This week, Mike speaks with Vinnie Fisher, CEO of Fully Accountable, on how to grow your business beyond the first million dollars of annual revenue. Vinne talks about his successes and some errors he’s made along the way while growing his successful businesses beyond their first four figures in revenue. This episode offers entrepreneurs excellent advice about scaling up their companies and setting themselves up for success.
Vinnie Fisher’s Biography
Vinnie Fisher is an entrepreneur, writer, and CEO of Fully Accountable, a full-service accounting firm. He’s written three best-sellers books and created several businesses that have reached anywhere from 4 to 8 figures in revenue per year.
In This Episode, You’ll Learn…
- The keys to growing your business to be profitable
- The difference between growing from zero to one million in revenue and from one million to beyond that
- The challenges that CEOs face when scaling up a business and how to overcome them
- How to grow your business beyond your shadow the owner and CEO
- How to remove yourself from the equation to avoid holding your business back
- How to scale up by niching down
- How to create a great leadership team
- “The investment to remove you from the parts that are holding back the growth of the company requires a massive amount of maturity and a ton of internal reflection.” —Vinnie Fisher
- “We use one kind of way that we hire: we look for effort, attitude, ability.” —Vinnie Fisher
- “Don’t get focused on the work you do, get focused on what problem you’re solving for somebody.” —Vinnie Fisher
- “I became the avatar of the customer that I built this business for.” —Vinnie Fisher
- “The key to leadership is leading with your heart, not with your head”—Vinnie Fisher
Links & Resources Mentioned…
- Vinnie Fisher’s books: https://vinniefisher.com/books/
- Vinnie Fisher’s email: email@example.com
- Free copy of False Profits by Vinnie Fisher https://fullyaccountable.com/false-profits/
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Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target Podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders and we're business coaches who love helping leaders sleep better because they solved their tough planning, process, and people problems. In this podcast we're talking with thought leaders to get their insights on ways to help you or your business get unstuck. Joining me today is Vinnie Fisher. Vinnie is an entrepreneur who has built multiple businesses growing four them to eight figures. Vinnie is also a bestselling author of three books and founder and CEO of Fully Accountable, a full service accounting firm offering outsource finance, and accounting for e-commerce and technology companies. Welcome Vinnie.
Vinnie Fisher: Hey Mike, thanks for having me.
Mike O'Neill: Vinnie. Based on that introduction, you clearly are an expert at growing companies. Not only your own, but helping your clients grow, but in doing so you have shared with me that you've learned that the key to that is you've got to mold your future leaders, such that if you do that, you'll position them to run your companies, run them profitably. And so what I would like to spend some time on in this podcast is to kind of get your thoughts on why it's so important for a company if they're going to grow, they cannot grow beyond a shadow of their owner.
Vinnie Fisher: Okay. Yeah. I think it's a sensitively good topic. It's real, you know, I always let people know some good stats at the beginning of thinking about these things. And four out of five companies here in America are service companies. And so over 80% of businesses are service companies. And typically the way a service company has built a good professional, like you or I we provide a service. We get busy because people like what we do. So we started adding other humans, like-minded people to the team. And next thing you know, what we, our first labor quotient is us. And when we met that, our time we get more people to do it. And so typically what happens in the American small business, four out of five of them is that the leader is trapped, providing a business that they've grown around him or herself. And the limiting factor to that company, is the shadow that he or she has cast onto that, to that business.
Mike O'Neill: Is there I know you work a lot in fast growing companies. But have you found as you've worked with your own companies or with client companies, is there a pattern, do you find that the first year it rocks along pretty good, but year two it hits, have you found that there's any kind of benchmark that all of a sudden some of the things we're going to be talking about tend to kick in?
Vinnie Fisher: So I, in my own business experiences and it seems to play out over and over as I watch even others. There there's a difference between getting a business from zero revenue to a million dollars of annualized revenue. So interestingly, another interesting or fun fact that people should know is that less than 7% of all companies do a million dollars of annualized revenue, right? So 93% of companies live in something less than a million dollars of annualized revenue. IE 80 some odd thousand dollars a month of revenue coming through the door. The funny thing is, depending on the Uber big businesses, people who are doing a million dollars sometimes feel like a small business because they just got to one thing. So there's this first part in business that getting to a million dollars in revenue requires you as the owner to think about your offer, what it is you do to solve a problem. What's the value proposition you have? We're creating a base of customers, right? Requires one set of habits. So inside of that business, the persons who run something less than a million dollars and the businesses that are above a million dollars, they each have their own different sets of benchmarks. So, you know, I've noticed in business. The first thing I got to worry about under a million dollars is the value proposition that allows me to attract customers is my offer such that it's approaching irresistible to be able to build a business that can get to a million dollars of annualized revenue. Well, the things I should worry about, they're different than the things I need to worry about once I'm above doing a million dollars of annualized revenue. And then interestingly, when you're there, you'll see million dollars, $3 million, $5 million, and $10 million have their own unique challenges to the growth getting up to, eight, eight figure business or $10 million annualized revenue company. And so big question with some micro-answers, but I think pre million and post million bring on their own, substantive challenge.
Mike O'Neill: Yeah, it's very interesting. You say that because you describe in terms of revenue, I've also found that those same things apply. When you look at the number of employees you have in an organization, it's just not a matter of just adding a few more employees at certain points. Things get much more complicated. I know that you have started businesses. You have worked with business owners, this idea of, getting beyond a shadow of the owner. Let's start talking about the shadow of the owner. When you use that term, what do you mean by?
Vinnie Fisher: You know, depending on your organization, the way it's run, you know, if you're, you know, I, I think if people have written about kind of the core rules in companies and some people call them like the manager and others call the, the technician or even the visionary and the founder and the operators, all these terms that are floated around. Well, you as kind of the person who's created the business, you're wearing a few of those hats. You're the mayor, the dishwasher you're, you're wearing multiple hats. That's just a mature, honest analysis of the way a business grows. Well over time you start handing out roles to other people. And usually what you find out is that revenue and the provision of the service of the, of a business that's built around you as a professional has a lot of you in it. And it's really hard to unpull you out of being the lever puller in your business, because you're just caught in it. So you're blinded by your own blind spots. And, you know, you're, you're making decisions about evaluating your time in the business because you're never more profitable than when it's just you trading your time because for good or bad, most professionals don't put a value component on their own time. You, you say you do, but your actions don't support that. So you're never more profitable than when you're by yourself. So when you start paying other people to do parts of those, that work you, as the profit margin goes down, your expansion of your business can go up. Well, you need to then allow other people to make decisions. And that's where this rubber meets the road. So much so I wrote a whole book about this and you know, if anyone who's listening and watching wants that book, they can go to the show notes. We have a free gift. You don't have to pay for it. Just go to the show notes and, you know, go to fullyaccountable.com/getunstuck. And you can get all of this. We'll give it to you. And what you'll see in there is us talking about this idea. How do you really grow something beyond your shadow? And the first thing for me, I had to learn about the, where I'm pulling all the levers is can I allow other people in the organization to make decisions where if it's 70% of the decision I would make, can I live with the fact of that gap between 70% and what the decision I would made in? Would I give enough room in our organization for decisions to be made where I can not be the lightning bolt in that gap? And if I can do that, I can start allowing the organization to make decisions that don't require me to make every one of them.
Mike O'Neill: I loved what you just described there, but that 70% kind of rule of thumb, I know that's kind of a, a gut number for a business owner, but if roughly 70% of the time. they could hand off some things, the kinds of things that they can hand off. I know that one of your businesses, is you offer back room accounting and fractional CFO type services. That would be obviously one category that you would probably recommend. Tell me a little bit more about why you started Fully Accountable. What is it about Fully Accountable in terms of the value proposition you give business owners. What drew you to start that business and grow that business?
Vinnie Fisher: Well, I, I had a problem in my own businesses, right? So those, you know, in that kind introduction you gave about me. Thank you. You know, I was in my third of fourth, eight figure businesses made some fatal assumptions about our free cashflow air-quotes if you're not watching and you're just listening. And I thought we were 5% more profitable than we really were. That cash variance basically ran us into dry ground and, you know, just short of bankruptcy and default and all that. We basically broke our business with some false assumptions. Well, we were so delayed in our old antiquated ways of doing accounting, that we were basically getting it ready for filing a tax return that I found out 60 days later, I bled to death. 60 days ago. And something had to change. And so fast forward to that next business where we were running and we were starting to do the same thing all over again. And I'm like, gosh, darn it. We're not doing this again. And I'm like, I became the avatar of the customer that I built this business for us. We built it internally solve this problem of fixing kind of like real time information that we needed, a technology didn't exist at times way to do it very manually. Over time, we were able to connect with banks and pull in some technology so that we can do stuff that people were doing 60 days later, we could do it every day, every week and close out a month on the day of the month ends. So we can get real information in like very close to real time so that we can make better decisions in a high transaction company. I built it for myself. And I'm a problem, solution marketer, and most everything I've ever built, it built to solve a problem of mine. I'm not able to be any of the employment positions in our company because I'm not competent to do any of that work. So we hire people who love to do that work, but they did it for me first in our company, our sister companies. And so then we started doing it well, and other friends were like, Hey, things have changed for you. We literally doubled the profit margin of our own company, solved own problem. Friends were like, Hey, I liked that. Next thing, you know, in February of 15, we launched the world and now here we are six plus years later, and we look like an overnight success.
Mike O'Neill: You, you made an interesting point. You said overnight success. We know it's far from that, but you use the term, you you're, like I said, I think you call it a self avatar and that is you build a business based on your personal experience running businesses boy, oh boy, I haven't heard it expressed that way. You also have done something that I found kind of interesting, and that is you've chose kind of a lane to operate in, in terms of the clients that you work with. Can you elaborate a little bit on that. If you've developed this system, why have you chosen as a business owner to really work the lane that you have?
Vinnie Fisher: It's 28 million businesses in America. There are of that 5.14 so million of those have employees. So there's 23 million businesses that don't even have employees of the 5 million businesses that have employees. There across various sectors. One of the biggest problems of the service companies, as you see, if you really honestly study service companies. They are very localized they rely on a back breakfast place. And it's very organic referral process to gain clients. If you look under the hood of most service companies, they basically service anybody that the phone rings. So they're across multiple industries. They don't really have a tight thing. As early on I said to my two-part. If we niche down, we will truly scale up because when we have a thousand clients, we're a huge company. And you know, here we have a hundreds of clients and we're growing steadily. And I stood for a category of businesses. We know exactly who we talk to. Our marketing sounds better. The problem we solve is clear. The training for our team is in one language terminology. I don't need them to know nine different things. One of the traps of service companies is that they have little micro people being experts in certain things. And that person leaves. They suddenly no longer do that business. And so we were like a next woman up next man, up theory that we can stay and consistently do the work we do within a category. And we speak a terminology. We can train better. We can service better and we could acquire prospects more clearly by solving their problem. That was the key. And I will tell you more companies that quietly or not so quietly focus on their audience. They become bigger businesses. And later, if we want bolt on different industries, we'll do that. Cause we'll play from a position of authority and power than we will from a position of whoever or whatever phone rings. We turn down, work all the time and it's one of the secret weapons to us growing our business.
Mike O'Neill: I know you said it's a secret weapon, but how is that a secret weapon?
Vinnie Fisher: Because I don't have to worry about nine different industries. And suddenly I serve as manufacturing or law firms, or I don't do that work. I just say no to that work because that doesn't lead to us having more depth on the bench that doesn't lead to improving our consistency and follow-through, it doesn't improve or give us the ability to be experts deepening what we do. We're spread out. We believe that that immediate revenue is exciting and at the expense of being able to grow a mature operation.
Mike O'Neill: You know, we've been talking about growing companies, but I haven't really drilled down a little bit on growing your leadership teams. In terms of how you go about selecting people to join your organization and bringing them along. Are there some things you look for as a business owner when you're looking to add people to your team that is consistent? That is absolute?
Vinnie Fisher: Yeah. So back to that book of, I'm promoting that you get for free. In chapter two, it's a people chapter. And so we use one kind of way we hire, we look for effort, attitude, and ability. Think of it like a triangle. We look for those things in our hiring process. And then we use our core values, those core values. If you go on our website and look at Fully Accountable, those speak about me. Why, because that's the heartbeat of our company. And if you want to have a heart attack, don't make or protect the heart for being healthy. And so what we do with our values, you know, people need a line up and score at a certain level on your value set. We hear all the time. Wow. I spoke to Trenton in your business and he, gosh, it's like, talking to you. Well, because we are, have very, like, as it relates to our value set. Now we all don't do the same thing from a technical competence. We do different things, but we stand for a lot of very similar values. And so we're not winning community and best place to work awards by accident. Those are all objective outside, run things. But it's because our heartbeat is healthy at the company. And I encourage you to digest that chapter two. I lay that out, play by play what I do in our company. And we eat our own dog food. That just isn't a commercial to go do it one way. And we do it another, we live that and we don't do it for others. We do it for ourselves. Interestingly, we are launching a fully outsourced HR arm to our company this year where we're going to help others do this well.
Mike O'Neill: Fascinating. You know, one of the quotes that you use and have shared with me, you talk about the heartbeat. But it reads the key to leadership is leading with your heart, not with your head. And you just kind of embodied that in what you just described. Now with you providing what could be argued is very head services, accounting, finance, those kinds of things. How does one lead with your heart and not your head when you're providing the kind of service? That's less heart and more head? Does that make sense?
Vinnie Fisher: Yep. So I, I, I believe two things in my leadership one is I should spend most of my time with my executive team, specifically, my COO. And then the remainder of my time is spent with our new people importing and continuing to lay out vision of DNA and what we do. And when I told them it was today, interestingly, in our lunch with the CEO training that we. I said, I professionalized her as two things that will always happen to the professional. One is the world expects them to always be right. And they always expect them to be available. Those downward pressures will never go away. And this burnout and exhaustion and burn on professionalism that takes place. You control really one thing you don't control reputation. You control character. And what you need to do to get through the tough times is remember only one thing don't get focused on the work you do get focused on what problem you're solving for somebody. What is it you actually do? And if you can remain focus there, I don't care if you're a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, if you can stay focused on the actual problem you solve for people, you can endure the tough times in your professional practice.
Mike O'Neill: Hmm. Very well said in keeping with the thing with this podcast. Vinnie. Can you kind of reflect on an example by which perhaps you or your business got stuck? And if that did happen, what did it take to get unstuck?
Vinnie Fisher: I think you go through stuck a lot, you know? And so I talked to you about this idea of certain revenue goals you hit. I, right now I can give you one that comes to mind, you know, inside of our own company. So when we crossed over the 5 million mark in revenue, we had two things that were going on. One is we realized that our inbound marketing systems, while they were working, we figured out and improved our systems such that we can grow, even in a category that looks more like scale. So we had to sit down and say, wait a minute, we might be able to grow beyond our inbound needs or abilities. We need to create an outbound sales team. We didn't have a sales culture. We're built by a marketer internal guy. So I'm like, holy cow. I COO Rachel, who is also my business partner. Identified hey buddy, your marketing is good and all, but we might have to redo what we're doing. And we have to sit down and make a very big decision to create an outbound sales process to our company, which is unheard of. People don't do that. Usually they either start with one and they have one, but add one this late in the game. And so go back a year ago. Plus now we did that and it was such an amazing move for us. Yeah. It was a big deal. Well, we're doing it right now, again, in another category, we see that our marketing department actually has its CEO. His whole career has been marketing. Well, he's a pivot point, our marketing department and our board led by me and our executive team led by me correctly, identified that we need to remove me out of our marketing department. So we're eating also our dog food. We have two unstuck examples, one, we had to create a sales culture and we're kind of getting better at it. We haven't completely figured all that out, but so much so that we're a record months every month, which is awesome. But two we're now unstucking, the business where we're getting the CEO out of our marketing department.
Mike O'Neill: Let me break down each of those, in terms of creating a sales culture, what have you found as the biggest challenge to do just that?
Vinnie Fisher: You know everyone's relying on our fun marketing materials and what we've done to create inbound leads. It's a way to create a culture of identify the prospect and pick up the phone. And so we needed to hire a couple of outside people, Maureen and Caroline, who are amazing. We love having them on our team, but because they already came from that, we, we were unable to change those habits internally. We needed a couple of new people externally to change those. And that was a little bit of an ego hit. And a lot of it honesty, a little bit of humility in order to hand the ball off to a couple what were then outsiders who are on our team to change that part of our culture.
Mike O'Neill: You shared that that was a little bit of an ego hit, but also for you to purposely remove yourself from the marketing, effort, that takes it takes courage. To, to, to step away from that. And it sounds like you were listening to your internal advice. This is what needs to happen. Am I hearing that correctly?
Vinnie Fisher: You know, I really want to thank Jordan on our marketing department. She leads it. And she lovingly said in one of our marketing meetings about needing some stuff done. And you know, if she didn't have to wait on me for the completion that we'd probably have it done. And I looked at her and said, it's the best thing you could have said for our company, because you're right. I think I'm holding us back in a few areas. Because what we realize is we don't need the magic of creating an irresistible offer. In our phase of marketing, we need to do the at bats of the readily replicatable work. And I was getting in the way of it.
Mike O'Neill: Hmm, thank you for sharing that, you know, as you have kind of elaborated, you've written three books, you started multiple companies. Several of those have been extremely successful. You're still growing those companies, but in the time we've had, I haven't had a chance to cover everything out might would like to cover. But it's important though, for our listeners, if you were to step back and reflect on what is it we've talked about, what might be some of the takeaways you want to make sure that our listeners have?
Vinnie Fisher: You know, typically, a leader who has grown their business, has relied on a function of referral and reputation to grow their business. There's a, an organic aspect to paid and unpaid advertising. That's critical to creating a regular systematic business. When you're one of the widgets in your own business, it's really hard to do that. And the investment remove you from parts that are holding back the growth of the company it requires a massive amount of maturity and a ton of internal reflection. And if you're unable to do that, I would encourage you to commission somebody who you trust, who will speak truthfully to you about. That kind of like someone like you, Mike, who coaches people through these things of process and people, but who you are willing to let your fig leaf or your guard down so that you can really change these parts of your business.
Mike O'Neill: I really do appreciate your candor. You made reference to the show notes. I want to make sure people do know, when they do download the episode, we will include show notes and we're going to include, important links. But if folks want to reach out to you, what's the best way for them to do that Vinnie?
Vinnie Fisher: You know during all this shutdown of the world, we decided to really jump in and help. As we created, an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. And so we do care. And if you are wondering about whether or not, what we do is helpful to you, or you need pointed in the right direction, drop us an email, we'll see if we're the right fit. We'll also point you in the direction. If we're not. And then you're going to go to fullyaccountable.com and sign up for a call with one of our people. We wanna help. We'll get on the call. We'll quickly help you diagnose what you think you do or don't need. We'll listen to you. And if we're the right fit, you'll, we'll help you. If we're not, we'll point you in some direction to, to help you move another step down your journey.
Mike O'Neill: Excellent. We will include those links. And you did make reference to the book. So we will also include, any links that you've mentioned in the show notes. Vinnie this has been a real treat. Thank you.
Vinnie Fisher: Mike. Thanks for having me, buddy.
Mike O'Neill: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target. Every Thursday, we upload the latest episode to all the major platforms. So if you haven't already please subscribe. You know, life really is too short to let business problems keep you up at night. So if you've been listening to my conversation with Vinnie and you realize that something's keeping you or your business stuck, let's talk. Go to our website, bench-builders.com or just go to your browser and type unstuck.show to schedule a quick call. So I want to thank you for joining us and I hope you've picked up on some tips that will help you Get Unstuck & On Target. Until next time.