As the economy is changing, what challenges are business owners facing right now? What’s the solution to come out on top?
Our special guest, Brandon McCurdy with Sharper Business Solutions, will share what has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs succeed in the current market. He shares how they guide businesses through five phases and the three common pitfalls they should completely avoid. Brandon also explains the role of flexibility and innovation as messaging and marketing styles change as time pass by.
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What Struggles Are Business Owners Experiencing Right Now With Brandon McCurdy
I’m bringing on somebody who’s a coach of mine, Brandon McCurdy, here. To understand him, he’s got 5 businesses, possibly 6. His primary focus is on branding and marketing. He lives out in Chicago with his wife and his kids. He is an amazing guy that has a brilliant mind. He works for a great group called Sharper that I have hired as well. Especially if you have ever read books like Rocket Fuel, these guys are the master of that EOS system. Brandon, welcome to the show.
It’s good to be on. I’m looking forward to this.
Give us a little bit more of the backstory than the 5 or maybe 6 businesses that you have got. Tell us more about you.
I have always been interested in the human experience and how people engage with stuff. That led me into doing a lot of work with branding and marketing. I opened up a marketing agency several years ago. I was trying to make ends meet as a young guy but found that I had a knack for it, so that grew. I started doing some stuff with a lot of consumer packaged goods. I did some real estate stuff back in ‘06 with some folks and helped position some properties for sale.
I grew from there into getting picked up by Sharper. I have been working with them now for a few years. Added to that, we own a T-shirt company, a software company, and a marketing company. It’s anything and everything. My wife is extremely entrepreneurial as well, so that keeps me sharp. The kids have fallen right in with that as well. That’s our life. We don’t choose things. We just do all of them.
I know you guys worked with a lot of real estate investors, primarily those that have businesses in real estates like wholesalers and flippers. You guys have even expanded beyond that. Our business is not a real estate business per se. We are more service-based businesses. You guys have been working with a lot of people.
We were with a large eCommerce company. We have worked with hedge funds. We have worked with cannabis dispensaries. We have worked with trucking companies. You name it. Business is business, and all of them need to be run efficiently as possible. No matter what the widget is, it all translates across all businesses. It’s a little enjoyable sometimes to get into those that are maybe not what we are used to but be able to bring the same needs to it. We started working with a chiropractor. We are going to pick up what looks like a series of chiropractic offices and help that industry as well. It’s pretty cool stuff.
We’ve got a lot of chiropractic fans here too, so that’s great to hear. What are you seeing right now? What’s the trending thing? What are the common areas you are seeing where people are stuck? Maybe they are stuck in their business, whether they know it or not. What are some of those common blocks that people are running into right now?
I usually go in and work with a client the first day they have ever met us. I will go in there and document all of their accountability charts. I start tracking some metrics and start looking at some basic numbers, and then we come back 90 days later. In between that, we are working with them. Especially those clients I worked with months ago and now seeing the ripple effect of what the market has done to them over these last several days, it seems that all of those areas that were loose before are rattling loudly now. Whether that’s personnel issues, cashflow issues, or whatever it is, it’s the stress of things making those weak spots stand out.
Specifically, if you weren’t good at marketing before, you are probably suffering now. If you struggled to motivate your team before, it’s even more difficult when they are nervous. Honestly, it’s those gaps that they had before. For our clients, we are making sure that we get ahead of it and see those gaps before they get tested to their max or those areas that we are seeing the most stress on right now. A lot of it is not knowing their numbers. I know that’s something you are passionate about in your space. If you don’t know the numbers, there’s no way to make any adjustments. That’s where we start at.
The numbers, it’s not that they don’t lie. You can always take numbers and skew them, but they rebuild a story.
That’s a big step with us in the first phases, getting an actionable 10 to 15 numbers that tell the entire story of the company. We have been pressing, especially on our CEO level people or people who are the business owners, to know 2 or 3 numbers that help you sleep at night. Don’t try to get 55 to 60 numbers that don’t tell you anything. Get two numbers that tell you everything.
I was with a company in Florida that does virtual assistance. It’s a high-level CEO that wants to grow, do great things, and all of that. For her, all she needed to know every week is, “How many billable hours did we have for VAs? How many billable hours did we sell?” That’s it. If she knows that number, she knows whether she’s staffed properly or there’s money coming in. It’s getting down to those refined numbers.
In your space, it’s a lot of the same. People will look and say, “I need to know that I’m going to bring in $20,000 a month or I’m going to have this much into retirement.” There’s one number. Most business owners, a lot of times, will get stuck down in the weeds and won’t identify those basic things. Sometimes, it takes somebody coming in from the outside to help them find those. That’s what we enjoy doing.
Especially if you are like me on the predictive index where I’m an individualist, then you are like, “I want to do the operations and running the company and everything else too.” That doesn’t always work too well, does it?
Yeah. You can do it what you want to do when you want to do it with whomever you want to be doing it with as long as you want to be doing it. I will go PI with you. I’m a collaborator, so for me, I’m always coming in. At the end of the day, it’s our business. We all work here together. I try to bring as much honey as I can with the vinegar to make sure that it balances out well.
A lot of times, there are some tough conversations around, “Where are we going? Why are we going there? What are we doing here?” A lot of it is with the businesses that I have been with the last few months, those who have strong accurate purposes. We ask what the upsides are. Those who have strong, clearly-define purposes as to why they are doing this can weather the storms. They can get through it because they know that the purpose is greater than themselves. It’s greater than making money. It’s greater than a business. It’s something else. Those who don’t aren’t willing to go through the tough times and make the adjustments that are necessary.
That leads me to what I was going to ask you, too. How often do you see it where it’s more of a mindset or mind space issue? For example, you can watch TV shows like The Prophet or Kitchen Nightmares. You see people go into these businesses. It almost always comes back to the leader. Have you seen that to be true in your case as well? How does that play out for you?
We always start with, and you have done it with us before, building out an accountability chart. We are like, “Here’s the whole company.” I have been pressing for a while now we need to take that accountability chart and design it flipped upside down. At the end of the day, everything flows down to the owner of the business. He is going to have to be responsible for everything. At some level, it comes to him.
From that perspective, it’s 100% mindset. It’s the leader of the business and the joy they find in doing the work that they do. If you enjoy it, then it doesn’t matter if you are up 10% or down 10%. If you hate it, it doesn’t matter if you are up 10% or down 10%. It seems a little bit, “Kumbaya. Let’s all hold hands and get along a little bit here,” but a big thing we do is helping people identify those purposes. If we don’t have them, we are like, “Let’s go do something else.”
There are a lot of easier ways to make money than running a business. If we don’t have a greater purpose for it, that can become very challenging. At Sharper, we have pressed on for years trying to get leaders to grow themselves. It’s very difficult. We put on events and say, “Come learn how to be a better leader,” and people wouldn’t show up. We have had to sneak it in the back door with systems and processes and get them to focus on them growing themselves as leaders as well.
What are some other pitfalls you tend to see with business owners nowadays?
I’m a marketing guy. The messaging and marketing we sent out several days ago should be the same as it is today. We know that’s not true. The newspaper is not the same today as it was yesterday. We have to think about that as well. Our marketing can’t be the same today as it was yesterday. A lot of times, they have vendored out their marketing and are not holding their vendor accountable for adjusting to the messaging that’s changed in the market because marketing would be number one for me.
Number two is talent development has taken the people that they have and invested back in them to the level that they will allow them to. At some point, employees are going to look at you and say, “I’m not willing to do the work. I’m not willing to do what you want me to do.” Also, as owners and business owners, we expect ourselves to grow and become more refined. We’ve got to do the same for our teams and allow them those things.
The third is accountability. There’s got to be accountability for the processes that we said, “This is what’s going to get us to performance.” The process is we do this, and that gets us to our performance. We all track the performance. We all look at a P&L, but a lot of times, we don’t look at the process. When we don’t look at the process, then we are not able to identify problems before they hit the performance. Those three, to me, are marketing messaging, investing back in the people, and then looking at your process a lot more than you’d look at your performance in a changing market.If you don’t look at the process, you cannot identify problems with your business before they hit your performance. Click To Tweet
When I was a one-man show, it was very simple and easy. I did it myself. I was part-time and casual. Naturally, because of this show, everything started growing and booming. All of a sudden, when I’m supposed to be retired, now I’m working overtime. I’d had to have a team to support me. You guys helped me do that. You helped me hire the right people that mesh with my personality, which was awesome, as well as mesh with my core values, which was important here.
The one thing that is strategic that we do on a regular basis is that level ten meeting that we do each week. We do have to look at those numbers, we have to be accountable to them. That applies to everybody on the team, especially if it’s in their domain. It’s sometimes pretty humbling. Especially as a leader, I know for me, it’s like, “That’s on me. I did that. If this number isn’t up, that’s because I didn’t do it,” or whatever it might be. It’s important to have that accountability and to hold people’s feet to the fire, including yourself as a leader.
I grew up in Chicago, so I’m a diehard Bulls fan. When I watched the Bulls growing up, if you watched the Bulls before Phil Jackson got there, it was talented people running around scoring points. If Michael Jordan scores sixteen, you lose every game. Most businesses, when I walk into them, that’s the beginning of their business. You have to be incredibly talented to get to a place where you are making money in business. You can’t deny that.
The next iteration of that is the discipline to say, “We are going to have those weekly meetings. We are going to track metrics. We are going to hold people accountable to the processes that have to take place.” To your point, when you started doing a show, it probably was that you innately and naturally picked up things and it became a process. It’s sometimes good. It’s sometimes bad. For me, those things, I didn’t do then right at the beginning. Now, it’s taking that which is in your head and putting it down for somebody else to be able to replicate that over and over again.
A lot of times, as business owners, especially if you have been in the weeds for a long time, I always tell them you have to hold yourself to following the process that you have now created. You have to be the champion of, “I will follow the process,” so that the other people on your team will do the same and you can replicate the business.
I want to come back to one of the areas of your expertise too. You talk about marketing and branding, and that you can’t keep doing the same thing. For example, I beat the same drum over and over. My drum’s based on that vision and that mission. The vision is to have at least 1,000 people financially independent by 2030. The mission of that is to create financially independent, happy, and prosperous people. The how-to and how you communicate that message do change over time. How do you see it evolve and change? Is it the same for everybody or is it depending on the company and what people are looking for?
For context as well, I also am a pastor. I pastor a church every Sunday. Somebody told me once that there are only eleven themes in the Bible. When you think about every sermon that’s preached every week, every denomination, and every tribe and tongue, it has about eleven themes on it. They all come at it from a different angle. They all can contextualize it to whatever’s going on in the world around them. I look at branding and marketing the same way.
To your point, for you, there is one theme, one message, and one story that you want to tell. Now, it’s learning all the creative ways to come at it from every single angle until it’s going to resonate with the hearer. A lot of times, we can get selfish with it and say, “I want to say it this way. I want it to get this way,” but at the end of the day, you don’t matter.
I do a lot of branding and logo work. I will get stuff done and hand it to a client. They will look at it and say, “I don’t think I like it.” I say, “That’s a good thing because it’s not for you.” Thinking of the end user first allows us to become very creative and say, “What is the local soccer mom thinking about when it comes to financial freedom? What is the garbage man thinking about when it comes to financial freedom? How would I contextualize that specifically to him and his situation from the umbrella and the guardrails of how I only have one purpose here?” That’s how I always think about it. It allows more creativity when I have that central point because now, I don’t have to worry about the central points. I can be creative with everything else.
You look at movies in Hollywood. Some of the best movies often or sometimes have the same underlying message, but it’s a different story to teach that message.
I’m a certified guide with story branding, so I’m all in on that. When we sit down with somebody to do a marketing analysis, we brand script it and are like, “Here’s your story. We are going to now figure out how to tell that story from every possible angle we can get.” Hollywood’s mastered that. It messes you up after you have learned it because you will sit there in a movie and think, “There’s the hero. There’s the guy. There’s the character. There’s the transitional call to action. Are they going to follow the path? Are they going to see success or failure?” It breaks you a little bit.
Tell us more about Sharper and what you guys do. What’s the phase that somebody says, “I need this type of help. This is where I need you guys to help. Take me along.” I know I have my own experience, but what would you say is that common denominator for everybody?
We teach five phases of business. It is startup, perseverance, viability, scale, and succession. Every business is in 1 of those 5 phases of business. For us, most of the time, if somebody’s in a startup phase, we can help them with 3 or 4 tools to get them from the startup and say, “This is a company that could exist.” My analogy for it is a little bit crude, but I always call it and say, “We can take it in a startup phase. If it’s not going to make it, we take it out back and shoot it.” We don’t run businesses that don’t make money and don’t keep running. I refer to it as Old Yeller-ing the business, if you catch the old money reference. If we don’t keep running this business, we let it die.
If you are in that startup phase, we can give you 3 or 4 tools to get there. Probably 90% of the businesses we start with at the very beginning are in what we call perseverance, which is they have started a business and maybe they are still running it, but they don’t have their key roles hired and trained. They don’t have an operating system. They don’t have a meeting structure. They don’t have KPIs. They couldn’t take the business, hand it to somebody else, and let them run it. About 9% of our clients are there and our goal is to get them to viability so that they can then decide, “I’m going to run this as a viable company. I’m going to take my owner’s distributions, go home at the end of the week, work less, and be more efficient and effective.”
We find in perseverance, people are saying, “I want my time back.” In viability, they are saying, “I want my money back.” In other words, I have to pay people to do all this stuff for me. We have focused on that journey to getting somebody to viability so that they can then say, “We can scale this business, and then eventually, we can sell it.”
We have written a curriculum for each of those five phases so that wherever you are at in that journey, we are there to help and give you the tools and the resources to be able to do it. Most of the time, we are picking them up in that first phase of perseverance of, “I’m working 80 hours a week. I started to hire a couple of people, but I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t have meeting structures.” I worked with somebody here in California a while ago. He was a one-man show. He was in perseverance. I worked with a hedge fund with 60 employees. They were in perseverance. It’s not about size. It’s about what’s going on with your business at the time.
That’s an important thing. If someone wants to get not just their time, but their money back or their sanity back even to have a life, that’s so important. You are not helping them grow a business. You are helping them get their life back personally.
We want to create predictive as a success. Those are 90-day goals, quarterly commitments, annual planning, and weekly meeting structures that say to somebody, “You can feel confident that if we get somewhere in 90 days, we know how we got there. If we didn’t get there, we know why we didn’t get there.” I know when I started in business, that was not the case. I would go out there and hustle and make as much money as I possibly could. I was hustling.
As soon as I tried to add an employee, it became impossible to do that. As soon as I tried to add more services, I only had so much bandwidth. That’s what we are trying to do. It is to give people the ability to say, “I want to double down. I want to scale this company. I’m all-in on working 80 hours a week,” or, “I want to get it to viability. I want to let somebody else run the business and I enjoy what I get off of it.”
Why do you love what you do?
I love what I do because it ties a couple of things together for me. My bigger purposes in life are more focused on faith, family, those types of things, and helping people. I’m a teaching junkie is how I refer to it. This is great for me because I’m on about a three-week burner of teaching somewhere every day. I love seeing that opportunity to help somebody.
People use the word influence pretty loosely. I prefer the word impact. I’d much rather impact 10 people than influence 1,000. Those two connections for me tie all together in what I get to do with Sharper, which is sitting with a business owner who, to your point, is stressed and overwhelmed. It’s impacting their family. It’s impacting their marriage. It’s impacting every part of their life. I sit there for a moment and give them some control back.
Seeing that control begin to come back, all of a sudden, improves their family, their marriage, and their life. It also gives them the clarity to think about the things that truly matter in life, which is, “What is life all about? What are my purposes? Why am I here?” I find most business owners end up finding themselves so deep in the weeds that they don’t have time to have those deeper thoughts and those deeper conversations.
That is so true. I appreciate you joining us. It is such a pleasure. I feel you there. I appreciate you being there, serving people, helping people out, and doing what you do.
Thanks. This was so much fun.
If you feel like you are in that phase, especially that perseverance and viability phase and you are trying to get to that point, they are a great group to work with. He is someone that the show has worked with as well. Some of the star people on our team have come because of Sharper. You can be a hearer of the word, but it’s more important if you are a doer. When you do it, that’s when your life changes versus hearing it over and over. Go and make it a prosperous and wonderful week. We will see you later.
About Brandon McCurdy
Brandon McCurdy is the owner of 5 businesses, branding and marketing speaker and a consultant with Sharper Business Solutions. He and his wife Rachel and their 2 daughters live outside of Chicago.