you’ve done, I hear particularly from maybe the younger firms, those that haven’t reached the scale that you’ve reached. They say, “Well if I have all these people that are going to do all this stuff, what am I going to do?” Which I tell them, “Hold on, you know, you’ll have plenty. If things go well, you’ll never ask that question again. There’s going to be too much to do.” 

So now that you have put this great team in place and you’ve elevated yourself, what do you personally spend your time on? 

Matt Rosen [00:08:01] You know, I spend my time thinking about where we need to head next. From a company’s perspective, what geos we might want to go into, what offerings we might want to have. I spend time visiting with a lot of our larger clients and spending time with them just understanding what’s important to them. Like a lot of them are my close personal friends. I spend time talking with leaders as they need, you know, strategic advice. 

You know, they might call me and say, “Hey, we’ve got this situation. What do you think?” And they run things by me, you know. By putting this great leadership team in place, it allows me to actually get out and, you know, play a round of golf every now and again, which I hadn’t done in about 20 years. 

So that’s kind of nice fun that, you know, folks like you or, you know, clients that like to get out there as well and enjoy a walk ruined by golf. But, you know, there’s always things you can be working on, looking for ways to make the firm better or, you know, taking leadership courses. 

Um, you know, doing interviews such as this, and really being a thought leader in your space as well as looking for how can you grow the firm maybe through M&A. So we’re actively talking to a couple of companies that might be accretive and be good partners for us as we grow. 

The Importance of Letting Go When Building a Leadership Team

Greg Alexander [00:09:10] Yeah. So listeners what we just heard there is that Matt spends his time on the business, not in the business, spends a little time in the business in the right spots, but he has a team that’s doing that for him. So he’s pursuing the vision, the future. And unless somebody is dedicated to that vision, the future, it never happens. You are just constantly in reaction mode. 

Matt is being proactive now and he’s leading. He’s not managing. There’s a difference between managing and leading. And what we’re hearing from Matt today is he’s leading, which is a great role model for all of us to follow. Got one more question regarding the management team and the structure in particular. 

I know when I went through this process that you have gone through the thing that I was less willing to give up and I clung to the most, which was a flaw, and I didn’t do it the right way. This was a mistake. It came to investment decisions when money was going to get spent. I held on to this money like it was my first communion money. I was unwilling to let anybody, you know, make those decisions other than me. How is that handled in your firm? Do you approve all expenses or do people have authority to do these types of things? 

Matt Rosen [00:10:23] So in this, I would say over the last twelve to eighteen months, we’ve moved to a budget. As long as people are spending what’s in that budget, there is not a problem with it. In fact, they put the budget in, in some respects, to control me from spending too much on different things. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:36] But the budget was for you. 

Matt Rosen [00:10:38] So that was actually from a year ago. But we’re doing a good job and you know, we’re performing ahead of plan as a result of it. So, no, you know, again, that comes back to empowering people. I mean, the only thing I’ve not given up is, you know, I’m the only one that sends wires. 

But other than that, people have corporate cards, they have budgets they can spend on what they need, we have a good controller, you know, authorizes money to go out. And so most of that I’ve given up and people make a lot of decisions where we spend that budget that’s been allocated without my involvement. 

How Does Allata Create a Budget for its Professional Services Firm?

Greg Alexander [00:11:10] Yeah. Interesting. That’s really inspiring. In the budget process,  it sounds like this is a relatively new thing, let’s say, in the last couple of years. So how do you guys create the budget? Is it done once a year? Is it done at the beginning of the year, or the end of the year? How does all that work? 

Matt Rosen [00:11:26] Yeah, it gets done, you know, as the year is wrapping up. So towards the end of 2021, we set the budget for 2022. You know, we reviewed it with the group leaders. You know, we had them put in things that they wanted. We were meeting with sales and marketing and the, you know, the practice leads and everyone kind of put in their wish list, and we kind of whittle it down to what we thought we could spend in addition to where we think we could achieve from a revenue top-line standpoint. 

And so we review it monthly, we do at the end of each month kind of a financial review, see how we’re tracking. And you know, if we’re doing ahead of plan, we might spend more on certain things or make more investments in certain areas. But the big you know, the big thing for 2022 is making sure we’re focused on EBITDA, building a sustainable organization and, you know, spending where we need to and not spending where we shouldn’t. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:17] It’s great that you review it monthly. It’s kind of like a variance-to-plan type meeting. 

Matt Rosen [00:12:22] Absolutely. We go through line by line in the major categories, see where we are under, and see where we are over. And you know, we adjust as necessary as we go into the next month, and at least for January, we’re on track. We’ll see how we’re doing for February next week. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:36] You know, the hardest part about budgeting for me was the forecasting part of it. You know, it’s easy to look at what’s happened and you can do the variance to plan on that. But then if someone says, “Hey, what’s going to happen in six months?” 

It’s tough because professional services can be a little lumpy. And, you know, it’s not as much forward visibility as we might like. Have you implemented any type of forecasting system that sits on top of the budget that predicts the future? And if so, how’s that going so far? 

Matt Rosen [00:13:02] You know, it’s really a combination of two tools. You know, we’ve got a CRM tool, as most organizations do, and we try and put it in as much as we know. We’ve got, you know, kind of a four-stage sales process and just waited. So, we’ve got that, kind of that weighted pipeline. And we’re always trying to have 2 to 3 X or revenue plan and we do pipeline. It never turns out to be that much because we tend to be a little bit conservative, but we have that weighted forecast of all the deals that are in the pipeline, what’s coming as well as our forecast of what we think clients are going to do between now and the end of the calendar year. 

And then we invest in a professional services automation tool that allows us to see weekly how we’re tracking a plan, making sure hours are up to date. We also have some modeling scenarios where we can figure out, you know, based on the people we have available, you know, what type of team can we put together, what’s their profitability? Because for the longest time we only understood margin at a company level. We didn’t understand it at a project or client level. 

And now we have that visibility and that visibility is allowing us to make smarter decisions. You know, I think about consulting hours. It’s like bananas. They spoil at the end of each month. So you’ve really got to manage them tightly and ensure that you’re watching them and leveraging them and try not to leave anything behind. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:15] Question on the PSA platform, which I’m so glad to hear that you’ve installed. I’m a big advocate and I think it really helps, particularly on those two items, project and client level profitability and managing that inventory. What advice would you have for younger, smaller firms on when it’s appropriate to progress to the point where you would install a professional services automation tool? 

Matt Rosen [00:14:41] When the Excel spreadsheet starts breaking. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:44] Which happens early. Yeah. 

Matt Rosen [00:14:48] It was probably better. My team had to push me for years and I don’t mind mentioning the tool. We were able to cut a pretty good deal with them and they had professional services that helped us implement it. The challenge is you do have to take someone senior and have them help line your  implementation. 

So it is an investment, one that I had to be pushed on for a while. I should have done  that sooner. We probably would have actually been a bit more profitable. I probably waited a year or two too long. But now that we have it and we are seeing returns from it, we are capturing time that we weren’t previously. 

It’s allowing us to model up skill sets and understand where we need to be investing. You know, it probably is something we should have done two years prior and my team pushed me for it, but I held off because I wasn’t ready to make the investment. But I’m glad they finally pushed me to do that. That mix of harvest and spreadsheets was no longer getting the job done for 200 plus people. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:44] Yeah, exactly. Well, listen, man, you’re absolutely knocking it out of the park. I mean, every single thing you’re supposed to be doing to be on the business and scaling the business is working really great. And your results back it up.

And I want to, on behalf of the membership, just thank you publicly. This is a big contribution. You’re a role model for many. And hearing your story and how quickly you’ve gotten to this point is an inspiration. So thanks for being on the show. 

Matt Rosen [00:16:10] Yeah, thanks for having me on the show, Greg. Appreciate it. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:13] All right. And for those that are interested in learning more about this subject, building a quality management team, and others like it, pick up the book. It’s called The Boutique: How to Start, Scale, and Sell a Professional Services Firm. You can find it on Amazon. And for those that are listening that want to meet really bright professional services owners like Matt, consider joining our community. You can find it at collective54.com. Thanks again, Matt. Take care. Matt Rosen [00:16:36] Thanks. Take it easy.

How a Consulting Firm Leverages Specialists to Increase Scale

Cynthia Klint
Cynthia Klint

Episode 75 – How a Consulting Firm Leverages Specialists to Increase Scale – Member Case with Cynthia Klint

The engagements you sell determine your market position and the team needed to deliver your service. In this episode, Cynthia Klint, CEO at BRC, shares how she leverages specialists to deliver client engagements and increase sales. 

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that aren’t familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale, and exit your firm bigger and faster. 

My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder, and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to discuss engagement type and how that drives the type of firm you become. And we have a member with us today. Her name is Cynthia Klint. Cynthia and I are going to have a discussion regarding this subject. Cynthia, it’s good to see you. Thanks for being here. 

Cynthia Klint [00:00:52] Sure. Happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me. 

Greg Alexander [00:00:54] And would you provide a proper introduction of yourself and your firm to the audience, please? 

Scaling a Business: Member Case with Biodynamic Research

Cynthia Klint [00:01:00] Sure. As you said, my name is Cynthia Klint. The company that I work for goes by BRC, but the long name is Biodynamic Research. We’ve been in business for about 36 years. I’ve been with the company for 23 of those years. And what we do is we help people understand how injuries happen. And we do that by answering two questions, primarily in a litigation setting. The first question is, did an injury occur, and if so, how? 

Greg Alexander [00:01:29] Wow. That’s a fascinating field. I can imagine the litigation services around that for sure. I hope no one’s ever asking me that question. I hope I never say yes that an injury occurred. 

Cynthia Klint [00:01:41] When people say they haven’t heard of us, I always tell them that they should be glad. It means they’ve probably never been in an accident that required litigation. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:50] Alright. So for context, who is the typical client? 

Cynthia Klint [00:01:57] Primarily, our clients are attorneys. Okay. Although we do work directly from time to time for individuals or insurance companies. 

What Are the Types of Engagements When Scaling a Consulting Firm?

Greg Alexander [00:02:05] Okay. Got it. Okay. So let me set up today’s conversation. Generally speaking, and I admit I am oversimplifying here, but in the time that we have, that’ll work. There’s kind of two types of engagement. 

There’s what I call elephant hunting, and that is a really big engagement. And, you know, they could they could last months, if not years, and cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. And firms that have those types of engagements tend to have, relatively speaking, a smaller number of clients. But each client spends a lot of money, and that’s one style of firm. 

In contrast, theother type of firm, which I call rabbit hunters, are firms that do small, quick, inexpensive engagements. But, they do them in volume. And they tend to have lots and lots and lots of clients, but each client only spends a little. 

And the important thing here is to understand what type of engagements you’re selling and, therefore, what type of company you’re becoming. Because in the end, we become who we serve. And I would suggest that scaling a business is easier when you pick one or the other, and it becomes more difficult when you try to do both. 

I’m not saying one is better than the other. I’m just advocating for picking one over the other. So, Cynthia, given my oversimplification, if I was to force you to put yourself in one of those two categories, which category you in? 

Cynthia Klint [00:03:41] It’s a really tough question to answer. And like several members has said that the yes/no is a tough question. I’m you know, I thought about this a lot. I went back and reread the chapter. And if I had to be forced to pick, I would say we’re more like the rabbit. Okay. The both of our cases tend to be quicker turn, lower revenue. But quite frankly, we’re a combination of the two. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:12] You are. Okay. And and that’s okay. I mean, you’ve been in business for 36 years. Obviously, it’s working. Right. So if you have both styles in the firm. Is it true or false that it is  difficult to manage and difficult to scale? 

Cynthia Klint [00:04:35] It is true. I think it certainly complicates the way that you manage the different clients and the way that you manage the logistics in supporting those different clients. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:49] Yeah, and that’s the real challenge, right, because… 

Cynthia Klint [00:04:51] Absolutely. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:52] You have to staff these projects, right? And and it’s a different staffing model, usually in the rabbit space, if you will. A single person might have many, many, many clients. So therefore, he or she is only spending so much time with each client. It’s just mathematics. 

On the other side of it, you know, if you’re in the elephant business, you might have one or two clients and you’re spending a ton of time with those one or two clients. So when you say logistically, it’s difficult to manage, is that what you’re referring to? Are there other logistical items? 

What Difficulties Can You Face With These Engagement Types?

Cynthia Klint [00:05:27] So in litigation, you’re probably familiar that, you know, litigation can drag out for a really long time. And most cases, I would say the desire is to move toward some sort of settlement. And that’s why I say that the bulk of what we do is is really the smaller cases or the quick return cases. 

Logistically, what’s difficult is really maintaining the ability to manage the longer term cases because like you said, we have some cases that literally have been our books on our books for 20 years. But most of them are shorter. 

And one of the things that’s happened in litigation is there’s a push toward a quicker turnaround. And that’s something that we’re really working toward being able to manage because you have to staff or have processes that support. The same client can bring you a rabbit case and an elephant case. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:30] Oh, really? 

Cynthia Klint [00:06:31] And so the thing is, you want to be able to say yes, regardless of the turnaround time. When they come to us, it’s because they need our help. They need us to help clarify what’s happening. Yeah. And so we want to be able to do that objectively, accurately, but we sometimes need to be able to do that quickly. 

So, from a logistics standpoint, it’s about the processes, the staffing, and calendar management. We’re driven by court deadlines. So our deadlines are very much on the outside. And so we have to be in lockstep with our client to make sure that we can meet the deadlines that they’re really subject to. Does that answer your question?

Greg Alexander [00:07:17] In fact, I have several follow up questions, if I may. So now I know why you have both because you have one client that can bring you two scenarios. And I mean, what are you going to do? Tell that client no. Of course not. Right. 

So you have to be responsive to that client’s individual needs. So my follow-up question would be: Does the client understand that what he or she is asking for is two different things? And is he accommodating, or do you have to educate? 

Cynthia Klint [00:07:47] So again, I hate to sound like a lawyer, but yes and no, because they do understand. But oftentimes our clients are under the gun as well. And so they may understand, but it doesn’t change the fact that they need us to help them in that situation. 

And so they often are very accommodating. They work with us. They do their best to create timelines that make it possible for us to do a thorough job, which is something we always want to do and always strive to do. So, they do understand. They do work with us, but sometimes they have no control over that deadline. 

And so, you know, we are here to provide the best answers that we can, not necessarily the answers that they want, but the best answers that we can with the time and the information that we’re provided. Right. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:41] You know, for the listeners, this is a very unusual case. And I’m so glad that we’re on the call today because it’s a rich learning experience. Normally, in normal situations, it’s much easier because there’s a certain type of client, maybe a Fortune 500 company, and they’re only going to do the big projects. And then there’s another type of client, the small business, and they can do small projects. 

And in Cynthia’s case, it’s one client with two different needs. And what makes it even more complicated is that the timeline is dictated by the court’s deadline. It’s not dictated by the project team, and it’s not dictated by the client. It’s dictated by an independent third party. 

And boy, I would imagine that makes it rather stressful. Like, does the working backward from that timeline and that deadline being outside of your control, how do you scope work? 

Scaling a Consulting Firm: How Does Biodyancmic Research Scope Work?

Cynthia Klint [00:09:31] Well, being in business this long, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. So, you know, there’s several components that go into our work product. So ultimately, the work product is the objective opinion of the expert. You know, we employ physicians with engineering degrees as well as accident reconstructionists who are engineers. And so, again, their goal is to understand what happened not only in the accident or in the incident, but what happened to the person. 

And so we’re getting different kinds of materials, legal documents, medical documents. You know, sometimes if there’s a product involved, we may be getting product information. And so what we’ve done is, is really the model that Collective 54 promotes, which is leveraging. 

We have specialists in each of those areas, and so we have nurses who will go through and organize the medical records to make it more efficient for the experts. We have paralegals, so that do the same thing with legal documents and so forth. So scoping, it really is about understanding the volume of the materials and then being able to apply our experience, knowledge, and determine for the client what our timeline looks like. 

And it can be variable because if you have something that, for example, if you have a case with a long medical history, you can have thousands and thousands of pages of medical records that have to be dealt with. And so, our goal is to take our experience and really apply it to that and give the client an understanding of what the timeline can be and what the cost may be as it relates to that. 

How This Consulting Firm Matches Revenue with Expenses

Greg Alexander [00:11:09] Now, with this group of specialists; paralegals, the nurses, the engineers, it’s a fascinating story. I had no idea this existed. It’s really intriguing. Well, maybe I have another question. I was going to ask, How do you match revenue with expenses? 

Because the way it normally works in pro serve is you get a project and it’s worth X amount of dollars. You staff it and that’s your cost and the deltas, your profit. Do you know what the revenue is or are you waiting for the settlement? How does it work? 

Cynthia Klint [00:11:44] So that’s a great question, Greg. We are not on a contingency basis because we are objective. So we’re hired to look at something very objectively. And it is irrespective of the outcome. So we don’t really have a dog in the fight, so to speak. 

Our job is to come in and really give insight and clarity and educate the client as to what happened so that they can make a decision on how to proceed with their case. And sometimes the answer is not what a client may want to hear. And it’s still our job to share that information because that’s helpful information as they make decisions. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:19] Right. 

Cynthia Klint [00:12:20] So the way that the revenue is, we build time and materials  and so we will bill on a monthly basis. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:29] And with these specialists  I mentioned, the nurses and engineers. What was the third one I mentioned?. Paralegals. Excuse me. Are they, you know, I think in senior, mid-level and junior staff and I think about associated cost and rates for that, is it that simple or is it more complicated in your scenario? 

Cynthia Klint [00:12:50] So it actually has several more layers than what you’ve described. So we have our physicians with engineering degrees and that’s really \the most client facing role. So that is the expert that the client is hiring. And so they are the person who is providing consultation and giving an opinion and that kind of thing. 

In that role, they’re acting as what we call biomechanics. So what happened to the person? We also have the engineers and those we have various levels of. Let me back up. The physicians, we have various levels based on experience. One of the big components in an expert’s career is obtaining experience in a testifying situation. 

So giving an opinion is one component, but testifying is another component. And the more senior you become, the more testifying history you build, the more in demand you are. Because you’ve proven that not only can you come up with an objective opinion, but you can communicate that to a jury, a judge or a client. And so the more senior you are, you have a higher billing rate. 

And then we have that same model in our engineering group. Same thing. So the engineers are looking at the vehicle dynamics. So not so much the application of the forces to the body, but more how does the vehicle move? How do the forces apply to the body? And so we have different levels there. 

The staff, the support staff, the paralegals, the nurses, other groups that we have that support. We have a technical librarian and we have a test facility. We have a group that we call the Technical Resource Group. So all of these work in support of these two groups, the physician, and the engineer. And they’re all at a fixed rate by department. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:42] Okay. And that’s how you drive your leverage model. Is through those tiers? 

Cynthia Klint [00:14:49] Yes, absolutely. And the goal is always to get the client the opinion in a way that is least costly to them. Yeah. Because you have a physician at their billing, right. Organizing all the materials. But that doesn’t seem like a very good use of their time or cost. 

Scaling a Business: Engagement Type Determines the Type of Firm You Are

Greg Alexander [00:15:07] Right. Very good. Yeah. Okay. Well, very good. Well, let’s conclude here. So today we were talking about how the type of engagement you market and deliver determines the type of firm you are. And we had a very real case here because it’s not as black and white as we would want it to be. And Cynthia’s thought about this a lot. 

And what I find fascinating about her case as even though it’s a blend, they have figured out a leverage model and they’ve done it through two things: specializing their labor force and working backwards from the client’s need so that they get the client what they need with the right level of investment and money and time. 

This is a really interesting case and I’m not surprised your firm has been around as long as you have. That’s a really specialized service. So, Cynthia, thank you for being on the show. It was, it was wonderful to have you here. 

Cynthia Klint [00:16:01] Thanks. Thanks for having me. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:03] Okay. And for those that are interested in this topic, the engagement type and those like it can pick up a copy of the book, The Boutique: How to Start Scale and Sell A Professional Services Firm. You can also find it on Amazon. I’m proud to say we just hit number one in our little niche category. 

And then for those that are interested in meeting leaders of professional services firms like Cynthia, consider joining our mastermind community, it’s collective54.com. Thank you. And Cynthia, have a good rest of your day. Okay. 

Cynthia Klint [00:16:33] Thanks so much. Greg Alexander [00:16:34] All right. Bye bye.

How a Demand Generation Agency Scaled Its Culture With a Remote Workforce

Bart Bartlett
Bart Bartlett

Episode 74: How a Demand Generation Agency Scaled Its Company Culture With a Remote Workforce – Member Case with Bart Bartlett

The cultural fit of employees, clients, and potential acquirers are all critical to the success of the professional services firm. In this episode, Bart Bartlett, CEO at DemandZen, shares how he instills the core values of the firm within his remote team.

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that don’t know us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale, and exit your firm bigger and faster. 

I’m the founder, Greg Alexander, and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to talk to Bart Bartlett from DemandZen. And today, I’m going to talk about culture fit. So, Bart, welcome to the show. 

Bart Bartlett [00:00:45] Thank you, sir. 

Greg Alexander [00:00:46] Good to see you. If you wouldn’t mind, introduce yourself and your firm and tell everybody what you do. 

Bart Bartlett [00:00:55] Sure. So I’m Bart Bartlett, the CEO, and co-founder of DemandZen. We focus on the top of funnel demand generation for B2B tech companies and have done so in one form or another since about 2004. 

Why Culture Fit is Important When Scaling a Business

Greg Alexander [00:01:08] Okay, fantastic. So today we’re going to talk about culture fit. And this is a very interesting subject because as a firm grows and scales, particularly at the exit, and if they’re going to merge with somebody, culture fit, underlining the word ‘fit’ becomes a really big deal. Now, why is that? 

Well, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, somewhere between 70-90% of acquisitions fail. And they cite the reason why they fail is a misalignment of cultures. And then there has been quite a bit of research from the great consulting firm McKinsey on this very subject as well. 

So we’re going to try to unpack this. And when we try to apply the word culture fit not only to an acquisition strategy, whether you’re the buyer or seller, but also on your journey up to that point through the growth and scale stage. 

And I want to start Bart, I’m going to use the ten question checklist in the book here to guide our conversation. And I want to start with question number two, which is: Does the founder’s origin story shed a light on the boutique’s culture? 

So I know a lot about your origin story, and I won’t ask you to recite it here because it’s a long and very interesting story. But let’s focus on whether or not it does shed a light on your culture. So describe DemandZen’s culture fit and tie it back to the origin story. 

Bart Bartlett [00:02:31] Sure. So our culture is really driven by core values and I’m stepping on my words cause I’m not used to having it here, so. And we basically make those a part of the interview process, a part of the onboarding process. And I would say a part of the ongoing process. Right? 

So we try and be values driven as an organization. Iin terms of how that came from our origin, DemandZen basically we merged two other companies. And it’s been almost eight years ago now. And at that point we had about seven people. And after about six months, we basically just surveyed everyone and said, “what’s important to you both personally and professionally?” 

And we synthesize that into our core values, and then we just try and run the business in line with those values, whether it be recruiting or how we interact with customers or the clients that we think we can do the best work for versus clients that we may need to let go. Right. It’s all just sort of values-led. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:36] Okay. And eight years ago, you merged two companies, still a small firm at that point, seven people. Again, what are you guys out now in terms of number of employees? 

Bart Bartlett [00:03:46] We’re at about seventy-five employees. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:48] Okay. So a ten X scale in approximately seven, eight years. And so the culture is going to get challenged when you go through that type of growth. Let’s first talk about when you brought those two companies together. 

Was there a culture fit when you merged them or did the culture need to be adapted to merge the two companies together? 

How DemandZen Built a Culture For a Remote Workforce

Bart Bartlett [00:04:09] So in this particular case, I worked with the prior company as a client across three different startups. So I was pretty familiar with the organization that I was merging into. And on my side, it was just me and an employee, right? So it wasn’t a large company per say. Yeah. And there were maybe five people in the prior company when we merged. So I would say we were reasonably familiar with each other. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:36] Okay. So it was an easy fit because you’d had a prior working relationship. Okay, great. So then everything’s values-driven, which I love. Maybe share a few examples of what your values are now. 

Bart Bartlett [00:04:49] Sure. So first and foremost, we’re results-driven just as a performance-based marketing agency, we have to be. But we also focus on solving problems. That’s essentially what we do for clients is help them solve their demand generation challenges. 

But we also just when we talk to our employees, we’ve been a remote organization for a long time. So we just explain that if you can figure something out for yourself, you know, just Google it. Spend a couple of minutes trying to understand it, and figure it out that that process is a lot more efficient for the business. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:22] Yeah. Sometimes I’m fascinated by the concept that you were remote before all of us were forced to become remote and you ten X’d your employee headcount being remote. 

I hear from members at times that cultures fall away or fall apart when trying to scale a business as much as you have remotely. And you clearly are proof that that’s not true. Did you have to do anything differently given the remote nature of your workforce? 

Bart Bartlett [00:05:47] Well, I would view it more as I’m proof that you can make every possible mistake in the book and survive it while scaling culture and  a business. So, you know, we had to learn to do a lot of this stuff via trial and error. 

There’s a lot of ways you can support disseminating culture remotely. Right. So one, you know, we get on the phone, the senior team gets on the phone with new hires as part of their onboarding process and says, these are our values. This is the story. This is where each of the values comes from and why we think it’s important to the business. You know, we effectively have  to prioritize communicating around our values. 

We also use a micro bonus platform called Bonusly so that anyone in the company can give anyone else a bonus in line with core values at any time. So if you think about it, it’s like a network effect. 

So the more employees you have, the more micro bonus thing you’re doing in line with core values. And then that all goes into a Slack channel. So yeah, so our core values are basically emphasized by our employees all day, every day. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:54] Okay. So I want to make sure I understand that because that’s an innovative way of driving values into the business constantly. So let’s say you and I are employees together at DemandZen. I notice you living the values in some way. You did something that was evidence to me you were living the values. So through Bonusly, I nominate you for a bonus. I award you a bonus. How does it work? 

Bart Bartlett [00:07:15] You award a bonus. You would say, “I’m giving Bart ten Bonusly points.” We call them Zen bucks, I think. And you know, so you get ten Zen bucks for awesome performance or, you know, essentially solving problems or being flexible. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:32] That’s really cool. 

Bart Bartlett [00:07:33] Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:35] What I like about that is its bottoms up as opposed to top-down. It’s the employees reinforcing the values themselves as opposed to being told to do so by the leadership team. Interesting. 

Bart Bartlett [00:07:44] Well, yeah, we effectively try and come from both directions. Right. Like, I realize it was really important for us to communicate the values as part of the onboarding. So I knew it was in recruiting and I knew it was in training. But essentially, as you come to the end of your first week in training, you’re talking to the three senior managers of the company about the core values and where they came from. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:04] And when you’re in a job interview and you’re assessing someone’s fit, their cultural fit. You know, they’re going to come into the company and fit in and be able to live our values. It’s a tough thing to do in a job interview, but clearly you’re doing it. So how do you incorporate your values into your screening process? 

How to Incorporate Culture Fit and Company Values into the Interview Process?

Bart Bartlett [00:08:24] Well, I would say we do it to the best of our abilities, right? So we communicate the values early and often. We talk about how they’re expressed in the business. And I would say we also try and sort of challenge people a little bit through the interview process to just see if they’re going to fit. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:45] Yeah, you know, in my old firm, we had a very, very thick culture. And at times it was a strength of the times and other times, it was a weakness. We would attempt to do what you’re doing, which is screen for values and cultural fit during the interview process. 

But sometimes we’d make a mistake and a new employee would join. And then the system just rejected the new employee. Like within the first thirty or forty-five days. It was just obvious to everybody, including the new employee, that it wasn’t a good fit. And we had a lot of infant mortality. 

And I look back on it now and I’m glad because it actually helped us. But at the time it was very painful and it caused a lot of grief because we were growing quickly and we needed capable staff to do the work. Are you experiencing something similar to that? 

Bart Bartlett [00:09:30] Oh yeah, absolutely. I wouldn’t say it happens that often, but there are definitely situations where we have employees and we’re like, you know, they’re a decent employee, they’re a good person, not a cultural fit. And sometimes it’s hard, right? 

Like you just, you know that they can’t stay with the organization. I mean, what we try and do is give them coaching and kind of show them where some of the gaps are and then, you know, see if they can make that adjustment. It’s very difficult, right? 

It’s like to some extent, a lot of these things are driven by personality and just that is their approach to communication and it’s hard for tigers to change their stripes when they don’t necessarily want to. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:13] So even if someone is productive, and a good person and all that…I mean, has no ethical challenges, but if they’re not a cultural fit, then you part ways with them anyways, even though they can do the job. 

Bart Bartlett [00:10:25] Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:26] Yeah. Interesting. That’s a strong commitment to the culture fit. I applaud you for that. Okay. So as you scaled from your seven people to your seventy plus people and you scaled the culture, sometimes I see a few things at work there. 

Legends, cultural legends. So people that were on the journey and they become role models that others look to. And also artifacts, you know, things that are present, that are almost physical reminders of what the culture is. Now that might not be the case with you, given the fact that you’re remote. But let’s talk about each one of those. Do you have kind of DemandZen legends, you know, people that others look up to? 

Legends and Artifacts: Why They Are Important for Culture Fit

Bart Bartlett [00:11:08] I would say we do. But they’re more among the employee population. Right. Like we’ve got senior callers who’ve been with us for six or seven years. And so a lot of that experience comes from, I would say the senior team members. So we sort of have probably fewer founder-led legends. We probably do have more artifacts than you would otherwise expect. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:34] So tell me a little bit about that. 

Bart Bartlett [00:11:37] So we I mean, we realized that to make core values effective, they need to be sort of obvious and repetitive. So there’s DemandZen core value coffee mugs, there’s the DemandZen core value t-shirt, there’s the DemandZen core values screensaver and. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:56] And you found those things to work. 

Bart Bartlett [00:12:00] Well, you know, it’s like marketing, right? We make the impressions. I don’t know if we can truly measure their effects, but yeah, I’d say most people in the company have a pretty idea what our core values are. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:11] Yeah, for sure. And they’re proud to wear the DemandZen t-shirts and drink out of the DemandZen coffee cups and all that. And it’s in you know, it’s a great example. It’s never one thing, you know, it’s the, it’s the accumulation of many, many things that reinforce a culture. 

Okay, very cool. Let’s extend culture. I guess this would be my last line of questioning if I’m moving down the checklist here. Now, extend the culture fit to clients. Are there, is it obvious that there are certain clients that are going to be good clients because they align with your values and your culture? And is that part of how you select clients? 

Is Company Culture Important When Selecting Clients For a Professional Services Firm?

Bart Bartlett [00:12:46] Well, I would say it’s a part of how we choose which clients we want to retain and renew. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:53] Interesting. Right. 

Bart Bartlett [00:12:54] And it’s a complicated dance. So essentially, you know, we have clients who do not communicate effectively. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:03] Yeah. 

Bart Bartlett [00:13:04] And they may be super vehement about how they communicate and how they approach us. Right. But that might not be a fit for just how we do business. And so with those clients, you know, it’s challenging. 

One of our cultural values is being open and honest. So we try and ask the right questions and present alternatives in working with clients. But if they just won’t bite on any of that, they’re probably not a good fit for us. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:36] And it makes it tough to be successful in that setting. I mean, you guys do things a certain way and not that you’re not flexible, but like a basic requirement is communication. And if the client’s not going to communicate, it makes it really hard for you to do your job. Yeah, that’s interesting. Have you ever fired a client because of that? 

Bart Bartlett [00:13:59] Yes. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:00] Wow. That takes a lot of courage. 

Bart Bartlett [00:14:03] Well, we kind of just have to do it right. Like, if you don’t, if you have clients that are continuously challenging and how they interface with your team, at some point, you got to make a choice. Right. 

And we deal with a lot of early-stage startups, right? Yep. So there’s a lot of founders. There are a lot of senior team members who feel incredibly strongly and passionate about what they do. And, you know, I tell people DemandZen is my startup, right. I’m pretty familiar with that mindset. 

But you have to be able to express it in a way that’s healthy for your partners. And if it’s not, then then we just have a choice to make. Right? Do I want to keep the employees who I think are really good at what they do? Or this client who is being an ass? 

Greg Alexander [00:14:47] Yeah. Yeah. Because the employees that are on that client are having a miserable experience. And if you don’t do something about it, you’re going to lose them. Right? Yeah. 

Yeah. That’s great advice. Well, listen, I think we’re at the time window where we try to keep these things short. But today we talked about cultural fit with Bart Bartlett from the DemandZen. And Bart, you’re a great member. I love having you in the group. You shared lots of wisdom with us today. I appreciate it very much. 

Bart Bartlett [00:15:11] Thank you for having me. Greg Alexander [00:15:11] All right. Okay. For those that are listening to this, if you want to learn more about this subject, culture fit, and others, you can pick up our book, The Boutique: How to Start, Scale, and Sell A Professional Services Firm, which I’m proud to say just became an Amazon bestseller in our niche. And if you’re interested in joining our mastermind community, visit us at Collective54.com. Thanks again, Bart. Take care. Cheers.

Episode 73 – How a 63-Year-Old Ad Agency Stays Relevant by Launching New Service Offerings – Member Case with Marc Cooper

As professional services firms scale, developing new service offerings is critical to staying relevant with your clients. In this episode, we hear from Marc Cooper, President and Partner at Junction59, to learn how his firm uncovers new client needs and develops new service offerings as part of a business scaling strategy.

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that don’t know us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale, and exit your firm bigger and faster. I’m the founder. My name’s Greg Alexander, and I’m also your host today. And on this episode, I’m going to talk to Mark Cooper, and we’re going to talk about designing new services. So, Marc, welcome to the show. 

Marc Cooper [00:00:47] Thanks for having me today. 

Greg Alexander [00:00:49] Would you mind properly introducing yourself to the audience, please? 

Marc Cooper [00:00:53] Absolutely. I’m Marc Cooper, and I’m the president of Junction 59. We’re a Canadian integrated ad agency based out of Toronto. We like to say that we work at the intersection of people and points of view where ideas meet to make a better tomorrow. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:10] Okay, very good. And what types of clients do you serve, Marc? 

Marc Cooper [00:01:15] So we’ve a broad range of clients actually that reflect, I would say, the Canadian landscape. But for the most part, we divide up into three different categories: B2B clients and B2C clients who are interested in reaching their clients throughout the journey. So a lot of direct marketing and journey marketing. And then not-for-profit  clients. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:41] Okay. 

Marc Cooper [00:01:42] All about fundraising. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:43] Very good. Okay. So the topic today is about designing new service lines as a way to scale your firm in the common-sense explanation. It’s pretty basic. And it says if you have one thing to sell and deliver, scaling a business  is going to be hard. So at some point in the journey, you know, firms invest in additional service lines so that they can go back to their happy client base with new things to talk to them about and potentially earn expansion revenue. 

So let me start with kind of a 30,000-foot  question, which is, how many service lines do you have today? And how has that evolved since the founding of the firm many years ago? 

Marc Cooper [00:02:25] Well, it’s an interesting question because in a marketing and communications business, you know, you could bucket all of our services under marketing communications and say we have one service. Yeah, but of course, you know, as the industry has evolved and different platforms have come to life, you know, there are lots of agencies that specialize just in digital, just in traditional print or television or out of home. 

And then across that, you’ve got some that have a strategy and some that don’t. So if you start to look at all of the different service offerings that we have at a much more sort of focused level, I would say we have upwards of 30 to 40 different services that we’re able to offer. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:14] And you’ve been around for how long? 

Marc Cooper [00:03:17] We’ve been in business since 1959, which is where the 59 and Junction  59 comes from. 

Business Scaling Strategy: How to Identify the Need for Additional Services

Greg Alexander [00:03:21] No kidding. My goodness. Well, okay, so 30 to 40 different offerings, I guess, unique services. And I understand bundled together into a solution that you might sell a client. 

So since your firm has been around so long and developed so many services, what advice would you give those listening that might have one or two things that they sell and deliver? How would they go about identifying the need for additional services? And then how would they go about developing those into something that could be sold and executed against? 

Marc Cooper [00:03:56] Sure. Well, we have a number of different ways that we do it. One of them is quarterly business reviews. At the end of every quarter, we sit down, and we look at the work we’ve done for a client over that past quarter. Then we look at the work that their competitors might have in the market, and we look for opportunities, including any trends that are happening in the marketplace with their customers. 

Then we sit down and talk to the client about what we’ve done, you know, all under the guise of how could we get better at what we’re doing for them, but also to point out opportunities where they might do things a little different when going to talk to their customers. And it’s usually at that point that a service offering that we have that we may not have been offering to them comes up in discussion. 

And I think for us, over the years, what would happen is the same service offerings were coming up over and over again with particular clients. You know, we do group our clients into like-minded  sort of buckets across those three buckets we serve. So it’s not surprising to learn that, you know, a high-tech company and a telecommunications company might start to see the need to do a particular type of marketing. 

And when we didn’t offer those services, we would always find a partner we could work with to offer them a service. But as they came up over and over again, we decided it was time to bring those services in-house and offer those services directly to our clients. So it created a whole new service offering. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:33] Interesting. So the quarterly business review, the QBR, so that’s done between your team and the client. And it’s a review. It’s always a best practice to do such a thing, and it naturally comes up during those QBRs  where the client would express new needs. Is it my understanding that correctly? 

Marc Cooper [00:05:52] That’s right, yeah. Or we would suggest new needs based on what we see their competitors or the market doing. 

How to Develop Additional Services Internally When Scaling a Business?

Greg Alexander [00:06:00] Okay, very good. Now, let’s say that you spot a trend, you know, and you’re hearing the same thing enough times where you say, “Jesus, there’s something here.” At first, you service that need by partnering with others, and that makes total sense. But then it’s a substantial enough business that it might be worth investing in that capability in-house. 

Let’s for the purposes of education today, let’s assume we’re at that point. So you’ve made the decision to bring this service in-house, and you’re going to develop it internally. How do you do it? 

Marc Cooper [00:06:33] Well, you know, being an entrepreneur, there’s always that leap of faith. Right. But you go out, and you’re hiring  for the role. And honestly, instead of working with the third-party  service provider that you were bringing in, you work with your internal team. 

Our clients tend to care more about the partners in the agency that are delivering their service than they do about the individuals that are actually working on all the different components. So they gladly accept a new name on a call or in a meeting that’s going to be helping to build out their solution. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:18] Yep. And the focus at that point of the new service line that you’ve developed, is it to bring it to the existing client base and therefore expand the revenue stream from the current clients? Or are you also taking it out to new pursuits? 

Marc Cooper [00:07:35] Yeah, I think it’s like everything we do, right. About 70% of the business is servicing the existing clients. But then you’re always thinking, you know, maybe you hit that break-even  point where it makes sense to bring them in and sell them off to your existing clients. 

But now how do you make that incremental revenue and use  it as a way to go out, reach new clients and new prospects, you know. Ss maybe a new foot in the door to build a bigger relationship with those new clients is always sort of top of mind. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:04] What I love about this approach is it’s outward in, you know, you’re listening to the client and then responding. Sometimes, owners of professional service firm boutiques that are trying to scale, they do the opposite. 

You know, they’re educating themselves in their domain, and they get excited about the new hot thing. And they put forward all this effort to hire some people and design methodologies and automate with tech, etc. And then they go, and they take it to their customers, and it doesn’t sell. And they can’t understand why. I’ve made that mistake myself in the past, and it’s painful when it happens. Have you been able to avoid that, or from time to time, does that happen to you as well? 

Marc Cooper [00:08:44] No, I think like everybody we’re human that we think we know better and we try a few things. But I would say the majority of the time, it’s because we’re listening to our clients. We’ve heard them ask for something, and we do it. Yeah, you know, but every once in a while, you try to also be ahead of the curve. And if you’re going to be ahead of the curve, that’s when you have to try 

I think an experiment. Maybe even if you haven’t heard as many clients say they want something. Yeah. But you know, most of the time, it’s listening to your clients and delivering on what they’re looking for. Okay. Biggest payoff. 

Tactics for Developing New Service Lines for Your Professional Services Firm

1. Client Advisory Board

Greg Alexander [00:09:22] You know, there are  a few other tactics that members are using to develop new service lines, to listen to the clients, to see what the need is. We talked about your example of the quarterly business review. Another one that I’m seeing gaining traction is the Client Advisory Board. 

And just to simply explain that you collect a few clients of yours, you meet with them maybe twice a year for a day and a half or so. And in this particular case, a client is saying, you know, here are the challenges that I’m having in my business right now, now and in the future. And they’re giving feedback into kind of what your roadmap may or may not be. What are your thoughts on a client advisory board? 

Marc Cooper [00:10:00] You know, I love the idea, and it’s something that we’ve talked a little bit about but haven’t really pursued as much as we should. But, you know, one of the things that we do like to do is bring clients together for social events. 

And when you see each, you know, your clients actually interacting with each other and talking about what they’ve learned, you know, outside what’s necessary of the agency relationship, you can see that there’s something really powerful happening there where those clients are sharing their own experiences with each other. So to tap into that and get them to focus on how we could get better delivering against their needs, I think it would be well worth exploring even deeper. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:46] Yeah, it’s something that I’ve done in my past and in what I would suggest is it’s a way to formalize it. You know, the informal way of getting clients together and socializing is very beneficial for sure. And I’m glad you’re doing that. This would be the next logical step. You know, you would formalize it. 

What I always liked about it is, you know, it’s one of the only times where the client’s presenting to you. So imagine yourself in a conference room, and you’re sitting there, and the clients walk you through their deck, which is a really, really cool thing. Okay. 

2. Client Satisfaction Reviews

Greg Alexander [00:11:12] Another thing that we hear is client satisfaction reviews, or sometimes people use NPS as an example, and there’s a way to structure those survey tools to collect ideas for new service lines. Do you do any type of client satisfaction reporting? 

Marc Cooper [00:11:31] So we have a scorecard that we make available to clients after every project and now after every significant project. We have a lot of projects as an ad agency where we might be changing an offer in a banner ad, and we don’t necessarily seek big feedback on that. But on the more significant projects we seek feedback, and the feedback is really a lot of it’s about process and creativity, making sure we’re bringing the right ideas to the table. 

So there are a few times, especially when it comes down to were we being proactive for their business, where we bring in the latest and greatest ideas to the table. That’s where some of those new service opportunities pop up when they think they indicate maybe that, you know, we did a seven out of ten on something. 

It  inspires a conversation, but we don’t have a formal spot to actually ask, was there anything else that we could have delivered that we didn’t or anything like that? And I think as I’ve been researching this more, I think that’s an area where I want to spend more time. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:39] You know, it’s a pretty easy fix. You know, you add a sentence or two or a question or two to a survey and send it out. And and when I’ve used that before in the past, it was, it was the origination of some really good ideas. And what I love about it, it’s easy to execute. So that’s a good idea for the audience to kick around. 

3. Win-Loss Reviews

Greg Alexander [00:12:56] Okay. Kind of a kissing cousin to that would be win-loss  reviews. And what this is is that for new pursuits, you mentioned 30% of your business comes from new clients. You know, after the sales campaign for those that you’ve won and for those of you lost. You know, some type of feedback mechanism with the prospect that went through the sales campaign to understand why you won and why you lost. And sometimes, that can be a fantastic way to identify new opportunities for service line extension. Have you experimented with that at all? 

Marc Cooper [00:13:24] Yeah, we have. You know, every time we do a pitch, especially in a formal RFP, we ask for a debrief afterwards, win or lose, and we sit down. Sometimes it’s with the procurement manager. Sometimes it’s with one of the review panel. But we’re always looking to figure out why did we win and why did we lose. 

There was one instance where we actually won a very large client. They’ve been with us now for 12 years. Fantastic relationship. And we discovered that we won for a reason we had never anticipated. It was because, during our pitch presentation, we put an emphasis on the great quality we put into the production of the end product. 

And we’re a creative agency, but we still talked a little bit about the production that goes into the end product, and that was what differentiated us from the others in that particular pitch. So since then, we’ve been actually able to monetize the fact that we have better standards or put a bigger emphasis on the production there. And so it actually helped us make that a bit more of a service offering than just a table stake  that we thought it was. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:41] That’s a great story. I appreciate you sharing that. That’s a real pragmatic implementation of that technique, and it’s working really well for you. So now inspire many others to do the same. Okay. 

4. Conferences

Greg Alexander [00:14:51] And the last idea I want to get your opinion on is, I guess before the pandemic, we would all go to some conferences. There’s lots of industry conferences, and I always found those very interesting to go to stimulate creativity or new things. 

We could bring up everything from just the agenda to see what the topics are, because normally whoever’s putting on the conference surveyed the audience to see what should be discussed. I also liked walking the trade show floor to see what all the other vendors are doing. Did you use conferences as a way to stimulate ideas for new services? 

Marc Cooper [00:15:25] Yeah, we still do to a certain extent in the virtual conferences. You know what we like to do. I mean, we attend all the marketing and advertising conferences that we should that are, you know, in the marketing and advertising field. But we also like to attend conferences that are in our clients’ industry. 

Yeah, a lot of them have an industry association that  put on an annual conference. So not only do we attend, but where we can, we try to present, we try to get a speaking role, whether it’s on the main stage or in a side room. And it gives us an opportunity to explain to our clients that not only do we care about their business, we care about their industry. And we want to learn as much as we can so that we can be a true extension of their team. And while we’re doing that, of course, we open ourselves up to a whole new audience because we come across as experts within that particular niche. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:23] It’s a great idea. I mean, it’s such a subtle thing, but if you’re going like in your case as a marketing agency, if you go into just the shows for agencies, it’s a little bit of, you know, everybody talking about the same thing, right? It’s a little of an echo chamber. 

But if you go to the conferences of your clients, it’s now a step beyond that, and you’re hearing how other people in that industry might need your services. And that can be a great source of inspiration for new service lines. Awesome. 

Marc Cooper [00:16:54] Absolutely. We also have in the past acted as judges for those industry associations when they have their own marketing awards. And so that opens us up to other, you know, our clients and their competitors even at those associations ceremonies. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:13] That’s a great idea for sure. Plus, it has lots of credibility. If you’re judging American Idol, you know, you’ve become a celebrity, right? Alight, Marc. Well, listen fantastic input today. Thank you very much for that. If the audience members would like to get a hold of you to continue the conversation, what’s the best, best way to reach you. 

Marc Cooper [00:17:33] If they can head over to Junction59.com,and there’s a lot of information there about us and including all my contact information. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:42] Okay, fantastic. And for those listening, if you want to learn more about this subject, how to develop new service lines, how to develop a business scaling strategy, and many others, you can pick up a copy of our book called “The Boutique: How to Start, Scale, and Sell A Professional Services Firm,” which I’m proud to say just became an Amazon number one bestseller in our little niche. 

And then also, if you’re interested in meeting great people like Marc, you might consider joining our mastermind community. And you can find us at Collective54.com. But Marc, thanks again. It was great to say hello to you and to listen to how you’re implementing this particular business scaling technique. 

Marc Cooper [00:18:18] Great. Thanks for having me on today, Greg. Really appreciate it. 

Episode 72 – How an E-commerce Consulting Firm Developed Multi-Year Client Relationships – Member Case with Bart Mroz

Firms that focus on delivering a great client experience along with their high-quality work reach scale. In this podcast episode, we interview Bart Mroz, CEO at SUMO Heavy Industries, to discuss the client experience and trust-building to develop long-term client relationships.If you wish to grow your consulting business, you must understand how to navigate client relationships.

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54. A podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that don’t know us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale, and exit your firm bigger and faster. I’m the founder, Greg Alexander, and I’ll also be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to talk about client experience, and our guest today is member Bart Mroz. Bart, good to see you. 

Bart Mroz [00:00:45] Hello there. How are you? 

Greg Alexander [00:00:46] Pretty good. Would you mind properly introducing yourself to the audience? 

Bart Mroz [00:00:51] Sure. I am the CEO of SUMO Heavy Industries. We are an e-commerce consulting firm. We’ve been around for almost 12 years and started as a web development shop. Grew into a lot more consulting work then than just, you know, development. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:09] I’m looking at these sumo wrestlers behind your shoulder, and I can see the name of your company. So I have to ask, where did that originate from? 

Bart Mroz [00:01:19] I wish therewas a crazier story, but it’s actually our Director of Marketing and myself have known each other for almost 20 years now, and the SU is actually him in it. And the MO is me. And then we didn’t want to have a company name that’s like web development or anything like that and everything in Japan is heavy and industries. 

And ironically, our little tagline sometimes says surprisingly agile, which sumo wrestlers are. So we build a work on big things, but we’re also a really small team, and we’re surprisingly agile. Very cool. So it kind of fit. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:54] Yeah, it does fit . Yeah. Excellent. All right. So today, we’re going to talk about client experience, and I’m going to set this up a little bit. So it’s my opinion that when boutiques are trying to scale, they need to get more sophisticated in the client experience and understand the difference between quality and service. 

And most of our members are true domain experts as you are Bart , and they focus entirely sometimes on the quality, meaning I delivered what I said I was going to do. But the experience of the client goes through along the way is equally important because usually, clients are doing this for maybe for the first time, and they’re engaging with you and building a relationship. 

And there are all kinds of emotional feelings that are happening as we go through the engagement. And clients can become long-term  clients if they literally feel good about the relationship, and that feel good is in addition to the results that you produce. 

Sometimes professional service firms don’t scale because they just produce great results, and they wonder why they don’t have longstanding client relationships. They’ll hear things like, “Greg, I’m doing a great job, and I got fired.” Or, “Hey, I’m clearly the best service provider, but I didn’t get hired.” And that’s because sometimes clients can’t tell. They can’t recognize your brilliance. And what separates the fast-growing firms from the average firm is  this dimension of client experience. 

So, I guess, let me start with my first question Bart,  and  that is just maybe a broad overview of what your thoughts are regarding client experience. And you know, have you documented it or how do you think about that with your firm? 

How to Grow Your Consulting Business: Pay Attention to the Client Experience

Bart Mroz [00:03:39] It’s a huge part of our firm. So in our almost 12 years, we switched to a full retainer kind of company. So it’s a long-term sort of process. I think our longest client has been with us for 11 years now. So our shortest is two months, but we just signed a few new clients. 

So there’s that average like five years right now, which is yeah. So it’s a long term. We are there all the time. We happened to be in an industry that’s e-commerce that’s longer. But it’s all about…For us, sure, we produce awesome work and work with clients, but it’s helping them understand it. 

So I know this is like a long round about thing, but it sets up the whole course of this. It is like half our clients are about 25 million dollars and under online sales, and half of them are one hundred and over. Two different versions and two different things you have to do with them, right? 

The smaller client needs the hand-holding and being them with them at all times. And it could be anything right, they are  like we’re trying to get a new vendor, and we have nothing to do with it. We’re not going to make money off of that, but we’re helping a client get through that process. And it makes it simple for us too. Um, because then we know what the vendor is. 

We can help them with that on the largest client. It’s having those relationships where they’re just longer for us. And the way I can kind of describe that, if it is ever a technical sort of engagement you always have the internal technical team come to the table, right? Oh my God, they’re bringing you consultants and what’s going to happen. And it eventually becomes where they tell most of the senior staff to leave and let the developers talk because it’s the idea of like making relationships that way. 

So for us, to grow your consulting business, it’s about the relationship. It’s about being friendly and just kind of hand-holding a lot of times at the beginning of the relationship, and eventually, it becomes a long-term type thing for us. 

Navigating Client Relationships: How to Work With a Client and Their Team

Greg Alexander [00:05:39] You know, that example you just gave us about the internal team coming to the table, and they’re like, “Oh gosh, how come the consultants are here?” You know, it’s a great story for us to maybe pick on a little bit because I think sometimes we forget that external consultants, whatever type you are, it’s a threat to the internal team. 

The internal team might think, “Hey, this is my job, I know what I’m doing. What do we need these guys for?” So when you’ve dealt with that, and clearly you have multiyear relationships with your clients, how do you overcome that particular concept of they’re threatened by you? 

Bart Mroz [00:06:16] We don’t sit in that meeting, but for us, it’s always been understanding that our job is to walk in the client and make them better than we left them. But that means most of those answers are going to be with the people that been there forever. So, in reality, as a consultant, our job is to take those people’s  sort of answers and present them to the management and go, “Hey, this is what’s had to happen.” 

By the way, we’ll work with your team because they know better how to implement them. So that’s kind of like a weird way of looking at it, but it gets us on the same page with the people actually doing the work. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:52] Yeah. So we’re talking about client experience and how emotionally charged client relationships can be. We just discussed one of the emotions, which is threatened. Another one that I run into all the time is clients can be worried. And what I mean that is they can be worried that you’re going to make them look bad in the process. 

So in that example that you just gave us, you’re working with the team, and you uncover an answer to a problem. You present it up to management. Does the team ever feel like you’re going to make them look bad? And how do you get around that? 

Bart Mroz [00:07:20] I think it’s more of they might. But we don’t feel that just because we tried to make that relationship with that team very solid and the knowledge between the two. I don’t. It’s a weird way of looking at it, but the teams kind of jive really well within the first few weeks. We go through a we call it… We have what we call our discovery process, a weight-in, and it’s a longer process, but it’s that whole relationship building at the same time while we’re actually learning the client’s business. 

It’s a part of that and I think just being in the trenches of with people and going, we can help you. That’s where it doesn’t. It’s the trust factor. Eventually, I think that from many years of doing this, we have this weird knack of being very friendly and making sure those guys are together because we know where some of that work comes from. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:22] Yeah. So this process you just mentioned the weight-in which obviously works very nicely with the name of your firm. Is this like a formal process to try to overcome some of these trust issues? 

Bart Mroz [00:08:35] Yes, it is what we start our relationships with every time or our projects. It’s a two-month  process. It’s very structured, with a lot of phone calls and a lot of Zoom calls, and it’s spread out between, it depends on the client. We work in e-commerce. The ferocity they’re looking at includes, what the client needs, what the business looks like, what the tools are, and code reviews. Those kinds  of things are very important. It’s very structured on purpose. It’s also very long. It’s not your typical discovery. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:03] Yeah, I love it. I think it’s a great idea. And what I like about it is that it’s built for scale, meaning every client goes through the way. And so all of your employees, after a while, are going to get really good at conducting the weigh-in, and you’re hardwiring the client experience right into the delivery of the work. 

And that’s probably one of the reasons why your client relationships are so long and tenure. Okay, let’s talk about another emotion, which is ignorance. You know, you’re clearly an expert, and you go into your clients, and they might not know as much as you know about this particular thing. And you know, they might feel stupid at times. So during the weigh-in  process, how do you help them open up and not feel dumb? 

Bart Mroz [00:09:43] It’s asking those questions and making sure my sort of employees, my staff, all the management understand it’s not. It’s asking questions, right? And no question is wrong. It’s about their business. So, in reality, the way we walk in is like, “Sure. We know how to solve a problem.” But, the client knows their business, right? 

They might not know what kind of tools they need to solve that problem. But our job is to kind of get that from them. So I feel like that’s the weird reverse. Like, that’s where it kind of reversed that is that we’re just curious basically about the business itself. And then we work through, “All right. Hey, listen, you know, you have an old system, you’ve been in the business for a while. Let’s help you go through that.” And that’s asking questions. 

How to Earn Client Trust When Growing Your Consulting Business

Greg Alexander [00:10:28] Yeah, OK. All right. Then one more emotion that I’d like to share with you and see if the weigh-in process, which is your client experience journey, addresses this, and that is this issue of suspicion. You know, sometimes relationships get destroyed because people are suspicious, like, who are these guys? And can I trust them? You know, it takes time to earn trust. And even though the weigh-in process is long, by most standards, it’s still short. It’s only a couple of months. So how do you earn trust that quickly? 

Bart Mroz [00:11:01] So a lot of the clients we have now are coming from people who left and went to other places. And some of them, I think, would just find a client that the guy that the person that brought us in, he’s on his fourth. So you just bring us in. But this is just over the years working through sort of the process of learning people, understanding them. And then, in reality, it’s having a good reference network. 

I mean, that’s you know, and I know that’s may be a cop-out , but it isn’t. If it’s a brand new, we’ve never seen a person before, that is just making sure that we are  making them comfortable, making sure they are comfortable. And we had sort of one. I think we’ve had weigh-ins  where we do for just two months, and we get to a point where it’s like, “Guys, this product is not going to go anywhere. Or, you can take it. It’s too small for us to actually execute. You can take this whole plan with you and go ahead. And people had come back to us or went somewhere else. So that’s our trust, but that’s the trust we built. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:06] Yeah, that’s fantastic. All right. Well, I love it. I mean, this is a best practice here. So for those listening to this, challenge yourself to do what Bart does, which is document your client experience, not just the quality of your work. Think about the emotional context of your client and how you build trust quickly. 

Maybe come up with your version of the weigh-in , and it will go a long way as you try to scale a business. And Bart’s an example because his client relationships are measured in years, not weeks and months, which most of us are. 

Well, Bart, thanks again, man. I appreciate you being here and dropping mad wisdom on us. And for those that want to learn more about this subject or others like it, you can find our book called “The Boutique: How to Start, Scale, and Sell A Professional Services Firm” on Amazon. I’m proud to say I just became a bestseller in our niche, and if those of you who are interested in meeting bright, capable people like Bart, consider joining our mastermind  community, and you can find us at Collective54.com. Bart, thanks again. I appreciate it. 

Bart Mroz [00:13:09] Thank you so much. This was great. Greg Alexander [00:13:10] OK, take care.