Innovation is a new idea. A new service. A new business model. Boutiques that innovate grow and scale rapidly. Continuous innovators become the market leaders. On this episode, Craig Dreiling, CEO at Solutions-101 LLC, shares how his firm was able to innovate and create a new product that commands a higher price.
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 dedicated exclusively to helping you grow, scale and exit your professional services firm. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’ll be your host. And today we’re going to talk about a topic that’s not often discussed when we discuss process firms. And that’s the topic of innovation. And what I hope to accomplish today is to prove. That innovating a service can have just as much impact on the success of a processor firm as innovating a product can have on a product company. And we’re very fortunate today to have a role model with us. His name is Craig Dreilling, and he’s a member of Collective 54, and he’s going to be sharing part of his journey with us today. So welcome to the show, Craig. And would you mind giving a proper introduction of you and your firm?
Craig Dreiling [00:01:25] Absolutely. Well, first of all, thanks for having me and appreciate the opportunity to work with you and Collective 54. But I started a firm back in 2014, 2015, and it was in the dental industry and we started looking at certain aspects of the business side of dentistry and kind of found out that there is a demand for something that was never being fulfilled. And when we figured that out, what happened was, is that there were pieces of it that were being talked about and examined and explored, but there was never a holistic approach to the entire process. So I went in from a different method. And, you know, you always talk about experiences and collective 54 and that’s kind of what we had to do. You know, you can go to a theme park or you can go to a theme park and you can ride rides or you can ride rides. And that’s kind of what we were looking at. There’s this this adventure, this ride going on in the industry, and no one was really kind of explaining it or going through that process. So we were able to kind of capitalize on that and look at that aspect and go from there. So what resulted from that? Long story short, is that we became a medical data analytics company out of it wasn’t what we were looking to do originally, but that’s where it really fell into place and everything started clicking.
Greg Alexander [00:02:48] Why a medical data analytics company. One thing I love about Collective 54 is I run into all kinds of interesting businesses, and that is one that I’ve never heard of before. And the fact that it was born from the dental industry, which some might suggest is not the most exciting space in the world, is a really interesting use case. So let me set this up a little bit before I jump into the question. So what is innovation in terms of a professional services firm? What could be can be a new idea, as Craig to share with us. It could be a new service offer for the idea become the new service that generates revenue. Sometimes it’s even a new business model. Let me give you a couple of examples that have jumped out at me. So the great Bruce Henderson, who started Boston Consulting Group, which is one of the leading consulting firms in the world, I mean, way back in the day, he invented the experience curve, which we all now know that the first time you do something takes a long time and costs a lot. The hundredth time you do something, you do it a lot faster and a lot cheaper. That’s the experience curve. And he pioneered that and on the back of that Boston Consulting Group was born or let’s think about there was a time in the legal profession when the deposition wasn’t recorded. You could record the deposition that changed the law profession forever. There was a time in the accounting industry where there wasn’t a ledger. Could you imagine that? The ledger was an innovation. Or maybe today when we think about things like blockchain or the web design firm Wix, you know, web design used to be a process that was incredibly labor intensive. Therefore, it was expensive to update websites, come out with new websites, and these days it’s not through artificial intelligence. I mean, you can build a website in just a few, a few moments and it’s not very expensive. So these are all wonderful innovations that have happened in the process of space. The thing that’s often not talked about is the impact that can have on the financials of a company. So Craig, as I understand it, the team has told me that your firm is doing exceptionally well financially and we in comparison to other members through the process of benchmark data. It appears that you’re you’re doing exceptionally well in some key dimensions. For example, your sales cycle is about one third the average sales cycle of our members. Your average deal size, it looks like it’s gone up by a factor of five just in the last year. The amount of revenue generated from new clients is two X, the normal rate for most pro serve firms. So I want to make the leap that this is the result of your innovation. But before I make that leap, I want you to tell me, is that true or not? And what would you attribute all these fantastic results to?
Craig Dreiling [00:05:36] Yeah, I can confirm that’s true. Those numbers are true and that experience is true, and you can contribute that to a lot of things. First and foremost is the education that I’ve received and starting a business. And when I say education, that’s hitting the ground running, not knowing what you’re doing and trying to figure it out along the way. And I always tell any of our employees or anyone that, you know, ask. There’s there’s two types of people that start a business. There’s that type of person who has to have their business plan completed 100% every crossed, every I dotted. And they won’t start until it’s done. And then there’s people like me who have a general skeleton or outline of that business plan. And we go. And by doing that, you know, post COVID has really changed a lot of things. And it was a good thing for my business because it gave me an opportunity to examine what we were doing. And then just by happenstance, I fell under Collective 54 and it really kind of shined a light on some things that I was doing wrong and not understanding how a person farm or a business, a service form firm really needed to be functioning. That education just came from hard work, trial and error and learning from our own mistakes. And so, yeah, with what we’ve been able to do and how we’ve changed that, you know, going from a month to month type contract into a project based firm has really been what’s expanded the company, those labor wise, employee wise, regional wise. We function in every state in the United States and income wise.
Greg Alexander [00:07:27] So let’s discuss that a little bit. So the the switch from kind of a timing materials pay as you go month to month model. To a project based B and the impact that that’s had on the amount of revenue and margin that you make. Could you explain that a little bit more to our members that might be wondering what that means or maybe share an example or two? That would be a good illustration.
Craig Dreiling [00:07:55] Yeah. So when you innovate something, anything, the first thing you’ve got to figure out is, you know, what’s it worth? What’s this widget worth? What’s this process worth? And I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to calculate that. I didn’t know how to even examine that number. But what I did know is our clients were making six digit, sometimes seven digit returns on the work we were doing. And I mean, when I say we were getting peanuts, we were barely getting 1% of that. And so when we finally figured that out and we looked at and we said, hang on for the amount of work that we’re doing, it’s not the same in every situation because every office, every client, every doctor is different. We need to look at this as we’re doing a project, and once that kind of came into focus, it allowed us to say, okay, the amount of effort we’re going to have in this project is X, and if the client’s making, you know, ten times, 15, 20 times what that is, should we feel guilty for charging $60,000 for a client that’s going to make $500,000 return on their investment the first year? And that was kind of what we had to really figure out was how do you calculate that? What your worth. But what’s funny is Greg, after I kind of started looking deeper into some of these concepts and some of these member cases and studies, it really was. What’s the team involvement in this? It’s not an arbitrary number. It is really based on who do you have working on these projects and where do you go from that the cheaper you charge someone. The cheaper the work becomes internally. And one of the things we did when we went from a month to month to a project based firm was we changed not only the caliber of our team, but the caliber of our clients. And that was a game changer.
Greg Alexander [00:09:48] And you were able to change the caliber of your team and the caliber of your clients because you have an innovative products, product service being applied, medical data analytics in a very well-defined niche, and therefore the value that your client is receiving is exponential. So their willingness to pay, which is a a scientific term used in pricing, willingness to pay has gone up dramatically. So what that means for those that are listening is you switch from a pricing model that’s cost up. In other words, what is my manpower, my level of effort needed to pull off this project? What does that cost me internally? And then I throw a margin on top of that. That’s the incorrect way of pricing. The correct way is to start with what’s the value I’m generating for a client and what percentage of that value will the client share with me? And that determines the willingness to pay. And when you have. Fast revenue growth as Craig does and very profitable engagements that. You’re able to hire a different caliber of person and you’re able to go after a certain type of client because you have the funds and the capital to do so. That’s the byproduct of being innovative, and that’s what we all aspire to do. Craig Let me let me keep on this subject of innovation for a moment, because it’s one thing to innovate once and it’s another thing to have continuous innovation. Sometimes things can become commoditized over time. So how have you maintained this culture of innovation inside your firm?
Craig Dreiling [00:11:30] So one of the things in any type of medical setting is that it’s a moving target. The companies we have to deal with. So the major insurance companies that we have to deal with in the data we’re pulling, they’re forever changing. They’re creating lease networks with Company A, they’re buying regional companies. They’re dissolving lease networks with Company B, that process never stops moving because that industry is so big. And one of the things I looked at when I started doing this was, is this viable? I literally Greg, I started this in the front seat of my car. I’m not kidding. My wife was working for Johnson and Johnson and her salary was funding this project, all of this data coming in. And so we had just had twins. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. And so I had to look her in the face and say, hey, I think I’m on to something. But in the back of my head, Greg, I had to say, is this viable long term? Well, thankfully. Not everyone, but almost everyone has teeth. It’s nothing that’s going to go away. And so in this field, there’s really not a lot of outside threats that can happen, which means in order for us to stay viable and to answer your question, yeah, we’re always innovating. And one of the things we do is that we don’t market or advertise. We’re actually completely organically grown that our our target audience, you know, we do a lot with CFP, with CPAs, with private equity firms. You know, you would be surprised how many of these national chains are owned by venture capitalists and private equity. That’s a huge sector, but they see what we do. So they utilize our services because they know there’s nothing else out there like it. So we’re always trying to innovate around what the industry is doing to change. You know, you look at, you know, apps and cell phones and those things are always changing. So that’s something that’s always going to be around. Well, medicine is always going to be around. So, yeah, we’re constantly trying to figure out new ways to record the data, to display the data, to get the data out to the clients, to use that data. And I know, Greg, you didn’t say it, but you repeated it one time and it stuck with me. In God, we trust everybody else. Bring data. And that is what we do every day. All day is we bring the data.
Greg Alexander [00:14:00] Yeah. You know, it’s just a great example of the riches are in the niches and you know, medical data analytics in the delta industry, in the dental industry, excuse me is just, just a great example of that. I want to come back to something that you said, and maybe this is the last line of questioning. You talked about not feeling guilty about charging your clients a certain dollar amount. When I speak to members in our private one on one officer sessions, this topic of guilt comes up a lot and I explore it and it’s an emotional thing and it gets to our our perception of our own self-worth. Tell me a little bit about your own personal sense of guilt as it relates to what you charge clients and it ultimately, how did you overcome it and what advice would you give to those that are listening to this?
Craig Dreiling [00:14:51] So one of the biggest things about our clients is that, you know, a lot of them who need us can’t afford us. They’re in a situation where they’re saying, hey, you got to call this company and you’ve got to utilize them. They’ve got to fix your books. We’ve got to figure out why your revenue stream is not happening. So that’s one thing I kind of didn’t explain when we work with these clients is because they need to increase their revenue. So the only way to do that is through this data. And knowing that, knowing that the money they’re paying us every month is almost painful for them, but they don’t have a choice. They don’t have another alternative because to my knowledge and to the industry, no one does what we do the way we do it. And so knowing that they’re in a financial hardship, but we can get them to the end of the tunnel is kind of where I had to deal with this. And I had an office and I’m not kidding. It was our first seven digit return for an office, but there is three doctors and one practice and their first year we recovered over $1.4 million for them.
Greg Alexander [00:15:56] My gosh.
Craig Dreiling [00:15:57] And our bill, it was when I first started, they paid us $36,000. That’s when the light went off. I was like, wait a minute, we can’t I can’t be doing those kind of relies and not having the caliber of people I need on my team to do that. And so when I struggled with that, it was because I knew they needed our help. But I also needed to be able to employ the best of the best. My Chief Data Officer is PhD. Yeah, the data that comes out of here. So I’ve never seen anything like it. And so I know that by charging our clients what we charge them, they’re getting the best out of us. By not charging that number, I’m getting them to the goal. It’s just probably a little bit more painful along the way. So that’s really where I struggled and coped and came to terms with it.
Greg Alexander [00:16:51] Yeah. Well, what allowed you to do that and this is a topic for another day, is we have a very clear client around $1.4 million, the 36 grand. So for those that are listening to this, that’s what you’re striving for, is striving for not a squishy or soft cost justification, but a hard cost justification. And that often comes through innovation, you know, being able to do something that no one else can do and prove its worth. And if you’re able to do that, you can charge almost whatever you want. And the result of that is much faster revenue growth and much, much higher margins, which allow a lot of you to hire people like PhDs. Craig, I can talk to you about this forever, but you know, we try to keep these podcasts short to about 15 minutes. So we’re at our window here. But listen, on behalf of the membership, you know, the way that these collectives, ours and others work is, you know, we take from the knowledge bank, but we have to make deposits in the knowledge bank. You know, that’s how peers learn from peers. So you really provide a tremendous value for us today. On behalf of everybody, I want to make sure that I publicly acknowledge and thank you for your contribution to Collective 54.
Craig Dreiling [00:18:03] Well, thank you. I appreciate your time and I appreciate the opportunity to meet with these members and ask these questions and really get that. It’s kind of like the CliffsNotes version of what to do when running a business, and it’s been instrumental in us growing.
Greg Alexander [00:18:18] Fantastic. Okay, so for those that are in the professional services space, who want to belong to a community and learn from brilliant people like Craig, consider applying to Collective 54 and you can do that a Collective54.com. And if you would like to read more about this, in addition to listening to podcasts, you can pick up a copy of my book, The Boutique on a start scale and sell a professional services firm. You can find that on our website or you can buy it on Amazon. So thanks for listening. Thanks again, Craig, and we’ll talk to you on our next show.
Craig Dreiling [00:18:50] Thank you Greg. I appreciate it.