Jonathan Slain | [Pivot Series] How to Rock the Recession

Jonathan Slain is a recession expert, traction implementer, and speaker. He coaches high growth leadership teams across the United States and helps them implement the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). He focuses on working with entrepreneurial niche specialty firms and large corporations with over $10 million in annual revenue. 

Jonathan released a book about how to survive and thrive in a recession right before the Coronavirus global pandemic hit. The book is called Rock the Recession: How Successful Leaders Prepare for, Thrive During, and Create Wealth After Downturns which came out in September of 2019. He is also active in the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) and has been active in leadership positions within the organization. 

John Corcoran, host of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast is joined by Jonathan Slain, an author and recession expert, to talk about surviving and thriving in a recession. Jonathan explains to John why he wrote a book on recession right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he also discusses the benefits of implementing the EOS process in any company.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Why Jonathan wrote a book about surviving and thriving during a recession and his experience coaching clients on how to behave during a recession
  • Jonathan’s thoughts on the current recession that’s caused by the pandemic
  • Jonathan talks about some of his clients that have pivoted into new areas because of COVID-19
  • How companies can know whether the recession is going to get worse or better
  • Jonathan talks about owning and operating a fitness franchise for almost 10 years and how it shaped his philosophy towards recession
  • The importance of evaluating one’s business on a regular basis
  • How the EOS process helps with interpersonal issues in companies
  • Jonathan talks about the people he acknowledges for his achievements and success
  • Where to learn more and connect with Jonathan Slain

Resources Mentioned:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:14  

Welcome to the Revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we asked 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, Lending tree, Open Table, 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 Bill Gallagher of the Scaling Up Podcast. I know Bill through the San Francisco EO community. He’s also a great podcaster and you should definitely check him out. He featured today’s guest, which is how I heard about this gentleman’s work, check out the Scaling Up Podcast in your favorite podcast app or go to scalingcoach.com if you want to learn more about Bill.

But our guest today is Jonathan Slain and you know, I was joking with him before and he needs to pursue a new career as a fortune teller because he released a book about how to survive and thrive in a recession right before the Coronavirus global pandemic hit the book. The book is called Rock the Recession: How Successful Leaders Prepare for, Thrive During, and Create Wealth After Downturns and came out in September of 2019. I’m sure many people said what do you think and man that’s crazy. You should write something about our low economy that’s just gonna keep on going. But he actually coaches high growth leadership teams across the United States. He helps them to implement the entrepreneurial operating system also known as EOS also known as traction. By the way, check out my episode with Gino Wickman if you get the chance. He’s a great guy, great authors, and has written a number of books. 

Jonathan focuses on working with entrepreneurial niche specialty firms and large corporations. So $10million+ in annual revenue. He’s also active in Entrepreneurs Organization as well and has been active in leadership positions there. And a fun fact he was valedictorian of his graduating class and had the highest GPA ever in the history of his high school, where he was also voted the next Bill Gates and the least likely to lose his virginity. I’m not sure that I would put that in my bio. But hey, it’s up to you, man. Just quickly before we get in this interview, this is brought to you by Rise25 Media. And look, I don’t need to tell you the world has changed. That’s what this episode is about. A question is what do you do about it and in this economy is more important than ever to be able to connect and build strong relationships with clients, referral partners, and strategic partners, even when you can’t be face to face. At Rise25 we have 20 years of experience in the b2b space connecting and building profitable relationships with clients, referral partners and strategic partners using podcasts and content marketing. We’ve helped hundreds of b2b businesses get more clients and referrals and land collaborations with dream clients. So if you want to learn more about that, go to Rise25media.com, or email us at [email protected] 

All right, Jonathan, it’s great to have you here. So first of all, let’s start with September, or actually, probably much earlier than that you started reading this book, and I’m sure you’re telling people Hey, guys, I’m reading this book about the recession. And they What do people read that with? Like, what do you not sir, the economy’s doing great. Well, I’d write Why would you take all your time to write a book about the recession?

Jonathan Slain  3:33  

Thanks, John. Thanks for having me. So it was actually two years before we published it, that I started working. A lot of my clients are contractors and contractors had an especially tough time in the Great Recession. And so as I was starting to see economic indicators start to signal that the economy was probably in for another recession, as we saw unemployment, getting to record lows, and we saw consumer confidence gain to record highs. counter intuitively, those are predictors, that we are probably going to have a recession. And so I really started two years ago, just helping my clients do some exercises to figure out when there is a recession, how we would react. And the point was just to have you know, that plan, put it under glass. And then when there was a recession, calmly walk over and break the glass, take out the plan and execute instead of having to freak out. So that was the genesis of the whole thing. And then once we had the workbook put together, then a lot of my clients just resonated with the content and said, this is really good stuff. You should do a book on this. And so that’s how the book came about. I wish I could tell you there was a grand plan to do the book, but it was really because I was working with clients, doing some recession readiness exercises, and then they went Wanting to hear more the full story about, you know, why am I a recession expert? Why do I deserve to talk about it? Why should you listen to me? And that’s why we published the book. And was it hard to get some people to pay attention to your message at this point in time when you’re working with these clients? And, you know, they’re counting the Benjamins, so to speak, you know, is it hard to get them to say, Hey, guys, let’s take some time to think about what you’ll do. And that, you know, when a recession does happen, or did you find people were open to that conversation? Yeah, john, it’s still hard. I mean, even worse, we’re technically in a recession right now. And I think part of the challenge, and by that, I just mean, to two quarters in a row of GDP declining, which is the government’s definition. But in any case, a lot of people, a lot of business owners still aren’t feeling it. I mean, I understand that if you’re in hospitality, if you’re in retail, you’re in a recession, or strike that you’re actually I should have called the book, dodge the depression, for those industries, because that’s what they’re really facing. But in a lot of other industries right now, or depending on where you live in the country, things are still going well. So if you’re in a central business, maybe you were never shut down. Or maybe you don’t live in one of the states where we’ve had an outbreak. And so things have just kind of been cruising along. A lot of companies are reporting that with PPP funds, they’re actually doing better than they were before, they have relatively strong balance sheets. And so I think a lot of it is situation dependent. But it’s always hard. I’ve learned through this process, to get people to pay attention and plan for a potential future negative. Better to write happy books, I think, if you want people to take you up on it, really, our book is for the companies that do see a recession coming, or they do understand that we’re going to be in one, and then want to figure out how to look forward to it. So also, John, the important part for us was not to regurgitate the conventional wisdom with recessions, which is you need to cut expenses, you need to fire everybody and just turtle up and try to survive. Ours is a lot more about how do you use the recession’s for the opportunities that they bring the opportunity to buy other companies that weren’t prepared? Or to buy assets for a lot cheaper? Or, you know, we all know there’s been a war on. Now, there’s a lot of eight, that’s all of a sudden available in the market. How do you use this reception as the opportunity to hire all those people that up to this point you couldn’t afford? And so that was a lot of where we’re coming from?

John Corcoran  7:43  

It’s interesting, there’s a lot of businesses that it’s so business dependent, you know, some businesses you wouldn’t expect are thriving, others are not doing well, kind of unexpectedly, I heard an interview with the founder of Airbnb recently, who said they went down 80% in the beginning, and now they’re actually amazingly higher in North America. And in Europe, I believe, than they were a year ago, which was baffling to me. But they explained that it’s just the habits that have shifted. So instead of traveling to the south of France, or something, people are just staying closer to home, but they’re still renting properties, and they feel more comfortable going into a property rather than a hotel. So talk a little bit about, you know, it has this recession. Has it been kind of an expected recession, or in terms of the way that it’s unfolded? Or, you know, has it been as unexpected to you in terms of the different industries that are hurt and the ways that companies are struggling?

Jonathan Slain  8:47  

Well, we published the book in September of last year, because we were seeing economic indicators that a recession was likely and we didn’t know what would be the straw that would break the camel’s back, right. But we did know that there would be a straw and it happened to be a once every hundred years pandemic that was just enough to tip us into a recession. The point is that it’s always a black swan event. Right. And so they seem to leave what a great book, eponymous book, The Black Swan, so I think the audience should read well, first of all, they should read my book, but while you’re on Amazon, grabbing a copy, you know, grab the Black Swan and also the Airbnb story. I just finished reading that one, I think is brilliant, as well, and very interesting. But the whole thought here is that we don’t know what will tip us into a recession. But now that we’re in one, it’s starting to look for those tailwinds in the economy. And so you mentioned one now, we know that people are getting stir crazy at home during Coronavirus, right. And so people are going to be looking for outlets to go have a night out or a couple nights out or some sort of vacation where they feel psychological safety. And so maybe they feel safe. For at an Airbnb than they would at a hotel where, you know, what do we what do you do with the elevator, you know, you can have the best of plans, but then you’re stuck in an elevator with other people or not sure so, but thinking through, like veterinary clinics always do well in recessions, because agnostic of what’s going on in the economy, people are going to pay to have their pets fixed. And there are lots of industries like that, that are a little more off the beaten path. So it doesn’t have to be just grocery stores that you’re thinking about during a recession. But thinking through the vet clinic one, there’s also I read about tortilla manufacturers, I like to bring it up because it’s random. But apparently, Americans are eating more tortillas now. And so the idea is that they’re cheaper, and people like them. So if you’re in a business, where you can somehow come alongside those that own tortilla companies and market to them, then there’s an opportunity there, there’s an opportunity to pivot to veterinary. If you’re a business that has traditionally served the cruise ship industry, that’s going to be a tough one for a while. And so a lot of these answers are out there, though, John, is my point for the business owners, entrepreneurs that are willing to go do some research, and just slow down and do that hardest work we have to do as entrepreneurs of thinking about where the future is going.

John Corcoran  11:26  

So for some companies, it seems right now, some companies are fortunate enough that they have an industry that it may be in an unexpected way is doing really well like tortillas, and they didn’t anticipate it. And they didn’t have to execute a major pivot. Other companies, maybe they had a bunch of different offerings, and one of them is on fire, and they need to drop others. And some have to do a major pivot. Let’s talk about that last piece, have you come across any interesting companies that have executed major pivots almost into a brand new area?

Jonathan Slain  11:58  

Yeah, so I think as we think through one of my clients, makes the little shampoos for hotels, and all of a sudden hospitality went away. Like you said earlier, Airbnb lost 80%, traditional hotels, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I would imagine it’s pretty close. And so they were able to pivot to hand sanitizer. And so, you know, like, as we think it through, they’re really good at producing shampoo or conditioner lotion. So they get it, they put together their formula for hand sanitizer, they got a bunch of those little tiny bottles, right, and then they know all the vendors that have the different raw materials that you need to produce beauty products. And so they were able to pivot to that, because they already had a lot of the infrastructure, and a lot of the networking relationships for people that wanted their product. So I think that’s been one major success story that I’ve personally seen. And then a lot of my clients, like we talked about earlier, are in construction, were deemed essential, and have still continued to go pretty gangbusters. I think what we need to think through, though, is that we know that a lot of contractors are doing work today that they sold a year ago or a couple years ago. And so as they start to go through the rest of their backlog, then it’s a question of, Are there new projects? Are there new buildings being built, that they’ll then have as future work, and I think that’s where we’re gonna see some challenges, especially after the election in the United States, agnostic of who wins, I think that will kind of be another turning point, or we’re going to see a lot more of the negative effects of this recession.

John Corcoran  13:41  

Yeah, it’s interesting. So we’re recording this in late August of 2020. And pandemics have been happening for about six months now, just to give listeners context of where we’re at right now. And, you know, it’s hard to tell, you know, for some businesses out there, they are doing well, like construction is a great example. You know, a lot of people are stuck at home. And so they suddenly want to do small home improvement projects. My wife and I are doing one right now, you know, it’s just you’re looking at the walls, and you’re like, geez, like, how we put up with this for all this time? So you put a little money into that. But then, you know, for the from the contact tractors perspective, the question is, or any business for that matter is, is this going to sustain or if this recession gets deeper six months or a year from now? Is it going to be much worse? So how do companies know whether this is going to be worse or not? Or am I asking just a crazy question, and we just, we, we can’t know. And so you just have to prepare for the worst.

Jonathan Slain  14:39  

Yeah, so let’s differentiate like one. One case is the toilet paper thing, right? So all of a sudden, huge panic, and everybody runs out wanting to get toilet paper. I don’t think that means as entrepreneurs, we should go into toilet paper, because we all know that at some point people are going to have enough in the cabinet to feel good about it. And things will normalize. Our overall demand for toilet paper didn’t go up. There is no, I don’t think we discovered some radical new use for toilet paper such that everybody should be in the business. Right?

John Corcoran  15:11  

If anything, I think people are gonna be installing today’s so they don’t have to deal with that in the future.

Jonathan Slain  15:16  

Exactly. But when we think about home renovation, I think that one sustains John, because I think what happens now is that we’re talking about the fabric of society changing, right? So once every hundred years, there’s a pandemic like this one, all of a sudden, people want to nest, they want to be at home, they want to be more comfortable in their space. And what we’ve all learned over the past six months is that, you know, working at home, like I was kidding around with you, when we first started, but I just flipped my guest bedroom, into my new studio, my home office where I can do interviews like this one, or work with my clients. And so I think that that trend sustains. I think people like working at home, I think they’ve learned they can be just as productive here. And so I do think a lot of home improvement projects continue that way. And I think people that save money because they didn’t take a vacation this year, because they couldn’t go out or probably reinvest in their homes like you are. Hmm. So I think it is one place to go. I think that one’s probably a pretty safe bet for the next couple years.

John Corcoran  16:26  

Yeah. Now you owned and operated fitness franchises for 10 years, and you actually held the place of honors for the top unit out of more than 500 units, which is amazing. Talk a little bit about what you learn from that experience and how that shapes and guides your philosophy towards recessions.

Jonathan Slain  16:48  

Now, in the Great Recession, the only reason that we survived is that I was able to borrow a few bucks from my mother in law. She was my PPP back in the Great Recession, she helped me in our business to get through and buy a few bucks, John, I’m talking about between friends a quarter of a million. And yeah, and the worst part is, it wasn’t all at once. It was like every two weeks when I needed to make payroll, which was right around 20,000, I would call her up and make some small talk, and then eventually work my way around, too. And can I borrow another 20 grand. So for the audience listening, you know, if you want a first step, it’s to go run a credit check on your mother in law, that would be the first thing that I would do. every session, right, so I get it, I know a lot of the audience is probably rolling their eyes, because, you know, I’m very fortunate to have a mother in law that was able to backstop us and to help out. So I get it. And I’m very thankful. And now I’ve paid her back. So Thanksgiving is not awkward anymore. What I will say is that, from that experience, I learned that step one, which is why it’s the first step in our whole recession planning kit, is to really have a plan, because we didn’t have a plan. And thus, I found myself under my desk in the fetal position for the first couple months of the recession, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to tell my employees, or to tell my customers or suppliers. And so I lost a lot of time. And that’s why we did the whole recession. We put up the assessment on the site, it’s free. And then companies can go there and fill out 20 questions, I just got one while we were talking from a company there apparently an 88 out of 100. So they’re in pretty good shape. But you can go there, the average score right now is a 60. And we’ve had over 1000 companies take it. But you know, you can see where you are and how ready you are for the next recession, you can benchmark your readiness for this current recession that we’re in. And what are some of the factors that go into that? What are the different criterias? I imagine cash in the bank is one, how strong your team is one whether you have long term contracts is probably with clients is probably a one diversification take us through? Yeah, you’re hitting right on or close to a lot of the questions. I would say half of them are financial in nature. So thinking through how strong is your balance sheet? Do you have a war chest of cash, so that if you want to rock the recession by going out and buying other companies or buying assets that you can do that? You know, have you made sure that you’ve lowered your personal guarantees to the penny so that as credit tightens, which we know that banks usually well always tighten credit and recessions? You know, how are you? Are you in good stead on that front? Are you going to your bank right now, because there’s still time here in late August. Have the country conversation with your bank about your line of credit. But I can tell you, I think as we get through the election, and as the recession starts to kick in, and credit tightens up, your banks are not going to want to extend your line of credit. And like we saw in past recessions, they’ll likely take away a lot of that availability. But right now, if you’re listening to us, there’s still a bit of time before I think that happens. And then thinking through your team and your culture. So do you have any players on your team? Or are you still carrying some B and C players, now being a great time to be able to release the BMC players, and then replace them with eight players that are now available? So I know back in September, when we released the bug, people were like, yeah, you don’t get it, you know, fancy consultant guy, it’s easy to say that you should just hire a player. And right now unemployment is at record lows. Well, the whole point, John, is that if you fast forward a year since we released the book, a totally different market for talent. So a year ago, I found it very hard to find players, they all had jobs, they were all happy somewhere. But right now, a lot more people are available than were before. So it’s a great time to go out and be looking for that. And then you know, since I’m an elf sky attraction guy, of course, a couple questions to make sure that companies are doing strategic planning, are getting together once a quarter to just evaluate where they are, and to make sure that they’re evaluating their people as well. Now you’re I know, you’re a fan of scaling up, which is the book by Vern harnish, which a lot of the eo processes based upon talk a little bit about that, whether it’s with EOS or eo talk about the importance of,

John Corcoran  21:49  

because this is something I had to learn as an entrepreneur, since I was an English major in college, which didn’t prepare me that much for entrepreneurship. But you know, the importance of going back on a regular cadence. and evaluating these things like we’ve been talking about here, like your caste position, like your, your, your team, and all those different pieces that are so critical. And with discipline, going back and doing on a regular basis. So talk a little bit about the importance of that. If you could,

Jonathan Slain  22:17  

yeah, for sure. By the way, political science major here. agnostic of which system or book, I think they’re all similar. So tractions, great, I think scaling up is great. But I think the important part, and the thing I like is I I’ve been doing strategic planning with teams for over 100 days a year now for a while, is that the number one thing it forces you to do is to constantly reevaluate your people and the team that when I’ll just tell you like, you don’t even have to hire me, I’ll just tell you my best tip. Everybody always wants to know, what’s the one thing. So one thing is a willingness to upgrade your people. The companies that are willing to upgrade their people are the ones that I see growing and winning. And the ones that want to just keep using the same people, and not understand that sometimes in a growing company, which are the companies that I work with the growth companies have to have tough conversations, sometimes John to say, Hey, you know, I really appreciate John, that you helped us to get here. And at this point, we need to work with someone else. Because we want to take things to the next level. And it just looks like we’re not the best fit anymore. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Just really appreciate everything you’ve done for us. But we need to move forward and would love to be your biggest fan champion as you look for your next opportunity. But most companies aren’t willing to have that tough conversation. And what I like about this whole strategic planning process is that once a quarter, it forces you to get together, look in the mirror and be very honest about where you want to go. And then for me, it’s I don’t know if you know Dave Randell, but he’d probably be a great guest for the show, too. But, Dave, one of my favorite quotes is from Dave, and he says it’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the jar. And so I think to just once a quarter, having an outside perspective, whether it’s for me or another attraction guy, or scaling coach, or your mentor, or your board of advisors, if you’re an eo company, or YPO company, you can get that same guidance from a board as well. But just to have that outside perspective, once a quarter, I think is is useful, and you’re just getting realigned, like it takes even if you’re the most aligned team and you’re on the boat rolling together, it takes about 90 days because of the natural laws of entropy for people to start to go in different directions. And that’s why I think having a process getting together and spending a day just getting everybody realigned, that’s the real value and then along the way You can come up with systems and processes, you know, you can come up with core values and all that other great stuff. But the two biggies for me to answer your question are, upgrade your people, and just force everybody to get realigned.

John Corcoran  25:13  

We’re running a little short on time here. But I do want to ask, you know, I, I haven’t been through an EOS process, but I’ve interviewed many us facilitators and interviewed Gina Whitman, everyone, everything and people rave about the process. And, you know, briefly without getting into it, it really helps with interpersonal issues, a lot of times with different personalities within the company and making sure that everyone’s working in the roles that they should be in. And is it hard in this virtual world that we’re in, you know, people talk really positively about being able to work virtually. But have you found that doing us work going into companies that, you know, you miss things? Or that it’s harder to kind of figure out who’s the person behind the scenes? Who’s really the caustic personality? Who’s causing troubles? Or does that stuff come out anyways, and doing over zoom doesn’t make a difference.

Jonathan Slain  26:07  

So zoom is about 80% good, in my estimation. And look, that’s a lot of why I invested in all this technology and put all this together. So that you know, I’m for the audience. If you’re just listening, I’m showing a few different views of the studio that I put together. But I think I’d say here

John Corcoran  26:26  

that up, I have to say having podcasted for 10 years, I think this is the most impressive setup I’ve ever seen.

Jonathan Slain  26:33  

You know, this is your favorite view. This is the ceiling one. John wanted, oh, I have a camera on my ceiling. That’s another story. But yeah, I think having there for companies out there, a lot of it is you can invest in technology to give you multiple camera angles to have better audio equipment. And I think a lot of that John helps with giving you more of that intimate feel. So if you’re on a laptop with a crappy connection, bad lighting, I think that makes it a lot tougher. But if you can make some investment to make sure that you’re in a quiet place, and you’ve got some lights on, I think that helps to take a lot of it out. But yeah, we’re human animals. So you do lose a lot. Without that kinesthetic connection to the audience and the people that you’re with no doubt, a lot of any strategic planning meeting, regardless of what system you use, is the conversations that happen in the hallway, right, or that happened during the breaks, right. And so you certainly lose out on that in the new virtual world.

John Corcoran  27:37  

Yeah, a lot of people say, you know, we’re never going back to the way that was before, I think there’s still one I hope will go back to more of an in person world and will be safer. But you know, that’s what’s so wonderful is those types of conversations. So hopefully, we’ll get back to them. Well, I want to wrap things up.

Jonathan Slain  27:56  

real quick. I think it depends on the phases of grief. So for the audience to just think through that phase of grief chart, where it always talks about how when we get a new shock, it’s denial, and then shock and anger and bargaining. And ultimately, you get to acceptance. I think the quicker that companies can get to acceptance and understanding the way forward, I think that’ll be really helpful, too. And understand that we probably do accept Finally, and get past this pandemic, and then we’ll be back to a lot of in person. Yeah, I do agree with you. it’ll snapback.

John Corcoran  28:31  

Yeah, yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love the virtual world. I love that, you know, I’m in San Francisco, you’re in Ohio right now, and that we can have a conversation. And I think that’s wonderful. I’ve been able to meet so many interesting people that way. So I’m definitely grateful for it. But I also like hanging out with, with people face to face or a beer or whatever, or coffee or whatever. So wrapping these up last question that I was asked, Jonathan, 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. And what we want to know is who do you think, you know, in addition to family and friends? Who are the mentors? Who are the peers or the business partners? Who are the co authors? Who are the forum mates? Who are the people that you would acknowledge in your remarks?

Jonathan Slain  29:13  

Yeah, for me, it’s easy because through eo I didn’t tell you this during the pre-interview, but my through the mentorship program. That’s why I was originally randomly introduced to Paul Dallaire, who is my co-author on rock the recession. And so it has to be Paul, because 10 years ago, he got me into life planning, and into thinking about how to rock your life. And then from there we collaborated, to figure out how we could help all of our clients to rock the recession. So an easy one for me. Hmm, cool. That’s great. Jonathan, where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you? Yeah, so my website is recession.com. Yes, that really is the website. So on there, we’ve all become Contact information. And then there’s this other website that people may have heard of called amazon.com. And so the book is on Amazon or if they want to contact me or take the free recession readiness assessment, they can do all that on recession.com as well.

John Corcoran  30:15  

Excellent. All right. Thanks so much, Jonathan.

Outro  30:17  

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.