Episode 21 | Mitch Russo | Business Reset, Personal Reinvent
Now that we’re in the last month of 2020, is it fair to say that this has been the most unpredictable year in memory, if not, your lifetime? Whether it’s been a year of disappointments, plateaus, or pivots, author, consultant, and executive coach Mitch Russo helps his clients reset their company by first adjusting their mindset. Mitch’s seasoned business advice valued by such renowned thought leaders as Tony Robbins, Chet Holmes, and Shark Tank’s Kevin Harrington will be of great benefit if you’re ready to make 2021 the year you always envisioned.
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Mitch Russo | Business Reset, Personal Reinvent
Mitch Russo, it is such a pleasure to have you on the show. I’ve been looking forward to this interview for some time. I know our overall audience is going to learn a lot from this conversation. Let’s get right into it. We are talking at a time when a lot of business entrepreneurs may be struggling. They’ve spent many years and resources building up a business launching an idea. They’re now wondering, what’s next? Is it worth pursuing or should I give it up and take another route? Was it a good dream at one time, but it’s time to act like an adult and go do something else? As a business consultant to many successful entrepreneurs and enterprises, how would you respond to that question that people may be having?
There are dire and desperate situations caused by COVID-19. We’ve had restaurants all over the country go bankrupt. There’s an estimate that says, if not a half, at least a third of existing restaurants are out of business for good. When it comes to the type of work I do, we don’t work with retail establishments, but I had a chance to chat with an owner of a chain of restaurants who called me almost out of desperation and said, “I would love to pick your brain for fifteen minutes.” I said, “Sure.” We got on the phone and we chatted. After hearing his tale, I started saying, “Let’s go down a different road here. What are your assets? What have you done over the years that are unique to you?”
I discovered that there was a wealth of data and information that he had on purchasing food, storage food, the management of the food process and then on simple things like recipes that can cook quickly using the same temperature ovens. It was a network of brilliance, maybe even a treasure chest of brilliant ideas that I would have never known existed unless I pushed in this direction. By the end of this fifteen-minute call, an hour later, it turns out that I had encouraged him to start documenting everything he felt like was valuable and unique about what he had learned years building a chain of restaurants. At that point, what we are planning on doing is working together to help him launch an educational program that will be a combination of online learning, Zoom-based coaching and eventually, a live component where people can come and start a restaurant business in a live laboratory with him. He went from being depressed and scared to super optimistic and excited about the future.
That’s a reset. You’ve coined that phrase business reset, where you take people who may have reached a crossroads either by themselves, as they’re trying to launch this fantastic idea that they’ve had, or their business has hit a fork in the road. Can you describe a little bit more about the whole business reset mentality and some of the practices that you use with your clients?
The first thing that we do whenever I work with a client on a business reset is to deal with the mindset. Mindset is the most dangerous thing when it comes to success and failure. If you don’t have your mindset, no amount of coaching is ever going to help. The idea is let’s get people from a place of despair, into a place of hope and let’s do that quickly. Once we feel like there are some hope and some confidence in the possibility of a future, we then look for the strategy first as to how that will happen. Different businesses have different approaches. For example, many of my clients have been keynote speakers who are out of business and unfortunately, probably will be through 2022.
One of the things that I did with my keynote clients is similar to what I did with my restaurant clients is to say, “Let’s take the inventory of what your intellectual property is,” and we do that. We decide in advance, whether it makes sense to start structuring those as programs. One of the things that we do that’s different than with our restaurant friend is we want to approach the same clients as they had before and say, “I used to speak from stage. I used to do your keynotes, but we’re in a different world. We have a program that’s even more effective. What we’re going to do is we’re going to be doing an online keynote effectively to get people started.”
We’re going to be following that up with a three-level coaching program. We’re going to coach your VPs and executives first. We’re going to get their mindset straight. We’re going to teach them about what we’ve learned about how to both manage people, manage under diverse situations and how to effect change in the organization where everybody is scared. The overall tone of everybody in every company is scared. The only places that don’t exist are the people at Facebook, Google, and maybe Netflix. They’re excited but other than the rest of us, there’s a lot of fear out there. We address that first. What we do is create what I call the university structure. What we do with the university structures is I explain to my clients how they should potentially explain this to their clients, which is to say, “The idea is to get them into the program and sign on for the first part of this, knowing that there’s a second and third part and maybe even a fourth part. The idea is to create the highest lifetime value possible.”
Like a university, there’s a big job to sell you into freshman year to get you to come to our college. There’s not much of a sales effort to sell you from freshmen to sophomore year. The assumption is made that if you’re a freshman, you’re going to become a sophomore. We take the same approach with the way we train people to sell into a corporation. This has become extremely successful, multiplying the value of that customer relationship far more than a simple keynote would have done. To be fair, a keynote might’ve generated $10,000, $15,000, or $20,000 in an afternoon in the past. Now, what we do is we generate six figures by building a long-term program, getting people involved in it where we are documenting and targeting objectives all throughout the process. We are showing our clients exactly what we’d done and bringing down to earth the value that we have delivered so that they want to do the next phase of the program.
The type of clients that you put through this business reset, are they diverse? You mentioned, a lot of them are keynotes or they were until the current circumstances. Do they come from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds? Do they keynote for different purposes or are they in one channel?
The particular clients that I’ve spoken about have all been keynote presenters for corporations or non-profits. They all speak from the stage. They all have a transformational message. Some of them already have training programs, many don’t. Some of them have books, some don’t. What we try to do is we try to build their authority first and in many ways, this is what we would do for any client. I haven’t worked with him yet, but we’re in the process of chatting about how to work together. He happens to be an exterminator. You might say, “Why would an exterminator even need a business coach?” It turns out that he is 65 years old. He has a nice business, but the problem is that he has a specialized type of process. He services homes that are particularly sensitive to chemicals.
[bctt tweet=”Never sell anything without knowing what you’re going to sell next.” via=”no”]
The bottom line is that what we wanted to do was transition him out of the business in either 1 of 2 directions. We chatted about this in our initial call, which has maybe it might be a time to sell the company. He wasn’t too happy about that. He loves what he does and he feels he’d be bored. I told him he could join me here in Florida. I’d keep them busy on the fishing boats if he likes. What we talked about is maybe how to create the equivalent of a coaching organization, a Salesforce or a network of operators who he does not have to pay directly a salary. In fact, it could pay him as a result of the training. From there, conduct his business more like the CEO than as the operator itself.
Mitch, you’re alluding to something that we have spoken about previously, which you call the alternate sales channel which is a fascinating concept that you have used to great success. Can you elaborate a little bit more on what the alternate sales channel is and who can utilize such a practice?
I’ll tell you first what it’s not. It’s not a traditional salesforce where you pay people. Imagine if you could hire a salesforce, bring them on board, get them excited, and have them pay you for the privilege of selling your products. Would you like that to happen in your own business, as an example? Of course, you would.
I don’t know about that.
The bottom line is most people would love to have a bunch of salesmen come onboard, pay them, and then sell their products for them. That would be just great. What we do is we look for a certain type of business where this process can fit nicely into the structure of what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s not a fit. Sometimes it is. That’s what we do when we have an exploratory session is we try to understand what the nature of their business is. I’ve done this for SaaS and real estate companies. I’m doing it for a company that goes into your home and clears out all of your unwanted possessions and liquidates entire homes. In ten days, we’re building an entire countrywide network of certified partners who do this for them and pay them for the privilege of working with them.
The whole idea here of the alternate sales channel is it’s not a traditional channel in any way. It’s not based on an employee relationship. It leans heavily on making the person who you bring into this organization, highly independent while still supporting them at a much higher level than almost any other company would think of doing. That’s part of what the channel is about. We call that certification. In the past certification, you go learn something, you take a test and you’re certified. That process can cost anywhere from $99 to $18,000.
John Maxwell has a coaching certification for somewhere in that range, $18,000 but what you get is the same. You get a certificate you could put on your wall. When we build certification, we’re creating a business environment that our certified partners step into, which includes lead generation, public relations and technology in place for them. All of the elements of having a business, which they admit, they were never good, to begin with. We’re supplementing all the things that they didn’t like to do and weren’t doing well with an entirely professional environment, ready to go into action for them.
That’s for the business owner you say. You’re able to assist them and identifying other skilled individuals that can not only represent their product or their offering but also bring those other functions within the business or to the business, is that correct?
That is correct. Most of the time, it’s like that a mythical story of the beggar sitting on a box in the bazaar begging for money until a wise man comes along. He holds up his cup to the wise man and says, “Can I have some change?” The wise man looks at him and says, “Why would I give you change when you’re sitting on gold?” He said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Look under the box,” and he walks away. The beggar has been sitting on that box for twenty years. It’s never moved. He opens the box, picks it up and discovers that there are gold coins in that box. We take that same approach when we work with our clients because we say, “The best people to enroll first are your own clients.” Your own clients in many cases would love to do what you do. If that’s the case, then we enroll them, get them trained, get them set up and get them out there doing what we do.
This is the model that you developed some time ago. Can you talk to us about the genesis of this approach?
I stumbled across this as a bad idea, which later got refined into a good idea. Here’s what my problem was. I was running a software company that was the victim of our own success. We had way too many clients. We couldn’t support all of our clients. We had whole times in the half-hour range and that was completely unacceptable to me. A long story and I’ll try to make it short was we got a call from an important woman in Los Angeles. She was the head of the Los Angeles Bar Association technology division. She was upset at us for what we had as a software product for lawyers. She said that our software crashed her computer. Not only was she going to sue us, but she was going to report this to the entire bar.
This is a $99 product. The resources here are not the issue anymore. We have a reputation and potential influence. I said to her, “I promise you that in a guaranteed 48 hours, we will get your system fixed even if I have to fly to California all by myself to do it for you. Do not worry. We’ll be back to you soon.” I’m in Boston, Massachusetts. I get on the phone because there was no internet trying to figure out how to get an airline reservation. I couldn’t get out there. I think to myself, “What else could I possibly do?” I had this idea. I had spoken to some of my own clients in that area. I remembered one particular excited, happy, smart woman who worked at a law firm. Her name was Anne.
Out of the blue, I called up Anne and I said, “Anne, this is Mitch Russo.” She got all excited. She had no idea I would ever be calling her. She said, “Mitch, it is wonderful to hear from you. What can I do for you?” I said, “I have a favor to ask. I’ll pay you for your time. Here’s what I’m looking for. I would like you to go over to this person’s office. I would like you to figure out what’s going on and see if you could fix her system.” California was three hours ahead and it was already 4:00 in the afternoon. She said, “I get off work in 30 minutes. I’m going to go there tonight.”
I said, “That is amazing. Thank you.” I’m at home and I’m sitting on pins and needles. I gave her my home phone number. No cell phones back then. I’m waiting and finally, she calls me up. I said, “How had it go?” She went, “It went great. It turns out that she needed to do a bit of blah, blah, blah. It’s all fixed. She was happy and she gave me $100. These were the words that changed my life. Mitch, if there’s anybody else in the San Francisco or Los Angeles area that you want me to help, you let me know.” All of a sudden, my brain exploded.
I said, “What would happen if I had 100 of Anne’s all over the country, willing to go out there and help my clients?” Anne is already a client. She’s already at the mastery level on my products. What would happen if I simply invited them to work with us directly and dispatch them as certified consultants? I got to work and we put together a little test. It was hard. You had to know your stuff to pass, but in the end, what ended up happening is we sold these tests for $1,000. If you flunked, you got your $500 back. We had generated a new product by selling tests. We had no idea we’d sell many. At that point, once they pass the test, we said, “You’re certified.”
We started using them as dispatch for tech support issues. Now, this seemed to be going great. We had 60 people in the field and they were busy. They were thrilled, but then something weird started to happen. All of a sudden, we would get these phone calls from upset people. They would come in through tech support. I wasn’t aware of them. Tech support would get the call, but they would deal with the problem. I still wasn’t aware of them until finally, we got a threat. It turns out that what we are unaware of is that these people who we had “certified” were not business people. They were not professional people. They showed up looking like Elmer Fudd. They showed up smelling like a trash dumpster. They were late, rude, not on time and incompetent. We had some big problems on our hands.
My vice president walked in marketing said, “This was a stupid idea, Russo. You should shut this down right away.” I said, “I will shut it down right away, but it’s not a stupid idea. It’s a good idea and I’m going to prove it.” I shut down the program. I sent apology letters and I said, “I want to speak to every person who’s been impacted by this.” I, personally, as the CEO of a 100-person company took every single phone call from every single disgruntle client and I made it good. Every one of them. I then rebuilt the program from scratch. It took me six months and I reissued the program at a much higher price.
I held my breath. I had no idea what was going to happen next. To my surprise and delight, a bunch of people applied and went through all of the training and it was much more detailed this time. They finally were truly professional certified consultants. That program over the course of less than eighteen months, ballooned to 350 certified consultants who were out there helping my clients with my software, with my customers, generating $1 million in revenue from certification fees, testing fees and symposium fees. They became my third-largest sales channel right behind retail and direct. I didn’t even expect that to happen. That was a total surprise. My tech support hold time dropped over 20% and was still dropping by the time the program had evolved to that level.
You might say it was an accident how I came up with this and I had never heard of it before. I didn’t have anyone to model, but that’s what we did. It was that model later that I continued to refine and build a toolset and build the legal documents and all of the flow charts in my naps to go with it. When I work with a client, we have a smooth engagement. We can go from 0 to 100 in less than 90 days, and we could launch their certification program, generate mid-six figures most of the time on launch. From there, we do it every quarter. That’s the base story of how certification came about for me.
That’s living proof that necessity was the mother of your invention. You had to find a solution to that disgruntled client in LA. That’s a great testament to that principle. Let me ask you a couple of questions about that story though, Mitch. This certification type of process, the sales channel that you’ve developed for yourself and clients, can it work for service-oriented businesses as opposed to those businesses that are selling a product? You had software and people needed to become proficient and expert in your software. Can it work for a business-centered organization or a service-oriented business? If I have a consulting business if it’s helping people produce living wills or living trusts. I would build a system through your channels where I could certify certain qualified attorneys, who could go out and share our system of building those living trusts for clients around the world.
[bctt tweet=”Never leave a customer in a place where they weren’t far better than they were before you met them.” via=”no”]
There are two elements to that. The first element of that is it sounds like you would need to be a lawyer before you could perform a legal obligation. You need it for your customers that are lawyers. As for selling certification, you are selling a product to a lawyer. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the product is the certification and the know-how and the documents assembly software to create those for their clients, which you will enable.
You are a SaaS-based company from the way that’s described. You’re a SaaS-based company and you have clients that need service, who would like to take advantage of the product. The answer would be yes, with a caveat. The caveat is that you’re going to need to be careful because having sold to lawyers throughout the years of selling legal time and billing software, I can assure you that lawyers will look for anything they can to trip you up in your business because they want to see what you’re doing so they could do it too.
If you are in any way, playing in a space that is not even legal, then you will be called out by your potential clients. However, the other thing is that one of Mitch’s rules is you never sell anything without knowing what you’re going to sell next. The whole idea is that I wouldn’t promote it as a program to sell will generation. I would promote it to lawyers as an entry-level service to bring new clients into your law firm. This is the fastest, easiest way to do so in bulk in quantity. For me, I would position it differently from the way you described it. Realistically, if your company is not doing that service then it is in fact, a good idea to think about certification for that.
The second question I had related to your story is that this first woman who you hired, who did that favor for you, and she got $100 from the client. She had skills in knowing how to work the software so that it didn’t crash the system. You built an army that sales channel from that point on, but what started to crumble around you was the professionalism of those individuals. In other words, in order to maintain this new product that you had created, this sales channel, it wasn’t the hard skills of being fluent in tech or software. It was the soft skills in how to be on time and how to address a client professionally, had to listen and how to speak appropriately to clients. I find that interesting that it was the soft skills, perhaps it could have undone this fantastic idea you had. Am I correct in assuming that? If I am, how did you fix that?
If I would have known what you said when I first started, I would’ve saved myself a lot of grief, but what else I would’ve done? I would’ve missed out on learning that and figuring out how to fix it. You’re right and here’s how I fixed it. First of all, I wrote a manual that was about three inches thick that contained chapters on how to dress, how to show up, how to speak and how to conduct an engagement. Here are all of the pre-formatted letters that you send before and after your engagement. Here’s what you say when you follow up, etc. That was part of it, but not the most important part. The second thing I did is I created the code of ethics and the in order to create the code of ethics, I had to first examine myself, what are my values?
We crafted what we call The Value Parthenon, which means that the roof of the Parthenon is my values as the CEO. What is my why? My why is to find a better way. I can’t look at anything and not try to fix it. It’s unfortunately my nature. The values that I have are to always find a better way. My other value never leaves a customer in a place where they weren’t far better than they were before you met them. My third value might be that I’m looking to create a relationship, not a transaction and there are several others. This is what I call my values. You have yours, which are similar to mine, I’m sure, and more. The next step is if you think about the values as the roof of the Parthenon and we think about the columns of the Parthenon as our code of ethics, then what we have is a system that is almost guaranteed to make sure that none of these mistakes happens in the future.
What we’re doing, Rob, is we’re building a culture in advance of even launching the program. In this process, I give my clients a pre-formatted culture course that they record in their own voice that transmits these values in these cultures and the code of ethics to everybody who joins and becomes part of the company that building certification. They even take an exam on the culture. That’s how close and how far we go to make sure that they truly understand that this isn’t a free for all this. It doesn’t get to devolve into entropy. This instead has a set of rules that everyone must follow. The way I like to think about it is that freedom is created within boundaries. As I said before, if you think of the Parthenon, everything inside the columns, you’re free to do whatever you want. As long as you stay within the columns, you have absolute freedom to build your business, to create for yourself, anything you want with my help and with our help always.
As a business owner myself, and over the many years that we’ve been in business, we have never been a 100-person company like you’ve led before. We’ve always had a small staff relatively, but over the years, we’ve hired and employed somewhere around 80 to 85 individuals. One of the biggest challenges that any small owner has, especially I would add if their business is based on service, is that they’re protective of their brand, their reputation, and how they are perceived by the market. When you bring someone into that small family called a company, you want to make sure that that person is not going to disrupt or undo all the work you’ve done. We have heard this a thousand times, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and five minutes to destroy it.” Being as careful as you are and building that code of ethics is an important point. I’m sure it brings a lot of comfort to those who might want to pursue the path that you’ve described, even working with you, Mitch.
This turns out to be the key to success for any business if you are not transmitting your values to the people who you work with on a daily basis, if you are not leading from the top. On my LinkedIn page, it has a statement that says, “The CEO’s job is to create and to communicate.” I know everyone else has pictures of them on stage and waving. To me, this is the highest form of leadership and creating can take many forms. Creating could be building programs, creating sales teams, but not doing. Communication is the second most important skill of the CEO. If the CEO cannot communicate, that means nobody knows what the CEO is thinking.
I struggled with being an introvert growing up to understand how to communicate effectively. I went through and envied a lot of the people that were gifted naturally with this charisma. I never had any of that stuff. I had to learn it the hard way. I did it by trying to understand myself first. This was such a great challenge that I documented this process. This is part of what we teach when we build certification. We have to make sure that the CEO is willing to do the communication part. Most people are good at creating or think they are, but they get mired in the operation that they don’t have enough time to create.
The communication part would be considered excessive by the average CEO. The average introverted CEO would look at what I do or look at what I say and say, “That’s way too much. That’s a little too much communicating, Mitch,” but it’s important because people need to know you. If everyone says, “I’m one of Rob’s guy. I’m on Rob’s team.” They need to know who Rob is. They need to know what you care. They need to know what makes you smile because ultimately, that’s what they want to do. They want to make you smile. They want to fulfill their lives and they want to make you and your clients happy.
You said, in order for the employees to know what the CEO is thinking, he or she has to learn how to communicate. The part that I would add is that in order for the CEO to know the employees, their colleagues, they also need to communicate. Communication is not just talking. It’s also listening, I’m sure you would attest in your own career. Let me ask you, when you are looking at a prospective client, someone who you want to take to the proverbial next level, whose business you want to help reset, or you want to build these types of channels and certification programs that you’re describing, is there a perfect recipe of a prospect for you? How would you describe the person when you see them or hear about them, you say, “I got to work with them?”
It’s a great question and in a way I’ve never quite articulated this before. Thank you for drawing that out of me because I’m going to make this up as I go along here. I appreciate that. The first thing is they have to be coachable. If I detect that someone is stuck in their ways that they’re not willing to listen and do, then I don’t think it’s a fit. It’s going to be a slugfest for me and for them too. The second thing is they have to be able to think outside the box and look at new ideas. I’m willing to stand by their side and guide them through that process, but in our first session, in any engagement that I have, I do an unusual exercise.
My first session with any new client is two hours long. I take them through a pathway to discover a little bit about themselves that make people who’ve never looked at before. Behind the scenes while we’re chatting, I’m building a mind map of everything that I see as the core of their existing business. I’m using what they tell me to create a trajectory for the future. I’ll give you an example. I had a gentleman on and he started as a new client. In our conversation, it was clear that he had made a nice living doing what he was doing. I’m not going to tell you who it was or specifically what he did.
He was a good provider, but he lost everything with COVID. He wanted to restart that business. In the series of questions that I had asked him, I helped him to discover something about himself that he had never looked at before. In a matter of 40 minutes into our session, he had broken down, started to cry and said he had never realized this about himself before. From that moment in time, everything we did going forward was based on this discovery of who he truly was. I’ve done this with NFL players. I’ve done this with CEOs in $50 million companies. It doesn’t matter where you are or in your life. It doesn’t matter how “successful” you’ve been. All of us have this desire. In many ways, we have adapted our lives, our needs and our family’s needs.
Those are all good things, but if we can find a way to unleash this desire in a positive way, it might turn out to be the most profitable thing we could do as well as the most satisfying. That’s part of my process. For example, I take a person through this process and I’m getting nothing back, or I’m not able to get them to where I think of as the next stage in their own evolution. I know I’m going to have a difficult time with this individual because I need them to open up to me. I’m a stranger. I get that, but I have a way about getting people to open up. In many ways, it’s all about them, anyway. It’s nothing to do with me. It’s trying to shine a light on their best qualities.
In many cases, we don’t take advantage of our greatest skills and assets because, in the past, they didn’t seem to benefit us, but in the future, they may have to. That’s part of why we do this exercise. That’s so powerful. I have never thrown anybody out. I had one woman many years ago tell me that she was exhausted after every session with me that she had to lay down. Sometimes it took two days to recover. She said she doesn’t think she can continue. This woman was what I would call a trust fund baby. She had never had a job in her entire life, but she had this desire to create a business.
In my early years, I was maybe a little too enthusiastic about what I saw in her and about her. I might’ve pushed her a little too hard, but she would never have made it to the end anyway because she wasn’t willing to do the work. There’s work with any endeavor there’s going to be concerned. In some cases, even fear and everything we want is on the other side of that. My goal and my job as your coach is to get you to the other side of that and show you what I can see that’s already there.
It’s not only the business reset that you specialize in. I’m interpreting your words as you also do an individual re-invent. That’s what oftentimes we must do, especially when we are facing trials and hurdles that we either anticipated or didn’t anticipate. Certainly, many people are in that boat now in 2020. It’s a fascinating exercise. When you speak of individuals, you have a lot of influence on people. That’s one reason why we’re eager to interview you for the show because we’re all about finding those nuggets that help us all be better influencers and persuaders and to inspire people to do greater things. You’ve also worked with people who could be described as great persuaders and influencers.
You’ve partnered with Tony Robbins, Chet Holmes and Kevin Harrington, who’s the original shark of Shark Tank. These are your partners and friends. This is not to discount your value at all, Mitch, but those are household names to people in the business. In order to partner with those types of personalities and those prominent personalities, what does someone like you win them over so that they had confidence in you and said, “Mitch, you’re the person that we want to do this venture with?”
[bctt tweet=”Look to create a relationship, not a transaction.” via=”no”]
When I built Timeslips Corp, I was the guy. I was the guy on stage. I was the guy on camera. I was the spokesperson, the name that signed every letter. I got used to that. I expected that all my life I’d be the guy. When it came to working with people like the names you mentioned, I’m not the guy. I’m the guy behind the curtain. I found that while I loved creating and building new things, I also found a love for creating systems to run the things that other people have built too. When I came along and was hired by Chet Holmes, for example, to come into his company for one small project. To be fair, you should know this, we were good friends for years. He solicited me selling advertising back when I was running time TimeSlips Corp. We stayed close friends. We built a friendship on that business relationship that lasted all of our lives until he passed away.
The thing is that I had to come into Chet’s company, but Chet’s the guy, not me. I had to create the things that were missing for him, which I was more than willing to do. In fact, I love doing those things. I’m an engineer by background. I have an engineering mind. When I approach something, I always think about the way it could work the most efficiently. It goes back to my why to find a better way. When I walk into a situation, there are people doing a lot of manual things. There’s a whole mess of people doing stuff that they shouldn’t be doing. I look at this and in my mind, I see a picture that lays out instantly in three dimensions, exactly what that system would be and I go about building it.
That’s what I did with Chet and Tony. With Kevin Harrington, we created a company together. He was the spokesperson for that company. He was the guy. He was the head. He was the one on camera, the one who signed the letters. I had to build the backend systems in order to create the company around what we were doing. That turned out to be a great place. I enjoyed it where it became a deficit after Chet passed away. After I left that organization, I realized, “I’m nobody. I have no list. Nobody knows who I am. I’ve been forgotten for many years.” After all, I was only known in the legal industry as the founder of TimeSlips. I had to start over from scratch, from the beginning, and rebuild everything about how to become the guy again. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since 2012, when that partnership dissolved.
In your years of starting businesses and building products and relationships, is there one thing that you can look back on? Despite the story you told us previously of the problem you had with the client in Los Angeles, which led to another side of your business. Is there one thing you’ve done, Mitch, in your past, in the spirit of vulnerability that you could share with us, that you will say, “That was a big mistake? I never should have done that?” Whether it was a particular move or a pivot you shouldn’t have taken or simply a mentality or an attitude that you had at one point in your career.
Fortunately, there are many. A few things came to mind. I’ll try and do them in somewhat chronological order. After I had sold my company and after I was working independently, a friend and I got for lunch. I had an idea for a new internet startup. That was when the web was becoming popular. It was 2005. Together, we had conceived of a new type of dating site. We got excited about it. We sketched it out. At that point, we saw no possible competition at all from anyone. We were thinking we would go forward and fund this ourselves because we both had sold companies. We would get the foundation of this thing built and then maybe raise money. At the last minute, he asked me if I would mind if he brought a friend along to listen in and be part of our conversation.
I don’t want to disclose who it was, but his friend was someone famous. His friend had been profiled in a major motion picture and had a bit of dazzle about him. I trusted my friend as my partner so I said, “Yes.” I skipped the part where I got to do the true due diligence into who this individual was because I trusted my friend’s word. That turned out to be a huge mistake. I got my family involved. We all invested money. We put about $500,000 of our own money into this project collectively and because of this individual, it was a complete flop. He did things that shocked me completely and never in my wildest dream would I imagine anyone would be stupid. Yet, we were stuck with him. He was a founding member, a stockholder and an officer of the company until it got to the point where we had to shut it down. We lost a lot of money, a lot of time and potentially it was an incredible idea died on the vine.
Were you romanced by the celebrity figure? Did you feel like you didn’t have the muscle to say, “No, wait, we need to do more due diligence?”
A little bit of both. I didn’t want to challenge my friend and my friendship to say, “I got to do more due diligence on this guy,” but on the surface, he looked incredible. He would say things like, “When we’re ready to launch, I’ll announce this to my publicist and we’ll be on TV,” and we were. We were featured on Good Morning America at one point with this new idea. It wasn’t as if it wasn’t real. He was an irresponsible individual with poor sensibilities. He did things that put us in jeopardy all the time without thinking. It was a combination of me not having the guts in a sense to go forward and challenge my friend and being a little dazzled by the fact that he was this famous person.
It’s understandable, though, looking back. At the same time, we don’t need to hear all of your other failure stories because I’m sure they’re not as voluminous as you’re suggesting. Let me ask you on the flip side. As I said earlier, you’ve created some interesting and powerful relationships in business. Is there a particular move that you’ve made in your career when you can look back? Not to say your career is over yet, Mitch, but so far in your career, you look back and you say, “That was a pivotal move. That was a turning point in my career. I’m glad I did that, whether it was against my better judgment at the time, or it was just good luck,” or whatever it may have been. Is there a moment you can point to?
I have two that were significant decision moments that were in some sense, a little hard. The first one was when we were building the software company and selling time billing software to lawyers. I received a call from an organization in Chicago and I’m not good with the Chicago accent, but imagine I’m speaking in a thick Chicago accent here. It turns out to be one of the officers for the American Bar Association. In a friendly voice, “Mitch, I see you are selling software to lawyers here. It’s not a good idea selling it without the American Bar Association certification. We would love to help you get certified so you could sell some of that software you got there.” I said, “I am happy to. What do we got to do? Should we submit it?”
He said, “No, you don’t have to submit nothing. It’s just $46,000. We will send you the paperwork, you pay the $46,000. We gave you a certification, then you’re good to go, Mitch.” I said to him, “Are you out of your mind? Do you think I’m going to give you $46,000 for some stupid ABA rubber stamp?” He went, “If you don’t, we’ll destroy you.” I said, “I think I’m going to take my chances on this one. I’m going to let them market decide.” At that point, I decided that I was going to double my efforts in marketing to lawyers. We had a couple of what I call lucky breaks, meaning being super prepared at a moment in time when the opportunity strike. Fourteen months from that moment in time of that phone call, we had achieved the number one status in the legal market in time and billing.
Here’s the surprising part that was shocking. I received the call two years later from another individual at the American Bar Association who said to me, “We dissolved that division. We no longer do that.” By the way, I wrote the president of the ABA describing the shakedown that I had gone through and now this guy calls, “How would you like to speak at the American Bar Association National Meeting and tell your story from the stage? You’re famous in our little world anyway. I think we’d love to hear from you.” That move was dangerous at the time became pivotal.
The other one that is less inspiring, maybe is a simple one. Years ago, I decided to create a podcast. My goal was to build a show where I didn’t care who listened to it. I wanted to have my guests be my ideal clients. My thought was I could get my ideal clients onto my show, have a dynamite one-hour conversation with them and then chat with them about what I did. If it was a fit, maybe help them with their business.
At first it didn’t work well. In fact, for the first year, I didn’t sign a single new client. On top of that, I wasn’t getting 50 to 60 downloads an episode. It was terrible, but I kept going and I said, “I know this can work. I know I need to refine what I’m doing. Maybe do a better job of inviting the right guests, etc.” Now my podcast is my single largest source of new clients that I bring into my practice. At the same time, my show is getting 25,000 downloads a month, which is good. I never cared a lot about the number of downloads. That never was a thing for me, but it was discouraging after a year to not be getting many at all.
What you’re describing is Your First Thousand Clients, correct? Tell us all how we can find your podcast.
Go to YourFirstThousandClients.com and there’s the show.
How many episodes would we find in a month?
We publish once a week. There’s about 215 something like that episodes. The last one, in fact, was a Kevin Harrington episode. Before that, we had Seth Godin on the show as well and some other wonderful people.
We know that yours is one of the top 200 podcasts on iTunes if I’m not mistaken.
It touched the top 200 once. It didn’t t sit there in the top 200, but it did touch it once. It fluctuates. It’s in the top 50 management grouping regularly, so that’s nice. As I said, I don’t care a lot about that as much as I do about finding the right guests, who I believe resonates with the message that I am telling.
[bctt tweet=”The CEO’s job is to create and to communicate.” via=”no”]
This has been a great conversation. I appreciate your insights. Also, you share the value of your experience with all of us, but as we wrap up thinking towards 2021, how should we as business people be sleeping right now? Should we be nervous? Should we be losing sleep or are there certain things we can do to get a better night for us looking forward?
We’ve all gone through approximately three stages since the beginning of COVID. The first stage was denial, which was, “This’ll be over soon. We’ll get back to business and won’t be a big deal.” The second stage is reality sets in where we’re saying, “This isn’t going soon at all and I’m in trouble here.” The third stage is where I think requires a true shift in mindset because the third stage is, “I get it. Things will never be the way they were before. I got to do something new and it’s time to act.” I have a free gift for your audience. It will help them take that first step to change where they are, if that’s what they choose to do and promote their business, get more publicity, get on more podcasts, do the things that people who are in the process of actively promoting themselves should be doing anyway. The bottom line is in that third stage either you’re stuck and haven’t made that decision yet, or you’ve made that decision and you’re excited about moving forward, even though now, things look bleak.
We’d love to have that free gift. How do we get it?
Go to ProfitStackingSecrets.com. There is a download there and it’s valuable. Most people have a little graveyard on their desktop where they put all their downloads. I beg you, please don’t download this if that’s where you want to put it. Instead, I want you to open it up and promise me five minutes of your time to read even the first section and do one thing. There are three things that I ask you to do in this download. Do one thing, prepare a profile, and use the links that I provide and go out there and apply to be on podcasts. There are 3 or 4 agencies I list in this free download, where you can go on there and find shows that are looking for you and be a guest. Tell your story. Share your experience and knowledge. Get people to get to know you.
I can assure my readers that you did not have to fill out that form for us to find you. Your reputation is wonderful. You’ve proven it out here in this interview. It’s been a real pleasure, Mitch. Thank you again for your words of wisdom, for your advice and your encouragement. Hopefully, we are inspiring a lot of people. I would encourage them to take advantage of your free offer and we wish you the best, Mitch, and your continued pursuit of resetting businesses and re-inventing individuals.
Thank you, Rob.
- Mitch Russo
- LinkedIn – Mitch Russo
- Timeslips Corp
- Your First Thousand Clients
- Kevin Harrington – Previous episode from Your First Thousand Clients Podcast
- Seth Godin – Previous episode from Your First Thousand Clients Podcast
About Mitch Russo
If you are excited about making rapid progress but are not sure what steps to take to grow your business, then I can help you.
If you are an author, speaker, coach, or trainer. We will transition your skills and knowledge into a marketing and profit machine. In just 8 weeks, you will have new sources of prospects and customers.
My book, Power Tribes, is a blueprint for creating profitable certification programs that will create a new salesforce for you while being paid to do so. We do this for SaaS companies, Coaching, Consulting, Training, and Service companies worldwide.
I’ve been nominated for entrepreneur of the year, and built 8 figure companies TWICE!
I founded and built the world’s #1 software company in time/billing/accounting to $10MM in sales.
Then as CEO of Tony Robbins & Chet Holmes BBI, we grew from $5MM to $25MM+ in sales.
Jay Abraham said about my book: “Mitch Russo provides a refreshing new slant on growing a business to double, redouble, maybe even double again and again.”
When we work together, I’ll teach you the mindset, strategies, and systems you need to accomplish the following goals:
– How to add profitable recurring revenue streams
– How to create 8 figure strategic partnerships
– How to build an unstoppable sales team & manage it
– How to create a clear vision for yourself & your business
– How to build coaching organizations
– How to create certification programs
– How to maximize the value you get from radio advertising
At the end of the 8 weeks, if you feel I didn’t deliver 10x value, I’ll keep working with you until you do.
However, if I see potential in you, I may extend an offer to continue coaching you to grow your business to EIGHT FIGURES as I have done before.
Ready for the next level? visit: MitchRusso.com and set up our intro call.