Hi, welcome to Building a Business That Lasts. My name is Jay Owen, and I’m your host, on a quest towards stories, tips and ideas that will help you grow a business without being stressed out, worn out, and ready to quit.
Each week, I’ll interview other business owners who have successfully grown businesses of all types for many years. It’s my hope that these conversations will help you build a business that lasts.
On this episode, I interviewed Tim Owen. It’s weird to call him Tim, because he is my uncle, but he helped me start Design Extensions many years ago. He gave me a loan of about $2000 for an Apple Power Mac G5 to help me work a little bit faster. I paid him back, developed a payment plan, and got it back to him.
Tim owns Owen and Associates, along with his wife, Wendy. They have been running that company for quite a long time, and they have a lot of great insights into business, running a team, growing a company, working from home, and then working from an office. Quite a transition for them not that long ago. Same as our company. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Tim.
Hey Tim. Thanks for being on the show.
Hey Jay. I’m glad to be here.
It’s very weird to just call you Tim, because normally it’s Uncle Tim, so I don’t know if that’s okay or not.
Absolutely. Call me Tim. It does feel a little weird on my side, too, I have to confess.
If you’ve ever listened to the podcast before or even read anything that I’ve written, I will often reference my uncle, which kind of seems like this mysterious uncle, but he actually does exist.
Today, I have him on the show, which I’m really excited about because if there’s one person who I’ve gained the most from in business and learned the most from and really helped me out, especially in the early years, it is my Uncle Tim. I’m really excited to have you on the show.
Thank you very much.
The first question that I always start off with is, at some point, you made the decision to say, “I’m going to start my own agency.” There was no O&A, and then you did some things, and then there was an O&A. What made you say, “I’m going to start Owen and Associates”? How were those early years different from how they are now?
That’s a great question. The interesting part of where I ended up actually occurred from how things began. I was raised in the restaurant business. Absolutely loved the restaurant business. I love the pace. I love the people. I love the multitasking.
I love the energy, but after many years of being raised in that business by my dad, who was a very successful restauranteur, it was a Thanksgiving Day. I worked for Shoney’s. I was a restaurant manager and my dad’s former partner was there working with me. He’d been in the business for 25 years and his name was Bill. I loved him, loved him like a godfather. He was just an awesome guy.
I said, “Bill, why don’t you go home? We’ve got this.” He said, “Tim, there’s just too much work to do.” At that very moment, I said, “I do not want to be here 25 years from now on Thanksgiving Day.” When I left, he said I’d come back and I didn’t, but I would if I had to because I loved the restaurant business.
Then, I got into selling. I was a copy machine salesman for a Fortune 500 company, Lanier Business Products and moved up in that company, became a sales trainer, district manager, sales manager, and all those things. Did very, very well. Started out horrible. I was a horrible salesperson. In fact, I wasn’t even recommended to be a salesperson through testing and evaluation.
What I noticed about the copy machine business is we made those poor folks start over at zero because it was 100% commission every month. Every month, they’d be at zero. I don’t care how hard you worked in the last five years, next month, your income was zero. That affected me very deeply.
As Lanier would move you around, they would take district managers and move them around and transfer them, I was going to be moved again. I was in Jacksonville, Florida and Lanier brought me to Jacksonville from Albany from Atlanta and different places.
I said no to the move, looked for a job, and became an executive in an HMO here in Jacksonville owned by a couple of hospitals, St. Vincent’s Memorial Hospital called Care First and knew nothing about the insurance business.
They said, “Why would a copy machine guy want to run an insurance company and why would you hire someone like this?” They said, “Well, we really have a bunch of salespeople that don’t know how to sell, and you’ve been a sales instructor, so we’ll teach you the insurance business if you’ll teach our people how to sell.”
I got in the insurance business from there. The main reason at first that I got in the business of employee benefits, and that’s all that we do, was residual income. It was kind of a money thing, and at first, the headhunter at that time would send me to different places and I kept saying no the job offer, no to the job offer.
Finally, the headhunter, which I knew very well because they helped us hire people at Lanier, said, “Well, Tim, what kind of job do you not want?” Believe it or not, I actually said insurance, and then she gave me the salary and the residual income story, and I’m like, “Well, you know, maybe insurance isn’t that bad.”
After a few years with Care First, all the HMOs in Jacksonville, we actually had too many for the market share, began to merge. I began to notice other people that do what I do and I just felt like I was better trained, a harder worker, could it better, and you’d have that residual income.
I decided to start Owen and Associates. Didn’t even know of a name. I’m like, “Well, I need a name,” and I needed to do it right then because those HMOs were merging now, so I came up with this creative name called Owen and Associates, which we now call O&A.
Later, that morphed into and organically grew into loving the business, loving the people of the business. People get cancer. People can’t pay for it. People can’t afford health insurance. Health insurance now for a family costs as much as a mortgage.
It has evolved into truly serving people. Deep, deep in my heart of hearts, I think anybody could love any job if they could somehow connect what they do to serving people, because one of the key elements in teaching salespeople is forget about selling and think about serving and the sale will take care of itself. It has evolved and grown into that, which is now a deep, deep love of what I do.
A couple things there that really stand out to me and are significant because they had big impacts on me. One is around residual or recurring revenue or income. I remember years ago, you said to me at one point, “How are you going to develop some recurring revenue?”
It was at a point where I was doing websites and logos and things like that, but it was a one time job. You make $1000, $5000, $500000, whatever it is, and that’s it and now you’ve got to go find another one, and there was nothing that was going to come back next month.
It’s especially neat for me now because one of our big initiatives at our company over the last three years has been to build that recurring revenue, and now 75% of our revenue is recurring revenue.
Wow. That’s amazing.
In an industry like ours, which is design and development, it’s a lot trickier, but that is all based on that idea. If you’re listening to the podcast today, especially if you’re newer in business, and regardless of what industry that you’re in, think about a way to find that recurring revenue because that really is huge for the lifeblood of longevity, I think.
Yes, and designing a business in my opinion, I think the first architectural element of it is frankly looking at the money. You hate to say that because I think in the world of business, we have lost the heartbeat of taking care of people and serving them.
If you are doing something that doesn’t make money, if you’re doing something that you’re having to spend 60 hours a week and you’re barely making a living, you’re going to burn out. That dream is going to die, and you eventually will quit or lose the passion and the love for it.
If you can get the business part of it, the financial part of it, out of the way and know you have a rock solid base and foundation. You’ve built it on a rock. Then, when those long days come and those long hours come, at least you’re making money. You might be working 60 hours a week. At least the financial part of the business is growing and taking care of itself.
There’s an old saying, “Everything’s funny when you’re making money.” Not every day is funny, but it’s a little more tolerable. You can handle the problems far better.
It’s funny because I’ve known you long enough, I knew you were about to say that. I think what’s really interesting about that idea of what you just said is you were talking about designing a business, and not just having to do what somebody else does, but looking at it with a fresh perspective.
You’ve done that with the insurance industry because you do all kinds of things that a regular old insurance agency might not do. What are some of the things over time that you’ve learned maybe are a little bit outside of the box but that have worked for you and your agency that help you serve your customers more effectively in a better way?
It’s interesting you say out of the box. 99% of the people that come to our office, the moment they walk off the elevator, they see urban bikes hanging on a brick wall. They say, “Oh my gosh, this doesn’t look like an insurance office. It looks more like an art gallery in New York.”
Everything we do from the decoration of our building to the platform of information that we provide, the look, the image, we have another saying, “Everything has to be pretty.” If we hand out something to an employer, if we design something for an employer, it has to be pretty, the image of it.
My father-in-law told me once as I watched him. He was a car mechanic, very successful car mechanic. He was putting this new part on a car and he took the moment. He had an 88 cent can of black spray paint, and he painted the part that he was putting on the car. It was underneath the car. No one would ever see the part.
I said, “Why are you painting that with fresh paint?” He said, “Tim,” he said, “All business is show business.” He said, “The first thing that guy’s going to ask me is he’s going to crawl up underneath the car, ‘Now where did you do the work?'” And there’s that bright shiny black piece that he put on there and there’s something to that.
Outside of just image and things looking good, I think this is where the roots grow deep. Our particular mission statement, my wife has told me many times, and she used to be a competitor of mine. We married years ago. Now we’re sort of a Batman and Robin team. She oversees administration, oversees sales. We’re kind of the kite and the string. I’m the kite. Turn me loose, let me fly. She’s the string that pulls back and says, “Hold on, Tim. Let’s talk about this and kind of build a plan.”
We’ve always been a very good partner system, but she’s always said our mission statement is too short and too brief. I don’t think so. I think our mission statement is something that applies to all businesses, and it’s serve, care, minister as an expert.
Minister, a lot of people think is a religious word, and it is in many venues, but it’s really a Latin word that means that I will elevate you above me and have a servant’s attitude to take care of you. That in our opinion is where our roots have grown.
We have sat down, very similar to this podcast, and asked people, “What do you want?” I read years ago in the ’70s of a guy that wrote a book, In Search of Excellence. Peters noticed this Asian fellow during Christmas working a counter selling VCRs back in the day when those tapes were sold.
He wasn’t really selling. He was asking people, “Well, what do you want? What kind of features are you looking for?” Come to find out, he was the president of the Sony Corporation, and he was trying to discover what to deliver and what to give people.
Well, we did the same thing. We went out and said, “What do you need?” “Well, I get cancer. I need surgery. I need help. I’m dying.” They tell me, “I won’t live.” We got in the business of finding extensive care. We found clinical trials for people who have no other option. We’ve seen people who were supposed to have died four years ago, but they’re still living today.
We’ve even held fundraisers where you have barbecue, beer, and a band and you can always get money if you do something like that, just to help pay for flight tickets for someone to go back and forth to Texas at the MD Anderson Center so that they can have a clinical trial and afford it and live longer.
As you begin to see these success stories, and we sell insurance, but this goes far and beyond just selling a health insurance policy. It goes far and beyond people paying for a premium. It’s human resource. It’s technology. It’s compliance. It’s making people’s job easier, and frankly, at the end of the day, helping people live a little longer and hopefully heal a little faster.
One of the things you said there that I think is really important and I want to highlight is just this idea of when we want to know what somebody needs or wants or desires as a customer, just ask them. That seems super simplistic, and yet so often we don’t do that, even internally.
I always say that one of the biggest problems of any business or any relationship whatsoever is misplaced expectations. I expect you’re going to do this and you expect I’m going to do that and those things are too far apart. I say that communication is the bridge that connects expectations. If we’re communicating well, those expectations are drawn together, and then we understand and then we’re able to move forward.
Recently, we did something where I sent out a survey to my team that basically just listed every single benefit that is a result of working for Design Extensions, and just asked them to rate those things, like, “What do you find most valuable? Is this a five or a one? One, let’s get rid of it. Five, please don’t ever cut that.”
It was really neat to just ask the question, like, “How do you value these things?” Because I might think that one thing is really valuable on that list and everybody else is like, “That’s a two.” There were a couple things on the list that I was surprised that people rated low or others, they rated really high. This comes back to what you just said, which is just ask.
If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself working really hard and spending a lot of money and time on number five, when had you just asked, you would have realigned your priorities.
Quick story of when we did sales training for Lanier. Lanier probably had over 3000 employees nationwide, and the steps of the sale that we had back in those days was attention, interest, conviction, desire, and close. Attention built rapport, interest got them interested to hear more, conviction was the presentation, desire was painting an emotional picture of them enjoying the benefits, and closing is closing for the sale.
At the end of a full week training, we would ask, and it was a trick question, we would ask the new salespeople that were being trained, “Of the five strategies and steps of the sale, which one is most important?” If you don’t have rapport, you’re not going to close the sale, but if you’re not good at closing the sale, you’ll never get a sale, and if your presentation isn’t masterful, then you’ll never convince anyone to have conviction in what you do.
We intentionally confused them. Many, they would pick all of them. Some would pick one. Others would pick another. The real answer to the question is to ask people what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling, because there’s no way that you can read someone’s mind, but if you want to know what someone’s thinking and feeling, just ask them. They’ll tell you exactly what they want. It’s the easiest track to success in my opinion. Ask people what they want. Give them what they need.
I think that’s really important, especially the part about how do they feel about it, because one of the things that I always say to our team when we’re talking about dealing with customers, especially in difficult situations, is a lot of times, what actually happened is irrelevant. What matters is how they feel about what happened, whatever that may be. We probably messed something up. Maybe they messed something up.
Whatever the miscommunication was or problem or error or anything else, the actual facts of the matter are important, but how they feel about the facts are way more important. A lot of times, people spend so much time beating up things that are not really helpful instead of saying, “Hey,” like you said, “How do you feel about this? How can I help make this better?”
You remind me of something I want to share real quick. When we are brainstorming, almost everything we do, we collaborate. We pull a team together, especially if it’s a fairly large project. We have whiteboards everywhere and we start backwards, very similar to what you just described.
If we’re going to do a seminar, we’ve done a seminar where it’s in a hotel and you have all these employers come and you have guest speakers and exhibitors and all those types of things. It’s a lot of fun. You’ll cater a lunch or a breakfast. Our goal for that big event that has all that logistical and all those moving parts, we start at the every end, and here’s the end.
The owner of that business comes to our seminar and as they’re walking out to the car after the seminar at the end of the seminar, here’s what I want them to say. “Man, that thing was awesome. Man, those guys gave us information we actually can use today. By the way, have you,” and they might be there with their HR manager, “Have you checked on this?” That thing that they mentioned, “Have you looked at that?” Well, how are we doing that? They’re just impressed.
If that’s the final picture that you have in your head of what you want as an outcome, now, here’s the question I ask our collaborative team. Now, what are the steps that precede that that will give us that en result, because whatever we’ve got to do at the very end of the presentation, I want them to walk out and go, “Those guys.” In fact, in our business, we replace other insurance agents. I want that CEO or that owner of that business to go, “Man, those guys are way sharper than our agent.”
If I want him to say that, what do I have to do to get him to respond that way? I have to give him what he wants. I have to know a lot about him. There’s an old counseling training that we’ve had. It’s called Love, Know, Speak, Do. It’s really a great way to sell.
Love is before you give anyone counseling, you must care about them, because we were taught as counselors, my wife and I have done a lot of counseling training, is you’re going to have to counsel a lot of unlovely people and do unlovely things. It’s love, know, speak, do.
Now, you have to know a lot about that particular situation. I think most businesses and businesses that want to keep growing and keep going is they need to know a lot about the people who they’re serving. It’s love, know, speak, do.
Then, after you have this commitment to people and you know an awful lot about them, it’s love, know, speak, do, now you’re ready to speak or share something with them that actually is customized to their very needs and the things that they have shared with you.
At the very end, it’s love, know, speak, do, it’s time for them to do something. If you’ve ever had counseling, you’ve probably had the counselor end, “Now let’s just try something for next week, and then we’ll meet next week and see how it went.” That’s their opening question when you meet back. They’ll go, “Well, how did it go?”
Of course, our do in the world of sales or in the world of business is we want them to do business with us, but most people overlook that caring for people, and I just strongly believe if you serve first, the sales will take care of themselves.
Yes. If you’ve listened to the podcast at all, you’ve probably heard me say that 100 times. There’s even a section of the book that I’m working on that talks about that idea of helping is selling. If I really sit in front of a client and just want to help them and believe that whatever my product or service is is the right fit for them, assuming it is, I don’t really have to sell them. I just need to want to help them, and then everything else just takes care of itself.
One of the things you said a minute ago reminded me of another quote from Dave Ramsey that I heard recently that I loved. When you were talking about we visualize the end, what I’m trying to accomplish, and what needs to be true in order for us to achieve that end at the end of the seminar or whatever it may be. One of the things he said at this event recently was, “We need to always ask the question, wat needs to be true today in order for that, whatever that outcome is, to be true tomorrow?”
I think that’s one of the biggest things. I got to hear John Maxwell at that same event. He tells this story about chopping down a tree. He says, “You’ve got this gigantic tree in your backyard that you need to cut down, and all you’ve got is an ax.” He’s like, “You can cut that tree down with that ax, but you can’t do it today.”
He’s like, “But if every day, you go out with that ax and you sharpen that ax and you prepare it and you take five good swings at that tree, eventually you’re going to knock that tree down.” He’s like, “It may take you six years, but if every day you sharpen that ax, you go out and you take five swings at that tree and you’re intentional about it.”
That I think is what you’re talking about with the seminar of, what’s the end outcome we want to achieve? Now, what are all the steps we have to do in order to get to that end outcome? That’s just really helpful and powerful I think for people.
And the power of collaboration. You had said as we got started, “Hey, my Uncle Tim has helped me more.” I don’t think either one of us are keeping score, but honestly, at the end of the day, I think you’ve helped me more than I’ve helped you.
One thing I have learned, and especially I’ve learned from you, is I’m 60 years old. You’re quite a bit younger than I am. You’re the age of my son. I have learned more from you and more from these young protégés that we have put on. Some time ago, my wife and I were thinking about selling our business, retiring about seven years ago. I looked at retiring. I thought about going into ministry, thought about speaking, writing books, or just all sorts of things.
As I began to go into those things and talk to those people in those industries, including ministry, people said, “Why are you wanting to change, because you have the most fulfilling … You minister to people now. You’re successful. Your business is doing well.” I really didn’t want to retire. Third day of a vacation, I’m bored and I’m ready to get back to work.
We created a mentor protégé program of hiring a lot of young people. It’s not all that we hire, but we hire a lot of young people. We have three grown children. They tried the insurance business. They didn’t want to do it. We got a biomedical engineer, a hairdresser, and a car mechanic. They’re all on their way to their careers and have their own children and they really don’t want to do the insurance business, and we didn’t want to sell it.
We decided to create an equity ownership succession plan. It started with a mentor protégé program. I’ve had mentors. My dad’s good friend was Truett Cathy, the owner of Chick-Fil-A. Mr. Cathy taught me tons of things of how to run a business, how to care for people, but his main influence and his main motivation I believe from spending personal one on one time with him, he cared for people. It morphed into the business that we know of Chick-Fil-A today.
Well, these younger protégés almost on a daily basis through collaboration, I am not the old wise guy that knows it all. I’m actually the old wise guy that’s learning new tricks that the young people … The technology that I use today, honestly, I don’t think I’d use it if it weren’t for you. You gave me that strong springboard to learn, to listen.
A guy I worked for once a long time ago said, “The good idea is wherever you find it, as long as you’re not stealing it illegally.” Whether they’re five years old or whether they’re 90 years old, I think learn, be humble, be willing to listen, and especially to new blood, young people. I think folks that are 40, 50, 60 years old or older really need to consider, if they’re not, consider time spending with younger people. There’s incredible things to learn from them.
Yes, I really believe that, two things especially out of that. One, with the idea of always being willing to learn. One of the things we’ve been working on lately, which is not a strength of mine, is developing really detailed processes and systems and documenting how we do things and how we expect things to be done.
At the same time, in the vein of what you were talking about, I always say, “Look, this is how we do things, but if you’ve got a better way to do it and you think you could see how this could be improved, let’s do that. Let’s have that conversation. Let’s sit around the table as a team and let’s say, ‘Hey, we can make this better.'” I really believe in that idea.
The other thing that you were talking about with the mentorship, I think that’s one of the biggest things that a lot of people miss out on is having somebody else to, if nothing else, just question them because I think as a business owner, it’s easy to put yourself in this silo and to isolate yourself.
The last thing I want is to be surrounded by a bunch of yes people who just do everything you tell them, because I need people to go, “Hey, well hold on. Have you thought about this?” That’s why when I leave a meeting, the last question that I almost always is, “Is there anything that I’m missing?” It gives everybody a chance to say, “You know what? Actually, have you thought about this?” That’s a powerful question. “Is there anything that I’m missing?”
I work with my wife. We’re married and been married a long time. I always joke around with our staff when we’re collaborating. I ask the same question. I always have an idea. They say, “Well, Tim, what do you think?” I’m like, “Well, I’ve always got an idea, but I don’t know if it’s the right idea. That’s why I’m asking you.” I would tell them, “I’m not married to anything except for my wife.”
That’s actually a good segue. I’d like to talk about that a little bit because I think some people that are listening may be in one setups where they are either thinking about working with their spouses are already working with their spouses, and that’s a unique dynamic.
Marriage is already always, you’ve got a long-term permanent, hopefully, relationship with somebody that you’re committed to, and now you’re rolling business on top of that. Now you’ve got this thing that you’ve got to work through that’s totally separate and create either great success stories and memories together or other great difficulties.
I’d love to hear from you some advice or wisdom, things that have worked or haven’t worked for you and Aunt Wendy over the years of how you all have learned to continue to get better at working together.
That’s a great question. It’s something that we always show great interest in when we bump into other married couples that run a business together and ask them how it’s going. The first thing we ask them is, “What are the ground rules?”
Some of the ground rules that I think are very important is try not to talk shop after five, because you do have to have a married life. You have to have a fun life. You have to go and do things that are fun and stay romantic and intimate and do things that healthy husbands and wives do, so not talking past five.
Second is really be willing to play the diplomatic game of disagreement or conflict. It’s interesting how many people will go to work and in a meeting, there could be a disruption or a conflict or a disagreement and we’ll play the five minute rule. “Take five minutes and tell me your position,” and then, “Okay, now give me five minutes to respond to that.” Don’t get emotional. Don’t call people times and things like that.
We’ll apply those things at work, but then we don’t necessarily always apply those things, or many people don’t apply those things at home, and things would go far better if they would handle conflict at home like they handle it at work, because normally it’s pretty productive at work.
Learning how to handle conflict, because if you don’t get the conflict thing down, that conflict that happened at work is going to go home with you. It’s a very powerful thing, which by the way is why my wife and I through our church learned counseling, because to be candid, the person that learns the most is the teacher.
We both are A personalities. She’s very much a firecracker and so am I, and you get fire fighting fire, you have a bigger fire. We really needed to learn how to communicate, and we saw that before it became ever a problem. We’ve been really quite productive with that.
Then, our gifts, I think married couples, James Dobson, a pastor of Focus on the Family years ago, I heard a little one minute segment once that he said, “A lot of people marry because opposites attract.” It was interesting because I always wondered about that, if that was the right way to go. Sometimes people marry and they’re very similar, but sometimes marry and they’re very opposite.
Dobson’s take on that was if he always want to fish and she always wants to go to the mall, that’s probably going to create a conflict sooner or later. Opposites that attract work best in magnets, but people working together must find similarity. They must find common ground.
However, my wife is gifted at things that I’m not. We also, kind of like a husband and wife trying to figure out, “Well, you do those chores at home and I’ll do these at home,” you have to play that out and work that out at work, too. She no question has the administrative skill and the gift. I could force myself to do it, but what I can do in six hours, she can do in 30 minutes. The collaboration and the teamwork, we are definitely stronger together.
I think men, if I could speak to the men for a moment, who are not tapping into the feminine female gift that I think that they naturally are given for creation, she has emotions. I think everyone’s heard, “Men think like waffles, women think like spaghetti.” We compartmentalize. They put emotion and logic together at the same time, but that’s a gift.
There are many times that I alluded a moment ago to the kite and string. She always sits by me in a sales presentation. I even joke around that way with our potential clients, and she bumps my leg, “Tim, that’s time to be quiet.” She’s the string that pulls back on me.
There are so many things that I would fail at, miserably fail at, if I did not have that feminine input from my wife, who’s smart, intelligent, witty, awesome businesswoman. She injects things into our company and to my personal life that honestly, I would fail without having it. I could not make it the way I have made it without God and without my wife and frankly without the team. I cannot stand on a ball field and play all positions by myself.
That’s right. One of the things that that reminded me of, well, my wife’s not directly in the business. She is probably still my number one first source of bouncing ideas off of, because I really do believe that women just have some kind of God-given intuition to be able to see and feel things that maybe I can’t see and feel.
It reminds me of Dave Ramsey, one of the things that he does. His wife is not directly involved with the business, but it’s kind of the same with Claire and I, in that she’s involved without actually being there all day because she is involved in hearing conversations and discussions.
One of the things that they do in their hiring process is their final interview is actually a spousal interview. What they do is they take whoever’s responsible for the hire, that executive, and either her husband or his wife depending on which one’s the executive, takes them and their spouse along with the person looking to hire them and their spouse out to dinner. It’s not an interview, but they call it a spousal interview, and they just have dinner together.
Ramsey said there’s two reasons they do it. One is he said that his wife, at least in the early years when he interviewed everybody, now it’s different, but in the early years when his wife was involved in all of those, she always had final veto power. He said, “If I’m ever having dinner with somebody and you just say, ‘I don’t think they’re a good fit,'” he’s like, “I will accept that.” He said, “She’s only used it once, and it turned out, I found out some information later that she was right and it was good that I didn’t hire that person.”
The other reason is, he said, “I realize that when I’m hiring somebody, if they have a husband or a wife that is extremely aggressive or over the top or may cause a lot of drama or chaos, you’re kind of hiring them, too.” When you bring somebody in, you know as well as I do, it’s like people live in these silos. Life is constantly ongoing. There’s kids. There’s spouses. There’s baseball games. There’s sickness. There’s all these different things, and I think when you hire somebody onto your team, it’s important to know you’re committing to bring a lot of different things in potentially.
That just reminded me of you leaning on Wendy’s intuition in certain situations and allowing her to be that string that pulls you back. I think a lot of people could learn from that. I certainly have had to over the years.
It’s interesting, to validate what you’re saying, in the world of employee benefits when we are working heavy blue collar construction, electrical plumbing, things like that and you have a lot of men and they’re trying to pick their plans and figure out which health insurance plan they want and all that, they absolutely will not make those decisions until they go home and talk to their spouse, because their spouse has that intellect, that intuitiveness. They’re tapped into the children. They know what the family needs are.
There is a huge influence of what happens at home, which reminds me of something, is in our company, we all have slogans on our door. We have glass offices. It’s kind of an open workspace, but offers some privacy. Each area has a slogan on the doors. When you are looking for the sign off of a spouse’s input, because you really don’t know what that conversation sounds like, something happens at work, they go home, they tell their spouse, and you have this conversation.
Well, then, your employee comes back and they’ve been influenced. What were they influenced about? My slogan on my door, I don’t think it’s mine, I plagiarize quite a bit, but anyway, my saying is, “You can’t go wrong doing the right thing.”
At the end of the day, we don’t really promote the bible and God and Christ. I do personally in a lot of personal situations, call a lot of clients, sick clients, pray with them, go see them, visit with them, all sorts of support measures.
At the end of the day, if you are treating your employees and your clients with a passion to care about them, to serve them, to minister to them, and just do the right thing, and the right thing is easy to say but it’s expensive. Sometimes it’s sacrificial. Frankly, sometimes it’s a loss. It’s a loss financial. It’s just doing the right thing.
One thing I do believe in, and there’s two elements to it, is having faith that God blesses the right thing, and you just can’t go wrong doing the right thing. If that employee goes home and talks to that spouse about you doing the right thing, hopefully if the employee’s not signed into it or in agreement, the wife says, “Honey, to do the right thing, you need to pull your bootstraps up and follow the leader.” I think that helps.
That is really critical. One of the things I like to say is when in doubt, always err on the side of grace because we’ve all been given much grace and as much has been given, much is expected. Err on the side of grace, because we don’t know. You were talking about Chick-Fil-A earlier. There’s a great Chick-Fil-A training video, which I’ve mentioned in like five podcasts because I love it so much. Have you seen it? They have people come in the front door.
Everyone has a story?
Yes. If you haven’t seen that-
We’ve shown it in our company a lot of times.
It’s so good. If you haven’t seen it and you’re listening to this, go look up Chick-Fil-A, everyone has a story. It just shows these bubbles above people’s heads because yes, they’re just coming in to buy a chicken sandwich or get a delicious milkshake, but maybe their dog just died or maybe they’re in the middle of a divorce or maybe one of their kids is really sick. We just don’t know what else is going on.
I’ve had plenty of situations where clients are upset at a level that doesn’t make sense, and you think, “What’s going on here?” I always tell the team, “Look, we have no idea what else is going on in their life and we just might be the one that happened to get vented on today. We should go, ‘Hey, how can I help?'” Maybe we can’t. Maybe it’s a separation of that point and we’re not a good fit, but ultimately, we don’t know what else is going on.
I try not to have a whole lot of rules and a few core values, but one of the rules, and you’d be surprised how simple it is, answer the phone, because so many people call and they need something, especially in our business. You could be at a pharmacy or an emergency room or something’s really wrong or their insurance is being denied or you’re at the dentist’s office and it took you six months to get in there and they tell you’ve got some glitch with your insurance.
The beauty of answering the phone, and by the way, we answer the phone even after hours, weekends, holidays, vacations. I’m a big snowboarder. I’m out snowboarding. I make sure I’m always connected to my phone. Here comes a call, and it was a very urgent situation where a person was in their emergency room. We have an option on our phone that they can hit an option and it rings every device, every employee, simultaneously.
Our computers, our iPods, our iPhones, every cellphone, every person, everything rings, so someone’s going to answer the phone, and we tell our clients that, even at dinner dates. I pulled over. I stopped my snowboard, sat down, pulled out my phone. I didn’t have a Bluetooth headset at the time. It was 10 minute conversation.
It was about another 10 minute solution. A couple of team members helped me out, but they happened to call me. It was a 20 minute break on the side of a hill and a beautiful scenery. I was in Montana. Even while I’m working on the phone, I’m thinking, “Well, this isn’t really that bad.” I’m just sitting here working, and I’m on the snowbanks? I never even unlocked my snowboard. I’ve been at a dinner date.
The beauty of that, and honestly, if you look at reality, it only happens 10 or 20 times a year, but the value of serving and caring and ministering to people, really believing deep, deep, deep believing with great passion and conviction in those things, oh man, it can take a business to a whole nother level of service.
At the same time, all of that’s all about doing well, working hard, and there’s nothing better than a hard day’s work. At the same time, a business of this size, while I’m working and working the business, I also find it’s equally important to stop, plan, design, have vision, and run the business. Those are always my two battles of working the business.
In fact, I had a conversation this morning with my wife. We have a lot going on, a lot of sickness, flu year. I don’t know what’s happening this year. We’ve had so many employees out. We just honestly, it’s long hours and we’re having to work the business, and then at the end of the day, people perform better when we are on the premises. I would like to think that the delegation of management is as good as Tim and Wendy, but the truth of the matter, and I bet you most managers would say, it works better than I’m there.
We were talking about that. In fact, we were in two different cars driving to the office, having this conversation this morning. I said, “Really in reality, we’re just a small business. We have 16 to 20 employees, and we need to be there.” I wouldn’t take vacation. Still plenty of time to play, but we just need to be there, walk around, delegate, check, inspect.
Don’t expect what you’re not willing to inspect, and just be good at that. Inspire and motivate people and thank them and appreciate them and check on how they’re doing. Everybody sits up a little taller, works a little harder, pays a little more attention to detail. It just plays out in the small business better.
Absolutely. One last thing that I want to hit on, which is a little bit of a 180, but I think it’s important, and then we’ll land the plane with a parting question at the end, so two more questions total.
First one, for many years, you operated in what I would call a distributed or remote office setup where everybody had really cool home offices or distributions and you’re all over the place, and then you decided to centralize into the awesome headquarters that you have now. Ironically, I did the same thing almost in the same trajectory. Interestingly, we made the same decision at the same time.
I don’t think we knew we were doing it.
We didn’t. That was what was so crazy. I was like, “I’m building an office.”
I said, “Hey, I am, too.”
I don’t know if it was you or Dave, but one of them was like, “Hey, Tim’s building an office.” What? Just because we had both really believed in that remote setup for so long. I’m curious, there’s probably a lot of people out there listening that maybe either have a physical office now or are considering a remote connection or the opposite, where they have been remote and now they’re considering a physical office space. What’s your journey been like on that, because that’s a big change?
Wow. We did the full cycle. Had an office, one day someone says, “Why do we have an office? No one comes here.” I’m like, “Wow, that’s right,” like a light bulb moment. We went distributing all of our employees to their homes and we were truly a remote and virtual office.
The incident, and it was an incident, and then it happened three times. It was a marketing person. My marketing people are important. Wendy and I always fight, “Well, which one is most important, selling or keeping the business and ministering it?” I would say they’re equally important.
If you’re not bringing in new revenue, you’re probably not growing, for sure. We lost a really good marketing person. It was under good circumstances. He was willing to give me that quality exit interview, and he was very honest. He said, “In sales,” especially in sales, “I get deflated. I’m having a bad time on the phone, or I lost a sale. I get into this death spiral and I can’t pull myself out.” I thought, “Well, he’s just not strong enough. He needs to pull up his bootstraps and make it happen,” but then all of a sudden, I lost another marketing person for the same reason.
Wendy and I talked about it and I think something that’s very critical in business, and I think most business people who have long-term success believe in this, spin on a dime. You better stop your losses and you better change your ways if you have just discovered a problem in your business.
Almost immediately, we went on the hunt for an office. We interviewed all the employees that were remote and asked them, “Which would you like?” They go, “I thought you would never ask.” We go, “What are you talking about? We thought you loved working out of your home. You just had a baby,” or, “Your kids go to school and you pick them up at the bus stop,” and all these types of things. They go, “Man, we just love the connection.”
I don’t know if this is true or not. We decided to do it in the office and come back and now people feed off of each other’s energy. You have this momentum. You have this synergy. You have this collaboration. Your experienced people train your inexperienced people.
We have three simple things that we know about business, really four. You better assess and select people well, you better have an awesome training program, a very good one, because if you plug smart people into an awesome training program, they will be up and running quite quickly.
The last two steps run simultaneously, and it’s an either or. Either they’re going to turn into a leader, or they’re leaving. You better recognize that they’re leaving because people leave, and they leave for all sorts of reasons. If they do, you replace them by assessing, selecting, training, and so forth.
When you have some of that turnover and you need those experienced people training, mentoring, et cetera, they’ve got to be in one sight. Just the collaboration and the energy of it, I honestly now on those days that I stay home, and I do occasionally when I need peace and quiet, I’m going to be just honest, I get kind of lonely.
I like the coffee room and I like the quick five minute here and the 10 minute there. It pumps me up and energizes me. Sometimes we’ll have a quick meeting if we have a celebration or we want to talk about what’s going well or inspire people or there’s a new law or something that’s happened. You can’t do that in a virtual office.
We were using video and all those tools, but there’s something about being there in person, a concept that I have no statistics on. This could be so far wrong, but I have children your age. Our children, and we were a really good family. We prayed at the dinner table, we had dinner at the dinner table. We even fixed breakfast for our children because we had a virtual office at the time.
We walked them to the bus stop. We were there when they came home. We had the 10, 15 minute conversation when they arrived from school. We were a tight family, but still, our children did a lot of TV, they did a lot of video games, then cellphones came in and they began to play with those.
Well, now these new millennials, and I thought we worked hard to be a family like that. A lot of families aren’t that way. They don’t eat at the dinner table. They don’t have breakfast together. Everybody’s scattered at night and in the morning. They’re going in different directions.
I think there’s this tribe community family connectivity thing that that age group has grown up now to want or need or maybe there was a void, and I come to work and I have this family at work and this connection. I have no idea if there’s any validity to that.
I do know when we sit down and do an assessment, and we call them a recognition review, it’s not a performance evaluation, and by the way, we spend the majority of the time recognizing them for the awesome job that they’ve done. I’m not beating them up for poor performance.
The first thing we ask them during a performance is, “How are we doing?” We really want to know more about how we’re doing than how you’re doing. We already know how you’re doing. The common thread that we have in our business, “I just love these people here. I love working here. I love the atmosphere.” We put music in every room, including the bathrooms, because that’s what they want.
Our goal is I want to be the best workplace and the serve, care, and minister is not only to our clients, it’s to our people. Old book a long time ago said the customer comes second. The theme of that book was, “Take care of your people and they’ll take care of your customers.” We believe in that.
That centralized office gives you that community, tribe, family, synergy, collaborative power and a unified team that honestly I don’t think you can achieve. It seems like a lot of corporate companies are beginning to allow their employees to work out of their home, but I think like you and I, they might find out that the cycle’s coming.
Yes. It’s been really interesting, because I would say that I was on the religious side of believing that working from home or remote or distributed, whatever you want to call it, was better. Now, I love to work from home from time to time, but as a team, I couldn’t imagine changing. We are so much better. We have so much collaboration. Our quality’s increased. Our community’s increased. Everything’s better.
You still need quiet time. You talked to me about creating a quiet room, kind of like a library. Everybody has doors now. Some people, even though they have a glass office, they have no roof or ceiling. I have the ability to close my door.
We do give people the flexibility. I think flexibility’s a big, big thing these days. If they do need that quiet time or they’ve got a heavy duty project, we have some conference rooms that they can go into, close the doors, and get that solitude. You need that.
The music playing in the background, someone coughing or someone gets in an argument with a client over the phone or whatever is taking place next to you, it might not be so calm, and right now you need calm because you need to focus, concentrate, and get something done.
Yes, and that’s what we miss for us just with our particular setup, but we’re working on building a back office out to basically fix those needs. It’s like you said earlier, you’ve got to pivot. You see what’s happening. You see there’s an issue, and you find a way to fix it. You fix it as quick as you can.
We’re pretty much out of time. We’re definitely out of time, even though I know you and I could probably talk all day. What I love to always finish is just asking you how you personally continue to grow and learn and get better at all the things, being a husband, being a father, being a leader, being a part of the team. How do you enrich your knowledge? Is it books? Is it podcasts? Is it mentors? We talked a little bit about some of those things, but is there anything intentional right now that’s working well for you that stands out?
That’s a really good question. I’ve jotted down some notes, and I wanted to remember in case the question came up to make some important points. I could not be the father, the husband, the employer, a friend, an uncle to you, a sibling, I could not be those people, I could not help other people if first I didn’t make sure that I’m taking care of myself.
A long time ago, I don’t even know if they’re still in business, a company called Success Motivation Institute, SMI, in Waco, Texas, had this unique diagram and you would draw a circle and it would look like a pie with six pieces in it. It had six basic areas of your life. It kind of looked like a wagon wheel. You can visualize that, if you do that circle with cross bars in it.
The six main areas that they said, and I still believe there’s the same six main areas, is spiritual, family, social, physical, educational, and professional. What they did with this graph, it was really a graph, the center where if it looked like a wagon wheel, the center hub was a one and where that line met the outer circle was a perfect 10. You would place a dot on each of those lines and then in a circular fashion connect those dots.
Well, it reveals an awful lot, because a lot of people may exceed at profession, but their family’s dying, or they may have one area’s strong, and they have no friends or they’re not learning anything. I barely got out of high school. I literally looked at the roster to see if I was in the lineup. I didn’t keep up with stuff like that, and I’m like, “Wow, I actually did graduate high school.” When I married Wendy, she says, “You know, I’ve never seen your diploma.” I’m like, “I promise I have one,” so I had to go show it to her.
Since then, I also learned to read. Everyone’s heard, “Leaders are readers,” or, “Readers are leaders.” I read 15, 20 books a year. I think you have to keep bringing in new information. As you know, audiobooks, you’re a very big believer in that. I’m beginning to ease into those because I’m finding now that I’m commuting to my centralized office, I have this commute time if I’m not calling other people.
I really keep a handle on those things. Am I growing from an educational standpoint? Is my spiritual life growing? Do I have friends? I wasn’t very involved at church. We just joined a disciple group and leading the group, and I want a mixed group. I want young people, as we’ve talked about, and I want older.
One lady said, “I don’t know if I’m a good fit.” She emailed me this morning, “I’m in my 60s and I’m a widow.” I’m like, “Man, you are a perfect fit, because you have something that we don’t. You’ve experienced something that maybe other people haven’t and you can help them prepare for the future.”
That social element, physical. Most people, they may be a great business person, but they’re out of shape. We have a builtin gym and we took the footprint of some of our space and we’ve got a gym in house. Instead of finding work between five and six, I work out. It’s a discipline.
We have a guy that just lost 80 pounds. I said, “What’s the secret?” He said, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing it’s not. It’s not motivation.” He said, “Because 90% of the time, I’m not motivated.” He said, “It’s discipline. You have to make an appointment with yourself.” Everybody kind of knows that, but you have to keep a handle on all of those batteries, because we all have heard, “If your batteries aren’t charged, how in the world are you going to charge somebody else’s?”
Keep planning. Keep learning about your industry. Stay involved. Read a lot of industry news. Find out where the trends and the Uber effect is happening. Could something catch you off guard and put you out of business? I would think that Blockbuster saw Redbox coming. I would think. I would think the taxi business maybe knew something about Ubers before they showed up.
You better pay attention and you better be able to spin on a dime and take downtime and plan and put together a vision. These things that we go, “Oh, I’ve got to put a training program together,” well, you better find the time to do it because if you don’t assess and select people well and you don’t have a quality training program, and when they do leave, what are you going to plug people into in the future?
You have to take time to plan your business, but you also have to take time to take care of yourself. Those things I think give the people, give me and other people, the capability to just keep going and keep going. Honestly, that’s why I don’t want to retire. I will be that old guy that people go, “Tim, is he still coming in the office?” They’re going to have that quirky look on their face, like, “Yeah, he’s still coming in the office.”
I want to work until they run me off and they’ll be the new orders through equity ownership, and I want to stay and go as long as I can until I can’t. What an awesome, fulfilled life that would be.
That’s an incredible opportunity. I always say I don’t want people to hate Monday. I’m excited to get back to work and I’m really thankful for that vision from you and the time you’ve taken today to be on the show. I’m sure that those of you listening out there have got a lot out of this. I know that I get a lot from my Uncle Tim, and I hope that you have, too. Thank you so much for being on the show.
It’s been great. Thanks for having me.
I hope this episode has given you some ideas or inspiration that will help you grow your business. If you found it helpful and you know somebody else who might benefit from it as well, I would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to share this with them, maybe on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, or even shoot an email over to a friend with a link to this podcast in it. If you haven’t already, make sure you sign up for our email list at BuildingABusinessThatLasts.com.