Craig Handley | Hanging with Richard Branson on Necker and Building a Great Culture at a 1000-Person Call Center Company

Craig Handley is the Co-founder and CEO of ListenTrust, a bilingual call center services company which has been ranked multiple times on the Inc 500 and 5000 list. ListenTrust is currently doing about $150 million in sales for their clients and they answer hundreds of thousands of customer service calls and lead generation calls. It employs close to 1000 people working thousands of miles away in Mexico. Craig is also the author of the best selling book, Hired to Quit. 

Craig recently started a new business and in just 60 days took it to $600,000 in revenue despite being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also had crazy experiences like cage diving with great white sharks, jumping out of airplanes, and meeting and hanging out with famous people like Richard Branson and Paul McCartney. 

John Corcoran, host of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast interviews Craig Handley, Co-founder and CEO of ListenTrust, about what it takes to build a 1000 employee-strong company. Craig also talks about some of the crazy experiences he has had in life, his time in the army and his eventual transition into sales, and how he started and grew a new business to over $600,000 in 60 days.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Craig Handley talks about his decision to start a call center to serve the Hispanic market, the types of clients he had, and what led to its rapid growth
  • Craig recalls his time serving in the army and how he got started in sales 
  • Craig discusses how his creativity helped him build a business with 1,000 employees and how he managed a virtual team 15 years ago
  • Craig talks about Richard Branson’s lifestyle and businesses and what he learned from hanging out with him
  • Craig talks about how his book, Hired to Quit, led to his new business, Social Close, and how he rapidly grew it through social media
  • How Craig overcame direct messaging restrictions on different platforms
  • How to send persuasive marketing messages on social media
  • The people Craig acknowledges for his success and achievements
  • Where to learn more about Craig Handley

Resources Mentioned:

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:14  

Welcome to the Revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran  0:40  

All right. Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, host of the Smart Business Revolution podcast where I talk with CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of companies and organizations like YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, Lendingtree, Opentable x software, and many more. I’m also the co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And before introducing today’s guest, I want to give a big thank you to Jason Gaignard from Mastermind Talks. I first met Craig, our guest today at his great conference and community. So check that out mastermindtalks.com, if you want to learn more about that great event and great community. 

But I’m excited today because my guest is Craig Handley. Craig is the author of the best selling book called “Hired to Quit”. And he’s got a funny bio, which I’m going to. I’m going to change it up a little bit here because he’s really proud of all the crazy life experiences he’s had, which I’m going to ask him about during this interview. But what’s most notable in my mind, amongst all the other different things he’s done in his life, is that he’s the CEO and founder of ListenTrust, which has been ranked multiple times on the Inc 500 and 5000 list. But right now they’re doing about $150 million in sales for their clients, they answer hundreds of thousands of customer service calls and lead generation calls. And he employs close to 1000 people from his home in Maine who are working thousands of miles away over in Mexico. So we’re gonna talk about how he manages to do that. He also recently started a new business, and in 60 days took that new business up to $600,000 in revenue in the midst of a pandemic, as we’re experiencing right now as we record this in August of 2020. But he’s also had crazy experiences like cage diving with great white sharks, and jumping out of airplanes and meeting and hanging out with famous people like Richard Branson and Paul McCartney. And so we’ll get into that in a second or two. 

But first, before we get into this interview, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media. Rise25 helps b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships and ROI with done few podcasts and content marketing. You’re probably listening to this podcast and thinking yeah, should I start a podcast one day? We say yes, we specialize with helping b2b businesses with a high client lifetime value to figure out exactly how to do that. So to learn more, and get more inspiration and ideas about how to get clients referrals, and great friendships, from your podcast, go to rise25media.com or email us at [email protected] All right, Craig, I’m excited to talk to you because of your crazy, varied background. And I want to ask all about that. But first, you know, you’re a guy who sees opportunities and jumps for them. So you said that 10 or so years ago, 15 years ago now, I believe it was, you saw a hole in the market, you saw that there wasn’t a cost company’s lead generation companies or call center companies that were there serving the Hispanic market. And so in spite of not being that not being your background, you decided you’d go out and you would serve that so. So tell me about how you approached that hole in the market.

Craig Handley  3:46  

without consulting with other call centers all over the country and helping people build successful call centers serving the US market. And you know, there was a lot of talk about the US Hispanic market and how Hispanics? Did they have the buying power? Did they have credit cards? Was there a market for it? And as I looked at the space, you know, there were hundreds of call centers in the US servicing, you know, running soft offers, which are sales type centers, servicing the English speaking market. But I couldn’t even find any call centers that were experts at fielding sales calls for the direct response space. And so I thought, well, if you know, if there are 20 or 30 really good sales centers that can survive in the English market, maybe one sales center could survive in the Spanish, you know, if there’s, if there’s all these other companies that are out there, taking Hispanic calls outside of the sales focus, maybe a specialty shop for the Spanish market would be a good fit. I didn’t speak Spanish. I did a little road trip and went to Tijuana and Juarez and Monterey and Mexico City and herma co and in Irma co Mexico had a million People and no call centers there, there weren’t really any. And there was a small place that had little, it was like a sweatshop, you know, and they were doing calls for tell sales. And they gave us 20 seats within their center. And we were off and running. And for the first six months, we struggled, because we offered, everybody told me that, you know, if you’re going to work with Hispanics, you have to offer cash on delivery, Cod. And so we’d have things kind of start to ramp, but then people wouldn’t pay and stuff would end up being restocked. And it was a lot of up and down. And I finally, you know, said just get rid of cod, we’re not going to do SEO, today, you’re gonna work, or it’s not going to work. And, this was a bad idea, right? And it worked. So walk me through what types of clients you were servicing then, like, you give me an example of one client you were helping and like, the nutribullet, the magic bullet, you know, we originally started off our first client, I think was iPhone health, which is a omega three fish oil product. And that was maybe our first product we’re taking calls on in the US Hispanic market, they had dubbed their show that was very successful in English into Spanish. And we were trying to take that, so we kind of started off of that nutraceutical space. But what happened was, we started competing with some US based centers that were also trying to do Spanish. And because we have built a sales philosophy, with our agents, we literally would close at 60%. And they were closing at 25%. I mean, it wasn’t even close. So any big center we were working with, they would just white label us, essentially, and we would do a revenue share on their clients that they referred to us. And that pushed us from within three years, we were doing over 50 million in billing and we made in 500. year over year, we had a 6,994% growth and made number one in business products and services. And number 27 overall on the list of the Inc 500. And it was just because we started off as a soft offer centers selling and that sales skill translated over to hard offers and trial offers. When you say hard offers, I mean, the price was in the ad trial offers. try it now for 795 pay only shipping, and then you upsell them to a bigger price. And our agents were just salespeople. And so when we competed, we would just crush everybody we came up against and over the years, we’ve actually turned it into both Spanish and English we have so we have a bilingual center. We’ve even trained in Mexico, a group of Haitian refugees, and we train them to do French. And so we have a small group of French agents as well, which is kind of funny to find that in the middle of Mexico. So yeah, we’ve seen a lot of success in our growth and been able to maintain that growth throughout the years.

John Corcoran  7:58  

Now. You served in the army, thank you for your service. And after that, you went from that to door to door sales and phone sales. Is that where you learn selling?

Craig Handley  8:09  

Yeah, I actually got accepted to the Berklee College of Music. And it was my dream to go. So I joined the army. That’s no easy thing.

Craig Handley  8:16  

though. I joined the army to pay for Berkeley. And Berkeley, Berkeley was 29,000 at the same time so at the year at the time. And so I couldn’t afford it. So I joined the army. And they gave me $750 a month. Right. And that didn’t pay for Berkeley either. So I went to a local music school for two years. And they were like teaching me how to be a school teacher. And someone said, you know, you should try sales. And so I did door to door selling for three years. Three years is really good. Yeah, I was really good at selling insurance door to door and then ended up at a call center. And then the call center, I was selling a lot more than you know that I got kind of addicted because there were so many inbound calls coming in. I got addicted to that sales process. So because I do sales, I would write sales scripts, I would start training other people on how to write my sales scripts. I would do all kinds of crazy things. So that’s where, you know, I kind of started consulting outside of my call center world on how to build a call center and how to build a script on train agents. Right. And that was up in that niche. I tell people I’ve forgotten more about sales than most people know.

John Corcoran  9:27  

You strike me as the kind of person who has different elements of your personality. On the one hand, you’re a musician, you love comedy, you love performance. On the other hand, you spent time in the army and you’re good at sales, which do you feel like you’re just a combination of all these different things that makes up who you are? Or is there anyone part of you that is stronger than the rest? And

Craig Handley  9:48  

I just feel like I’m a creative guy. And creativity encompasses music and encompasses sales. You know, I look at things like you know, you’ve got your customer and then you’ve got the goal of what you’re trying to build and then you Got the mechanism. And most businesses focus on the customer or the goal. And they think the mechanism is kind of a solid piece, well, this is how we’re going to do it. And they spend all their time trying to build a process out. But the reality is, is most things don’t work on the process you plan to use. And so you need a creative brain to focus on the mechanism. And so I focus on the mechanism that gets the goals done for the customer. And that’s oftentimes not going to be the same solution, year over year. And I think that’s really where my creativity has been my biggest strength, it’s being able to look at problems with different types of solutions that most people would come up with. Because the mechanism for me is always 100. It’s just rolling through my brain, all these mechanisms. And that applies to music. You know, if someone says, Hey, write a song about any topic, I can come up with a song just

John Corcoran  10:56  

right away. Right, right. I love that I love. I consider myself a creative person as well, I joined my high school newspaper staff to be the cartoonist, there was a better cartoonist there. So I shifted to writing and I found the same kind of creative expression from writing. But I also find that creative people a lot of times are not always as business savvy, or they sometimes counterbalance that by having a business partner, perhaps you’ve managed to start a business that you founded, you know, you have 1000 people working for you. So how did you, you know, do you feel like you are creative? And you manage the business side as well? Or do you bring in business partners or operations people below you who then handle that kind of stuff, how have you managed to, to build up be a creative person and also build up this business and systematize it.

Craig Handley  11:44  

When I first started, listen, trust, I do have a business partner, Tony Ricciardi, who was, you know, kind of the Yin to my Yang, and a lot of ways he would focus on a lot of the operational things that were going on. And in some of the new business I’ve started, I recognize that I know how to do operational things. And I’m really good with the structure and understanding the business side. And I know how to structure those meetings and structure those things, but I don’t love doing it. And there’s a lot of people that love being that operations person. And so now I just bring in smart operations people around me, usually three at a time, so that way, I can funnel my creativity through those three people, and they just execute. And that allows me to be really focused on my creativity. But I’ve been in the operation side of things, I think, done a really good job in those areas. But I recognize that that’s not where my true talent, lies and my passion. And so I’ve worked hard to stay away from those areas and bring in people that are more passionate about being operationally focused. That is

John Corcoran  12:44  

how, you know, 15 years ago, when you started the business, how did you know we didn’t have slack with Asana, we didn’t have those sorts of things. Wi Fi was less prevalent. How have you managed to run this business with so many people from thousands of miles away in Maine?

Craig Handley  13:02  

When I first started, I would spend a lot of time in Mexico and Mexicans at the time were very process driven. So I remember having a meeting once saying, could you listen to calls. And I want you to tell me which calls are good. Which calls are bad what you liked about the calls, because I was trying to build training tools like a training library. These are great greetings. These are greetings that are bad, right? so people could listen to the difference. They understand. Yeah, and they will do hundreds of recordings. And I got a spreadsheet. And it showed the recordings he listened to and beside it, it just said good, bad, good batch. There was no analysis done. There was no, like, we chose to listen to calls. And we did. And they weren’t even a report that there’ll be these. It was basically we listened to all the calls, and they were all good. I’m like itemized one at a time they go you told us to listen to calls, what’s the good calls? So we listened to a hundred calls. I’m like, No, I needed feedback when I recall. And when I first started it was how do I create processes that are specific. So they’re doing what I expect them to do, not just doing what I tell them to do. Right? There’s a difference in other countries and telling somebody what to do, and having them understand what you really want done. And so I had to work hard at that in the beginning to set those processes. We set up daily meetings, they were called seven-minute meetings. And we gave a bit of good news. And then we would go over the projects everybody was assigned. And if there was a stuck point who they needed, I’m a follow up call. So not everybody had to be involved. So we started off doing daily seven-minute calls every day at 9am-6am. Pacific. Everybody on the call. Good morning. Good news. The project I’m working on is here. I’m stuck here and I really could use a meeting with Tom. Okay, great. schedule that meeting with Tom, next person. And so we got really efficient at working through meetings and making sure that we didn’t take up everybody’s time on the meetings but we were able to track The projects we needed to do in a very quick, informative session, a seven-minute call. And then those seven-minute calls led to, you know, four or five calls with people throughout the day. But not everybody had to be involved, you know. So I think that’s a big that was a big push for us to kind of get the mindset set up the right way, as far as not just doing the job, but doing the job that was expected, you know, beyond what’s being said. And, and because we had those meanings on a day to day basis, we built the culture we wanted. A lot of it also came in building out our culture. The book I wrote called “Hired to Quit”. And we actually started training our agents a few years back, on how to quit and go find their dream job and live the dream life. And it actually lowered our turnover because we care so much about our employees. low turnover, because most people have simple dreams, house cars, family vacations. And so we would literally do, we had six pillars of happiness, where we train them on what those pillars weren’t how to achieve them, which is financial security, you know, to be able to take time off with your family, health, you know, there are different goals. And we would say, okay, we brought in nurses and we do blood work. And we do all that for them during Health Week and set up contests for dieting, things like that. We bring relationship advisors, relationships, one of the pillars, and we bring in counselors that would meet with men, about how to deal with women. And for women, we bring in counselors that would talk to them about how to deal with men, right? Because it’s different. So we create this happiness around what we’re doing for employees and teaching them how to be happy, and teaching them how to live their dream life. And we did over 100 people quit and open restaurants and open one was a lawyer and he opened his own office. And, you know, we had people go work for the government. That was their dream job. We have people go on trips that have never been on trips. And so we really helped a lot of people do that. And that really improved our culture to the point where nobody wanted to leave. You know, it was really important in our process as well. People really wanted to understand what we were about as a company so they could participate in the long run.

John Corcoran  17:08  

Right. And you know, you certainly do lead by example, you’ve had some amazing life experiences from you know, cage diving with great white sharks to snowballing snowmobiling across a live volcano. jumping out of you are the 85th civilian in the world to jump out of a plane from over 32,000 feet, a halo dive. It’s called and you’ve also hung out on Necker Island with Richard Branson, what did you learn from hanging out with Richard Branson is he does a lot of or he has, in the past done a lot of this kind of crazy stuff.

Craig Handley  17:44  

One of my favorite stories is the first time I met Richard, I went to the Direct Marketing Association. He was speaking. And I went in the day before and looked at how all the security was dressed. And I went to the big and tall store because I’m a big, big shoulder guy, and a former powerlifter bought me the same outfit. The next day he spoke, and I pretended like I was security and walked backstage and handed in my business card with $25 wrapped around it and said this is the first $25 sorry, 21st $20 we’re gonna make together and he goes, Okay, brilliant. What do you have in mind? And he put the 20 in his pocket. And I was like, ah, Barker and I do a lot with charities. And he hadn’t

John Corcoran  18:26  

thought beyond that point. Like you just thought up to that point.

Craig Handley  18:30  

I talked to him. And I said we do a lot of work with charities, and I knew about his work, you know, another musician and I love how his music background and I kind of mumbled my words, but he gave me his private email address. And I didn’t know exactly how I was going to use it yet. But I had Richard Branson’s email. And I had some ideas for virgin unite and emailed him and he replied right away and passed beyond to the virgin unite team. And then a few years later, I ended up going to Necker for a week and I told him about it. And when I got to the island, they said, I’m the guy with the $20 because I remember and I said I said I was surprised that you took my 20 he goes well, he goes let me give you your first lesson here on Necker Island because you don’t get to be a billionaire without taking people’s money. Whether it’s $20 or 2 million, he goes, I take every dollar taken my way

Unknown Speaker  19:24  

to becoming a billionaire.

John Corcoran  19:27  

That is so funny. And did he at any point get shocked? Did this guy who was working security at this conference showed up in Necker Island, or at what point did he realize that you weren’t actually a security guard?

Craig Handley  19:40  

Well, so those are years apart, right. Okay. 30 years apart. Um, I think he realized it wasn’t security. I think he was just, he was, you know, he’s got such a great personality. Yeah, he’s down to earth. Like I imagine like I’m a big Patriots fan and a tom brady fan. And, of course, everybody talks about down there. Tom Brady is Branson. I imagine Brady’s a lot like Branson, Branson, so down to earth. I mean, his daughter owns a energy drink company. And it’s called, pardon my language. But this is what it’s called, called pussy. And he’s like, looked at me. He goes, Oh, would you like some Plus he just thinks it’s funny. And he hands me the energy drink. And you know, and it’s his daughter’s brand, Holly’s brand. And, you know, he’ll say, how about some tequila with that? And I’m like, what’s breakfast? He goes, breakfast, the champions. He’s pushing it, tequila is the breakfast of champions, right? I mean, if you just, you know, he’s just a regular guy with a funny sense of humor and, and he loves adventure. And he loves like, when people are crazy, he’ll always challenge you to do something like there was a guy. I wasn’t there for this. But I saw the video from some of my other entrepreneur friends, that he thought he could kite surf, but he could jump off the roof of the greenhouse and make it across the island and land in the ocean. And kitesurf from there, and Richards like, well, if you think you can do it, let’s do it. You know, they went up on the roof, and the guy jumped off the roof and was impressed. And a lot of people forget, he had a reality TV show that was made out of adventure. You know, it was people doing crazy things. And so I think he believes in everything that he does that you should live life to its fullest. And he experienced that with him while you’re there. The other thing he talks about is hiring people for culture. Right? He’s a big one on culture, and finding people that are better and smarter than you. He’s like, in my all of my forget how many companies he has. 50 250 I forget what the

John Corcoran  21:36  

number. Yeah, I think maybe 200 or something. Yeah.

Craig Handley  21:39  

50 I thought at the time, yeah. And he says in every company, I’ve hired someone smarter than me to run them. Yeah. You know, and he’s like, I’m not afraid to admit my weaknesses and, and to make sure I’m hiring the right people around me. And, you know, there are so many things that someone like that you can learn from, um, and a lot of what he talks about is how to save your own time. How do you make sure you can do the things you want to do in your life. And I think that’s what Richard values the most as entrepreneurs who figure out how to build a business without them having to work in that business 24 hours a day. And so if he sees you doing adventurous things, and fun things and being able to come to Necker, I think he respects you more, you know, and he’s more willing to give his time and his energy towards you. When you’re that type of individual. I mean, I took his cell phone and put a song on his phone. I wrote a song called, I’m filthy. I’m a father, you’d like to freak kind of a joke song. I made it his ringtone. So every time his phone rings, it’d be like a father he was like, and I don’t know if his daughter heard that or something, heard it, but I know that if they did, they’re like, Dad, what’s that? He doesn’t, he doesn’t even know how I did it. I don’t even know how I don’t even remember how I got a hold of his cell phone. I’m able to load my song into I probably I’m old enough where I just said, Hey, I just sent you. I just sent you a file. Can I just let me just leave your phone? Let me just be okay. That’s who I am. I’m not afraid of much, you know, and he’s just such a regular guy. Right? 

John Corcoran  23:10  

I’m curious. Did you observe him conducting business at all? When you were on Necker? Did you see him having meetings? I’m curious, like all these companies. I understand. He has people that run these companies. But he must have some kind of check in process. Maybe once a week, once a month, whatever. Like he

Craig Handley  23:29  

He was on his hammock with his laptop. And he was looking at slides for board meetings, you know, and he was a couple hours a day, you know, he’s going through different things but he was always kind of chillin ‘on his hammock. Watching kotsu the slides.

Unknown Speaker  23:43  

Amazing.

Craig Handley  23:44  

Yeah, that one of those little lemurs on his shoulder hanging out with him. Yeah, that was like a cartoon character. Right? He’s, you know, on his conference call, and Libras are hopping up on his shoulders. And you’re not even imagining being on those word calls.

John Corcoran  23:58  

It sounds surreal. It sounds larger than life, impossible, or like he’s, or he’s like doing it for the show. But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.

Craig Handley  24:06  

That’s who he is. I had so much he was kite surfing. And one of the girls that was there said, Oh, can we recreate? You know, he’s got a famous picture on his wall down there of a supermodel that was naked on his back, right? And kite surfing. And it’s really famous. It’s been in magazines, the pictures, and he’s got the original picture kind of on his beach house down there where he stores all the kind of kitesurfing equipment. And one of the girls, I’d love to recreate that picture, you know, and of course, she kept her bathing suit on but Richard says let’s go. So they went out, jumped on his back. Right and they did the thing and he got to shore. And I’m like, okay, it’s my turn. He goes, he goes well, he goes, we can try he goes but I think we’re gonna drown. But yeah, I mean, he dumped the ginger beer on my head telling me how much you like my music and I actually have that video that I put Sometimes you’re there, of how Richard drenched me with ginger beer.

John Corcoran  25:04  

It’s funny, it’s funny, I guess it was Richard Branson drops of beer on your head. You don’t get pissed. Yeah.

Craig Handley  25:11  

No, I actually was gonna pick him up and throw him in the ocean. But I’m like, I don’t know how, how comfortable? How comfortable is he gonna be if I throw him on my shoulder like a little rag doll and run him into the ocean.

John Corcoran  25:21  

You don’t want to enjoy

Craig Handley  25:23  

this. He’s gonna say this guy could never come back. Right.

Unknown Speaker  25:25  

So yeah, you didn’t want to risk that?

Craig Handley  25:28  

Yeah, you tend to get really comfortable around them, though. You know, I mean, each and every night when you’re on the island, he’s got a costume themed party. And so you literally have to have a costume every night. One night, it’s a pirates party. The next night. I mean, he’s done. He doesn’t mess around with his costumes.

John Corcoran  25:44  

Yeah. I don’t know how he continues to do that. Maybe it’s like only a week a month that he has groups like this that come but it doesn’t seem like it seems like it’s booked out. And he’s Yeah, I couldn’t imagine living that lifestyle all the time.

Craig Handley  25:58  

I think that he’s got groups that are booked there. But I don’t think like entrepreneurial groups are probably booked maybe three or four times a year with different groups. Okay. And I think he plays full out with entrepreneurs like that. Yeah, I think he has a ball. And I think the rest of the time, he’s a pretty private, secluded person. I mean, when I was at the, I’ve been to both the new grade house and the old one. And the old grade house. I’m sitting at the bar in the same spot where Princess Diana SAT, you know, and just the, you know, there’s a piano there. And there’s a piano that Janet Jackson played, you know, and you know, the before that great house burned down. Yeah, there were pictures of Princess Diana with her kids hanging out at the bar. And so kind of just surreal. So you are talking about after the hurricane hit it? Or is this? Why was there before the hurricane hit? Okay, and the place burns? Then I went back to see the new great house, how is it after the hurricane because they had to completely rebuild the whole thing, right? Yeah, very good. Looks great. So amazing, you know, but some of that history, like, like, there were these secret passageways that Richard had built, like, you go up this tiny set of stairs. And then you can actually stand above the room and listen to everybody above the room in this little hidden walkway. And then when you come out of the hidden walkway, he had this green, and he had a greenhouse over here, but he had greens where you could hit golf balls off the roof. Right, and he had all these different, you know, this target out in the middle of the ocean that you were aiming for. And you know, and then you go up this ladder into the crow’s nest that was up there and go really we’re applying it to the whole island and but it was just in that little attic space. His kids had like he had old drum sets that his kids used to play and all this old stuff that I’m sure every piece of it because of the people Richard built that, you know, to be get away from musicians originally, you know, and so you could just imagine the, the stuff that he had in that little attic space, like I always wanted to kind of like seeing your grandmother’s attic, I always want to kind of go through all that. All that stuff that’s kind of hidden away. And it was just, you know that you’re walking in places where so many amazing people kind of have spent time, especially when you’re sitting at that bar, you know, a little bar that was there and he’s got photos of other people sitting where you’re sitting and you’re like, man, I’ve done something in my life to be sitting here where Desmond Tutu SAT. You know, Jimmy Carter has been right here. You know, all these world leaders have been in the great house.

John Corcoran  28:38  

Yeah, Obama went there. Like the week after he left office they went straight there. It’s funny. Well, this is a fun topic. Any other any other observations or stories from that experience before I move on to asking about your most recent business?

Craig Handley  28:52  

Another great Richard Branson’s story is we were having dinner on the ocean. And he was cooking some you know, we were cooking chicken wings, things like that. It was pirate night. And Richard goes. And he whistles really loud. And I’m like, What are you doing? He says, I’m getting my pet shark to throw him some chicken. And I’m like, Yeah, right. He goes, No, he goes, I got these two sharks. I raised them in my saltwater pool. And he goes, they swim with me every morning. Oh, my, uh huh. He whistles again, you throw some chicken in the water. And you look over and there’s a shark attacking the chicken. Well, there’s two sharks and apparently, and I was like, Is this real? Apparently Richard Branson has two pet sharks that live in the ocean. And they literally swim with him when he goes on his morning swim. That’s crazy. You gotta be pretty damn cool that pet sharks that live in the ocean that actually know who you are.

John Corcoran  29:44  

He’s like a cartoon character.

Craig Handley  29:46  

All these stories. I mean, you know, when he talks about the number of times he near death, going across the ocean in a balloon, you know, and, I mean, he probably remembers the time he actually scraped himself going, jumping from the palm and then gets. When he tells that story about how he was trying to raise publicity, it was really windy and they’re like, you’ll be fine. He’s like, Alright, I’ll be fine jumped off the building. And before he could pull his shooting, bounce it against the building. Because when? Yeah, because that was probably the closest I’ve come to that.

John Corcoran  30:17  

And I heard a story also about another time he was going to jump off a building. And he actually went to the top, I think it was and it was a windy day also. And he actually backed down. He actually, you know, even though the press was there it was supposed to be a big event. But he’s, you know, I respected that he did that, because I think he he just had like, it just wasn’t worth it, you know, which is sometimes hard to make that decision

Craig Handley  30:41  

probably happened after the palm of it. Yeah,

John Corcoran  30:44  

yeah. So tell me, let’s move on to socialclose.com is your most recent business. You decided what the heck, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, I’m going to start a new business. But you ended up telling us about what you did. Not quite

Craig Handley  30:58  

what happened. I actually wrote a book hired to quit and I did all the marketing myself. I created some music videos I created. I had a friend interview me about the book, and I created all these little interviews, and I would drive traffic to it by direct messaging, people that were within my network and saying, Hey, could you buy my book and share this message. And over the launch that I did, and I had a couple people help me, you know, I ended up selling enough books to make five bestseller lists on Amazon. And I probably would have made a New York Times bestseller list or USA Wall Street Journal, I just didn’t know that I needed to sell for sorry, 40 nooks. And you know, there’s different rules around makehuman here at times. And I sold, I sold five to 8000 books, I think of my pre launch. And I mean five bestseller lists. And I did it all myself and being somebody who does some coaching and some consulting, and I’m a musician, and I do comedy. And I’m like, and I wanted to keep selling my book, I’m like, I need to figure out social media because it’s hard. So I went out and I tried to find someone that would edit all of my old content and create new content. And the initial thing was $15,000. And then they wanted 7500 a month to continue to do my editing and creating content. And then there was somebody who’s going to manage my community and post and they wanted five grand a month. And someone to book me on podcasts was five grand a month, and then someone else was going to run my LinkedIn program for me for five grand a month. And then someone and I’m just looking at the cost of all this. And I’m like, well, that’s like $30,000 like, not much I can do, right? I’m not gonna spend 300,000 or 360,000 a year on social media. And then I said, Well, maybe I can build it myself. So I hired a full-time person. I hired a full time digital person in Mexico to do all my editing and things. And I hired a third person to manage my communities. And I basically had an assistant, I would shovel everything to me, she would do lyric videos, and he would take content to post at different places. And someone else was replying and managing and actually doing direct messages to people to drive them back to the content. And I was having great success. And I saw another friend of mine post on Facebook, does anybody do this? And outside of a few solutions, like I found, like, Yeah, they do this for 15,000. And whatever. Everybody was paid typing following. And I’m like, Huh, that’s really interesting. Maybe I built the business. So I put packages together. And I think I’m giving away like $30,000 worth of value for about five grand. And my goal is how many people can I help? Right, I want to help a lot of people. And I want them to be able to do social media as a base for marketing. I think marketing involves buying media, right, buying Facebook ads, buying programmatic media and doing other things outside of just posting, right. But I think that if you have a good strong base of content, that it takes 20 times on average for someone to be bought into your service, right. So if I can create great content and drive traffic to that content, which drives into your social page, and on your social page, if you have 20 pieces of great content when people can go down the rabbit hole, right? You can have one ad create 20 views, lowering your cost of acquisition and both joint venture marketing or your JV partnerships and your programmatic and your Facebook. And so I said, I started charging $10,000 for consulting and most people didn’t have a team that could execute on my ideas. So I said, well, I’ve got a team. Let me put this together. And so I’ve got a team that does all the posting. They do the direct messaging. They do all the engagement back and forth. And I started doing it like I posted on Facebook. Is anybody interested? within 24 hours I had four people send me money. All four of them referred three people or more to me and within 60 days 37 people I was working with 23 people I had to hire, to keep up with the growth and almost 600,000 in revenue, all in 600,000 annually. But it was all built up in that 60 day period of just anybody wanting this. And I just, I mean, I’m just now 60 days into it, I finally sent a contract template to my lawyer and said, Hey, I need contracts. Some of these, some of my 37 clients, want a contract. I just last week, set up a bank account, it was all going to my personal account, I’m like, I probably should get a bank account. Right? Like, I guess I knew, but I’m doing a merchant account. Finally, because everybody’s been sending me checks, snail mail, or Venmo or PayPal? I’m like, man, if I were an actual, actual entrepreneur, I might figure out some of this

John Corcoran  35:48  

stuff. Well, in many ways, you’re the continent of America, you should first aim later, right?

Craig Handley  35:53  

Yeah, like I said, I know the operation stuff. I said this earlier in the call, I just don’t like it. And so I’ve been able to function and all the execution stuff. But for me, what’s really important is, are my clients happy with the content I’m helping them create, and directing them to create, and my team is creating for them? Are they happy with that? And is it creating results I call the business Social Close. And we’ve had success in a way like a friend of mine. I’ve got a quote on my website. But Benjamin Hardy did a book personality as a permanent and he needed 2000 book sales in 48 hours to make new york times or he wasn’t going to make it. And we had him create a video message, telling people why they should buy the book. And he says, I’m not too proud to ask for your help with 2000 books in 48 hours. And, and we sent out that message, direct messaged over 2500 people a day for the next two days. That’s across all three platforms. And we ended up selling over 3000 books in two days, you may be blessed, another woman and a David. On her the day of her launch, she ran out of paperbacks on Amazon because we had sold so many. So she had to go 30 hours, with only selling the digital version of her book, she’d run out of paperbacks. Wow, we got podcast interviews, she got people to write about her book. She even got invited to Good Morning America, and ended up being on the show like a week into her launch on Thursday morning, did a segment on Good Morning America, a lot of this stuff, a lot of the things that that we’re working come from creating great content and driving traffic to it.

John Corcoran  37:28  

Now, I’m a big fan of direct messaging so I use it all the time to connect with people. But a lot of the platforms restrict the amount of messaging you can do. How did you overcome that?

Craig Handley  37:40  

So that’s a good question. If you have a lot of people in your network, you can send up to 100 cold messages a day, right, per platform for platform, people that are within your network. Because I had five, I have five or 6000 people in my LinkedIn network, for example, which isn’t a ton. But you know, Ben, I think had 10,000. And so you’re able to send up to 500, or up to 1000. You know, in each one, maybe it’s 500, in LinkedIn, and you can send them to 1000. Instagram, in your network people who are in your network. Yeah, and 100 new requests. And then on Facebook, it’s not necessarily the amount you send, it’s the timing in between your messaging. So Facebook is supposed to wait one or two minutes and three messages. So it’s not that it’s easy work. It’s just that discipline, the discipline. What are you trying to accomplish? Is it worth doing and we’ve done movie premieres, documentaries, where we filled movie seats, you know, to watch a documentary when the guy who documentaries about and done a zoom call after you know, for $20 donation to a charity and we’ve done you know, we’ve done in restaurants where we notified people on an outreach program direct messaging program that their favorite artists was performing to get the reservations in and sold out restaurants. And now haha,

John Corcoran  38:55  

how did you how do you message you know, I received those types of messages on social media all the time for someone who’s trying to sell something, how do you do it in a way that is persuasive and isn’t like you’re just trying to pitch someone that you haven’t messaged in months or years? You want

Craig Handley  39:11  

the secret sauce? Yeah, of course.

John Corcoran  39:13  

Everyone does.

Craig Handley  39:16  

Wait. So here’s the secret sauce. So the first thing that we send is a picture. We don’t send the video message and there’s very little text. And it’s a picture. And so I actually, for my Social Close business, I’m recruiting authors, I have a picture of me holding my, my plaque up here, you know, and, and then I’ve got a picture of making the bestseller list. And it says, the message says, Hey, I think this would be something we can do together. I figured out a pretty cool way to sell books. They say a picture tells 1000 words. So as opposed to getting, you know, to writing 1000 words that you’re never going to read anyway, I put this cool picture collage together. And if you want to connect we can talk more later. Thanks So I set up the entry, right, like, with a picture. And most people don’t send the picture. So every time I send a picture, they go, Oh, well, that’s cool.

Unknown Speaker  40:10  

Right? Yeah.

Craig Handley  40:12  

When they connect with a good percentage do, I don’t I, again, I go easy on the text, and I send a video. And the video is created as if I grabbed my cell phone on the fly. And I said, yo, john, thanks for connecting with me. So here’s what I’ve done. And I basically took the story I just told about me being an author and building out my team. And my team has edited that four minute description down to about a minute 45. And so they kind of get the punch lines into it, and explain how, as an author myself, what I went through and how I built the business. And we’ve actually built a two week, four week, eight week and 12 week book launch. And it’s been depending on how many followers you have, if you don’t have any, I want you for 12 weeks if you want me to sell your books, but if you’ve got 10,000 followers, I can sell three to 5000 books in a week. Wow. You know, so, um, and and I’ve built out that process and it’s not overly expensive, you know, and so people I mean, it’s less than a buck a book, really, when I’m when I break down the price. And so I’m trying to help people and trying to help them create their influence in a circle, help them get more speaking gigs. I mean, you know, help them get more articles written about them, or podcasts, things like that. And, and I’ve definitely over achieved, I’m still surprised by how well it works.

John Corcoran  41:39  

Yeah, that’s great. Well, I always say when you are zigging, you should be zagging. And sounds like that’s what you’re doing effectively here.

Craig Handley  41:47  

So, again, I’m looking for the mechanism to create the solution. I’m looking to create an engagement through LinkedIn, Instagram, I’m a songwriter, I’ve gone in and I’ve messaged everybody with over 2000 followers that has ever used the hashtag. The songwriter gets the message from me. And the message talks about how my passion is music, I’m looking to connect with other artists. And I’m a writer and love to collaborate with them. And it’s a simple again, simple minute half video message. And as a result, my Instagram is growing like crazy. And I’m growing it with musicians. I also now have started to target digital entrepreneurs or digital marketers, because I think our call center does great with customer service and sales. And the more digital marketers, I created

John Corcoran  42:30  

the Instagram and just tell everyone the Instagram handles that people should go check out.

Craig Handley  42:34  

I’m at. I’m at Craig Handley.

John Corcoran  42:36  

Craig Hanley. Okay.

Craig Handley  42:39  

LinkedIn, I’m Craig Handley.

John Corcoran  42:41  

Any other follow? I don’t use Twitter that much.

Craig Handley  42:43  

But I’m Craig A. Handley on Twitter. But Everything I have is Craig Handley. Except for Twitter. I got Craig achingly.

John Corcoran  42:50  

Cool. All right. Well, we’re running a little short on time here, Craig, this has been great going through your background here. I want to wrap things up. This is a question that I always asked which I didn’t have neglected to warn you about beforehand, but I think you’ll be able to handle it. So let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys and you’re receiving an award for lifetime achievement for everything you’ve done. Up until this point, what we all want to know is who do you think are the mentors? Who are the friends you know, in addition to family and friends, who are the gurus, the icons, the entrepreneurial CEOs were anyone who were the people that you would acknowledge in your remarks?

Craig Handley  43:25  

Well, the first one would be Glenn Reed. Most people don’t know who Glenn is, you know, he’s getting older Grinch years, but I used to sell insurance door to door. And he’s the first person that ever really bought into the fact that I might be able to do something special. And he co-signed for a 30 $500 credit card with me when we first started. And he was my first business partner, way back when I was 21 years old, and had no idea what the hell I was doing. He cosigned the first time I ever left well outside of the military. But I remember I had this $30,000 credit card, and I just went on this road trip to Nebraska, and to Colorado. And then I ended up flying into LA and I was like, I can’t believe I’m in LA. I can’t believe I’m in Las Vegas. You know, just places that I never dreamt that ever have a chance to visit when I was a kid. And Glenn was the first one that did that. Then there’s a guy named Bob heeks. And, again, these aren’t, these are personal mentors to me. I built a business with Glenn and Bob brought it to big call centers and it was an upsell behind other wholesale products. And I was making 50 cents per sale per member per month. And what we didn’t expect was MasterCard and Visa to start charging back. If it was six months, they would find us for six separate incidents. Today they wouldn’t do that. But we were the first ones doing monthly billing. And, and basically I was charging $16 a month for a non insurance health program. And we were paying a $40 bounty at $8 per member per month. So when the fines started coming in, it became difficult to run their business. And I was, I think I got the check for like $80,000. And my next check was supposed to be like 250. And Bob said to me, Greg, we’re not gonna pay you. And he was running this on behalf of like a big, big call center, they were kind of the boss, and he goes, you have a contract, you could sue us. And you are right to say that there’s some money owed to you, he goes, but your pile of money is only this tall. And our problem money is this tall. He goes, what I think you should do is remove yourself gracefully, and build an alliance and build an ally, you know, be allies with this call center. And I’ll be an ally of yours. And I’ll help you as much as I can. So we can grow outside of this. And so I walked away from what I thought I was owed, right. And now that I know a lot about business, I know it was the right decision. But back then your ego is just, you know, you’re like, well, that money is mine, but they weren’t making any money. Right? I mean, they, they were paying in fines more than they were bringing in revenue. And so and so for me, it was the right decision. And Bob has been a friend of mine for over 20 years now. And he’s always been somebody who I can count on for great advice. He’s always been someone who’s always going to be in my corner. And he did help me. He paid my phone bill for like the first two years when cell phones came out. And my phone bill is like 20 $400 a month, he was like, I can’t believe in paying your phone bill. Those are two people that most people don’t know about. But then, you know, like Yannick silver was the first one to invite me to Necker. And he taught me that business is designed to be played hard, and fast, right, and you’re supposed to have fun. And you build a business. So you could live a big life. You’re an entrepreneur, not seek and work your ass off. But so you can enjoy the finer things in life. And that was Yannick, and he really shaped You know, a lot of the things that I do. I’m the culture. I mean, a lot of the culture stuff was Janet Atwood and Chris Atwood wrote the passion test, and then meeting and having sessions with Tony Shea from Zappos, you know, he was really drilled into me by culture. And Joe polish is somebody who I can’t, you know, can’t speak highly enough of who Joe Polish as a human being. And as a mentor, and, and, you know, just someone who’s done amazing things. And, of course, I’m forgiving other people, like my business partner, Tony is somebody I’d be remiss not to mention. What I guess I’m really saying is, any entrepreneur who’s done anything, probably has a list. That’s pretty damn long. I could keep going and going, and all the people that I’m so grateful that they took time to share their energy and their love and their experience with me. You know, Mike lolly is another one that again, most people don’t know, Mike, but he had a big, you know, big company. And from a business standpoint, this guy knew how to build a business and how to run meetings and how to, you know, build out forecasts and Cameron Harold has been a coach and a mentor. You know, I, I don’t want to forget anybody. That’s horrible.

John Corcoran  48:07  

Well, I think the orchestra is playing now. So you’re your favorite kid?

John Corcoran  48:13  

I’m like, that’s a great list. That’s a great list.

Craig Handley  48:15  

I can tell you, it depends on the industry, Paul, to have I in the music industry, you work with universal for 18 years. And he’s been a mentor of mine in the music space. And yeah, I mean, God, the list, the list of people who have helped me, and I think this is true for anybody listening is, if your list of people who have helped you isn’t as big as mine, and you’re doing something wrong, you know, yeah, you should always strive to be the dumbest guy in the room. And I am grateful that I’ve, in most cases, been able to be one of the dunces that sit in any room with the amazing minds that I’ve. And that’s my approach. I think everybody around me is probably smarter than me in some area. And so I just want to learn from them.

John Corcoran  48:56  

Yeah. Well, Craig, this has been great. remind everyone where they can go check out and learn more about you.

Craig Handley  49:01  

Listentrust.com is the call center, socialclose.com is the social media company. I’m all over. I’m easy if you google Craig Handley. I think I even have my cell phone on the internet, because I don’t care, you know, and it’s pretty easy, accessible. I love to talk to new people and help people. And so that’s pretty easy to find me.

John Corcoran  49:24  

Craig, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much.

Outro  49:27  

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com. And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.