Steve Gordon: Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast!
I’m your host, Steve Gordon, and we’re going to wade into some new territory here on the podcast. We’ve got a repeat guest, and we don’t do that very often. I kind of reserve that for some of the smartest people that I know, and today’s guest absolutely fits into that category. Today I am talking again with Mandi Ellefson— she’s the founder of Hands Off CEO. She leads owners of service businesses into greater freedom and success, and helps them immediately free up 20% to 50% of their workweek to focus on accelerating profits… and she’s not kidding about that, folks! I’m telling you, she knows how to do that.
Her clients have added five figures of net profit every month, they’ve added millions in sales, and have exited the day to day so that they can scale growth and even sell the business if they choose to. She’s a published author and host of the Hands Off CEO podcast, and her new book Scale To Freedom will be available shortly. So look for that, and depending on when you’re listening it may already be out. Mandi, welcome back to the unstoppable CEO.
Mandi Ellefson: Thank you so much. It’s such an honor and privilege to be here, Steve.
Steve: Yeah, you’re one of the very few who’s made it back a second time. And I’m glad we’re, we’re getting to get together again and, and talk about all the things that you’re doing currently. Because I know you’ve really seen some dramatic growth in your own business and you really, you become very, very focused on who you’re serving and what you’re doing, and you’re getting great results for people. So I’m excited to kind of dive into that.
But before we do, can you give everybody a little refresher on your background and kind of what got you to this point of your career?
Mandi: Sure. So, you know, I’ve run the business Hands Off CEO for like seven years or so; before that I had my own small agency. And, that’s why I started serving this market. But, the reason why, how it got what got me into this place, this transition I made is that I was pregnant with my second daughter and this company did not have the kind of freedom, not kind of, did not have the kind of lifestyle balance that I wanted and that I started my company for. And, it was pretty frustrating for me because I had actually had a job earlier where I had managed another company, and I had done that actually as an employee of another company. Which is pretty difficult to do particularly in this industry that I was in, and was very atypical in the industry that I was in to be able to get a company to kind of run without you and being able to be gone for weeks at a time, sometimes. But, I had done this as a manager, and I hadn’t been able to do that with my own company and it kind of drove me crazy.
So, you know, what that looked like is that I was, you know, weeks away from having giving birth to my daughter, and like, I had these projects were going off the rails, I couldn’t, I couldn’t just close them up fast enough so I could have some maternity leave. And, so anyway, you know, I get everything wrapped up and took maternity leave. And really, I just had to shut the whole business down, and it really sucked that I had to do that at a time where, you know, my husband was in this really intensive Medical program. We could have used the extra money at the time, and I just had to shut everything down and focus on what was more important. And, I don’t ever want to see people have to make that choice that I had to make at the time and all that momentum just from when I was really at the peak of that business. It just kind of spiralled downwards for a while there, and it was pretty frustrating.
So, anyway, in order to figure out how to solve this problem, I went out and I started interviewing other CEOs, I started doing a lot of research, and I just started like helping other people solve this problem. I had solved it before, so I knew I could do it again. So, I started helping other people solve this problem so that I could solve it for myself. And, what ended up happening is I was having all these great results for people, and I discovered that that was really what my passion, my calling, was. And you know, the apprentice I brought on for the web design company… I sold the business to her, and then I went off and I’m doing what is now called the Hands Off CEO. So, that’s how I got into the work that I’m doing now.
Steve: Yeah, you’ve been on quite a journey, and it’s been fun to kind of watch it evolve over over the years. And, I know how you’re really focused on working with consulting agencies and helping them profitably scale-up, and for a lot of us who are delivering consulting idea of scaling up is pretty perplexing. You know, because we think… well, how do we scale this?
You know, the old model of scaling, a consulting firm was really based off of a pyramid scheme, right? Whoever founded it was the now the top of the pyramid. And the only way he made or she made any more money was to bring in two Junior consultants underneath, and then hand the work off to them. And then, they brought two, and then they brought two, and that’s how, you know, it grew. But, there are a lot more effective ways to do that now, a lot better business models for that.
So what’s the best place to begin? If, you know if we’re talking to service businesses, consultants, agency owners who are thinking about like, how do I scale? And they haven’t quite figured it out? Where do you begin that conversation with them?
Scaling Up – Successes and Challenges
Mandi: I think it’s good to first begin the conversation with kind of what you’re mentioning here is that like, a service business is not inherently scalable. And, this is not news to anyone listening to this right now. We all know that they’re not inherently scalable. But, one of the challenges is that we try to apply models that don’t fit for service-based companies, and then kind of feel like we’re banging our head against the wall, trying to make it work when it’s like shoving a square peg into a round hole, because it just doesn’t work. Like, for example, like The E Myth model. I mean, that’s great if you’re selling a commodity service, or if you’re baking pies, or selling hamburgers, right, these commodities. But, it doesn’t work when you have a high touch, high-end service. So, it’s looking at: how do we be able to, to replicate the kind of results that you’re getting, even if you’re not the one doing it? And, sorry, go ahead.
Steve: I was just gonna say thank you for that. I love The E Myth. I’ve probably read it at least a dozen times. And I’ve always felt like this is really great… but it’s so hard to make it work in the kind of businesses that I’ve run.
Mandi: Right. And you what’s interesting is that, you know, I was just having a— Tom Madison was just interviewing me for his summit on the same subject— and he used to be an E Myth coach, actually, and he said that that was the same thing he ran into: is that when we were working with businesses that had higher-end consulting type of work, it just didn’t really quite fit. And, that was an observation that he had as well.
So, not any knock on the model, I think it’s a really brilliant model and I’ve definitely learned a lot from it as well, but what we have developed is where we’ve seen the big hole in the market is how to be able to scale a profitable, sustainable consulting agency, where you have a high touch, high-end service, and how to do it in a way where you continue to add a lot of impact in the world, and a lot of impact in the market. But, do it in a way where it can, the company can actually grow with less dependence on the owner.
Steve: And that’s the key. And it’s, that’s the hardest thing, I think, to achieve. And in our kinds of businesses, because, you know, the IP is usually tied up in the mind of the owner, the relationships are often in, you know, kind of owned by whoever is the face of the firm. And often the client shows up, and that’s who they want to interface with. It could be very difficult to transition out. So, how do you begin to walk someone through the process of freeing themselves up?
Mandi: Right, so well, it’s all part of it is recognizing that what has gotten the business to this point is the CEO, is all of those relationships, and the IP that’s locked inside of their brain, and many cases. And, I mean, I can personally really relate with this, like this is a process we’ve gone through in our own company as well. And, but it’s possible.
Even some of the most intricate type of IP, you still can break down be able to get really great results. And some of it some of them are more transferable than others. So, it’s also looking at, and making some decisions on, what’s the direction that we want to scale? And this comes down to looking at what is what are the ways that we can add the biggest value in the market, because what happens is that a lot of the value is derived from the charisma, and the personality, of the CEO.
So you’ll see it a lot of these businesses where they might be doing, there are either one of two things that are happening: either it’s like a pretty ordinary service, and but because the, you know, the face behind it is so unique and so exciting, then like that’s what that’s the main differentiator is that like, you can’t replicate this person, you can’t find them anywhere else. So, that’s the… we want to be doing business with them because, you know, they have such a great charismatic personality. That’s one of the things and then the other part is that, like, the results are actually better, because the CEO is in there doing it because of their skills. So either one of them, they’re really stuck in the business because of their really tied into it for those reasons.
So, how you move away from that is that you look at how do we generate that value, looking at what the value drivers are in the business? What is creating value for clients and the place we like to look at that is in the past case studies, and understanding, you know, where we’ve done the best work in the past? Where have been the biggest outcomes?
And I think for some companies, this is actually a challenge, because especially in you know, in marketing agencies we’ve seen is that a lot of times they don’t actually sit down and quantify what value they’re doing for their clients. Which, I think is just… it’s mind-boggling to me, but at the same time, I see it over and over again. And that’s part of the work that we do with our clients is help them actually quantify the value that they offer. And in doing so it helps them be able to articulate it. And then when you can articulate it now you can actually build this into like a really compelling marketing message that you could be sold without the charisma of the CEO.
And then, you can actually have a sales team even developed, be selling for you; you can even have your team be able to deliver the service for you completely without the CEO if you want. So that’s how we solve the problem of being able to move it from the value is derived from the CEO being involved to it being like an asset that the clients buy because of the outcome that you can get from the service rather than just the CEO.
Steve: I want to back up for a second and focus on something that you said there because I think it’s important. So you said that often, a lot of businesses will struggle because they haven’t really identified the way or the outcome that creates the value for the client. And, I see this all the time in service businesses. I mean, one of the first things that we look at when we’re working with one of our clients is what’s their offer? What are they offering? And when I asked them, it’s usually will sit around the deliverables.
Steve: Hey, we’re providing, you know, X, Y and Z, that you know. But, they often have trouble connecting the dots between that and the outcome. Sometimes because the deliverables could be used for various outcomes, and if they haven’t focused that can be an issue. But, when you’re working with a company, how do you flip that switch in their mind? Because a lot of times, they’re just blind to that.
Mandi: Yeah. And you know what this is, this was a problem that we spent years trying to solve, actually. We’re not trying to sell… we were solving it as we go, but we were we spent years learning how to solve this in a systematic way. Let’s just say. And now we’ve developed a really clear, repeatable process that we walk our clients through for how to actually make the make this happen in their business and how we do this is, I want to make sure I’m answering the question right. So what was the specific part you want me to cover? Because I kind of going off on a tangent, I want to make sure I don’t want to loop back and cover that.
Steve: Well, I just, I’m curious how you take a business owner who, who defines what they do in terms of the deliverable. Okay.
Steve: And get them to shift and see where they actually are creating the value and change the way that they communicate it.
Leaving Your Comfort Zone In Order To Set Goals
Mandi: Okay, yeah. So really, the essence of how this works, is we pushed himself completely out of their comfort zone. I’ve already becoming really popular right here, I could just tell, but especially comfort zone and saying, “Okay, if you could only get paid if you generated actual results. What would you do?” And looking at, what could they actually quantify and guarantee? So is it adding a million dollars of their businesses, adding six figures of profit, and I’m looking at, you know, what is their very best result that they have gotten? Could they do better under different circumstances? And looking at these various value drivers for the what conditions need to be in place for them to do their very best work and looking at which part of their target market is really not their target market.
And some of those times in some cases are actually losing money with some of those clients. So, which kind of clients should we eliminate and not in no longer work with? Which kinds of clients should we be working more with? And in some cases, it’s just about setting an intention of like, you know, what we’re in this is something that we really have done big time with our clients is just like, setting the bar higher and saying, we expect more of you and we are going to, to hold you to account and actually help and support you to be able to get much bigger results in this.
Like, for example, when we’re looking at at a company and saying, you know, I know, it’s possible for you to add a million dollars to your company this year, let’s do it. Or, you know, what you added you added $2 million last year, we need let’s add another six figures of profit this year. And we did that earlier this year with Philip, one of our clients. And he was in the first quarter, you know, from us helping to support him to do this with his pricing and some changes he made in the first quarter, he was able to add six figures of profit.
So, I think part of it is holding a standard for your clients. But, the other part of it is also understanding where you can do your very best work in the market where you can add the most value and, and a lot of times that’s moving upstream and working with different kinds of clients. And, sometimes, it is looking at what’s missing. And one of the ways that I like to look at this is like to imagine a bridge, one side of it is like the painful problem that they have, and on the other side of the bridge is like their happy place. They like, that the solution that they really want. And we’re not talking about deliverables of like a nice looking website, we’re talking about the outcome of we’ve just added $3 million to our company this year. Like, that’s the outcome that they might want, right?
So most companies will look at this value bridge and only be only walk partway across the bridge. So, if we’re using like, let’s use, like, an SEO company, as an example. Where they might be like, well, what we do is we help you increase your traffic. Just like okay, that’s great. Actually, maybe even before that, they may say will help you get to the first page of Google. Like, well, the first page of Google doesn’t get you more clients. But, maybe generating traffic gets you closer to that. But even further down the bridge would be to actually generate conversions, like actual email addresses. And then further down that it might be to actually generate phone calls. Further down from that, would be qualified phone calls. Further down from that on the value bridge would be, you know, actual closed clients and closed sales. So, it’s like the further down you build the bridge, the more that a client’s going to be willing to pay.
And part of the reason why is because it lowers the, it increases the certainty of them getting the result. And then on top of that, if you offer a guarantee, then it also increases then the certainty that they’ll get the result. So those are some different variables that you can play with in order to generate more value. And in doing so it builds more confidence with your prospects, and it shortens your sales cycle. And you can actually charge you know, two times, three times, four times, ten times as much as you could otherwise.
Steve: Yeah, you know, that that idea of kind of extending the bridge across to the ultimate result that they want. I think that’s a powerful way to think about it. Because for a lot of the businesses that I see out there, they again, they’re so focused on, I’m doing this deliverable, and they don’t, they don’t always connect the dots, and even when they’re aware that, okay, this is why we’re doing it.
And I think marketing is actually an easy example because everybody talks about the outcome is being you know, getting that new client. And so sometimes it’s easy to see the path, it’s certainly not easy to execute on all that I can tell you, because we do that for a living. But that’s an easy one to see. But if you’re, you know, a consultant that does other sorts of things.
And so I know, we work with a couple of firms that are financial consultants, you know, they come in and, and kind of work with you, from an accounting perspective to get your profit lined up and get things organized. And, you know, they can connect to profit. Again, you can kind of see that path. But I think back to my days in engineering, and boy, it was difficult to build that bridge very far because, in a lot of cases, we were a small part of the overall result that the client was going for. And so for folks who are sitting there going, “Yeah, but I only control this little tiny part of it.” How do you help them?
Mandi: I love that you asked that question because that was exactly where I wanted to take this next time. Because as soon as I said, like, all the way through sales, it means someone who’s doing SEO might not want to be consulting in sales, for example. So, but I just wanted to use as a demonstrative of the point that the further across the bridge, they’ll pay more. But how this can help… really what this is about is setting up the conditions for your success. And, looking for situations where you can do your very best work.
So, for example, I mean let’s go back to the SEO companies since we’ve already talked about that. For them to be most successful with their work, they need to have a company that has the capacity, they have to have a company that has the capacity to grow. So they’re not, they’re not just going to go blow up business with leads, and then they won’t be able to do anything with them, they have to have a quality service, where they’re not just going to have a bunch of cancellations when they start growing, they have to have a sales team and a sales team that’s effective. So if they don’t already have a sales team in place, and what can happen is that, that they could do a great job with their marketing and but then they don’t have any capacity to actually like take on more sales. And then, no matter how good of a job you do, you cannot… you maximize the value you can provide for this client very quickly.
So, it’s looking at what do these businesses need to have in place in order for us to do our very best work? The other side of that too, you know, you’re talking about what the consult with the engineering consulting, it’s also setting up the right partnerships in place so that you can like… you can see through the bridge. So, maybe you’re not building the entire bridge— maybe there’s a partner that you bring in to help build the other pieces of the bridge— and instead of offering like these deliverables, it’s really you really can step in as a growth partner for the company.
And it might not have the perfect alignment for like the consulting company you were just talking about. But, what I like to look at is, you know, stop calling yourself an SEO company, stop calling yourself a Facebook advertiser, stop calling yourself like any one of these titles, right? And instead start becoming a growth partner for your clients and looking at, you know, how can you create these bigger outcomes? And I can give you an example of that if that would be helpful.
Steve: Yeah, that would be great.
Mandi: Right, so one of our clients, Jamie, and this has been really fun to watch him grow. Because this is, it’s been, it’s been really fun to see the kinds of things that have happened in this company like the profit is just skyrocketed. And it’s just the… the number of points has been moving, I can’t quite disclose that, but it’s growing significantly. And one of the reasons why. And they also just closed this really big client with this new strategy that we employed with them, and we still have other parts of it to make it even deeper that’s going to help increase the profit even more. So, we’re just getting started on this, and they were able to bring a really big Fortune 500 company with multiple brands on for their affiliate marketing company.
So we went from his offer being “Well, we do affiliate marketing,” and there’s like a half a dozen different kinds of businesses that they would work with. So, they had some focus, right? It wasn’t… this is a multimillion-dollar company, so it’s not like they’re just starting out or anything. So, they had some market focus, but it was a little diverse and they’re offering affiliate marketing. So what we looked at is like, where… what is the best kind of outcomes that you can provide? And what would it take for us to do that over and over again?
So what we looked at was, there was four main categories where they could actually do their best work. And they’re really kind of like two main categories, but they liked fashion, beauty, and skincare brands, and outdoor brands, I think; because of their size, it makes sense for them to have a few more focuses. But, we looked at what could they do? And in some cases, it was like… we could add 20 million, in some cases like only 500,000. So, the results are really across the board.
And, one of the things that we… one of the challenges we see with the kind of clients that we work with is that they’re really hesitant to make big offers, and make the big claims because sometimes it doesn’t work that way. And, sometimes they don’t get those results. So, they don’t want to be that guy that’s making those big claims, and then having it fall short on them. And then, on top of that, if they make a guarantee, how risky would that be if it doesn’t actually work out? So, we looked at what are the things that need to they need to have in place to be able to offer like the biggest outcome? And, what he’s what he says the biggest outcome is, you know what, let’s stop looking at it as a 12-month period of time, let’s stop looking at a two-year… let’s look at three years.
Really, our maximum impact for the client is actually in three years. And this is actually very common, is that you get pretty good results for your clients in year one, year two is really starting to ramp up, year three it’s like… that’s when sometimes their biggest outcomes happen for your clients. So we looked at a three year period of time, and so now they have the offer, the guarantee that we add $10 million in three years to fashion, beauty, and skincare brands, without stealing your leads. Like, there’s like this without thing that is relevant to their industry, it’s probably not relevant to most people listening. But it’s like… it’s like a really big offer. They can add $10 million in three years, and they guarantee it.
Steve: That’s, you know… you and I’ve talked about this, you know, offline. For everybody who’s listening, Mandi and I are in a mastermind group together, and we’ve talked about this idea of making this big bold offer and guaranteeing it. And, you know, and, of course, as Mandi will tell you, it, you know, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up a little bit, because I think I have the reaction that every service provider does, it’s not that we don’t want to guarantee what we do, it’s just that there’s an awful lot that we don’t control. And, I love the fact though that you know what… what you’re talking about here is, is actually extending that timeline to something that’s realistic. You know, everybody wants immediate results. And you got a lot of knuckleheads running around the internet, particularly in marketing, and they are selling this overnight, you know, success story.
And, you know, folks, I’m here to tell you that isn’t out there. I mean, yeah, there are the occasional overnight successes, but most of the ones you see, there’s five years or three years, or sometimes 10 years of grinding it out below the surface that you never saw. And then all of a sudden, became aware of them and now they’re an overnight success, right… and they’re selling that part. They’re not going to sell you the 10 years of struggle that happened before that, you know, but I think you do your clients a better service, by telling them, you know, we’re going to get some early results, but really, you’re going to create momentum over time. And that’s where when you commit to something, that’s where you can get the biggest bang out of this. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that. And, it may not sell as easily, but I think it’s closer to the truth than selling, this is what we can do in a month or 90-days or, you know, or 12 months.
Mandi: Well, here’s the thing is this is actually is selling very well for them. And, they went from sales; it’s a longer sales process that took a number of calls to really be able to articulate the value of their service to, you know, their sales team is being able to, in one session, be able to get it across very clearly. And, they were able to close the sale very, very quickly from this. Relatively, right… this is not just like overnight success like you’re talking about.
But here’s the thing is, is that when you are willing to stand by your work, and when you’re willing to put a guarantee on it, your stuff will sell faster. And when you can offer to make a bigger offer, and a bigger claim. And this can be very risky if you don’t fall… if you don’t do it the right way. So I can, for the listeners, I’d be happy to share with some of the things to be thinking about as for how to offset that risk, if that would be helpful.
Steve: Yeah, I think that’d be great, I’m sure because I’m sure everybody’s listening right now thinking, these are really good ideas…. but I’m there’s got to be something here that I’m missing, because they’re still probably having that feeling of, “Oh, wait, everybody’s going to want a refund”
Integrity Selling & Using Guarantees To Attract Prospects
Mandi: Well, here’s the thing: the big part of this is to be building a lot of— I call integrity selling, it’s like building an enormous amount of trust all the way through the sales process— and it’s heavy on the relationship selling. And, you have to be able to do that for them to actually believe that you will fulfil on your guarantee as well. But, the objective of the guarantee more than anything else is not to close the sale, you do not want to use a guarantee to close the sale, because what it will do to like do a force close because then you have prospects that are not very confident in their own success. And then, so, you have really low-quality clients, if you do that. You use a guarantee to attract the prospect. You use it as a way to cut through all of the noise, and you know, like, “Hey, we add $10 million in three years to fashion retailers. Would you like us, for us to share a case study for how we did that for a few other people in your industry?” Like who wouldn’t get on that call, right? Or, it’s not even that how we’ve done that. But you could just would you like us to share some case studies for how this could happen for your company like that a pretty compelling offer for most people if that’s what you’re looking to do.
So, it’s really a door opener; and then, how we were able to communicate this for what our clients use is what we call our client success map. So, we look at all right, first of all, what are the conditions that we need to have in place for them to be able to offer a guarantee for to be able to offer 10 million? You absolutely cannot do that for every client. And I’m not necessarily even saying that you should offer a guarantee for every client because they have to qualify. And in some cases, they’re not going to qualify, but you still might want to work with them as a client. Because maybe you have like, a… like a 12 point checklist of things that they need to have in place in order for you to be able to guarantee those things. See, for me, one of my things is they have to be grateful. Some think it’s like kind of silly… but if they don’t say thank you at some point, or they don’t somehow show like gratitude for the conversations that we’re having and the value that I’ve been adding up to that point, that it tells me that the likelihood of them being easy to work with, and being able to be appreciative for what we’ve done through it and actually be able to capture the value is pretty low. So that’s one of the little softer things that you could be looking at. And, how you can find those is to look at all the things… look at all the bad times that you’ve had, all the things that went wrong. And then you find the reverse of like, what was missing there?
So you know, this one guy who like, I helped him be able to get, like almost completely out of the business in one session, it was just insane how quickly this happened is this is not average, right? But we got him out of 20 hours of the day to day in one session. And, he just said, “Oh, you know what, it was something I was thinking about doing before anyway.” And so, he not only was he not thankful for it, but he didn’t even acknowledge that this was work that we had done together and that the process I walked him through is exactly what enabled him to do that with his team. And, it was just an example of a client that just started spiralling downwards. And, I only worked with him for a short amount of time, for the short term, and then I didn’t renew them. And, he was pretty upset that I didn’t renew him and continue working with him. But, what was missing, there was gratitude. And as a result, he was never going to be happy with the level of success. No matter what I did, it wasn’t going to work. It would never be enough for him to feel like he got good value out of it. Even though he told me that like it was so transformational for him.
So, like, that’s just one example. But you can have… there are all sorts of different examples that you might find, and if you just look at all of the examples of clients that didn’t work so well, then that will tell you what was missing and what you can create for. And then also, with your good clients, they’re really top ones like Jamie, for example, one of the reasons why we can work with him so well as he’s very decisive. And that’s something he has learned, and he’s developed. And, it’s something that we’ve continued to help them develop too. But, they also have the ability to offer a really good service. So, we were able to maximize that, based on those assets he already had in his company. I hope that makes sense.
Steve: That makes complete sense. And, you know, I talk to business owners frequently who will tell you about all of the client fiascos that they have lived through. And, the missing link, often, is they won’t go through this sort of exercise… which means they just live in this Groundhog Day of bad experiences with clients, because they haven’t gotten really clear about it. And, to me, it’s one of the most powerful things you can do. You know, we launched a new service about 18 months ago and, you know, we had a pretty good idea of what those criteria ought to be. But, boy, when we brought on the first batch of clients, we really found out exactly what those criteria needed to be because you saw who was really, really successful with it right away. And, and who, you know, for whatever reason, didn’t do as well, because often because they didn’t either have the infrastructure in place to handle it, or, you know, they, they signed up, but they really didn’t believe. And so, you can filter for those sorts of things if you take the time to think about what, you know, what went well, and what went wrong.
Hazardous Clients, Dealbreakers, and Deciding Who To Work With
Mandi: Yeah, absolutely. I call this putting this together into a hazardous client checklist. And, you know, thinking through everything it went wrong in the past. And there are some things that are deal-breakers, like, for example, if someone’s talking smack about other providers that they’ve worked with other coaches or like, other mentors they’ve worked with… and it’s one thing to just kind of generally be dissatisfied. But it’s another thing, just like, just to come right out and just talk really negatively about it. I’m like, I want nothing to do with this. So those are some examples of what you can use to screen. So, but there’s a lot of positive things to look forward to screen for as well. And, but I think that it is easiest to look for the negative ones first, and then that’s kind of the key to the positive, right? Looking at what you don’t want to know what you do want. And, I think that you guys discovered that when you were launching your process, it sounds like,
Steve: Yeah, I think that’s normal. I mean, every time I’ve launched anything new, there’s always that period of sorting out, you know exactly who you think going into it, you know who it is. But, you know, once you actually put it in practice, you really see very quickly. So, you know, so it sounds like the first big secret to scaling a consulting agency is to really think about the value that you offer. You know, what is that outcome that’s most valuable to the client, I know, you really preach, go find a big, painful, expensive problem to solve. And then, you create a really great offer around that, that you can guarantee.
Mandi: Right, right.
Steve: Is that kind of the first big rock?
Mandi: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll go in a little more depth to that. So you’re providing really great structure and framework for this, so thank you for that. So to be able to find the most profitable, you know, niche/target market, we look at one specific type of client, one specific painful problem that they have, like, it’s a painful problem, it’s expensive (at least six figures, seven figures is even better). And then, you have one outcome that you provide for them one solution, and how you deliver that happens to be a process, but it is driven by an outcome and you reverse engineer the outcome to be able to find what are the steps that we’re going to accomplish?
And I mentioned earlier about this client success map, how the first thing that prospects going to ask you if you say I’m going to add $10 million in three years for your business is “well, how do you do that?” So like, “well, I’m glad you asked,” and you pull out this visual, this client success map (that this is what we designed for all of our clients actually). And, it actually shows them— let’s say it’s five steps— here are the five steps that we walk through in order to get you here. For us, it’s like here are the four steps we walk you through in order to be able to have a hands-off company that can run and grow without you. That’s sustainable and that adds more and more profit, even as you work less and less hours. So, these are the four main things that we get through and they’re really outcome-oriented, everything is outcome-oriented.
And it’s, you know, just about any problem in the business, you can solve by adding more value. Like cash flow issues, you can solve that by if you add enough value, and if any of your clients value you enough, they’re going to get you’ll be able to ask for better payment terms, for example. And, if your sales and marketing: your sales conversions are going to go up, if you have a much better offer, and you can guarantee it, your marketing, you can generate a lot better leads, if you have a better offer, like we add $10 million in three years; like when you have that kind of offer, it will supercharge everything that you’re doing in your business. And, it’s like the main foundational piece that if you want to have the bandwidth, the financial runway, in order to actually afford the level of quality people to help you scale your business, you have to add more value. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to work more and more hours as you’re scaling your business, just there’s just no other way. Because if you want to increase your fees to make them more sustainable, the only way that you’ll be able to command those fees is if you add more value.
Steve: Yeah, without a doubt, I mean, and that. So many people think that that just means doing more stuff. But, I don’t necessarily think that it’s always doing more stuff.
Mandi: It’s often doing less stuff, it’s really about simplifying. And adding value, a lot of times, is cutting things out. In some cases, some of our clients, it’s looking at how they can do more for a very specific client. But also, a lot of times, it’s like, you know, this is our sweet spot right here and we do it for this type of client, and this is all we’re going to be doing, and they cut out everything else. And then, it allows them to really double down on what they’re really best at. And, you know, one of a really great resource where I originally learned this years ago, and I’ve applied this to service based companies, is The Blue Ocean Strategy. I’m not sure, have you read that book before?
Steve: Yeah, in fact, I remember I read it when I was running my first company, and we were trying to figure out how to how to differentiate. And so yes, I’m very familiar with it.
Mandi: So, and that’s one of the pieces that we look at for you know what to increase, what to decrease so that you can cut back on the things that are less important. And that you, can really amplify the things that are most important and that drive the most value. And that way, you can allocate all of your resources to what’s going to get the biggest bang for your buck for your clients. And then that’s one of the ways that you can gain more… you can find the resources you need to scale in the company.
Steve: And that that thinking, in my mind, is so critical to identify where. I mean, we used it in a pretty mundane business to identify where we were, you know, adding value in what we were doing, versus the competition. And, you know, it allowed us to immediately identify one little area, where if, if we really pressed on that one little thing, and actually even though we didn’t have a big impact on the total outcome of a project, in this case, was a big land development project, we didn’t have an impact on the total outcome, but we had a direct impact on one certain type of cost. And once we identified that, we were able to build a guarantee around it, now that I think about it. And I mean, this is in a business where nobody guaranteed anything. I mean, they thought, you know, at the time, I was actually the president of the state association, and pretty well known and people thought I was nuts for guaranteeing anything, so.
Steve: But the thing we guaranteed was 100% in our control. So, we weren’t guaranteeing anything that we couldn’t control. And, the conditions were really, really specific. So, now that I think about it, and I’m sitting here thinking, wow, you know, this is a really difficult thing, but I’ve done it before. And, it did make a big difference.
Mandi: Oh, I bet. And I think that that’s exactly it, Steve, is that you look at having everything you possibly can be within your control. And then the things that are out that are outside of your control or you screen for. Whether they have that, or if they don’t have that, that you just say “You know, I’ll be happy to work with you, but we can’t offer you the same guarantee because you’re missing this, this, and this. And, you know, if you want, we can start this project, we put those things in place, and then we can put you on a regular program after that.”
Steve: You know, as I think about this, so we’ve talked about how to scale, essentially scale demand by creating this really great offer. But once you do that, now you’ve got all this work to do. So how, how do you then, you know, solve the other problem in service businesses, which is, you know, often the owner is the best pair of hands? And sometimes the only pair of hands, right? So, how do you work with your clients once you’ve got this great offer in place to help them scale the operational side?
Mandi: Right? Well, that’s a great question. And, we don’t work with clients until they at least have some team in place. So if it’s just them, they need to hire some people first before we can do that, and because there are just some challenges around… anyway, we start with them, and they would they have at least a couple people on their team, at least that much. Many of them, they might even have ten to twenty. But, what we do is we look at you know,we want to get the CEO out of the day to day with it, and so we need an operational person, there are different levels of operational people based on the stage of your company, there’s like this, this continuum, you might say. So from like a VA, like a virtual assistant to an executive assistant to project manager to an operations manager to like a director of operations to COO— I mean, there’s this whole continuum, right? And on one side of the continuum, you’re like, it’s like more hands. And by the way, this is… that’s cheaper. Like, so on the hand side, it’s cheaper. On the brain side, it’s more expensive. And the difference is really like the level of strategy they bring.
So, what we do is we have to look at based on the stage of their company, what level are of operations person are they ready for? So, we look at that, and we look to see if they already have them on their team because sometimes they already have them the team, they just need to develop them a little bit. So, we either hire or promote their person into like, project manager, operations manager, whatever. And, we always look at how do we develop them to the next level? So how do we be able to maximize the input… really maximize the output of this, this person, right at their pay grade? Which is awesome, because it allows you to do is develop a really good key person on your team, exactly within the budget you have right now.
So what we do is… that client success map I was talking to you about, that visual map. What you do is you basically hand over that map to them, and then their job is to put together what we call a client management blueprint. And, they’re actually building out the management structure for how to run the service, and how to be able to generate the outcomes. And, someone who is already more operational thinking, like we plug them into our process for how to actually build this out, and then the team builds this whole thing out. So, the owner starts with like the high level/strategic, and then the team actually builds out the structure and the framework for how it gets done.
Does that make any sense?
Steve: Total sense. And that just… because when we get to this part of it, this is where everybody listening, every business owner listening goes, “Oh, no, they’re going to talk about procedures. And I know I need to document all my stuff. And I haven’t documented anything yet. But gee, that sounds like a lot of work.” And, what you’re saying is that, when you’re working with a company, you’re getting the team to do all the documentation that the leader, the entrepreneur, the CEO, is providing the strategic direction, and essentially dictating what the outcomes need to be, and delegating the methods to the team to figure out.
Mandi: Right, right. So, because here’s the thing: at this stage, you already have some systems and processes, it’s not like you don’t have them in place… it’s about orchestrating them in a way where you can be able to accomplish each stage, and so that there’s some kind of framework put into place. So the owner has clarity that things are being done, that it’s being managed in a certain way, in the way that they want to see it managed. But, the actual “how” of it, so really the CEO is setting the what and the why. And then, the team is setting the “how”. So what you’re doing is by putting someone in place for this, like, you know, whatever operational level person is in place for this, what you’re doing is you’re actually training them how to be the next level operations person, so you’re elevating them to the next level.
And it’s also a way to test them out, because you’re going to throw them in this project, we give them some direction as well on it, but if they can’t hack it then you know pretty fast… their job is to help build out the system and mobilize the team to do it with them. And then, also pull you into the most important parts where they need your input. But, if they can’t own this, then they’re not a good person for the job. So you trust them. And, you know, even if you’re a couple of months in, this person doesn’t work out, well guess what? They have two months worth of work that they have just put in place, so now you hire someone else and you’ve already had a really good start, and you get a return on investment for this person, for the two months… rather than just having them be poking over your shoulder for the past few months. And, and fingers crossed, I hope they work out.
Steve: That’s… I love that approach. So smart. It takes care of so many of the issues, and you know, the thing that I hear over and over again from business owners is that, you know, trusting someone else to execute the work can sometimes be a big stretch. But, this is a way for you to sort of test their understanding. Because if they’ve got it documented, if they’ve got to design sort of the execution system, they have to understand it. And, as long as you’ve got some checkpoints and review points for that, you know that at the end of it, they’re going to understand and they’re probably going to understand it better than they would have if you’d have been walking in.
I mean, the way we used to train in my first business, a lot of it was we’d walk in, and this is when we had an office, you know, and now we’re 100% virtual, so we can’t do it. But I’d walk in and I’d stand over somebody’s shoulder and tell them what to do. It was a horribly inefficient way of doing it. But that was sort of how we did it, you know. One of the great things, for me personally, about having a virtual team is that it forces me to be more intentional about having folks on the team create this documentation, and build these systems out. So, I love that approach. Because it just, it gets right to the heart of it. There’s not a lot of wasted effort.
Mandi: Yeah, definitely. And we’ve just found that it’s a very efficient way to train people up, and how to vet them. Like, we have a whole process for how we hire people, how we hire operations managers, and directors of operations so that we find like really great people. And, my own partner, our program director, Jennifer, she’s a fractional COO for like 10 years and has worked with 100 different companies. So like, she really knows what she’s doing on this as well. So she actually trains these people as well, as we have like part of… kind of an operations academy built into our program. So that… we’re working with the CEOs, but we’re also working with their team, their executives that they’re trying to grow as well so that they don’t actually have to like… they don’t have to translate it all themselves anymore. Which has been a really fun innovation that we’ve brought on since Jennifer joined us. So that’s been a lot of fun, actually.
Steve: That’s fantastic. Well, Mandi, I know, we could probably go on for hours and hours about this. You and I kind of geek out on this stuff. But, for our listeners, I think we probably should, should bring it to a close. So, are there any final thoughts you want to share with everybody?
Mandi: Well, just go be bold, make bigger offers, and just be relentless about providing bigger value, bigger outcomes, and do what the rest of your market is not doing… and make those big offers, those big claims, and stand by it.
Steve: Yeah, absolutely. And where can folks find out more about the work you’re doing? I know you’ve got a great podcast and you’ve got a bunch of great resources on your website. So where can they find out about that?
Mandi: Right. So you can find my podcast on iTunes, just pretty much anywhere you find you find podcasts, I don’t even know where they all are (my team does this), but it’s Hands Off CEO podcast, the Hands Off CEO podcast under my name Mandi:. And if you if you want to download our ultimate guide to scaling your consulting agency, and making it run without you, you can go to HandsOffCEO.com/roadmap. And, you can download it there. A lot of these concepts we shared, I go into even more detail about how to create a sustainable business and how to really free up time and space for rapid growth and how to be able to create this rapid growth without you being the one driving it all.
Steve: Well, that’s fantastic, folks, go get that guide. Get plugged in to what Mandi’s doing… it will help you as you begin to think about scaling up your business. And, she can help you both on figuring out that big bold offer, and also on figuring out how to deliver on it; which you need both. You got to have both of those. So, Mandy, thanks so much for being here. It’s been a lot of fun.
Mandi: Thanks so much, Steve. I’ve enjoyed it so much and such a great honor to be on here the second time.
Steve: Hey, folks, I want to give a quick shout out to some people who have posted reviews for us over on iTunes. And always grateful when we get reviews and want to thank Sky, Steph, Composer 1853 I wish I wish I had your name— if you’re listening to this, send me an email and let me know who you are— Karen, Tommy, Terry and Rosie. Thank you all so much for leaving us in all of those cases, five-star ratings and really great reviews. I love seeing the comments that come back just kind of reinforces what we’re doing here and helps us attract really great guests like Mandi, so if you enjoyed this interview, please go to iTunes and leave us a five star rating and a review, and drop me an email let me know that you did so. You can drop me an email at Steve@UnstoppableCEO.net Until next time, stay unstoppable!