If you want business flocking to your door, do whatever it is you offer to the best of your ability. [03:06]
Luck isn’t just what happens to fall into your lap. You can create good fortune for yourself. [04:44]
Are you proactive in creating and offering better solutions? Real winners don’t rest on their laurels. [06:36]
Learning is good. Learning without applying what you learn, however, is pointless and helps no one. [08:09]
Beware of bright shiny object syndrome. It’s boring, behind-the-scenes stuff that sustains and grows a business. [10:16]
Very little success happens overnight. Be ready for long-haul effort and resist the urge to tap out early when things get tough. [12:58]
It’s much easier to reach 1M once you’ve made your first 100K. [17:05]
Perfectionism is the enemy of growth. James and Kan both advocate the minimum viable product that gets things moving fast. [20:13]
Are you being overly conservative in your business efforts? Consider bolder moves, with the long-term payoff in mind. [25:22]
It isn’t a team of A-players you need. It’s a team that works well, that knows you, and that sticks around. [27:43]
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
How do you grow an agency to seven figures in just a year and a half? James has invited Kan Huang, who did just that, to share the most valuable lessons gained from his journey.
This is an episode that will benefit not just agency owners, as Kan’s points are general enough to apply to any online business – in fact, to any business in general.
One more reason to do good work
First up, good work creates more work. What does that mean?
Well, says Kan, some people put in the hard work of getting leads and making sales, while promising the world, but fall flat when it comes to the actual work. So you’ve got to be actually really good at what you promise you’re going to do.
This may seem obvious, but too many people don’t deliver, especially in the agency world.
And, Kan says, if you do great work, your customers will be happy. They’ll champion you and refer people to you, and that will be your number one form of marketing.
So instead of more marketing and more sales, consider doing more great work, because that will drive more business to your door.
Make more luck for yourself
Lesson two, you can manufacture your own luck. Seneca said, Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. It borders on platitude, but James believes it. If you do put yourself in more of the right situations, you’re increasing the odds that something could come your way for success. How does Kan interpret it?
Kan recalls when his agency lost a fairly important client, which quite upset them. The following week, however, a massive client came along, out of nowhere. Kan put it down to luck. But over time, he realized it was not a one-off thing. It kept happening.
And it hit him that, quite unconsciously, he had been manufacturing his good luck. He’d been putting himself out there, networking, marketing, talking to people, which lead to conversations and eventually leads and business coming to his agency. And it’s worked out very nicely for him and his team.
Lesson number three is, you need to constantly try and find new ways to improve and deliver greater value.
Kan’s business, Social Wave, started out as just a video production company. And over time, they started to learn about algorithms, and to stack on knowledge around copywriting, ad creatives, a whole range of skill sets they didn’t have at the start.
And Kan’s found that a lot of growth opportunities came through things they didn’t have initially as an offering or product.
Also, if you have an open mind, and you explore new ways to improve and deliver greater value, sometimes that comes through in terms of being more proactive to your clients. While helping them with one thing, you can suggest other ways in which you can be useful to them.
James loves this. It means you’re tuned into your client, and that you’re not resting on your laurels. It brings in ideas of innovation, of Kaizen, a cycle of never-ending improvement.
Are you actually applying what you learn?
Lesson number four: Stop fetishizing learning and get good at deploying.
Kan can speak on this from personal experience. In earlier days he would buy online courses and get books, and be learning, learning, learning, but never deploying.
Learning is fine, but if you never apply anything there’s very little point. So Kan made a rule for himself: as soon as he learned something, he wouldn’t move on to learning anything new without deploying what he’d just learned.
So he would learn something – it might be about copywriting, or the YouTube algorithm – and he’d apply it within his business. And once he got good at it, only then would he go on to learn something new.
The boring stuff is important
Lesson five, do the boring work. And when you think you’ve done enough, do more of it.
Sounds exciting, says James.
Exciting and boring, says Kan. But it’s probably one of the big reasons why he works with James – to keep on the straight and narrow. Not that James is boring. But like many people, Kan is susceptible to shiny object syndrome, and James reins him in.
Yes, James says. Visionaries are a nightmare to work with. Sometimes you have to say no to new ideas and put up the bumper rails, as in a 10-pin bowling alley. You came to get a strike, let’s not go and play golf yet.
“Stay in your lane, don’t get distracted, and just keep doing the boring work.” – Kan Huang
Kan has an uncle who runs a $100 million business. And Kan asked him, What’s the secret to growing such a big business? His uncle responded, Stay in your lane, don’t get distracted, and just keep doing the boring work. And when you think you’ve done enough, do more of it.
There are times Kan wants to try many, many different things. But what he’s found is, if you spread yourself too thin, and try to do too many things at once, you end up doing none of it great. It all comes out mediocre.
So Kan’s narrowed his focus to the growth of his agency, and blocked out distractions.
Cheers to that kind of discipline, says James. But you’ll find almost everyone who’s achieved success has been through some difficult times. There’s the Olympic athletes driving at four in the morning to the track to work out. And if you push through the difficulty and the boredom, that’s where you get success.
Have a long runway
Lesson six, business success can be predicated on having a long runway.
This is something Kan really underestimated, he says. In the world of marketing, it’s all about quick results – the hacks and the silver bullets, the overnight millionaire. He had the notion you could hit seven figures in three or six months. Prior to making the goal in eighteen months, he didn’t understand how long it actually takes.
Now 18 months seems like a short time. But it seemed very long, because day to day he was slogging away, for a year and a half. The way to seven figures was not linear. There’s be ups and downs – loss of clients, loss of staff, restructuring, some bumpy roads. The real lesson, Kan guesses, is to stay the course.
If you’ve made $100,000, a million is much easier
Lesson seven, making your first $100,000 is way harder than making your first million.
Kan knows this from experience and from talking with other business owners. You’re nobody at the start. For the first $100,000 you make, you’re really slugging it out – you’re trying to make a name for yourself, grow your reputation, get the awareness out there about what you do.
The first million is different, because from 100,000 to a million, you’ve got social proof, you’ve got results, you’ve got a track record, and generally that bodes well for you.
And it leads back in a way to the first lesson: good work creates more work. Provided you’re a good operator, and you deliver on the value that you promise, and your product or service is great, Kan believes once you build up the velocity of making your first $100,000, the progress to get to one million is actually far more straightforward.
Do it fast
Now, number eight is speed over everything. Social Wave doesn’t aim for perfection. Kan and his team are really just trying to get the minimum viable product out there. They believe in decorating deploying. They learn something, they improve what it is they do, and they deploy that as quick as possible.
It’s the idea of, let’s not worry about all the bells and whistles of a car, let’s just get the four wheels into the chassis and the frame of the car out there.
A lot of time, says Kan, business owners have very high standards, whereas customer expectations can sometimes be a bit lower than you expect. So don’t focus too much on perfectionism. Just focus on speed. How do I get this out as quick and as efficiently as possible?
James has been a fan of speed. He’s absolutely not a perfectionist. And he even named his business SuperFastBusiness. He’s dropped that now, though, recognizing there’s other elements besides just speed. And it’s not just about quality or being a perfectionist, it’s about having some art or creativity in what you do.
And there are things that you should actually be slow with. Big decisions like, who are you going to marry? Where will you live? Who are you going to serve? Where will you spend all your time in the next 10 years? Those decisions shouldn’t be made quickly.
Kan has been handsomely rewarded for being quick. These lessons, he says, however, are hyperboles. And one rule of Jeff Bezos’ that he’s followed is, If it’s a reversible decision, move quickly on it. But if it’s an irreversible decision, think very carefully.
Go on offense early
Lesson number nine is, go on offense earlier than you think you need to. Sounds provocative, says James.
This one was a bit of a mindset shift, Kan says. Up until, he wants to say, six months ago, business was on defense. It was in a sort of preservation mode – How do I take money off the table? How do I minimize risk?
He talked to other business owners who’d been there, and they talked about going on offense.
If you need more leads, why don’t you hire a sales and marketing coordinator? Why don’t you get a business development manager? Why don’t you hire someone in your team who can actually go out there and focus on that one area?
It would cost more in wages, he thought reflexively. His payroll would blow out.
Going on offense earlier than you think you need to is a lesson in understanding that you don’t need to worry about taking money off the table. You don’t need to worry as much about going into the red.
These are things that can be taken care of down the track, and you should be more aggressive than you think you need to, because the results of going on offense are actually far better in the long run. It’s a lesson in risk management and seeing things through a different lens.
“Don’t sell off the back foot.” – Derek Delooper
If James were to summarize number nine, it would be, be bold with your advance. He recalls a mentor who said, don’t sell off the back foot. This was for salespeople who were shy and waited for the customer so they could react to them. Get out there, he meant. Be a go-getter.
Continuity leads to success
Number 10: Continuity leads to success. James already loves the sound of it. How does Kan explain it?
“You don’t need a team of superstars, you need a team that is just familiar and stays with you.” – Kan Huang
For a business like an agency, says Kan, he has a very strong feeling about continuity, particularly around team members. You don’t need a team of superstars, he says, you need a team that is just familiar and stays with you.
Kan is speaking James’s language. James is sick of hearing how everyone has to be an A player and hire people who are the best in their field. That has not been his experience.
Kan thinks of a team as in football. You might have two or three A-grade superstars…
All my team are amazing, says James.
There you go, says Kan. However, typically you need a mix of different roles. A-graders drive the business. They’re your leaders, your senior guys. They know what’s going on, they propel the business forward. Then you need role players, guys who have areas of specialization. And you’ve got your bench players who do a bit of everything – they have more utility and can sort of cover three or four areas.
If you have this good mix and this continuity, which is really key here, says Kan, and keeping the same team, that will lead to great success.
The wash, rinse and repeatable processes help you succeed in business. If you’re continually firing and hiring and making changes, no one can keep up, and things become too founder-centric. And then you don’t have a business. You just have a very well-paid job, essentially.
Kan has recently decided to help a few agencies figure out their own business growth on a one-to-one consulting basis. And for an idea of his track record, in his business up till now, he’s helped more than 50 companies, generating over $15 million in revenue for them.
If you’d like help getting the same kind of growth Kan’s achieved, he and his team are at socialwave.com.au.
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