Kait LeDonne | 4X’ing Your Business in 18 Months (Without Breaking Your Business Along the Way)

27John Corcoran 8:42

structure to support it. And when you hired this CEO, I’m curious, did you feel like, oh, I’ve got the revenues to support this, this will be totally fine. Or did did it was it a bit of a leap of faith

Kait LeDonne 8:54

100% a leap of faith. Um, I remember actually shouting Ed Robinson back out the person who introduced you and I. We were talking one day, and he said, Kait, you can’t afford to make a bad hire. And at the time, I had this idea in my mind that I again, probably wouldn’t have said this out loud, because it sounds just negligent. But I was afraid I couldn’t afford to make a good hire. But when you flip that and realize, if you’re really going to scale and go for it, you can’t afford to make a bad hire, I realized that there’s the right kind of investment and debt and way to reach so you can build something greater than yourself. And then the things that maybe I wouldn’t want to spend those on and for me, over overextending may not be the right verb but like being able to reach and get the right people I’ve always I can always sell I’m always going to be able to support that but if I find somebody good and I’m like, it just makes me a little uncomfortable financially to hire them. I usually push myself to hire them and then I hustle like that. To get the sales, yeah, motivates you further? Absolutely, yes. And,

John Corcoran 10:06

you know, you bring this person on the CEO, and where do you take it from there, you haven’t had a CEO before. And I found in my business that one of the hardest types of roles to hire for ones where you haven’t hired for before, once you have hired in that role before, then you got a roadmap, and you can even have the previous people train them, it depends a way easier. But SEO is big, that’s a big role. So you’re basically imparting a lot of what you did on what that person would do. So talk a little about that,

Kait LeDonne 10:35

you know, yes and no. So Pam is her name, my coo. We had been together for a few years, and she was my virtual assistant. And I think she was really looking for a lifestyle business after successfully running a lot of companies and having other work. And so she was ready to go get freedom in her life and started a virtual assistant business. And very quickly, I was like, her criteria of credentials far outweigh VA. I mean, she was a systems and operations machine. I’ve never seen anything like it. And so after I had that conversation with my accountant, and I got motivated, we sat down and I said, Pam, I think I’m gonna go for this, do you want to do it? And she said, Yes. And we built it together with the agreement. Okay, I’m going to focus on sales and marketing, you’re going to focus on ops and systems. And we helped actually write each other’s job description for each other. And so it’s funny because I not only wrote the CEO, one, she wrote mine as the CEO, which helped me also shift my mindset out of where I was sometimes getting my hands into things I shouldn’t have been involved in, I could come back to it and say, Well, this is what she expects of me as a CEO, which was, you know, interestingly, very empowering.

John Corcoran 11:59

Right, right. Talk about some of the other roles you’ve hired for, because you’ve hired a bunch of roles over the last year, and particularly how you found good quality people for other roles where you didn’t have them already working for you.

Kait LeDonne 12:13

You know, so much of how I found just rock star people was tapping into virtual assisting groups, and then finding very, I will be dead on as very qualified mothers who wanted more flexibility in their life. And I think it’s really important to say that at this juncture, because we’re talking about a year coming out of quarantine in the pink collar recession, where, you know, kids being home at school and trying to juggle that and work, we’ve seen a lot of women exit the workplace, because maybe a traditional working schedule or parameters hasn’t really empowered them, perhaps to have a traditional job. But for me, I was like, if I’m gonna hire somebody, there’s two types of people that I have, in my experience, are better than anybody getting things done. Moms and veterans, like because they’re both used to commanding troops of people that sometimes don’t want to do what you want them to do.

John Corcoran 13:13

And so we would dive into their explosive message everywhere, all around them.

Kait LeDonne 13:19

Right, exactly. So we would dive into these mom communities and say, Well, you know, we’re willing to provide flexibility before COVID hit, we were already going to scale remotely, it enabled me to find pockets of really great talent that wasn’t limited by geographic distance, or market demands. And so we would reach into these communities. And the first hire we made was a personal brand strategist, her name was Helen. And she’s actually now our Director of client services. And then we hired other personal brand strategists, and then account managers for project management, and client interfacing and communication. So I would say those were the primary hires we made, in the beginning, to start scaling up the organization. But I, again, I’ll say it, for those in the back. You want to get somebody who’s going to get stuff done by a working parent, you’re not going to go wrong, like offer them flexibility they can do in 30 hours, and I’ve seen other people struggle to get done in 60.

John Corcoran 14:16

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. A lot of our team is working moms for sure, who are looking for some flexibility, especially now. You know, there are a lot of women that, you know, few roles we we hired for, and these applications coming in were a little bit heartbreaking because so many moms who had to quit their job a year ago, in February, March or 2020, to stay home with their kids, and then were coming back into the workforce, and maybe couldn’t do what they were doing before because they didn’t know what we know. We know what the world’s gonna look like, and looking for greater flexibility and some really amazingly talented women and moms out there. So I agree. What about upgrading systems? Over the last year systems, you know, software, stuff like that have you experienced where you just realized this is not gonna work for us anymore? We’ve bootstrapped this together, it’s held together with duct tape. And we need to, you know, a lot of effort can go into the old system and then into developing a new one.

Kait LeDonne 15:19

That is another one where I am so happy that the first person was the CEO, because she was a project management certified whiz. And in, in what, what I realized was, you can have all the fanciest tools, whether you’re doing Monday.com, ClickUp, Teamwork, it’s still relying upon having those typed out slps where your team knows how to utilize those tools and what is being utilized in those two tools. Personally, we switched over to teamwork.com, Teamwork fuels a lot of creative agencies, they really get that business model. And they also shout out to Teamwork, I swear, they’re not paying me to say this, they just released what they called InstantAgency, which is basically their EOS system, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, for agencies to scale. And so they really anticipate what it is we need not only from a client service standpoint, but an operations standpoint. And then from an executive standpoint of Okay, we want to run this like a well oiled machine. And that’s not just limited to project management. But yes, I would say Teamwork, Zoom, and the whole Google workspace, because we’re remote, we could not survive without those three tools. And then of course, like some instant messaging feature, we were using Slack when we signed on a Teamwork that provides its own kind of Slack channel that’s tied into a project so it works for us. But you’ll you’ll want to in my experiences that you’ll want to invest in project management and good tools to help you scale again before you’re ready for it because it’s easier to build it as you go than try and retrofit a bunch of bad habits that have accumulated over time in a tidy template.

John Corcoran 17:09

Yeah, for sure. And we use Teamwork for our customer support software for unified inbox. Clients email us, and it’s amazing. It allows you to create all these different inboxes that different people manage and it filters automatically. So really cool.

Kait LeDonne 17:25

What about that Teamwork desk feature is like, yes, yes. But I think the one you’re talking about it’s Yeah, very streamlined communication.

John Corcoran 17:34

What about, you know, we’re talking about upgrading systems. What about upgrading yourself, I know, you said you actively participate in the Accelerator Program, which is a tremendous program that I participated in as well, and recommend to a lot of different entrepreneurs. But what sorts of ways have you had to upgrade your own skills and capabilities over the last 18 months?

Kait LeDonne 17:56

I think when I was a consultant, it felt like I still had a job, and that my bosses were just my clients. And so I was still in that employee mindset. for about four and a half years, when I decided to scale an agency, I realized that the people I needed to focus on making happy empowering, and building up was the team, because if they’re happy, they’re fulfilled, and they’re doing great work, our clients are happy, fulfilled, and experiencing the results of that great work. And so it’s really been this shift of giving myself permission to fight the urge to jump into maybe the latest plant fire, depending on it very, of course, and block off my calendar and review financials and look at utilization for the team and then research and invest in training programs for them. Sometimes I feel guilty, because I’m so used to or was so used to being on the front line of client accounts like, Oh, this isn’t where I should be focusing. But for me, I really had to break out of that and realize No, Your role is that of a leader now. You need to train, empower, look for resources to help others do that. And one of the things my accountant, also an analogy, I thought was just brilliant. He said to me one time it would be like coaching a soccer team of you know, 12 year olds, and then running on the field and pushing them aside and saying you’re doing it wrong. Let me just kick the ball down the field versus focusing on what is the right practice and drills and post game recaps that I can use to help them realize their potential. It’s quite a different mind shift, and one that I’ve really had to work at

John Corcoran 19:37

and yelling at those 12 year olds to put on their big girl pants. Right, right. Yeah, I love that. You know, it’s interesting, I think, you know, as you go along as you’re scaling of an entity, you know, in month one, it might be you’re doing 90% of your time is spent on fulfillment, and then month two, it’s a And then month three, it may be at a different pace. But you’re gradually getting out of that fulfillment and into the oversight. But it might also backslide a little bit at different points in time. So for you, how have you, or how do you now determine how much you should be in fulfillment and what is the highest and best use of your time, when are the times that you step in and you are in client services?

Kait LeDonne 20:27

Sure. So absolutely sales and marketing, the highest and best use, I know that nobody can sell my business like me, I also know that they’ll come to a point, the next learning, or the next growth plateau, where I won’t be able to scale unless I bring on a salesperson, right? Like there’s every milestone, and I fully expect I’ve heard about the 3 million mark, that’s when it’s just you, you’re not going to hit the point of growing beyond that unless you bring on somebody to do sales. But as of this point, sales and marketing is still the core focus. So heavy, heavy on the client onboarding, introducing and empowering the team. And then of course, if there is a major process breakdown, I jump in and make sure that they know they have the full support and weight of the team and the founder to help. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen a whole heck of a lot. And one of the things that’s really helped is now having a director of client services in the agency who can even step in and empower our personal brand strategist with those items. Another thing I heard from appear was that on a quarterly basis, they do check ins with every one of their accounts, as a CEO, just to say, Hey, I’m here, like, just because I’m not in the day to day doesn’t mean I’m not watching your account, how’s the experience gone for you, unless I’m in the case that the client may be more comfortable talking to them about it than someone else? So that’s pretty much where I’m at, in terms of account management these days.

John Corcoran 21:57

Got it. And then let’s talk about KPIs such so hard to determine those key performance indicators, key progress indicators, whatever it stands for, but it’s, you know, those numbers that you add metrics that you pay attention to as a business owner, how have you gone about determining what you should be monitoring,

Kait LeDonne 22:20

a lot of research and a lot of asking for a digital agency, which is, at the end of the day, what we are, it’s different than if we were, you know, making toothbrushes or widgets or something utilization per employee, you know, how many billable hours out of total hours? Are they working? That’s a big one, right? Are the hours that they’re contributing? Is that actually growing revenue for the company? Cash Flow, you know, are over 30, accounts receivables over 30? What percentage of our invoices still need to be collected over a 30? Better, you know, beyond the 30 day window, things like new revenue weekly leads in the pipeline on time project percentage. So overall, are we meeting on time projects, and then we actually have one for client KPI success. So of the KPIs we’ve committed to four clients, how many of those are being met and exceeded out of all of our clients? So I think the thing is, you’re going to find what KPIs, as I understand, have been explained to you by many brilliant Entrepreneurial Operating Systems. Implementer is if you were on a beach somewhere, and you were taking a vacation, and somebody handed you a piece of paper with numbers on it, which numbers would you need to look at to know your business is doing well, without you? And when you work backwards from that metaphor, you will generally see, okay, well, I know it’ll be great if client satisfaction rate is at 95%. If we’re bringing in this amount of new revenue weekly, if employee satisfaction is at this, and if my employees are utilizing this amount of their time. For me, it really helps to picture that I’m on vacation, I’m away for two weeks, the only thing I have to determine if the business is running well or not, is a set of numbers. What are those key numbers for my company?

John Corcoran 24:19

Yeah, that’s a great way of viewing it. Let’s talk also about building a culture as you build a team, then it’s going to take on a culture, whether you like it or not. What are some things that you’ve been aware of as you’ve thought about that particular piece for your company?

Kait LeDonne 24:35

This is another one where I was very fortunate to build this from the ground up and not try and retrofit it. They hammer home the importance of values in your organization in both the entrepreneur organization Accelerator Program and in the Entrepreneurial Operating System. And many of my friends are in the business of helping organizations figure out what their core values are so before I even had a team, I did a lot of core value exercises for myself, like what really drives me as an entrepreneur. And so we came up with six of them. I love to learn, growth is super important. Excellence, radical accountability, freedom, joy, and community. And so by getting very clear about that, we’ve been able to hire people that share those same core values. And when I look at the team, I think, wow, these are all people who are highly intrinsically motivated. They’re team players, they’re kind and they enjoy their work. And they’re exceptionally accountable, not playing the blame game. But hey, I missed this. And this is what I’m doing to improve it. And so it has been interwoven in the fabric of the organization before we started hiring. And we spend more time interviewing people about their core values, and how much it aligns with ours then we do about skills and experience. That is usually evident on the resume, of course, we’re going to ask specific questions about that. But to a degree, you can teach that you can’t teach somebody the values that drive them. So that has been Paramount, absolutely paramount in building a culture and everyday we have a daily huddle. We do a core value shout. Every Monday, we have an organizational meeting, and we read off the core values, like we want the pledge of allegiance. Guys love that.

John Corcoran 26:24

That’s great. We’re almost out of time. So I want to ask one last question. I’m a big fan of gratitude personally. And so you know, you Kait, as you look around at your peers and contemporaries, however, you want to define that, who is out there that you respect you admire the work that you’re doing, you just want to give them a shout out for the work that they’re doing.

Kait LeDonne 27:38

So the person who was most instrumental in me becoming an entrepreneur was actually a long lost second cousin of mine. We hadn’t really met through networking, she was a venture capitalist, and then started her third act, owning cannabis dispensaries. And she was just this woman who she grew up with in West Virginia. Her parents had no ambitions of her going to college. And she completely bootstrapped, made her way as an engineer in Oracle, and then a VC. And then a really like a cannabis conglomerate many, many businesses, and then actually came up with bought and sold a few other businesses in between. She was self made in every way. And there is this thing about mentors where they say it’s really important to have role models that look like you. And before that, I would say, you know, a lot of my role, I just didn’t have a lot of women who I knew. I certainly have like the Sara Blakely, who I idolize like this celebrity entrepreneurs, but maybe not as many that I personally knew before I got reacquainted with her that looked at me and said, if I can do this coming from a poor coal mining town in West Virginia, you can too and send the elevator back down to me. And it was through helping her brand her first cannabis dispensary, find a book publisher and publish her book that I even got into personal branding, because we were able to put her personal brand together and get her on the Today Show. And she said, you know you need to go build this for other people like you did for me. So without a doubt, Gina Dubbé, who is the founder of Greenhouse Wellness, bliss, Eva, and a few other cannabis companies now, and formerly the founder of a lot of other companies that she had an accident with, was the catalyst for me saying, I can do this too. I really can do this too. Not to mention she’s just making waves in that space. And we always laughed that she spent the greater part of our lives telling my cousin’s not to touch the stuff and now you know, sells cannabis for a living which is always a fun family laugh as my dad and all of my like brothers and cousins are in law enforcement of some kind it makes

John Corcoran 29:57

for an interesting family. Graduate family reunions are a lot more fun as well. So that’s right. It’s good.

Kait LeDonne 30:05

A lot more relaxed. Now she brings party favors. Everybody’s very busy.

John Corcoran 30:08

That can be helpful for certain family reunions for sure. Well, Kait, this is great. Where can people go to connect with you and learn more about you and Brandwise?

Kait LeDonne 30:18

Definitely, brandwisemedia.com, I’m very active on LinkedIn, the most active of any social platform you can always drop me a line there cable Don, spelled like it is in the show notes. Kait LeDonne.

John Corcoran 30:32

Correct. Got it. Good. All right, Kait. Thanks so much. 

Outro 30:37

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.