Sales and Management Strategies With Brian Will

Brian Will is a serial entrepreneur and expert sales and management consultant. For over 35 years, he has founded seven companies across four industries, with a combined worth of over half a billion dollars. His first foray into owning his own business was a 10-year stint in the landscaping industry, which he started when he was twenty years old. He currently owns restaurants in Atlanta and manages a real estate business in Georgia and Florida. 

Brian is a keynote speaker and the author of NO… The Psychology of Sales and Negotiations, The Dropout Multi-Millionaire, and I Give The Dumb Kids Hope. He is also the host of The Dropout Multi-Millionaire Podcast and serves as a City Council Member at the City of Alpharetta.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran sits down with Brian Will, a serial entrepreneur, to discuss sales and management strategies. They also talk about Brian’s service in the military, the lessons he learned from the success and failure of his landscaping business, and tips for building a diversified clientele.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [01:52] Brian Will’s entrepreneurial background and his experience serving in the military
  • [05:45] The similarities between entrepreneurship and public service
  • [07:45] The lessons Brian learned from the success and failure of his landscaping company
  • [10:48] How to separate yourself from the daily running of your business and build a diversified clientele
  • [16:52] Brian’s transition and success in the insurance, restaurant, and real estate industries
  • [24:54] The effects of the pandemic on the restaurant industry
  • [29:36] Brian’s experience at Necker Island
  • [35:30] The peers who’ve had a significant impact on Brian’s life

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00

Today we are talking about sales and management strategies and how to sell more in today’s economy. And if you stick around until the end, you’ll hear a great story about hanging out at Necker Island, which is Sr. Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean. Our guest here today just recently got back from there. So we’re gonna hear all about it. And our guest, his name is Brian Will. I’ll tell you more about him in a second. So stay tuned.

Intro 0:27

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and thought leaders and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:44

Alright, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, and the host of this show. You know if you’ve listened before, you know that every week I talked to smart CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs and all kinds of companies we’ve had Netflix here at Kinkos YPO, EO activation Blizzard GrubHub. You name it, we’ve had Quicken. So check out the archives of some great episodes there. And of course, this episode’s brought to you by Rise25, where we help B2B businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing, and you can learn about how we do it and what we do at All right.

My guest here today is Brian Will. He’s an expert in sales and management consulting. He’s the author of a number of different books, including The Dropout Multi-Millionaire and NO… The Psychology of Sales and Negotiations. And also, and I love this the title of his first book was I Give The Dumb Kids Hope. And so over the span of about 35 years, Brian has founded seven companies across four industries, with a combined worth peaking at over half a billion dollars. And currently, he owns restaurants in Atlanta and manages a real estate business in Georgia and Florida, which he uses his plane to fly back and forth to which is a lot of fun. So, Brian, such a pleasure to have you here today. And I love to start everyone by harking all the way back to their childhood and hearing the stories of the little entrepreneurial side hustles that people had as a kid. And you got the idea to sell suckers are lollipops, from selling and buying them down your local store. Tell us all about it.

Brian Will 2:12

Hey, John, thanks for having me on the rising entrepreneur. This is actually a good story based on your title. But I was in eighth grade, we had a tiny laundromat and a little town I grew up in. I went in one day and realize that they sold these giant suckers for a dime. I took one to school the next day, and everybody wanted one of those suckers. And I thought I got a business here. You know, I’m 14 years old. So I went down to the laundromat the next day and bought like for suckers, brought it back to school and at lunchtime sold them for a quarter of a piece cost me 40 cents. I made a buck. And I thought man, I got a good business here. And so I kept doing that until somebody accidentally figured out where I was getting the suckers for a dime and put me out of business. So yeah.

John Corcoran 2:50

Did they undercut you and start selling them for 20 cents or something like that?

Brian Will 2:53

Well, the funny story is it was my best friend. And he said, “We’re gonna go in on this together.” And I said, no, no, this is my business. I’m going to do it. And then so he just went and bought the suckers and came and started selling them for 20. That’s actually a good business lesson because if your business doesn’t evolve, somebody else potentially is going to come right behind you and cut you right out of it. 

John Corcoran 3:15

Right good business lesson to learn at 14 years old. Maybe even your best friend, maybe even your best friend. Yeah, hold your friends close. Right. So you ended up going on and you actually started selling for Amway at 18 years old, I don’t know many 18-year-olds that started selling for Amway. And you actually got some good lessons from that experience.

Brian Will 3:34

I did, I was working at a pizza place and one of the managers of the pizza place talked me and my girlfriend into joining. And I tell you, I came from a rough childhood. There was no positive motivation in my household growing up. And you know, I never made any money in that business but was introduced to hundreds of books and mentors and people who had been successful, who would tell me I could do something, you know, I’d never had that in my life. So it really changed my life. I’ll tell you, I’ve never made any money, but from a positive mental attitude, changing my life and giving the drive. I’m glad that I went through that experience with them. 

John Corcoran 4:08

Did they have a lot of those types of businesses have these kinds of rah-rah conferences where you get together? Oh, yeah, inspirational speakers and stuff like that. So they had those sorts of things? They did.

Brian Will 4:19

Yep. Yeah, I went to all of them. I was I was a junkie for a while. And it was something I needed to do just like the military was something I needed to do, because I needed discipline. That was also something I needed to do because I needed to learn that I was capable and worthy of being more than I was at that age. So yes, it was it was good for me.

John Corcoran 4:37

And thank you for your service with that, by the way. So you served in the Ohio National Guard and then later in the Georgia National Guard. And there’s a funny story about how you ended up serving in two different states’ National Guard, which you don’t see very often. So tell us about that.

Brian Will 4:51

Yes, I was in the Air National Guard right out of high school in Ohio and then I moved down to Georgia. But then I really wanted to fly. I did not go to college and the Air Force would not let me fly. But there were some guys there that said, Hey, man, there’s an army base down at the other end of the runway. If you go down there, I’ll bet you, they’ll let you fly because they’ll let anybody fly. So I literally drove down there lunch one day and introduced myself to him and said, I want to fly with you guys. And they said, you’re in. So I switched from the Air Force to the Army and spent four years flying over one Mohawks for the Georgia Army National Guard.

John Corcoran 5:23

Wow, very cool. And now you have your license, and you have you fly around privately, as well. It’s, I’m actually really fascinated by this because my father was in the Air Force. My grandfather was in the Army Air Corps, which became the Air Force, Loopy 17 pilots during World War Two planes during World War Two. And you’ve got this background in, in the military. And you also served in the Georgia General Assembly House of Representatives. And, and now, you serve. On your, your, your… Sorry, I might have combined that with someone else’s background, but you serve on your local city council, city council, sorry. And, and, you know, it’s it’s, it’s sometimes people think that, that public service and military work are very different from entrepreneurship. But sometimes I think having served in government myself, and, and not having served in a uniform, but being, you know, the child of people who’ve been in the military, that there can be some similarities. In other words, you know, discipline is a great, you know, character that can help with entrepreneurship. But for you, what are the connections you make between your military background, your government service, and how it kind of connects to the entrepreneurial work that you’ve done?

Brian Will 6:45

You know, it’s a little bit of a discipline, it’s also learning and understanding how to operate in a diverse field of people, if that makes sense. So like, we have seven city council people, and we’re all different. So if you can learn to operate within a diverse group of seven people and still get things accomplished, much like in the military, you had people from all over the place all different education levels, from officers down to privates. You got to learn to, to execute, operate and be successful in that type of environment. And by the way, that’s exactly what we do as an entrepreneur. We have to be able to operate with different customers with different employees with executives with low level technicians. I should not have said low level that was a bad thing. I apologize. But yeah, you need to be able to operate at all levels to be successful.

John Corcoran 7:30

Right? Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, there’s people that have different educational backgrounds as people that have different, you know, amounts of wealth or upbringings. You know, some people come from extreme poverty and and end up in the military. Yeah, it’s kind of a great point. And you end up starting a landscaping company, which you grew and was really successful, in your words in till it wasn’t. Let’s start with the success first. Why was it successful? In the early days,

Brian Will 8:03

you know, I’ve always had a knack for being able to build companies all the way back to when I was 21. That didn’t require me to actually be doing all the work. And I call this ambitiously lazy, and very ambitious, but I’m willing to work really, really hard. But I would work really, really hard at figuring out how not to have to work really, really hard. We call this ambitiously lazy. And so I built a company that was kind of running on autopilot. And I was thinking of selling it. And the broker that I was talking to said, Hey, why don’t you franchise it. And so we did. And we ended up selling seven franchises. And we had four or five more rolling, and that company was really going big and strong. The problem is that 80% of our revenue against all the franchises, was done under one big general contractor that was doing big multifamily construction work, you’re doing construction and maintenance. And they brought in a new vice president of construction, and he wanted to bring his son in to run the landscaping division. And they fired us. And unfortunately, we had seven we had operational overhead and infrastructure big enough to manage all of their business, but they were 80% of my business. So when they went away, we still had all this infrastructure, overhead costs, leases, loans, trucks, equipment, and we couldn’t make the payments on them anymore. So that was our first big mistake. We were too wrapped up in one customer. And second mistake was we didn’t have any cash set aside no capital to cover us in case of a problem which this was a big problem. And so that first month, I couldn’t make payroll. I couldn’t make the payments on the invoices. I ended up bouncing like 130 checks that month to our our suppliers, which of course then they all fired me as a customer. The bank charged me $3,000 in debt, bounced check fees, and everything just kind of collapsed on itself. I was 29 years old. I had a three-year-old that had open heart surgery coming up in my whole world collapsed.

John Corcoran 9:59

Most of it is a good thing, isn’t?

Brian Will 10:00

It was terrible. But I learned two really, really good lessons that I carried with me for the rest of my life that have been helpful and every other business we’ve ever done. So what were the three lessons? Every failure becomes a success, never get too wrapped up in one customer. And always, always, always have enough cash set aside to take care of your business. If something happens, that’s a big one,

John Corcoran 10:23

you know, I think I’m my friend, how Dunbar who is has a company that’s in the pool service business. And he, like us started a business with the ambition to I’m gonna build this big business, I’m gonna get myself out of it, and I won’t be serving, I won’t be actually servicing the customers. And he found himself four or five days, four or five years into the business and he was still in the truck, he was still actually servicing it. For you with the landscaping business. Did you how long did take you to get yourself out of actual fulfilling the work? Or was that something that you hired people right from the get go? What was that process like?

Brian Will 11:02

You know, every new business owner has to wear every hat in his business, right. So that’s not something you can do automatically. But what we teach people, what I’ve always done is, instead of making money, and then using it to increase my lifestyle, I make money and I use it to hire other people to do the jobs within the business that frees my time up. And if I can delay gratify moving my lifestyle up or buying nice things, or nice cars, or whatever. And I can put a solid staff in place by spending all the money, I’ve got to get them, the net frees me to build that business, even bigger, make even more money, and then create the lifestyle that I intended to create. When I started the business, too many people started business to create a lifestyle. And much like your friend, they never create the lifestyle, because they use all the money they’ve got just to live.

John Corcoran 11:48

Yeah. Now I want to ask about the client concentration issue, because, you know, I’ve talked to a lot of business owners that have this type of challenge. And they never set out to have such deep client concentration 50 80% of their revenue coming from the client, but what ends up happening is just they have one client that keeps on hiring them for more and more and more, until it grows and grows and grows. And back when I was an attorney practicing law with my own boutique practice, I swear, you know, I confess, there were times when I had the same problem, I had one client that was the majority of my revenue. So what is your advice to clients you work with now that find themselves with that type of problem.

Brian Will 12:30

So the challenge here is that in order for you to get out of that relationship, you’ve got to bring somebody else in that can handle that client, ego problem with most entrepreneurs is that they say, Well, if I bring somebody on, they’re not going to be good enough, they’re not gonna be as good as me, they’re not gonna be as fast as me, and I’m not gonna do a good job of me. So I have to handle it. That’s the attitude that will keep you locked into a concentration of a client, you’ve got to understand that in order for you to branch out and grow and solidify and create a safety net for yourself, you’re going to have to bring people into your organization that are not as good as you, they’re never going to do as good a job as you. And that’s something you have to be okay with. And then you build the organization around that I always like to say, bring somebody in who’s 70 to 80% as good and you got a homerun, then you’d let them fail, you let them learn, and you allow your business to expand and get you out of those tasks. It’s tough to do sometimes, but you got to do it. You got to do as if you want to grow.