089: How To Leave Your Business For 3 Weeks, Still Make Money & Come Back To It As If You Never Left
Posted by September 2, 2015on
We talk about building systems all the time, but how well do they actually hold up when you completely leave your business? It was time for us to “put our money where our mouth is”.
We recently tested out how well our systems worked by sending Austin to Asia and completely off the grid for 3 weeks. In this episode, we talk about the results we experienced, where we succeeded and what we failed at so you can make the necessary adjustments in your business and make your systems work for you
Systems are vital because they provide the freedom to step and disconnect so you can live a life outside of your work and really enjoy what you’re working on.
Ask yourself, what would happen if you left your business today for 4 days and didn’t have any connection to the internet or phone? What about 3 weeks?
If you get a small panic attack just thinking about it, then you need to create more and better systems. A business is only a business when you can step away and still make money while your gone and everything, for the most part, still operates seamlessly.
During this test, we realized that its success comes down to mastering a few different areas including hiring, systemization, measurement, and shared vision. Of course, there’s more to it than just that so we’ll cover it all in this episode.
Key Takeaways from the Show
- A breakdown of the mistakes we made, the good things we did and how you can use our experience to help you
- How the SOP’s we’ve been developing over the past 9 months worked out.
- Why hiring an AMAZING team is crucial to success and some ideas on how to do it.
- How customization will prevent you from leaving your business and completely disconnecting.
- The misconceptions you have about your role and why you might not really be needed in your business (hurts, we know), but why you should want it that way
Links / Resources
- Interview with Andrew Foxwell
- The Amazing PooPourri Video
- Still using Mailchimp? Email Klaviyo today
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We’re going to kick today’s episode off with a quote from St. Augustine, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Transmitter: Welcome to Ecommerce Influence; where the best and brightest online business minds teach you how to grow your ecommerce company from one million dollars to 10 million-plus. To learn all of the strategies from past experts, download the episodes at ecommerceinfluence.com.
Chad: Oh man, it’s the man, the myth, the legend, Austin Brawner, back from Moscow. What’s up man?
Austin: Hey, I’m back. It feels good to be back in the States, hopping on another show with you, Chad. Yeah, it was a pretty epic trip going all the way from Beijing up to Moscow and St. Petersburg by train. Almost three weeks in a train car.
Chad: Yeah, I’m not sure that many of our listeners realize that you were gone, but –
Austin: That’s the goal, right? You get – make sure the content continues to produce and goes out.
Chad: Exactly, so let me ask you before we hop into what’s really important and what we’re talking about today, what was your favorite part about this trip?
Austin: My favorite part and the most amazing part was that like six days ago, I was in a Mongolian ger which is a small, traditional, nomadic hut with a traditional nomadic family drinking fermented horse milk, and then, which by the way which is what the traditional people in Mongolia, like traditional nomadic people, that’s all they drink. They don’t drink water, they don’t drink anything else. It’s fermented horse milk called airag, and this airag it tastes – I mean it really, it wasn’t that bad, you could tell that there was a little bit of alcohol in it, it’s about 2% alcohol, but yeah we drank a big bowl of this fermented horse drink, ate horse cheese, horse butter, sniffed a little bit of their traditional like tobacco that they’ve been taking for hundreds of years, and then hopped on some horses and ponies and rode off into the Mongolian –
Austin: Step, the step. I’m sorry, it wasn’t that sunny.
Chad: All right, it’s funny, I’m going to put the picture of you on that horse in the post because for those who don’t know Austin, Austin’s about what six-foot-three, I think?
Chad: He’s a tall fellow, and those horses are more like ponies.
Austin: They are, Mongolian horses are like small but extremely sturdy. I mean they’re famous, you know, the Mongolians rode them all the way to Russia and conquered all the way, you know, to the Middle East on these really sturdy but small ponies, so it’s just –
Chad: Yeah, but they’re also much smaller than you so when I saw the photo of you on that horse, to me it looked like a grown man riding like a small kid’s bicycle and like the knees hitting the handlebars, you know when you’re trying to ride.
Austin: It felt like that because the saddle was way too small, so the moment that he kicked up and started to trot and gallop, it was just pain all over.
Chad: Yeah, either way, we’re glad to have you back. It’s good to be on another show with you man, so let’s jump right into it though. Let’s talk about what’s our topic here is today, and it has a lot to do with your trip to China, to Moscow. And really what it is, it’s something we’ve talked about for a while and that’s really systems, right? We harp on this all the time but, you know, one thing I always think about is putting your money where your mouth is, or doing what you say you’re going to do, and we talked about it so much that, you know what it’s time for us to prove how installing the right systems with the right people and the right mindset will allow you to leave your business, right, with – well no, I’d say no strings attached, but it could be very little strings attached, so that you can ride ponies in Mongolia.
Austin: Yeah, and this is something that we want to talk about, because this is a trip I’ve wanted to do for almost eight years, through the Trans-Siberian railway, and there’s no way I would’ve been able to do it running a small business. It’s very difficult without systems and without having a really quality team working behind us, really talented, to execute the systems that we put together. This is not – you know we’re not going on this episode to brag about it; in fact in a lot of ways we failed in many ways, but in certain things, in certain ways, you know coming back after a couple of weeks, a lot of things were working really, really well. So what we want to do is go through and kind of give you some ideas of why certain things worked and why certain things didn’t work, revisit some of the systems that we built that had been key to allowing us a little bit of flexibility and freedom and consistency – that’s the main thing. You know, you can’t have consistency, and flexibility, and freedom, without key systems. So that’s our goal, we’re just going to revisit what we’ve done and talk about what’s worked and what hasn’t worked with system building.
Chad: Yeah, I’m actually pretty excited about this because I could say we talked about it so much and now we experience it, and it’s so easy for us to look back on what happened and give you this “real-life example” but before we hop in, a couple of things I want to say, you know this industry is very small, and it’s getting smaller and smaller every day. I was just at a video marketing summit and I started talking to a few people who knew somebody else and knew somebody else. For example Jake Larson, who’s been on our show, he’s out at Salt Lake City, I met him there. I met Dane Octaly who actually works in our office in Venice, who also knows Jake. And then there’s Brett Curry who knows Jake and said “Hey, tell Jake I said hi” and then of course you’ve got people like Foxwell and Steve Chu. When I say Foxwell, I mean Andrew Foxwell. Steve Chu, all these guys and I tell you what, if you’re listening to this podcast, get involved in these communities. Join E-Commerce Fuel, join our insider group, you know, talk to Steve Chu, email these guys because it’s incredible how helpful everybody is. It really makes me happy.
Austin: Yeah, it’s a good community.
Chad: Yeah, it makes me happy to be a part of it. It’s really exciting; but also quick shout out to Tyler, our boy, Tyler Lamark from Room Dividers Now. He mentioned that this is, the one with Foxwell, the episode we did with Foxwell was one of the best episodes he’s listened to, so I appreciate that. And then of course Tristan Rummel out of Ohio, (go Buckeyes!) he’s been a pretty good follower for a while so I appreciate all his feedback. If you’re listening Tristan, we really do appreciate it. He also shared our podcast with somebody who I think was kind of reluctant to listen to podcasts, I’m not exactly sure on that, but either way his friend replied with, “The podcast has changed my life” and it sounds a bit large but I tell you what I’ll take it because it’s nice to hear those things.
Austin: It’s great to hear it, so we’ll take it in every day.
Chad: Yup, all day. Oh and real quick, a part of that video in marketing summit, there was the guy who created this video for this company called Potpourri, I don’t know if you’re heard of it, if you haven’t go get it, it’s amazing.
Austin: Yeah, we’ll put the link to the video because it’s hilarious.
Chad: It’s amazing, it’s amazing. Anyway, so the guy who created that video was there and they did some metrics on that and found that I think the video was responsible for five to ten million dollar increase in sales, so it’s pretty incredible. I have to get the exact number but it was definitely in the millions. And I think Potpourri is at about 20 to 25 million, maybe 30 million in total business now, but the one thing that blows my mind is that they’re still using Mail Chimp, and that’s something that just, I don’t understand. If you’re in e-commerce, stop using Mail Chimp. There’s a program out there called Klaviyo, we actually don’t get any commissions for referring it, we just use it so much and we do have an email set-up directly to our contacts at Klaviyo so that you can talk to somebody there about getting it because it will change the way you do business. And you can email them at ei@Klaviyo.com, just to learn a little bit more about what it does. So if you’re using Mail Chimp, just stop and look at Klaviyo.
Austin: Sounds good. So let’s get into it, let’s dive into it real quick and kick this thing off. So, let’s talk about this Chad, what’s kind of our – the overarching theme for today is the systems allow for freedom, right? So if you look at some of the stuff that we’ve talked about on this show, one of the goals of building our business and living a life that’s desirable for us is to be able to disconnect for a little bit of time, you know, over, let’s say over a week because really once you disconnect for over a week, week and a half, two weeks, it’s kind of litmus test for your business whether or not it can succeed without you. You can go a week because you’re going to come back and it’s going to be hell, and you’ll just work through it, but that’s been one of our goals and one of our desires. What do you say to that, man?
Chad: I mean, I say bravo! I agree a hundred percent. So I mean being able to disconnect – they talk about so often, you know, being able to separate yourself from your work, the whole idea of work-life balance is sometimes nearly impossible for a business owner, and honestly it’s because you don’t have the right systems and we proved that for ourselves. You were able to disconnect for three weeks, not only because you were forced to, because there was no internet in some places, but – I mean that’s the whole point right? We don’t want to constantly live in it.
Austin: Talk about it really like, I mean in a train car for four days in a row so across Siberia, it took four days with no Wi-Fi, no nothing, and it was fantastic. I mean when was the last time you’ve gone four days where you literally could not check anything. It was nice.
Chad: Yeah, ask yourself the question like what happens right now – in my business, what would happen right now if I left for four days and had zero access to internet? I know some people would be freaking out because there’s days when for some reason I can’t get internet, when I was in Tennessee for two days and I was like “Crap, I don’t have internet” so I know people could be freaking out.
Austin: So what we did to prepare for this, because it was something on our radar for quite some time, we started by building systems and creating standard operating procedures for our business. We focused the last really nine, ten months on creating the standard operating procedures, training our team to not only follow them, but create their own standard operating procedures, and then the most important thing is after we did those two things is trust that our team could succeed and actually do a better job than we can. And I think that’s been proven in the last couple of weeks as they’re doing an incredible job, when you build a structure and let them follow it and improve on it.
Chad: Yeah, and it all starts with hiring which we’ll get into, but the other thing is setting these expectations, right? If you know in advance you’re going to leave and go away and be disconnected, you know, take that extra time to set expectations to set these systems in place. But then like I said the expectations to make sure they get done in the right time, at the right order, more importantly, if you’re a client or service-based business which technically everybody kind of is a client-facing business, even if you’re selling physical products you still are. But set expectations with these clients to let them know that, you know, you can do the job or you can accomplish the goal that you paid us to do with the people that are on our team, because we have trained them accordingly and that’s been a big part of it.
Austin: Expectations start a couple weeks before you leave. Say you want to make a trip, you want to go and disconnect for a little while, you have something you want to do, you got a new business, you’ve got income to take you to do something; now, the expectations have to come – you have to prepare like three weeks ahead of time and you got to stop responding to every email and make sure that your team has taken over before you leave. If you don’t do that, and you’re just following up with everything until the day you leave, you’re going to have a very tough first couple of weeks. And those three weeks ahead of time are key to making sure that the process is being followed by your team before you actually leave.
Chad: Sure, yeah. I mean the things that we did really well were the expectations for one, setting those up, we have built some great systems; implementing Scrum I think was extremely helpful for us, but hiring right – we hired very well, let’s be honest, we hired very well.
Austin: The talent, extremely talented people that if you don’t feel like you can trust somebody completely, they shouldn’t even be on your team, and we feel like we can trust our team entirely with the work that’s being done, and that’s the ultimate test right? If you have zero doubts that the people you’ve got in your team you can trust, that means you did a good job hiring.
Chad: Yeah, it’s almost like this, if you look at it in an order, right, if you already have people on your team that you can trust because you have hired well, then you’re in a position right now to set up the systems and the expectations to make this potential disconnect, this vacation happen. If you have not hired well, that really is your first step is to go back and figure out that process first. But the question is like where do we fail, right? Where do we need to improve and what did we learn in this trip? And I want to start with you man, you’re sitting in a train for four days disconnected, what was going through your mind? Were you like, “Oh man, I should’ve done this before I left”? And what happened when you got back? Like, what did you think about and what do we need to improve next time?
Austin: I think where we need to improve is just making sure that, you know, the vision is set entirely, and everyone’s on board, and making sure that, you know, that –
Chad: Are you talking about the overall vision of companies, the organization is going?
Austin: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s probably the most important thing. As long as, if you’ve built the right systems, you’ve hired the right people, as long as people, as long as your team breathes, lives and breathes the vision as much as you do, then it’s going to be self-perpetuating, right, and that’s the main thing I think like when I’m thinking about maybe where, what’s difficult being a remote team and not seeing everyone every day. We’ve got, you know, a team in New York, California, people in, in Eastern Europe; we’ve got people in –
Austin: In Florida. We’ve got a team spread over the entire globe, all the way to India, and sometimes, I think that’s the one thing that I thought about when I was there, like where we – what we need to improve on is making sure that your team is cohesive, has a vision for what they’re doing so they can follow the systems and get value out of them.
Chad: Yeah, and I think from my end, because I was here obviously for the three weeks managing everything, everybody; the one thing I felt that we lacked was a better integration on my side, because I work in basically – if you look at our company there’s really two departments, okay – obviously everything crosses in some capacity, but you know, the agency side that you work on quite a bit, I didn’t have a complete understanding of everything that did happen within the agency side. So my job I felt like at the time to make sure that side ran smoothly was to (1) trust that our team was getting everything done, but there was no way for me to measure success. It was more or less, “Hey, are we going to get this stuff done on time? If not, why?” And it was kind of like I have to trust whatever answer there is and say, “You know what, we did hire right, these people know what they’re doing, I’m going to trust them.” On the flip side, it also would be good so that we have a checklist or like I said, some type of measurement to say, “Okay, I don’t know what’s happening but at least I know that I can check this off and say I see that, it’s been done, we’re good to go.” Makes sense?
Austin: That’s a good point absolutely. Checklists; taking even with your standard operating procedure, taking it even further with checklists. Yeah, I think that’s good and also one other thing that I realized from going away for a time is that I process all the invoices and I take care of accounts payable and receivables with the bookkeeper, again another team member who’s virtual, but –
Chad: She’s in New Jersey, right?
Austin: Yeah, yeah, she’s in New Jersey, but one thing that was important, just realizing that that’s a big – that can be a large burden, and if you do want to be able to disconnect at all, you need to be able to build a system so that somebody else can help approve payments, receive invoices, and have them trained and again got to start at least three weeks ahead of time because you want to watch and make sure that they’re doing it correctly before your take time off.
Chad: Yeah, I mean it’s like you and I went over finances and we’re like “We’re ready to go” I had everything I needed to make sure finances were paid. We got our money that we needed, etcetera. Of course, there was one bill that needed to be paid, because we have paid everything up front. We knew that all I was there for is to make sure everything was just gold and no major fires came through, so we felt set, and there was just one small payment, and luckily it was just a small payment that needed to go out, and of course we knew this person personally, I was like “Yeah, I’ll pay tomorrow.” I go in to pay it and it’s like okay, we need text authorization from this number and it’s your cell phone and I’m like “Great!”
Austin: He’s in a train car, he’s in Siberia.
Chad: Exactly. Luckily it’s a small amount, it’s somebody we know, we are fine, but that’s something for the future. I guess what I’m trying to say, if you’re going to go away, make sure your finances are setup and that all text message authorizations are taken care of.
Austin: Exactly. Couple of tips we want to share, four of them actually, and these are strategies that you can take and use for yourself regardless if you’re going anywhere or taking some time to disconnect, just to improve your business. So why don’t you kick it out Chad with the first one.
Chad: Yeah, the first one really we talked about it so much, it’s systematizing; the best way to do that is by creating SOPs, Standard Operating Procedures. We’ve talked about these, we’ve had some, I think some e-books on how to do it, we’ll put some links on the show notes, but really creating these standard operating procedures is a huge way of going about it and I think, if you haven’t done any yet, start with the small tasks. Do you do social media? Do you do something like that? Just create a standard operating procedure where an individual, whether it’s a VA or an in-house assistant, can take that procedure while you’re gone and simply execute it per your instructions so that you don’t have to think about it or do it. So if you’re not there yet, do that. If of course if you already have SOP, if you’ve already done a few, keep doing more.
Austin: Yeah, and a good one to pick, I like finances as one, because everybody has to process their finances and if you create a standard operating procedure, a way to do it, regardless if you give it to somebody else, it makes it easier for you to follow the steps once you’ve set it up. So that’s a good one to pick if you have not created a standard operating procedure for your finances yet. Number two, avoid customization. Customization is what’s going to kill any chance you’ve got to step away from your business for any period of time, and I truly believe stepping away from your business gives you the clarity you need to help grow your business. It’s very, very valuable because it’s so easy to get locked into it, but the more you customize what you’re doing, whether it’s customizing products, customizing services, the more you customize, the less opportunity you’re going to have to be able to take any time, significant time, to be able to think about the big picture away from your business because customization leads to – it’s the difference between a consultant who’s paid for their ability to problem-solve and a business owner. Big, big difference.
Chad: Yeah, and we experienced that; I mean, it was incredible we had two new clients come onboard and they fit our system perfectly and it was very easy for me to get them signed up for us to get them into the process and it was very, very fluid. There was no – there was nothing – in fact we, even though when Austin’s here, he doesn’t need to be around for some of that stuff, right? But of course, there’s one client where we’re going to, going to customize because they weren’t a typical e-commerce client and right then and there I felt this as I was going through the process with this potential client, and I said, okay, even if we do want to work with this client, like we can’t do anything until Austin’s back so we can team this up together because the way our system’s built, it’s not to adhere to that or to be able to fulfill it.
Chad: Third step, break things down further than you think they could go. We’ve had a – not an issue, but more or less a mindset shift from what we were before, which was “Oh, Austin and I know so much, you know, nobody would be able to figure out what to do next, so you know, we won’t be able to go away that much and they won’t be able to take care of this.” But that’s not true. Really what it is, is being able to break things down into further steps, allow us to “templatize,” if that makes sense, what we’ve done. So why don’t you talk a little bit about that, because I know you have a good example for this one.
Austin: Yeah, I think it’s really important to challenge yourself, and to challenge your mindset about breaking down tasks into much smaller tasks because you can look at certain things that you do and you may think that you’ve broken it down as far as it can break down, but 90% of the time, I would say you’re wrong about that. An example that I put together is creating strategy, email marketing strategy. This is something I do for almost all of our clients; it’s create the email marketing strategy, and I was doing this for a long, long time, and I’ve been doing this for years now at this point and I’m very good at it. And I had this mindset that it would be very difficult to get somebody else to help with this email marketing strategy, and if we’re going to be able to grow, we need to have other people who are equal or better to what I’m doing, what I’m creating for email marketing strategy. And so what I thought about was “Okay, what am I doing day-in, what am I doing day-in and day-out when I’m creating strategy? What are the similarities? How can I break it down into a template so that 80% of the creation is already done and the structure of the emails are already there, and then we need to –” basically the 20% is then customizing the work for each individual client, because that is the main difference. When we talked about customization earlier, customization is bad when there’s no foundation of what you are going to create, it’s good and it’s necessary, a hundred percent necessary, when you create a foundation and then you customize up to like, let’s say 20% because you allow your team to use their creative ability. You find, you hire people who are more creative than you are, and then you allow them to work within the sandbox of what we’ve created the foundation, and take it to levels that previously have not been able to be reached. You find people more creative than you, you create the structure, and give it to somebody who’s more creative than you and they’ll it to the edges and they’ll figure out ways to maximize the opportunity that you have within the sandbox that you’re playing in.
Chad: Yeah, and improve it.
Austin: And improve it, 100%.
Chad: I mean, on my side it’s really this podcast; I mean I looked at the amount of tasks – all the little tasks that I have to complete, it really added up and I didn’t realize this till after the fact I was just so – it was so much by memorization or just out of habit. And I finally broke down the entire process from thought process of what we’re going to talk about, all the way through the final email we send out to let people know it’s live. At the time, I was like, “Oh man, I just got to do all this because it’s just easier that way.” Well I’ve finally broken it down into such simple steps that as of today, I can literally say to Lisa or to whoever and say, “Look I’m not going to be here for a couple of weeks, you’re just going to have to run this whole thing.” And I don’t have to worry about it because it’s all been broken down into the smallest steps possible.
Austin: And the worst case scenario is one step, there’s a question on it, and they can email or text about one specific step and get it figured out.
Austin: But with all the stuff we’re talking about, number four, probably the most important thing once you’ve set this all up is to trust your team and to trust the systems that you’ve created because I guarantee, nothing that’s going to happen over a couple of weeks when you take some time and rejuvenate and spend time with your family or with your friends, is going to be as bad as you fear it’ll be. In fact, after the first week, you’ll probably realize that you’re not as necessary to your business as you think you are; and that’s a great feeling because –
Chad: Is it also kind of like weird that you’re not needed?
Austin: Totally, yeah. Totally weird. I mean it’s not something like I’m used to in any sense, you know, something, it’s bizarre. It’s a feeling like it’s weird-like, inadequacy, really when you break it down it’s the best possible thing, when you could go away for a couple of weeks and you find that your business continues to run and continues to grow, that means you’ve done a good job setting up the foundation and it also gives you – I mean for me personally when I’m super-involved with the business, I can be a little bit less forgiving about I guess mistakes and learning, and I think that’s probably a flaw in a certain sense because to learn you must make mistakes, and giving somebody extra levels of responsibility when they’re taking over something maybe above what they typically do, is the quickest way – obviously some mistakes will be made but learning will be had a quicker way than you’ll ever have in the business without doing that. So I think it’s very, very important.
Chad: Yeah, the thing is, I’ve really come to appreciate mistakes. We’ve all made a lot in our lives, right? But the key here is not the perfection behind it but the effort it takes to do it; if someone’s not putting in effort and making mistakes, that’s a problem. But if you’re putting an effort and you’re progressing even if it’s a few steps, like that’s going to – that is what matters most. Obviously we want to have a high performance and that happens, but it’s just – I don’t know, I think about when you were gone and how things could go wrong on the side of the business that I’m not used to and really all I had to come back to was, “You know what, if something happens, it happens and we’ll just deal with it.” But nothing really happened man, I mean there are a few things that we have to take care of, but for the most part we trusted the team, they took care of what they needed and there is nothing we had to really put out fires on.
Austin: That’s the best comment ever getting from a client was, “We didn’t miss you at all.” So that’s good, you know.
Chad: Yeah, kind of weird and awesome at the same time.
Austin: Exactly, backhanded compliment.
Chad: Exactly, well hopefully you guys enjoyed that. Like I said, it’s all about putting your money where your mouth is and we felt it was time for us to do that and we’re excited to have this conversation. So just a reminder, I don’t think we mentioned it today, but we put together a library of free e-commerce marketing training. The training actually includes seven guides, including one of them which is ‘Four Steps to hiring A-players on Elance’, “Selling Your Business for Max Value’, ‘How To Get Twice As Much Done In Half The Time’, ‘Facebook Marketing for E-Commerce’, and a few others, plus we have some training videos and master classes with some of the e-commerce industry’s top experts. You can get access to all of that free training material in one, easy, simple, no-brainer, awesome way, and you can do that by going to ecommerceinfluence.com/insider and you can get started on that right away. So that’s it for us; if you haven’t subscribed yet, go ahead and do that now. Go ahead Austin, what were you going to say?
Austin: I was going to say I’d love to hear from you guys; if you have any stories about yourself, about you leaving your business for extended period of time, what your thoughts on this topic are. It’s something that’s interesting to us; if this resonated with you at all, we’d love to hear from you. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll check it out and yeah, if you liked the episode, head over to iTunes and write us a review.
Chad: There you go. Well, we’ll see you on the next episode.
Austin: Take care.
We’re going to kick today’s episode off with a quote from St. Augustine, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
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