Professor Lei’s School of Hard Knocks

Ten Lessons from a Newbie CEO

(note: I wanted to write something fluffy, inspirational and cute for the four year blog but this was on my mind. Real life 💩 here.)

October 6, 2021 = four years of be the change HR. Four WHOLE years…happy birthday to us! To make it this far AND in the midst of (insert whatever disaster you like that’s happened over the past few years including murder hornets) meltdown feels a bit astonishing to me.

Every year is no different than the one prior as a business owner and entrepreneur. The chasm of emotions ranges from in tears of pure joy to getting kicked in the proverbial nuts/lady bits. Not a joke.

2021 was no different; in fact, it was harder than ones prior.

Ya see, for the first time since year one we were operating in the red the first half of the year.  We lost two large clients which equaled 40% of our revenue in the first month. Ouch. Spoiler alert, we recovered in July 2021 thank freakin’ goodness.

Through all that I learned a few hard and expensive lessons that I’m going to share. Maybe you’ve experienced them already and I’ll get some head nods outta you and maybe you haven’t and you’ll take my advice.

Professor Lei here.

Welcome to my classroom…this is the Ten “School of Hard Knocks” lessons:

  1. Don’t put all your revenue eggs in one or two or even three baskets.  As I mentioned before, we lost two major clients who made up 40% of our monthly revenue. They both left (one was acquired  and one got fired) within weeks of each other. At that point I did what I always did and believed we’d land another large client within weeks. Which leads me to the next lesson…
  2. “You can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one gets filled first.” – Grumpy Old Men. One of my fav quotes of all time.  LOL. What worked in prior years, the sheer belief that the universe would deliver new clients in perfect timing, wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I believe the universe did this to show me how to level my a#$(🍑) up strategically. It was time to make a strategic plan; sophisticate and educate myself further as a business owner.
  3. Sales are not magical things that just happen. I wish they freakin’ were! In years prior I would just put citrine crystals in my briefcase and manifest sales. I’m not kidding AND it worked until this year. So, I got me some help and started working with fractional folks. Through help from fractional CSO Rich Cocuzzo of Sales Velocity I started to build a sales training process and program with my internal staff. I love offering learning ops to the Squad (what we call ourselves) and started to mentor and grow anyone who wanted to network on behalf of the company. I now have four folks who network for us. Later in the year, through work with fractional CRO Neal Conlon we began to sophisticate our sales funnel by gathering data on our leads, qualified leads and closing rates, set sales goals, created more channels for leads. We’re still doing LOTS of work in this space…and it’s paying off.  Literally.
  4. Hire a business coach.  It’s cheaper than getting an MBA (this is the joke I make with mine, John Bulman of Profitability Thinking). Do you know what projects are the most profitable? Do you know how much operating income you need to keep afloat?  What’s your Gross Profit percentage and do you know why that’s important?  How much monthly recurring revenue do you have?  What do you do if your clients don’t pay on time? If you want to grow by x amount, what do you have to do to get there? 
    C A S H F L O W   P R O J E C T I O N S!  <- well, that was dramatic…but have YOU ever done yours from scratch as a non-accounting/non-finance business owner. It was like having to do space science for me. “Space science” <- hahahaha!
  5. Vanity < Recovering Financially.  The vanity I am talking about is all those bells and whistles that feel and look good in our business but don’t generate income. When the businesses was in the red, my CRO basically told me if it isn’t making money it needed to go. Do you know how hard it is to cease something you and the team find fun? Podcast was first budget-cut then dropped. If you’ve ever seen me in unedited videos on LI in my PJs that served two purposes: being myself in a public forum and saving $$ on video editing costs. We had to reduce our posts on IG (which doesn’t make money) and any other platform other than LI (which is our JAM).  It felt like some of these “pretty” and “fun” things were done to look good and feel good. It was business-vanity. I had to ask myself so many times, “Is this for vanity or is this going to make us that much needed income to recover.”
  6. Get yourself a CFO.  Our fractional CFO, Neeta Shah, is like watching poetry in motion but with finance strategy. We started our work with her in the midst of our financial “hurt” and watching her analyze our numbers was like magic. I won’t go into the details, because frankly I can’t and that’s what a fractional CFO is for, but she basically told me I was working way too hard to make $100 profit per month on each new client. Ouch. So through her help we restructured our packages to generate more profit per sale and higher sale per client. Easy enough, right? Not easy to see though. Again that’s why you need someone like her. 
      
  7. Grace, grace, grace for yourself and the team. Being a leader of a team is really f$%king hard when doing all of the above and so much more.  This year was particularly hard as I had to remove myself from some pieces of the business to allow for more room for strategic planning and execution because if I didn’t we wouldn’t make it to 2022. I felt distant from the people I love so much. I also felt different. You see, I’ve been an HR Pro for 20 years now. I’ve been the owner of be the change HR for four years. And I’ve been a true CEO for one year. So in my transition from HR Pro to CEO I did my best to connect with the Squad, communicate our progress and changes, delegate to my trusted Chief Cat Herder, and drive this lovely and fun machine forward for all. I often wondered if they saw and felt the transition too. It’s kinda heart wrenching, ya know?! I’m still learning that balance of get 💩 done for the org AND connect with the Squad. 
  8. It’s hard to hire good people if you’re an asshole.  It is not hard to hire good people EVER if you aren’t. Please note “asshole” in this lesson is to be used not only as the individual leader in the org that is an actual asshole but also as an org itself that is like an asshole. I hope LinkedIn won’t take down my post now. I think I may of cursed to much by this point. Anywho…we’re in the midst of The Great Resignation. People are moving from jobs more now than in the last decade. Companies are hurting for good talent. Here’s why…assholes. Do you know if your employees are truly happy? Is your workplace a safe place to be?  Do people think “Oh!  I’d love to work there it looks awesome!” Are your leaders kind, generous humans who treat their people well? Do you work on strengthening what your culture does well and turn around what it does not? How’s the company look to the outside world? How’s your employer branding? If you saw your company online would you want to work for it? Who’s old enough to remember “Field of Dreams”? If you build a great company culture, a fair and equitable workplace, a safe place to be in times that are as terribly tough emotionally as they are now, a place where people are paid well and taken care of financially, a place where they FEEL like the leaders care about not only them but their families then hiring will NOT be hard in times like these. Take it from me…during this time we’ve hired two people with one in the hopper ready to onboard when we’re ready. Why? We’re asshole free here. 
  9. Don’t work your ass off!  Don’t work 12 hour days, don’t work weekends…hell…don’t even work on Fridays! And live life to the fullest. If you’ve gathered by now I reach out for help. Intuitively at the beginning of the year I reached out to a long time colleague to coach me personally. I say “intuitively” because I really didn’t have a goal. I just new I needed it. I won’t go into all the details, because it’s a whole other blog, but this year was a HUGE growth year personally. I worked with Chris King, of Status Flow for six months. The man changed my life. I learned to produce a week’s work in less than 25 hours (I only work six hours or less per day, and only four days a week). I never work weekends. I learned how to set up my mind to think creatively (lots of the above was results of my coaching) by having fun. I learned to say “no” better, set boundaries, make self-honoring choices. I healed more. I was kept accountable. I turned this business around and into the black. I am happier all around. I no longer cry in frustration because of work.  And I fell in love (not part of his coaching SOWs haha but it was part of my top tier goals that just so happened to happen). Jen Sincero’s advice from “You’re a Badass at Making Money” rings in my head…get  coach.  It’s worth every penny. 
  10.  You’ve got this!   I’m capable, smart and it’s ALWAYS all gonna be okay regardless of the outcome. At any given point I’ve sat with the thought…even if this all ended tomorrow…I’d be fine. And that’s true. I’ll be okay…you’ll be okay. Simply living this existence here and now, even with all the crazy, it’s such a blessing. I’m grateful for all of this. I GET to do this!

A big thank you to all those I mentioned here, many many others who’ve supported us this year and before, and a HUGE thank you to the Squad.  Y’all are amazing!

Cheers to four years! Let’s kick 🍑 in year five! Most importantly…let’s have some fun doing it!

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I’m curious and would love to hear from you all. What lessons have you learned this year? Anything resonate with you?