Success in business means that your product or service is sought after by potential clients, or they keep on buying from you. It is about creating that customer base and building that “tribe” which attracts other potential clients, boosting your sales. In this episode, host Jen Du Plessis interviews author and business consultant Mitch Russo about building and taking care of a tribe to drive up sales to your product. They also talk about creating and handling your tribe culture while staying true to oneself.
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I have with me Mitch Russo. Mitch and I met at an event called New Media Summit, which is for podcasters. He’s a great podcaster. The name of his podcast is Your First Thousand Clients. If you’re reading and you’re going, “What’s that? First thousand clients?” That’s what we’re going to help you get in this episode. I want first to welcome Mitch to the show and then I’ll tell you all about him. Mitch, how are you doing?
I’m great, Jen. Thanks for inviting me to the show. It’s exciting to be with you.
I’m excited to learn from you. I always learn from my shows. Let me tell you a little bit about Mitch. His podcast is called Your First Thousand Clients. What he focuses on is providing custom tribe building services for his clients. We’re going to learn all about that. He was nominated for Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year on two separate occasions, once in 1989 and then once again in 1991. He comes to us with a lot of experience. He joined his longtime friend Chet Holmes and Tony Robbins and together they created Business Breakthroughs International, a company serving thousands of businesses a year with coaching, consulting, training, etc. He was the President and CEO. He has published The Invisible Organization, which is a CEO’s guide to transitioning a traditional brick and mortar into a virtual organization, which is what most of us have these days anyway. We’re out gallivanting and being entrepreneurs.
He published his second book called The Power Tribes: How Certification Can Explode Your Business, which I love and I want to talk about that too. His podcast is fantastic. It focuses on discovering the secrets of success from business owners who have served a thousand clients or more. I love one of the episodes that I was listening to. It’s mixing tech and high touch. I do that a lot too but I liked that one episode. I don’t know if you can remember the number. I doubt it but if you get a chance to listen to that, it’s a good one. Mitch, I’m excited to talk to you. Do us a favor and tell us how you got to this place? How did you get to the point where you had more than 1,000 clients? Where does it all start? Where does it stem from?
The first time I had 1,000 clients was when I started a software company back in the 1980s, early ‘90s. We grew quite slowly in the beginning, but then PR is responsible for changing our entire trajectory. We got some great PR and the company exploded. By the time I sold the company, we had over 250,000 clients. The thing we were doing is selling both a physical product and providing a service. In the beginning, I got to know my first 10,000 clients myself having either sold them directly or sold them from the stage. It was either they had met me or I had met them. You learned a lot.
Being able to say how many clients you served, how many hours you’ve coached, how many loans you’ve done or homes you’ve sold or widgets you’ve sold is pretty powerful. What was the software product?Building a tribe around a reputation is a great way to start getting to know people and getting people to know you. Click To Tweet
It was called Timeslips. It was a time tracking system for lawyers and accountants.
That then progressed. How did you meet Tony and Chet?
While I was building Timeslips, this pesky sales guy kept bugging me about buying advertising and that turned out to be Chet Holmes. He was so persistent that finally, I gave in and said, “If you make me this crazy deal, I’ll buy advertising from you.” He did. We became friends. Over the years, we watched each other’s families grow up. We became close friends. One day out of the blue he called me and said, “I need your help.” Long story short, I ended up helping him and he invited me to help him build this company, which I did. He announced that he’s going to have his first meeting with Tony Robbins. He’d been trying to get a meeting with Tony for several years. He asked me to join them at the meeting and I said, “I would.”
We started talking about how the three of us can build a company together. That’s what happened. We built a company together and it was an incredible experience to be working with Chet and Tony directly until Chet got sick with leukemia and eventually he passed away. It was up until that point that we just hit a $30 million per year sales mark with that company. Once again, thousands and thousands of clients. I had hit that number several times. What I noticed is that it’s a fairly consistent process of going to 1,000 clients, whether you’re a real estate agent, whether you’re selling software, training, coaching or consulting. I became fascinated with that and that’s why I started the podcast.
It’s such a great niche too because the only people that can be on there is the people that have had 1,000 clients because they have that experience. If someone’s reading and they haven’t had 1,000, let’s start there. Let’s start about building tribes. How did you get to 1,000 clients in as fast as you possibly can in as little time as possible? What are some of the things that you’ve learned about since you started businesses over and over? What are some of the things that you’ve learned that become the foundational pieces of that?
The foundational components of a company are having a great product, letting people know about it, and then making an offer that is reasonable and sometimes even ridiculously cheap. When I started Timeslips, we offered time and billing software for $99 when it was normally going for thousands of dollars. It got people’s attention right away and some people bought it because it was so cheap just to try it out. Others waited until there were reviews and started to trust us and we were reviewed as the top product eighteen months after we launched the company. Sometimes the price is a great way to start. Other times it takes building a story like a coach, a consultant or a real estate agent needs to build a story. It needs to build at least a small base of people who will sing their praises. That’s what we’re all in the business to do is to build that reputation.
Tell me about some of the stories that you’ve heard that have resonated with people. The first thing that came to my mind when you said something about stories is about Toms Shoes. Every time you buy a pair of shoes, he gives a pair of shoes to someone that doesn’t have it. His whole story is about how he went to a foreign country and saw that they didn’t have any shoes and he wants to make an impact on the world. Can you give us an example of some stories that you’ve heard that have resonated and attracted clients?
That’s called an Evolved Enterprise. That entire process has been well-documented by Yanik Silver in his book of the same name. It’s all about companies that give something away when they sell something. It’s a great way to garner publicity and it’s also a great way to give back to whatever community that you’re in, whether it’s the community of man or smaller. Another thing that we had is a very popular realtor in Dallas, Texas who said, “If you sign with me, you won’t have to do anything but move in.” Of course, we would laugh but then we would read some of the testimonials and she wasn’t kidding. She did everything.
She took over the entire process. She dealt with your mover. She dealt with your post office. She dealt with every single aspect of what it would take. There were people lined up to work with her. She was so smart. Building a tribe around a reputation is a great way to start getting to know people and getting people to know you. One of the ways she did that is by teaching before selling. If you have a meet-up in your area, you could start a meet-up group easily and you could get people together. The name of the meet-up could be something like, “Buying my first house.” You could meet every week and talk about all of the ways and you can have people come in who can provide financing and tell their story. The idea is to teach before selling because that’s how people get to trust you. I know you know this.
I call it edu-selling because you’re educating before you’re selling and it’s a service call, not a sales call.
The other thing is that there are many times that we give away our services before we try to sell so people can get to know us and have some confidence in who we are and what we do. That’s another way. The tribes that I build, to be clear, are in order to certify people. I’m not sure this has an application exactly in your industry but in my world, a certified coach can charge more, has more gravitas, can get leads from the client that they’re certified from and can hold the profession around being certified.
That can be applied to any business. If you are leveling up your skillset and obtaining all the designations that you possibly could have, that goes a long way to the loyalty as well. It shows that you care about the practice that you’re trying to build.Teach before selling because that's how people get to trust you. Click To Tweet
From one standpoint, having certifications is a good way to say to people, “I’m qualified. I know what I’m doing here. I’m certified in these three things.” If you’re the company that’s providing the certification, that’s an incredible business model and it’s one that I help clients with every day.
Anybody who’s reading can think of certification. There is a real estate agent that I coached that has been talking about, “Why don’t we have this certification out in the marketplace so we can talk about it offline?” She wants to know why realtors don’t have this one particular certification. It’d be great if she could start it. It’s heartfelt. It’s an organization, a foundation that’s close to her heart. It has all the breeding of those types of businesses and people that would be attracted to them. I love these ideas of maybe you shave your price a little bit to get more exposure. It’s about educating before you’re selling, teaching classes, starting a meet-up or two. I love the niche that the realtor had. That was her niche. It was a service niche.
As much as it could be a product niche or whatever so that you can become that master influencer in your area where people know that that’s what you do. Let’s say someone is on their way and they’re finally getting a bunch of clients. They’re getting to a capacity that now has other problems. It’s not building the tribe. Now the tribe is built, it’s taking care of the tribe. What are some of the things that you learned when you talked about your business that did $250 million, that you had over 10,000 clients? What kind of transition happens there that ensures that they get the same type of service and the same type of view that they expect it when you were smaller?
It comes down to culture more than anything else. What we have as a culture course, we teach how to create a deliberate culture for your tribe once you start the process of building it. It’s very hard to install culture after the tribe is in place because usually, by then it’s chaos. That’s your culture.
That’s truly what it is. In the beginning, I need leads, I need people. I have all the people, now what? Everything starts falling through the cracks. In the courses that you’re teaching people when you do the certification, are you doing the certification and then saying, “By the way, we need culture?” Are you building that into the certification from the very beginning?
We build it from the very beginning. It’s one of the first things that we do. I work with the CEO of the company to find out what their why is. I want to find out what their true passion is and we use that as the basis for building their culture.
There are a lot of managers and a lot of owners of companies that are reading this. We want to make sure that they know that you’re available for them to reach out to if they want to fix their culture because they may be so far. I assume that you help them with fixing the culture too. Let’s assume that we have clients, we have a great culture, what’s in store for the company? What happens next? Do we hum along at that pace with the culture? Is there something else that needs to be built in?
There’s a lot that goes forward from there as you can imagine. There are two big steps that come at around the point that you described. The first is the systems. You have to make sure that you uplevel your systems and you have to be looking to do that at every step. The systems that got most people to where they are won’t get them to the next level. What we do is we help people assess the systems they have and eventually transition those to higher-powered, more capacity, faster ways of working with people and consolidating. The second thing is the owner themselves. Is this the life that they want? I work with people who are running a successful company but they’re completely burned out. Their wife wants to divorce them and they hate their job, which is literally what they have at that point. My job is to help them transition to a place where they get back to enjoying their life again.
It’s not even just the job, hating their job, the overwhelm, the divorce or whatever, but physically. They’re amassed too because they don’t take care of themselves and it’s driven and they’re trapped. It’s like being in prison. I love that you say that because that’s a lot of the stuff that I coach in as well for the small entrepreneur and the mortgage person. That’s important because what happens is someone plants a seed at a company and says, “You’re good at this. You might want to consider having a business like this.” Now they have to take care of all aspects of it. The sales piece, even if they’re not a salesperson. The HR, even if they’re not an HR person. They get trapped into having to be everything for everybody. I love that you’re helping them go on to the next level, which I’ve got to talk to you about by the way too, because I’m going to be starting a new podcast called From Success To Significance: Life After Breaking Through Glass Ceilings. That’s what happens. We go, “What do we do now? Now what? What do we do with our lives?” It’s a cool thing to see that. Let me ask you another question. This is more on the personal side. What drives you? Your passion is to help these people get more business and stuff, but what’s your passion for you?
I returned from a place called Myanmar, formerly named Burma. It’s in Asia. I was there for two weeks with just one purpose and that’s to photograph. That’s my passion. I travel the world with my camera.
What are you going to do with that?
What I do is build galleries online and I put them up on my website. At that point, I just do that. Years and years ago, my employees prompted me to enter a contest and I won the contest. The good news was it was nice to win a contest even though I didn’t want to enter it. From there, I was asked to exhibit all over the country. I started to exhibit and I had been in several. Honestly, it was starting to take so much of my time that now photography was work and it wasn’t pleasure anymore. I chose to stop doing that and focus entirely on just to travel and making the photos. There are people who buy my pictures but it’s not what I’m here to do.There's no better way to be true to yourself than by honoring your own needs. Click To Tweet
I definitely can resonate with you on that. I was talking to someone about them saying, “How big do you want your coaching company to be? It can be the biggest, baddest and best.” I was like, “I already had my empire.” I just want to enjoy and give back to people and make some money in the process. I want to be able to give back to people and condense their learning curve with my experiences and stuff. I can understand that thought process. Tell us what you are reading right now that is inspiring you?
It’s Captivate. This is one of those books where my girlfriend bought this for me and I said, “I’ll stick it on the stack of books that are about three-feet high.” She said, “I’m reading this book. I think you’re going to love it,” like three times. I said, “Okay.” I opened the book and I started reading and I said, “This is fantastic.”
It’s captivating for you as well. Tell us a little bit about what it is. Is it how to captivate clients?
It’s more about learning how to use simple personality hacks to do well when you socialize to go to networking events and do a better job at that. It’s also a way of getting more self-confidence in yourself by raising your skills in that area and in basic communication with people. It’s simple things like how to provide a great handshake. It’s also some subtle psychological things too, which I love. There are little hacks about the way people are. There are ways of evaluating others relatively quickly as well.
I’ve heard that before like, are you captivating or are you in a position where you’re trying to get everyone’s attention? There are two different things in that. One is people are drawn to you and the other is you’re going, “Hello.” You’re ringing bells and trying to get everybody’s attention and be everybody’s friend. Thank you for sharing that book and thanks for sharing a little bit about what you’re learning in it too. I love asking everybody what they’re reading and anybody who’s reading this would have 52 books a year to have to read as a result of the show. What is your favorite quote?
There are several. I’m going to paraphrase because I don’t have it memorized. Steve Jobs happens to be someone I admire. There are probably a million people who admire Steve Jobs. One of the things that he said in a graduation speech that he gave at a university was to be true to yourself. There’s no better way to do that by honoring your own needs. A lot of people put their needs to the side for their partner’s needs or their company’s needs. If you honor your own needs, it’s the way of staying happy. To me, being happy is what we’re all here to do. That’s the primary goal of being here on planet Earth and I’m doing my best to live that every day.
I’m going to look it up because I want to know exactly how it goes. I coach on Lifestyle Business Mastery about recognizing what you want in your life to honor yourself and then build your business around it rather than building the business and trying to squeeze everything else in. That’s exactly what you’re doing. As you elevate people up into these different levels in their businesses. Mitch, if someone wanted to get in touch with you, someone who’s an entrepreneur is reading or a CEO of a company or a manager of a company that wants to get their CEO get in touch with you, what is the best way to reach out to you?
That’s wonderful. Mitch, thank you so much for sharing this with me. It’s fascinating what you’re doing and I love that you’re helping these businesses get to this capacity and then leave a dynasty for their families on the backside of it. The techniques and tricks that you gave us. For those of us that are in a smaller group of people to get that loyalty to come in. I absolutely love those ideas. We don’t have to do the same thing every single day. We can be out there giving to charity, we can be out there giving someone a break at a price. We could be niching ourselves so that we’re attracting these clients. Thank you so much for all of those wonderful ideas. I hope that everyone will take those and put those into action. The result will be that they’ll have 1,000 clients if they don’t have them or 10,000 in the year or two to come just by what you’ve said here. Thank you so much for joining us.
It’s my pleasure.
To our audience, thank you so much for joining us. I am grateful and honored whenever I know that you’re reading and providing me all the feedback. Please take Mitch up on his offer to connect with him. If you think that this is something that will resonate with you and you’re looking to uplevel the number of clients you serve and in the manner you serve them. I look forward to chatting with you next time on Mortgage Lending Mastery.
- Your First Thousand Clients
- The Invisible Organization
- The Power Tribes: How Certification Can Explode Your Business
- Evolved Enterprise
About Mitch Russo
Meet Mitch Russo, who started a software company in his garage, sold it for 8 figures and then went on to work directly with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes to build a $25M business together. Nominated twice for Entrepreneur of the Year, Mitch helps companies scale rapidly! Mitch’s 1st book is “The Invisible Organization – How Ingenious CEOs are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies and he’s here with us today with a new book called Power Tribes – How Certification Can Explode Your Business Podcast Host of Your First 1000 Clients.
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