Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence podcast. My name is Austin Brunner.
Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Fox. Well hey, man. How are you doing?
Austin Brawner: I'm good, man. I am ready to go off the grid for a little bit.
Andrew Foxwell: Love it. Off grid knit. That's a huge win. Now, we're sharing wins at the beginning of these things. What are you doing? Where are you going?
Austin Brawner: Off basically every end ... At the end of every quarter, we do an offsite and when I say off the grid, I just mean off the day to day grind of the business to dive into some different, like bigger picture thought process stuff, and I'm getting really excited about it because at this point, it's midway through the year for us right now, but you can do this anytime of the year regardless of when you're listening to this, and I'm preparing for a two-day offsite in Santa Barbara and I'm excited.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, man. I think it's one of those things where it's actually key to have time away.
Austin Brawner: It is.
Andrew Foxwell: It's key to have time away to think, to actually go through it because there's so many things coming at us all the time and that's really what we're getting into today. We're getting into talking about basically how to prepare for a new quarter and how you go through your planning process and also how we go through ours, and getting into that and getting into the weeds of it. That's what we're getting into today.
Austin Brawner: Yeah. You and I both have talked about this a lot and we're both big proponents of taking a step back to be able to move forward and over a period of multiple years and many iterations and reading books and listening to other people and coming up with our own process that we can dive into to prepare for an upcoming quarter, and take that time necessary to step back so that you can move forward in whatever direction that you truly want versus just getting stuck in that grind that you're banging your head against the wall making progress, but sometimes you don't even know if you're making progress in the right direction.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, totally. You don't know. You feel like you're moving forward, but are you actually moving forward in a productive way and it's actually helping you achieve what you want to do?
Well, I had a call actually this week, which is what prompted this discussion and us to really get into this episode where I was talking to somebody who's was like, "What are you really trying to do?" They were like, "Well, we want to grow." I'm like, "Why? What's the goal?" "Well, we're not sure."
This is what we want to get into. We want to focus, we want to talk about that, like how to really get back into what are you trying to do and reflecting on what have you been doing that maybe isn't the best? Right?
Austin Brawner: Yes. Today's episode, you can kind of expect we're going to go through the process, how I'm preparing for this upcoming quarter and we'll talk about a review, the planning session and the capturing session of ideas and then how to take that and turn them into goals that are meaningful and that relate to moving you forward in the direction that that you want?
Andrew Foxwell: Got it.
Austin Brawner: You want me to get into it?
Andrew Foxwell: Absolutely. Let's go ahead.
Austin Brawner: Cool. Basically the way I start the process and you can dive in with your process as well, but before or right at the end of any quarter, what we do is we go through, we start; the first thing we do is an offsite preparation questionnaire or a quarter review, and basically, it will take some time, usually about an hour, maybe an hour and a half and we'll start by asking some questions. We start out by reviewing the last quarter, we ask myself the question and my team the question, "What's worked well for us the last 90 days?" Go through that and journal a little bit about what's been working well?
Then, we'd go through and think back and ask another question, which is what's been a disappointment over the last 90 days? Give some time to get some guidance on how things have gone compared to our expectations and we dive into some other questions, which is what's the most frustrating thing you face on a weekly basis? I really liked this question because it can be we are ... Us humans are really good at just powering through frustrating things and it forces you to face them head-on.
Andrew Foxwell: Right. Right.
Austin Brawner: Then, ask a couple of other questions here. What's the highest leverage activity you do on a daily, weekly basis? I.e. What provides the most value for the company and the flip side, what's the lowest leverage activity you participate in on a daily, weekly basis or anything that provides negative value for the company? Then, I really like this question, which is what are the top three tasks you wish you had someone to help you with? Great question for your team to get an idea of where they feel like they need support to be able to be successful.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I think these are definitely going to ... You're going to discover a lot from this, right? This is why you do this. You're going through it and it's like, "What's been good? What's not been good? What's frustrating? What's not?"
And what we do on a quarterly basis is we go through and look at ... Basically the first thing we pull up is our time, which we've talked about in previous episodes, but we pull up our time spent and we basically make sure that two things are happening is one is if we look at the overall time graph and say, "Okay. This is where we're spending our time." One, does it align with revenue? That's like one, but that's secondary to, "Are we actually just achieving closer to what we wanted to do at the beginning of this year?"
Gracie and I, we don't have a big team. It's Gracie and I and Shane who edits this podcast and also works with us and has his own business. So we're a small team, but it's like basically Gracie and I go through and set high-level goals of what are we trying to do? What are the financial goals? What are the life goals? What are the time goals? Time is really the most important one to us, and then just checking in that we're able to do that.
So the quarterly thing of going through the time side of it, that's helped. That helps us get to a lot of these questions even though we're not going through it so formally. A lot of times, what will come up is I'll see something like, "Okay. I've spent 8% of my time on this thing that actually is really frustrating." Why did I do that? Right?
Austin Brawner: Sure.
Andrew Foxwell: It gets into your thing, but I love the framework, "What's been a disappointment? What's the most frustrating? What's highest leverage? Lowest leverage, and those top three tasks you wish you had help on?" Because a lot of times actually even just thinking about like what you need help with is an exercise on its own.
Austin Brawner: No question. No question.
Andrew Foxwell: Because you feel like you've been doing it on your own for a while. Anyway, yeah. I love that.
Austin Brawner: Yeah. It's kind of the start of the process is reviewing and then we move towards the next step, which is planning.
After reviewing, then we say, okay, well, we ask five more questions and those questions are "What should we start doing? What should we stop doing? And what should we keep doing?" This is the first three and I like to give people a lot of ... Like not a ton of guidance on those because you can get really interesting feedback from those questions.
I highly recommend it even to give this type of a quiz or a survey to people, maybe not even on your leadership team because you might adapt it a little bit, and pass it on to people that are not necessarily on the leadership team.
Working with a client in The Brand Guild and we're going back and forth about this and I was helping him prepare to send this out and it was really interesting because he was like, "I'm going to send it out to pretty much everybody and see what happens." Not necessarily people in strategic roles. One of the responses that he got back was to what should we start doing was we should have hot coffee for everybody each day. Right? A really simple change that he was like, "Oh, right. That's an easy change to make. I can make hot coffee, get a coffee machine here if that's going to improve the work environment." You might get some interesting ideas. Interesting thoughts back, not just in the way that you're thinking about growing the business.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. Well, that's all incredibly true. What's powerful about hearing that is I think if you even think about this ... Let's say you're big enough to have an HR department or something, right? Even getting all of your employees, if you ask them this question, or these questions, that's in itself, even depending on what you do with it, obviously you don't want it to go to nothing, but I'm saying that just by merely asking, they take ownership in the business, right?
Austin Brawner: 100%.
Andrew Foxwell: That's a huge, huge value add because a lot of companies do ... I don't know if you've been in companies that have used like TINYpulse or something like that where they send out question. It's all anonymous. Right? Per week. Have you ever seen that product?
Austin Brawner: I haven't seen TINYpulse, but I know there's 15Five or something like that, which I know. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. It's like you punch it in and whatever and it's like anonymous thing and then the executives can use it however they want, and even asking one question a week, I think is valuable. If you go through this on a quarterly basis, what should we stop doing? What should we keep doing? Then, what are the things you think we should be focusing on that we're not? That's insane what that'll open up for you and probably because you hire smart people, you're going to learn a lot. Right? Anyway, love that. I think that's a really, really good framework.
Austin Brawner: The last couple of questions we go through to prepare for an offsite, one is what's the number one thing you want to personally achieve from the offsite? Asking everybody that, and then what are the top three and only three things that you think we should focus on over the next 90 days, and have people list them out and elaborate a little bit on each one to get an idea. That's going to be definitely wide ranging depending on how large your company is because everyone's going to be ... The bigger it gets, the more they'll be diving down into their specific department, but it's a good place to start when you're trying to pick an overall vision.
Andrew Foxwell: Love it. Love it, man.
Austin Brawner: Last couple of bonus questions I always put on here, how can we improve our sales and website experience? Getting ideas from things that people might've noticed or spent some time, and then the other one is what is one unique way we could create more monthly recurring revenue for the business? I just liked to have that as an option for people to think outside the box and usually try to give away some prize for the best idea.
Andrew Foxwell: It's huge. Everybody's got to be thinking about recurring business at this point in time. That's an incredibly good question. Especially thinking about these people that are like packing orders every day or something and they're working in your warehouse, what are they doing when they're packing orders? They might be thinking about packing orders and printing out labels, but they're probably thinking about, "Man, if this is my business, I would do this."
Austin Brawner: Exactly. You get some great stuff.
Andrew Foxwell: Like unlocking that potential, it's pretty wild. Yeah. Yeah. This is like before you do the offsite this is just the prep that you have everything ready.
Austin Brawner: Yeah. I just use like Google survey, send it out, get responses and be able to go through them, and you can do it either anonymous or non-anonymous. Totally up to you. There's benefits to both, but I like to review that before going into the offsite to come up with some sort of a theme for it.
Then, once we actually have the offsite planned and we've actually set time, we've blocked off two days every quarter for an offsite for the entire year. I think we need to actually block off Q4, but we're trying to keep up a couple of quarters ahead blocking off the time because we know we're going to be doing it and we have a pretty ... Our schedule that we've come up with over a period of time has been basically two days. Day one, we have a theme. Day two, we have a theme.
Day one's theme is kind of review. Review the previous quarter and capture all of the different ideas that we have. Day two is actually a planning day, so we'll actually take the ideas that we have and put them into action.
On day one, basically the first half of the day, we're reviewing answers from the survey and we're reviewing numbers from the previous quarters. We're looking at what did we expect versus what did we hit?
The big question I'm always asking myself is if we look at numbers, what is the bottleneck in the business? What's the thing that's holding us back? Because oftentimes, the most important thing to focus on is not necessarily putting more energy on everything, it's putting the energy and directing it towards the one thing that's the bottleneck holding back the entire business.
Is that traffic? I see this quite commonly. People will spend a lot of time on email when the bottleneck isn't email, the bottleneck is traffic. Or on the flip side, right? They're spending all this time driving traffic when the real bottleneck to growth is the fact they should be launching more products.
Andrew Foxwell: Right. They're trying to parse things a little bit too much or trying to solve the problem that's ... Yeah. Solve the wrong problem.
Austin Brawner: Yeah. That's the goal of the first part of the day is, "Do recognize where the bottleneck in the business is?" The questions you're going to ask yourself to help you figure out what your bottleneck is, is like what happens if ... Like okay. Say traffic tripled or five X-ed, what would happen in the business? You can play out the hypothetical and sometimes you'll find that the bottleneck is manufacturing or you'll find that maybe the bottleneck is not manufacturing and it would be something on operation, so it would hold the business back. Whatever it is, just running those type of hypothetical situations can help you figure out where the bottleneck in the business is. There's a great, great book, I don't know, is a business novel from like the '70s, I think, maybe the '80s called The Goal. Have you ever read The Goal?
Andrew Foxwell: No, I haven't read The Goal. It sounds like a workout center though.
Austin Brawner: It's a great book. It's a book about manufacturing and it talks a lot about the bottleneck. Finding the bottleneck and that's the thing that holds you back, so if you haven't read that one, I highly recommend it.
Second half of the day, we stop reviewing and we say, "All right. Let's get a better vision of where we want to go one year from now." So you do a little free writing. Take about 30 to 40 minutes and do a free writing session where everyone answers two questions.
One is, "Imagine it's one year from now and we're doing incredibly well, what exactly does that look like? Who is on our team and what does the experience for our customers and clients look like?" Then, after people write that out, we go to the next question, which is, "what are things we need to do between now and then to get there?" This goes back to what I was talking a little bit about the capturing aspect, so people can write down everything that's on their mind that would hold us back from getting to where we think success looks like for us one year from now.
Andrew Foxwell: It's really interesting. When we first started working with our business coach, Chris Rudolph of Freedom Business Family, Chris, the first thing he had us do, the first thing I know he still has other people do is actually writing out your weekly, monthly, yearly and then 10-year and then 100-year vision for your life and envisioning in that regard. Then alongside that, he asks you to write down by hour what you're doing now and then write out your perfect day by hour.
It's similar to that, yours is more free visioning of ... Because you've gone through and basically done the pre-prep for getting ready for the offsite and now you're having free writing together once you've heard those responses, which is awesome because it's informing that. And then, Chris' process, he hits it right off the top. Yeah.
It's wild because once you allow yourself to free think, then the possibilities just open up. I think that a lot of people, and maybe you feel like this, I don't know, but certainly as an entrepreneur. I feel like a lot of times as an ecommerce entrepreneur, my family and others, they don't really understand what we do. They don't feel like you're working or something, because we work at different times of the day or there's like time in the middle of the day that we have, it's free where that's time where we're thinking about stuff and taking the dog to the dog park, whatever, that's something we've planned for.
I think at a minimum, just being able to go through these exercises and maybe it's not a quarterly offsite and something as formal, but even asking these questions of like, "What can we do better? What can we improve on?" Then, just pure visioning. If you started to do that with other ... I always think about like if I started to do this with other members of my family or other friends, what would you hear from them? Because I just don't think people allow themselves to think that way. It's just by purely asking that question, I'm saying it's incredibly valuable and allowing your brain to fly free a little bit.
Austin Brawner: Yeah. They're right. Not working. That's the thing. We're not working.
Andrew Foxwell: Well, you're right. No, I don't work certainly. Yeah.
Austin Brawner: Sitting in front of the computer and just playing video games all day. That's what it is though.
Andrew Foxwell: That's the life.
Austin Brawner: It is a video game pretty much.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. It's a total video game. Yeah. Well, that's a real challenge that I have, I think, and I think that other people have a challenge of how do you go through and how you describe that? When you start to talk to people, friends and family ... This is my personal experience. It's Gracie and I's personal experience. I always want to say like, "This isn't a mistake." It didn't end up this way that like, "Oh, wow. Okay. You're free from noon to 2:00. How did you get there?" It's like four years of visioning, of four years of every quarter and every month and every week being like, "What do you think? How did that go?" Right? I think that just by asking these questions and beginning to frame this up will blow your mind if you've never done this.
Austin Brawner: I totally have had a very similar experience to you when you're talking about being off from 12:00 to 2:00, and the foresight you've had and building that into your life and the response that you get to having that, kind of like a "must be nice" type of a response. I feel the same way around, I built, my business is now 100% location independent. There's some benefits for me to be in Texas and work from home or work from the office nearby, but really it can be working from anywhere and often the response I get is like, "Oh, man. You're so lucky to have that."
It's like, "Well, yes. I feel incredibly fortunate," but also it's been a vision that I've had in my mind for five years or six years working to build something like that, and the only way that I would be able to continue to get towards that and make the progress and steps to have that, it's by checking in, consistently. Asking, "One year from now, what does success look like for me? What do we need to do to get there? What's holding me back and continue to move forward?"
Andrew Foxwell: Absolutely. Yeah. You have to maintain that consistent check-in. I think probably those that are some of our best friends, I think they know we do this and they hear us sometimes go through it.
Austin Brawner: They do it as well.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. They do it as well, but it's interesting because some people, I think they ... Probably if they knew all of the times we went through that, they're like, "That seems a little obsessive." But it's not because it helps us live in more intentional life.
I think a big part of what you're saying, like setting up like what do you want to do more of? At the beginning of this quarter, my big thing, like the number one thing for me was rededicating to the question of, "Does it help people?" Just looking at everything through the frame of "does it help people?" Period.
Austin Brawner: Sure.
Andrew Foxwell: Because I think that when you get into this world and especially doing consulting and things like we've talked about a little bit, the ego can take over and my ego, I don't want that. I want to maintain that. It's like, "Is this actually going to help people grow their business?" Period. Just by focusing on that, I've been able to say no so much easier because I'm like, "That's not going to be helpful." That's not going to be something I feel like is really going to help more people. That's been fascinating just by the visioning, accomplishing one thing that makes it that much clearer.
Austin Brawner: No question. No question.
Andrew Foxwell: You do this offsite and then you are planing for the offsite, then you're there, then you do free writing. Picking back up on that, what else happens within that offset for you?
Austin Brawner: Yeah. After the free writing session, then we choose what we want to do with the second half of the first day based on what's most important, but a lot of times, we'll actually spend some bigger picture time going through the website and writing out on a whiteboard all the potential changes, going step by step through the website. What are the things we need to change and improve?
Just doing like a brain dump on all these things, writing out on a whiteboard and then taking those and creating a spreadsheet of ideas of how we can improve our funnel and how we can improve what we're doing? We'll also set up UserTesting on the site, so it's not just us going through the process with our very, very skewed vision of our own website. We have strangers who had never seen it giving feedback, so we can get that information and improve the thought process.
Andrew Foxwell: Love it. Love it.
Austin Brawner: That's day one. That's purely capturing, not thinking about planning. Day two, it's totally different. We go and we start the first half of the second day and we outline all the potential things we could do, right? Because everybody has so much. There's so many things you could do if you're running a business and we try to put those in priority and we say like, "What actually matters?"
We put those in context by looking at upcoming things that we might have on ... Like everyone's got things that are already planned, whether it's a product launch, whether that's travel, whether that's the holiday season, whatever you've got already on the calendar and put those potential projects in context.
Then, we start working on our goal setting for the next 90 days, and we pick one north star vision for what we want to do over the next 90 days. Then, we keep that at the top level and then everything else, we support that number one north star vision for the upcoming quarter.
Just to give you an idea like some context, our north star for Q2 was to successfully launch the rebranded Coalition membership and that was our overall vision for what we wanted to focus on, and we had a lot of goals related to that that helped support that north star mission.
Andrew Foxwell: Nice. Yeah. Like your one important thing basically?
Austin Brawner: Yes. What's the theme of the entire quarter and then how should we support that?
Andrew Foxwell: Right. Like if I do nothing else, this is what has to happen this quarter.
Austin Brawner: Exactly. Exactly. Sometimes that's a growth quarter. Sometimes it's a system's quarter, right?
Andrew Foxwell: Sure. Sure.
Austin Brawner: Sometimes it's just supporting and figuring ... Maybe taking a step back to be able to take a step forward, and then supporting that vision for the upcoming 90 days.
Andrew Foxwell: Right. Very cool. Very cool. Yeah. It's interesting. An example this quarter is for us in that regard too is one of the things that was like, "Is it helpful for us?" Then, the project overall was launching our own courses, foxwelldigital.com/courses, a little plug.
Austin Brawner: Yeah. That's a great north star.
Andrew Foxwell: Right. What's interesting is we basically ... I didn't want to be super regimented and like we have to record this day and launch this day because here's the deal, summer in Wisconsin, it's only nice three months of the year here. Okay? You have to basically, if it's nice, you got to take advantage. You got to get out and you got to take advantage. It's hard to be super, super scheduled in my opinion during the days. Obviously, there's days like Mondays, we usually work a lot. Wednesdays, we work a lot and Friday mornings, we work a lot. But in other times, being flexible is helpful.
So the goal was building buffer time in and building big buffer time in, and what's crazy is we actually launched courses faster by a period of like, I don't know, 45 days than I thought that we would because the weather wasn't as good and we sat down and did them and launched it, got it out. Because of actually having the flex time, we got it out faster.
A lot of it I think can just be scheduling too and freedom of scheduling because then you can take those north star projects and slot them in wherever and work towards it once you have those goals or the tasks broken down and work towards it when it makes the most sense and when you have that mental energy to do so. Because I found myself, I don't know how you feel about it, but sometimes I'm brain dead after a certain point.
Austin Brawner: Yes.
Andrew Foxwell: I'm not contributing anything. It's kind of like Drew Sanoki said in an episode we did with him when he was like, "I'm not doing anything more; if I work a 9:00 to 5:00, I am not ... If I work more than that, the delta between me working more than that and working that amount is not any greater."
Austin Brawner: Yes.
Andrew Foxwell: That's how I feel. I'm like, "If I'm working on this and I'm like I know my brain's not in the right place, I guess they're going to be worthless." I'm just going to sit there and stare at the computer. Anyway, that's my diatribe.
Austin Brawner: No, that makes sense. I just want to wrap up this last little bit about the offsite. Just a couple of tips that I've learned taken away from this.
One thing that I've found to be very helpful is on the second half of the second day, maybe from like 3:00 to 5:00 is to really take that time to assign projects out and responsibilities out and make sure everyone has clarity around what their responsibility within the upcoming quarter is going to be, and you don't just wrap the quarter on a high because. All the goal setting is going to feel really, really good, so try to get that done by like 2:30 on the second day and then take from 2:30 to 5:00 or whenever you're done to actually assign the projects out. That's not going to feel nearly as fulfilling, but it's going to be really, really valuable.
Other things that I've found to be helpful during this offsite process, celebrate. You don't get a lot of time to hang out potentially. When you're working hard as a company, sometimes you can forget about the celebration aspect of it. Have a nice dinner, go somewhere outside of your office to host the offsite, do something that makes it fun and breaks up the monotony of being in the office, working consistently time and time, like over and over again. That will pay you back in lots of dividends, just getting out. Ideally being outside, get to a pool or something like that.
If you're small and you don't have a huge budget, go to a hotel and sit in the lobby and hang out and do some planning from there. That can be helpful.
Yeah. Those are my tips for the offsite and what we're going into and made a huge, huge impact on just not only progress, but quality of life.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I think the final point you said there, celebrate, celebrate. We don't do that enough. I think we're always thinking of moving forward and celebrating and taking a stock of saying like, "This is crazy."
I always tell business owners and I'm working with them, because I have to tell myself this. Gracie and I have to tell ourselves this is like, every day, if you don't take at least two seconds every day or five seconds, 10 seconds, and just acknowledge the fact that you're running an empire, you're in charge of something, you're running ... Whether you're just in charge of Facebook ads or whether you're just in charge an email, or you're just in charge of marketing a company, you're running something, you're in charge, you're doing it. At a minimum, knowing that and taking note of that and having gratitude for, that's awesome. Because to some degree, you've achieved what you're trying to get to.
For me, it's like owning my own business is nuts. I wake up every day. Even if I made like $1 today, which is I need to make enough to pay the mortgage, that's the baseline. But even if I made a little bit of money, that money comes to us. It doesn't go through anybody else. It comes to us, and that's cool, and that's something I'm really proud of.
Austin Brawner: Absolutely. It is. It is really, really exciting and it's a great time to take stock, take inventory. If you want some of these templates, I've got a Google survey template, a lot of these questions all inside the Coalition. You go check out jointhecoalition.com and we got some worksheets and trainings in there related to this stuff if this is striking a chord with you and you want to get more involved. Hopefully, it was helpful.
Andrew Foxwell: Cool.
Austin Brawner: Would love to hear also from you guys. If you have any process that you go through for the end of the quarter or what you're doing, I'd love to hear from it. Youcan hit us up on Twitter. It's a great place, @a_brawn and @andrewfoxwell. It's a_brawn for me. Find us, tweet at us. It's super fun to hear from listeners who are on Twitter as well.
Andrew Foxwell: Definitely. Well, rock and roll everyone. Thank you for joining us for this episode.