When you enter the world of business, you have to be ready to experience setbacks and develop inventive ways to overcome them. We have all read somewhere that good business owners can step away from their business and still have things run smoothly as they envisioned. You’ll know you’re dead wrong when you hear about the sobering experience of Susan Frew, the CEO and CFO of Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air, a business coach with Fix This Next, and the author of The Pufferfish Effect. Just when she thought things were doing exceptionally great, Susan found her company being devastated by employee theft. Her experience taught her many lessons about overcoming setbacks in business, which she shares with Bob Roark in this episode. As a bonus, Bob is joined by co-host Marla DiCarlo, the owner and CEO of Raincatcher, the leading business brokerage firm in the US. Susan and Marla have worked with each other and are bound by their passion for helping small businesses overcome adversity and achieve success – something that is of extreme value now as we navigate these difficult times.
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We have a special treat. We're going to do a joint hosted podcast. My co-host is Marla DiCarlo. She's a good friend and she's the CEO and Co-owner of Raincatcher located in Denver. Our guest is Susan Frew. She's the CEO and CFO of Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air. She’s also a business coach with Fix This Next Advisor. I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for taking the time, Susan. If you would, tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
I was a business coach for a long time after a corporate career. I was on an international assignment. When I came back, I became a business coach and coached unintentionally seventeen different trades. Through that, I met my husband who is in the plumbing, heating and air conditioning business. We started our own company called Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air. Things were going great. We had massive growth. I started going around speaking about how we grew our company. It was awesome. I wrote a book about all of that. I realized that I had made a very bad hiring decision. While I was traveling, a lot of bad things were happening to my company.
There were some embezzlement and some theft, a lot of mismanagement and we almost lost it. We have been successful in turning it around. It's my passion to go back to coaching and continue speaking as well to help business owners to avoid what I went through because it was a real nail biter. I didn't think we were going to pull it out, but people like Marla who have known me for a long time encouraged me to coach myself for a minute. She knows that I could do it, but it was definitely with a lot of encouragement because I have given up a couple of times.
I think about drinking your own tea where you go through and go, “I'm a coach and I coached before.” There's got to be some level of looking in the mirror and you go, “I coached this, what the heck?” I think about the advice that you might offer to a business owner based on your true veils. What might you tell a business owner based on your experience?
As business owners and what you hear a lot and different books that you read, is you need to be able to step away from your business and it will run without you. You just sit on a beach and collect checks. That is possible and it is probable but you need to put a lot of effort into your systems, key performance indicators, financial drivers, know how to monitor them remotely and know how to wall them off from the wrong people or else you could get in a lot of trouble. That's what happened to us. I thought I was monitoring KPIs, bank accounts, QuickBooks and everything else. Clearly, when you have a wolf in the hen house, it is challenging. It's very difficult to figure that out because you don't expect that someone's going to do that.
Marla, you are a professional CFO prior to Raincatcher for many companies. If they’re the business owners that are reading out there outside CFO, what kind of things might you put in place that might have headed off some of these problems for Susan?
That's an interesting question because the recommendations that I would normally make, Susan was doing all of it. She had her mail going to a different address. She was following her financials. The things that we normally would say, “These are the steps you need to take,” Susan was doing. Susan, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think what happened is you got busy. She convinced you that she was taking care of things and taking things off your plate. She’s hiding things is what it was, because she was hiding payables from Susan. How would you find something like that?
The only thing that you're wrong about in the beginning was that she was getting the mail. I say to every business owner, “You have to get to your own mails.” I don’t care how you do that or even have your grandmother or your best friend.
PO box. That's right. I forgot about that.
I don't want to just focus on the travails. I think about corporate consulting. You met your husband. You went out and decided to start your business. You had great success and growth. What would you attribute that growth to?
I think that we found a niche. This sounds a little unfortunate when I say it out loud. We delivered good customer service. It sounds a little crazy, but there were many service companies out there that wouldn't show up and they wouldn't call people back. If there was a problem, they wouldn't take care of it. We started out against 950 competitors in the Denver Market with a mission that we were going to deliver the best customer service that we could. We were never going to be a 100-truck organization. It wasn't our desire. We're too old to do that. That's for the young of heart to start a company that big. Maybe if we were in our 30s when we started, we might have considered it. We wanted a nice company that was profitable, that would bring us revenue and we could deliver outstanding service and that's what we did. We started our business off with reputation management. We got reviews from everyone and we got everyone's email address. We built upon that and now we have 30,000 customers in our database.
How many people do you have in your company?
[caption id="attachment_5319" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Overcoming Setbacks: It is possible to step from your business, but you need to put a lot of effort in to your systems, key performance indicators, and financial drivers.[/caption]
We have twelve. We should have more, but there is a fair number of people out there in the United States collecting unemployment that is making them not willing to come to work right yet. We will have a lot more employees when that program runs out so we're excited about that.
When you're communicating with your employees, you say, “This is who we're going to be. This is what we're going to do.” When you were looking for evidence of delivery, what were you hearing from your clients and customers that either confirmed or refuted what you were trying to do?
We do a thing called happy calls. First things first, when we're sending our technician out, they get a link with our technician’s photo and his bio. They know exactly what their technician looks like and something about his professional background. We try to put something personal in there. They already feel like they know him and they like him by the time he gets there or her. We haven't had her yet, but I keep hoping. We then follow it up with a link to review, and then we follow it up with an email, and then we follow it up with a phone call, and then we follow it up every month to ask, “How did we do?” We have a good key performance indicator. Our technicians get rewarded for good reviews. They get points and they can take those points and parlay that into prizes. The top prize is a trip for two to Mexico. We've sent three technicians on trips because they earned enough points through reviews. That was one way to keep everyone accountable and make sure that our customers were happy.
Susan, when you're doing all the follow-up, do you use a CRM system for that?
I use a high powered system that's proprietary to the trades and it's called ServiceTitan. It's an interesting story. It’s a brilliant company out of Glendale, California. Two young men brilliantly educated out of Ivy League schools, but their dads were tradesmen. They met in college and they came up with this brilliant software platform. They got an $8 billion IPO, all this funding, and they're growing leaps and bounds. It was plumbing, electrical, garage doors, anything in service you can think of. They thought about it from a technician's perspective and a small business owner. That's why we've always been paperless. We record every single call between the technician, the office, and everywhere so that if there's a customer service problem, we can pinpoint it right there and address the issue on the spot.
Marla, you've known Susan for years. From your perspective in the business and brokerage side of the house, when you hear about a company like this, what types of things go off in your mind about, “That's transferrable. That's highly desirable. That's a value creator?” What goes off for you?
The Net Promoter Score. How high is it? Do you know the score? Do you mind sharing it?
I’ve seen it because in ServiceTitan it’s 9.5 in the scale of 1 to 10. We have 4.5 stars everywhere. I joke that if we had five stars, that would be fake. There’s no way. When people threaten me with a bad review, I'm like, “That would help me out because I have so many good ones. It looks fake anyway.”
I think you’re the leader in your industry with customer service. Most of the stuff you did are completely out of the box.
At the time. Now, I'm starting to see many more companies that are doing that because you have to. We’re sending thank you cards and we would send brownies.
For the people that don't know, what is the Net Promoter Score?
On a scale from 1 to 10, how happy are you with this company and how likely are you to refer them to a friend? They just have to pick a number.
[bctt tweet="Don't trust your gut on anything. Work with a professional to help you identify the problem and the solutions to fix it." via="no"]
Is that standard?
Pretty much. Even after you go to AT&T and buy a phone or anywhere, they'll text you and be like, “How did we do on a scale from 1 to 3, 1 to 5, or 1 to 10?” They all use a different metric, but it's all in there. It's the same thing.
The other thing that she and her husband have done is the way that they have set up cross-training and your organization itself. I'm not going to try to remember everything you said, Susan, but it's impressive. Do you mind sharing a little bit about some things that make you different or your uniqueness from your competitors?
My husband knows a lot of different trades. Early on in his career, he was a journeyman electrician. He became a master plumber like his dad. He's a second generation. He did a lot of boilers when he was in Detroit and then up in Breckenridge. That's a combo of heating and plumbing. It’s just water but it's heat. He then got into HVAC when he came down to Denver. He knows all of the trades. He's been able to train a lot of our guys. I always joke that we're a business incubator because I lost count of the guys that worked for us. Now, they have their own companies. We made it look easy but someday I'll get proud of them. Our office team does well on cross training. The Fix This Next Advisory program recommend that every business has employees go on vacation for one month a year so that they can remove linchpin redundancy. To make sure that there's not one person in your company that's got too much control over too many things. That means that everybody else needs to fill in the gaps. I think it's a brilliant idea. It's something we probably need to work up to, but it's a good goal.
Given the pandemic timeframe, we might have had a little bit of that unenforced.
We did with one of our employees out for about that long. We all did learn a lot about his job. That's also the time that we had everybody start writing down policies and procedures. We’re keeping them in a Google Drive so that should someone not come back or they’re going to be out longer or whatever, that we have a back up.
One of the things I want to bring up that Susan did as well, and I’m still in awe in how she handled things. When everything went down with your bookkeeper, your office manager, and you're going, “What the heck do I do? I don't even know how to make payroll tomorrow.” I love your story of how you were able to go through the emotions of that frustration and that anger. I say, “Put on your big girl panties,” but maybe that's not appropriate. The way that you were able to get through the grit that you had and resilience of getting back in there and jumping in and fighting your way through. I love that about you. I love that story.
The thing is I didn't have a choice. My husband and I have always said this, “We support 12, 15, 18 families, however many employees we have at the time.” That's what we do. If you ask him what we do, he says, “We support fifteen families.” We take that responsibility seriously.
I think about that moment. You've gone through the shock, denial and all the emotions and then you go on, “No.” When you're thinking about that transition point and tenacity, what was that mental story like when you're shifting from, “Are you kidding me?” to “This isn't going to take us out?” What was that like?
One of the hardest things for me is I do a lot of professional speaking. I was telling the story of this book I had written called the Pufferfish Effect, which is how we grew our company. It was becoming a point of making me sick to deliver that talk. I couldn't do it because I knew what was happening in the back of the office. I also was, “No way.” This was the thing, I was not going to file for bankruptcy. I made up my mind and I’ve created a vision board, which I look at it all the time. I have had customers and clients do in years past. I was like, “Do your vision board because that’s what everybody tells you to do.”
I did it and this vision board is now all coming true. It was a singular focus every day. “I am not filing for bankruptcy and I am going to become debt-free.” That was it. Those two things or those two drivers. We lost all of our employees for a while. Everyone except our office staff quit, for one reason or another during this transition. Part of it was adjusting their pay to right size and a part of it was this former employee in their ear. There were a lot of different things that were happening. We had to hire a whole new staff.
If I ever run into you in a dark alley, I'll turn around and go the other way.
Part of my vision boards says debt-free life on there. It's got healthy food and somebody working out. Those were the things that I needed to do. I needed to eat healthy food and work out so that I could get the stress out of my self, so that I could do the best me that I could be. I had let that slide, my health and fitness slide for a long time. In the past, I had been an active person. For one and a half years, I sat here doing nothing, eating bad food and not working out and being more stressed. I said, “I'm going to take care of myself,” and I'm hoping that's going to change everything. The worst-case scenario, it wasn't going to suck. That's what I did. That was a thing that helped to get that stress off because otherwise, I probably would have had a heart attack.
[caption id="attachment_5320" align="alignleft" width="187"] Pufferfish Effect: Secrets to Crush Your Competition[/caption]
I think about key relationships that we haven't touched on. In that compressed period, there's the relationship with your husband and the relationship with whatever lenders. You've got this large meal that you have to digest. We’re in the COVID crisis. For the people out there who have had significant problems, what advice might you offer to them to take and maintain that relationship with your spouse?
A lot of people do work with their spouse, which makes it hard. My husband works out in the field. We closed down our big office. We had a 5,000 square-foot shop and office. We moved our executive office into my basement. We got a shop down in the southern part of our city, which is more convenient. I wish we have done that a long time ago. We didn't need to be spending all that money. We reduced our overhead by about $7,000 a month. For a while, because we lost all these employees, my husband had to go back out in the field. That works better for us in our relationship when he's managing the field and I'm here in the office. Him in the office is not his thing. He is not sure what to do. He's good with customers but he enjoys being out there in the field with the guys. That's what he does and we have our lanes. That's important to us to stay in our lanes and sometimes we cross over.
With the relationships with the lenders, I don't need to know the details, but what was your philosophy in approaching your partners in the lending world?
We have a lot of debt. The IRS debt alone was over $400,000 at the end of the day, with penalties, interest and trust bonds, loans and everything else. We're close to $700,000 to $800,000 altogether. What I did is I wrote a letter to every single vendor, everyone that we owed money to. I said, “We have been through a catastrophic event at our business and I know that we're behind. I know that you want us to pay you right now, but we can't. This is what we're going to do. We can pay you a little bit at a time. I promise you and you have my word, I'm going to pay you back.” The lion's share of the people was very gracious, however, there were some that were not.
When they would call me and after they had turned down my offer of repayment, I would say, “You have two choices. You can either accept my payment plan or we can file for bankruptcy and you would get in line behind the IRS. Would you like to come with a plan B? Plan A for you is not going to work out, I can assure you.” The girls in the office used to think that was hysterical. They would get hysterical laughing every time I would get into my little story of, “This is how it's going to work, plan A or plan B, which one do you want?” There was one vendor of ours that we thought was a good partner of ours, and of all of our vendors, they were the worst. We owed them over $100,000, which we paid off. They say, “What's your plan moving forward?” I’m like, “We have plans, but not with you.”
The thing that strikes me about all this, Marla, is the institutional knowledge earned. Some by choice, some by circumstance and you were speaking before, but you're in the Fix This Next space. When you're talking to a business owner, how does all your past experience translate from their perspective and how do you see that helping them?
I won't ever tell any of my past clients this that I coached, but I couldn't even have a tip of the iceberg knowledge of what I was teaching them before after what I knew now. I have been through many things. I know how to help them get out of debt, collect money, to build a new team, change their culture, to build systems, to wall off their accounting department, to help them get media, good reviews and great customer service policies. It's a whole new experience. What I love about Fix This Next is one of the big premises of the book. Mike Michalowicz is the author of Fix This Next. He talks about the business hierarchy of needs compared to Maslow's hierarchy of needs for life. In this hierarchy of needs, we identify what needs to happen next and not to trust your gut. As business owners, we say, “I trust my gut. I'm going to hire Mary. I'm going to do this.” Fix This Next is like, “No, you don't trust your gut on anything. We're going to identify the problem and give you solutions to fix it.” It's phenomenal on how that works. It's a beautiful process. I'm excited about it.
I'm struggling with thinking about what you haven't done now. The value of all of that. Marla and I have been talking about capturing the wisdom of the guests that have been out there, like you have been there and done that. We had a series of questions that we would like to go through and ask you. What we're trying to do and some of the other business owners out there where the first order of business is, can we help them with their business? The second order of business is if they're looking for help that you can provide them from Fix This Next, how do they find you on social media? Perhaps we can ask some questions that might highlight some things that they could do. First order, how do they find you, whether they have a plumbing problem or they need coaching?
The best way to find me is SusanRobertsFrew.com.
That will get both sides of the waterfront, so they can do that. Marla, we were talking about some of the questions that we would ask. I'm going to hand it off to you. You take it and cover the first few questions that we might explore.
I do have something that I was going to ask Susan with the coaching business. One of the things I love about the program that you're doing is how efficient it is. It doesn't take very much time away from the business owner's daily routine. Do you mind talking to that a little bit? I think that's one of the things that differentiates this program from others.
[bctt tweet="You can’t supervise something that you don’t understand." via="no"]
I agree because I used to be that coach that would come in and be like, “Before we do anything, write your mission, your vision, your points of culture. We're going to polish off all your policies and procedures.” I agree still that that is important, but not when the guy's bleeding money or someone's got this horrible employee that they need to deal with or they've got a Net Promoter Score of three. What it does is it identifies, “What do you need to work on right this minute?” It gives you the tools to do it. You're focused on this thing and then we'll get to the next. I think it's so much easier for business owners to get their head around and do one thing at a time. We don't need to be balancing 25 balls. You already have enough on your plate.
The way that they're able to go through the program and do the work on their own, I forget how often you're meeting with a business owner, but you get a lot done and you're not there every week.
This is my ideal coaching scenario on a business that is not in code red. I couldn’t rate every quarter for my business coach to come, because I would have been out of business. What I like to do is to do a full day. If it's somebody who wants to sell their business and they have a timeline, like I'm working with someone who wants to put his business back on the market. We have a pretty accelerated schedule. I'm going to see him once a month and we're doing touch base calls weekly on the phone, and then things in between. If something comes up, they're reaching out to me, I'm speaking to some of their other advisors. Ideally if a business is looking to refine themselves and to build their value. Maybe someday they will be selling, I like to come once a quarter for a whole day, and then we do touch base in between. It's not as much pressure on the business owner. I'm digging in and I'm an employee for a whole day. I get to meet with all of their team and departments and see what's going on. It gives me a better feel for how I can help. If we're meeting an hour here, you're not going to get that.
That's impressive that they put together a program where you can do that because most of the programs I know of in the beginning of meeting with your advisor, you're having to carve out a couple of hours a week. What's the typical program timeline? How long do you typically have to work with an owner to start to see the value and start to see changes in their business?
For example, there's a client that I'm working with that has a big accounts receivable issue. I help them put a policy in place and they are actively working on that accounts receivable issue. They have a script, they have a plan, they know who they're calling and then, what's the next step? By the time I come back to our next visit, if that money is not collected, we're going to start the collection process or some liens or something snarky. We're going to see results on that one super-fast. If it's something financial, usually you can see results quickly. If they have a sales and marketing challenge, sometimes that's going to take a little bit longer because most marketing is not in stone. That's what people think, “I'm going to go on the radio and my phone will be ringing off the hook next week.” It's not the way that works. It all depends. I definitely say, the financial things are bigger wins and quick hits. Evaluating employees, we can get a lot of punch doing that first too, because we might identify that there's one person who's souring the rest of the employees and we removed that person, and then things get better fast.
I had to make sure that we touched upon the efficiency of this program because that's impressive. That is something that is different. I have read Profit First. Bob, I'm sure you have but I'm a fan. You on a budgeting tool, he knows this stuff. I have no doubt that this Fix This Next program is going to be as successful.
I have an announcement about Profit First. They only allow many Profit First Advisors in the world, not just in the United States. I have been approved to be a Profit First Professional. I'll be able to coach now Profit First and Fix This Next. The cool part is that my own company must be doing the Profit First exactly, to the letter of the way it's written in order for me to be a coach. That's super exciting for Sunshine.
I expect you drinking your own Kool-Aid again. You sleep when?
I started doing CrossFit. If you start your day with something that could kill you and it doesn't, it goes better. People go, “How is CrossFit?” I'm like, “DND, I did not die.” That's my key performance indicator on CrossFit. I'm the oldest person in there by far. They all thought, “I can do anything.” I sandbagged them for a while and then figure out, get out there and kick their butts.
Thinking about your experience and all the training that you've had, these are lessons or techniques that you learned early on, that you still do. What's that technique and why?
I don't take no for an answer. I had a situation where I was getting told no. I was like, “You don't understand. I'm going to keep escalating this until I get what I need. They were like, “No, it doesn't work that way.” I will keep at it. I am like a dog with a bone. I think that serves me well when it aggravates quite a few people, but I get done what I need to get done. If it's something that's important, I think that I'm right, and I've done my research, I don't quit. I teach my clients to do that too because people want to give up. We could have given up Sunshine a dozen times if we've wanted to and we didn't. I'm glad that we didn’t because we are so much happier now.
The thing that strikes me about is that's a learned skillset with cadence, rhythm, and various pathways that you go down and go through. Where do you think you learned that from?
[caption id="attachment_5321" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Overcoming Setbacks: It's so much easier for business owners to get their head around and do one thing at a time.[/caption]
My parents weren't big entrepreneurs. I don't think I learned it from them. I started in sales when I was young. I sold health insurance and cars for a little while. I was in the finance office and then I went to work for AT&T Wireless in New York City. I'd also worked for ADP. I was in sales in New York City. They gave me the Diamond District and they gave me Wall Street. Two totally different vibes and two totally different markets. I had to be as pushy and aggressive as they were and wouldn't say no. I became really competitive. I think that's it too. I wouldn't go down because my competitors would know that I went down. That wasn't going to happen.
That sounds like a good crucible to come out of with a skillset. Looking back not necessarily with your current business. What mistake have you made as a business owner that you learned from it, and now you profit from?
I was good at saying, “I don't know how to do that. I'm going to delegate it to Mary or Pete or Joe.” I’ve seen many business owners do this. It's not delegation, it's abdication. When you don't know what you're giving to somebody to do and you don't understand it, that's abdication. You will lose your shirt if you do not understand. Not that you should be a helicopter boss or have your fingers in everything, but you need to understand the job that you're giving to someone to do so that you can supervise it properly or else you will have big trouble on the other side.
Susan, I have a question around that because that brings up a point that I was talking with my partner. Don't you think there's a difference between being educated and understanding what you're asking your team to do versus being in the trenches?
Absolutely, but I didn't understand my financials in the beginning as well as I should have. I didn't understand cashflow reporting and I didn't understand some functions that should have been my role as CEO. I didn't know my own job. I was delegating all that stuff to other people which was wrong. I couldn't supervise it properly because I didn't understand it.
There's a lot of that that goes on. There are a lot of business owners that don't know what they don't know. They had the passion to start the business and got the business going. For some act or whatever, it's still there. I don't know if they're living out of future sales or whatever they're doing, but they don't know the levers to pull.
I can't supervise our guys in the field.
You could, if you had to.
This is what they call it behind my back, but it's not really behind my back. When I call them in, they call it a New Jersey conversation. Nobody wants that. I can't manage them the way my husband can manage them because he can troubleshoot with them over the phone or on a video chat. I had no idea. I would need a person with that skillset in between me and the field.
All of this background and the fabric of your experience, you go, “I earned a lot of that fabric.” What advice would you offer to that new business owner that it's their first time maybe to ran into adversity?
You have to listen to people with wisdom and experience. You cannot be so pie in the sky and not listen because you read 22 books and you know better. You have to find a mentor and find somebody to show you the ranks who've been through the fire. Not that you're not going to go through some of the fire yourself, because you are. It's good for you because you will grow and you will get stronger. You need to have somebody taking you through. If you ignore that fact, you're going to struggle. You'll wake up, you'll be 45 and you'll be sorry that you didn't find a mentor to help you.
This is one of my favorite questions. If we have a time machine and we have the more mature Susan. If the more mature Susan could go back and advise the less mature Susan, let's say 5 or 10 years back, what advice would the Susan of today offer that young business Susan of the past?
[bctt tweet="Listen to people with wisdom and experience. You cannot be so high in the sky and not listen because you read 22 books and know better." via="no"]
This is what I would say and I regret this so much, I would not have spent as much money the way I did. When I started my business, I come out of Corporate America where I was making a ton of money. I was in an international assignment. They gave me this huge severance package. I’ve gotten a divorce. We sold this multimillion-dollar house. I was flushed. I thought that money was never going to run out. I did not respect and realize how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and how much it costs. I also didn't respect and pay attention to the economic indicators that a recession was headed in my direction. I was spending money like a drunken sailor. I was not planning for the future. I got burned. I got smacked down and had to start all over again.
That is another reason why this time when this happened, and it wasn't even my fault this time. The last time it was my fault because I was spending money like crazy, but this time it was not my fault. I was like, “This is not happening. I'm not going down,” because I knew what it felt like back then to have all of this and then be so meager. I remember one time, things got so bad that I parked my BMW four blocks from the food bank and I went there. I was living on my friend's couch after having millions of dollars. You have to put stuff away for a rainy day. You have to do profit first. You have to be prepared and make a plan so that you don't get caught short that way.
Thank you for being so vulnerable talking about that, Susan, because do you know how many owners are probably going through that with what happened with COVID? I can relate as you're saying that thinking, “That would probably be my number 1 or number 2 as well. I wish I hadn't spent the way I did back then.” That's wonderful that you can share that. I hope that business owners learned and realized they're not alone. It's okay that they made a mistake, but let's learn from it.
I also learned that Goodwill is just as good as close as Neiman Marcus. If Neiman Marcus is going out of business, Goodwill is not. That’s my point right there.
For the business owner that's struggling reading the story, they're probably understanding the mileage better. Now that they're in the midst of that path. To that business owner out there that may be going like, “I don't know how I’m going to get to the other side.” You know how to get to the other side. I would encourage them to reach out to you at a minimum.
I can't tell you how many nights I’m figuring out how I'm going to make payroll. We used to call it around here the Thursday miracle. We don't know exactly how we always had enough for payroll on Friday, but we did. Every single time it happened and it's a blessing. I wouldn't recommend that plan as a plan. If you're reading this and you're a business owner and you're going through a rough time, I know where you been.
I've got a thing that I always put as I throw my pen on a thing, “Work the problem.” I'm a former military so that resonates for me. The best thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other. With that being said, when you first start your business versus now, when did you recognize the key drivers of value in your business?
I got involved with the Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors Association early on. They had some key performance indicators that we were tracking like average ticket, phone call conversion rate, so on and so forth. We were doing a good job of that, but now I'm looking at things differently. I'm looking at cashflow, my accounts payable, how much do I have in payables, how long is it going to take me? My big hairy audacious goal is to be debt-free. That is my goal driver now, the big one. In the middle of everything is, what do I have to do to be debt-free? What sacrifices do I need to make? What has to go to be debt-free?”
When you just focus yourself, work the problem, that's the problem. I have debt and I am going for it. I have offers and compromise into the IRS, which my lawyers are satisfied that they're going to get accepted. That will go away and we keep banging out the vendors. We have a celebration. We pay bills every Friday and we have a party about it. We’re socially distancing high-fiving each other. We have a great party on Friday and everybody gets money. All the people who raised an eyebrow that we weren't going to pay them off or calling up going, “We didn't think you were going to do it. We thought you were going to bail.” We didn't and we hadn't bailed on anyone.
You were talking about find a mentor and find somebody that will help you. It’s easier said than done because qualified mentors are hard to find and expensive. The part that you went to the trade association and started doing, at least what they recommend as a start. Every professional athlete has a minimum of one coach. Think about if you're out there in the business space and you go in, “I'm going to figure this out on my own.” You may do that, but it's going to take you a tough road in a long time. Somebody that's been around the track has got the scars and perspective, that's who you hire to bring in as coach. You go, “I can't afford this much, but I can afford this much.” Get the coach on board and do the things that you're talking about. Throughout my career, I have a money management firm and finding a mentor was virtually impossible. It's difficult to find those.
You're going to pay either way.
[caption id="attachment_5322" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Overcoming Setbacks: You need to understand the job that you're giving to someone to do so that you can supervise it properly, or else you will have big trouble on the other side.[/caption]
It's not like, “Pay me now, pay me later.”
In thinking about your business, if you were sitting here five years from now and you're looking at your business, what do you have in mind? What does the five-year goal with your business look like to you, other than debt-free?
Marla will have sold my company for a lot of money. I will still be speaking, coaching and my husband will be snowmobiling a lot. He will be in a never summer pattern. That's what my goal is. To get Sunshine debt-free and then probably sell our company. We're gearing up and we're getting ready. I know what it's going to take for us to get the most amount of money and we're focused on that. We don't want to work forever.
I speak from the stage and we were talking about how you felt nauseous or whatever it was when you were speaking from the stage about a particular topic. When you go back out and speak on a stage, how do you feel about that now?
I changed my keynote and it's called Leading Through the Rain. It's definitely more helpful to the audience. Marla mentioned that I'm very vulnerable about what happened and I am. It's intentional because I want to help people. I can't help you if I'm telling you stories about the Pufferfish. Not that this isn't a cool book because it is, but that doesn't tell you how to get through the soup of what we went through and that's what people need to hear.
It’s more relatable now. I know the story of who you are and I already know what you were able to do with businesses. It's impressive. You have an incredible set of skills, but going through what you went through, you're a different person. You can see it and the fact that you can relate with that business owner is important. Bob, the people that saw what she went through and I can speak from one of those people that are her friend and cared about her business, it's incredible what they've been able to do. That's the story. You want to talk about adversity.
Marla, how many businesses do you think you've looked inside seeing it run?
Over 500 and their stories aren't always too different from Susan’s.
That's the part that is interesting. Susan, you've been tattooed, burnt, toasted, raked to the coals and tempered. I think about the business owner that's out there and they go, “Look at that person. They were just a bit of time and sold it for all this money. You go, “You have no idea.” You hear the story of, “I want to be a business owner,” and you go, “Be careful of what you ask for.” I can't tell you how much I appreciate and honor what you say and do. It's a big deal to do what you say, to keep your integrity and honor, to persevere, execute and come out the other side. You've shared your wisdom and insights with us and I'm honored that you're here. With that being said, Marla, we finished our first joint hosted episode. Susan, not too many visible marks from us experimenting on you.
Thank you, Susan, for who you are. She's one of my favorite people. I would put you on the top five.
We will respect your time. We’ll call it good and look forward to catching up with you soon. For the people that are reading, make sure you reach out to Susan. Thank you so much, Susan.
Thank you very much.
Hello, I’m Marla DiCarlo, the CEO at Raincatcher, the leading business brokerage firm in America. At Raincatcher, we create a legacy of remarkable companies and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. We believe small business is the heartbeat of America, and every small business owner deserves their chance at the American Dream. To do this, we rapidly transform small businesses into companies that are built to sell, and in turn help those entrepreneurs buy and sell their remarkable enterprises. At Raincatcher, I partner with entrepreneurs and business owners to help source the best win-win deal for all parties.
Raincatcher, headquartered in Denver, Colo., guides entrepreneurs through the business buying and selling process in order to get the maximum value for their business. Raincatcher uses the latest in technological advancements and integrated digital marketing to connect the best buyers with its sellers. Founded in 2011, the company has been nationally recognized as a leader in business brokerage by Inc. Magazine.
My prior industry experience includes property management, development and investments. I also have formal training and practical knowledge in computer implementation and consulting. Some of her prior positions included the title of Controller, Director of Accounting, Manager of Accounting, and CFO. Prior to starting Kaizen Business Results, I was the Director of Accounting for an investment group who specialized in purchase, capitalization, and management of real estate and businesses in various industries. While there, I was responsible for new business deals, investments, and financing. I worked with groups such as Credit Suisse First Boston, ISS Group, Venture West Group, and Madison Dearborn Partners. I have been in business for over 27 years and has a background in strategic planning and projecting, valuation and new deals, forecasts and budgeting.
Susan Frew is a professional speaker focused on helping business owners to overcome adversity and achieve success. She delivers entertaining, energetic and value driven virtual or live keynote and breakout speeches to business owner audiences
As a Business Coach, Susan has coached 150 different companies and 17 different trades to success during the 2008 Recession. Through this time, she has learned the art of the Small Business Turnaround and became an expert at overcoming adversity, reinvention, and reaching the TOP again!
Due to a high number of requests during COVID-19 she will take up to 10 coaching clients this year virtually or on site. The balance of her time is spent managing her multimillion-dollar Plumbing Heating Air Conditioning company and speaking before audiences all over the world.
In her book, The Pufferfish Effect, she teach business owners all of their marketing secrets that helped her to grow my company by 535% in one year.
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