Are you on the verge of selling your business because you don’t know how to grow your business to the next level? If so, then this episode is the one for you. Paul Higgins sits down with business growth advisor, Brad Farris, to share how he is helping businesses get further, past that million-dollar business level. He talks about business bottlenecks, indicators of business growth, and business transition. Speaking about marketing, Brad then talks about switching from face to face sales to online sales and how you can go about the process. Ultimately, the way you make money in business is to solve the same problem over and over again. The best way you can efficiently do that is to have systems that are repeatable and predictable. Brad guides you further in how you can set those systems up, preparing your business on that path to growth.
Our guest is someone who started as an engineer and created great products that marketers were not doing justice to. They decided to go and study marketing and work at how to improve that and they were acquiring some old businesses for a larger company. They realized that the reason people were selling was because of them hitting a growth ceiling. They didn’t know how to step up out of the day-to-day running in the business. This guest loves solving problems. He then jumped into full-time of helping these owners work on the business rather than in the business. He works with creative agencies now and shares his valuable lessons no matter what size of business you run. I’ll emphasize the word business not a job. How to get out of the service delivery in your business? What key matrix to track and an absolute masterclass on who to hire and how? I’ve also given access to an amazing hiring process, which I mentioned in the show.
Welcome, Brad Farris from Anchor Advisors to the show. It’s brilliant having you on here, Brad.
It’s great to be here. Thanks so much, Paul.
You’re an amazing member of our community, the BLG Collective. It’s great to have you on because I know you’re doing a lot of value for people. I’m sure that you’re going to share a lot of value to our audience. What I always love to kick off with is something that your family or friends know about you that we wouldn’t.
Probably the thing that they would know is that over the last few years especially, I’ve been invested in American football and Fantasy Football. I’ve always been a football fan and grew up in the Bay Area, so I’m a 49ers fan. A few years ago, I got into Fantasy Football. The thing about fantasy is it’s not so much about football, as it is about the friends that you play with. It’s the pride. There’s a group I’ve been playing with for about a decade that I become quite good friends with.
I know you started in-home services and you can describe in more detail what that is. You’ve been running this successful consulting business for many years. Take us through a little bit of a journey of working for someone and then transitioning to work for yourself.
I started my career as an engineer and I eventually got frustrated that I could design the perfect product, the product that the marketing person told me that was going to sell and then it doesn’t sell. The way engineers think about it is, “That’s a problem to be solved.” The marketing guy doesn’t know what he’s doing, so I need to learn about marketing. I went on a journey to learn about marketing. In that process, I realized I needed to understand accounting to understand how the scoreboard works and eventually became the nerd that spoke business or the business guy that spoke nerd depending on which side of the table you’re on. The company I was working for at that time went on an acquisition campaign where they were buying small businesses.
They needed someone to evaluate the technology. Since I also spoke a language they understood, they brought me along. For about half of the ten years that I worked in corporate, I was working on buying entrepreneur-led businesses. There’s nothing that teaches you what people care about in business than trying to evaluate buying a business because you understand what people value and what they don’t value. We bought a bunch of businesses and what I came to realize was a lot of the engineers or a lot of the entrepreneurs were selling businesses because they didn’t know how to grow their business to the next level. They had grown the business as far as they could with their own knowledge and understanding but to get further, they needed someone else’s help.You need to understand accounting to understand how the scoreboard works. Click To Tweet
They ended up selling to us, which was great for us because we knew what to do to grow that business, but the entrepreneur, although they got a big check, oftentimes they weren’t happy about the transition. As one guy told me, “I went from being in charge of 200 people to being in charge of my dishwasher.” It’s not as fulfilling necessarily as they thought it was going to be. In 2001, I decided to switch sides of the and come over to work for the entrepreneurs helping them to get past those barriers that they’ve seen to grow. I’ve been doing that for many years. I had different service offerings or different ways that I delivered that to entrepreneurs.
About a few years ago, I have focused down on these people who are crossing the $1 million thresholds. Once a business gets to be about $1 million, it gets beyond what the business owner can carry around in their head anymore. They need to start to build that middle management team and they need to act differently and do different things in order to grow their business to that $3 million to $5 million levels. That’s where I’m helping people by bringing together small business owners pass that $1 million business level so that they can learn from one another and grow their business more quickly.
Was it easier or harder when you jumped sides?
I remember sitting in my attic office thinking that technology has made it so much easier to start a business because I designed my own business card, put a website, and this was in 2001. It’s so much easier than it was then. The things that technology makes easy, were never that hard when I reflect back on it. What’s hard is figuring out what value you add to your clients and how to talk about that in a way that they can hear it and buy it. That did take me a long time. I took several training courses to help me to reorient my language and my thought process toward that customer service type of thinking.
You talk about training courses. Who else has supported you along the journey especially how to run your own business?
Early on, my father who was also a consultant was helpful for me. There have been several mentors that I’ve had along the way. Some were people that I would sit down with week after week. I’ve had coaches and I’ve also had peer mentors. They’ve also been industry luminaries, people that I’ve never met. I read their books. I went to their webinars and some of them I was lucky enough to send questions to over email who helped me out. There’s been a ton of people along the way.
What we’ll do now is go into the build section. We already talked or you’ve spoken about who you love to help, but when someone comes up to you, particularly on LinkedIn, if someone approaches you, how do you say what you do?
I mostly talk about them. If you own a business and particularly if it’s a creative service business, there are certain things and challenges that you’re going to recognize. That your time, you as a person, you’re the bottleneck to your business’s growth. You’re trying to do too many things and you’re not doing any of them very well. When you started out, you thought that when you got to $1 million in sales, you will be making a lot more money than you’re making now. Those are all things I can help with. I can help you to get out of that bottleneck place and to build the team that you need. In the process, even though you’re spending more money on salary, you’re going to raise your prices. You’re going to work for people who value you more so that you can make more money and have more free time.
With the creative agencies, what led to the narrowing down that niche?
I didn’t start out with that niche. I did lockout that like 4 out of my first 6 clients were these creative agencies. Once I got inside with them and started working on them, I was like, “This is a great business. There’s no inventory. There’s no capital expenditure to speak of. If you can get more clients, you hire more people and your business grows. It’s a very simplified problem. The other thing that I saw was that many of the creative entrepreneurs, they recognized that they didn’t know everything they needed to know about the business. They were willing to take advice in a way that some of my other clients weren’t. Over time I thought, “These are the people I want to work with. They’re the ones that I’m having the most fun with. They’re the ones that I’m getting the most results with.” I have slowly narrowed down to those people.
It’s important to do that, whether it’s a niche, but I think it’s important certainly from a LinkedIn perspective as well. A confused buyer never buys. I look at your profile and it’s very clear on who you help and I think that makes a great difference. As far as this bottleneck, you’ve worked with a lot of these agency owners. What are the couple of key things you see that make the difference between going from the operator to purely the owner?
The most important indicator to me that a business is going to grow is if the business owner has taken themselves out of the service delivery. As long as the business owner is part of delivering services to the clients, that business is stuck. Essentially, they’ve hired people to help them services. They aren’t in the business of growing a business. In order to be in the business of growing a business, your job becomes hiring people to deliver the service, not delivering the service yourself. There’s a big mindset shift that happens. That’s one of those big switches that have to flip in order for people to get into growing their business.
What are some of the things that people find the hardest to let go of in that transition?
This happens for every business owner regardless of your niche. There are a couple of things about being in the service delivery part that is great. At the end of the day, you can look back and say, “I did that and I got paid for it.” There’s very direct feedback to delivering service that feels great. If you have a technical skill, if you’re a designer or you do web design or you do digital marketing, all of those fields are changing very rapidly. If you pull yourself out of the service delivery, there’s this fear that I’m going to lose my edge. I’m not going to know what I need to do anymore and I can’t go back. I couldn’t go back and get a job because now I’ve separated myself from the nitty-gritty and the technical details. Both of those things are true and you have to decide I’m going to let that go. Because when you’re the manager, you get to the end of the day and you look around and you say, “Everybody else got things done.” My job is to create the environment, the situation where other people can be productive. That’s a different satisfaction versus at the end of the day, “Look at what I did.”
For me, personally, it’s been around sales. I love selling and to me my vision of selling is finding out where someone is, find out where they want to be, and help them get there. I’m starting to let that go because like you’ve identified, even if you’re under $1 million, there are a lot of coaches and consultants that are reading. That’s the key thing. You’ve got to let go sometimes of the things that you absolutely love. You’ve talked about for the million-plus, what are some of the key hires? What are some of the first hires? Is there a pattern to that or is it custom every time you go into an agency?
It’s not fully custom, but there are some patterns. What I find is that there are business owners for whom sales is the thing that they’re good at. Even if they’re still delivering services, they love to sell. They can see that selling is something that’s working for them. For those people, it’s about getting someone into that service role so that they can dedicate more time to selling. For others, if they aren’t good at sales, then we need to bring someone on who can help them with that right away. The business owner is always going to be the best salesperson because you have credibility that nobody else has. If you say something’s going to be that way, it’s going to be that way and the client knows that versus a salesperson who they always think is lying to them.Work for people who value you more so that you can make more money and have more free time. Click To Tweet
Having someone who can set some things up, who can do some prospecting for you so that you’re doing more of the knocking things down. That can be helpful. The role that I love when my business owners get to is when they can hire a good financial person. That changes people’s lives when there’s someone else that’s worrying about the finances when the business owner isn’t the one who’s entering things in QuickBooks and making sure the cashflow is there. To have a good finance person is another role that helps to grow business.
On the finance, is that a person within the business or is it a contractor or an expert they contract in? What model normally works best?
For my clients, until they get to the very end of my time working with them, they probably can’t afford that full-time finance person. Right away if I can get them to have a bookkeeper so that the business owner isn’t entering in transactions. Even a fairly simple bookkeeper will at least tell you, “Your cashflow is getting tight, you need to do some things.” They’ll give you some direction so that you don’t feel like you’re the only one worrying about it. I have some virtual bookkeepers that I’ve recommended to clients. For a few hundred dollars a month, you can take all that stuff off your plate and release a lot of energy toward growing your business.
Once you’ve got the numbers in a much better place because I completely agree with getting a bookkeeper, what are some of the key numbers that you look at in a creative agency that helps whether the strategy you’re both implementing is on track?
The first number I always look at is the total payroll divided by total sales. Most creative agencies are spending around half of their total sales on the payroll. That’s okay, 45% is my target. I want them to spend about 45% of total sales on payroll, but sometimes it’s 55%, 60% and you’re never going to have enough margin to hire the people you need when you’re spending that much on your creative payroll.
What are some of the best ways to reduce that percentage?
For most people, the reason that’s so high is every department is one person and they’re underutilized. The way out of that is to grow sales. Sometimes you can use more outsource resources. If you look at it and your web designer is underutilized, maybe you can do that on an outside source basis. There are some ways to make your labor a little bit more flexible especially because we need such a wide range of things. Usually, that’s about growing the sales to get out of that. The best way to grow those sales is to start to specialize. Creative people love to solve new problems, but the way you make money in businesses to solve the same problem over and over again. To have systems and processes and things that are repeatable and predictable. By narrowing down the number of problems that you solve, sometimes that can solve that staffing issue also.
What’s another key metric you look at?
The next key metric I look at is their pipeline. I see a lot of creative service firms that are purposing where they spend a lot of time on sales. They fill their pipeline. They close some things. They spend a lot of time delivering and they’re not selling. All of a sudden, they run out of the pipeline and they get back into selling again. Instead it’s extremely important if you’re going to grow that you’re making consistent business development efforts week after week. Do you have a solid pipeline? Are you paying attention to it? Are you adding things to the top of the funnel every week? If you’re not adding things on a weekly basis, that’s when you start to see the pipeline starts to drain and you get desperate and then you make bad choices about what clients to be selecting.
Within the creative agency industry, what are some of the best ways to drive traffic to fill the top of the funnel?
There are two pipelines that I want to see in every business. One is a business development pipeline where you’re doing outreach and the other is your organic pipeline. Once you get in with a client, you need to be able to expand your offerings and continue to offer more value to that client over time. Most people are good at that second one. Most people are good at getting in and continuing to sell their value along the way. The business development pipeline, that’s where most people are falling down and they need to be either doing a lot of speaking and writing. If you’re in a niche, you can find the industry group or the association or whatever and start to deliver a lot of content into that industry or do outreach. Figure out who it is that is your ideal clients and go after them. Whether that’s LinkedIn, whether it’s picking up the phone, whether it’s networking your way in there, but having some consistent method that you’re reaching out to new prospects.
You’re in the BLG Collective, which is great. What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned about doing outreach on LinkedIn?
Switching from face-to-face sales, which a few years ago I did almost all of my sales face-to-face, networking, meeting people, speaking like I was talking about the industry focus. When you move to online sales, two things are important. One is you have to be much clearer about what you do. When you’re selling face-to-face, it’s easy for you to reposition yourself depending on who you’re talking to. You keep a broad positioning on your website because you’re narrowing it to whoever you’re speaking to but that doesn’t work online.
Online, you’re competing against the whole world online. If you have that squishy positioning on your website, people come by there and like, “I don’t get it.” You have to narrow it down. Once you’ve narrowed it down, the sales process online is much slower than it is face-to-face. We have a lot less information when we’re talking to people online. It’s harder to build trust. It’s harder for people to get to know you. Learning how to slow that process down, when I sold face-to-face, I could do a one-call close. I could sit down in someone’s office, talk to them about their needs and at the end of it say, “Should we move forward?” That’s at least two conversations online, it might be three. There’s a lot more of that cocktail party talk online where you’re chatting with people. You’re engaging in their content. You’re being social in order to become known so that when you have that sales conversation, you’re further down the trust curve.
It is a real skill. I know in one of our sessions, I had a client come back and compliment me for the way that I handled it versus others. I’m sure our audience has had and probably will get multiple messages, connection requests and then bombarded with a sales message, which is a generic one, not custom to you. As Brad said, there are many different touchpoints. I call it the hot potato. The hot potato, as soon as you get the potato, you want to pass it on to someone else because you’re going to get burned. There’s a lot of short, open questions to do those touchpoints. It’s what you do in person, but you know that the response is immediate. You do have to be a little more patient. There is a real art to it and if you’re unsure of how to do that, certainly reach out. As a group, we’ve perfected that well. The last question in the build section I want to ask you is about hiring people. You constantly help people hire to get out of this in the business rather than on the business. What are the couple of key tips you’ve got when hiring someone? How do you find great skill and talent?
When you’re short on people, whether it’s because you created a new position or someone’s quit, most of the business owners that I work with want to fill that role as quickly as possible. Having that person missing from their team is a pain point. It’s like having a rock in your shoe, but doing a good hiring process takes time. If you do a good hiring process and this person works with you for a couple of years, you’re going to spend more time with this person probably than you’re spending with your spouse.The most important indicator that a business is going to grow is if the business owner has taken themselves out of the service delivery. Click To Tweet
Helping people to slow down and do a good, thorough hiring process is something that I’m constantly battling. What does a good thorough hiring process? It’s not calling up a couple of friends and saying, “You’re good at PowerPoint. Can you be my marketing manager?” That’s the shortcut. The right way to do it is to think through, “What do I need in this role? What would it take to be successful in this role? What would my ideal candidate look like?” Write up a real job description for the role so that you can think through what are the skills this person needs and then reflect those into a job posting. A job posting is not a job description. It’s an advertisement that’s trying to attract that ideal candidate.
Once you get that posted, hopefully you’ll get 40 or 50 resumes. Going through resumes is a nightmare. I want to kill myself every time I see a pile of resumes. I have people answer a questionnaire as part of their application. I don’t even look at resumes unless they’re answers to the question can clue me in that they’re my ideal candidate. Once you’ve done that screening, then a phone screen and two interviews. I make the interviews long. No one says an interview needs to be half-an-hour or an hour. Make it 90 minutes or 2 hours. Ask enough questions so that you are getting to know the person. Finally, because we have that problem that we want to solve, we’re trying to look at each candidate like, “This person could work.” No, you need to look at every candidate skeptically, “Why won’t this person work? What is wrong with this person?” If you’re looking skeptically, you’re going to have a more well-rounded picture. A good candidate is not someone that doesn’t have any flaws. It’s someone that you say, “There are pluses and minuses here, but I think they could do the job.”
Before we go into the live section, I’d like to help you build your authority on LinkedIn and in particular, do that outreach in the right way as we spoke about. You can go to BLGClick.com and watch a pre-recorded free masterclass. You’ll learn the three secrets of getting views, the right way to get your ideal client to come to your posts and how do you build those relationships? How do you do the hot potatoes? What scripts and what do you say, all of that in there. For many of the activities mentioned, it’s great to have a virtual assistant to help you with. If you don’t have one and you’d love to have a VA, please go to BuildLiveGive.com/VA and we’ve got lots of providers that we can point you to. The next section is the live section. What are some of the daily habits that help you be successful, Brad?
Exercise of some kind is very important to me on a daily basis to get my head right. Both exercise and time alone in silence. Both of those things are morning routines that I use to clear things out, to give myself some space, some margin, and to take care of my body so that my body can support the work that I’m doing. If I’m sick, if I’m not strong, if I don’t have energy, then I’m not going to show up well working.
A good friend of mine talks about a healthy business owner means a healthy business. That’s so true. For you, time and silence. I struggle with this and I’m sure a lot of others do. How long do you do it and what are some tips around like getting to that place?
I spend about twenty minutes in the morning and then 4 or 5 minutes around mid-day. Paul, it’s been a journey. It’s taken me a long time. What I’ve found is if I can be quiet, then a lot of things come up that have been down there, that are driving my actions all day long. If I can sit quietly and be more conscious and aware of what’s going on there, they don’t have to drive me. I can deal with them. I can write them down and decide what I want to do with them. For me, I do a little bit of scripture reading in that time, some wisdom literature that is going to inspire me, that’s going to keep my compass pointed to the North. I sit silently with whatever I read and let that soak in and listen to what’s going on. Like you, I tend to be a high energy guy. Around mid-day my watch will buzz and remind me that it’s time to stop again because I can get so into what I’m doing. That’s a little bit of a circuit breaker for me to say, “This isn’t life or death. I’m not in an emergency room. I can stop and check in and see what’s going on with me. Go on with the rest of my day.”
For me, some days it turns out to be two hours in the middle of the day where I go for a bike ride. I was going for a swim. I eat a good healthy meal and then I go for a nap. Part of that nap is a six-minute meditation that I listen to. That’s my thinking time, not silence, but it’s my meditation and then a 30-minute nap. I can’t tell you the joy of starting each morning knowing that you’re going to have a 30-minute nap in the middle of the day because many of my clients are in the US and I’m in Australia. I’m normally up at 5:30, 6:00 in the morning. It’s absolute gold. It’s some great tips there. What have you been learning through this pandemic that you will help your clients with?
One of the things that have happened to me in the pandemic is that it breaks all your routines. The things that I automatically got up and did, now I have to think about and make myself do it. Being in that untethered state has opened me to be a lot more innovative and to question some things. Also, listen carefully to what my clients need and want and respond to that. I hope that’s a process that I will keep in front of me, even as we maybe move toward whatever is coming after this. To be more open and to be more innovative and not to get caught in ruts in the same way that I was in the past.
I’ve certainly found that it’s reflection time. This is the time to think, “I was stuck in the hamster wheel. I’m doing the same things every day and I need to step it up.” Getting someone like yourself ready to take people and help you go to the next level. It’s hard to see the label of the jar from the inside. I know Karen is your partner. As good partners do, they love these critiques on our work. What would you like to say to Karen about the support she’s given you through this journey?
Karen and I have been married for several years. One of the reasons that we got together and that we stayed together is that she keeps me honest. She keeps my feet on the floor. I can get very up in my head and out into the future. She’s very good at keeping me present. During the shutdown, it’s been amazing. She’s taken on all of the homeschooling roles and taken on more of the cooking, shopping and stuff. We shared a lot more of that before the shutdown, but it has supported me. I jumped into the breach with a bunch of my clients who had some significant challenges with the shutdown. She’s been a great support to me through that.
The next section is the give section. What’s a charity or community that you’re passionate about and why?
A couple of blocks from our house is an organization called New Moms that supports young single moms who are having their first child and tries to make that a positive experience for them. It can be scary. It can be disorienting. It can separate them from the support system that they might’ve had prior to that. They have a residential facility and also opportunities to support people in the community who are going through that transition. Karen and I both supported them over the years.
The last section is the action section where I’ll ask you some questions to get some rapid-fire responses. The first one is what are your top three personal effectiveness tips?
My first one is commitment. When you want to make a change or if you want to do something differently in your business or your personal life, it doesn’t happen if you’re thinking about it. It doesn’t happen if you write it down on your goals. It’s when you commit to it. When you decide that no matter what, I’m going to get this result. That commitment then drives action to support that commitment. The second one would be persistence. There are a lot of times in my life when I kept going beyond the point where it made any sense to keep going.
Usually that’s when the results came when I kept at it. Maybe I don’t know when to quit. That would be valid feedback but that’s been effective for me. The third thing would be time blocking. It comes with the commitment idea that if I’m committed to something, like for instance, to create the content that I use on LinkedIn, I blocked my calendar from 1:00 to 5:00 every Monday. I write a week’s worth of content in those four hours. Until I put that on my calendar, I was always like, “I can’t find time to get the content.” “I can’t find time” means I didn’t make time.
What’s a piece of tech that you can run your business without?The business owner will always be the best salesperson because they have the credibility that nobody else has. Click To Tweet
TextExpander is a text replacement tool. For all of those scripts that we use in LinkedIn, inviting people and some of those opening things, I can tap a couple of keys and it will paste it right into wherever I am. I love the efficiency of that. It’s a great tool.
Does it also work on your mobile or is it desktop only?
There’s a keyboard that you can use in iOS that has those same text expansions in it. There is a way to do it there. It’s not as full-featured as it is on the desktop.
What’s your best source of new ideas?
I used to travel a lot for business and when I travel, I would go into the magazine stand, the bookstore in the airport and I would pick random magazines like Cat Fancy or Pen Act or these weird magazines. I would try to look at the world through the eyes of the people who are reading that magazine. It was something I did to entertain myself on airplanes, but it’s trained me now too. I consume a wide range of content, podcasts, YouTube and stuff, and by looking at things through those different lenses, it gives me different perspectives on the world.
The last one is the big one. I always leave it to the end for that reason. What impact do you want to leave on the world?
I believe that small businesses are fundamentally better places to work than big companies. There’s a lot of efficiencies in big companies and I get that. Small businesses, every employee gets to see the results of their work every day. They feel the efficacy of getting stuff done. There’s a community there that you can pull together that can be valuable and make people’s work more meaningful. I want to make small businesses easier to do. The reason that we have difficult workplaces in small businesses is because the business owner has never been taught how to create that cohesiveness and that community. What I want to do is to create a playbook that makes it easier to run a small business successfully.
Brad, it’s been awesome having you on the show. I love how committed you are. I know you practice what you preach because your commitment to writing excellent content on LinkedIn is brilliant. If you want to check out Brad, it’s Brad Farris. Let him know what you’ve learned from this episode. He would greatly appreciate that. The other thing Brad has kindly given us is how we went through those steps on hiring people. There’s some real gold in there. If you’re going through this and that you need to change the modeling, you need to get people and particularly for your creative agency, look up Brad. It doesn’t matter what you do, I think it’s an awesome opportunity to make that pivot. Brad, as always, it’s brilliant to talk and great to have you on the show.
Thanks so much, Paul.
I enjoyed that interview with Brad. Brad is a great member of our community at BLG Collective. He gives so much. He did it that on this episode. In particular, I love the hiring tips he gave and I hope you did as well. What is your biggest takeaway from Brad? Please share it with him on his socials. Go to his LinkedIn in particular. Once again, that’s Brad Farris. If you believe someone would benefit from this show, please share it with them. You can learn the three secrets to building your authority on LinkedIn in a free pre-recorded masterclass at BLGClick.com. Please take action to build your business and lifestyle and most importantly, stay well.
As Principal Advisor, Brad Farris guides business owners through the pitfalls and joys of growing their business. Brad is a speaker and author.
Brad is passionate about business and helping business owners find better ways to do things, make more money and enjoy life more.
If you want to break through all the noise on LinkedIn and reach your ideal client without creating loads of content or breaking the bank on ads – go to blgclick.com to learn our three secrets.