Host: Tim Martin
Guest: Joe Clark
Episode 9: Business Planning – Joe Clark Interview
April 13, 2014
Welcome to Success is Voluntary, a podcast devoted to helping you become the salesperson you were always meant to be, where it’s all about helping you learn the techniques and tools that will enable you to win in the increasingly competitive world of voluntary benefits. Welcome your host, a guy who has hired and trained over 2,000 voluntary benefit salespeople in his career, Tim Martin. Success is Voluntary, selling voluntary benefits.
Tim Martin: Yes, my name is Tim Martin, and you are listening to episode number 9 of Success is Voluntary. Today, I’m joined in the studio by Mr. Joe Clark. Joe Clark is the director of Field Leadership and Business Planning for Colonial Life. He also happens to be a cohort of mine in a leadership program that the company has put on for us called Lead and Let Lead.
I got to know Joe a little bit over the last couple of months, and I am excited to have him here. He is phenomenal at strategic thinking and planning and has helped me quite a bit. Welcome to the studio, Joe.
Joe Clark: Thanks, Tim. It’s great to be with you.
Tim: Thank you so much for coming out. He came out just to work with us today here at the territory office, and we’ve had a good day. I’m exhausted. About 12 minutes of strategic planning, and I’m chasing squirrels. I don’t know how you do it on a day-in-and-day-out basis, these meetings, but I’m glad there are people who are built like you, and I’m glad there are people who are built like me. It’s fun. That’s what makes life exciting.
Joe, I gave them your title, but I’m going to let you introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and then we’ll get into kind of how you got into strategic planning. I know you live in Columbia, South Carolina. You’re from the South. Your whole life, right?
Joe: Yeah, I was born in Columbia, South Carolina. I lived there throughout the years of growing up and graduated from the University of South Carolina.
Tim: Go Gamecocks.
Joe: There you go. Very much so. Appreciate that a whole lot. As I was working my way through college, I worked with a company called Chick-fil-A, which I’m sure…
Tim: I’ve heard of them, yeah. Yeah.
Joe: Yeah, I’m sure a lot of people have. As I graduated from college, I actually went to work with Chick-fil-A and became a franchisee of theirs and lived in West Virginia for 20 years, ran a Chick-fil-A store there and then had an opportunity to come back home to Columbia, South Carolina, and actually targeted Colonial Life as a company that I wanted to work for. It took them about 18 months to make the right decision, but eventually we were able to make that work, and so I’ve been with Colonial Life going on 10 years now.
Tim: Very nice. Very nice. Family man?
Joe: I am married. I have a little boy, 6 years old.
Tim: Very nice.
Joe: It’s a great experience.
Tim: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, you had mentioned that you came right out of college as a franchisee, and we talked about that earlier today. We don’t need to get back into that too deep, but it’s a really interesting business model they have there, for those people who don’t know. You pay $5,000. Right?
Joe: Yeah, it’s a $5,000 startup to get into the business, and the founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy, really designed it that way. The way he kind of phrased it was, “It’s for people who want to be in business for themselves but not by themselves,” and so you got an opportunity to get into business when a lot of people wouldn’t have that opportunity. Because you talk about a McDonald’s or Burger King, the franchise fees, they are so high just to start up, but Truett designed it to where someone who doesn’t have those resources can get into the restaurant business.
Tim: You bet. When I bought my two Domino’s Pizza stores (I’m not talking about franchise fees or anything), they were existing stores. I bought them from other operators. It was inexpensive to franchise with them compared to most, and I still paid close to $400,000 for the two stores combined.
Tim: Their franchise fees are actually really low as far as upfront. Their royalties, on the other hand, and advertising, that was completely different, but that’s an interesting model. We won’t get deep in the weeds with that, but they put you on a salary. Then it’s kind of a draw up against your profitability, and they stick with you a long time, it sounds like.
Joe: Absolutely. One of the lowest turnover rates in all of the fast-food industry, even in the management level, and that extends down into the frontline employee level also. The reason is, really, because of the support that they give you both financially but from just an operational support also. Part of that really is business planning. I mean, where I got my introduction to business planning was with Chick-fil-A.
Tim: You mentioned wanting to be in business for yourself but not by yourself. If you work for the right carrier, that sounds pretty familiar.
Joe: Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? It’s a phrase I have used in my career with Colonial Life a lot.
Tim: You bet. Yeah, absolutely. There are some great carriers out there. There are some not-so-great carriers, and we won’t get into all that, but that is one of the things I really like about this business. If you work for the right carrier, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There is so much support and help.
Pioneers have gone before you. You just need to jump on the bandwagon, so to speak, and be your own boss. You have all those same opportunities, and $5,000 isn’t a lot of money, obviously, but what is the entry into that? You said they open about 100 stores a year.
Joe: Somewhere around 100 stores a year. Now I’ve not been in their company for a few years now, but I still think, just based on some reading that I’ve done recently, that it’s still right around the 100-store-a-year mark that they’re trying to open up. One of the interesting things that we were talking about is for those 100 stores they’ll get somewhere around 15,000 resumes.
Tim: Fifteen thousand resumes. You bet. In our industry, it’s not quite nearly that level of interest, unfortunately. If we have 100 positions, we don’t tend to get 15,000 resumes, and that’s a shame. That’s a darn shame, because a good operator at Chick-fil-A… I don’t want to give away all their secrets today on this podcast, but if they make $150,000 in a year, that’s a good year for a lot of operators, isn’t it?
Joe: Well, again, not being in that business for a while, I think we have some who are probably even more successful. I should say they. Chick-fil-A has more who are probably even more successful. The model for them, as far as where they put stores and how they’re building stores, has changed a little bit since I was there, and we’ll talk a little bit about that difference.
Now, they’re much more of the free-standing-store model, and I think those stores, from a volume perspective and from a profitability perspective have kind of surpassed that level when I was with them.
Tim: You were in the mall kind of location, yeah, absolutely.
Joe: I was. I was in a mall location.
Tim: Yeah, and the rent there is outrageous and all that. So, all right, like I said, over the years, it never ceases to amaze me the difference in amount of money that somebody can make in this industry for the low level of entry, the low cost of entry. One of the questions you have to ask when you ask somebody if they want to buy a disability plan (you’re helping them fill out the paperwork, of course) is…How much money do you make? We have to figure out how much income we’re going to replace.
I remember my first year or two being really surprised at how much money people made. I was impressed by it. By my fifth or sixth year, I was surprised how little money they made. I was like, “You work how hard to make that kind of money?” Coming from the food service industry, Joe and I kind of have this affinity about… We really appreciate our time there, feel like we learned a ton there…never want to go back.
Joe: Yeah, pretty much. As I tell people often, 25 years of dirty dishes is enough.
Tim: That is enough. Twenty-five years of cleaning the bathroom is enough, absolutely. All right, so let’s jump into this idea of business planning. Chick-fil-A, you said, kind of had that in their culture kind to do some business planning. They encouraged their owner-operators to do business planning. What was kind of the “aha” moment for you when you realized exactly how important it was, and you decided to get serious about it?
Joe: Yeah, and to tell this story, I kind of have to set a little bit of context to being in a mall situation. As you can imagine, being in that environment, my business was so dependent on foot traffic, and so we had three really busy periods during the year, and that was Easter time, back to school, and Christmas, when folks were out shopping.
Again, we’re talking about a few years ago. Online shopping really wasn’t a presence at that point, so if you were going to do shopping, you were probably going to a regional mall, which is what I was in. I think the “aha” moment for planning for me actually came one year as we were getting into the Christmas season.
All of a sudden, I looked up in my dining room, and the lines at the registers were 10 or 12 deep. I started to, all of a sudden, think about the staff that I had and the fact that we were going to have to do this for about eight more weeks. Were we going to be able to survive? Probably not, and so it hit me, then, that I had not planned to be prepared for what was coming.
Then I started to think through how I could have planned, trying to kind of do a critique on that, and I started to realize I couldn’t do that two weeks prior to when we got busy. I couldn’t do that two months prior to when we got busy. I really needed to start thinking about the busy time six months before it was going happen and start to plan from then to get myself ready and get our store ready and our employees ready for when that busy time did hit.
That’s really when I started to think about, “If I’m going to be successful in this, if I’m actually going to make this work, I have to stay ahead of the business.” If you’re staying ahead of the business, what you’re doing is you’re business planning.
Tim: That’s good. A few weeks ago, I had a friend of mine on the podcast, Bryan Yager, and he talked a lot about the book by Michael Gerber. He mentioned the book even during the podcast, but he mentioned a lot of different concepts from it. Specifically, he talked a lot about working on your business instead of in your business.
That’s what you’re talking about here. Stepping back, taking an idea of where you want your business to be, what you want it to look like, as opposed to, “How do I get through this next rush?” or “How do I pay my mortgage next month?”
Joe: Yeah. I mean, to get it down to the elemental level, if I figured out that I needed 50 employees to have on the staff at a certain date, you start to work yourself backwards because the day before that, you don’t go out and hire 50 people. It’s a process. You have to start to try and identify where those people are going to come from. You have to take those applications. You have to screen them. You have to interview them. You have to interview them again. You have to bring them on. You have to train them.
That process, really, is what we’re talking about with planning because if I’m looking at 50 employees on, let’s say, November 1, that process probably starts sometime back in August. I have to plan how that is going work through so that when I get to November 1, I have 50 employees who are ready to go.
Tim: Yeah, that makes sense. That makes a ton of sense, and that’s kind of unusual in the food service industry. I spent a long time in…well, let’s see…about 15 years with Domino’s Pizza, and it took me a long time to realize that long-range planning was not next quarter. For me, though, that was it. I mean, long-range planning seemed to be next quarter. It’s silly because there are certain things that are so cyclical.
Even in Domino’s Pizza, for instance, back-to-school time is always brutal in that industry because half your drivers leave, they go back to school, or they decide now is the time they need to go get a real job or whatever. A lot of change happens in the fall. You would think of spring, typically, as the time where all the change happens, the growth, and all that. At least at Domino’s Pizza, it was always in the fall.
Of course, then, everybody is pressed for time, so they’re ordering more pizza, so we kind of get the double whammy with we lose a bunch of our staff, and we’re busier than we normally are. That was a hard lesson to learn.
Joe: To translate this into kind of the audience that you have and folks who are trying to become successful in selling voluntary benefits, it’s the difference between getting up every morning and letting the day carry you because of the whims of the day, or you getting up and having a plan for the day, and you driving that day to the point that you want to drive it to.
That’s what I think happens with business planning. Instead of kind of being at the will of the wind and events that happen, and you’re kind of reacting to them, instead you’ve planned, and you’re kind of driving those events and making sure that they happen in the way that you want them to happen.
Tim: Well, you’re making a pretty big assumption there, Joe. You’re assuming that people, once they get done with their business plan, they actually look at it again.
Joe: Well, that’s a great point, and it’s probably one of the biggest things about business planning that I found. A lot of times, people go through the business-planning exercise, and they treat it kind of like that, as an exercise. That business plan, then, goes on a shelf and starts to collect dust, and they’re not in that business plan all the time.
It’s something we talk about all the time at Colonial Life, about how important it is to be inside your business plan all the time and not only keeping up with where you’re supposed to be… You’ve had that experience of kind of taking a step back, looking down on your business, looking down on your career, and trying to map out what it is. All right, so now you have to be in it and driving it. George Patton had a great quote that said something like, “Every battle plan is perfect until the first bullet is fired.”
Joe: Every business plan is perfect until January 2. Then something is going to happen, right? Something is going to come up that is going to necessitate that you alter your business plan in some way to be able to adjust. Well, you’re not going to be able to do that unless you’re in that business plan, and probably some of the most successful folks who I’ve ever come across, from a business planning standpoint, have their business plan physically in their briefcase with them at all times.
Tim: No, that’s good. I like that: have it with you at all times. Other than not looking at it again when you get done, what are some of the other common mistakes you see people make, especially in the industry we’re in, when they do business planning? I’m sure there are some things that you see over and over again.
Joe: Yeah, and I think, probably, I’d get it down to three different things. One would be not being specific enough. I think goals are great. I don’t know how you plan without having goals as kind of a starting point, but just having a goal itself doesn’t necessarily translate it into a plan.
An example would be, “I want to increase my sales this year.” Well, that’s great. That’s noble, but that’s not really a plan. The plan is…How are you going to increase sales? Thinking through that process of how you’re going to make that happen, putting that down on paper, kind of a step-by-step process, almost into an action plan, I think that’s what real business planning is about. That would be the first thing.
Tim: Okay. Before we go on to number two, for a long time, I’ve taught S.M.A.R.T. goals. Everybody has their version of what S.M.A.R.T. means to them. My S.M.A.R.T., when I teach it, is specific. It’s not, “I just need to lose weight,” you know, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds.” It has to be very specific. It has to be measurable and not just at the end. You have to have points along the way to be able to measure it and the impetus to do the measurement. Right?
Tim: It has to be attainable. I’m not a big believer in setting small goals. I want big, hairy, audacious goals. That’s just the way I’m wired. We’ve learned a lot about each other going through this leadership, and sometimes I swing hard. It’s probably from my baseball career. I hit two home runs in my whole high school baseball career. I never had any power, so maybe that’s why I want to hit home runs, but I swing hard. At the same time, they do have to be attainable because otherwise it just shuts you down.
Then the R for me (people call it different things), I call it relevant. You have to be able to tie that into something that really means something for you. Back to losing weight (it’s one of the big ones), maybe it’s I want to be able to walk my daughter down the aisle. I want to be there when she gets married. I don’t want to have lost four toes to diabetes or something that like that, so it has to be relevant. Then time bound is the T.
You said you have to start with that, but that’s not a business plan. That’s a goal. Even if you’ve hit all those S.M.A.R.T. things, that’s not a plan. That’s a very specific goal, and that’s where you have to start, but now let’s take those goals and put them into a process. That’s what we’re talking about here with being specific, you said.
Joe: Absolutely. Again, I think you have to go beyond just the platitudes and get down to where something is actually happening, and it’s the series of those things that happen that end up driving a total plan.
Joe: One of the things that we always talk about with Colonial Life is this phrase, “Get to the verb.”
Tim: Ah, yeah, “Get to the verb.”
Joe: “Get to the verb.” If you’re saying, again, “Increased sales,” well, nothing is happening there. That’s a wish list. You might as well put your finger in the wind because you’re hoping that something is going to happen. We have a great leader in our organization, Bill Deehan, and Bill says all the time, “Hope is not a strategy.” It’s true. Hope is not a strategy, and so getting specific.
We actually, Tim, as you know, in our business plans, we also follow that S.M.A.R.T. goal or S.M.A.R.T. model. The difference between ours and maybe yours is the A, specifically, which leads me to the second mistake, I see. Our A is assignable. In other words, can one person or two people drive it? I think that’s one of the other big mistakes that I see in business planning. The more likely tendency is that a business plan is supposed to be (when someone constructs it) that person is going to drive everything in that business plan. Almost impossible.
Joe: I’ve seen some business plans that come in with 150 items on them that they want to accomplish. One, I think there is a measure of calibration that needs to go on just from that number, but of those 150, one person is responsible for 140 of them. It’s impossible to manage and to drive a business plan with that many initiatives. It’s just unwieldy, so I think this concept of assignability.
The other thing I’d say about that, on the other end, where you see under that assignability category, would be it says, “All.” Everybody is responsible is for this initiative.
Tim: Yeah, “We’re all going to do it.” Well…
Joe: Yeah, the team.
Tim: The team.
Joe: The team. Well, what happens is, if you put team down, everybody on the team is waiting for someone else on the team to do that, and it doesn’t work. By assigning it to one person, you get some benefits from that kind of in different areas. One is it’s a great development opportunity for someone else. If it’s not you and you have someone on a team that you’re working with, and you can give them the responsibility, it’s a great development opportunity for them.
The second benefit would be if there are a lot of people involved in the initiative and one person is responsible for driving that initiative, all those other folks know exactly who it is they need to go to if there is an issue. There is a single point of contact.
The third thing is if you’re dealing a team and you have one person assigned to it, but it’s kind of your business plan… At some point, you want to measure whether you’re being successful or not, and if you have 15 people assigned to an initiative, that means you have to go to 15 people to find out if it’s working and how you’re doing.
If you have one person, you know you’re going to be able to get that information from one person, so there are some real benefits from making sure that all the elements in your business plan are assignable. I think kind of where we’ve settled is it needs to be one, maybe two, but probably not more than that, who are responsible for driving each one of those initiatives.
Tim: Well, that’s good. I like that: assignable, but if I’m a brand-new agent, I am the assignable person on all of those, typically, right? Maybe I can get some help through the Chamber. Maybe I can get some help from my leader or my manager. Maybe I can get some help from my home office, but at the end of the day, especially if you’re just getting started, if it is to be, it’s up to me.
I know you’ve been doing a lot more organizational planning. Well, let’s get through the three mistakes, and then let’s break this down for the new reps. Just to recap, the first one is not being specific enough.
Tim: The second one is trying to do it all yourself.
Tim: More or less. What is number three?
Joe: Number three is (and you kind of touched on it) not being driven by specific dates. I tell this story all the time: In our home office, we have a performance-management system where we get to go in and put in our performance goals for the year and kind of lay out what we want to accomplish. In each one of those goals up in the upper right-hand corner of that box that you’re filling in is another little box where it says, “Due by.” I’ll tell you that the most common date in that “due by” box for everyone in the home office is December 31.
Tim: December 31.
Tim: Yeah. Boy, I’m going to have to be busy in December.
Joe: The next question I always ask is, “When do you think those performance goals are looked at again?” The answer is when that email comes out that says it’s time to go in and do your self-assessment about how you’ve done for the year.
Tim: That’s in November.
Joe: That’s in November. Exactly right.
Tim: Now you have five weeks left to get it done.
Joe: Exactly right. What we always talk about in business planning is have specific dates that drive you to make sure that you are accomplishing what you want to accomplish, even with initiatives that are ongoing. For instance, there are going to be certain activities. Someone is trying to…
Joe: Exactly…prospecting. That’s going to be an ongoing, never-ending activity. The way you’ve structured it, even with the dates, I always encourage to put check-in dates, whether it’s once a month or whatever, that you at least go back and reread what it is that you’ve wanted to accomplish and see if you’re on track for what you want to accomplish.
Tim: Well, and that’s an important thing. Again, we look at business planning, oftentimes, as an annual exercise, but if you’re living in it, then it’s easy to put in those monthly checkpoints or the weekly checkpoints, or those kinds of things. Maybe in your business plan, it is to walk through the front door of 100 businesses a week. Well, that’s a pretty measurable thing.
You shouldn’t get to week 52 and go back and see, “Well, did I get to 5,200 this year?” It’s way too late to do it at that point. You have to be doing it on a weekly basis, and so I think those dovetail very nicely. Okay, so those are the three big mistakes.
Like I said, and I know you’ve been doing a lot more organizational and helping territory managers and those kind of people do their business plans, but let’s break it down for the brand-new rep, the guy or gal who just is getting started in this business. First of all, how detailed, how many things do they really need in their business plan?
Joe: Well, I think probably the way to approach that would be two questions that I always encourage people to ask themselves once they’ve constructed a business plan. The first question is…If I do everything on my business plan, will I get where I want to go?
Tim: That’s kind of important, yeah.
Joe: Which is a check on…Do I have the right things in my plan to accomplish what I want to accomplish? Because if not, if there’s a gap somewhere, you have to go in and fill that gap. That’s number one.
The second question, which deals specifically with the other question you raised, is…Can I do everything on my business plan? Simply a check on your capacity. I mean, part of the planning process forces you to make decisions. It forces you to prioritize how you want to spend your time and how you want to devote your energy into your business.
That second question of…Can I do everything on this business plan? takes a very good, hard, honest look in the mirror. You have to do that, because if the answer is no, then you have to go out and strip some things out. Even though that’s uncomfortable for a lot of folks, it’s the right thing to do because otherwise you’re going to have frustration. There are going to be things on that plan you never get to, and you’re going to kind of have that sense of, you know, “I’m just not getting where I want to go.”
Again, part of planning is setting those priorities, and so I’m not saying lose them. I’m saying maybe just set them aside. Maybe they happen on next year’s plan, or maybe you’re six months into your business plan, and you’ve accomplished a lot. If there’s room on your plan to put something else in, you can go back and draw some of that stuff in. You do have to be honest with yourself about, “Do I have the ability?” I’m not saying capability; I’m saying capacity. Do you have the capacity to carry out everything you have down on paper?
Tim: Good. Good. Yeah, I don’t know anybody who would suffer from that. Okay, maybe me. In fact, that was the feedback…
Joe: I’ll let you tell that story on yourself. I won’t get into that.
Tim: Yeah, that was the feedback I got from this business-planning process. I think there were 89 specific measurable things that we were going to do. Many of them were ongoing, and so it wasn’t like, “Get it done one time, and we’re done.” There were, I think, 89 different things, and that might be a little too much, just a little too much, but yeah, swinging for the fences, I guess.
All right, measures of success. I’ve done a lot of business planning over the last, well, geez, 20-plus years…closer to 30 years, really…between Domino’s Pizza and in this industry. That was kind of a new concept for me. A lot of my goals, the measure of success was pretty self-evident. In other words, if it was “recruit 100 agents for the year,” the measure of success is…Did I get 100 agents or not? Right?
Tim: That’s pretty self-evident, but what I realized is, as I was going through it, a lot of the different action steps we have, the measure of success, sometimes, isn’t quite as crystal clear, at least at first. I think that idea of looking at a measure of success really clarifies your thinking, so kind of explain to our audience maybe some of those that you’ve seen. You’ve reviewed a lot of business plans and so some of the things that you’ve been able to help people take kind of a nebulous idea and defining a measure of success for it.
Joe: Well, I think when you start talking about measures everybody kind of wants to translate that into our numbers. It’s part of our society. Especially if you’re in business, I mean we’re so numbers-driven, and so there’s a natural tendency to always want to assign a number to something that’s on your business plan.
Oftentimes, that’s very appropriate, and just like your example, “I want to increase sales,” say, and part of that is that you kind of honed in on a 10 percent increase. Well, that’s great. Have that as part of your plan. That could be a measure of success.
There are going to be other elements, though, of your plan, where there might not be a number that you can assign to it, but it still needs to be measured. Oftentimes, it just gets down to…Did it get accomplished? I think people are hesitant to say that, “The measure of success for this objective that I have is that I got it done,” but I think that’s perfectly acceptable to have in your business plan.
Sometimes business plans are made up of tasks. They have tasks included in them, and those tasks need to be included and then completed for you to be able to drive your plan the way you want to drive it. The measure of success for something like that would just be, “I got it done. I did what I wanted to accomplish.”
Tim: I like that. I like that.
Joe: To kind of finish the thought, though, I think it is always important to make sure that you have a measure for every single item on your business plan.
Joe: That is one thing. Sometimes you’ll see kind of an open-ended approach to that, and a football game without a scoreboard is just a bunch of guys in funny outfits running around a pasture. Right?
Tim: Yeah and nobody cares.
Joe: Nobody cares. Exactly right. Thinking about yourself and thinking about trying to drive yourself to success, as this podcast continues to talk about, I think you have to make sure that you have a measure no matter if it is simply “task done,” “meeting held,” “strategy developed.” Whatever those things are, have those boxes so that you can check them off once you’ve done them.
Tim: You bet, and I think you can get creative on that measure of success. For instance, maybe part of your business plan is to develop relationships with brokers. Maybe a measure of success is…How many meetings did you have for the year? How many lunch-and-learns did you hold? How many times did you take somebody to breakfast?
It really doesn’t measure the quality of the relationship, but at least it allows you to quantify and get something in your calendar, because that’s next step. Once you have that business plan done, at least for me… I’ve said this so much to my team that they’re sick of hearing it already. I’ve only been here just over a year, and I know they’re sick of hearing it, but I will not stop this mantra, and that is, “If it doesn’t get calendared, it doesn’t get done.”
We can have all the best intentions. We can put together a killer business plan. We can look at it every day, but if we don’t get those action items into our calendar and start executing on them, it’s all for naught.
Joe: Tim, as you know, probably better than anybody, success in this business is based on activity.
Joe: I think measuring the activity is very important. I think there is a follow-up to that, though. You have to make sure that the activity is actually driving what you want to drive and getting you where you want to go because if not, then the question you have to start asking yourself is…What is it about my activity that’s not getting me there?
In other words, if I have a gap somewhere in what I’m doing that is preventing me from turning my activity into an appointment and turning those appointments into a sale. I think there’s a balance there between measuring that activity and also measuring the results of that activity, the final output of that activity that you want to accomplish.
Tim: Good. Good. I know everybody who is listening to this, everybody’s business, is going to be slightly different. You’re going to have different goals and objectives, but I think the things that you really need to concentrate around when you set up your business plan, especially as a new agent, are obviously you need to kind of drive it backwards from the revenue that you need to make. Somebody told me this a long time ago. I love this. He said, “There are only three kinds of money in this world.” Did you know that, Joe? There are only three kinds of money in this world.
Joe: I didn’t.
Tim: There is what you want to make, and quite honestly, I want to make multiple seven figures a year. That’s not happening right now. I’m not making millions of dollars a year. I’d like to. That would be awesome. Right? That’s what you want to make.
There is what you need to make, and quite honestly, what you need to make is none of my business. What I need to make is none of your business. It’s between my wife and my creditors, right?
Tim: It’s what I need to make. Then, there is what you’re committed to making, and that is the one that, as a manager, if I’m managing you as a brand-new rep, Joe, that’s one I want to know. What are you committed to making? Let’s put together a plan to help you get there. Hopefully, that’s more than you need, right?
Joe: Right. Right.
Tim: I’ve run into reps where that’s not the case. They need to make a lot more than they’re committed to, right? It’s important that we are honest with each other, and you’re honest with yourself as you start to put together that business plan because every brand-new rep I talk to, you know, “What do you want to make your first year?” “Oh, I want to make six figures. I want to make $100,000.”
“Okay, let’s measure that out,” and I show them what it’s going to be. Oftentimes, they say yes until they actually go do it. Then they get out there, so as you’re putting that together, you have to be honest with yourself.
Joe: Yeah, there’s nothing more true about business planning than exactly what you just said. If you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and look at your business plan in a very, very honest way, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of disappointment. Your point about being committed to doing things, there’s no sense in having something in your business plan that goes beyond what you’re actually committed to do because then that business plan really becomes pretty worthless.
You have to understand yourself, about what you are really willing to put into your career, willing to put into what you’re trying accomplish, and that’s what needs to make up your business plan. Anything more than that, again, it becomes kind of a document that you’re going to be frustrated with and probably start to discard pretty quickly. Anything less than that, you’re just not being honest with yourself. You’re not realizing the potential that you have.
Tim: I like that. That’s really good. As we start to do this process, are there any books, tools, techniques, websites, anything that you kind of recommend to look at, as somebody is thinking about business planning, or is this just all the stuff you learned over the years?
Joe: Yeah, you know, I have to admit that my experience with business planning was really just through the experience of doing that. Now there probably are some great books out there. I’m going to refer you to one blog. It’s by Mark Miller and can be found at www.greatleadersserve. Mark has some stuff on his blog about planning.
Mark is the vice president of organizational effectiveness for Chick-fil-A. I think I got his title right, and he is kind of responsible for the corporate planning process down at Chick-fil-A. He talks about planning a little bit, and so there are some good references there, but this is not rocket science. Business planning isn’t something that needs to be daunting and complicated.
This really is trying to map out how you want to operate your business and yourself and your career almost on a day-to-day basis. I would encourage that, especially for new reps or new folks who are starting out in this realm in that I think, again, that kind of ties into the activity and how important the daily activity is, although I think there is another concept to talk about, and that’s that long-range planning. We can get into that a little bit more if you like.
What you’re really trying to construct on that short-term plan is an action plan. It’s a plan of “I’m going to get up in the morning, and I’m going to do X, and in the afternoon, I might do Y. Next week, my week looks like Z and A,” and then you can start to kind of expand that, but this does not have to be a complicated document.
The reason I hesitate is because of an experience we had with Colonial Life when we started talking about guidance, about business planning, and we reference people out. If you go out on the Internet and you Google “business planning,” a lot of what you’re going to see is planning that is centered around startups, startup companies, companies that are looking for investors, companies that are trying to secure financing.
Business planning in that realm is really much more theoretical and much more trying to capture markets and who your target customers are and that sort of thing. Someone in this career, from a planning perspective, in my view, we’re way past that. Now we need to figure out what activities and what we’re going to do to be successful.
Tim: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, everything you just said, it just kept echoing in my head, Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.”
Tim: You know what you want to accomplish, and then work backwards from there. You’re right; it isn’t rocket science. It’s really a matter of breaking it down, being honest with yourself, and then, of course, execution.
Tim: The other thing that kind of really resonated with me there is, again, I had a mentor a long time ago, who said, “Tim, don’t wake up unemployed,” and he said that, “If you wake up and you don’t know what you’re going to do that day, you’re unemployed.”
Tim: If you know what you have going on, you have a plan, you have an approach of how you’re going to tackle the day, you’re not unemployed. If you wake up and you’re trying to figure it out first thing in the morning, and, “Well, maybe today I’ll go do a little prospecting,” or, “Maybe today I’ll go swing by some of my best clients with some doughnuts,” you’re unemployed. You have no clue what you’re doing, so…
Joe: Yeah, I always use the example of putting your finger up in the wind, and if you’re waiting for the wind to carry you to a shore somewhere, then you’re going to be lost at sea for a very, very long time because it rarely happens. Those great accomplishments rarely fell into people’s laps. They’re always accomplished by activity.
I think that’s where business planning comes into play, especially from the fact that, for someone starting out (again, we’ll kind of going back to this aspect of it not having to be complicated), to me, a couple of areas: personal production or personal activity. What are you going to go out and do on a daily basis to drive you where you want to go? Then professional development. How am I getting better at what I do?
Tim: Oh, now you’re getting to talk my language.
Joe: So two really basic but broad enough areas for someone who is just starting out. If their business plan had nothing more than an action plan about their personal production and an action plan about their professional development, a year from now, I’d almost guarantee you, if they followed it, a year from now, they would be on their way to success.
Tim: I could not agree more with that. In fact, for years, I’ve asked my people to put together a personal development plan, and it could be part of their business plan, but I haven’t actually had them tie it into their business plan. I’ve made them do it as separate, but I literally asked them to put together the list of books they want to read this year, the seminars they’re going to go to, the podcasts they’re going to listen to or blogs they’re going to read, those kinds of things. I’ll tell you what; the people who have done that and followed it have just blossomed.
Les Heinsen, a good friend of mine, says this all the time. He says, “All growth begins with personal growth.” It does not matter whether you want to be a better father or a better husband, a better leader, a better salesperson, a better softball pitcher in your church softball league. It all begins with you. You have to get better, and as you get better, it’s amazing what can happen.
Jim Rohn says, “The least selfish thing you can do is work on yourself.” He says a lot of people think that that’s very selfish, but he said, “If I’m okay, I have the capacity to help you, and if I’m not okay, I don’t have that capacity.”
Tim: Man, thank you so much for bringing that point up because I think up until this point, all we’ve been talking about are business goals and objectives and increases and things like that. Now, again, that’s one of those things that measures success: Did I go to seminars? Did I read the book? Did I apply some of those new concepts?
Joe: Yeah, if you’re out selling, you are the business, and so one of the ways to improve your business is to improve yourself. I think it definitely needs to be part of or an element of everyone’s business plan.
Tim: That’s good. Anything else we wouldn’t think of to put in a business plan?
Joe: Really, for someone starting out in this industry, I wouldn’t go much beyond that, to be honest with you, Tim. I think because those are the 2 things, again, 12 months down the road, that are really going to drive you to where you want to go.
Now, I think that leads us into this conversation about longer-range business planning, which I think is important. I think it takes a little bit of a different mindset, but I think it’s important for a very specific reason. You start thinking about your plan three years out, I think what stops people, very often, is…How do I plan activities three years out?
Tim: Because the further you get away from today, the less certain the future is, obviously.
Joe: Exactly right, and so I think the less specific your business plan is going to be because then, when you’re three years out, you really are starting to talk about objectives and goals. Often the further you get out, the “plan,” and I’m…
Tim: Air quotes. Air quotes.
Joe: Yeah, I’m doing air quotes. “Plan,” at that point, really is almost number-based.
Joe: Now, having said that, I think it’s important to go that far out because let’s say, right now, I am selling $100,000, right?
Joe: Three years out, I want to be at $500,000. Okay?
Joe: What am I going to do this year to position myself to be ready to be at $500,000 three years from now?
Tim: You mean it’s just not going to happen?
Joe: It’s not going to happen. If I’m at $100,000, I want to get $500,000, maybe the next year I want to be at $280,000. The year after that, I want to be at $380,000. Then that third year, I’m going to be at $500,000. Well, now I have to start thinking about, “Well, how am I going to get from where I am now to $280,000?”
Tim: That’s much more manageable.
Joe: It is much more manageable, but it’s very important because you’re not going to be able to go from $0 to $500,000 or $100,000 to $500,000 with a snap of a finger. You have to work your way to it. You have to position yourself for it, and so I think that is very important.
I really do believe in this concept, though, of looking out in your business, of looking out in your career and saying, “Where is it that I want to be? Where is it I want to take my business? Where is it I want to take my career?” I’m going to go back to Mark Miller with Chick-fil-A, and one of the things that he has in his blog is that Chick-fil-A has 1-, 3-, 5-, 10-, and 20-year business plan.
Tim: A 20-year business plan.
Joe: Now you think about that. I have not talked specifically to Mark about this, but I’ll almost guarantee you that the 20 years out is almost exclusively numbers.
Tim: It would almost have to be.
Joe: Then they kind of work their way back and start to think about, “How are we going to get to where we’re talking about 20 years from now, not just this year, but 3 years out, and 5 years out?” That’s what makes up that long-range business planning, so I think it’s important.
I would encourage, though, for folks who are just starting out, make it a one-year plan, and maybe do that for one or two or maybe even three years until you really get yourself comfortable. Eventually, what you want to start doing is thinking out further and starting to establish those milestones that you’re thinking about you want to accomplish as your career continues to go.
Tim: This is a rolling thing. I think that’s another thing that’s important to understand: Your business plan, we said, a lot of people think of it as an annual exercise and then put it on a shelf, and we understand why that’s not good, but it’s not something that you develop in November, start on January, and then, again, next November, you look at the following year, right? You have to continue to look six months or a year into the future, don’t you? I mean…
Joe: Yeah. When I was with Chick-fil-A, and I think I might have mentioned this, I always wanted to make sure I was at last six months ahead of my business. In other words, at whatever point I was in, whatever date of the calendar I was in, I wanted to look out six months to start to thinking about, “What kind of business cycle am I going to be in at that point? Am I prepared for it? Am I getting myself ready for it?” Then a month later, I’m still doing the same thing. It’s just that the six months that I’m looking out, that’s a month later also.
Tim: It’s a rolling thing.
Tim: Yep. Absolutely.
Joe: Then we’re back into this concept of being constantly in your business plan, and I’m a big believer that once something is accomplished on your business plan, you need to celebrate that. I think it’s so important to celebrate success, and it is no small feat to accomplish things that you’ve set out. If you put it down on paper, let’s say, in November and it is now May, and you’ve accomplished it, that is something that you really do need to celebrate.
Tim: I love that. I love that. Well, first of all, I like having parties, so…
Joe: There you go.
Tim: I’m a party guy. I love having a good time, so any celebration I’m good at.
Joe: Yeah. Exactly. I think it’s very important, and anybody who has been involved with that or with you in that, they need to be included in that celebration. Having said that, to me, I think you have some space in your business plan.
Joe: You’ve accomplished something. Something comes off. Okay, what is next? Because now we’re back to that question of capacity.
Joe: It doesn’t make any sense, then, to, let’s say you’ve accomplished half your business plan by June 30.
Tim: That would be nice. Right?
Joe: Yeah, so then you have the other half of the year, and you’re kind of running at half speed.
Joe: Don’t waste the time. Be constantly in your business plan and making those adjustments that you need to make.
Tim: I really like that. So keep looking at it. Keep stretching the future. As you hit a milestone, celebrate it then add a new milestone that you’re shooting for. You know what I really love about business planning more than anything? All those are really important to me, but for me, I think the payoff for me, personally, is looking backwards.
Tim: Because sometimes, in the day-to-day activity and the tyranny of the urgent and the whirlwind and all the different things that we face, we don’t feel like we’re making a lot of progress.
Tim: If we really are working a plan and we get the opportunity to go back and take a look, it seems like we’re never making as much progress as we want. When we do stop and we look backwards, and we say, “Holy cow, look how far we’ve come this year,” I mean, that’s a very powerful thing, but now I’m going to celebrate too, and we’re going to have a party.
Joe: Yeah, and I think, Tim, you would agree, especially in this business, though, the fundamentals of how to be successful in this business don’t change.
Tim: Not at least in the last 16 years.
Joe: Exactly, so there are going to be those things that you’re going to be able to say, “Hey, I accomplished them,” but you don’t want to forget about them because, very likely, you’re going to need to tap into them. It’s another great way or another great reason to look back…
Tim: It is.
Joe: …and say, “You know, hey, this was successful for me this year. Does it translate into next year? Can I continue to tap into this and make this successful going on?” You don’t want to forget those. That’s another great reason to look back.
Tim: And to have it memorialized in the business plan.
Tim: I love that word, by the way. Bill Deehan has been saying that a lot lately: memorialize. “We want to memorialize it.” Okay, I never thought of that being a memorial, but it is. All right. Well, any last words of encouragement about business planning, Joe? I think we’re about ready to wrap up here.
Joe: Yeah, I’ll kind of close with this story because I’m often asked, “What is the biggest benefit to business planning?” I always relate this personally, and I go back to my Chick-fil-A career. There was an opportunity that all of the franchisees had with Chick-fil-A. This was about midway through my career with them, and there was another revenue stream that was opened up to us. There was an opportunity. We were kind of developing a new… It wasn’t a new line of business. It was just new way of doing our business.
On the same hand, it was kind of free-for-all. We were kind of set free to develop this the way we wanted to develop it, and so I was then put in the position where I was going out and knocking on doors and making phone calls and handing out cards and pamphlets about trying to get my product in people’s hands in a different way. That took a lot of time, and it took a lot of energy to do.
What I always tell people, though, is that because I had a solid business plan, what was happening back in my primary point of operation, back in my store, was still continuing to thrive, and it was still continuing to be successful. I think, as sales people, what is going to happen, you talk to a lot of folks, and every once in a while, there is going to be that “elephant” that is walking down the street, that opportunity that you do not want to pass up. The one thing about that is it takes a lot of energy and a lot of time.
Tim: And money.
Joe: And money and emotion to lasso that elephant, right? If you have a business plan, a solid business plan, as your underpinning, you can take that time and that energy and that money and that emotion and go after that elephant and maybe land that elephant, but the basis of your business continues to operate (even if it’s just you) because you have it down. You’re following it. You’re still in it. You understand what needs to be done, and so you can have success even when something else draws you away from the core of your business for a little bit.
Tim: Boy, I really appreciate that. That makes a ton of sense. Well, Joe, let’s wrap up with this: You started off saying you had a challenge. You realized there was that “aha” moment. You needed to make sure that that didn’t happen to you again. I’m sure your first real serious attempt at business planning and the one you had at 19 years into the business looked completely different. You talked about that, and I think that’s important, but tell us the punchline. Tell me that next Christmas (or at least two Christmases from then) you actually were ready for it.
Joe: Yeah, the punchline really comes probably, I’d say, in late July or August because it was that point where I felt like, “I’m ready. I’m ready for November and December. I’m ready for the eight weeks of craziness that is going to happen around our Christmas season,” because I had been planning for it. I mean, I had actually started planning for it back in January and started the activities happening leading up into the summer.
When I got to the point where I was in July and August and I knew that I was ready (as ready as I could be) for what was going to happen in November and December, there was an unbelievable feeling of serenity and calm and confidence that we were going to be able to make it. We were going to be successful at it because we were ready for it. I never, ever let that happen again.
I tried to never, ever get caught (to use a phrase) with my pants down again because it was a terrible feeling. It wasn’t just terrible for me. In my situation, I had a bunch of employees who ended up having to work way too hard and put up with way too much that first time because we weren’t ready, because I wasn’t ready.
I had an obligation to them to make sure that I could do as much as I possibly could to make sure that I was ready. It ended up being a really tough lesson to learn but a great lesson to learn and a great sense of accomplishment once I was able to put it into place.
Tim: Well, I can’t say anything after that. That is huge that, first of all, you took the personal onus and responsibility and understood that it wasn’t just you. It wasn’t just the dollars in your till and what you were doing to the community. It was how it was it was affecting the people who counted on you to make it happen, and we’ll take it back to the brand-new agent.
You have people counting on you. Maybe if it’s just your landlord, if you’re a single guy, 22 years old, and you don’t have a lot of bills other than Verizon and your landlord, somebody is counting on you. If you’re like I was, with a very young family and kids who needed braces, I had a lot of people counting on me, and so you owe it to yourself, but you owe it to them.
You owe it to the people who are counting on you to treat this business like a business, to actually do the hard work upfront, to pay the price, and then enjoy the success. Thank you, Joe, for being here. We really appreciate it.
Joe: Thanks, Tim. I loved being with you.
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