When you’re running an organization, you’re obviously going to face challenges that you’d rather delegate to an expert solutions third party. One such company is Online Advisor, which specializes in providing immediate solutions to your problems. For example, advanced bookkeeping or accounting is not a forte for many small business owners. John Harris, CEO of Online Advisor, runs the site like a streamlined online resource where folks can quickly retrieve what they need and focus on higher-level concerns. Online Advisor is an excellent website that serves entrepreneurs, business owners, business leaders, and organizational leaders, helping them boost their professional lives.
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Business Growth Strategies With John Harris Of Online Advisor
We’re incredibly fortunate to have John Harris of Online Advisor on the show. John, welcome to the show.
Tell me a little bit about your business and who you serve.
Online Advisor is a website and it’s OnlineAdvisor.com. It’s a website that’s a serves entrepreneurs, business owners, business leaders, organizational leaders. It provides them all kinds of resources to grow their professional lives, as well as our personal lives and also to help grow their organizations.
Let’s drill down a little bit and get specific about some of the applications that the business owner is looking for help with that you provide solutions for.
We’re providing solutions for a lot of challenges when you’re running an organization. What we’re working on is providing the solutions that will grow business. For example, it may be a bookkeeping question or a bookkeeping issue, we work on some of that. There’s folks that don’t understand bookkeeping or don’t understand accounting and so we answer someone’s questions. We also point them in the direction where they can get the answers through other sources or other advisers. We work on that. For me, I specialize in building systems and refining things and making things streamlined so that folks can get where they need to go quickly and efficiently so they can focus on what’s important for the organization.
For a lot of folks who are looking at starting a business and you have your dream and you have your core competencies, but maybe accounting’s not it or maybe marketing is not your thing or some of those areas. Looking at your site, it’s menu-driven is all were demand-driven, if you need a certain piece of help. Tell us a little bit about the genesis, the why you put this together.
In 1998, I was able to start my own business and that business was a graphic design company. We did brochures and catalogs. The internet was starting to come into play and so we were looking at websites and building websites. When I started my business, I went to a financial advisor and asked him and said, “How do you start a business?” He said, “I can help you.” As it turned out he could help me, but it was in a limited sense because what he knew was investing and insurance and all that stuff, but a lot of the other questions I had, he couldn’t answer. It was at times challenging for me to find what I needed to find. After that point, after I talked to him, I learned some good lessons but I learned some hard lessons. What I thought I could do is depend on him to answer my questions and to get the information I needed. It turned out there were questions he couldn’t answer.
For example, I had some great business ideas and I want investors and I wanted to do all this great stuff, but what ended up happening was although he thought he could do it, he didn’t know how to do it because that wasn’t part of his core competency. After I struggled with that, I realized that I needed to get beyond just one person and I needed to go find the information and find the experts and find the mentors I needed. I realized that wasn’t just a one or two-year project.
What it was going to be was more or less a lifetime project of finding the best and brightest, of finding people that were most talented in certain areas so that I could benefit from their knowledge. Then conversely, I wanted to offer my services and my experience to them to help them. That’s where my journey has been going and it continues to stay where I found that business is a team sport. It’s not an individual sport. When we work together we succeed, but if we try to do it by ourselves or that we limit our advisers, we limit our mentors, and then we’re limiting ourselves in regards to potential and performance.
It seems like to me that the proliferation of developing teams, maybe it’s always been out there. In the military we always had specialists. I’m a former military. In the business space, for a lot of the business owners, they feel bad that they don’t know everything. For you, thinking about some of the business owners that you’ve helped, paint us a mental picture of a current client that’s come to you for help and the things that you brought to the table that helped them with their problem.
The first question I usually ask is, “Where do you want to go with this? What are you trying to accomplish with this opportunity?” What you’re doing today is what I do with my clients. I ask a lot of questions and then I throw some suggestions out. I’ve worked with a wide variety of businesses and organizations. When I’m talking to those folks, my focus is to try to drill down to figure out what’s important for them. Where is it that their gifts and their abilities and their passions lie?
What I’ve found at times is folks that run these organizations or businesses are doing certain things that may be profitable, but they just don’t have a passion towards it. We realized that sometimes we have to do things that maybe we’re not necessarily passionate about but it’s going to pay the bills. It’s going to put bread on the table and we need that. However, it’s hard to sustain that for a long time. I work on trying to find where folks, passions, and skills are, and then to try to develop a business opportunity or to help them realize the potential that they have and do that in a systematic way.
Let’s say that I’m in out in the audience and I’m going like, “I need some help with fill in the blank,” how do they reach out to you? What’s the best way for them to reach you?
Through OnlineAdvisor.com. They can do that through the website. I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Facebook. I’m on all the social media and that presence is growing. When we talk, we sit down and we talked about what folks’ goals are and what they want to try to do. Many times they’re going to say, “I want to do this. I want to do that, but I don’t know where to go or I don’t know what to do.” Then we work on trying to find the resources and the people to come alongside with them, to walk with them, to accomplish what they want to do.
That’s an important piece of it because a lot of times we as executives and CEOs, as business leaders, we tend to take a lot on ourselves. One of the reasons why we are successful is because we take initiative. We try to do things on our own. Sometimes when the crowd is going one direction, we’re going to go another direction because we have a passion for something. We have a focused viewpoint on something. We’re going to go chase that, and that’s part of our success, part of why we do things. It’s part of who we are.
We can’t do everything by ourselves. Sometimes we need it to have some folks help us out. We get stuck and we think we can’t go any further because we’re stuck. We think that we’ve got to do this on our own and that’s where folks may need to ask a little help. They may need to ask for a little advice. A lot of times, the clients I’ve worked with, it was just a little bit of a push or just an open door, and all of a sudden they just took off again and were able to succeed. In many cases for me, there’s been obvious things that they could work on or they could have done. They just didn’t see them so quickly because there’s just so much going on around us and going on around them that they just need a little help. That’s it.
They’re working so busy in the business. It’s hard for me to work on the business. Let’s say that I’m a potential client and then call up and go, “My inventory control is not my expertise,” or, “My payroll is not my expertise,” or the typical one, “I don’t get SEO and digital marketing for my business.” Pick any of those that you want for a discussion that you might have with that potential client. You have an SEO problem or you have an inventory problem. What types of things would you bring to the table and things that I could expect in the conversation with you?
Let’s say the inventory control question. That’s the easiest one because it was the first one you gave. In that case, we talk about the details of that, “What is your current system? What are you trying to do? Where do you want to go with this? What requirements do you have?” In some cases folks have all the answers for that. In many cases they don’t. They’re struggling with their business, “That’s why we called you. That’s why we need some help on it.” We go through that and we start to scope out. We start to write out what it is it that you’re trying to accomplish.
At that point, then I’ll go out and I’ll start calling people and I’ll start working with people and saying, “Here’s the situation with this client. Can you help us?” I do have experience with inventory control, a lot of experience with it, but that doesn’t mean that I know everything. In fact, I would rather have somebody else come in and help these folks with their situation. If it’s a quick fix and I’m looking at it and say, “That’s easy, we can just flip this switch on the computer or on the software. This is a software package that you could pick up,” then that’s it. It’s easy and we can take care of that. I love to do that. That’s easy, but in most cases folks are not just looking for a quick fix or an easy answer.
What I’m focused on is ten years down the road that I don’t want them to be stuck again or struggling with that. Instead, I want them to be able to ramp up their business and feel confident that when they get to that point, they’re going to be taken care of and that they have a plan. As an executive, one of the things that’s important to me is that I don’t want to have to concern myself or worry about what’s going to happen in the future. I’d like to have a contingency plan. It helps me sleep better at night. That’s similar to like if you’re working with your computer, you want to have backups, you want to have all that stuff in place so that if anything ever did happen, you’d be taken care of, and you have peace of mind. For me, I’m not just looking at what we need to do today to get us out of the hole. What I’m going to be looking at is for the future. What do we need to do for a client to take care of their needs in the future so that they have peace of mind and they can be successful and do what they’re best at and do what they need to focus on?
When they work with you and they’re solving a particular problem, does that end up looking like a performance? The client has a problem and the client calls you and then you provide a solution. What’s the takeaway for the client? I don’t know if there is an average client, what should the business owner be looking at as a broad range of expenses to engage you guys for help?
We’re in a situation and we’re going to talk to them for free. We’re not going to charge them anything to sit down and talk with them. Then what we’ll do is exactly what I said where we’ll lay it out and say, “Here’s what we think it’s going to take and this is what it’s going to cost.” Then as we go, we’re going to build a plan for them that’s written. Then we’re going to review that with them and go through all the details of what we’re going to provide for them.
When it’s all said and done, we’re going to give them basically a review of what we did and what we recommend that they need to continue to do, whether they want to engage with us or not. We’re going to be focused on what their needs are and we’re going to be focused on what plan we’ve come up with. When I say we, it’s with the client. We’re not going to just drive this and say, “Here’s what we think you need to do. Have a great day.” Instead we want them to engage in that plan and if possible, we want them to actually be passionate about that. We want them to be excited about it. Not just that it’s a solution, but it’s a solution that addresses the why of what they’re doing, not just how.
We can't do everything by ourselves. Sometimes we need it to have some folks help us out.
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For me, that’s really important. We want for the clients, and this is a big part of what we do, to be educated on what we’re doing. They don’t have to know everything that we’re going to work on. That’s the expert’s job, that’s our job. We want them to know enough that if something happened to me or something happened to the expert, that they could pick up where we left off and that they could continue on the road to success and getting that solution figured out.
Let’s say that I’m a budding business person. I have this awesome idea, I want to do this business, but I’ve never done a business before. Is that a customer market that you serve, and if that was the case, with an initial discussion or sit-down, what should that person expect to hear?
What they expect to hear as I want to ask them why? Why do they want to do this? If you start a business, you got to be passionate about it. If you’re just looking at let’s say “I’m just going to do this just to do it,” as an entrepreneur, I can tell you that’s a struggle. You got to have some focus. You got to have some passion about it because you’re going to have to get up at times in the middle of the night and work on stuff. You’re going to have to get up early in the morning, spend late hours doing a lot of things that if it’s just a job, it’s going to be hard to pull off without some emotion behind it, without some motivation behind it.
We’re going to talk about that now, depending on your experience and your abilities, if you haven’t gotten a business degree, if you don’t have a lot of experience in it. We’re going to take a certain approach where we’re going to have to talk about just basics. There’s some education that we’re going to make that simple, but we’re going to make that fun. We’re going to make that exciting. Let’s say you have an MBA or you have advanced degrees in certain areas, then we can work with your skills and it will fill in the blanks with those areas that you don’t have any of the strengths that you want. We’re going to talk about what it is that you want to do and in what is that you’re strong at, what is that you have knowledge or you have expertise in and what areas that you don’t.
Even if you go into a business, and I’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurs that have no experience, but the truth is that when we drill down, we find out that it’s a lot of experience, practical experience that folks have that we want to tap into. In many cases, we’re going to tap into those skills and experience that drove them to make the decision. They’re going to start a business. We’re going to build on that. We’re going to encourage that. I found even my kids, they’re growing up in an entrepreneurial household and they understand it.
They’ve told me, “I don’t have much experience.” When we start talking about it, no, they do. They just don’t realize that they’ve picked up on it as they’ve gone along. They’re starting their own businesses right now. I’m helping them do that by tapping into what is that they enjoy doing and what they’re good at. Then find the resources for them in the areas where they’re not so strong at and supporting their efforts by saying, “Let’s get experts or let’s get resources that are really good to help you in those areas that you just don’t want to spend a whole lot of time working on.”
Let’s say that a person listening to the show says, “I’m an expert in this field, property evaluation, mergers and acquisitions, a business sale, business buy.” How do you find people to create your network and have them, if you run into a potential client and they have a particular problem, to go, “That’s Bill Smith. Bill Smith knows more about it than anybody.” How do you develop or find the folks for your professional network?
After working as an entrepreneur for years, I have a lot of friends and a lot of resources just like you do. I started tapping into those folks. Even then I used LinkedIn a lot. I had a little bit experience doing executive recruiting and that was beneficial in understanding how to network with folks. If I go into to LinkedIn for example, I have a lot of friends, but then I can look at their friends. They’re listed on their pages and that’s a great resource where you can talk to your friend and say, “I saw that you’ve got three friends that have experience in and mergers and business acquisitions.”
Send them a message column and say, “I noticed that you got these folks. Is there anybody that you recommend in this particular area? Are these folks that could help?” I find a lot of folks are willing to help. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to help out friends like you and me. Again, it’s all about business and all about making a team sport and an individual sport. That’s just two ways of doing it. Obviously, I’m not against doing a little bit of research and trying to find folks as well. A lot of what I do is based on who I know and who they recommend.
It’s the old referral network side of the house. In the natural course of your business, do you find that used to have started to be called to particular niche or two that you’ve seen to be get more interest out of than another?
I’ve gone full circle, because when I started my graphic design company, the focus was sales and marketing. My business start was in sales and marketing. Then as the journey continued, I got a strong expertise in inventory control. I got an expertise in recruiting, I got expertise in a lot of different areas, but it seems like I’ve gone full circle on back at the sales and marketing thing. That’s because I’m passionate about that. I’m passionate about promoting companies, promoting my clients, and encouraging them to grow their companies. I love it. It’s a load of fun for me. A lot of folks in businesses don’t use the word fun and business together, but for me it’s fulfilling to see clients become more successful.
For me, when I’m talking about systems or I’m talking about business growth there, I’m talking about where there’s areas where they’re wanting to strengthen up, I get excited about that. I try to make that an opportunity for them to get enthusiastic about their business to where they want to promote it, talk about it, and they want to be excited about coming to work every morning. One of the things that I try to provide for these business owners and entrepreneurs and leaders, I try to market their companies or their organizations back to them and say, “You’ve got a great idea or this is a great organization. Here’s how we can make this grow,” to where they become passionate or more passionate about what they’re doing in the company or organization they’re working for.
Looking at your website, it’s an extensive website, really attractive. I recommend people go and take a look at it. You can go in Online Advisor. There’s a great deal of resources on there for your company. How does your revenue model work for you and your company?
Online Advisor, to be perfectly candid, we just got it started. What I’ve been doing is business consulting, but I’ve been doing it with a very low profile. One of the reasons why is because I wanted to continue to gather resources for almost twenty years because I had this idea back in 1998. I’m wanting to continue working on that when I got to a point where I felt like, “Wait it’s time to launch, it’s time launch.” For our revenues, it’s been on consulting.
One-to-one type. Now you’re trying to get one-to-many.
A lot of folks in businesses don't use the word fun and business together, but for me it's fulfilling to see clients become more successful.
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The idea is that we want to do it once and duplicate it a thousand to a million times. I’m finding that that’s more effective for us to, similar to doing a podcast like you’re doing. If you could do it once and then you can replicate it. Millions of people potentially could benefit from your podcasts. It’s the same thing that we’re trying to do here. Rather than for us to answer questions one on one and doing that over and over again, instead, what we want to do is be able to have those resources. The other thing that comes into play, too, is for executives, they’re busy and we understand that. For me to sit down with them and talk to them, sometimes their schedules it’s hard to pull that off, but to have the resources online to be able to look at what’s there, that allows them to do that. If they want to do it at [2:00] AM on a Saturday, they can do that.
They don’t have to worry about making a phone call to me. That’s where our strategy lies. In addition to that, we found there’s a lot of entrepreneurs that frankly have limited budgets. They’re struggling to try and get things started. Many of them are already working in another position or doing something else and they’re paying the bills, but they want to get things started. What we’re trying to do also is give them a low-cost, easy to find, easy to use opportunity, get things started for them, and get their businesses started. Right now, I don’t know if there’s a better time to start a business. The economy is on the upswing. Stock market’s doing well. There are a lot of law consolidations, a lot of mergers. There are a lot of good ideas that are going on right now.
A few days a goat Ikea, I was looking at a new desk and another guy is looking at the same desk and next thing you know we start talking. He was coming up with a great business idea for restaurants and bars. He was talking about how he built this software where instead of having the static menu that you get printed at the print shop, he’s got it on a flat screen TV and he’s got it to where it’s web based and it’s easy to change on the computer, but there is no computer behind the screen. It’s just got a little box like half the size of a cigar box. It sits behind the screen and he said, “I got this great idea. I just need to figure out how to market it.”
That’s where I come in and that’s where I started throwing some ideas and say, “Have you thought about rather than just bars and restaurants, car dealerships or car rental places or hospitals or doctors or chiropractors or whatever because the content can change?” That whole story is a great example of what this current economy allows and what this current business environment allows us. He had a great idea and it was a very complicated in the sense of the concept, but he had all the resources to do all the computer programming. He had the resources to do all that technology. He just needed a little bit of help on where to sell and what to do.
That’s the opposite of the guy that has a lot of marketing experience to no computing skills. If you were to look back over the folks that you’ve consulted with and helped out, what’s your favorite story that would illustrate problem, solution, and success?
I don’t want to say the name of this person. I’ll just say that this person who was not high profile became very high-profile. This person had been on the major news networks doing presentations. This person has spoken in front of thousands of people. My situation was at the time is going through the dot.com crash, had some struggles, had to downsize, the biggest challenge in my personal life and professional career. I never wanted to tell somebody, “Sorry, but you don’t have a job anymore.” In our situation that’s what happened. While we were reorganizing, by God’s grace we didn’t go bankrupt. We just had to downsize, but we worked. We’re working through that.
At same time I was still focused on trying to help customers and clients and was still working with them. I had to use independent contractors. We had to move to that. That was one of the biggest rewarding times for me because it was a good lesson for me to learn. At the same time, I’m looking at different opportunities to make income so that I can put money back into my business. This particular person had expertise in a certain industry. I went and pursued to contact this person as a mentor. That’s the truth. It was a new industry for me. There was an opportunity for me I thought that I could bring in some income. One thing led to another and I talked to this person and I said, “It’d be great to help you with your marketing,” because this person was great in the technical area but was not getting the marketing side of it.
This individual was working all the time, was traveling all the time, every other week. They were talking in front of people, doing presentations or doing seminars or whatever. If you can imagine, , let’s say, 25 weeks out of the year they were traveling and they were struggling. This person said, “John, I want to ask you, I need your help. What do I do about this? This is literally killing me. I don’t know what to do.” That’s an interesting question for an adviser like myself because it wasn’t focused on, “How do I grow my business?” It was, “My health is declining because my business is literally just dragging me down.” I said, “Let’s talk about this. I think we’ve got some practical aspects to this that we can fix it.” It was pretty simple.
It’s that this person was doing a great job speaking, but it was similar to what we’re talking about one-on-one. That’s how she felt about it. I said, “How about we do this? Let’s get your message recorded, videoed so that you can do it once and then broadcast it to millions.” She said, “What would that look like?” I said, “Let’s sit down and figure it out.” There were those fires in LA, it was a long time ago, and they shut down all the airports. We were getting a rental car and we were driving across the desert in the middle of the night after she had spoken in a seminar. We’re driving across and at [1:00] AM, as our team was sleeping, she and I were talking about this and I said, “Let’s figure this problem out”.
What year is this time frame?
This would have been, I believe, 2003. Video was a little earlier. Streaming video and streaming audio was there. It just wasn’t being used. We started talking about this practical aspect of a subscription-based service for her clients to see what she’s doing, to talk about practical aspect, that type of thing. She had huge success for it. It just took off. We figured out that plan in the car, a six-hour drive, and walked away and said, “Let’s figure this out.” We did integrate her business, but most importantly, it put her where her passions were and she loved talking to people.
She loved doing the presentations, but got it down from 25 events to six to eight a year. She got spend time with her family, got spend time with clients for her. She needed to spend more time with some of her clients because she got ideas and she got energy and she got business opportunities in for her. That was where more of her passions lie in. To me, that’s a great example of merging business and merging your passions, merging your focus, merging your abilities into one to where you’re supposed to be. Then growing from there, rather than struggling and trying to do what you think everybody else wants you to do.
It’s interesting, you think about transitions for you. You started out with your business and then somewhere along the way you went from running a business to consulting with others. Walk us through that journey a little bit about how that came to pass and how that became a focal for you.
When I started my business, my focus was on meeting needs. The reason why my business started in the first place was meeting needs. I was doing fine at the company I was working at, but ironically, I jokingly say it’s, but it is true, they fired me. The reason why they fired me wasn’t because I was doing a bad job. They fired me because I was doing graphics and marketing for this company and some of my former customers and clients of this company that I was serving were calling me up and saying, “We love what you’re doing. We love the catalogs. We love the billboards. We love all the stuff that you guys doing. Can you do it for us?” A little bit of a conflict of interest with the situation we had. The company I was working for let me go, but they said we will be client number one. “We just want you to take this and run with it and go with it.” As time went on, I kept meeting more needs. Now people need a website. Now they need other collateral and they need promotional stuff and all that. When I was sitting and talking to these business owners and these professionals, they’re asking, “Do you know how to fix this?” or, “How do you take care of this?”
Although I had a lot of experience with the company I previously worked for, I was finding a lot of folks were asking a lot of good questions that had nothing to do with catalogs in a website, in Prague photography. Instead they’re asking me, ”How do you do inventory control? We know you’ve got experience with that,” or, “How you do your bookkeeping? How do you do your accounting tax questions? How do you hit on that? How do you reduce your taxes?” All those questions were coming past my desk, so to speak. I figured out there was a need for that. It was probably a bigger need for that. Then there was for graphics or websites, even though at that point websites were a little harder to develop because we didn’t have WordPress. We didn’t have things where you just point click and do that. We had to have somebody that could literally code it and type all that code out and we had the resources for that. I got a lot of questions about things that are just totally unrelated, and what I found out for myself was that that’s where my passions lie.
I want to help people. For the information that I had knowledge, I want to be able to teach them or mentor them or help them. That’s where I found that that’s where I was best at. I can shoot a great picture of a product. I know Photoshop really well, that’s great. To sit there and do all the tedious touch-ups and everything else, I just found that it’s just not where my passion lies. Where my passion lies is to becoming alongside folks and walking with them and helping them realize their success. Then connecting them with people that can help them grow and help them become what they want to be and what they want to achieve.
That journey continues on and like I said, it’s almost come full circle because it seems like now everyone’s talking about, “How do I promote my business? How do I grow my business?” and I’m answering a lot of those questions not just locally and not just regionally, but I’ve even had opportunities now globally to help some global companies, including ones that I’m excited about, these companies that are in Nepal and Germany that are focused on not just putting out great product, but focus on helping people. One of the things that these companies are trying to do is help the disadvantaged, but also the abused. Sex-trafficking is a big deal. These companies in Nepal are trying to get these ladies that have been part of the sex-trafficking trade or trying to get them out of that and give them a trade and give them skills to be able to provide for their own to get out of that terrible industry. I’m able to help with the marketing.
How are they finding you?
Like you found me, through LinkedIn, through other means and then other cases that I’m volunteering. I’m helping these organizations out and I’m talking to people. I realized that Online Advisors out there DigitalEnvironment.com, which is my company name, it’s out there too. I’m also making myself available and I’m trying to give myself a little bit more visibility because those are the things I’m passionate about. Those are things that are a win-win for everybody.
I think about your comment where I’m working at this company and there was a conflict of interest, and then I’m now working for myself. There’s that moment and I suspect some of the folks are looking at trying to jump off the edge, whether they get pushed or whether they jump. What was that conversation like when you went home and spoke to your bride and said, “I got good news and I got bad news.” What was that like?
She had been pushing me to consider starting my own business anyways. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise to her. However I think there’s just a point where she basically said, “You’re made for this.” There are some people that are just wired where they need a job and they need to work, need to work under somebody. That’s just the way they’re wired. My father happens to be one of them. He’s not an entrepreneur. I love him to death. He just likes doing his job and doing it well, but he likes having that oversight. Then there are other people that just had that personality that they say, “I want to try and do this on my own. I’m not talking about the one that’s a rebel that’s always gets in trouble because they’re always doing whatever they want.
Somebody had said, “I just don’t want to follow the same path that everybody else follows.” My wife saw that in me so she was 100%supportive of this. For me, it was a matter of time and the company realized that, too. They appreciated my eagerness. They appreciated my initiative. They appreciated everything I was doing. But the bottom line was that I was asking a lot of questions. I was trying to make as many changes as I could. At that point I was a lot younger. I’m not so experienced maybe as I should’ve been in regards to diplomacy. However, the departments that I’ve worked in saw a lot of growth, saw a lot of opportunity. They recognize that, but on the other hand, they recognized that I was probably better suited to go do my own thing.
As you look back over your career to this point, is there a mentor or a piece of advice or guidance that you received that you thought was absolutely pivotal? If so, what was that about?
There are a lot of folks that have come alongside. However, the person who really got me started was a man named Harry Schmidt. Harry passed away a few years ago. Harry ironically was the driver of a drag race car. He owned a car called the Blue Max. It was a Ford Mustang. Harry was a Texan through and through, and he was racing at major races and was excellent at it. As he was doing the drag racing thing, he was young but he realized that he was going to get older and he wasn’t going to be able to do the same. As he put it, we worked hard and we played hard and he said it was a tough lifestyle to maintain. He realized you needed to sell down, you needed to start a business. So with the winnings and with some partnerships, it was a team sport for him, too, he started a wholesale jewelry company that was focused on gold chains and silver chains. He figured out how to import those and he figured out that the manufacturers and he was very diligent on the details and worked really hard on that.
He treated it like he treated his team that ran those races. The reason why I ran into Harry was because as Harry was doing all this work, he realized he had to promote it. He had to promote all of his chains. He opened up a graphic design studio within his business because he wasn’t happy with the quality that he was receiving from local folks in Dallas. He learned a lot of hard lessons. He got rolling on that and became very successful in graphic design or having a graphic design company. We ran into him with the company that I was working for and we contacted him and said, “Can we just get some advice?” He said, “Just fly on down. I’ll help you any which way I could.” He did.
Where my passion lies is to be coming alongside folks and walking with them and helping them realize their success.
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In those meetings it was three days of ten to twelve hours’ worth of working alongside him. He said, “If you can stay with me and stay focused you’re going to learn a lot on how to do this.” During that time he shared a lot of advice. He shared a lot of strategy, share lab, practical knowledge. You wouldn’t think that with a guy like this with no Photoshop. He knew a lot about how to run a business. The things that he taught me, number one, was he said, “If you start with junk, you’re going to end up with junk.” In Texas language it was a little rougher than that. He said, “You guys started out with quality.” Then he also said, “Good enough won’t work. You got to be focused on doing the best that you can.” He said, “Anything less than that is going to cause you a lot of trouble.” That advice was huge to me.
He also told the story, “When I got this thing started, I hired three girls and I hired three girls. I asked them to help me and they had no idea what they’re doing. It costs me about $200,000 to learn that was not the way to do it, John. Here’s how it worked. I’ve found the best graphic designer I could in Dallas and his name is Wayne Sockwell. He’s the best and I would have the best, and I said, ‘I want to have the best.’ I brought Wayne in and I got things rolling and I never looked back.” And the truth is they had a great partnership together because they fed off each other. What Harry didn’t know, he’d asked Wayne, and vice versa. They both grew their own businesses. Wayne still was doing his own graphic design, but he was working under Harry’s roof. I got to see a lot of success in that. When you get people that are high-powered best at what they do, they feed off each other and they accomplish things that average people don’t because they’re focused on the best results and best quality.
I would even say the best professional relationship that they wouldn’t tolerate between each other falling short or just getting by. I got to watch them work as a team. Harry unfortunately died of cancer, but I know that his family started up a foundation to help out with cancer research. I also know that that’s what Harry’s heart would have been, and that he was always helping others in it. He was willing to share his expertise with this young kid that didn’t have any experience with any of the stuff that he was talking about. He was willing to do that. That’s where my heart is too. I’ve helped out with a lot of folks because of Harry.
We all can point to various people that have been turning points and maybe you have multiple turning points in your business. Looking out over the next three to five years, what’s got you fired up or excited about where your business is going to go or what you’re going to do next?
I am fired up. It’s going to be good. The website OnlineAdvisor.com is looking really good and we’ve got a lot of resources are coming together. I’m excited about that because I got to see a dream that started in 1998. I’m finally seeing all of it come together. We don’t have all the technology. When you and I were talking about this, but we’re going to get a podcast going, where you get video going and we’re going to get a lot of those resources going. The reason why I’m excited about that is because I have so many people ask me, “How do I get started in business? How do I get to be successful?” There’s lot of stuff out there. It will tell you how to get started, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to help you be successful. The learning curve is really steep.
Tuition is expensive.
It is expensive. I want to try and reduce that tuition cost, especially I’ve got kids that are going into college right now. I appreciate the analogy literally and figuratively. I just want to reduce that cost and I want to reduce a little bit of that pain. Pain, to me, is part of the process, but if we could reduce that to where people could learn and learn quickly, that’s what I’m excited about. With the technology, now video is easy. You’re videoing this right now. We’re doing this audio right now. Before you’d have to be on TV.
It’s remarkable. The technology he was referring to is there’s a camera called Meebo. I has face-tracking and that’s what we do the videos with. I have no affiliation with Meebo but they surely do a nice job. Two things. One, if you were to characterize the inventory of skills that you have, what would you say would be your one key skill or superpower. Then parting advice to the budding business owner or the business owner that struggling out there at the moment, what advice would you offer?
Answering your first question, what my skill is is that I get to see what people normally don’t see. I get to see opportunities that most people don’t. That’s why what I feel like I’m best at is I’m the one that is not looking at what everybody else is looking at. I’m looking at everything around. I’m looking at the opportunities that may be missed. What a lot of people call me in for is to see what things are being missed or what things are just not working as well as they should. For me, I liked the exciting part of finding those things and presenting to them and say, “Have you thought about doing this or have you thought about looking at this?” Then quantifying that, putting that into real terms and say, “I think we could do this and I think this could grow.” Watching people’s face light up, watching those eyes light up and say, “We could do that. That would be great. That would be awesome,” that’s what I do. That’s what gets me up in the morning.
Gap analysis, what they’re missing.
I get excited about that. It may be a technical issue. People have been shocked at times that I’ve been able to find the technical answer to a question. On the other hand, it’s like the guy I ran into Ikea, finding out what he was doing and then say, “I think you’ve got some opportunities here. Let’s talk.” I get excited about that. I love talking about this stuff all day long. That’s what gets me up in the morning and what keeps me up at night in a good way. To answer your second question, it’s very simple and that is it’s a team sport. Business is a team sport. Running organization is a team sport. If you don’t know, ask. I coach football. I tell the boys that I coach, “If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask the question.”
A lot of times we don’t ask the question, in particular as business owners and leaders, because we don’t always want to look bad. We don’t want to look like we’re weak or something or that we’re afraid or anything like that. Every time I studied the best entrepreneurs, they’ve got great teams around them. I’ve never seen any successful entrepreneur pull it off by himself or herself, never. You look at Steve Jobs, you got Wallace back there doing the programming and doing all that stuff. You’ve got Bill Gates, he’s got Paul Allen behind him and a whole other team. Steve Ballmer behind him. I realize I’m picking computer folks, but even Warren Buffet doesn’t do it by himself.
He’s got Charlie Munger.
It’s a team sport. I have OnlineAdvisor.com and I realized that advisors are what I do and what I promote. Even if you don’t use our company, even if you don’t use our services or don’t go to our website, I’m going to still encourage people, “Get folks that come alongside you to encourage you, to mentor you, to educate you on the areas in which you want to grow or where it will grow your organization and benefit from that. Treasure that.” Every time I meet somebody and I get that information, I’m writing notes. I’m trying to apply whatever I learned. I can encourage people strongly enough to do that.
John, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate taking time out of your day to come visit with us.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. This has been great.
About John Harris
John Harris is the President/CEO of Digital Environment LLC, the parent organization of OnlineAdvisor.com.
Throughout his career, John has carefully studied the areas of entrepreneurship and strategic planning and management for small businesses and organizations. His passion and drive are focused on advising and partnering with businesses and organizations to achieve “effective and efficient” goals and objectives. OnlineAdvisor.com reflects the strategic services which John and his advisors have been providing clients for over 18 years.
To gain the insights and expertise John has acquired for over 25 years in his career, it requires a wide variety of opportunities and experiences that aren’t necessarily gained in the corporate world. He has had the unique opportunity and pleasure to work with some of the most knowledgeable and successful business instructors and advisors in the United States. These people have collaborated with John to create some of the best strategies in the business world. Now that much of what has been compiled has been time-tested and ready to use, John is ready to share what he has learned in the marketplace and beyond for the benefit of his clients.
In addition to his experience in the business world, John has been coaching sports for over 30 years. Using the learning opportunities that sports provide in regards to leadership, teamwork, perseverance, strategy and crisis management, he is able to apply the critical principles and applications to benefit businesses and organizations. Conversely, he is also able to apply management and organizational principles to sports teams and athletes to help them successfully reach their goals. When it comes to strategic planning, John has developed some of the most effective systems in the marketplace, simply because of the integration of sports principles within the organization.
Lastly, John places a high emphasis on empowering and equipping people to perform at their best and to find their greatest opportunities to succeed. With an educational background in Human Development, he combines the resources of recognizing a person’s strengths and challenges with the aspects of strategic planning to create the most effective environments. Recognizing that success and failure are most dependent on people, and not on systems, John focuses on the dynamics of the individual as it affects the “team” and how to create the best environment for everyone.
John holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University and a Master’s of Business Administration Degree from Liberty University. He currently serves on the football coaching staff at Pikes Peak Christian School and also with the Pikes Peak YMCA, which he has been a member of the YMCA for many years. He and his wife, Karalee, and their six children live in the Colorado Springs, Colorado area and are actively involved in church, para-church and charity activities.
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