BEI or Business Enterprise Institute helps many entrepreneurs exit their businesses, choose their successor, and carry on with their dreams by supporting advisors. Jared Johnson and Elizabeth Mower, CEO and President of BEI respectively, share how they focus on working with advisors who help business owners in exit planning. They discuss how vital it is to create tools and online resources that can help advisory firms, CPAs, attorneys, business consultants, and coaches accomplish, deliver, and implement action plans for their clients. Moreover, they share why much emphasis is given to systematized education and training in helping advisors and their clients.
Watch the episode:
Listen to the podcast:
How BEI Exit Planning Solutions Works with Jared Johnson and Elizabeth Mower
At BEI, we believe that these small and medium-sized business owners and the companies they run are the lifeblood of our economy. Our mission is to help as many of those business owners as possible exit their business when they want, with the money they need, choosing the successor that they’d like to see carry on their dream. We do that by supporting advisors to the business owner community: financial planners, attorneys, CPAs, wealth advisors, insurance advisors, and any advisor who works with the closely held business owner is somebody that we support. We want to provide the tools and resources to allow them to be the quarterback of an exit planning team.
Bob, thanks for having us. We’re excited to share what BEI does and how we support the business owner community through their advisors and support and help other entrepreneurs understand how we operate. Maybe they can learn a little bit from our successes and certainly some of our failures in running up small and medium-sized businesses.
Tell me about your business and who you serve.
Our business is generally focused on helping business owners benefit from their lives’ work. We had to try and figure out a way to do that. In the distant past, we were helping one business owner at a time to figure out what they wanted to do with the future of their business. We quickly figured out that it was going to take a long time and we wouldn’t be able to get to everybody. We thought it was important work to do. We ended up realizing that we could have a much greater impact on the business community across North America if we work with advisors who help those business owners in each community. We’re on the ground every day meeting with business-owning clients and helping them figure out solutions to their problems and paths to their futures. What we decided to do is create tools and online resources that help advisory firms, CPAs, attorneys, business consultants, coaches, and people like that accomplish, deliver and implement action plans for their business-owning clients. We’re a behind-the-scenes tools provider.
It starts with education and making sure advisors truly understand what we believe is exit planning. A lot of business owners sometimes think, “When I’m ready to sell, I’ll call somebody,” or “I’m never going to transfer this business. I’m going to die at my desk. This is who I am.” That’s fantastic, but we need a plan for that as well. Even more, we see business owners out there who want to transfer to key employees, management staff, and kids, but the challenge with that is none of those people have any money. How do we help them accomplish their financial goals and objectives? Working with folks who don’t have any money to buy him out and that’s what exit planning is.
With us, it’s not about selling a business. It’s not about a specific type of transfer. What does that business owner want to have happen post-ownership or maybe not even post-ownership but post-working? “I want to own this business, but I don’t want to work here anymore. I want to spend time with my grandkids. I want to travel the world. I want to spend time with my family.” How can they accomplish those unique goals and objectives with regard to their future? What BEI does is it starts with training. We then have a marketing platform for advisors to get the word out, educate business owners on what we believe exit planning is, and then a software platform that helps advisors gather data and turn that data into actionable steps for business owners to accomplish those goals.
In the podcast, I talk to business owners all the time and typically the before and after, “What are you going to do when you get done here?” “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll sell.” “What are you going to sell for?” “I’m not sure.” “Do you have any idea what somebody else like you sell for?” “No.” I don’t think they’re so busy in the business. They have a nominal amount of time to think about strategically being on the business. I wouldn’t know for many of them if they differentiated in their business whether they have a job or a business. I think about trying to scale a business. You are trying to scale a process. For you guys, if you were looking back five years ago, what do you see the difference in where your business was five years ago and now as far as scale goes?
I’ve been with this company for several years. We were much more of a business to the individual client, hand-holding relationship, let us guide every customer through their use of our tools, their way of learning about our areas of expertise. We did a lot more one-on-one company to the customer because we didn’t have as many customers. When you don’t have very many customers, you can afford to do that. Then, our customer base starts to grow. We realized if we don’t scale our own services, we won’t be able to keep up with all of these.If something's not working, get rid of it and move on. Click To Tweet
Ten years ago was ‘08, ‘09. After that crash in the market, there were a lot of delays on transactions.
What we hear from the field is that businesses that survived the Great Recession, businesses that managed to somehow get through it, were saying things to their advisors like, “I don’t intend to ever do that again,” or “Thank God I made it through, but I made some mistakes and it’s a wakeup call. I’ve decided to do things better. I’ve decided to be more thoughtful. I decided to work on my business instead of so much in it.” The business that came out of the ‘08, ‘09, ‘10 difficulties and economic challenges were admittedly the stronger of the businesses that went into it. Those owners learned their lesson. There was a lot of demand that came out of the very tail end of that recession for people going to their professional advisors, going to their most trusted advisors, business owners saying to them, “You’ve got to help me because I don’t intend to go through that again. If something else does happen, I need to be prepared. How are you going to help me?”
BEI comes in behind that professional advisor or firm and says, “We have the tools and the processes to help you do this.” To get back to your point, as that market grew and we had more demand for our services then we had to say, “We can’t one-on-one help each one of the advisors and firms that’s using our tools. We needed to come up with more systematic processes. We need to change the way our staff is trained. We need to change the way our internal processes are working. We need to change the way we communicate with our marketplace.” We’ve done all of those things in the last ten years.
Do you have the same problems with everybody else in the business?
Yeah. When I started in 2013 with BEI, you could Google exit planning and the top ten results were how we were planning to exit the war in Iraq and pull troops back from Afghanistan. Now, Google exit planning and the top three pages are advisors and support firms who are looking at supporting business owners. A few years ago when I started, we had 1 person to 25 or 30 clients from a relationship standpoint. As that tide turned and we started working with enterprise organizations in the larger groups and big companies, we said, “It doesn’t make sense in the business world to have a 1 to 25 person ratio.” Elizabeth and her team, what we’ve done at BEI is to develop a support model that is systematized and help people to find their solutions on their own, whether it’s our website, whether it’s the articles and content that we create or the support center within our tools. The advisors and the clients that we work with, we are training them to be more self-sufficient and act on their own but access our tools and resources without having to pick up the phone and call us. A few years ago, if they needed something, the primary methodology of reaching out to us was we better pick up the phone or send an email. Through the implementations of systems and processes within our organization, our staff can touch instead of 1 to 20, we’re closer to 1 to 200 people that they can reach out to and engage with.
When you look out at your prototypical ideal advisor of whatever discipline, what does that ideal client look like? What do they have to say, do and behave in order for them to embrace what you do?
I talk about this a lot in our training programs. Their professional background is not especially critical to us. There are other areas of expertise not particularly important to us. We might have an M&A transaction attorney sitting in a seat at our national conference next to a business coach who’s sitting next to a 30-year CPA and so on and so forth. Their professional backgrounds are extremely diverse and they’re not that important to us and don’t make any difference in how they use our services. What I tell people is that they have one thing in common and there’s a thread that connects everybody who uses our tools. That is, they are a professional service provider who has business-owning clients and genuinely enjoys helping those people plan for a successful future.
Those words are important. You have to have business-owning clients or be involved in the business marketplace and then you have to actually like helping them plan for the future and solve problems. Two CPAs that you meet at a CPA training or educational event, one of them is happiest when doing what they call compliance work. Getting data in, creating tax returns, doing audit work, doing all of the more predictable and unstructured aspects of CPA work. The person sitting next to them is also a CPA, same length of time and practice, same firm maybe, but gets the most enjoyment and fun in their day out of business-owner clients coming in to them, communicating or articulating a problem in some way and then they sit together and they try to figure out a solution.
Those people are perfect customers for BEI because our entire business model is bent on business owners who want to accomplish something in the future. We have no idea what that is but we know we can help them do it. Our website is ExitPlanning.com. Exit planning to us is: exit has diminished a little and its emphasis and planning are big. You put big, bold letters on planning and say the exit is whatever it’s going to be. The planning is going to determine whether that’s successful or not. If you think that sounds fun, then Jared and I and our teams would like to talk about how we can work together. That’s how we do things in our training. Do you agree?
I agree. To your point, every business owner leaves their business. By death or by choice, we’re all getting out. Elizabeth uses that example, each advisor may do the exact same core work but one gets jazzed about what you might think a financial planner does and another is jazzed about, “I don’t know what this business owner is going to throw at me but I know I can help them through it.” Those are the folks that we work well with and support because we know every business owner’s exit is different. The planning and the process that goes into it can be consistent and developed with each of those advisors walking down a consistent path.
Is there a typical behavioral shift that you see in the advisor’s pre and post-training with you guys?
They tell us usually that things are different. It tends to be in their ability to get more proactive. Many of the advisors who we work with are highly skilled at solving those problems, creating those solutions for their clients when asked. Some of the tools and training that we provide help them get a little further ahead of that. They experience some frustration. They’re finding out too late in the game that their clients need help and they wish they would’ve known sooner. We have some things that we do that we help them with, whether it’s education or online tools or even things that are printed. They can take it to their meetings depending on their personal style that allows them to get further ahead, ask questions sooner and explain to their clients, “Every step that we go through together now is going to be towards a much bigger goal and a much more important end result. I’d like to work with you. I’d like to walk with you on that path.” That’s the most common feedback that I hear from advisors. You might hear something different. You work with a lot of our big corporate partners.
From a behavioral shift, I’m 100% in agreement and in alignment with you. The character of the advisor who works with us is that problem solver. They know that they have something to offer. The biggest challenge is they’re hesitant to get into that work and style because they are not sure where to go when they ask the question. What we see is more of a confidence shift. They say, “Not only do I know what I’m going to do next but I also know that if I ever stumble or if I ever get into a point where I’m not quite sure, I do have the support and the resources of affirming who’s been doing this for a very long time.” On the corporate side, it’s more of we’re helping them do what small business owners do and what we do here is create a consistent process and system.
For the entrepreneurs thinking, “How do I grow? How do I scale? Where do I go?” The biggest piece is focusing on a repeatable and consistent process. I came from big banking. I was at Citi Bank for many years. They were always concerned with the client experience. In a small business-owner space or the medium-sized business-owner space, the experience that clients have are so important because every client is so valuable. When we take that into a larger organization that has multiple locations maybe across many different states and they’re concerned with, “If I implement this service or I bring in this new process, John may have a different experience than Sally, and Mary may have a different experience than Paul because I’m not certain that everybody on my team is in alignment and consistently asking the right questions.” When we bring this into larger organizations, what they feel is a comfort in knowing that every client that walks in their door is going to have a wonderful experience with any advisor that supports them.
Looking at the growth of your company, what are your thoughts on influences with respect to leadership and how you take it past that leadership ethos through the culture of your company?
We’ve done a few things we seem to circle around. While we provide strong tools, resources and training to our customers, we learn a lot from them as well. We’re a very collaborative organization with our customer base. I will say that over the twelve years that I have left the professional advisor arenas, that’s where I was before and turned my attention towards building things that serve the person that I once was, I have observed who’s doing it well and who’s doing something different and who’s doing something with more success than others. My greatest influences have actually been our most successful customers. They’re very open and collaborative. We can talk about lots of different kinds of business issues and they’re very willing to share. I love to say there was some business book that changed my life and I do everything differently, but it’s the fact that I’m willing to tell our customers that we’re not perfect. We’re a continuous improvement organization that we accept feedback and even when it’s hard to hear, we’re willing to grow from it and they take that seriously. I get a lot of open and honest feedback, but I have to say they have been my greatest source of ideas, encouragement, and inspiration.
I think that’s absolutely right with how we look at the services that we provide to our clients. I had a mentor a long time ago who said, “Jared, you’re going to get as far as you want in life if you realize one thing.” I said, “What’s that?” She said, “As soon as you realize you don’t know everything, you’re going to get far.” I took that to heart. Not only on our customer side do we look for feedback and say, “What’s working and what’s not working?” I’m more interested in what’s not working because we can shift it or shed it. That’s another thing that I would tell business owners in your audience, you’ve got to make a decision. If it’s not working, just get rid of it. Move on.
We had a conversation about that.Make the right decisions and make sure that you’re comfortable with the results that those decisions bring. Click To Tweet
We were like, “Are we going to keep doing this? Maybe we should toss it.” Within the business and I think within our culture and our people, we take that same approach. Elizabeth and I like to ask our team and we have a meeting every Friday. We talk about what we did this week, what worked and what didn’t work, and we like to listen. I have a sales staff that part of that is dialing the phone. That is not something that I’m fantastic at. I can teach you the right words to say, I can teach you how to be more effective, but dialing the phone and dealing with voicemail 100 times a day is not something that I like to do. I’m not strong at that. I have to hire folks that do the things that I can’t do, that I don’t want to do, that frankly, I’m just not good at.
I have to also, as a leader, be open to their feedback and saying, “If you are doing something well, how do we get that to everybody within the company?” If we’re teaching something or we’re asking you to do something that’s ineffective, we don’t want to hire people who are good soldiers. There are business owners who say, “You’ve got to do it the way I want. You’ve got to do it the way I’m asking you to do it.” To me, that’s a mistake because you’re going to get the same results that you’ve always gotten. I like to have people who can challenge us on both the customer and the employee side and say, “What if we did it like this?” As an owner and as a leader of the business, you have to be willing to say, “Let’s try it out or we’ve already tried that. We’re going to do something different.” You have to have those difficult conversations and they’ve got to come both ways. My employees get to come into my office and say, “Jared, I think you’re not thinking about this the right way.” I can explain to them why I’m thinking about it that way or why I didn’t see what they see and we’ll work through it.
I think that one comment where you were getting feedback from the business owners and I think about the unintended benefit of being tutored by business owners, many of them and their collective wisdom. It’s been my experience within the podcast space to talk to many different business owners and how much it’s changed the fabric of my thinking, a real benefit for the company. In looking at that, you are also working and innovating within the company tools and processes. Let’s talk a little bit about how you take and innovate and create a culture that supports innovation.
We have two different parts of the company. We can talk a little bit about each of those. Jared, as our CEO, is responsible for all of our sales and marketing activities and has essentially taken us from zero to a full robust process in those areas. As the president of the company and being responsible for operations, I’m looking at efficiencies in the company and then building the tools and the resources. I build the products that our customers buy. We tend to divide things up that way. As we’re innovating, we’re using different processes in those two basic halves of the company. There’s the part of the company that’s building stuff that our customers want to buy and then there’s the part of the company that’s letting people know that it’s available.
I can only speak for my side in depth but what we do is a combination of things, trying to hire smart people. Those of us who are in leadership have some ideas about some things to do. We’re definitely contributing. We’re not just sitting back and saying, “I hope you all figure it out.” Maybe that’s how it’s going in other companies. We’re too small for that and we enjoy participating. We’re involved in throwing out ideas and bouncing things off of people. We, of course, have our teams who have different kinds of expertise and we’re hiring people who know how to do things that we don’t know how to do, who enjoy doing those things and we think that they have something to offer. We tell people, everybody who comes in for an interview at this company, “You don’t have to know anything about our space. This thing with exit planning for business owners, you don’t have to know anything about that.” We’ve never hired somebody, maybe since me, that knew anything about what that even meant.
Our employees come in not knowing what it means but they bring some skills. We’re saying, “We’ll teach you what exit planning for business owners is. We’ll teach you how it’s done. We’ll teach you what we’re already doing. What we need from you is to take your personal expertise and your ideas and apply them to that training that we give you.” Our employees are full of ideas and our best employees are the ones who’ve brought us innovative suggestions. I hate to go back to it but we’re in a business that listens to our customers. Every year that I have been with this company, the percentage of innovation that I can trace back to an offhand comment, a complaint and an applause line, anything from our customers, the work that we do grow is coming from that source.
Our customers at this point are one of our greatest suppliers of innovation. They call in and say, “I’m using your tool to do this, does it do this other thing?” We have to say, “Unfortunately, no it doesn’t. Here’s another way to solve that problem. We can get you there.” We’ll solve their issue or get them to the result that they’re trying to get but we are tracking that. We’re documenting those questions and we’re saying, “Somebody called in and asked a question. The way that they want to do it isn’t quite available in our current configuration. Is there a way we could do that?” Sometimes in days or weeks, sometimes it’s two years later, we have features or new tools that allow them to do exactly that thing.
In our particular line of work, and I don’t know what’s happening with the other businesses and business owners that you’re talking to, we get so many suggestions, ideas and sometimes criticism from our customers that provides a huge amount of creativity and opportunity for us. I use that a lot on my side. We go out to Jared’s teams where they’re doing traditional sales and marketing approaches. You’re hiring people who have a background in that but how are they taking things to the next level here and how are they doing something that we’ve never done before? Where did those come from?
It comes from the failures and it comes from the people who tell us “no,” the folks that we don’t get in front of. Sometimes like our advisors, we find out too late that somebody that we wanted to work with went a different direction. We have to figure out why that is. We do intern programs. I will tell you, social media has been one of our biggest marketing avenues in the last three or four years. I had a college intern from DU sit in my office in an interview one day and said, “Jared, Twitter is the Facebook of small business.” I said, “You’re out of your mind.” You can’t track it. There’s no way to tell where revenue is coming from. Twitter is not in the business-owner space. LinkedIn is barely getting there. I’m a younger business owner by comparison, I think with some and I’m challenged there. We don’t always get it.
We bring in folks who are using the technology of the people that are in this space we want to be in. We’re constantly looking for new ways to have our message heard. We oftentimes in the sales cycle get, “Jared, this is the problem that we have. How can your platform, how can your tools solve that problem?” Many times, I have to say, “I don’t know but give me a minute and we’ll figure it out.” What we do is get the teams together and whether it’s our support side or development side or some group from the sales side or sometimes it’s the marketing team, the sales team, the development team and we say, “Here’s the problem we’re trying to solve. Let’s think about how can we do that? What are you doing on the support side that gets close? What are you saying on the sales side that you’re presenting to the teams that we’re talking with that get somewhere close?”
We’re able to say, “Let’s think about a new idea or a different way to use a tool.” Oftentimes as Elizabeth says our tool may not do it in a straight line to what they think, “I wanted to say these words and look like this as well.” It can say those words and look like that but we’re going to take a little circle here and then we say, “How long will it take to close that gap?” It’s a lot of feedback from potential prospects. We go to different conferences as well to learn about what’s working in the industry. There aren’t many companies that do what we do in our space.
We have to look at organizations that are similar to us. We aren’t just a software provider, but we have to look at what are SaaS companies doing? We aren’t just a marketing content provider. We have to look at what those marketing content providers do and how they are getting in front of folks. I think one of the biggest sources of innovation for us is looking at not even so much peers in this space but companies that are similar and where we want to be and then saying, “How do we get there?” Pulling our teams in and asking those questions and challenging. Elizabeth and I challenge each other all the time, “Elizabeth, I was talking to this client. It’s a big deal. How long is it going to take you to figure it out?” Sometimes she says, “You’re going to have to find another way.” Sometimes she says, “That’s going to be done next week. No problem.”
The other thing about your team that supports the innovation in a way that’s important, it’s not quite as much on my teams but your teams take the time and allocate the resources to collect data that supports their analysis of what’s going on and their opinions. “This never works.” “Does it never work?” I think that as a company we’ve decided to invest in the resources that are necessary to do data collection, data tracking, and data analysis and to make decisions in the teams where that is the most helpful. We do it a lot less especially compared to a few years ago. Night and day, it’s a completely different company than we were a few years ago. We are making decisions based on facts and numbers and less on a knee jerk, “One person did this, we should do that.” We don’t make decisions that way. We’re pretty thoughtful and where we can, there are data tracking to support it. That’s helpful. On the innovation side, make an attempt, see how it goes, quantify the results, then tweak it. Track the results again and that’s something that’s worked well for us.
I would say the data tracking and analytics have been absolutely key in our innovation and growth because we all have what we think are great ideas. We have to challenge ourselves to test and prove those ideas. Anecdotes are great when we’re trying to get a laugh. They don’t work so well when we’re trying to run a business. Having that anecdotal numbers or what we believe to be true, it is not an effective way to manage change and innovation in your business. Everything we do is based on a quantifiable difference that it will make either going forward or something that has happened in our business that has been changed for the positive side or the negative and we can say based on facts and data, not just gut feeling. There’s always gut feeling in business. I get it, you’ve got to have that but when we make big organizational changes, they’re based on data.
Given the tight labor supply, Elizabeth, you’ve identified a skill gap within the company, and we’ve got a tight labor supply everywhere. What’s the process to identify, “We need a blue one and we’ve got to go hire a blue and to do this blue task?” How do you guys arrive at that gap? Within this labor supply issue, how do you take and attract that talent and get them to fit in with you guys in the culture that you have?
Maybe we need to watch one of your other podcasts where somebody has already solved that problem. We don’t have a great solution. We can talk about what we do. We do a variety of things and we’ve tried a variety of things that have gone well and not well to different degrees. For a while, we tried the assessment testing of candidates. We found that using that approach, we were able to accurately predict a person’s personalities. The personality side of it was good and we were able to understand how our team members think, approach a problem and complete a task. We were able to understand that better. We noticed after a couple of years it wasn’t increasing our employee retention. While we understood them, it didn’t change how long they were with us, how much they grew within the company and maybe that was something about us, but that method of assessing people on their way in the door or on their way into the interview has not solved our problems. It’s very effective for helping you understand who you’re talking to and who you’re hiring.
We’ve also used recruiting firms where they have to do the part that we don’t like, the screening and talking, the candidates and the resumes. We’re not especially good at that. We’ve tried outsourcing the screening process. I have to say it’s expensive but it’s worked pretty well. It’s worked reasonably well. We have some very long-term employees who were found for us by a recruiter. They either lured them away from another position or it was a person who just came on the market deciding to make a change and this recruiting firm that we used snapped them up and said, “We have this great opportunity.” We understand that our employees, we have to sell them on what it’s like to work here.
I can point at different people in different positions in the company and I can say, “You’re interested in growth and we’re still a small business.” That person started answering the phones. That person started making cold calls. That person started doing pure administrative work and look at what they’re doing now. We have real examples of long-term employees who started at something that looked a lot more like an entry-level and demonstrated skill, a commitment and energy for what we do and were able to rise, maybe create their own next position title. One of the great benefits of having a small business is that you can make up a job for somebody who has this great skill and that great skill but not the other one. We’ll create a new position for them.Business owners are problem solvers by nature. Click To Tweet
I can show actual humans in our business that are doing that, and I think that’s proven to be very inspiring and encouraging to people who are considering working here. Employees don’t want to be pigeonholed. They don’t want to come to work in a small company where they’re never going to have an opportunity to move up. That’s not the case in our business and we’re trying to develop people. We have in the last few weeks moved somebody from one position to a different position in order to have that person spend more time on the things that she is good at and maybe shed a couple of things that were creating some drag in the position. That’s a pretty broad answer, everything from how do you find people? How do you evaluate them? How do you talk to them, how do you get them in and get them moving, and have them be a positive part of the team? We have not solved the problem but we’re still working on it.
With the limited talent pool, the very first thing that we do is say, “Is there somebody in our organization who fits the skills that we’re looking for who may not be in the very right role or who has a little bit of capacity to fulfill the blue job? Are there three or four people that we can spread that work out to?” In this limited market, Denver’s unemployment rate is under 1% or something like that and the talent is challenging. The reason we have had success with recruitment firms is that they have folks who are currently employed, and they can reach out to them and say, “We’re looking for something else.” I have found that one of my weaknesses is in hiring. I’m a sales guy by nature. If you can sit across the table from me and talk to me for fifteen minutes, you’re a hired and I’ll give you a shot. I love everybody but that gets me into trouble. I would say, “If you can find internal, find internal. If not, certainly avenues where folks you’re looking from the currently employed is a great place. At least that’s where we’ve had the most success in the last few years.
You guys have been working on branding your company and within that branding space and the value of that you guys deliver to your market. In your branding effort, what’s done the most to affect the outcome or growth of this company? What do you do?
I would say consistency. You have to have the same message. We don’t want to confuse the marketplace. When we talk about what we do, it is supporting advisors who work with business owners. Broad strokes, that’s where we’re at. The second piece is we have to say it as much as we can, everywhere we can, as many times as we can. We use multiple mediums of communication. We have a podcast that will be released in June. We’re just getting into the podcasting space as well. We’re excited to do that. It will be for both advisors and owners. We have a big web presence. My marketing department is working with Google Analytics and SEO and understanding how our folks are coming to our website, where are they finding us? How can we broaden that audience?
Social media over the last few years has expanded our brand. When you can get in front of over a million people on the social media platforms, they may not be your customers but they sure know somebody who could be. That’s been the other area for us is talking to people who know our customers, who know our potential clients. We spend a lot of time building content for business owners. By the way, we collect $0 a year from business owners other than the financial planner who owns his own business or her business. Our goal is to have those owners, to have those people who know the types of people that would be our client to say, “I read this article the other day from BEI and I think you’d find some value in it,” or “I listened to this podcast about exit planning and it came from this company called BEI and they work with you, Mr. Attorney. I need some of this help. Why don’t you call them and see if they can help you help me?” From us, first is be consistent. Tell people what you do very simply. We help advisors who help business owners.
You guys have a lot of experience interfacing with business owners and it gives you a unique perspective on the entrepreneur’s journey or entrepreneurship. For the new CEO that’s taking that job for the first time, what advice on entrepreneurship would you offer to that CEO?
One of the things I’ve always loved about my career is that I’ve spent a lot of time with business owners. I had the great honor of spending a lot of time with many who are very successful, and these are privately held businesses all around the country that we’re doing all kinds of different interesting things. I wasn’t working with Fortune 100 businesses. I was working with very successful construction contractors, very successful companies that lay down the pavement for highways, chemistry and chemical companies, software companies, service companies and all different kinds of things. The opportunity to have a successful business installing and servicing HVAC systems is enormous. These are the businesses that are driving lots of the work, employment and infrastructure that go into our economy.
They’ve been a lot of fun to work with. What I’ve seen from the most successful business owners and what I’ve experienced being a business owner myself is that the willingness to identify a problem and then try to think creatively about solving it and trying to gather as many ideas from as many places as possible has turned out to be extremely useful. When I observe business owners who have had the most success, they’re resilient, they brush themselves off, pick themselves up and just keep going. They’re interested in talking to other people, learning from lots of different sources and how to come up with an idea to solve a problem. I’ve tried to embrace a lot of that in my business ownership and the work that Jared and I do so that I can reap the benefits of it as well.
My advice if I had any to entrepreneurs and people who are earlier in their business lifecycle than we are is to find as many of those resources as possible and to be less black and white. Absorb ideas in their most abstract form so that you can take them apart and use pieces of them to solve your own problems. We implemented a solution in our company that came from some work. I was doing some, an audio course on infectious diseases. I just got interested in it and it’s a real thing. I like to learn new things and so I decided on this course. There was a particular part of the course that talked about how a particular organism is particularly successful. If you were listening, you could see that there’s a lesson there for the rest of us that had to do with how you essentially infiltrate a target market that’s been difficult. They don’t want to talk to me. They’re closing the door to us but we know that’s where we want to be. How do we get in the door? Reading about how a virus operates is not a bad way to think about getting in someplace that you’re not wanted.
It’s not that crazy that I decided to learn about something that was not connected to the business and be open to it and think maybe there’s something in the natural world that will give me an idea that no one else besides Jared even knows the history of this. It’s one of the ways that we try to innovate and that business owners, the more they can get outside of their own silo or focused attention are going to find ways to solve the problems that they never thought of. That’s what I would tell entrepreneurs and business owners who are trying to do what we’ve had to do, which is to find paths that have never been taken before.
The way I think about it is the CEO, the entrepreneur who started their business and was in it from the ground up, for so long they were the business. They were doing the day-to-day. They were the top salesperson. They hold all the client relationships. They knew who all the vendors were and we’re having to step away from being the business to running the business. Elizabeth and I say this all the time because we did, we came up through BEI. I was not hired as the CEO. Elizabeth was not hired as the president. We’ve helped different roles within the organization. When you step into that CEO role or that president role, we say it all the time, our job is not to do an employee’s job. Our job is to make decisions and deal with the consequences or have the responsibility of what those decisions led to.
My advice to a CEO who’s come up through the organization, I think many CEOs who get brought in from the outside, they know a lot of this stuff. They were hired to run it that way. If you’ve come up through the organization, maybe you are the founder of the business and saw it from your dream to now it’s your lifestyle, is to hire the people. Put the energy into developing people to do the work that gets your business moving forward and to understand that your role is not to be the top salesperson. Your role is not to be the person in the trenches all the time anymore. Your role is to make decisions and deal with the responsibilities and the consequences of those decisions. That’s why, to Elizabeth’s point, learning from different avenues, learning from your people, taking a broader view versus being head down in the business will allow you some perspective to make sure you’re making those good decisions and to make sure that you’re comfortable with the results that those decisions bring.
When you guys are out there talking to your “ideal clients,” what is the most common misconception about you guys from their perspective?
We’re an education company.
We have trained so many people over the last couple of years that the advisor community, which is our target market, is very aware of us. They will talk to each other, “Have you ever been to this? The BEI provides for that.” A lot of that comes from our longevity in the marketplace and we started with doing a lot of that work. We realized that the true value that we could bring our customers was in the things that come after the educational programs, we kept the education and then we developed all these things that are much more valuable to our customers and have been embraced by them. Those who heard of us a while ago or haven’t seen us in a while, know our founder from a couple of years ago are very likely to say, “I’ve been to one of your programs. I’ve seen one of you give a talk somewhere.” They think that we have information but what we’ve done is we’ve taken all that information and knowledge and put it into tools so that they can have it with them everywhere that they go and they help their clients.
It’s one thing to know how to do something or to know about something. It’s another thing entirely to be able to do it. That’s what we did. We started as an education company. As Elizabeth mentioned in the beginning, we set out to help more business owners or as we could and that started by educating the marketplace and helping advisors understand. Since then we’ve said, “We’ve taught you what to do, let’s give you the tools to do it.” We’ve seen a lot of success in the recent years but because we’ve been around for a couple of years at this point, and we do offer education and there were other organizations that offer education. Sometimes folks see some things and they’re like, “Exit planning education,” and we’re one of the top groups that come up. There aren’t a lot of people who were saying, “Exit planning tools.” I would say the second biggest misconception is that, “I’m already doing this work,” and the truth of the matter is they’re doing pieces of this work. What we have to help them see is what does it look like to offer the full package? To be able to have the tools to execute on being the quarterback of a team versus just being knowledgeable.
You guys are busy for sure, with being busy in the day-to-day roles of what you guys do, president and CEO. You have your separate duties and responsibilities and so on. What type of internal dialogue goes on between your ears to keep you leaning forward in the business when you come in?
I came up through my career. I started as a door-to-door book salesman. I was a big Zig Ziglar fan. I worked for a company called, The Southwestern Company out of Nashville. They hire college kids to go knock on doors and sell educational handbooks and study guides. Zig said in one of his books or speeches that you can have everything you want in life if you can help as many people as you want to get what they want in life. That is my internal dialogue. When it’s hard to get up in the morning, when I roll over and I look at my wife, I say, “How am I going to do this again?” I think about my people and about the business owners that we’re supporting. The truth of the matter is if I can help somebody get where they want to be, if I can help a business owner accomplish their goals and objectives. If I can help my entry-level staff person hit a target that they haven’t hit and they’ve been striving for three or four, five months sometimes, that is the motivation and drive that I have, to see the sense of accomplishment on their face, the achievement of a target. That’s what drives me. I roll over and I look around, “How am I going to do this? It’s 5:00 AM. I’ve got to go to the gym first. What am I going to do?” I think about Aaron, about Doug or about Lisa who works here and I say how, “If I don’t show up, how can I expect them to put in their effort?”It's one thing to know about something. It's another thing entirely to be able to do it. Click To Tweet
I could probably add that one of the things that I use in order to get through the particularly challenging times is it’s a form of visualization where I try to connect the things that I’m doing or the things that are on my list for now or on my calendar for now. I’m connecting those things to what I know where we’re going to be in the future. I can see a connection. If I can’t see it, I probably shouldn’t be doing it. I could see the connection between everything that’s on my list or my schedule for now and where we’re going to be in the future. I’m not interested in showing up here so that I could do the same thing I did yesterday.
I don’t think that sounds fun. I don’t think it sounds rewarding at all. My personality is not well-suited to doing the same thing over and over again. Everything that we’re doing is for a future purpose. When our staff people, people on my team are struggling, I’m talking to them about the same thing, “Now is hard. This project is hard.” We have a person who has been working for months on a particular project and it’s extremely difficult. What I talked to him about is, when those problems are solved and when that’s done, let’s think about how much further we are ahead and where we are with the business and your contribution to that. It’s hard and if the sun’s not out in Colorado, we’re all a little bit whiney. The sun is out all the time here. If it’s cloudy, “What are we going to do?” You’ve got to think about the things that you’re doing are contributing to something much bigger and it’s going to be a lot of fun when we get there. That’s what I’m telling myself every day when I’m tired.
That’s what she tells me too. I walk into her office. She said, “Where are we going to be in six months because you did the thing you did now?” If I can’t come up with an answer, I will say, “You probably should do that, don’t do it.”
For folks that are looking for you guys on social media, how or where do they find you?
We have @BEIExitPlanning.
We are on LinkedIn, Business Enterprise Institute page. We also have the Exit Planning Forum which Elizabeth and I are the Cofounders of that forum. We have many advisors who are talking and having great conversations in that forum.
What’s the name of your podcast?
It doesn’t have a name yet.
The podcast that shall go nameless.
It’s been narrowed down but it hasn’t been decided yet. Our website is ExitPlanning.com and that’s the place where you can go to everything. You can get to our Facebook, you can get to our Twitter, you can subscribe to our blog, you can get information right there on the website. All of our social media connections are going to link back to ExitPlanning.com and that’s where a lot of people start.
I would say whether you’re a business owner or you’re an advisor to business owners, go to ExitPlanning.com, sign up for the blog. We have content there for both business owners and advisors that will guide them through questions to ask not only to their business owner clients but for business owners to ask themselves about their business and suggestions on techniques and strategies that are going to help them prepare for a successful future.
If you guys were going to offer what you would consider your best advice or business intelligence to a small business owner that’s getting ready or thinking about transitioning out of their business, what might that be? A couple one or two things that the business owner can say, “I need to think about these things.”
The first thing I would say is to start about five years before you think you should start.
Time is on your side and it makes a very big difference. Working with an advisor who is interested in helping you plan for the future is critical. That being said, we get some questions from business owners saying, “I’m not ready to talk to my advisor yet. What should I do?” We can tell business owners that they can do themselves because they’re very do-it-yourself oriented people and start trying to think through your goals for the future. What do you want your relationship to your business to be? What do you want your financial situation to be? What do you want your family situation to be? How do you want to be connected or break the connection with your employees? How do you want your reputation in your industry or your community to proceed into the future?
Business owners are very capable when they get a moment or an hour or on vacation this year to think about what do they want their future to look like and to be very broad about that. Business owners are problem solvers by nature. I’ve noticed that they will try to solve their own problems, create their own plan for the future and maybe resist that temptation and just say, “In an ideal world, what would my outcome be? What can my business do for me and what can I do for my employees, my customers, my community and my future?” Think about your goals in the broadest possible sense and then there will always be a way to accomplish those goals. I’m very confident. I’ve been involved in thousands of exit plans, for thousands of business owners. No two of them have been the same. A great many of them have achieved impressive goals that were set forth by the business owners.
Elizabeth and Jared, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time.
Bob, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
- Jared Johnson
- Elizabeth Mower
- BEI on Facebook
- @BEIJJohnson – Jared’s Twitter account
- @BEIExitPlanning on Twitter
- Business Enterprise Institute on LinkedIn
- Exit Planning Forum
- Exit Planning blog
About Jared Johnson
As the CEO of Business Enterprise Institute (BEI), the preeminent Exit Planning resource for business owner-advisors in North America, Jared serves as an expert in helping Members understand the tools needed to grow a service offering to drive increased revenues within their firms.
He specializes in the implementation of strategies designed to grow revenue through client-centric models. Prior to Joining BEI, Jared was responsible for bringing in $250M in Annual Revenues in a global sales organization and developed strategies within a global financial institution to double sales revenue.
About Elizabeth Mower
As President for BEI, Elizabeth leads a specialized team in the development of resources, tools, materials and software that enable professionals in a variety of disciplines to work with business owners to design and implement comprehensive Exit Plans.
Before joining BEI, Elizabeth spent more than eight years as a practicing business and Exit Planning attorney with the Denver law firm of Minor & Brown.
During her time in private practice, Elizabeth represented clients in the areas of Exit Planning for business owners, business growth and continuity planning, business ownership transition planning, employee incentive planning, and the purchase and sale of business interests.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!