Episode 150 – Mastering the Pivot: Reframing Your Small Service Firm’s Value Proposition to Meet Your Clients’ Real Needs and Desires – Member Case by Tony Amador

This session outlines the crucial steps for a small service firm to reposition its value proposition based on actual client needs and desires. It discusses the importance of listening to client feedback, extracting actionable insights, and then applying them to refine the firm’s strengths and offerings.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10]  Hi, everyone. This is Greg Alexander, the host of the Pro Serve podcast, brought to you by Collective 54, the first mastermind community dedicated to founders of small service firms trying to grow scale and someday sell their firms. On this episode, we’re going to talk about pivoting your value proposition. This is something we often have to do as young emerging firms, and we’ve got a collective 54 member with us today. His name is Tony Amador. And Tony, it’s good to see you. I understand you got quite an experience with this particularly recent experience. And thanks for being here. And please properly introduce yourself to the audience. 

Tony Amador [00:00:55] Sounds great. Thanks, Greg. Yeah, great to be here. I’m Tony Amador and I am the co-founder and chief client officer of Proxy. And Proxy is an executive multiplier that helps small and medium sized business executives, gives them a strategic advisor with a breadth of business knowledge and repeatable processes to help them complete their goals, set initiatives and complete their goals to grow their business. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:24] Okay. Executive multipliers. So tell me what that means. 

Tony Amador [00:01:29] Yeah, it really is that we’re going to make that executive the best they can be. So we’re going to multiply them in terms of how many places they can be in one time and how much they can get completed, what they can get done. And so we’re multiplying the executive. We’re also multiplying the business. So we’re making the business better. So we’re process is better, growing the revenues, just making a better business. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:54] Okay. Got it. Makes sense. All right. So we’re going to talk today about pivoting the value proposition. So my team tells me that you recently did this and you’ve got quite a story to tell us. So why don’t I just have you fill the audience? And so what happened? 

Tony Amador [00:02:10] Yeah. So we started our business. We we tested it in 2019. As with the idea of being a chief of staff, that that that a client again could could hire to help them just be better, right? Grow their business, be better and give them another set of hands, if you will. And really, the value proposition that we had at the beginning was about a lack of time. We thought the problem we were solving was lack of time. And so we were going to give clients time back. So that was our value proposition is we know you’re busy, we know you can’t get everything accomplished that you want to get accomplished, and we’re going to help give you time back. And we’re going to do that with the chief of staff. And that chief of staff will do everything really from virtual assistant through, in some cases, all the way almost to a CEO. Right. Like really help find the right solutions for things, but everything in between. And so that’s where we got started. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:09] Okay. 

Tony Amador [00:03:10] Okay. And you both you. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:11] Pivoted away from that. 

Tony Amador [00:03:13] We have. And so, you know, in about two years in what we we realized a few things. And one that the problem we were solving, it wasn’t really lack of time. Right. That was a that’s an out shoot of hey, I don’t know which initiative to do. I need some help with the initiatives. I’m not sure where to start. I’m not sure what priority. And so what our chief of staff’s chiefs of staff were doing were those things all much more strategic and getting things done. And at the same time, we were being their virtual assistant or their executive assistant and but that the real value we were bringing was on that other side. So they really didn’t care as much about that time back Once you really got in there and we put someone with them that had a breadth of business knowledge and could really help assess what was going on, assess the people, assess the processes and and put improvements in place, better initiatives in place. So then it was really about that person and that and again, the client always only knew one person, but we used the team and so at the same time we’re in their email or we’re in their calendar. But some clients didn’t need that or some that, or we found that the client. And so then it’s like, Well, what about that? Or then there were clients where they really just need an executive assistant. So they hired us because they need an executive assistant and they went with, You’re going to solve my problem of lack of time. But they weren’t really in the place of Let me jump in with you and let’s work on initiatives. They just wanted that other piece, which was not that that’s not where our real value was from. And so what we realized was, one, we had super successful clients that didn’t even use that part of the service and two, the ones that did use it in a lot of cases were too focused on that. And so then again, as a team, while they didn’t know that person, one little thing that would happen in a calendar or an email would suddenly be a road bump that while we’re doing amazing things and strategy and initiatives and moving the business. And so then there’s they’re upset about something that wasn’t even really what we really wanted to do for them. Right. And make them better, make their business better. And so we started selling without the virtual assistant piece. And had no problems. And so then all of a sudden you realized, wait a minute, what we really are is an executive multiplier. We’re making them better. We’re giving them more chances. Again, we’re in meetings in their place. We’re in meetings with them. And so we’re very quickly able to go from that meeting to figure out where to go next. And we’re making and we’re growing businesses. And so we started selling without it started talking about an executive multiplier. And when we did that, we also created the chief of staff roundtable. And so we spun that off as a separate business because that’s not really what we are. And so then we landed where where we work today, and then we have a pivot from there that will that we can talk about if you want to. But that’s where we went. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:11] So before we move on to the second pivot, let’s stay on this first one for a moment. So that’s a big pivot. I mean, the the premise of the business when you launched was one thing and you learned it wasn’t that. It was it was something else. So so how did you execute this and get everybody on board and have the courage to make the change? 

Tony Amador [00:06:34] Yeah. I think, you know from the beginning what our real vision was, is that from, you know, two of our founders were sitting on advisory boards and where they would talk about ideas for founders and the founder would love it, and then they’d come back a month later, two months later, and they hadn’t done it yet. And so, again, the problem, they would say it was lack of time, but what they really needed was someone to help them with that initiative. Help. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s how it should happen. This one should go before that one. And so that’s what we were already doing. And so because we were already doing that and we have we’re we’re documenting all of our process. So you pull them off the shelf and you’re ready for the next client to do that same thing. The pivot from that perspective wasn’t terribly difficult for us internally because it’s what my team was already doing right? And then the people I had hired to do that role, that whether internally we call that and they implemented the. That’s funny. Yeah. So we might tell the client that this is your proxy or this is your integrator. Okay. Right. So internally we call it the integrator, but ultimately that’s what we were doing. The strategic advisor, this listener, a trusted advisor, a confidant, you know, all these things that a founder really needs and doesn’t necessarily have someone to talk to and that it’s not safe to talk to some people about things. But you could always talk to this person again, similar to a chief of staff, but but not connected to the administrative duties. And so where we were really successful was in that place. And so that part was an easy pivot. The harder part was, okay, are we going to really stop saying we’re a chief of staff or are we going to change our website or are we going to change the language we use? It was pretty easy, Greg, because, you know, we we’d early on decided it was small and medium business. We had all worked with big businesses and we were ready to work with founders that we could help them make a difference. Well, they don’t know what a chief of staff was, so we spent a lot of time explaining what a chief of staff was. And then some people really warmed on to it’s an executive assistant. It’s a high powered executive assistant, which, again, not what we wanted to be or what we were ever trying to be. And so that part was a little it was actually a little easier than we thought it might be. Yeah. And we went from there. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:55] So with this new understanding and congratulations to you guys for listening, you know, and not being married to the old idea and pivoting based on real, you know, receptivity in the marketplace. You made another pivot. So tell me about that. 

Tony Amador [00:09:12] Yeah. So what we realized probably about three years in was that, again, the work that we’re doing and what we believe in is have the best business you can have. And it will it will grow and it will be more valuable. And so then we started getting clients talking about exiting and what what does it look like when I exit and where am I there? And when we so we started doing a little bit of research around that and what was out there. And we found the Exit Planning Institute and their accreditation for a CPA, you know, certified exit planning advisor. And in doing some research, we realized that, again, what they talk about is have the best business you can have run everything the right way. Don’t have a founder bottleneck, right. Don’t use your words. But that’s the idea, right? Get the founder not to be the bottleneck. Get your process down, have the right people. Again, all the things we do already and they had a metric for that, a survey you could go through and get a score that they’ve connected to a multiple. And so we felt like and believe that if we so we a couple of us went got certified, learned all that and felt like if we took that survey and connected it to our strategic offerings and our standard operating procedures, that we could identify where the weaknesses were that were driving their multiple and we could start in a place and say, here’s your multiple today based on going through the survey. Again, similar to collect the 54 survey, Right. Go through that. Here’s your multiple today. Here’s the things we need to work on when we go do these things, the multiples going to go up, your score is going to go up, the multiples are going to go up. And now we’re a value multiplier, right? And so we’re using that really, again, as a very parallel to what we do. But talking instead of driving initiatives necessarily and growing your business, it’s about multiplying, you know, your value. And so as a value multiplier, that’s what we’ll launch. We’re working through that now and things are coming together very nicely and will launch that in 24. And the thought is that some clients will hire us as an executive multiplier. And in that case, you know, while we help determine what the right order is for the strategy and the initiatives that ultimately a client comes to us saying, I need to get these three things done and then I’ll work on number four. Number five, Yep. It come to us and you need a value multiplier. You’re three years out, two years out, five years out, whatever. We’re going to do the survey and then we’re going to direct. Here’s what needs to be worked on in this order to drive value. And so you might come to us an executive multiplier. You might come to us and need a value multiplier. You might have both at the same time. And we have clients like that that we can we can already see they have an executive multiplier. They think they’re three years out and they’re planning on next year saying, and let me add the value multiplier. So again, one person’s working on what the CEO thinks is important and another one’s working on what the market is going to see is important and will drive that business forward from there. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:04] Interesting question on the terminology. So when we kicked off, I had to have you explain to me what an executive multiplier is. And this is the problem with coming out with new language. And, you know, this is something I’ve lived myself quite a bit. Everybody understands chief of staff, everybody understands an executive assistant, but no one gets an exact multiplier. And now now you’re adding to that by saying. The value multiplier. So there’s two schools of thought here. One school of thought is, you know, use the current vocabulary and fall into an existing category and dominated. The other school of thought is to invent your own vocabulary, create a new category, and therefore, you know, be in a market of one. 

Tony Amador [00:12:49] Right. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:50] Obviously, you guys decided to invent your own vocabulary and try to create a category. Tell me about that decision. 

Tony Amador [00:12:57] Yeah, I think because what we found with small and medium business, that chief of staff wasn’t as easy as we thought it was, that everybody didn’t know what that was. So we came from working at agencies with, you know, Fortune 200 companies. And so our AT&T client had several chiefs of staff in our Frito-Lay. And, you know, all these clients we worked with had chiefs of staff. Everybody knew what that was. We got the small business and somebody with 40 employees, they didn’t know what that was. We spent a whole bunch of time explaining what a chief of staff was, and then they’d go, Yeah, I think I need that. But it might be that they needed the virtual assistant piece. They just really did need time back. And so they really just needed that if they needed the other piece. Well, great. We do that when we say executive multiplier and that we are going to be right there with you helping being with you to run your business. Again, we’re in the leadership meetings, executive team meetings, the whole staff meeting at different times. And we’re working with their staff to run initiatives. When we tell them we’re going to give you someone that knows what to do in what order and and has a way to do it, They get that. And so that part hasn’t been as difficult. And I think on value multiplier, I think since we got through that, we feel like if I tell you we’re going to help multiply the value of your business, I think that one will come maybe even easier than executive multiplied it. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:21] Yup. All right. Well, listen, this is a great little use case here. We try to keep these podcasts short. We were talking about pivoting value propositions. And Tony, just share with us how, you know, there young firm has gone through this now twice. And I think it’s a good learning for us. The big headline here to take away from it is make sure you’re listening to the customer, the client, and be willing to pivot and kind of throw away old work and start new work when when that is required, which is what Proxy has done so. Tony, thanks for being on the show. I look forward to our member Q&A and appreciate you being here today. 

Tony Amador [00:14:59] Thanks, Greg. Really appreciate it. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:01] All right. So a couple of calls to action for listeners. So if you’re a member, attend Tony’s Q&A session. Look for the invite on that. If you’re not a member, you want to be one, go to collective 54.com and fill out an application will appear. Or if you just want to learn more about the types of things that we talk about beyond today’s topic, check out my book, The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a professional services firm, which you can find on Amazon. But until next time, we wish you the best of luck as you try to grow a scale and exit your firm.

Trying to Jumpstart Your Business Success? Master the Ability to Pivot.

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Trying to Jumpstart Your Business Success? Master the Ability to Pivot.

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This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.

Business plans are like mining for gold. Miners had to start with only an educated guess on an area, canvas a stream, then pan and sift endless piles of dirt. Prospecting is largely gone, but it’s a useful metaphor for how business leaders take a problem, solve it, refine it, and continually revisit and adapt — even to the point of tearing down the essential points of their business. This ability is called “intellectual range of motion,” and it’s one of a business leader’s most important tools — especially if you’re selling your expertise.

Peloton, for example, continues to display this intellectual range of motion. While it had a few pain points — lower subscription growth, stock redemption issues and a wave of layoffs — Peloton shows a willingness to explore and change direction.

Today, Peloton has 5 million customers and is worth $3 billion. However, despite significant brand equity, Peloton is substantially changing its business model. The company is muddying the waters of the service-based business vs. product business dynamic and rolling out a “Fitness as a Service” product where people can access Peloton’s training and instructors without the bike itself.

Intellectual range of motion: A powerful tool

The extent to which an idea can be altered based on an entrepreneur’s intuition and imagination falls under their intellectual range of motion. A wide range of motion enables an entrepreneur to turn an idea into a revenue growth opportunity. In contrast, leaders of firms with narrow intellectual ranges cannot recognize an opportunity because of the limits of their imagination.

Intellectual range of motion is more highly valued in a founder of a services business than it is in a product business. This is because services are much more malleable than products. For example, modifying a product to take advantage of an opportunity might require sourcing new raw materials, reconfiguring an assembly line, re-writing software code, developing a new manufacturing process and more. With services, there is none of this, so the time from idea to execution is measured in days and, sometimes, hours.

As a founder myself, I have grown my firm by increasing my intellectual range of motion. For example, the sector I operate in, business mastermind communities, is over 200 years old with a few hundred firms. All of these firms are horizontal providers, meaning they do not serve a specific vertical industry. My firm, on the other hand, serves a single industry — the professional services industry.

This industry specialization has appealed to many and has allowed our firm to grow consistently. The idea for this form of differentiation was found in another business entirely: SaaS. The software category has matured, and many successful SaaS companies now specialize in a vertical industry. My idea was this could (and should) work in the business mastermind community sector — and it has. Recognizing a winning strategy in another industry and successfully porting it into a different one is an example of intellectual range of motion.

Key strategies to improve intellectual range of motion

For entrepreneurs and founders who want to gain better intellectual ranges of motion, there are a few critical actions to take:

1. Ask: What does the world need from me right now?

This question is not asked often enough. The reason this question is neglected is that business owners fall into the routine of delivering what they have always delivered. Due to the benefits of the experience curve, the more often a firm provides a service, the lower the cost and the higher the margin. Business owners are driven by profit and will not discontinue a profitable service line until absolutely necessary. As a result, they stick to their knitting too long and miss opportunities. Over time, this behavior restricts one’s intellectual range of motion.

Blockbuster Video once provided us with a remarkable service: hit movies watched at home for rent. They stuck to VHS tapes but missed mail-order DVDs and video streaming. They went bankrupt as a result, and we now all binge-watch Netflix content. Blockbuster Video no longer fit the market; the market had evolved to services that came to them and, eventually, to fully digital and personalized streaming platforms. This is something founders in professional service firms have to ask themselves consistently to remain competitive in the market, but the lesson remains for large companies like Blockbuster as well.

2. Locate wasted resources in legacy operations

A common reason new ideas that could lead to break-out growth opportunities aren’t pursued is that entrepreneurs incorrectly think they do not have the resources. However, the resources they need are available, they are just consumed with legacy operations.

Legacy service offerings are ripe for optimization. Entrepreneurs should look for ways these services can be delivered with far fewer resources. These newly liberated resources could be allocated to today’s wild idea that could be tomorrow’s golden goose.

3. Produce a roadmap of future offerings

It is best to organize the service-offering roadmap by identifying boundaries. Today’s business and tomorrow’s business are always competing for scarce resources. There is only so much money, time and talent to go around. In the absence of a roadmap organized by time boundaries, today’s business wins the competition for resources. A roadmap makes sure tomorrow’s business gets the resources it needs.

For example, boundary 1 of your roadmap should be defined as offerings in the market for the next year. Boundary 2 should be defined as an offering in the market in two years’ time. And boundary 3 should be defined as offerings in the market in three years’ time. By landscaping out the roadmap in this fashion, an entrepreneur’s intellectual range of motion is increased by stimulating their imagination.

Business leaders looking to jumpstart their success — or simply maintain it — should look to see how they can improve their intellectual range of motion. In the long term, they may just strike gold.