Ep #42 | Nothing You've Learned Matters, Unless You Can Execute

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Thor Conklin is an Entrepreneur, Profitability Consultant and host of his daily podcast, Peak Performers Podcast.  2018 marks his 18th year as an entrepreneur.  The first company Thor created was a global risk management consulting firm that served the private equity community.  His top 15 clients had a combined revenue of $12.7 billion USD and operated in over 100 countries worldwide. His background, in risk management, served him well when he lost 1/3 of his team, in the World Trade Center attacks, on 9/11.  Since that time, he has started, bought and sold several multi-million dollar businesses making him a sought after, cross-industrial resource for entrepreneurs and executives in all stages of business.

Thor has a talent for slicing through the noise of every day distractions and bringing his clients and audiences intellectual commodities like his: “Ultimate Success Map”, a simplistic, easy-to-follow guide for individuals who need to break through to the next level of achievement.  

96% of business fail within 10 years.  The ONLY reason they fail is lack of Profits.  Of the 4% that do survive, many only produce enough profits to break even, pay the owner a meager wage or provide shareholders below-market returns.  Mr. Conklin’s extensive background and expertise allow him to not only identify the specific profitability killers that are siphoning off profits but work with the business to fix them.  Despite the leader’s best efforts, many business owners and executives cannot see these profitability killers as they are too close to the company.

Thor’s gritty, no-nonsense and direct approach uncovers the real truth about what is holding people and organizations back from realizing their full potential.  He can illuminate even the most successful and confident leader’s limiting beliefs. He is known as the Accountability & Execution Guy.  

Through his consulting firm, Peak Performance Group, he teaches the tools, tips, tricks, psychology, and strategies necessary to be a Peak Performer. He qualifies the psychology of success in one word: “Execution”!  “Nothing you’ve learned matters – unless you can EXECUTE”!

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Shantel: Hi, Thor. Welcome to the Imagine More Podcast.

Thor: Thank you for having me.

Shantel: Yes. We're excited to have you on and I know I've had the honor to meet and talk with you offline. Super encouraged and excited and inspired by all of your businesses. So eager to have the audience tune in as well. But to kick things off, can you tell everyone a little bit about Peak Performance and your ... This is probably a longer story, but a little bit about your journey of becoming an entrepreneur.

| NOT YOUR TYPICAL ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY |

Thor: Yeah. I've been an entrepreneur for the last 19 years. It's funny because people that call me that are basically 19 and starting out for the first time in their lives. So sometimes I'm a little older than my prospects. But I've owned a business longer than my prospects have been alive. So it started 19 years ago. It was kind of an unusual journey because it started with my first company, a private equity firm that I was working with asked me to come and oversee and manage all of their portfolio companies worldwide. So they had 10 companies in their portfolio. They have combined revenues of $12.7 billion. They asked me to come in, they gave me 20 minutes to set up my company, and tell me how much I was going to charge them and what I was going to do. Literally, 20 minutes. Yeah. That's the way they operate. So my journey into entrepreneurship is not the typical one, right? You generally don't get that phone call and they say, "Okay. We want to buy all your time. We want you to set up a company and here's all your clients." I wish they all started that way. They do not. But I found myself about 12 years ago I had just purchased my first company but was my fifth or sixth company that I had started or that I was involved with. It was a manufacturing company and things were not going the way they were supposed. I was having a really difficult time making margin. I was having a difficult time with cashflow. I had operations here in Georgia. We did manufacturing of furniture here. I imported equipment from Vietnam, Taiwan, China. I was overseas quite a bit. What I thought was always the golden touch. Anything I touched was working. Turned to gold, sold those operations, the first four, and then on this one, it wasn't working. I was like, "What went wrong? I missed something." That sent me on a journey to really understand what produces excellent results and organizations. Where was I missing the mark, and what did I need to learn? Because I never wanted to see this happen to another entrepreneur. That was really the birth of Peak Performance Group, profitability consulting firm, to help businesses really earn the profits that they know their businesses are capable of. So often with any organization, and you have your own as well, it's sometimes difficult for the owner, the founder, to really understand what's going on because you're so close to it. I found that when I went into organizations, very quickly we could uncover what was getting in the way. Sometimes it was people, sometimes it was strategy, sometimes it was the psychology. But it was really easy when I wasn't emotionally attached to it, right? We've all had those employees where it's just like, "Ah. I just wish they would leave on Monday," right? That would be a great way to move forward, and we don't do anything about it or we don't even see it. We don't see the issues that they're causing. Matter of fact, I just got done with a meeting just literally 30 minutes ago and I sat down with the owner. I said, "What are we going to do with that person?" He says, "I know. That's just killing the organization." So I said, "What's your plan?” "Well, I think I'll just kind of like let them stick around for a few more months.” I'm like, "Why?"  "Well, because they had me over a barrel."  I'm like, "Well, guess what's going to happen in two months? They're going to have you over a bigger barrel." So it's not always easy but that's what we do. I love working with organizations, love working with CEOs, teams to figure out how to get peak performance out of them, how to maximize profitability so they can grow.

Shantel: So do you often find yourself in a situation where you have to kind of maybe sandwich that rough information to that business owner? Are your methodology is just super blunt, "I'm going to be honest. Take it or leave it," type of advice.

Thor: Well, I do have a soft side, but I tend to call it as I see it. I had a client, we were doing their 2018 plan. They had a five year plan. It was basically ridiculous. I laughed it. Literally, I sat in the conference room, they gave me the plan, I laughed. I said, "That's the most uninspiring thing I've ever heard in my life. That's pathetic." I said, "I'm sorry." I said, "First of all, I told you when you hired me that at some point during the process you're going to be pissed off at me and will have to fire me. So this might be the moment, but I'm telling you, you're more than this." I said, "Based on what we've been doing in the last five months, you've been able to do better than this. You can do your five year plan in one year. Why aren't you doing it?" He almost broke down. He said, "Look, I just don't know how to do it.” I said, "Okay. That's okay. Not knowing how to do it is okay. Playing small is not okay. Planning below your means is not okay. Ask for help. Let's work together. Let's figure it out.” He goes, "What do we need to do?” I said, "I don't know, man. We're going to figure this out, but let's make this inspiring, let's make it fun, let's go after something, let's wake up every day inspired to kill it." We did. We redid it and basically we're on track to do his five year plan in one year. Now, I can't do that with every organization, but this particular one it was about him. He just didn't know how good he was. 

Shantel: I guess on the flip side, so you talked about them maybe wanting to fire you when you give that tough information. Have you ever had to fire a client because they just didn't take action? 

Thor: Not everyone likes my style.

Shantel: I can imagine that being so frustrating. 

Thor: Not everyone wants to be told how it is. But yeah, I refuse to have mediocre results. 

Shantel: Mm-hmm.

Thor: I can't do it for you. I'll drag you across the finish line bloody if I have to. I mean, if you have nothing left and you're on your hands and your knees and you're crawling, you have nothing ... I will get down there and I will drag you. Client last year, towards the end of the year, had ... He does 80% of his business in December. He doesn't have enough people on hand to get back to all the clients that he needed to renew for that year in December. He just couldn't make the phone calls fast enough. So I said I'll come in and I'll work with you on Saturday and Sunday. I will come in and I will hold your hand, I'll pull you across the line. Will do whatever is necessary to get there, but you've got to be willing. If you're not willing and you're just going to lay down, I can't help that. I can't work ... 

Shantel: I love that. I'm interested, do you find the challenges are the same across the board? There's a common theme typically with the businesses that you're working with or are they vary so much.

Thor: You need to have a great team. You need to have a good strategy. You don't even have to have a great strategy. You don't even need a good product. You just have that okay product. It's true. I mean, McDonald's, the most successful restaurant in the world, serves food that will kill you, but I know, I know. It'll kill you, right? Look, if you wanted a great meal, right? 

Shantel: The Big Mac's so good, Thor.

Thor: Are you going to go to Chop's or are you going to go to McDonald's? 

Shantel: I know. 

| HAVE A GOOD TEAM |

Thor: It's not the best restaurant but they serve a lane. So you got to have a good team. If you don't have a good team and you've got someone in there or people in there that are being disruptive and breaking up the morale and the culture of the company, that has to be dealt with. That shows up a lot. The other one is they don't track, measure and adjust. If you don't have a scoreboard, your people don't know what's going on. They don't know if they're winning or losing, and as a firm you don't know if you're winning and losing and you don't have the boundaries and the mission and the culture of what you stand for and where you're going. The first thing I talk to organizations, I'll go in and I'll talk to the team. I said, "Okay. What are we doing? Why are we here? Why are you guys showing up on Monday other than the paychecks? What are we trying to create?" When you talk to people individually, you'll end up with different stories. I'm like, "Why do we have an organization where the people in the firm," and there might only be 12, 24 people, "don't have a common goal of where they're headed." Where's the scoreboard? How we doing this quarter? How we doing this month? How's Bob doing? "Well, Bob's not a great performer so we don't want to put a scoreboard because we don't want Bob to feel bad." Okay. There's companies that behave that way. Guess what? They're not top performers. They do not maximize profits. Now, if Bob's not a great salesman, let's find a spot for him in the organization. If there's not a fit, then let's figure out a way to transition him into something that he's really good at. It might not be our firm. Great. 

Shantel: Mm-hmm. We just implemented scorecards for each role and each person. We have monthly touch bases about them and then quarterly kind of deep dives into that scorecard. Every task has a priority level and a percent of time that they can spend on it, but we only rolled those out in January. Even the past two months, it's been wild to see the productivity and just all are on the same page. We know what we're working towards. It's amazing.

Thor: Meet with prospects, close prospects and take care of clients. That's one of my top goals. That's my job here. Well, my team gets paid more money as we grow. I tied their compensation directly into my compensation. We are on the same page. When I do well, we do well as a firm. That's when they do well. Well, guess what? I've got measurements that need to be tracked every single week. Guess who holds me accountable? Them. They hold me accountable. I record my activities for the week that are my critical drivers, the things that form our KPIs, and then what the results. Because if I do the blocking and tackling that's necessary every single week, every single day, the results will be there. If I'm not making the phone calls and having those prospect meetings, my team gets all over me. Why? Because it affects them and I have a responsibility. My score's on the board and it's public. Yeah, of course. Of course, yes. But I'm here. 

Shantel: Do you? 

Thor: Break it down by a week. So if I'm going on vacation for a week, well then, guess what, I've got to get some more prospect phone calls in. I've got to get more prospect meetings in. Because if I don't, we're not going to get to the results. If we don't get the results, guess what? People are not going to get paid more. I want people getting paid more. 

Shantel: Mm-hmm. As a service business, have you ever struggled with the balancing act of not selling too much and then making sure that you can service it on the flip side? I mean, being a very motivated entrepreneur, have you ever had to slow down a little bit to make sure that the quality of the work that you're doing can stay on par? 

Thor: Packages at $2500 a month. Now, if you're a decent sized company and the companies that we go after, that's a drop in the bucket and they go up to $25,000 per month. So we're not dealing with single-preneur, sole-preneur kind of clients. We have 12 spots for 12 new clients in 2018. I know how many spots I have. I know when they'll be taken care of. They're already in the plan. I don't have a spot for the 13th. It will not happen. When we hit 12, our growth for the year is over. That's okay. Because if you don't take … Here's what happens, and I'm sure you've seen this in a lot of the businesses that you work with. There's this addiction of running after the new girlfriend, the new client. Right? It's this concept, "Okay. I've got what I have, but they don't really matter anymore." You'll see it all the time in businesses. Cell phone companies are great for this. "Hey, if you're a new customer, we want to give you all this great stuff. If you're a current one, we're going to charge you as much as possible and piss you off in the process." It's like, "Why are you taking the people that have already dealt with you, already customers, already like you, hopefully like you, and spend all your time and energy chasing the new one?" Can you imagine being in a relationship with a man or a woman and every time you went out for dinner, he or she was just trying to figure out how to get the next date with somebody else? That's how we run our businesses. It's not a good idea. 

Shantel: Mm-hmm. Well, so when you get to November though or even earlier and those 12 spots are filled, you're still filling the pipeline to some degree for the following year. Okay. 

Thor: First one in line in the event one of our clients leave. Now, if we bring on more consultants, then we'll have more room as well, so that's one way to do it. No, they just go on the waiting list. What happens is over the years what you can do is continue to raise our price point. As old clients drop off, the price point for the new clients coming in, as our new price packages, it actually gives us some added growth as well. 

Shantel: Mm-hmm. I'm glad we kind of touched on this and I'd love to even natural, keep going with this conversation because we're in this point right now, and I imagine many business owners get to this stage, but fast growth. We're in that constant balance act. It feels like I'm hiring every month a new person. There's a part of me, my personality, I know slowing down is going to be detrimental. So I need to keep going fast, but how to make sure the team feels supported in that. So I like the thought of, "Okay. There's a certain amount of spots and then we reevaluate our plan." 

Thor: I knew then this is what we're going to do for 2018. This is when we max out. Then I'll reevaluate. In November of 2018, I'll sit down and say, "Okay. Where are we going for 2019?" Let me add something here too that I think is really important. We have clients on the books that passed $1,000 a month. Well, guess what? That will never change. Even though our rates now are $2500, anyone that was in then, never, and I repeat never, will see a price increase. I treat my clients that have been loyal to me the best. Absolutely not. Yeah. 

Shantel: So not even 10% year over year.

Thor: You came on board, the price at that point was this, you have stuck by me and as the pricing has increased, I'm not going to increase your price. You have that forever. You've been loyal to me, so the longer you stay, the longer you get that price at that lower price point. If you leave and you want to come back, well, then it goes up. So we have that discussion. 

Shantel: Yeah. That's interesting. We started time tracking about a year and a half ago, and it became very obviously very quickly that what we were charging was not at all profitable. For some reason we just got really lucky with cashflow. So it's hard for me to stomach some of the ... I mean, I love them. Yes, they've been with us for four and a half years, but it's hard for me to stomach sometimes all the time that we're spending. Oftentimes more than some of the larger partners we have. 

| TAKE CARE OF YOUR LOYAL CUSTOMERS |

Thor: What you're earning and what you're demanding, I can't do it. We're not going to fit anymore. No, if I had a client, which we don't. If I had a client that was at a lower price point and they just became that client that demanded so much that didn't make sense, I would tell them. I'd say, "Look, we can't work together." But my point in saying why we don't increase the price is I want to treat our clients, I want to treat our current clients better than the new guys coming in. So many businesses treat the new guy and give them all the benefits. The people that have been loyal, the customers that have been with them, they don't treat them as well. Of course.

Shantel: Isn't there a saying, "It's much ..." I'm sure there's lots of statistics about this, but much easier to keep an existing one than find another.

Thor: But if you got somebody that's demanding too much and you can't make money on it, you got to have a frank discussion. Say, "We can't do this." 

Shantel: Mm-hmm. 

Thor: Typical day starts at 4:59 a.m. People always ask, "Why not five o'clock?" 

Shantel: What is your typical day look like? 

Thor: I don't want to beat all the deadbeats by at least a minute that wake up at five. 

Shantel: Geez. 

Thor: That's true. Now, I will say, am I absolutely perfect with that? No. If I have late night, I will not wake up at 4:59. It's about getting sleep, so it's about going to bed at nine, 10 o'clock the night before. So I do that pretty consistently. The going to sleep, but 4:59. My body's been trained now just to basically to wake up. So the first five minutes is I don't really go anywhere. I say a quick prayer, affirmation, "Please give me the courage, the strength, and the focus to work my day and get through and do everything that I'm committed to getting done today." I wake up and then I spend three minutes looking at, not process but, just looking at email. Just to make sure there's no emergency that's come in overnight. I look at my calendar and then I set my alarms for the day. So whenever I have an appointment coming up, five minutes before a phone call, an interview, anything I have to do, I set an alarm. So I'm not constantly looking at my calendar going, "What's next? What's next? I missed that phone call." I use the phone with the alarms. Then I go out. I'm training for an Ironman so I'm spending about two hours a day swimming, biking, or running. Yeah. It was one of the crazy things during the planning stage back in November. I'm like, "I'm going to stretch my mind and my body to do things that I don't think are possible." I'm not a good swimmer. Never swam 2.4 miles. I mean, I still can't swim 2.4 miles. I've never ran a marathon and I got to bike 112 miles. Got to do all this in one day. 17 hours. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I'm training for it. I've got my coaches. I've got my team around me. So it's Team We, we'll make it happen. So I'm doing that training. Then when I come back, that's when I dive in. I start processing emails, organizing my calendar, and then I'm off for the day. Every that's on my calendar gets done. Period. Wow. What's one thing I can't wait to get ... Like a big project or every single day? 

Shantel: What is one thing you can't wait to get off your calendar or your task list? Like if there are things that you have to do monthly or weekly. You can't pass off yet for some reason or another but you're exciting to outsource to a teammate or someone who can help down the line.

Thor: To set up appointments to talk about what we do. I still find that as a struggle to get that prospecting piece started. I've got a number that I have to do every single day. It adds up for the week. Yeah, it's one of those things I'm like, "Can't somebody please do all this for me?" Yeah. But it's one of the most important things, but it's not my favorite. 

Shantel: Mm-hmm. Yeah, we'll have to chat sometime or maybe have you back on the show, if you're interested, of transitioning the sales piece off of an entrepreneurs plate and your thoughts on that. Is it possible? Is it not possible? Are you the bottleneck? Because that's a stage that we're in as well. It's interesting. You touched on the team and team and culture being such an important piece of the puzzle. Where did you find your team? 

Thor: Craigslist, putting in an ad.

Shantel: What does that process look like for you?

Thor: When I hire people, I put in an ad and the first thing is they have to respond back with something unique in the ad that I've put out in the reference or the subject line. If you don't do that, you're not even in the running. So I'll put something like, "The moon is blue." Doesn't matter. Anything. If I get a response back and it says anything other than, "Here's my resume," it doesn't say the moon is blue, it gets filed. Because that means you didn't read it. One I want to see if you read it. I make it very clear right at the beginning, "Please read this carefully." Don't put that in, you didn't even make the list. Then this particular person, when they responded back, they had the resume. I said, "All right. Great. I want you to do this. I want you to edit this for me." So many people are like, "You want me to do, what?" I said, "Yeah, I'm hiring you to edit audio. So here's an audio piece, please edit it.” "Well, am I hired?” "No, I want to see what our work looks like.” "Well, are you going to pay me?” "No." Most will just say, "I don't want to do it." "Okay. I don't want you." So the people that do, guess what? They're the ones that get hired. So I put them through a little bit of an exercise and those that cop an attitude, guess what? Those are the ones that cop attitudes once they're employees.

Shantel: I love that. Mm-hmm. I think we've shared some things offline about hiring, and I love that first step just to help weed out all of the resumes. Do you ever respond back if they ask for feedback about why or why you do ...

Thor: Why. One of the point is I always do a Zume video call. I'll get people after they've done this, they'll get on and they don't want to do a video call. Well, why would I want to meet someone and have an interview with someone that I can't look at face to face. I try to make it a little difficult. In making the hiring process a little difficult makes the employment process much easier. All right. 

Shantel: That's a great point. Thanks for sharing that nugget. 

Thor: I wish it was a marathon.

Shantel: So I got two more questions for you to wrap things up. The first is when is your marathon so we can cheer you on? 

Thor: The full Ironman is going to be in November. November I think third or something. Then I choose one that's actually in the ocean. It's like I wasn't thinking this through too well. But it is flats, down in Florida, so I don't have to deal with any hills on the bike. Then I said if I'm going to do a full one, I might as well do a half one. So I'm doing a half Ironman in May. That's the first one. Yeah.

Shantel: Nice.

Thor: Thank you. 

Shantel: Geez. Okay. Well, good luck. Yeah, for everyone wanting to start a business, is there one solid piece of advice that you always just turn to? 

| KNOW WHAT YOU'RE GETTING YOURSELF INTO |

Thor: An owner, an entrepreneur, I think those terms are in vogue right now. It takes a lot of hard work. The first time that you and I had an opportunity to meet, I know some of your family, but as soon as we met, I knew you had what it takes to get things done and be a business owner to be an entrepreneur. Not everybody has it. So number one is make sure you understand what you're doing, make sure you know who you are, and make sure that you've got the skillsets to do it. Two is profits, profits, profit. That has nothing to do with what we do for a living here at Peak Performance, but if you cannot produce profits, you cannot grow. When you're out of money, you have no business. The doors shut. There's been this big push of, "We don't really need to make profits. All we got to do is figure out how to raise capital." That's a cool concept and it works in some scenarios, but at the end of the day, people are buying businesses for one thing and one thing only, profits. So figure out how to get lean, make a profit, keep expenses low in the beginning, and make sure you've got a good team around you and you know that you're built for what's going to come. Because if you're looking for something that's difficult, frustrating, will drive you nuts, will take all of your time, sometimes all your money, it's called a business. So know what you're getting into. At this point in my career, I've seen a lot. I know the winners and you can pick them out. You've got what it takes. 

Shantel: Well, thanks for mentioning that about me, Thor. I appreciate that. 

Thor: As a young woman. You were hustling when you were eight. 

Shantel: Thanks. 

Thor: Yeah. You can just ... Everything is Thor Conklin. ThorConklin.com. Social media you can find me very easily. But one thing I'd like to do for the listeners is if anybody is struggling with somebody and they send me a 50 word or less email to Thor@ThorConklin.com, I will send back to you a personalized, four-step process that will absolutely eliminate that issue or at the very least greatly reduce it. So no stories. I don't want a 500-page letter telling me about all the things that aren't working, but make it concise and I'll send you back ... Now, it takes me some time to get back because you're not going to go to some auto-responder. I'm going to actually respond myself. Yeah. Yeah. I'm $695 an hour by the hour. So you ...

Shantel: I feel like that's a little bit of a fun new challenge, the 50 words only. So I can't wait to hear who emails. That's great. Well, thank you, Thor.

Thor: It's worth it. Thank you. 

Shantel: Awesome. Well, thanks for being on the show. We really appreciate it.