Episode 141: The Success Story Of An Accidental Entrepreneur With Katie Harris
You’ll never know what lies ahead on the path you’re walking. The journey transforms us into something or someone we do not expect. In this episode, Katie Harris, the Co-Owner of Get Found First and Spot On Solutions, takes us through her journey to becoming an accidental entrepreneur. She shares many insights on how she thrives and provides wisdom to help the business grow. Katie illuminates success by elevating the people around her and simultaneously scaling the business. Tune in to this insightful talk with an accidental entrepreneur, Katie Harris!
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Every week, we bring great guests with us, like business owners who have been there, done that, have seven-figure businesses or scaled well into seven figures and beyond. This episode is no exception. My guest is Katie Harris. Katie has at least two businesses that we’re going to talk about. She is the Co-Owner of Get Found First and Spot On Solutions. Get Found First is a Google Premier Partner Managed Agency. They manage ad spend for over 600 companies in all industries. In 2020, 2021, and 2022, Get Found First was named to the prestigious Inc. 5000 list as the fastest-growing privately-held company in the United States. More importantly, something I geek out about is that you had been named in the Top 10 best places to work for in Idaho off and on for several years.
Anyway, we’ll talk more about that. In addition to the great things that have happened in your businesses, Katie is a Certified John Maxwell Leadership Coach and Certified on DISC. She does lots of great things, including volunteer work for Court Appointed Special Advocate, the volunteer role she does for children in foster care. She was part of a group that wrote a book called Uncommon Results, and Katie wrote the chapter on Believe in Big Things. Let me officially welcome you, Katie, to our show.
Thank you. It’s always fun to visit with you. I had so much fun even before we started recording, catching up with you a little bit.
It’s the reason I’m excited about having you here is that you have done so much and you bring a ton of energy and passion to topics that we hold very dear here at Elite Entrepreneurs. That will be very instructive here for our audience. Let’s jump in. Tell us about starting up two businesses in East Rural Idaho.
We’re in such a rural part of East Idaho. As a matter of fact, for a long time, people have been like, “You’re from Idaho? Google comes to Blackfoot.” We do it right here. We were hidden away for a while, but we love it.
You have the two businesses you started up about the same time.
I’ll tell you right now, I am an absolute accidental entrepreneur. There was no big plan to go start a business. My whole background is in traditional media in journalism, but then I raised three kids. When my youngest kids started school, I went back to work at a newspaper. That’s where I met Michael Johnson, one of my business partners. He was young, smart, and way into digital. I fell in love with digital and everything you could do. I literally followed him out of a building one day. I told him he should hire me, and that started us on our road to where we are now.
That’s Get Found first. Tell us about Spot On Solutions.
In Spot On Solutions, we do the same thing. We’re a digital marketing agency. We build websites, run Google Ads, and do your FCO and Facebook marketing. One of our clients owned a cleaning and restoration business. Derek is his name. He was a very big skeptic when it came to digital, but all of a sudden, he started to get good results. What do we do when we get good results? We refer our friends. Before we knew it, we were working with so many cleaning and restoration companies that the entrepreneur and Derek kicked in, and he’s like, “Let’s do this for this industry.” We set up a vertical company called Spot On Solutions. We now work with over 250 companies throughout the United States that are in the service industry, cleaning, restoration, HVAC, and roofing.
Similar work, but that’s the vertical version of it.
Now that we know a little bit about you, let’s learn about some of the lessons that you’ve learned and the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years of scaling these businesses. You know this, but I’m going to repeat it for everybody here. Even though we honor it immensely, we’re not going to talk about that hard stage of starting and growing from $0 to $1 million or going from just 2 partners to 8, 10, or 12 people.
We’re going to talk about what happens once you hit that seven-figure mark thereabouts, and some of the new challenges you got to figure out so that you can keep growing. Being on that Inc. 5000 list is amazing one time, but being on there year after year is another thing. We want to learn about some of the growth or scaling challenges and what you figured out that helps you keep going through those.
One of the things I learned early is the first time we went to our first Fortune 500 company, we were so worried about it. I remember we prepped like crazy. We were so ready. We flew to Miami, went in to visit with this Fortune 500 company, and we had prepared so much stuff thinking they were going to have such different challenges than everybody else we worked with. I remember when we walked in there and we started talking to them. They’re telling us they have the same marketing questions that small businesses had.
Michael and I have this big light bulb moment where we’re like, “Their challenges are the same. They’re just on such a bigger scale.” That lesson has stuck with me as we’ve grown these companies because I remember what it felt like to go from 3 to 10 to 20 employees but then you get to 60 employees. It’s the same challenges. It’s just on a much bigger scale. One of the things I wish I had learned faster that I’m still trying to catch up to is the value of systems in your business. When you’re going to scale anything, those systems become so mission-critical to being able to do it successfully.When you scale anything, the value of systems in your business becomes mission-critical to do it successfully. Click To Tweet
I love that. It’s like an overarching principle or lesson that systems are essential to scaling. Can we get a little more specific about the ones that you found to be especially crucial for your ability to go from 3 to 10 to 20 to 60 people? Maybe we talk about some of those people systems that have helped you.
One of the people systems is who we hire and how we hire. That all goes to culture. I know we spend a ton of time with you trying to identify what our vision is, what our purpose is, and how you articulate that. That happened for us when we were past the $1 million mark. Honestly, we grew to $1 million before we could even clearly articulate what our vision was. We then hit these road bumps, and it’s like, “How do we go forward? How do we do this? How do we attract the right people?”
I remember we came to Arizona, met with you and Dan, and sat in a class. I remember trying to get our vision articulated. Dan kept saying to us, “I don’t buy it. I don’t believe it. Sell me.” We worked and worked. When we left that class that day, we had four words that were our vision. That became our mantra in recruiting. The system in how we recruited and how we put culture into that helped us start to attract the people we wanted here.
We couldn’t do it willy-nilly. All of a sudden, it can’t be like, “We need more people. Go hire.” We had to figure out, “How can you project when you’re going to need to scale so that you can have enough people on the bus that know how to do the job in time to take the work?” You have to figure out what does your growth trajectory look like so that you can plan, “How many people do I need to have? When do I need to start hiring? How do I have to have them trained so that I can have them ready to do the work as the sales come in?”
That’s awesome that you guys figured that out when you did because every business has to. It’s frustrating sometimes, this little balancing act where it’s like, “Do I bring them in before I need them? I can afford to do that. If I wait too long, then the client’s success or the client’s experience suffers because they don’t have everybody there.” There’s this expense fulfillment thing, this little dance we’re trying to do to get it right. It sounds like you guys did some work to get your vision in place so that you knew what type of people to get lined up, and then you had to do some other work maybe to figure out the frequency or the timing of when to bring them in.
We couldn’t figure that out on our own. We’d never done that before. We’d never ran a million-dollar business before. We’d never had that many people. We didn’t know how to do it. One of the most critical things is we just went and found people that did know how to do that. We could have figured it out, but it would’ve taken us a long time and we would’ve screwed it up in the process. We figure out what that pain point looks like, and you can tell when you hit those growth points in your business. It’s like, “I got to do something different. This was working. This is not working now.” Every time we hit those, I feel like, “It’s time to reach out to a coach because I don’t know how to get to the next place I need to be.”
That whole coaching routine flows. It’s like coach, learn, implement, and then coach again, implement. That wheel never stops. Also, this wheel of sale, higher, and train never stops either because I’m either in a high sell mode, a high recruiting mode, or a high training mode. At any given time, those two wheels just have to keep turning.
I love that you called out the coaching thing, not because that’s how I spend my time, but because I learned the same thing in our experience at Keap with Clate. He would always put it this way. He said, “I’m not the CEO that the business needs me to be twelve months from now. By the time we get there, you can count on the fact that I will be.” It’s like, “I have to keep pushing and growing myself so that we collectively can go where we’re trying to go.” I think that’s true of the leadership collectively, but it’s especially true for the founder, CEOs, and co-founders. Those that are trying to take this somewhere have to keep pushing themselves in order to level up the business.
I’ve always reminded my team, “Be patient with me. I’ve never done this before.” When we hit those phases, I’m like, “Remember, I’ve never done this before.” I’ve also learned as the team gets bigger and the company gets bigger. I get a little bit more distant from people. I don’t see everybody every single day. I try to. I try to talk to them, but sometimes I’m like, “It’s 4:00 in the afternoon. I haven’t even said hi to that person yet.”
That idea of letting yourself be a little bit vulnerable and be like, “I’m trying to figure it out.” They respond to that. There’s a little bit of grace that gets granted when it’s like, “This isn’t working great, but they know it’s not working great. They’re working on it. They’re growing, too.” I love that kind of atmosphere where they see me, Michael, Derek, and our leadership team working to get better and working to figure things out. I think it makes it a little bit safer for them to say like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done this before.” There’s that grace to work to figure it out.
I love that you’re using words like atmosphere, vulnerability, and grace. These are very fuzzy types of concepts, but they are the things that enable a team of people to come together in a very healthy way to co-create a future together. It seems like it’s working well for you guys, so well done. I want to go back to something that you referenced. You glossed over something that should be very familiar with people who are listening, but I want to call out the specifics if we can.
You said something like, as we’re growing, we get to those sticking points or stopping points, and you go, “I got to figure out what’s next. I got to figure out how to go to the next thing.” I’d like to sit for a minute on how you know you’re hitting one of those spots. What is it that you’re experiencing that’s not working right? Something’s off, but let’s get more specific about what’s off. How do you start to see that?
First of all, those spots suck. Those spots are not fun. How do you say when something is bad? You just know it. What happens is I start to hear myself, my people, or my team complaining about the same things. We’re constantly banging our heads against the same problem, or I’m running into the same complaint, and I don’t have a solution for it. That’s a pretty good red flag. “We better look at this. Maybe this worked at one point in time, but it’s not working right now. What’s not working?” You need to be fast to get curious. What that looks like is you got to sit down with a lot of different people in a lot of different spaces and ask some good questions so that you can start to see.
The first thing you get is pain. People are complaining, something doesn’t feel good, and then it’s like, “Now, I got to get curious, ask some questions, and figure out what that is.” I find that a lot of times, the first thing I go to is not what the actual problem is. I got to go a couple of layers deeper to figure out what’s broken or what needs change is different than what it looks like at first glance.
I love that you mentioned being very outward-focused of, “I’m hearing complaints or a pattern of frustration from other people around problems that are recurring. Things that we used to have figured out and went smoothly, now they’re not. Those are pretty tangible examples of things that start to happen when you get in that funky, no-fun place. If you turn it to you, what do you notice in yourself when you’re in that place? What are any red flags in yourself that come up?
Those same things. I’ll hear myself maybe say something negative. That’s a red flag for me. If I’m feeling like that, I guarantee you, other people are feeling like that. If that’s my reaction to something, I guarantee you it’s somewhere else. One of our values is that we face challenges with optimism. It’s very core to who we are. We face challenges with optimism. Things are going to be hard. Sometimes things aren’t going to work, but we’re going to be optimistic about it. Personally, if I hear myself start to be negative about stuff, that’s my big red flag. I’m not a negative person by nature. I’m just a pretty optimistic person. If I hear myself saying things or feeling negative, I know I’ve got a huge red flag for myself because if I’m that way, I guarantee you the problem goes a lot further.
You talked about getting furious fast. It’s like, “I got to figure out what’s going on here.”
Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made along the way are making assumptions. I assume I know why somebody decided to quit and I’m wrong. We had somebody who worked for us and he was awesome. He was a great member of our team. We knew he had some other things going on. We weren’t overly happy with him at that moment, but he gave his notice and he quit. We were like, “Fine. Good riddance. I saw the writing on the wall.” It was a big reality check when we sat down. We did his exit interview with him and we asked him some questions. I’m like, “I was wrong. I did not have all the right information. If I had asked better questions sooner, I would’ve handled this situation totally different.”
To lose assumptions about things, especially detailed things like performance that’s happening with people. I assume I know what’s breaking in something, but I’m not doing the work every single day. I don’t know that stuff. I got to ask questions and ask good questions. That ability to get curious instead of get defensive, make assumptions, and jump the gun forces you to slow it down a little bit. I don’t know other DI personality styles, but we’re pretty quick to take action, jump in, solve a problem, and move on. You don’t solve everything when you do it that fast. When you get curious, pause long enough to ask some good questions. You just make better decisions. If you get better information, you make better decisions.
A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved or something like that, like, “Let’s figure it out.” Even if we’re accidental entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurs in us are like, “I’m a capable problem solver.” We just start jumping on that.
We’ve got so many things we’re handling. We’re juggling different things, we’re making decisions fast, and we get into this mode of make a decision and go. I find that the more you scale, the more people you’re responsible for, and the bigger your business gets, you’ve got to pause it a little bit. Some of those decisions are not best when they’re made fast. As a matter of fact, very rarely if something requires an escalated level of decision-making. If it involves a person or a client, I will oftentimes say, “You got to give me overnight.” As a general rule for myself, slow it down. What questions are you missing? What assumptions are you making? This can last for twelve hours. It’ll be fine if you solve it in 12 hours instead of jumping in right now. Usually, that perspective changes and it changes in a much smarter way.
If we’re dealing with something that feels like it needs seconds to respond, maybe we can at least stretch that into minutes. If it feels like in the next few minutes, it’s the next few hours or whatever. Just give a little space to get curious, ask good questions, and figure it out before we knee-jerk react.
If we do that, we’re going totally off of emotion and we’ve got our blinders on. When we have quick reactions, it’s all from our perspective. Our own perspectives, 100% cloud, whatever judgments we’re making. If we don’t give enough time to sit down and remove that, whatever decision we make is clouded with our own prejudices or biases.Our perspectives are 100% cloud, whatever judgments we're making. If we don't give enough time to sit down and remove that, we cloud our decisions with our prejudices or biases. Click To Tweet
You mentioned in this specific example of the team member who was leaving and you had assumptions, you sat down with him doing an exit interview. I want to call that out as a practical practice because a lot of business owners don’t make a habit of doing exit interviews. At some point, it’s like, “They’re leaving. What good is it to talk to them?” There’s a lot of valuable insight. There’s a lot of unspoken going on before that.
Some of the best information will come when they’re leaving because there’s nothing to lose.
The risk is gone for them. Not that we’re hunting for negative stuff to drum up, but it is a valuable perspective in a moment of time that doesn’t come that often. Let’s at least take that opportunity to get a little curious and learn some things so we can be better.
I’ll tell you a couple of things I’ve learned in exit interviews. I don’t do the exit interviews anymore. One of the things with scaling is we have an HR director that’s in here and does it. I think that’s even better, quite frankly. Just because people will speak to a third party or an HR person maybe even more honestly and directly than they’ll speak to an owner, having that degree of separation has some real benefits to it.
A couple of the things that we’ve learned that have been telling one of the biggest ones, a couple of people have left, and they said, “I knew I wasn’t doing a good job. I was just waiting for you to tell me.” We badly want people to like us and think, “We’re going to coach up, give them another chance, and give them the benefit of the doubt.” We put up with stuff. We get irritated and resentful, but when somebody’s leaving on an exit interview, and they’re like, “I know. I wanted you to tell me. Why didn’t you tell me? I knew it.” That one sticks with me.
Whenever we’re coaching team members, we keep coming back to this idea that you’ve got to be direct and make sure they know what the expectation is. Be direct in your language, almost without fail. What that leads to sometimes is some hard conversations with people, maybe even tears. Our success at up-leveling somebody when we’re willing to have those conversations directly, I can’t even believe what a huge difference that makes in somebody. They’re either out the door right then or they get significantly better and faster than you thought they could.
I was sitting here thinking. I wish there was some magical way in a conversation like this to have little dollar sign bubbles that start to go. How much would be saved in turnover or onboarding costs if we could figure out how to have better coaching or leveling up conversations with our people? It’s significant money, but we have a hard time taking some of these people’s issues or people conversations and translating them to dollars. If you could put a price tag on it, I don’t know how much money you saved by developing people. Not just having churn and burn people, bring some new ones in, and get the old ones out. Have you guys done any analysis on what kind of money you save?
There are a lot of studies out there on what it costs to hire and train somebody. We’ve had a big focus on our internal training program. We’ve looked at some of that. You’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s not an exaggeration. Our purpose is on a big mural on the wall in our office. It’s “We elevate people and businesses.” We’re a digital marketing company. We build websites and run Google ads. The purpose and the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is to elevate people and businesses.
For me, the dollar cost is a big deal, but I’ve seen people in our companies change the trajectory of their whole entire life. You can’t put a dollar sign on that. When you got somebody that started working for you 6, 7, or 8 years ago and they couldn’t have a phone conversation or complete a task, all of a sudden, they’re leading a team, talking to Fortune 500 companies, and got confidence. That’s awesome.
In Blackfoot, Idaho.
I’m just kidding. As you think about your scaling journey, are there any other significant pain points that you remember? We were just getting stuck or I was getting stuck in the way I was leading and I had this breakthrough? I’d love to share one more little breakthrough.
Probably this is the other thing that’s made a huge difference to us. As our team started to grow and grow fast, we would think we were being so professional and smart. We’d send out a memo like, “We have a new policy.” Next thing you know, our team is freaking out. Everybody is upset. We’re like, “This is not a big deal. What is going on?” The bigger the team got, this was happening all the time. Remember I said, when something happens all the time and you keep hearing it, you got to do something different.
One of my friends says, “What are your personality styles in your office?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” He’s like, “I do this. Let me DISC your whole office and see what your personality styles are.” He did that. It came back that me, Michael, Derek, and one other, Michael Tominaga, who’s the Vice President and has been with us for a long time, had very outgoing personalities and ID personality styles. Every other person in our office, every single other person we had hired, was the complete opposite of us. They were SC personality styles, more introverted. When I learned that, I was like, “We’re freaking them out every time we do this. We must drive them crazy. Our personalities must absolutely drive them crazy.”
That meant we had to get clear on who we were. What is my personality style? How does that come across to other people? We started training that company-wide. Before you ever even start working here, you’re going to get a personality assessment. On day one of your training, you’re going to sit in a DISC training. We’re going to teach you about different personality styles, understanding your own, and how to communicate. Whenever you go into our Slack channel where we communicate with each other, you’ll have Katie Harris and then you’ll have DI personality style. No matter where I go, I always know what somebody’s personality style is.
The very first time you’re in some conflict with someone, the first thing you stop back and think, “What is my personality style? What is theirs?” Almost always, you see what that conflict is right out of the bat. If I can adjust the way I’m communicating, this is going to go a whole lot better. That right there probably has done more to scale our team. 1) Having our vision clearly articulated for everybody. 2) Understanding our own personality styles and each other’s personality styles. I love it when I walk down and somebody’s telling me, “We disagreed on how to do this, but I’m a D personality and she’s a C.” I’m like, “That’s right.”
Now, it’s not personal. It’s not insulting. It’s just like, “We’re having a challenge here because I’m this way and she’s that way, so we’re working it out.” I love that so much because that follows us home at night. That goes home in our relationships, in our parenting, and in everything we do. When somebody starts to get super clear on their own and then if you understand that somebody else is the greatest fear of different personality styles, you can pretty much improve relationships right out of the gate.
There you are again, elevating people and businesses. I’m fascinated every time I talk to a wonderful entrepreneur like you, Katie. Even if you said you accidentally became one, which I can relate to, you didn’t talk to us about client acquisition as the key to scaling. You didn’t talk to us about the next ERP system or CRM system. I’m not saying any of that is unimportant, but as I talked to you about what were some of the challenges and how you worked through them, you talked about setting vision, understanding your assumptions, and getting curious. You talked about helping people understand themselves and each other better so we can coordinate this growing group of people. It’s interesting how often it comes back to some of these people things.
To be fair, you did say at the beginning that we need scalable systems. Sometimes that system is for some of those functional areas, but then we went into examples about hiring and other people-related stuff. I’m always fascinated when we talk to somebody who’s been in a fast-growing company and in one of those top places to work, it often comes back to some of these people and leadership lessons that make the difference. Thank you for sharing that.
Thanks for letting me. I love it. It has been fun to get that vision secured with everybody. It just means everybody rows in the same direction. That’s how you scale a business. That’s how you build a team. You get everybody rowing in the same direction, and all of a sudden, the speed at which you can do stuff is exponential.You get everybody rowing in the same direction. That's how you scale a business. That's how you build a team. Suddenly, the speed at which you can do stuff is exponential. Click To Tweet
Katie, if people want to connect with you on social or learn more about either of your businesses, how would they best do that?
Our websites are GetFoundFirst.com and SpotOnSolutions.com. I’d love to connect with everybody on LinkedIn. It’s Katie Harris. I think Idaho is what my tag is up there on LinkedIn. I’d love to connect with you there.
Tell us one more time about your Uncommon Results book. I want to make sure that people can find that.
I was able to author one chapter. My chapter in that is Believe in Big Things. I get to come out and be with you here in a couple of weeks. The very first thing I’m going to start off is by talking about when you build a dream team. You have to believe in big things. The name of the book is Uncommon Results: Secrets & Strategies of High Performance Entrepreneurs.
Thanks again for being here, Katie. To all of you tuning in, thanks for being with us. Please share it with as many seven-figure business owners as possible. We want to share the lessons learned from real entrepreneurs like Katie, like you, and help as many as we can. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time.
- Get Found First
- Spot On Solutions
- Uncommon Results: Secrets & Strategies of High Performance Entrepreneurs
- Katie Harris – LinkedIn
About Katie Harris
Katie Harris is an entrepreneur and marketer who has helped hundreds of businesses with their marketing. She is the co-owner of Get Found First and Spot On Solutions. As a Google Premier Partner Managed Agency Get Found First and Spot On Solutions manages ad spend for over 600 companies in all industries. In 2020, 2021 and 2022 Get Found First was named to the prestigious Inc.5000 list for fastest growing independently-owned companies in the United States. They are regularly listed as one of the Top 10 companies to work for in Idaho.
Katie is a certified John Maxwell Leadership coach and trainer as well as a certified DISC personality consultant. Helping employees and clients understand their personalities and grow their leadership skills is one of her greatest passions. She is a member of the Forbes Agency Council and Forbes Business Council and is a contributor to Forbes magazine.Katie volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care and works to make children’s voices heard in the court system. She has been married for 28 years, has 3 children and 2 grandchildren.
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