This is what many founders think success looks like –
all the plates spinning, with no hands required.
A man stands alone on stage in a circus tent. In his hands are long, narrow stilts. Atop the stilts are porcelain plates, spinning wildly. He staggers around, just barely keeping each plate balanced. All it would take is one misstep, or the slightest tremor, for it all to come crashing down.
To the huge relief of the audience, another man joins him on stage. The newcomer carefully takes some of the plates onto his own stilts, and the burden is halved. More and more performers join these two, and soon there is a whole troupe, spinning one or two plates each.
It goes from nerve-wracking viewing to a simple but spectacular display of skill.
Most entrepreneurs run their business like the first man in the circus act.
They spin all kinds of plates, running all over the place to keep them all in the air. When they finally bring in other people, and train each of them to spin a plate or two, it becomes a real business.
This is what Jacob Puhl’s company, Firegang Dental Marketing, looks like today. He has a team of experienced, talented performers who execute each part of his business. They leverage each other’s strengths, and defend each other’s weaknesses. The business is a sight to behold, bringing in over $2 million last year and on track to $4 million in annual revenue.
But it wasn’t always like this.
In fact, just 2 years ago, Jacob and his business partner Adam were spinning all the plates. To make matters worse, they were both trying to spin the same plates.
During our first coaching call, the guys told me all about Firegang. They had done a good job of growing it when they started, taking it to almost $1 million in annual revenue. But their growth had ground to a halt. Nothing they did could get it moving again. Their sales had remained flat for about a year.
They were frustrated, and so stressed that they couldn’t work out how to move forward. They’d heard that I was able to work magic in these kind of situations, and that my marketing skills could bringing customers flooding in…
But as we delved into their business, it became clear that they couldn’t handle more customers. The operations were in disarray and would collapse under any more weight.
Their systems could barely handle the work they already had.
Having a business partner can be a powerful multiplier – it allows you to get at least twice as much done. But Jacob and Adam were working on the same projects… and partnerships only work when you split the responsibilities.
Adam is a talented salesman, so we decided that that he would dedicate all his energy to improving the sales process. He did that to amazing effect, but that’s a story for another time.
Jacob and I then doubled down on fixing their operations. The first thing was to make their project manager more productive and more effective.
The project manager was a critical part of the team. They managed the fulfilment of client projects, and had doubled Firegang’s revenue when they were first hired (back when the business had stalled at the $500,000 mark).
Jacob and Adam figured that they’d stalled this time because the PM was just handling too much work. They thought that hiring another PM would create a similar lift, but in fact the role was just not efficient.
We streamlined the role and created much clearer responsibilities for the PM. Those changes meant that the team would be able to handle another $20,000 in new monthly client work. In turn, that gave us some breathing room to work on other parts of the company. One thing quickly became apparent – the old PM wasn’t the right person for future growth.
He had been great in helping the company get from $500,000 to $1 million. He just didn’t have the right experience to grow with the company past that point.
We found a more experienced PM, who ran with the new efficiencies we had developed. Operations increased their capability from $70,0000 a month in client projects to $170,000 — over double the new client revenue every month, with the same number of people doing the fulfilment.
Don’t Start Marketing Until Your Operations Work.
There’s no point running marketing campaigns if your operations can’t keep up.
It’s just a waste of money, effort and customer goodwill. If you bring people to your business, you must be able to take care of them, or they’re just going to get frustrated. You don’t get a second shot at a first impression, so you must know where your business breaks and address it before you start increasing your customer load.
When we started coaching, Jacob ran the marketing department. More accurately, Jacob was the marketing department. He had a few contractors helping him with Facebook ads and content writing, but he was it.
There’s no way you can run operations and marketing effectively. Each arm of the business is too multifaceted. Remember — one person can only spin one or two plates, and Jacob had been spinning them all.
He was exhausted and anxious. He had been trying to keep operations running, getting projects delivered on-time and on-budget, maintaining crappy old marketing campaigns… and trying to find the right marketing channels that would carry their company to the next level.
It was way too much for one person to handle.
I told him he had to get help. He said, “that sounds great, but I don’t have any money in the budget to hire a marketing manager.”
They were making close to a million dollars in revenue. A million dollars! They should have been able to hire several people for the marketing team.
That’s a terrifying, stressful realization. It takes time to pull a business back from the brink like that. The only way we were going to do it was by freeing up Jacob’s time and energy like we did with Adam in sales.
We had to get a marketing person onboard, even if we had to stretch the budget to make it work.
Instead of hiring an experienced marketing manager…
We hired an apprentice.
Jacob was soon able to teach the new apprentice how to spin a couple of the marketing plates. That allowed Jacob some spare bandwidth to focus on growth. Within six months, the apprentice had taken ownership of the role and was even leading some of the contractors. Jacob had gone from being the marketing department to being able to lead his company.
No longer tied up in the daily implementation of campaigns, Jacob and I turned our attention to taking the business to the next level. With all the time and mental bandwidth he’d gotten back, Jacob was able to…
- Set the direction for the company
- Source the right people to grow each part of the business
- Leverage assets and partnerships that they had created earlier
Between June 2014 and October 2015, the company went from $70,000 monthly recurring revenue (MRR) to $170,000 MRR. Today, 22 months later, they are over $200,000 MRR.
Here’s how we did it:
We started coaching in June 2014. 5 months later, operations was working much better. Sales had been systematised with Adam running the show. But at that point, revenue was still sitting around $70,000 a month. All our effort had gone to fixing operations. Instead of jumping straight into growth strategies, we had focused on creating an excellent baseline to work from.
5 months after that, we were working through dozens of marketing tests. Firegang started to see significant sales growth. By March of 2015 they were honestly a bit worried as they were still hovering around $1 million in annual recurring revenue.
That’s when things really exploded.
I knew that their existing marketing assets could be the key to generating millions in sales. We just had to get them on the right channels.
In April of 2015, we ran a test ad on a reliable channel, so their prospects could get the goods for free…
Which added $15,000 recurring revenue to their bottom line that month. The next month they added $20,000 MRR, and another $15,000 the month after that.
And sales kept climbing.
In a few months, they had added as much monthly revenue as they had been making, in total, for the last couple of years.
Today, the annual revenue is over 3 times what it was 2 years ago. It’s a completely different business. It went from being a struggling ‘Stage 1’ business to a thriving ‘Stage 2’ business.
(Most businesses can be divided into 3 early stages. Stage 1 is under $1 million in annual revenue; Stage 2 is between $1 million and $5 million; and Stage 3 is over $5 million annually.)
And it’s not just the business that’s thriving. Jacob and Adam are doing better than ever in their personal lives, too. During our time working together, Jacob got married. He was recently able to buy a house so he and his wife could start their lives together.
Adam’s been a family man for a while. A few months ago, he bought his dream car, and he actually enjoys his time with his wife and kids now. The stress of the business doesn’t distract him anymore.
Neither of them would have made those investments before their transformation. The business just wouldn’t have let them. There was too much stress and uncertainty around every decision.
Nowadays, they’re not lying awake at night wondering where growth is going to come from. They’re constantly seeing the rewards of their efforts. The stress, anxiety and self-doubt generated by a stagnant business have been replaced by confidence and purpose.
They are taking a long view of the business. They can take their time to make profitable decisions, rather than scrambling in desperation to get any business in the door.
I asked Jacob which principles from our coaching had most affected his approach to his business. His answer was about getting strategic direction from someone with real experience. Here’s what he had to say:
“Having a strategic coach come in and force me to step out of the day-to-day is the main reason we’ve grown. Find someone who has been in this position before, who know what they’re doing, and have them show you the way.
Learn from them, rather than spending years trying to work it out from your own mistakes. Not someone who’s well-read or has good opinions… Someone who has done this exact thing you’re trying to do, and has already solved these problems.
Most owners are so consumed by the day-to-day of their business that they can’t step away and get that perspective. They don’t have the time or resources to draw up a blueprint for the next year, let alone several years into the future. Finding someone who can help you do that is incredibly powerful.”
The Next Steps For You
Do you want to transform your business and leadership just like Jacob and Adam at Firegang?
Are you drowning, trying to keep up with orders? Or lying awake at night wondering where your next client will come from? If so, we should talk.
Your business might be broken right now, but we can fix it.
After I review your application, I’ll send you an invite for a complimentary Business Assessment Session.