061 | The 7 Stages Of Business Growth | Building A Sustainable Growth Strategy | With Carl Gould

Guest of today’s show is Carl Gould. Carl has built three multi-million dollar businesses before age 40, mentored the launch of over 5,000 businesses, and has trained and certified over 7,000 business coaches in 35 countries. Carl has written 3 best-selling books on business strategy and growth (“Blueprint for Success”, “The 7 Stages of Small Business Success,” and most recently “Biz Dev Done Right”). His clients range from Fortune 500 Companies to Small-to-Mid-Market Businesses. Gould regularly appeared on the home improvement reality TV show “This House-Too”, and each week he co-hosts “Quit and Get Rich” on iHeart® radio.

Welcome Carl, we are excited to have you here and learn all about your experiences and how you grew up as well. 

Thank you. Thank you for having me. And I appreciate the opportunity to meet with your audience. 

 

Awesome. Great. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and your experience? And how did you start your entrepreneurial journey so that we can get to know you better? 

Sure. So I was born and raised in New Jersey and had my first business which was a paper route when I was hours 12 years old, I had my first job at nine. And then I went to college, I went to the University of Delaware to study accounting and finance. And I had to leave school after my second year due to a leg injury. And you know, after six months of healing my leg and rehabilitating it and getting to learn how to walk again. I was paying my way through school. So I and I couldn’t afford to go back right away. So I started my first company, which was a landscaping business. I had done landscaping in high school. So I knew it. I knew how it worked. And so I started my first company, it was kind of by accident, literally. But it worked out really well. And I went back to school nights while I had my company. And I had that business from 1985. Through sorry, 1986 to 1992. And I sold that company. I had another little neat surgery coming up. So I had surgery in the mid-90s. And I started a construction company. I think I grew that business from scratch. But you know, I know this is bootstrapping. So I bootstrapped both companies and eventually sold that business in 2004. The company I have today I started in 2002. 

 

Cool, cool. And what’s your current company about? 

My current company is it’s called seven-stage advisors. And it’s a coaching and consulting firm. We are known as a growth advisory. And we help small to mid-market companies, create their plan, set their pricing, refine their go to market strategy, and then ultimately create sustainable results. We tend to work with companies that are growth-minded and looking to expand. So that’s been our focus over the last 17 years.

 

That’s great. So let’s go back to the early days. And you know, when you had this unfortunate situation of having an injury at that moment, like how did you get enough courage to think about launching your own business? And, you know, what was that experience like?

Well, the first thing that happened that made me realize I had to get serious about whatever I earned money at was, I was paying my own way through school, and I had taken out student loans, and I had some a couple of scholarships. And I had gotten some grant money to go to school. And by my second year, I had the grants and scholarship I’d already used up. And then, you know in order if I was going to stay in school anyway, I was going to have to earn more money. But once I got hurt and I had to I took six months away from school and all of those loans came to due, everything needed to get paid back. And I realized it became very obvious I was not going back to that college. And you know, and this was it. I had to figure it out at this point. So I was literally at home broke. And I was just looking at my options. Do I get a job? Do I? What do I do? And I had when I was with the landscaping company in my last year there. And when I was in high school, my boss used to send me out to do to present the proposals happened by chance One day, he said on jammed up. Can you go bring this proposal down to Mr. And Mrs. Smith? I did. And when I came back, he said to me what happened? I said well, they said yes. And he said well, they said yes to what? What do you mean what? I said all of it. Then he said all of it. And I said yeah, it goes ‘Well, I am so surprised’, he said because there are three phases to that project. Two of them are optional. How did you convince them to do the other two? And I said, ‘well, I just told them that they’d be foolish not to do the other two’ if they’re doing the first one. It seems silly not to. They agreed. And they did it. Well, the owner like that. And so he used to send me out on proposals more and more. And so what started to happen was I started to realize, wait a minute, I’m doing the proposals. And then as soon as we get the project you sent me to do it. So I I have a lot of confidence that I probably do this on my own because I was basically doing it on my own anyway.

 

Cool. That’s great. So the moral of the story is get to know the business very well from inside out. And then it’s easy to launch your own business. Is that correct?

Well, definitely, from the owners, the lesson there should have been, he should have cut me in on the profits, you should have said, hey, you’re doing the selling, I’m going to give you a commission, hey, you’re running the projects, I’m going to give you a bonus if it comes in on time or under budget. If he had done that, I probably wouldn’t be looking to own my own business, I probably would have gone back to him and said, Wow, I was making good money, I should do that again. Because I was making like $6 an hour. I’m like, wait a minute, I’m doing everything. And I collected the check. So I knew how much money he was bringing in. I know how much he was getting and how much I was getting. And it was so unfair. I said, Well, you know, can’t be all that hard to learn with this guy notes. And so I went out on my own but yeah, knowing the business from start to finish all the way to, you know, every aspect of it. It sure did help me understand how to launch my own. For sure. No question about it.

 

Yeah, that’s good advice. Now, you said you bootstrapped the first business and the second business. So tell us a little bit about I’d like how did you know, you bootstrapping a lot of people misunderstand. They think that bootstrapping means starting something from nothing. And you know, there’s no investment needed no time needed. And, you know, it magically just happens, but what was your experience? Why, you know, you had to come up with some resources, maybe some equipment, how did you arrange all that?

Yeah, it’s a good point, I, I look at bootstrapping, as basically not taking on partners or not giving away equity when I don’t have to. So again, in the beginning, I had a personal loan from a friend, from a family member who loaned me some money to get the equipment that I needed. And but I, you know, very early on, just put my name on out there as somebody who was, you know, doing that work, I got a couple of projects, I asked for referrals, said, you know, anyone else who could utilize my services. And not everybody did, but some people had introductions that they could make, which was, which was terrific. And that really helped help me launch. And then I just stayed really aggressive. I was doing proposals, at breakfast, at lunch, after work, on the weekends, and I was trying to fill my calendar as fast as possible. And I went about it very, very aggressively. 

 

Cool. All right. And your early experience in sales and marketing healthy along? Right?

Well, I gotta tell you, I was a bit of a bull in the china shop, when it came to marketing, I can’t say that that was my skill. My skill is probably more in the area of selling. I understood what I was doing, I understood, I had a real quality product. And then I had learned. Well, not the people that I worked for prior really taught me well. And I knew that I was doing a quality product. So in the beginning, I was very good. One on One. You know, like, we call it the kitchen table sale, I was really good at the kitchen table sale, because I was able to, you know, convince mom and dad, or the owner of the building at those commercial building, that I was the right choice. And, and then as I, as I learned, What words and what phrases worked well, and which ones didn’t work, well, then that helped me out on the marketing side of things. Okay,

 

I see. Now, one of the things that a lot of people struggle with, especially when they’re launching a new company, new product or service, is the pricing of their service or product. So how did you price your services? Like did you charge a premium than the going rate? Or how did you make those decisions?

Yeah, of all the things that I think I may have done well, I think I nailed the pricing well. I was in a position, an unfortunate position where I couldn’t afford to discount, I couldn’t afford to do a cheap, you know, I had, I had to make a certain amount of money period. That was just it. So I was lucky in that regard. Because what it taught me was that you don’t have to discount your way to market share. You can charge what you’re worth, no matter how early in business you are. And you can charge a premium. Well, in the first year, I charged what I thought were fair, but you know, good prices. And then I kept hearing people have similar requests. Some people wanted me to move them up in the schedule, some people had time pressures, and some people needed certain things. So what I did was I took all the complaints and the major objections that I was hearing. And I created a second option for every proposal, so I gave everybody the option, you got the regular standard scope of work proposal, and then we had something called the guarantee. And I took the top five complaints that I had heard throughout the course of the year. And I promised that those things would not happen to you as my client if you hired me for this special guarantee program, which was 35% more expensive for the same project. But I guarantee that would start on time, I guarantee that we’re finished on time, I guarantee you all the materials, you know, everything I was responsive with phone calls the whole day. And what started to happen was people were choosing the guarantee option, two to one over the regular one. So I was selling two out of every three proposals that I want for my guarantee option. And I realized that I was a 19-year-old kid. And yet, people were paying a 35% premium for someone they didn’t know. Because I was answering their objections. So I learned from a very early age in my career that you don’t have to discount. You can discount if you want. Sometimes that’s appropriate. But you, you don’t always have to. You rarely have to.

 

That’s a brilliant strategy. And I’m glad you worked out, it worked out for you. And I’m sure you know, a lot of people will, will learn from this and apply it in their businesses. And I hope it works out for them as well. Now, let’s talk about some of the mistakes you made. So, you know, did you make any first of all? And if so, you know, how did you overcome them?

I made plenty. And I wish I didn’t make some of them. But one of the mistakes I made was when I started to outsell when the guarantee program started to outsell the standard program. What I didn’t realize that was I had two businesses under the same roof. And two totally different client set the clientele. So what I should have done back then was I should have kept both businesses, even if it meant opening one over under a different name. But I shut down, I just stopped offering the standard offering, which was a mistake because I was getting very good clientele. And they were profitable. And they were flexible. Meaning I could start and finish the project when I wanted to. And I didn’t realize how much of a gift that was at the time. So I really should have stuck with that. And so that was I would call that one of my bigger mistakes when I started. 

 

I see. Alright, so the moral is, basically if you’re running a division or aspect of the business, which is being violent, is sustainable. There’s no need to get rid of it. I mean, basically, if it’s not broken, don’t fix that. Right.

Right. Well, yeah, what the marketplace was telling me that they there were paying me for two distinct services. And I should have grown both services, as opposed to saying, Oh, well, they like with this one more than the other. So I’ll shut down the one that they’re not buying as much. So what I should have done was, you know, when the marketplace is buying from you and you’re profitable and the pipelines are full, you look to grow it you don’t look to you know, you don’t look to get rid of it. I mean, you could sell it, but you don’t look to shut it down. 

 

Yeah, that’s right. Alright, so now let’s talk about your current consulting. You help people help businesses grow. And from one of the books that I read, that you’ve written, you went through several stages of growth for small business. So can you walk us down the stages of business growth?

Sure. Sure. What we’ve learned over the years of working with 10s, of thousands of companies now is, that there’s a clear pattern to success. And if you follow that pattern, you’re likely to replicate the results. And so we found that there are seven very distinct growth stages, developmental stages that every company encounters. And so the first one is what we call strategic planning. That’s stage one. In stage one, your strategic plan has to be compelling and inspiring. Meaning how you do what you do, and why you’re in business. The how and the why must be so compelling that a buyer would be willing to switch from wherever they buy from now and be willing to pay you more to purchase from you. That’s number one. Number two would be what you’re so compelling and inspiring, and how you operate and why you are in business, that employees would seek you out and want to work for you. Even if that meant earning less than where they are now. And if you can answer yes to both of those, you will likely have a very compelling and inspiring business.

 

 Cool. All right. And, yeah, please go ahead decided the other stages ago?

Sure, I can walk you right through. So stage two is what we call the specialty stage. And that’s when we say an expert is born. You’re a specialist. And the implication here is that you become a thought leader and an authority in your niche. Stage Three is what we call synergy. And if you follow the progression here, stage one, you’ve created a compelling vision. Stage two, you are now an expert in your field. Stage Three is you are now higher, you’re so busy, you are hiring a team and surrounding yourself with the right implementation team. So you can duplicate your efforts. At stage four, that’s the system this stage. And that’s where you decide ultimately, what kind of business are you going to become? Are you going to be a distributorship or a dealership or a single bricks and mortar location? Or a virtual company? Or are you going to be an open-source license company like Microsoft? Or are you’re going to be a closed wall ecosystem like apple, right? So you decide what you’re going to be when you grow up, and you begin documenting and systematized everything in the business, then you hit stage five, at stage five, that this is the scalability stage where we say you’re ultimately sustainable because your systems have taken over. And you are known for something other than your product or your service. So for example, Starbucks is known for its convenience, and its ambiance and, and is the third home. McDonald’s is also for, you know, certainty about its menu and hops, good tasting food, you know, at a value price. So, you know, and you’re known for that beyond just what your core product or service is.  Then there is stage six, which we call salability. That’s where you maximize the saleability of your company. And we say an asset is born. Because you have a management team in place. And you have maximized the saleability of the company. And then stage seven in succession. And that’s where a legacy business is born. Okay, you are cash flow positive, you have a strong management team, your clients are happy. And your business is ready to be transitioned to the next generation. So you could pass it along, you can sell it, you can keep it and let your managers buy-in. It’s, you know, where you’re simply transitioning to the next generation.

 

That’s great. Thank you for that comprehensive walkthrough. Now, is there anyone stuff which is essential for the growth? Or they’re all important in succession?

Yeah, so the funny thing about or the unique thing about this is that you cannot get to stage you have to do each stage in the sequence. And that’s the thing about what we’ve learned about growth over the years is, growth is a sequential day, you have to go in a specific order. And if you get out of that sequence, you can, you can be severely punished. Because your growth will slow down. So in other words, you can do the right things at the wrong time and not get the result. You’ve got to be doing the right things but in the right sequence. That’s the key. 

 

That’s cool! That’s great. And the reason why I asked the question is that you know, I work with a lot of tech entrepreneurs, and this concept of building a unicorn company, which is, you know, worth a billion dollars. That’s all people talk about, and they forget to, you know, look at the third, these stages that every business goes through. I mean, many people call it with different names. But you know, there’s a, there’s a method to the madness. So that’s why I asked that question to clarify. Thanks a lot. Now, you talk about another concept of winter in your business. So can you tell us a little bit about that? What is winter in your business? And how do you survive it?

Oh, great question. So there are four seasons in business. And there’s a spring and the summer and a fall and winter, and winter, so every 20 to 25 years, we go through the different seasons. And what you, by understanding where the seasons are, you can adjust your business accordingly. Well, the winters we are in the winter season right now. Because they there’s a certain demographic that is going into their prime saving years, that’s the baby boomers. And as a result, it’s created a very volatile economy, which we will be in for at least till 2029. And during winter, you just have to understand that as long as you understand the winter, then you’re fine. You know, but it is a time where if you’re, you know, where the markets are correcting. Real Estate correct. And assets are not as valuable as they used to be. Access to assets is more important than ownership of assets. So you might notice Airbnb, and I don’t need to own a car because I could take an Uber, right, so assets decrease in value. And that froze the markets in turmoil and they have to recalibrate. So you have to be very, you have to be very strategic during winter. Because it’s a time that if you don’t have your systems in place, and you don’t understand your pricing. You don’t know who your customer is, you could be out of business very quickly. Just look at retail. Retail is never adjusted. They’ve never figured it out. You know, but a good example would be Apple has all that Apple stores. If you go through a mall, the mall is a ghost town, but you walk into the Apple Store and it’s packed. Yeah, because they have they understand retail, Whole Foods understands retail. There are companies that understand it. And do it well. Walmart, Target, these are good stores that understand retail.But Kmart sees it well. Target made a big mistake in Canada, their entry into Canada was a disaster. You know, and which is unfortunate. I talked about that on morning TV and Montreal. And that was unfortunate the way target kind of blew that up when they came in. They look like that had a good plan, but then they blow it. But these are companies that essentially do understand retail. And when they screwed it up to their entry back into Canada will be very unlikely. Let’s put it that way. 

 

Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, I mean, every business goes through these cycles. And as you put it, like, you know, if you understand it and have enough information, it’s much easier to get through with it. So thanks a lot for that. Now, one of the aspects that you use to make the company you know, grow faster, or even weather the storm through winter is by cutting costs. So can you tell us some good recipes on how you cut costs and companies? 

Well, what I like to do with a company is I like to maximize outsourcing as much as possible. the more you can outsource, it doesn’t matter the size of the company or who you do it with or whatever. But the more you can outsource, the more you are building a team that has a vested interest in every project being successful because if I hire an employee that’s paid by the hour if they make a mistake that cost the company a lot of money, they still get paid for that hour. However, if I’m subcontracting, to another company, and things don’t go well, or one, the probability that they go well increases, but two they, they know that their invoice is in jeopardy if they don’t do a good job, right. So I like to outsource it trim the fat. And, you know, in a growing company, your ability to scale up the business is vital. As a company grows, you have to grow to meet that. However, you also need to be able to contact the company when you are off-peak, or you’re in a slower season, and almost every business has some seasonality. Yeah, almost some every business as even if it’s a couple of months in the year where things slow down a little bit. So your ability to scale up and scale down is very important and, and so what we tell people to do is staff in house, staff to the valleys, subcontract to the Peaks. So for example, if you’re a growing business, and you say wow, I need a lot more marketing, help, I need somebody to do my social media, I need someone to redo my website. You hire an agency for that in the beginning. And maybe you have a marketing director who oversees it, who’s full time. But once those projects are over, you don’t need all that marketing horsepower. So they go away, and you don’t have to carry the overhead. So that’s why I’m a big fan of that.

 

That’s great. I’m, like completely resonate with that statement. Because I use similar methodologies. Even my in my own business. And, you know, when I work with tech founders, I recommend that strategy wholeheartedly. So thanks a lot for confirming that. Now, we are almost running out of time, is there anything else that you would like to share with our audience in terms of you know, how they can grow in their careers?

Yeah, so going back to the pricing, strategy, your pricing is one of the top ways that you communicate with your clientele. That’s how you know when you are when you set your pricing, you are telling the marketplace who you are. And more importantly, you’re telling them the buyer who they are. So it’s very important that you get your pricing right. And you can’t get your pricing right unless you really know your client. So it forces you to do your IPO client profile, and then set your pricing accordingly. And charging the maximum amount that your clientele is willing to pay. You know, don’t negotiate against yourself. Price what you’re worth the.  Price, what the value of the product or service is worth. And the people who are passionate about you, meaning your customers that are passionate about you would are willing to pay for it. They gladly pay for it, as long as you keep delivering the high quality that you’re doing. 

 

Yeah, very well said, Oh, thank you so much for this great interview call. Now, before I let you go, can you tell us a little bit about your company and how people can reach out?

Sure, well, you can reach, you can find out more about me by going to carlgould.com. And as a gift to your listeners, in the Contact Us section, put in the subject line business analysis. And we’ll give any one of your listeners who do that. Up to two hours, what we call the business analysis and it is a two-hour growth workshop and show them wherein their business they can really improve. 

 

That’s awesome, very generous of you. Thank you so much. So everyone listening or viewing please don’t go check it out and take advantage of this opportunity. Well, thanks a lot. Carl. There’s a lot to learn from you. And I hope we can have another conversation with you in the coming weeks.

Alright, well thank you so much. Appreciate it. Thank you.

 

Links & Mentions From This Episode:

Carl’s Website: http://www.carlgouldspeaks.com/

http://7stageadvisors.com/ 

TetraNoodle consulting services: https://bootstraptechstartup.com 

TetraNoodle professional training: https://courses.tetranoodle.com 

 

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