Episode 94: Growing Beyond The Seven Figure Revenue Plateau, With Brett Gilliland
What You Will Learn:
- Why more sales and more customers isn’t how you grow the business, but rather how you finance your future growth
- Why only 3-5% of businesses make it to seven figures in revenue, and why your strategy has to change once you reach the $1 million revenue plateau
- Why you must make a transition from entrepreneur to CEO, and why seven figure businesses grow one person at a time rather than one sale at a time
- How hiring the right new team members and cultivating the team members you already have is the secret to continued growth after you hit a revenue plateau
- Why you must push yourself as a leader to learn and grow so that you avoid becoming the bottleneck in your company’s growth
- What steps to follow to help you determine when to grow your team and which key roles you need to fill, by envisioning your “org chart of the future”
- How to determine a “healthy revenue per employee” metric to help you determine when to bring in new employees
- Why you should meet with your direct reports for 30 minutes each week to check their performance and develop their growth, and why you should have a quarterly review and planning team meeting
- Why you should listen to the future interview with Noah Gottlieb in episode 96 of the Elite Entrepreneurs podcast
About Brett Gilliland
Brett Gilliland is Founder and CEO of Elite Entrepreneurs, a company that specializes in giving $1M+ business owners the knowledge, processes, and tools to grow to $10M and beyond. Brett is an expert in organization development, leadership, and strategy and spent 10 years helping Infusionsoft grow from $7M in revenue to over $100M. Brett was involved in the foundational work of Purpose, Values, and Mission at Infusionsoft and facilitated the strategic planning process for many years.
One of Brett’s favorite professional accomplishments is co-creating Infusionsoft’s Elite Forum along with Clate Mask and building the Elite business inside of Infusionsoft. As the leader of the Elite business, Brett has helped hundreds of struggling seven-figure business owners overcome their biggest challenges and achieve new levels of success. He also played a central role in the development of Infusionsoft’s Leadership Model and was serving as the VP of Leadership Development when the decision was made to spin the Elite business out of Infusionsoft. As the new owner of Elite Entrepreneurs, Brett can’t think of anything else he’d rather be doing professionally. When Brett isn’t busy helping $1M+ businesses succeed, he is a family man who enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, Sharon, and their 8 children.
- Elite Business Health Assessment: https://growwithelite.com/health
- Email: info@GrowWithElite.com
- Website: https://growwithelite.com/
Listen to the podcast here
I’m going to share something in this episode that I hope will change the way you see growing your business. Most business owners believe some version of the following statement to be true. We grow the business by growing sales or we grow the business by getting more customers. I want to shift your thinking about this commonly held belief. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for growing sales. Truly, we can’t do anything in business without the lifeblood of cash. However, generating more cash isn’t how we grow the business. It’s how we finance the growth of our business.
Getting And Keeping Customers
That might seem a little counterintuitive or I’m trying to pull a fast one on you, but by the end of our time together, you’ll see what I mean. Let’s be clear. The vast majority of the mindset, skillset, and toolset needed to go from startup to a million in sales is all about figuring out how to get and keep customers. You have to figure out the product market fit and put something out there that people are willing to pay good money. Next comes learning how to sell. Some of us might still have twitches from remembering our first few sales calls.
Next, we learn about how to consistently generate leads for our product or service. We then have to get to the point where we can fulfill our product or service relatively easily at scale. At first, it wasn’t too bad. We fulfilled what we sold it. It was onesie twosies and it wasn’t bad, but as consistent lead generation happens and the sales begin to grow, we have to be able to fulfill at a higher volume. We got to be able to do that in a quality and consistent way. We have to be able to fulfill the value proposition that we sold to our customers in the first place.
All of this is figuring out the systems and processes for getting customers and delivering your promised value proposition to them consistently, and that takes some time. It’s this work that keeps more than 95% of all businesses that ever start from reaching $1 million or more in sales. Think about that. If you’re one of the relatively few who make it to that million-dollar mark, you’re elite. That’s why we call our business Elite Entrepreneurs because we serve seven-figure business owners that makeup only the top 3% to 5% of businesses that ever start that make it to $1 million.
Making A Shift
Once you’ve figured out how to get people to consistently buy your product or service and how to consistently deliver on the value proposition you sold at higher volumes, growing your business is no longer about growing your sales. That’s the part I was saying it might be a little counterintuitive, but growing your business after that million-dollar mark is not really about growing your sales. Once you make it to that million-dollar mark, the game changes. A shift is required. Most business owners who get there don’t figure that out right away. They hit a little ceiling and it’s frustrating.
Some of them try to grow by pushing themself and their people to do more. They think, “If I grind harder, have more tenacity, and will this thing forward, we’re going to get to that higher growth level. We’re going to get more sales.” That’s not the trick. Think about it this way. Imagine you’re on a bicycle with gears and that you reached the maximum output of the bike with the current gear. If you’ve ever been on one of those bicycles that has multiple gears, you know what I’m talking about.
You get started in a lower gear and you get to the point where you can pedal pretty freely, but the bike is not increasing in speed. You can pedal and pedal as fast as your legs will go. You only get incremental performance boosts from the bike in that gear. Any true performance gains you get from pedaling faster certainly aren’t sustainable. You’re going to wear yourself out by trying to get more out of the current gear.
It’s only when you shift to the next gear that you’ll be able to get increased performance from the bike without burning out. Some work is still required to move the bike forward, but it is a lot easier to maintain performance when you’ve shifted to the next gear. Our businesses are a lot like that. The journey from startup to a million has a few of the lower gear shifts in it, all the shifting and pedaling have to do with getting leads, learning to sell, and then building a predictable customer acquisition and fulfillment machine. Once you reach that million-dollar mark at the top end of the gear, you’ve been pedaling in, it’s time to shift.
Most business owners don’t do it. They think growing their business is still about marketing, sales, and customer success. By doing more of those things, then we’ll grow. Right? Wrong. The gear shift that needs to take place at a million in revenue is all about making the transition from entrepreneur to CEO. You’ve heard me talk about this before if you’ve read my blog. You have to go from gritty startup founder, tenacious, willing to do it all, a superhuman. You got to go from that. You have to shift to a new place where you now become a capable and confident business builder.
As you grow closer and closer to $10 million, we put more of a CEO label on that. Entrepreneur grows to a million. There’s a transition that has to happen in seven figures. You have to shift some things in your business if you want to keep growing, and that’s when you become more of a CEO, more of a leader of people, and over time, a leader of leaders. In order for that shift to take place, you have to do some things. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the shifts that are required in this episode, but for the rest of our time together, I want to shift the thinking in your mind if you’re at or approaching seven figures in revenue.
After still, $300,000, $500,000, and $700,000, you probably still need to work on sales, marketing, and consistent customer acquisition and fulfillment. If you’re starting to get close to that million-dollar mark, there’s a shift that has to happen. I want you to know that post million and sales, we grow our businesses one person at a time, not one sale at a time or one new customer at a time, but one person at a time. That is the new truth that you need to understand to keep growing your business. What do I mean? I’m glad you asked. At some point, you max out the performance, and you can squeeze out of the current machine.
Achieving Growth Through People
Once you achieve top performance in the current gear, no amount of new automation tools or process improvements is going to yield better results. You will only achieve growth from this point forward through people. Let me say it another way in the hopes that I can help you see this truth more clearly. Your business can only grow as far as the collective capability of the team will allow. You can’t perform at a higher level than the talent you have on the team.Your business can only grow as far as the collective capability of your team will allow. You cannot perform at a higher level than the talent you currently have. Click To Tweet
That’s true when it comes to the leadership team if you’ve been having one at this point. What are the implications of what I shared? It means that you have two options if you want to grow past $1 million. For some of you, I know you push past that. Maybe you’ve got closer to $2 million. Maybe you’ve even squeezed out $3 million in revenue. You’re pedaling really hard or you’ve automated things like crazy. You’ve got tons of leverage in your business. That’s awesome. In order to keep growing past the point that you’re starting to stick, you have to hire more people to increase capacity to perform, or you have to develop the current team members to be able to do more than what they can do.
In my experience, it’s not an oral situation. You need to do both if you want to grow. You have to add the right team members to the team, and you have to develop the people you have. One more huge asterisk to this whole thing is if you don’t level up your own leadership as the owner of the business, you’ll likely become a built-in obstacle to your business’s growth. I promise that leading a $300,000 business is different from leading a $1 million business. If you’ve done that, you know what I mean. It continues from there. A $3 million business is different than a $10 million business.
If you and any other key leaders in your business get good at running a $1 million business but you don’t know or you don’t learn what it looks like to lead a $3 million or a $10 million business, you aren’t going to get there. You’ll be stuck in that lower gear. My good friend, Clate Mask, who’s Cofounder and CEO of Keap, would openly discuss his own need for continuously growing himself as a leader on our run from seven figures to $100 million in revenue. Here’s what he would tell our new hires as part of their onboarding.
Clate would say, “I’m not the CEO today that this company will need me to be in twelve months or a year from now. However, you can count on the fact that by the time we get there, I will be.” Think of the power in that statement, the recognition of a CEO who was leading a fast-growing company that he knew that when we were at $1 million, even if he mastered what $1 million looked like, that would not prepare him well for what $3 million looked like, and when we tripled again, what $10 million looked like, and when we tripled again, what $30 million looked like, and when we tripled again, what $100 million would look like.
It was very rare for a founder to take their business all the way from startup to $1 million to $10 million to $100 million, but Clate did it and I watched him do it. It wasn’t effortlessly. It was full of effort. Here’s what he would do. He would read six books per quarter. He went to CEO development programs. He got himself a coach, and he learned from other businesses and their leaders. He was constantly pushing himself to learn and grow, which allowed the business to keep growing as well. When he said to new hires, “I’m not the CEO today that this company will need me to be a year from now. However, by the time we get there, you can count on the fact that I will be,” he fully understood that he was the biggest bottleneck to the growth of the company, and he was going to make sure that he was not going to be that obstacle.
Let’s get a little more practical on the hiring side of things. I’m claiming that you only grow your business one person at a time once you get to that seven-figure mark. After you hit that million-dollar mark, the only way to grow is one person at a time. How do you know which roles to fill and in what order? How do you know when you can afford to bring on a new person? I’ve taught and worked with hundreds and hundreds of seven-figure business owners like you over the past years. They always have this question. It’s like this chicken and egg situation, and I’ll talk about that a little bit later.
You’ve got to start with setting the vision for your business with your team, which includes a clearly stated destination-oriented mission with accompanying mission goals and mission strategies. This isn’t an open-ended mission. It’s a specific, “We will accomplish X by Y date,” type of mission. Armed with mission clarity, you project your business into the future to the point of completing the mission you set. It’s a little bit of a visioning type of exercise, but you time travel to the future at the point of completing your mission and you look around.
You say, or you ask yourself the question, “What will the team need to look like at that point in time in order to be doing that level of business?” You’re going to create a future or chart. You’re organizing how you think the work will be at that point in time in order to produce the level of business you’re producing at the end of the mission. No names are needed on this org chart. I don’t care what the team looks like now. None of the names matter. None of the people matter at this point.
It’s a box for each unique role in the business and how you imagine all the boxes connecting with one another. In other words, the reporting relationships and how that will look in the future. Stephen Covey was famous for teaching us to begin with the end in mind as part of his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That’s exactly what we’re doing with this design of the org chart of the future exercise. We’re looking ahead and we’re creating the blueprint for what we think the organizational structure or that team will need to look like when we achieve our future mission.
You’ll then come back to the team and the structure you have now. You start identifying what your next key hires will be, the order and the timing of those hires. You’re creating the bridge to the future org chart from this team. You’re saying, “This is what the future looks like. Here’s what now looks like,” and you’re starting to create this bridge of the hiring plan that you’re going to follow between now and the future. Let’s get practical. No self-respecting business owner that I’ve worked with is going to simply start hiring people without ensuring that the business can afford to make those hires.
If you’re telling yourself, “This Brett guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I can’t start adding more infrastructure, more overhead, and more expense,” you’re right. You can’t start doing that. This is where we get into that chicken and egg I was talking about earlier. It is the scenario where you feel like, “I can’t afford to bring somebody on, but if I don’t bring somebody on, I’ll never grow.” Sometimes we think, “I need more sales before I can hire somebody.” At times, we say, “I need to hire somebody so I can get more sales.” That’s where the chicken and eggs scenario comes in. That’s a classic conundrum.
What do we do about that? For revenue-generating roles, it’s pretty easy. You can see the clear return on investment. If I pay someone to generate revenue, the revenue they generate should pay for themselves and then some. I’m willing to do that. For customer service or fulfillment roles, you have to be looking at that sales growth trajectory and we got to stay ahead of it, or we’re going to slow down the growth. That’s usually pretty easy to see as well. We add more sales. You need more customer service or fulfillment people, and we see-saw that back and forth. More customer acquisition muscles, more fulfillment muscle, and we add that as we can afford it over time.
The tricky roles are those back office or support roles like finance, HR, or IT where we have a hard time justifying those hires from an ROI standpoint. Here’s what I would suggest for that challenge. There are three things I’m going to talk about. First, you need to learn what healthy revenue per employee looks like for your business. What do I mean by that? You take your total revenue for the month, the quarter, or the year, whatever period you’re looking at, and you divide that by the average number of employees during that period. If you watch that trend over time, you’re going to start to see a pattern where you can see clearly where you’re at, below, or ahead of a healthy revenue per employee measure.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say that a comfortable annual revenue per employee number for your business is $200,000 per employee. That would mean five employees generating $1 million for the year or 10 people producing $2 million in business for the year. When you hire one more person, what’s going to happen with that revenue per employee? It’s immediately going to drop. In the short term, that number is going to drop, but then over time, that number will start to go back up as the new team member’s performance is added to the overall capacity or capability of the team.
Once that revenue per employee number consistently exceeds that healthy mark again, that $200,000 per employee that we talked about at the beginning, you can now afford to hire someone else. I made up $200,000 per employee. For your business, it might be $180,000 or it might be $300,000 per employee. I don’t know what a healthy number is for your business. I do know that in the beginning, it’s a lot smaller. Over time, you start to move that up. Large businesses get that number up to $500,000 per employee.
A $200,000 per employee is a pretty healthy number to start with unless your business requires a higher level. Another thing you can do to make sure that you’re not hiring ahead of your affordability is to make sure you quantify the ROI you would expect from hiring a support role. For example, if you hire an IT person, how would that person’s work enable others on the team to produce more revenue or save more time or expense? You would never hire an IT person who was only going to add more expense with no demonstrable benefit to the business.
We both know that, but for your peace of mind, in addition to getting that revenue per employee number for affordability, it would help you to see, “How I expect this hire to pay off in terms of more revenue, more time, or cost saving?” Here is one last recommendation on this point about how to justify these back office, or support roles or how to think about them as being affordable. You can save up some money before you hire them to make that a little less risky. I would recommend saving up a few months, maybe 3 or 4 months of payroll for the position you’re hiring so you don’t feel like you’re putting your whole business at risk by adding the expense of a new hire.
As a related side note, don’t get sucked into thinking in annual salary terms when you’re contemplating the risk of hiring someone. Even a $100,000 or $120,000 employee isn’t $100,000 or $120,000 worth of risk. You’re only risking the amount of money you’re paying every pay period. If it isn’t going well, you need to stop it quickly. Cut your losses and find a better candidate. Don’t think in terms of a six-figure risk on that hire. Think in terms of, “How much will it cost me for one pay period?” If I like what’s happening and if I see that the ROI is going to be there, I keep making that risk every pay period.
Practical Ways To Develop People
If I see that it’s not going well, I cut my losses and move on. Find a better candidate or go a different direction altogether. Circling back to developing people to grow your business, I already talked about you developing yourself to enable growth, but you have to develop others as well. One of the most common problems I see in businesses that aren’t growing or who are growing so fast that their teams can’t keep up is that they woefully under-invest in developing their people, especially their leaders. Here’s the next question from you as a business owner, “How do we have enough money or enough time to develop people when we’re so busy getting and keeping customers?”
I’m going to give you three practical ways to do this. First, meet for 30 minutes every week with every person on the team who directly reports to you. When you’re smaller, I know every team member reports to you. It’s 30 minutes per person. As you get bigger, as you add a leader, some of those people go to the leader. You have fewer direct reports, but no matter how many direct reports you have, I highly encourage you to meet every single week for 30 minutes with each person who directly reports to you. We call these one-on-ones and they’re essential. This weekly opportunity is a chance for you to connect with your people, check on their performance, and coach them on their growth.
You don’t have to go to a formal seminar, a formal event, or some sort of training program to develop your people. You can develop them 30 minutes at a time every week, coaching them on their growth. That’s the first practical idea. The second practical idea for developing your people without a ton of time and money is to have a formal quarterly review where you evaluate their performance and growth from the previous quarter of the one that’s wrapping up. You plan for their performance and development for the coming quarter. This simple practice, if you do it every single quarter, you will see improved performance from your team and you will see improved growth because you’re planning for it.You don’t have to go to a formal seminar or event to train your people. You can develop them a few minutes a week by coaching them on their growth. Click To Tweet
You’re not only wrapping up with a formal review of performance and development, but you’re making a plan together with your team members, or how they’re going to perform in the next quarter, what the expectations are, and how they’re going to develop in the next quarter. That simple practice along with the weekly one-on-one will go a long way. Here is the last idea that is really powerful as well. It doesn’t replace but adds to the previous two that I shared. It is to develop your people in the process of doing the work. You do not have to send them to seminars and conferences for them to grow.
That’s certainly nice. They will enjoy it. There’s a place for that. It does supplement what you’re doing on your own back in the office or the trenches, but you can grow your people by giving them work that needs to be done anyway. Let me tell you two stories to drive that point home. There was a very well-known CEO of General Electric, GE. His name is Jack Welch. For years and years, he was held up as the model of a successful CEO. He grew GE very successfully. One time Jack Welch was asked the question. “How much time do you spend developing your people? How much time do you spend on leadership development?”
Jack responded, 70% of his time. Here is one of the most successful CEOs, always held up as an example of how you should be a CEO and how you should develop leaders. GE was known as a leadership development factory, and he was telling somebody, “I spent 70% of my time developing people.” The people who were asking that question called his bluff and said, “We don’t believe it. Show us your calendar.” Jack gladly pulled out his calendar and showed him his calendar. You can imagine how full his calendar was CEO of a Fortune 100 company. His calendar was booked solid.
The person asking the question didn’t see anything that said leadership development on it. “Jack, you’re lying. There’s nowhere near 70% in your calendar dedicated to leadership development.” Jack said, “No you’re wrong. You misunderstand. Do you see this meeting I have, this board meeting that’s blocked off on my calendar? In this board meeting, I have this person I’m developing. I’ve given this special assignment to one of my team members.” He was actively developing his team in the process of doing this board meeting that had to happen anyway.
“Do you see this earnings call that I have on this day? I have so and so preparing the report and I have another person delivering part of the earnings call in preparation for their leadership, their future leadership, and their future roles.” One by one, Jack went through these meetings and pointed out how indeed at least 70% of his time was spent actively developing team members or actively developing future leaders in his company, but he did it in the process of doing the work that had to be done anyway. Let me match that up with another story. I interviewed a man named Noah Gottlieb. He is the CEO of his really cool company.
If you want to read the full episode, it’s Episode 96: Noah Gottlieb. What I learned from Noah matches well with Jack’s story. Noah’s company is growing super fast called The X Company. What he found is that if he found himself doing a task or doing work still that he’d been doing six months previously, it was time to pass it off to somebody else. In other words, no one knew that if he didn’t pass on the assignment to somebody else, he was going to get stuck doing that work and the business growth would stall. It’s kind of the corollary to what I told about Clate earlier, where Clate said, “I got to grow fast in order to keep up with the growth of this business.”
Noah is doing that the same way, only he talked about it a little differently. He wasn’t talking about his own growth. He was talking about shedding responsibilities fast enough, and if he held on to something longer than six months, he knew he was doing it too long and that the growth of his company was going to stall as a result. I love that Jack Welch was developing people in the process of doing his work and that Noah added some perspective to that by saying, “I have to get rid of things as fast as I can. If I am doing it longer than six months, it’s too long. I got to find somebody to give that to.”
Hopefully, you found that to be helpful. You only grow your business one person at a time once you’ve achieved that million-dollar mark. You have to hire the right people, and you have to develop the people you have. Those are the only two paths to the growth. Developing the people you have includes yourself. It starts with that person in the mirror. If you’re not pushing yourself to continue to grow as a leader, your business will stall. The growth will stop. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice business or can’t make good money.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a lifestyle business. Maybe you can achieve all of those things, but if you have any intentions of growing further than where you are now and you want to do it without pedaling like crazy, you want to do it without going crazy, then you have to grow your business one person at a time. That starts with you, your development, and the development of your team. It also includes hiring people who can help you grow further. Thanks for reading.
Please share with others, like, and review our show so we can help as many seven-figure business owners as possible and make the shifts needed in their businesses. If you want any help with the things that we’ve talked about, this is all we do. We spent all of our time helping seven-figure business owners figure out these shifts in themselves, their people, and their businesses so they could have the business that they always wanted. Join us again for another episode. I look forward to seeing you week after week as we bring you great content and great ideas to help you grow your business.
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