Have you ever had that experience where your friends know your strengths and come to you to solve their problems? Maybe you’re an interior designer and you get that FaceTime call every time a friend wants to rearrange their living room. Maybe you’re a marketing agent and you get a call every time a friend has a new idea they want to launch into the world. I know business. Specifically, I’m an expert at helping businesses simplify to scale.
Before the Lean Out Method I did a lot of project management consulting/program management for large corporations. I led and built large project management organizations and at one time had hundreds of project managers reporting to me in multiple countries, so when friends were having a difficult time with projects at their jobs, I was the one they would come to.
Over dinner one night a friend had said, “if you could just come in, I know that would fix everything.”
Our conversation sparked an idea and that idea turned into a business with its own website and its first multi-6-figure deal in less than two weeks.
Common Sense Enterprise Program Management (CSEPM), the company I mentioned above, succeeded because I kept things simple; I was really in tune with my target audience, I kept things super niche, I understood the need and I fully understood the opportunity.
Before, Criscara, the jewelry company I own today, I had another jewelry company, where I made a mistake that many creative entrepreneurs make: rather than leading with business I led with passion; I thought like an artist rather than like a business woman.
I spent a lot of time on details that my customer either didn’t notice or didn’t care about. The added details increased cost and ultimately priced my pieces out of a price point that my customers wanted to pay.
I wasn’t thinking about what my ideal customer wanted or needed. I was too focused on what I wanted and as a result I was left with a basement full of jewelry and thousands of dollars or debt.
In Episode 30 of The Lean Out Your Business Podcast I take you behind the scenes of both of these businesses, to show you what I did right and what I did wrong.
In today’s episode, you'll learn:
- How to recognize untapped opportunities in your market
- How I turned an idea into a multi-6-figure consulting business in under 2 weeks
- How I accumulated multi-6-figures of debt in my first jewelry business
- The #1 mistake passion-fueled entrepreneurs make that slows down their results
- The big difference between my most and least successful businesses
- How to leverage simplicity to accelerate results
- 2 key questions to ask yourself before your next launch
Want to dive deeper? Listen to Episode 30 of The Lean Our Your Business Podcast.
Welcome to the Lean Out Your Business Podcast, a show dedicated to helping entrepreneurs accelerate business growth to simplify success. I'm your host, Crista Grasso, and I've been working with businesses for more than two decades to help them lean out and optimize what's working, while eliminating anything that's not adding value. So, if you are ready to get more time back in your day, more profit in your business, and to do business differently growing and scaling on your terms. Let's dive into today's episode.
Hello, hello, and welcome to another episode of the Lean Out Your Business podcast. In today's episode, we're going to talk about simplifying success. And I'm going to take you behind the scenes and share with you one of my most successful businesses, which I very rarely talk about and I'm not sure why. So, I thought I would go ahead and share a little bit about that journey and how I turned an idea into a multi six figure business in actually less than two weeks, which was by far my most successful business venture as far as getting results really quickly. And then I want to contrast that with my least successful business venture, and how I ended up generating multi six figures in debt instead of in revenue and profit and why that was.
Let's start off with my most successful business venture. Several years ago, I started a company called CSEPM, which stood for Common Sense Enterprise Program Management. At the time, I had been doing a lot of project management consulting and I had gone on and led and built these large global project management organizations that I had hundreds of project managers reporting to me in multiple countries. I really enjoyed doing a lot of that mentorship and a lot of that development. And I had an opportunity that came to me, where as often happens, and you've probably had this happen to you as well, where you're just chatting with different friends and they know a little bit about what you do. So, they would constantly be complaining about things in their business, you know, this is, you know, really not working. And I don't know why we keep doing this, and we keep losing so much money. And I would do what I frequently do, because I just can't help myself, and give lots of advice and say, “Oh, well, that would be really easy. You guys should try this, have you considered this, you should do this.” And so, this had gone on for probably about six months or so. And what would happen inevitably, in every one of those conversations, is the person I would be talking to kept saying, “if only you could come into the company and put what you talk about in place, I think that would fix everything.”
And these conversations, again, went on for about six months. And then finally, one day, I made a joke and I said, “Well, if you can just get me a lunch date with your CIO, then I know that I could come in and fix everything that's going on in the company.” And at first, it started off as just a passing kind of comment, a light joke. But over time, I really started thinking about it and said, you know, not only is this company having all of these challenges, but I see so many companies having these challenges, I should really try to get a lunch date with the CIO. So, I went back to my friend and said, “Hey, do you think you could actually get me a lunch date with your CIO, I'd love to talk to her about how I could come in and actually solve all of these problems and really set you guys up for success based on what you've been telling me she wants to do with the business.” And so, he said, “Yeah, I think I can probably do that.”
So here's what I did. It went from having this idea and I was fortunate that I had some insight into the pain points in this particular business, as well as the goals of this particular CIO. But that being said, these are super common problems that I saw across so many of the different businesses that I was consulting with. And this was just one friend who was complaining to me about all of the things that were wrong in the company that they were with; I had many friends complaining to me about the exact same thing. So, it just struck me, “Wait a minute, this is actually a really big opportunity, a need in the market. And there's not that many people who have the background or skills that I do to actually be able to go in and solve this problem and do it in a really simple way.” And so I thought about it and said, “I'm going to start a business,” I came up with CSEPM because to me, the common sense part was the most important part of it.
I saw so many people way over architecting things that they did, just in general, most people do not approach project management in a very common sense or lean way. They tend to over architect, over plan everything. I really wanted to approach this in a really lean way and in my mind, a really common-sense approach that fit the particular business at the company that I would be brought in to consult with, not the off the shelf, standard, you know, cookie cutter, tried to apply it to everybody type of solution. That was a lot of what I had seen in the market at the time. And so, I thought about how can I realistically get a lunch date with this CIO? She's not going to just say yes, because my friend happens to work in the same company that she does, I need to build some credibility, and there needs to be some reason why this person is going to hire me.
So, here's where my under two weeks business came from. As I got the idea of starting the company, I went out and registered for an LLC right away, I went out and I think at the time I was using GoDaddy, I got a free web page, which looking back was like an absolutely atrocious website, but it did the job. And I wrote a white paper, I wrote a white paper about the top three mistakes people make when building a PMO, and trying to grow their business. And I did a very targeted white paper based on the specific problem that I knew that she had, and that many of the other businesses that I was seeing had. And I put that as a free download on the web page. So, it was a single web page, a single landing page, and the free download for the white paper. What I told my friend was, listen, I'd really like to meet with her, she's not going to just say yes to a lunch date, send her to my website, encourage her to download the white paper, and then recommend that she meets with me for lunch. And that's what he did. And that's exactly what she did. He made sure that he brought it up at a time when she was willing to listen, not catching somebody in the hallway when they're, you know, not paying attention. He actually grabbed her when he had a captive audience and said, “Hey, listen, there's a consultant who I know, who I really think could be a big help here, I know recommend that you go check out her website at CSEPM, check out her white paper, what she talks about really addresses a lot of the problems that we've been experiencing.
And so, she did that, I got a lunch date with her and literally closed a multi six figure deal during that lunch date; it took a couple weeks to actually get everything in place in the paperwork signed but that was by far my most successful business. And the reason why I don't talk about it much is because it was actually a really toxic environment. And I was not happy in that company. It was the first place I had ever worked at in my entire career that I really did not like the company, it made me really stressed out all the time. It was not good for my personal health and well-being, it was not good for my relationship with my husband, because I was so stressed out all the time, it ended up being such a negative experience for me that I ended up leaving and I did not actually end up making the multi six figures that I had signed, because the way that we did the contracts was we would do a contract for six months and then we would extend and when we got to the point of the extension, I said “Thanks, but no thanks” and walked away. And so, because I have such a bad experience with that particular company, I've never really talked about that experience. But the reality is, I saw a need in the market, I did something really targeted, really niched, I ended up getting a lunch date with the CIO of this company, which was a very, very large company and ended up getting hired on the spot because my solution was exactly what she was looking for. So even though the entire experience wasn't a super positive one for me, once I got in and started working in the company itself, just the way that I approached it was really great. And I could have absolutely stuck it out and done the multi six figures, it just to me, it wasn't worth it, I would have rather walked away and kept my sanity and kept my health and kept my integrity. Honestly, I didn't like the way that they did business. And so, because of that, you know, I chose to walk away.
But that being said, it was just a really smart way to approach business. Now let me contrast that to the least smart way to approach business, which I have also done with flying colors.
So early on when I had launched my jewelry business before the business that I have today, I had another jewelry business and I made a lot of mistakes in a similar way to what a lot of really creative and passion fueled people do and I know many of the people that I work with, you are probably in this category as well, where you are very passion fueled, you care very much about what you do, you care very much about the people that you help and the impact that you make. And when you have that deep passion or when you have more of a creative type of business like I did with my jewelry business, it can be really easy to fall into the trap that I fell into. And it's that you don't lead with business, you lead with whatever it is that you're passionate about. And what I ended up doing was I designed everything like an artist and not like a businesswoman. And here's what I mean by that; I took great pride in my craftsmanship.
And I made things so complicated and so complex and honestly things that nobody but me or another jewelry designer would have ever noticed, my customer did not care, they did not notice the little intricate details, they did not notice a lot of the things that I did that to me, just were huge differentiators and they weren't. But to me, they felt like they were because I was approaching it with my artist hat on and not with my business woman hat on.
Over the years, and what I do today in my business, is, I always do quality first that's really critical for me, it's all about quality and the longevity of the jewelry. To me, there’s no point in somebody buying a piece of jewelry if they're not going to actually wear it and enjoy it. So, I have a quality first approach to everything that I do, which is consistent with what I did in my prior jewelry business. But today, I look at it and I design it smartly. And what I mean by that is I start with for this particular product, who is it for? I'm not just designing something and creating a piece of art because I love it. I'm designing it for a particular customer, what do they want? What do they need, what do they want to spend for this, and then I reverse engineer my design, so that I have a quality design that gives them what they want. And then I can design it at the price point that they want to pay and the profit margin that I need to make for it to be worthwhile and for it to be a really smart business move.
"Repeat what worked well for your business in the past, and avoid what didn't work well." -Crista Grasso Click To Tweet
That's what I do today in my jewelry business. That was not at all what I did back in the day, I just designed out of pure passion and love for what I did, I made things really complicated. I mean, don't get me wrong, they were beautiful designs. And from a craftsmanship perspective, they were amazing. But my customer didn't care about any of those extra embellishments, any of it, they honestly would have preferred probably that I did less of them so that I would have charged less for the pieces that was actually more important to them. And so, I ended up over architecting a whole lot of products, I ended up having to charge way more than my target market would have wanted to pay. And as a result, I had a lot of jewelry that didn't sell, I had a basement full of jewelry that hadn't sold or that I ended up eventually selling and selling for a loss or selling where I barely broke even. Over a few years in that business, I accumulated multiple six figures worth of business debt. The other thing with the jewelry business that I did that wasn't super successful, was I did a lot of shoulding. And you know, I talk about this a lot where you know, be careful of doing the things that you feel like you should do instead of things that were aligned to you. But being newer in that business what do we all do when we're doing something new for the first time? We look to see what do other people do? How are other people finding success? As much as I did make it my own, I still was doing a lot of shoulding, I was very much, you know, doing where I would pre-create the pieces of jewelry, create hundreds and 1000s of pieces of jewelry, hoping that somebody would buy them, instead of creating something, getting somebody to buy it. And then making it right?
There were some other different ways that I could approach it. I invested in trade shows, I invested a ton in advertising, I invested in PR, I invested in all of these things, sales representatives, that I was told would be what would make a big difference in my business, and what all of the other competitors that I saw in my space, this was what they all had, right? So, it made a lot of sense to me. So, I approached things in a way that I thought I should. I listened to my sales reps, I listened to you know, some of the people that I met at the trade shows, and I really approached things in hindsight, in probably the most complex and expensive way I possibly could. There was nothing lean about the way that I approached that business. But I went into it bright eyed, bushy tailed, thinking, “I have an amazing product, everything I do is so great. Everyone's going to love it. Of course it's going to sell, this is going to be amazing.” And if you just think about that, in your own business, I think that so many of us approach our business that way. And being that you've probably been in business for several years now, like I've been in business now for decades but when you really think about it, we still do this with the new things that we do in our business. When we release new products or new offers or new services or whatever we have going on. A lot of times it can be really easy to fall into that trap of almost approaching it from that place of passion, from that place of creativity in thinking about what we want and not thinking about what our customer wants and needs.
So a little word of caution the next time you're doing something and you're in that place of pure excitement. And this is going to be amazing. And everybody's going to love it. And of course, everybody's going to want it, to take a pause and just make sure that yes, that might be true, but are you talking about it in a way that's going to resonate with your target market? And is it what your target market actually wants? Or do they want something a little bit different? Now, it's not usually night and day difference? It's usually more of like a 15-degree shift, where you're thinking one thing and people are like, “yeah, yeah, that sounds fine but what I really would want is this,” and then you realize that it's not a big radical change to what you are doing, or how you're positioning things, but that 15-degree shift sometimes is the thing that makes all the difference.
And so, when I contrast my CSEPM most successful business with my least successful, very debt filled jewelry business experience, when I first launched that business, I think the biggest difference is being really in tune with what my customer wants, being super niched and super targeted in positioning things exactly how they want it, and just keeping things really simple. Really, really simple. What did I do in CSEPM, I understood the need, I understood the opportunity, I created the simplest most basic of webpages and white papers, but I knew that when talking to a CIO, a white paper was the way to go, obviously, for your market, that might not be the right thing to do. I would not do a white paper today with my private entrepreneurs and small business owners. But I would if I were going back into the corporate space, like I was at that time, think about your target market, not only what do they need to hear, but how do they want to hear it? And how do they want to consume that information? And then how can you get it to them in a way that they're likely to listen. And that's the thing, if I had just sent some random cold email to this person saying, “hey, check out my white paper,” they may or may not have ever looked at it, but the chances of them not looking at it are much higher than the chances of them looking at it. But because it was referral based, and I went through a warm lead, I went through somebody who had a relationship with her. Granted, it wasn't a close relationship. but it was enough where it was somebody that she trusted enough to take a moment to actually look at my website and download the white paper. But then the white paper itself actually addressed her needs. And the interesting thing is, when I met with her, she actually did not hire me for what was in the white paper, which was interesting. She had already hired somebody for that, which I didn't realize until I got the lunch date with her. But being the entrepreneurial thinker that I am, I quickly pivoted what I pivoted and said, “Oh, okay, that's great, really happy to hear that you have this.” Now, as soon as I realized what she did, I knew that it was actually going to be a disaster. And it was. The person ended up not succeeding in the role and had to be removed, which I knew going in as soon as she told me a little bit about it. But I had to be careful in how I communicated that to her because she already made the decision. So, what I had said was, “there's a lot of risk in doing this, here's why, here's what I would recommend, I could come in and do this. And the really great thing about this is not only is it going to give you the results that you want, but it's going to amplify the results of what you have this other person doing. And so, you're going to get there a lot quicker. And it's also going to de-risk if this person doesn't end up being successful in the role.”
Now I knew the person wasn't going to be successful in the role, but she didn't know that, and so I gave her something that would get her results quicker, and remove some of the risk from a decision that she had made. Think about how you can do that. In your market, we so often make things so complicated. I had an LLC filed and that website created in a day, it took me another two days to actually write the white paper. And then after that all it took was getting a meeting with my friend and telling him some tips on how I recommended he approached her, waiting for the right time to do it. And then I got a lunch date, I think within a week, and then we had everything signed within another week or two. And so that was a it, right? That is as simple as simple could be. I didn't have a mailing list. I didn't have a social media account. I didn't have anything fancy. I had the most basic of options, but it didn't matter because I had the solution she was looking for. And I spoke her language. I think as you're looking at the next offer in your business, or maybe even the next business for all of you serial entrepreneurs out there like me, really think about just what is the simplest way to give my customer what they want, and to position it in a way that's going to give them accelerated results in value and de-risk or take away some of their fear or concerns. That right there is the big takeaway from my experience with CSEPM and something I ask myself all the time, and would encourage you to ask yourself as well.
And then on the flip side with my jewelry business, a great question to ask yourself, and something I ask myself often is, “where am I making this more complicated than I need to, where am I putting effort, time, energy and money into something that my clients aren't going to notice, aren't going to care about, and ultimately is going to have no impact on their results?”
And you might be surprised when you really look at what you do. And you'll see this even in some of your programs. So, let's say you have a group mastermind, or maybe a membership or some sort of group mentorship experience, right? If you look at all of the different components and everything that you have layered in there, pay attention, do some surveys, or ask your clients or just look at show up rates and engagement rates, you might find that there are certain pieces of it that people just honestly don't care about and don't use. And you might find that there's other things that people want more and more of. So, it makes sense, right? We go into it based on limited feedback, or with ideas, and then we need to test it. And we need to constantly be evolving what we're doing. And there may be places where you're really burning yourself out or burning your team out, putting all of this effort into something that nobody even really cares about, or is using. And if you redirected that effort or cut that back, they might even get a better experience.
So really do think about both of those angles, both of those things. And I challenge you to look in your own business or back on your own businesses or even back on your career, other things that you've done, and really just look at where have you been the most successful, and where have you gotten results in a really simple, almost effortless way. And I think, you know, effortless can be a little misleading because there's truly no such thing as effortless, but in a way that just felt really aligned and really simple and that didn't feel like you were pushing a boulder up the hill. On the flip side, where were things really hard and really complex and felt so much more challenging and frustrating and slow, try to recognize where you can repeat some of the things that worked really well for you in the past, and where you can avoid some of the things that maybe did not work as well for you in the past.
And that is really a key to simplifying what you're doing in your business and a really key way to help you with growth and scaling, as well as any time you're launching anything new within your business.
So, I hope you got a ton of value out of this episode. As always, if you want help with this, just reach out to my team, you can contact us at [email protected] and schedule a free strategy call. We'd be happy to dive in and go through this with you and see where maybe, in your business you can simplify things and if you may be a great fit for our Simplify to Scale Business Accelerator. So, with that, I will see you again next week. Hope you all have an amazing week.
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by Crista Grasso
Crista Grasso is the go-to strategic planning expert for leading global businesses and online entrepreneurs when they want to scale. Known as the "Business Optimizer", Crista has the ability to quickly cut through noise and focus on optimizing the core things that will make the biggest impact to scale a business simply and sustainably. She specializes in helping businesses gain clarity on the most important things that will drive maximum value for their clients and maximum profits for their business. She is the creator of the Lean Out Method, 90 Day Lean Out Planner, and host of the Lean Out Your Business Podcast. She is also the founder and CVO of the Profitable Planner Co and Criscara Jewelry.