Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecinommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.
Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell.
My friend, how are you in this new year?
Austin Brawner: I'm doing fantastic. I like to get into the new year kind of in a gentle way if that makes sense? Not like, you know, massive change or anything like that. I like to just be ready, be in a good head space, and transition into the new year feeling good. And that's what I've been working on. So I feel great. How about yourself?
Andrew Foxwell: Same, man, same. It's interesting, this time we've just gone through between Christmas and New Year's, when it's eerily quiet and you're like, "This is weird." Right?
Austin Brawner: Yes.
Andrew Foxwell: And you're like, "Is my business still active? Am I still gonna be a business?" 'Cause you're so used to having these supporting things, of like the emails and the phone calls and everything.
So I've just been using that time to read and plan and think about what I wanna do, and work with Gracie on what we wanna do. So it's really, really good. And I agree with you. I've gone from trying to be hard-core in the new year to being more intentional about let's make small changes over time, which will then affect the larger goals, versus thinking like, "I've gotta gain 40 pounds of muscle right now."
Austin Brawner: By January 31st.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, which ... I'm big anyway, right? Very bulky. So I'm just ... for those that don't know, I'm like basically 160 pounds wet, so anyway.
Austin Brawner: No, so. 2018 was a really great year. It was challenging, it was fun. I did a lot of travel. We both did a lot of travel this last year. And, likewise, during this time it's been a good time to kind of journal, think about what happened this last year, and also think about what goals to set for this new year, and that's what we want to talk about today.
So, today we're gonna basically talk about goal-setting for the new year and how to avoid setting goals that will disappoint you. That's the one way to think about it. It's the way, sometimes, I think about it.
Especially, this year, the reason I wanna talk about it was because I've made some strategic changes to my business this year that has led to a lot more happiness and success. And those strategic choices were way more important than any tactical ones that I made this last year.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I think it's a really big point of ... you and I've both gone through a lot of those big shifts. So, it's more that strategy thing.
So, today that's what we're talking about. Goal-setting for 2019. And we're gonna dive into that strategy and talk a bit about how to execute it. And I know that you kinda have this framework that you and I've talked about and the phase and some questions. So, how do you, what's the first part of this, right, of defining, building your strategy for 2019?
Austin Brawner: Yeah. So, to start out with, I think the first thing that I like to do is ask myself some questions. And those questions really, they start up top, high-level, with one of two questions which is, are you building a lifestyle business or are you building a business that your only goal is to sell?
And we're gonna get into what a lifestyle business means, and what that means to me and what that means to you, Andrew is probably different than from somebody who's ... from you, if you're listening. But that's kind of the initial distinction that I like to think about when I'm setting some goals. Like, what, if you are building a lifestyle business, what does that lifestyle look like to you? And if you're looking to sell your business, what timeline does that look like? And what would you sell your business for?
And so, that's where I start. And then I try to really get a little bit more real with myself. Right? So the first question, a question to ask yourself if you're in the camp of looking to sell your business. What are the odds that your business is ever gonna sell for a life-changing amount of money?
And the reason this question, I think, is important is because a lot of clients that I work with, a lot of businesses I work with, when you're in the day-to-day every single day, growing your business, working hard, it can be easy to forget that, in the overall scheme of things, your business might be smaller or less important than it feels.
Right? And so, if you start looking at the odds of your business ever selling for a life-changing amount of money, and if it's a relatively small chance, then you might wanna start thinking about making different goals for yourself, or using that business to achieve a lifestyle that resonates with you.
Andrew Foxwell: Mm-hmm. I think that's a really important one. I mean, first of all, what you're saying is, how many times do we ... we talk about, okay, I wanna do this. I want to optimize my operations process. I wanna optimize my email marketing. Right? But I think very rarely, you're totally right. We don't ask ourselves, and we as e-commerce business owners, what are you trying to do, just from the outset? Is it lifestyle or is it looking to sell, or is it something else? It could be that you're trying to do a mix of those things. But I think it's, defining that from the outset is really, really important. And then going into the money, right, or, if you do want to sell, what does that actually look like?
There was a guy that I worked with who ran a running subscription box company a couple years ago and he had launched the business and he had run that business for six months, so not even that long, but people that were impressed in his co-working space, this one company particularly was impressed, and they offered him an amount of money and he sold his business for $300,000.
So, then, he had that money and worked with them for a couple months and then he, a couple years later, was kinda back to where he was before.
So I think, he hadn't done that planning and he admitted that to me later, right? So it's like ... I think getting real about what are the odds that that's ever gonna sell for that life-changing amount of money is a really important question to ask yourself. So I really, really like that.
Austin Brawner: Also, a couple things ... that's a funny story by the way. That's ... it's like, "All right, I'll go for the money." And then it's back to the same spot, which, yeah.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, same deal.
Austin Brawner: You have to be careful, you have to really think through. And we're not great, as humans, we're not very good at predicting what will make ourselves happy. I think that's one thing that's difficult to do. But I think that we can make better choices if you get real and really figure out what your business is, right?
And there's really two styles that I see. I see niche products, people that have found a product that really, really does well, but it's not really a business. Sometimes you see, for a while, there were people selling those black charcoal masks online. And those, you could sell millions of dollars of those, of that product, but it wasn't really a business. It was more of an arbitrage opportunity. Right? So there's, if you look at your product and you say, "Well, I have more of an arbitrage opportunity than actual business," that's one thing. Might change your goals there.
And then the other side of it is, are you really focused on building a brand, like companies like Tecovas or Pura Vida bracelets. If you are, what are you willing to do to make that happen?
So, I think ... the questions that I like to ask myself, and I'm asking myself right now in 2019, is a, how much do I wanna work this next year? How much money do I wanna make? How much stress am I willing to tolerate this coming year?
You know, some people are a lot better with stress than others. I'm not that good when I'm stressed out. I don't like the feeling of it. And so those are kind of things that I'm asking myself right now.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I think that there's a good part of that. And I would actually take that fourth part of your particular framework and maybe even have that be the first thing I would lead with.
What do you even just want your life to look like? Of hours worked, and money, like you said? And then stress, I mean, we know that growing an ecommerce business, stress is inherent in that. And there's, you can crank that up or turn that backdown. And it really depends on what you wanna do.
I heard from an agency colleague last week and he was saying, "Look, for me, this year, it's Fortune 500, or Fortune 5000 or 1000 ... " Anyway. One of the Fortune lists or bust. You know? He's like, "I wanna grow. I wanna grow my agency. That's what I'm doing. And I wanna grow it because I wanna be able to help as many people as I possibly can." And he's a big growth guy.
And so he's basically saying, he's willing to tolerate that much more stress. So, you know, answering those of like, what do you want it to look like? Are you trying to build a brand or is it more of a niche product? And what is the goal that you're trying to do? I mean, it comes down to what your financial goals are, what your time goals are, and I think a lot of it that people lead with is that financial. And I think we'd be better off if we led with time.
Time, for me, and for both of us, I think, is that freedom of not just asking yourself what are the amounts of money do I wanna make? It's how long do I wanna work every day? And what does that look like? Because if you can start to answer that, a lot of this other stuff falls into place.
Austin Brawner: 100%. And when you're looking at a dollar amount also, one of the distinctions that I feel like a lot of times we don't make is growth in the business often doesn't mean growth in your take-home pay at the end of the year. And it's one of those things that you can get caught up with growth and, at the end of the year, finish with, well, not as much profit in the bank.
A look at this upcoming year, things I've thought about. I'm building what I would call a lifestyle business, but my definition is probably different than what your definition is. A couple things that I focus on is I wanna be able to do what I'm doing right now forever, for as long as I want to do it. Right, so I'm not too stressed out about it. It's not something that's overly taxing.
I wanna provide a quality lifestyle for myself, my staff. I wanna be able to experience life outside of work, while at the same time being intellectually stimulated by work. I do get a lot of satisfaction out of working, but it's not the only thing that I get satisfaction out of. There are lots of other things. I wanna be able to work 30-40 hours a week this next year, more if I want to. And I wanna spend four months in Europe this year with my wife. I don't know how much longer we're gonna go before having kids, so I'd love to spend that time with her and doing some traveling, and working at the same time.
So those are the things I've been thinking about when I'm answering those questions.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, and I think, I'm very much in the same camp, which is lifestyle business, too, of being very conscious of, the same thing. We wanna be able to do this for a long time. And I've actually set more, I would say, framework stuff for myself than specific tactics. Last year I was like, "I wanna do X number of consulting calls within Q1." And I tried to make it very tangible.
And one of the things that I'm setting out this week is, there's a period of time from 12-3 every day I don't wanna have to work. I wanna be able to go out from 12-3, when other people are working, and be outside, and go to the gym, and you know. I'm still working in the mornings, waking up at six, working by seven, work from four to six or whatever in the evening. But I wanna be able to be more present in the middle of the day, which I haven't really been 'cause I've been on a lot of calls.
So, I've been trying to kinda take what you're saying of that experience life while being intellectually stimulated and take my framework of a timeline, of here's what I would like to do.
A lot of ours, too, is that we would like to continue to educate as many people as we can. And I think the podcast is a big part of that, and I think teaching courses with John Loomer is a big part of that, and through your community. And so that's a big part of it. Like, if a teaching opportunity comes up, we're gonna take advantage of it. Right?
So, it's interesting. It's setting that out of what you wanna do. I think about people that are listening to this podcast that is gonna have completely different goals. A lot of people listening to this are very much wanting to grow. They're building a growth business, right?
And so, there are different ways that you can kinda choose a strategy. And one of them I know that you talk about is basically going all-in. Right? Can you talk about that a little bit, of what going all-in would mean and examples of that?
Austin Brawner: Yeah. So, this comes from the questions you ask earlier about your business. Are you building a brand that you see, down the road, that you're going to sell? Companies like Movement watches, Native deodorant, Tecovas boots, Warby Parker, Casper, Harry's. Those are all business that is built to sell. That's the be-all, end-all of that business.
Now, they're going to be funneling all profits, if any, back into the business to grow it as quickly as possible and the end goal is to be acquired and make a life-changing amount of money from that business. That is definitely one style of business to run. Right? And about half of those companies have raised money to fuel growth and will continue to raise money to fuel growth. I think Warby Parker might be profitable this year, I'm not sure. But after about eight years of running a business that was not profitable.
And that is definitely a strategy. If you look at your goals and you say, "Hey, I want to sell my business for a life-changing amount of money and I have a brand that I believe I can sell, then that's one way to go about it. There's no question.
I would say that there have been a lot more acquisitions recently, but still, in our industry, it's difficult. There are just a few examples of people who have made some, built business, scaled them up, and sold them for a life-changing amount of money. But that is one strategy to go all-in.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, totally. Absolutely. And then, the next one is building a portfolio. So that would be ... how do you go about building a portfolio? Tell me more.
Austin Brawner: So, building a portfolio is something that, if you're running more of a niche business ... so a lot of you guys listening might have hit on a couple of products and you've got a profitable smaller e-commerce business. Maybe you're selling, let's say, skin cream or you're selling socks or you're selling some sort of a widget-type thing for a computer. Whatever it is. But you know that the business you've got, you've got a hot product, it's something that is gonna continue to sell, but it's not a business that you feel like you'll be able to sell down the road, not for a life-changing amount of money. It's gonna be a smaller brand.
One way to approach it is to start building a portfolio of those businesses. Now this, if you have an Amazon store, and you are worried about your product becoming, let's say, a less hot, for lack of a better term, less popular, and dropping in the number of orders you're gonna have, well, one day you can do it is acquire multiple Amazon products and Amazon businesses that would allow you to reduce some of the risks and continue to generate profit.
Bill DAlessandro from Elements Brands, he has another kind of strategy where he's been acquiring mostly health and skincare green products and buying smaller brands from $500,000 to $1 Million and scaling them up. So he's got about nine different brands that he runs under Elements Brands. They're all relatively small in the whole scheme of things. I think the largest ones, I don't know, under ten million dollars. But, together, he's got a portfolio of brands that he runs and that's one way to go about it.
I don't think he's going to be selling those, but they have a really strong lifestyle business built off of that.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. And I think building a portfolio piece, too, is ... you know, he's built that up. A lot of things people under the portfolio idea of acquiring multiple brands, some of those people, too, building a portfolio would mean bringing on other channels, too. Right? So not, you know, Amazon, try to diversify with Facebook, try to diversify with email, try to diversify potentially in wholesale. So that's another strategy, of course, you can do.
And then you get to one of my personal favorites that you go through, the cash-flow grow. The CFG model, where you wanna grow your business and don't need an exit, but it's possible. Talk a little about this.
Austin Brawner: Yeah, so this is more of a strategy focusing on profitable growth year-in and year-out. I've got multiple clients this year who will generate over a million dollars in profit with a smaller business. They still own 100% of their business, but they're gonna cut themselves a check for somewhere between $500,000 and $1 Million at the end of the year. And the business, at the same time, is continuing to grow. And they've got offers to sell the business for multiples of that profit, that check that they're gonna cut themselves.
So, this type of business puts you in a position where you've got a lot of flexibility. Because you can continue to grow it and at the same time it pays for your lifestyle. It provides you with flexibility and freedom, and you can ratchet up or ratchet down the growth depending on what you are looking to do over the next year. You know, Saatva mattresses is an example of a company that's grown to, I think they did 207 or 208 million dollars in 2017 with this model of profitable growth first. It's an entirely bootstrap company. And they are focusing on the channels that are giving them the profitable growth they need to be able to reinvest in the business.
And so, in this strategy, you're not focused, you're not going all-in. You're not focusing specifically on vanity metrics.
To give you an example of somebody going all-in and some of the weird, perverse incentives that you see from it? I have a client that I was working with and we had the ability to, I did some list-cleaning, and we found I think it was like 25,000 inactive subscribers that we could delete and get rid of off their list. But, for them, they didn't wanna do that because then they'd have to explain to their investors why their email list shrank and it was a much, much bigger hassle to explain that rather than just pay the extra $2000 a month or a $1000 a month for those email subscribers.
So, in a cash flow grow business, you're focusing specifically on reducing your expenses, funneling it back into growth, and you can kinda ratchet up and ratchet down the amount of growth you want based on the lifestyle you live, how much stress you wanna tolerate, and also whether or not you wanna decide to sell the business down the road.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, and this is kinda your strategy, right? 'Cause you want to continue to invest in the business as it grows. I mean, that's basically what you've done.
Austin Brawner: Yeah. 100%. I think that's kinda, this last year, been investing back into the business, double-down on recurring revenue this year, and built a membership site. Built the Brand Growth Experts membership. And the reason I did that was because I wanted to consolidate all the training that I've done into one place, and also build a system so that I was able to continue to create income for myself, month in and month out, while I could spend more of my time creating interesting content.
So, basically, where I was at the beginning of this last year, I was running live events all the time. Those live events were awesome. Super fun, super fulfilling. We ran one together in February. But it was a lot of work, and a lot of my time was being shifted from creating interesting content to promoting live events. And so, my focus this is the year is kinda doubling down on the recurring income so I can spend more of my time educating, creating interesting content.
I'm currently the face of my business. As we grow, I wanna transition myself away from being the face of the business, to make it easier to sell down the road. So I'm in that position where I'm not trying to raise money, I'm continuing to focus on profitable channels, and would explore an exit down the road, but only if, during this time, it continues to support the lifestyle that I'm looking to live.
Andrew Foxwell: That's important. So let's just recap a little bit of what we've been talking about, which is going through thinking about 2019, thinking about the year, understanding, one, what are the goals? Are you building a lifestyle business? Are you looking to sell? Asking yourself, what is the odds that you're gonna sell it for a life-changing amount of money, your business? Are you a niche product? Are you building a brand? And, most importantly, too, what do you want your life to look like, too? So understanding what are you trying to do, and then, also, in parallel, what do you actually want your days to look like and going through that.
And talking about, then, your strategies, right? So do you wanna go all-in and really build that out? Do you wanna build a portfolio or do you wanna go in something like that cash flow grow model, where you're really focusing on profitable growth and you don't get caught up in the vanity metrics? You're really looking at where am I the most profitable. So it's interesting to go through that, and I think our businesses are similar in that regard of how we wanna go about it. We've really focused on just being the most helpful that we possibly can, and that has led to being more profitable, which is interesting, from a strategic standpoint.
So then, the final phase of what we're talking about is this execution phase. So some of these are, once you're executing, you're thinking about how do you wanna achieve those goals? What are some of those things, that most e-commerce businesses would be thinking about, depending on which strategy they choose?
Austin Brawner: Sure. So I wanted to talk about some of the ideas, or some of the things that I've seen over the last year that've made a big impact on people's businesses, for different reasons. All right, so if you're looking at growth as your number one, revenue growth as this next year ... the couple things that I see that have been kind of the biggest leverage over the last year is, number one, just rolling out new merchandise. That is almost always the most important factor to your growth, whether or not you can roll out better-quality, new merchandise, and give people a reason to buy new products from you. So, don't underestimate that, especially when you look over the next new year.
Also, building a subscription business. If you don't have any subscription revenue in your business, but you have a business that might lend itself to subscriptions and recurring revenue, I would really look at exploring that this year.
A good example of a business that might. You might not initially think of them as a business that could have recurring revenue. It's a company called Pura Vida bracelets. They sell skinny little ... basically thin little bracelets, primarily to women in their, I would say, teens to like forties. And, for a long time, they had no subscription revenue. They decided, I think about two years ago, maybe three years ago, to roll out something called the Pura Vida box, which took and created monthly styles and shipped people, as a recurring revenue subscription. And I know that made a big impact on their business.
There's a lot of different ways you could double down and build subscription revenue this next year. If you're looking to create a better lifestyle for yourself and you feel like you're stressed out right now, at the end of this year, and you're looking to create a better year for yourself, just spending two to three months automating your systems and processes will make a big impact on the amount of stress that you have and will allow you to actually grow as well because you will no longer be the bottleneck.
One thing, too, to think about if you are looking to create a more profitable business this next year is just doubling down on what your profitable channels are. You mentioned earlier, expanding channels, and that can be something that leads to more growth, but it also can lead to less profit and more headaches.
Andrew Foxwell: Mm-hmm (affirmative), true.
Austin Brawner: And if you are just looking to build a lifestyle business that generates a lot of profit for you, sometimes less is more and doubling down on the profitable channels is better than adding more.
Hiring strategically so you can focus more on strategy is also a big thing that I've been working with people on in the membership and in my coaching program. If you don't feel like you have the support you need, then starting the year off and working on hiring and training and getting people in the position that they need to be in is a great place to start.
So those are some of the ideas of things you could maybe roll into this next year, into your plan after you make some decisions about what you actually want for the next year.
Andrew Foxwell: Totally. Absolutely. And I think, it goes into even tactically thinking about this. All the things I think about with our clients on Facebook and Instagram, advertising and thinking about, "Okay, if what you wanna do is continue to grow with that channel, which is fine, and you wanna double-down, it's been successful for you, then the question becomes how do you build an offering that is going to be great for your previous purchasers to raise lifetime value?" So you can start to, once you establish some of that execution, you can start to align tactics along with that strategy of saying, "All right, this is how we treat things differently."
We had a great episode where we go through how we treat our previous customers all of the same, and if you've listened to that episode with Peter Fader, two-time guest, it's a really good one. But that really has caused me to think a lot. And Facebook continues to be more competitive and Instagram continues to be more competitive, so thinking about, tactically, too, once you've built that strategy, what does that actually mean? And how do I talk to those people in a way, like a subscription program or something else, that's going to, over time, make it more interesting? And am I willing to be in a growth model and accept a lower return on ad-spend? Or am I willing to be in a, return on ad-spend as much as, the most important metric we can look at.
So, once you've developed a strategy, then a lot of other stuff falls into place because, if a client or a potential client came to me with these particular questions answered, "Here's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to build a business that's gonna be a lifestyle business, but also has a strong brand and we're looking to do as much as we can and focus on profitability." That gives me a much better path of where I can take that person with their advertisements. So it's pretty interesting how much easier it'll make a whole bunch of other decisions, too, right? Making that one decision that'll reflect across a whole bunch of others.
Austin Brawner: It'll be the, yeah, the hardest decision that leads to much easier decisions down the road.
Andrew Foxwell: Right.
Austin Brawner: Well I hope you guys enjoyed that episode. This is, if you guys have questions, something that you feel was helpful, you can always email email@example.com. Let us know what you are doing and what you're thinking about for this next year.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, definitely. We're here for you and we look forward to hearing from you of how things are going and what else we can do to be helpful for you.