Agency Advantage 36: Mandi Ellefson on How to Scale to Freedom

Agency Advantage 36: Mandi Ellefson on How to Scale to Freedom

In this episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, we’re talking with Mandi Ellefson of HandsOffCEO.com, who shares how your agency can grow without losing your work/life balance.

Many agency owners feel like as their business expands, so do their work hours and stress. On top of all of that, expenses often grow faster than revenue, so at the end of the day the owner is making less money while working more hours. It’s not uncommon for a growing agency owner to make less per hour than some of their employees.

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But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it has to be that way. It’s possible for your agency to grow while working fewer hours, making more money, and dealing with less stress.

Mandi works with agency owners to help them achieve exactly that.

If you ever feel like you’re too busy running your agency to actually work on your agency, then this is the episode for you.

Download a full transcript of the interview with Mandi: Get it right here.

Key Takeaways

Getting stuck in the freelancer mindset (3:45 – 7:00)

There’s a change in mindset that must happen when you shift from freelancer to business owner. A lot of times freelancers grow into an agency, but their mindset doesn’t upgrade into that of a business owner. They’re still stuck in the freelancer mindset.

This often leads to undercharging for your services, because the freelancer mindset keeps you thinking, “I can’t increase my fees because I can’t be competitive in the industry.” As a business owner, you need to be thinking about how you can provide enough value and deliver it in a cost-effective way in order to be profitable.

While you want to develop processes to streamline your delivery of services and increase your margins, you don’t want to use that as an excuse to undercharge. Instead, if you find yourself consistently unable to provide more value and charge appropriately, you need to either find a better target market or find a more valuable problem to solve.

Your agency needs to become more standardized as you grow (9:30 – 15:00)

Mandi says the goal for all of your services is to develop a process where 80% of it can be driven by process and only 20% needs to be custom. That way you can sell it like a custom service (charging higher fees), while delivering it like a product (increased margins).

To achieve this, you shouldn’t lock yourself in a closet as the owner and document everything yourself, as is popularized in books like the “E-Myth” and “Work the System.” The trouble is, having the owners do everything is one of the biggest things that hold agencies back.

Developing processes needs to be a collaborative approach that you can use as you’re training employees to do the job. It’s an ongoing process that is constantly adding value to your business and giving you, the owner, more freedom as you go.

Work on the areas that give you immediate leverage (27:00 – 32:30)

When you’re putting together your scalability plan, it’s easy to think, “I’ve got to do these things in the right steps.” While there are things you must do in a certain order, you should fix any glaring problems first. Breaking through your biggest bottlenecks is what will free up more and more time, compounding your results.

If you’re working 80 hours a week, you may think it’s impossible to cut any hours. However, the more hours you cut, the easier it should get. It isn’t unheard for professionals to cut 20 hours off their 80-hour workweek with one tweak. If you’re already running a tight ship and only putting in 20 hours a week, there simply won’t be much fat to trim. And no matter what you tell yourself, there is always fat to trim if you are consistently putting in long weeks.

Sometimes, the things that can be cut are difficult to find, because you’re entrenched in that 80-hour workweek. You’ll end up being less productive, and it exacerbates the problem. As you work more hours, you become less productive and accomplish less. It’s a sad cycle that leads to burnout and frustration.

Find your biggest bottleneck, figure out how to solve it, and then move on to the next one. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can get your time (and life) back.

Here’s the full transcript:

Andy Baldacci: Mandi, thanks for coming on the show today.
Mandi Ellefson: Thanks so much for having me, Andy.
Andy Baldacci: Mandi, why don’t we start off by giving a quick background on who you are and how you came to run the Hands Off CEO?
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:01:00]

Sure, Andy. Again, I really appreciate you having me on. This is exciting for me. You were telling me that your audience is mostly agencies that are doing well, that are successful. Really they’re at that point where they’re having some growing pains. They’re having challenges with staff. Really just growing in a way that requires less of the owner.
What I do is I help businesses that have achieved some level of success. They’re expanding. They feel as though every time they try to expand their business, it requires them to work more and more and take on more and more stress. What I do is I help them have the reverse of that. There’s a number of things that we can go into on how I do that. That’s pretty much sums up the work that I do at Hands Off CEO.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:02:00]
I think you said it perfectly. A lot of the agency owners that are in the audience when they are trying to grow, usually what that means is it might mean increased earnings, but their stress is almost always scaling with those earnings, if not faster than the earnings. What is it that usually causes some of those growing pains in your opinion?
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:03:00]

I’m glad that you touched on that. The stress issue that stress scales up. What also ends up happening is that the expenses scale up at the same rate or higher than the revenue does. What ends up happening is you can be making less and less money. I have seen a lot of times where clients they’ll calculate what they’re making per hour. Some of their employees are actually making more per hour than they are. Even if they are making a pretty good income. Even if they’re making a six figure income before taxes that’s how much they’re bringing home. There’s a couple of really important things to look at in the foundation of the business so that it actually can scale in a way that’s profitable and in a way that reduces the stress for the business owner.
Andy Baldacci: What are those foundational things that are important for agency owners to consider when building it in a way that is scalable? I know exactly what you’re talking about. There’s so many agency owners that start off freelancing. They’re doing okay. They assume that the only way that they can make more money is by hiring more people. Then down the road they’re working way more hours, way more stress. They’re really not making that much more money. What can they do from ground zero to build up?
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:04:00]

That’s a great question. There’s this mindset that happens when there’s this shift from freelancer to business owner. A lot of times what happens is you grow into a business and you don’t actually graduate your mindset into business owner. You’re still stuck in this freelancer mindset. What that means is that a lot of times you’re undercharging. That can be a real problem. The real big problem with that is well, “I can’t increase my fees because I can’t be competitive in the industry.” The real problem with that is you’re providing enough value.
[00:05:00] You need to provide enough value and deliver it in a cost effective way so that you can be profitable. There is transition, this shift that has to be made. A lot of agency owners simply do not make this transition. An important question that you need to be asking yourself is do you want to a freelancer? Or do you want to be a business owner? The way you approach both is very different. That’s one of the big errors that I see happening with agency owners. Probably the biggest one. That’s what leads to all of the staffing issues that they run into is they’re still approaching it as if they’re just throwing off jobs here and there as a freelancer. When there’s not enough value, you’re just going to run into a lot of problems.
Andy Baldacci: I couldn’t agree more. In your opinion, what is the better way to approach it? I totally know what you’re saying. It’s still approaching it like a freelancer. If someone is in that state, what is the better way for them to be thinking about the jobs as more of a sophisticated agency owner?
Mandi Ellefson: Right. Like I was mentioning the value you were providing, you need to be looking at how you can provide more value. Some of that might be that you have an innovative process to be able to deliver something a lot cheaper. Deliver something industry level for cheaper and you might be able to offer it at a lower price. That’s not really the option that I usually suggest.
[00:06:00] I think that it’s better to have the ability to have those margins, but still charge a higher rate. You can simply do that by changing your target market. That is one of the easiest ways to do it. It is by going after a market where the exact same work that you do provides more value. That’s pretty elementary. I can’t tell you often I’ll be working with agency owners who are marketers and they missed that. It’s easy enough to see that when you’re working on someone else’s business. When it’s your own they can miss it. That’s one obvious thing.
[00:07:00] The other mistake I see happen a lot is that agency owners are full service. They do everything. They do this and that and this and that and this and that. What ends up happening then is it’s very difficult to have good processes for all of these different services that you’re providing. What you’re doing is you’re relying on the talent of all of these different people for this. That works out great if you can find great people to do that. The hard thing is that to get excellent work when you’re doing it that way, you have to pay a lot more money.
What I would recommend doing is taking a look at the projects you’ve done in the past. Deciding which ones you’ve had the best success with, which ones are you getting the most leads from. These are all variables to look at. Not any one of these are going to be the thing. You’re going to be looking at them and making decisions about where is the best direction to be taking the business? Where should we really be focusing? It doesn’t mean that you don’t take business from anywhere else. Maybe you don’t at some point. You are looking at a particular market that you can go after and excel at.
[00:08:00] For example, one of my clients he has an agency and has about five permanent staff or so and then some contractors on top of that. They thought that their sweet spot was working with coaches because that’s the referrals that they were getting. This solo businesses. What they find out when looking after taking a closer look is that those were actually the lowest margin projects that they were doing. They caused them the most headaches. They had the most unrealistic expectations on what could be done with the ad spin, et cetera.
[00:09:00] What they found out was that about 10 percent of their projects were actually e-commerce projects. They realized that they have a really good process in-house for how they do e-commerce. They were able to look at that as an opportunity to focus completely on that and build up their presence in that market and go after that. The thing is that they realize that very small tweaks in the campaigns that they did with e-commerce clients at a certain level, they were able to produce hundreds of thousands of dollars of gain for them. Versus these coaching clients that even if they provided 100 percent return on investment for them, then we’re talking …
Andy Baldacci: It didn’t add up.
Mandi Ellefson: It just didn’t add up. You’re looking at maybe tens of thousands of dollars tops versus hundreds of thousands of dollars or maybe more than that. You’re looking at providing value in different ways. What they have actually done is simplify their business model based on that.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah. I think there are two parts that I want to dive into there. I think the first part is almost an 80-20 analysis of their business.
Mandi Ellefson: Interesting you say that. Yes.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:10:00]
It’s looking at saying, “All right. If you’re full service agency I would guarantee that almost, if you want to use the numbers as is, 80 percent of those services don’t really make any impact at the end of the day on the bottom line. They might be making slight money, but they’re not doing that much. The 20 percent are probably driving 80 percent of the revenue.” There’s always going to be some power law at work if you’re offering that many different things.
The other side of that is not only will your margins increase by focusing that 20 percent, but, like you said, by having that more narrow focus, you’re able to actually take the time to create the processes that can increase the margins even more. You’re not trying to do a thousand different things.
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:11:00]

That’s exactly the case. What I call that is creating a service product. It’s interesting that you brought up the 80-20 rule. What I like to see is be able to develop a process where 80 percent of it can be driven by process and 20 percent of it can be custom. That way you can sell it like a custom, deliver it like a product. You have better margins because it’s more like a product. You also can increase the fees that you’re charging even though you’re customizing it less when you provide a service product.
I define it as you’re offering something for a specific target audience, a specific customer and you’re solving a specific type of problem. Not just any problem, but the kind of problem where there’s high leverage. It’s a problem that people have and they’re willing to solve on it.
Andy Baldacci: Right. It’s like you were saying with the e-commerce example. It’s where fixing that problem can result in hundreds of thousands of additional revenue. It’s something that clearly has demonstrable value.
Mandi Ellefson: Exactly. Exactly. Those are some of the things that I look for when you’re qualifying whether a particular service would qualify as a service product.
[00:12:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Okay. Let’s go with that a little bit. You don’t need to give exact examples of things that you’d done with your clients. If you were working with a client on this type of thing and you’ve identified where they can apply the leverage the most and where those 80-20 rules come to play. Once they’ve identified that, what’s next? How do they start acting on this and really going to the next level?
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:13:00]

I have a whole five step process for how to do all of this. It looks really nice. It looks like beautiful linear process. In reality, it’s not exactly that way. The way that it works is that you’re doing some steps at the same time. Maybe as you’re refining, you’re deciding that this is an area you’re doing it. You’re testing as you’re going along. You’re documenting out the processes as you’re going along. That’s part of the training process, as well, with your staff. It’s getting your hands dirty as you’re working these things out.
Really, what the goal is you want your business to be more and more standardized as you go. What that means is that if you’re training someone and maybe you don’t know that they’re going to work out. Ideally, you’ll have a good process in place for hiring people so that you have a whole lot less of this, but the reality is that people are unpredictable. What I recommend doing is off setting that risk by having that person help build out that process right from the beginning so then you’re getting a return on investment from them whether or not they stay with you. That way the next person who comes you have something in place to train them from.
[00:14:00] What you’re doing is you’re creating this standardization in your business so that when I was talking about having 80 percent based on process, you’re building that out. It’s not about locking yourself in a closet as the owner and documenting all of this stuff. I know you laugh but the thing is is that is the common approach. When you read some of these books like the “E-Myth” and “Work the System,” those are great books. It’s almost like the process they recommend doing is the owners to do it all, which is one of the biggest things that hold agencies back from making this happen in their business.
This is really a collaborative approach that you can use as you’re training. That you can use as you’re deciding what the service product is. It’s an ongoing process that is constantly adding value to your business and giving you, as the owner, more freedom as you go.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:15:00]

Okay. I think we should really focus on that freedom that you’re talking about. That’s something that I think most agency owners don’t even dream of having. If they step away from the business for a week, they feel like things are just going to completely go off the rails. Can we dive into more how things could be if they really embraced this idea of creating these processes and all of that?
Mandi Ellefson: Certainly. I’ll give you an example of how it has been for some of the clients that I’ve worked with. One in particular he went from working about 50 hours a week and having people quit on him. Starting on ground zero, training each person 20 hours a week and then them leaving. It was a real frustration for him and his business. He couldn’t have that time off. He was really struggling and stuck.
[00:16:00] What we were able to do is get his business down to a standardized place where he has such good processes for his business that it can actually without him for weeks literally. He can work as little as 10 hours a week ongoing in his business if he wants to. Or he’ll work more so that he can grow his business. Whatever level he wants to do it in his business. He’s been able to travel around the world with his family this way running his agency from his laptop going around the world. That’s the freedom that he has. That’s what he’s chosen for how he does things.
When I was listening to this might be saying, “I really want so scale this to a $5 million business.” Becoming a hands off CEO in that vein, it might be that I’m stepping completely out of service delivery so that things can truly run without me so that I can focus completely on growing the business.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:17:00]
In your mind when you have the term the “hands off CEO,” it’s not necessarily with a single end in mind. It’s more, like you said, the freedom to allow you to build the business in the way that you see fit. Whether that’s removing yourself so that you have the freedom to travel. Or it’s removing yourself from the day to day so that you have the freedom to hire and really scale.
Mandi Ellefson: Exactly. It’s really whatever your goals are. The only way that you can accomplish those goals, that goal of a lot of freedom or that goal of really scaling up your business, is that you have to become hands off in your business. You have to.
Andy Baldacci: I think that’s something that’s so hard, especially in the agency world. Because most people come from a hands on background. They started as a freelancer delivering all of the work, delivering all of the projects. It’s really hard not just to give that up, but to know what else you should be doing.
Mandi Ellefson: Exactly. That’s really what I was talking about with that transition from freelancer, where you’re doing a lot of of this work. Or maybe you worked in an agency and you’re used to being this service provider and the one who fills the work to being the boss. There can be some challenges there.
[00:18:00] One of the biggest challenges that I see is that the owner is the face of the business. The clients are very used to interfacing with the owner. They’re used to the owner coming in. If there’s any problems, the owner comes in, jumps in and takes care of everything. One of the real challenges there is that the value is being driven by the owner. The owner gets hit by a bus, is knocked down and he doesn’t come back the next day then the agency completely falls apart. That’s because the value comes from them being there. Instead of the value coming from a proven process and a methodology for how you get results for your clients.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:19:00]
Yeah. You were on Brennan Dunn’s podcast recently. This is something he talked about in his personal development is that with his first agency he built it to a multimillion dollar agency. He was, in effect, selling him as a brand. When he was building up his agency now, he’s making sure that he’s not selling it as though he is going to be the one delivering it. It depends on his brain and his brain only. You’re right. If you’re positioning yourself as the brand, as the agency, as the value, you can’t really be hands off.
Mandi Ellefson: Right. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have you as a personality as a taste of the brand. You need establish right away that you’re not the one doing it. That they’re not going to be expecting you to be their project manager. I don’t think I could have said it any better than Brennan Dunn did. It was excellent that he pointed out that distinction.
[00:20:00] It’s really important to set the stage right from when the clients first come in. That’s where a really important process to focus on is your onboarding process. In fact, I think for agencies I don’t even need to look at their business, I can tell you the onboarding process, focus on that first.
Andy Baldacci: Why do you say it with that much … I don’t disagree by any means. I’m curious to hear your take. Why is that the number one thing that jumps out at you?
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:21:00]

Experience. I don’t work just with agencies. I work with a number of businesses. Service businesses being a biggest portion of that. I’ve worked with a lot of agencies because this is a huge problem. I have this [inaudible 00:20:36] intensive that I do with them that is a couple of hours long. I help them find extra time. I take a look at their business. We put together a scalability plan. We look at where the biggest leverage points are in their business. Almost without fail, the onboarding process is always that one for an agency. That’s why I say that. It’s like clockwork.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah. Having talked with them, I don’t disagree by any means. I think it’s something they wouldn’t identify on their own is because you don’t get paid for doing onboarding well directly. They don’t hand you money. That’s not the deliverable. That’s not the project. They’re focused on too many other things. They forget, if you screw up onboarding, it’s not very likely that the projects are going to go off without a hitch.
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:22:00]

The thing is that there is a lot of inefficiencies that happen during the onboarding stage. This is where you’re increasing the likelihood of a lot of this email back and forth. It’s an opportunity to set up expectations and really train them to be a good client so that you can keep projects on track and increase the lifetime value of a customer. If you screw this up, then there’s a very high likelihood that six months down the line they’re not going to be working with you anymore. You will lose a lot of money.
I think that the highest leverage point for almost all agencies, if they haven’t done this already, is to look at the steps that they need to take to onboard a customer. What are all the things that they need to have? How could I make this as streamlined as possible? What does the client expect from me? What are the biggest worries they have? How can I put steps in my onboarding process to alleviate that stress, to alleviate that concern and jump at it before so that they don’t have this buyer’s remorse and then you don’t have to overcome that?
Andy Baldacci:
[00:23:00]
I like how you put that. If you start off on the wrong foot, you’re right, it’s not a fixing it things. It’s that you now have this huge hill that you have to get over to just have the project be a decent success, just to have them be happy with it. Not ecstatic, but just have it be okay. You’re already handicapping yourself from the beginning.
Mandi Ellefson: Right. Part of a competitive advantage that you have in your business simply can be that the way that you treat your customers and the experience you deliver with them. Where that starts is your onboarding process for how you set up the expectation with them and the feeling they get working with you and making sure that you are exceeding what the expectations are. That way it really feels like a higher quality experience. There are a lot of customers out there who are willing to pay more for that.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:24:00]
No. It’s funny because a lot of the guests I’ve talked to have come from more of the smaller agencies, solo consultant side, where they’ve increased their rates pretty significantly by having a very narrow focus and being the go to guy on WordPress membership sites or something very specific. You’re right in that it shouldn’t be as big of a competitive advantage as it is, but you can still be somewhat of a generalist and run a tight ship. Have a superior client experience throughout the process. That’s almost enough to build a pretty big agency if you can consistently deliver on that process.
Mandi Ellefson: Exactly. One of the biggest costs that I see from agencies is the start/stop client. Do you know what I’m talking about, the start/stop client?
Andy Baldacci: Let’s go into that. Yeah.
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:25:00]

Where you have this client and part way through, they haven’t delivered the information that you need to put up the website or whatever it is. They get busy and they don’t get back to you. Or they want to change their copy partway through. They’re like let’s start up again in a month or whatever it is. When you look at the amount of time that you spend on these start/stop clients or how much time it takes to get back up or how much time is wasted going back and forth, back and forth trying to get what you need from them, a lot of this can be prevented in the onboarding process if you do it right.
If you look at this, how many clients can you be serving in that same bandwidth with them doing that? If you’re looking at an extra five clients per year, that’s a lot of money that’s wasted. I’m just throwing five extra clients. It could be a lot more than that. That is a easy way to increase your bottom line without doing a whole lot more on your business.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:26:00]

One thing that irritates me in the agency world is how much people thrive on complaining about the crazy clients. Of course, you’re going to have some. At the end of the day, so many of the stories are preventable by having the right onboarding in place. So many agencies don’t even want to think about whether they want to improve. They accept it as a cost of doing business when it really doesn’t have to be.
Mandi Ellefson: That’s great. If that’s the typical way people think, then your listeners here can think of ways they can rise above that. There are ways to profit.
Andy Baldacci: Yeah. Let’s shift things on talking about what your engagements with agency clients look like. I know you talked a little bit about the, I forget the term you used, but the scaling exercise? What was it?
Mandi Ellefson: The scalable intensive?
Andy Baldacci: Yeah. Do you have a standard way that you work with agencies? Is that part of it?
Mandi Ellefson: Of course.
Andy Baldacci: It was a bit of a loaded question.
[00:27:00]

Mandi Ellefson:

The thing is that I teach standardization. While the work that I do is a little bit more custom than the work that I suggest my clients do with their clients, I have a methodology that standardizes of course. It’s going to save me a lot of time. It also allows me to guarantee and promise certain results to my clients.
This is something that I would recommend anyone listening to do. If your process for getting results for your clients is not good enough to guarantee, then it’s not good enough. Even if you choose for whatever reason to not guarantee it, you should be able to. Go back and work on that.
[00:28:00] The guarantee that I provide to my clients is that I’ll help them find at least 20 to 40 extra hours per month somewhere between one and three tweaks. I’ll give everyone a resource at the end here for how they can get access to one tweak that will help them find 20 extra hours per month.
Andy Baldacci: Wow.
Mandi Ellefson: I have a process where I pull out all of these different things in their business to understand what’s working, what’s not, what’s broken and identify where the top leverage points are. Also how they can find more time immediately. What’s so common is that you say, “Okay I need to fix this. I know this is a problem. I know I need to be doing my onboarding process, I just can’t seem to find time to do it.”
I’ve found this to be the case. Earlier on in my career, I found that a lot of people were saying no to me. They were like, “This sounds great. I know I need to do this. There just isn’t enough time.” I developed a process of how to find more time with just a few tweaks.In that intensive, we put together a scalability plan for the things that they need to be focusing on exactly where they’re at in their business to make the highest leverage immediately.
[00:29:00] That’s what I recommend anyone listening to do. When you’re putting together your scalability plan, and in that link that I’ll share there’s actually the steps that I’ll outline to do that, it’s really important for you to work on things that are going to give you leverage immediately. It’s easy to think, “I’ve got to do these things in the right steps.” Certainly there are things that you need to do in the right steps, but if you’ve got a big glaring problem, fix that first. Be breaking through each bottleneck as they come. That’s what keeps freeing up more time and more time and more time.
[00:30:00] At the same time, it’s adding more profit with some of the things that you’re doing. Like the onboarding process we were talking about. That adds more profit to the business. That’s really the approach that I take with my clients. The process is called scale to freedom.
Andy Baldacci: I think what you hit on is exactly right. It’s the compounding side of it. You’re right. In the very beginning, most agency owners, I hear it all of the time from listeners who will be like, “Yeah. All of that made sense. I have no time to do that. I’m already working 80 hours a week. There’s no time left to make any of these changes.”
That’s why you’re right. If you start on the big glaring issue and you’re able to fix one thing with a little tweak and some dedication, a little bit of hard work too, of course. If you can do that, then that frees up more time for you to find other leverage points and more time and so on. It’s this repeating cycle that does have compounding returns.
Mandi Ellefson:
[00:31:00]
Exactly. The biggest leverage points that I see for agencies I work with, it’s incredible to see how much time can be saved. The way it works is that the more hours you’re working, the easier it is to cut hours. It’s a paradox, but that’s how it works. The guys and gals that are working 80 hours per week, cutting 20 hours off their week with one tweak is not unheard of at all. I see it all of the time. A lot of times it’s for something that’s right there.
[00:32:00] Sometimes it’s very difficult to see because you’re so entrenched in that you’re working 80 hours a week. What that means is that you’re not functioning at the highest level that you can be and you need to be. What ends up happening is you’re not as productive and it exacerbates the problem. As you’re working more hours, you’re actually becoming less productive as you go. You’re accomplishing less. It’s really a sad cycle that leads to burnout and frustration. I see a lot of successful people just throw in the towel at some point because they can’t keep it up forever. Even though it’s very successful, you just can’t keep it up. You’re seeing this as this dead end.
I see this a lot unfortunately with agencies where they’re like, “I don’t feel like I’m producing anything long term. I’m not really building value. I’m just putting in the hours. Basically I’ve created myself a job.” They don’t see a way for them to get more freedom out of this. At some point they just quit the agency. They let the business fold or take the same business and transfer it over to doing some product because they haven’t been able to make that model work for them in a way that provides more freedom in their life.
Andy Baldacci: What is it that you think usually gets clients who come to you? What makes them realize that it could be different? What makes them say it doesn’t have to be this way? With a little bit of work I can regain some control.
[00:33:00]

Mandi Ellefson:

Some people never come to that mindset unfortunately. I used to try and really help those people, but you can’t help them. They’re not willing to see possibility. If they cannot envision another way for themselves, they’re stuck. A lot of times what happens is that they hit rock bottom or there’s something that happens in their personal life where they have to do something or else it’s going to be really bad.
[00:34:00] I had this one client who I actually didn’t realize this at the time, he was working until 2 o’clock in the morning. He didn’t share this with me. I knew he was working a lot, but I didn’t realize how bad it was. It was regularly to 2 o’clock in the morning and sometimes throughout the night to be able to stay on top of things. It was costing him a lot with his family because he wasn’t able to see his children. I think what he just realized was, “I just can’t live this way. This is not how I want it to work and how I want my life to be.” He took a stand for him and his life. He just said it’s going to be different. Since then he now works until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. He has been able to make more money so that his wife actually stays home with the kids now. They were able to have another child. He lives a very different life.
It all starts with the belief that it really can be different. The commitment that you’re not going to be doing that. When I talk with my clients, I push them to do some things that are out of their comfort zone. What that means is saying no to a lot of things that otherwise they would say yes to. I know that sounds simple enough, but sometimes saying no means we’ve got to do things in this different way and someone else has got to do this part for me. This is the only part that I do as the owners.
[00:35:00] There’s some pieces that are moved around. It sounds complicated, but it’s pretty simple. It requires discipline. It requires discipline. This process that I do with my clients is not for everyone because not everyone has the commitment or the drive. They don’t have a big enough why to put it into place in their life.
Andy Baldacci: I think that’s a good way to phrase it. You’re right, if you run an agency the way many agencies are run without clear process where the owner puts everything on their shoulders, then they’re almost inevitably going to come to a tipping point where they know they can’t keep doing this the same way anymore and they give up. Or they go in the other sense where they take a step back and figure out how can I improve the situation? I think having that clear why can be enough to get you to go and figure out how to do it the right way.
[00:36:00] Slowly wraps things up a little bit. I want to ask about you apply this yourself. You said that working 80 hours, it’s easiest to lop off 20 than someone who is working 20 hours and trying to lop off 5 hours. For you who already has a lot of systems in place, where do you think you have some inefficiencies you can work on?
Mandi Ellefson: I could always delegate a little more than I do. I know that. I know how to delegate. I teach people how to delegate. Still there’s the mindset. I could delegate more. I’m pretty happy with the way I’m doing it right now. Sometimes I might choose to do something. I don’t work that many hours a week actually. I really don’t. I’ve done that by choice. It’s a lifestyle that I’ve designed. When you create leverage in your business, you can do that.
Like I said, I could always delegate more. When there’s pressure, I always kick myself in the butt and do exactly what I need to do. That’s the answer to your question.
[00:37:00]

Andy Baldacci:

I think that’s a common feeling. I’m curious. What are the long term plans you have for the Hands Off CEO?
Mandi Ellefson: Right now I am working on a book proposal to write a book on the methodology of Hands of CEO. Specifically on how to create more value in your business and more freedom at the same time. That’s what I’m working on right now. Working with some clients. In the fall I might run another program for the scale for freedom. Earlier in the spring, I ran one for a group agency owners. That’s always a lot of fun. Otherwise, I’m working on one on one clients at the moment.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:38:00]

Nice. I think that will be exciting to see where that all comes together. Talking to you, reflecting on all of the conversations I’ve had with agency owners, you couldn’t have hit the nail on the head anymore. This is something that really is the single thing holding successful agencies from getting to the next level. Agencies that have a good living for the owner, but they’re not quite where they want to be.
I think really embodying these principles is what they need to do to get up to the true success. Success for them could be freedom to spend time with their family. It could be building this mega agency. Whatever they want to do, I think they need to take control in this way. If listeners want to hear more from you or they want to go deeper with this, where should they go?
Mandi Ellefson:

[00:39:00]

I have a free template that your listeners can go download. Go to handsoffceo.com/template. That’s handsoffceo.com/template. In that I have a template for how to scale up your business. It’s specifically for service providers and agencies. Then there’s also a tweak in there for how to find 20 extra hours per month. They can go there and download that. It should be very helpful for anyone listening.
Andy Baldacci: Awesome. I’ll make sure to get all that linked up in the show notes. Mandi, I just want to say thanks again for coming on the show. It was a great chat.
Mandi Ellefson: Thanks so much for having me, Andy.

Want to learn more?

Mandi is giving all of our listeners a free template for how to scale up your agency, which includes a single tweak that can help you find 20 extra hours a month. To download the template, just head over to handsoffceo.com/template.

You can also download a full transcript of this episode.

Resources mentioned:

Brennan Dunn
The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
Work the System by Sam Carpenter

Thanks for listening!

What would you do with an extra 20 hours each month? Let us know in the comments.

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