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Bryan Clayton’s Exit Insights: Preparing Your Business for Maximum Valuation and an Optimal Outcome

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Bryan Clayton’s Exit Insights: Preparing Your Business for Maximum Valuation and an Optimal Outcome

By , March 29, 2024
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Are you ready to uncover the unexpected truth about maximising business exit valuation? Brace yourself for a surprising revelation that will change the way you think about building and selling a business. Get ready to be amased as we unveil the key to unlocking higher business exit valuations. You won’t believe what you’re about to discover! Stay tuned for an eye-opening insight that will leave you eager for more.

Bryan Clayton is a seasoned entrepreneur with a remarkable track record in building and selling businesses. As the former CEO of a landscaping company, he successfully grew it to eight figures in revenue before orchestrating a strategic sale. Bryan’s journey is a testament to the power of smart financial management, meticulous planning, and the art of positioning a service-based business for maximum valuation.

Today, Bryan is the CEO of GreenPal, a pioneering platform in the landscaping industry, which he’s grown to serve over 300,000 customers, generating an impressive $30 million a year in revenue. With 22 years of experience in the lawn landscaping and garden industry, Bryan is a sought-after expert in business growth and exit planning.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Maximise your business exit valuation by implementing strategic planning techniques that yield higher returns.
  • Gain valuable insights and lessons learned from experienced business owners about the realities of starting and growing a successful business.
  • Discover effective strategies for acquiring and integrating businesses to expand your company’s reach and profitability.
  • Learn the crucial role of customer feedback in driving business growth and how to leverage it for sustainable success.
  • Uncover the importance of developing efficient business systems and structures to streamline operations and maximise productivity.

Importance of Advisors

Running a business is a mammoth task, more so if you’re working towards an exit strategy. Having the right advisors by your side could be a game-changer in this process. They provide the correct guidance, valuable insights, and the much-needed expertise that could aid in making informed decisions, thereby protecting the financial interests of the entrepreneur. Bryan Clayton’s discussion about the importance of bringing in advisors, particularly when considering selling a business, was a key point in the podcast. Bryan stressed the relevance of finding a broker who possesses expertise in the specific industry the business operates in. The right broker wouldn’t just guide about the existing business market but also help position the business for sale. This brings credibility and assures potential buyers about the feasibility of their investment.

Self-Awareness and Leadership

Entrepreneurs, as leaders, have the immense responsibility of steering the ship of their enterprise. Often this responsibility comes with the requirement of intense introspection, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and improving upon them. This level of self-awareness not only helps drive the business in the right direction but also aids in personal development. An insightful aspect of Bryan’s conversation centered around the importance of self-awareness in leadership. Speaking about his own journey, he discussed how he had learned to check his energy and behavior to set a fitting example for his team. Bryan’s emphasis on self-awareness as a crucial leadership trait brings the necessary balance between personal development, team motivation, and business success. This deeper understanding of the impact a leader’s behavior and energy can have on the overall business culture is a valuable lesson for all entrepreneurs.

Shifting from a service-based business to a sales-focused approach
Existing in a service-based industry doesn’t necessarily limit a business to that particular categorisation. As with all smart entrepreneurs, recognising the potential for expansion beyond the current business model is crucial to ensure long-term sustainability. This often involves shifting focus towards sales and customer acquisition, which also act as the backbone of any business. On this note, Bryan shared an interesting take during the podcast. He talked about how he understood that while his service was lawn care, he was truly in the sales business. As essential as the actual service-providing aspect was, Bryan realised it was equally essential to develop a strong sales strategy. His vision to look beyond just serving and giving equal importance to selling as well, led to a remarkable acceleration in his business growth.

Watch the episode here:

Welcome to the podcast that’s dedicated to helping business owners prepare for exit so you can maximise valuation and exit on your terms. This is the Exit Insights podcast presented by Succession Plus. I’m Darryl Bates-Brownsword, and today I’m joined by Bryan Clayton. Bryan has, well, he’s been there and he’s done that and he’s got a couple of t-shirts to prove it. Hey, welcome for the show, Bryan, and thank for joining me today.

Well, Darryl, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Yeah, excellent. So, Bryan, you’re one of those guys. You started from scratch, you built up a business, you learned a few lessons along the way. You got burned. I think you were sharing earlier, you learned from that, you turned it around. And have successfully exited your business. Classic business owner didn’t learn anything. So he’s going to go again and thought, what the heck? Let’s start in a brand new industry and why don’t I learn all those lessons again in a new industry. Is that a fair summary?

Yeah, pretty fair statement. I am CEO of a company called GreenPal. And GreenPal is a mobile app that works kind of like Uber, but for lawn mowing services and GreenPal is nationwide, United States. Around 300,000 people using it to get lawn mowing. But before GreenPal, I actually had a lawn care company. I used to mow grass for a living. And I started mowing yards in high school and in college. And then after college, made a little business plan and ended up building a decent sized landscaping company of around 150 employees and got it to $8 million a year in revenue. And then it was acquired by a national company in 2013. So started that business, just me and a push mower ended up growing it to about 90 trucks going out every day, and then got it acquired, which doesn’t happen very often in a home services business like that. And I learned a lot, learned a lot in that first company. Learned how nobody teaches us how to run a business, nobody teaches us how to lead people and manage people, and certainly nobody teaches us how to sell a business. So I had to kind of learn all of that on my own, just through trial and error.

Yeah, absolutely. So, out of curiosity, what did you study at college? What did you focus on?

Well, I went to business school. I got a degree in Business Management, but I didn’t really learn anything about what it means to run a real business in the trenches. In fact, that was one of the weird things when I was in business school. I went nights and weekends for seven years. And so I was doing part time studies and running my little business. And by the time I graduated college, I had five or ten employees. And there was this disconnect of the things I was learning in business school that didn’t really map to what I was experiencing as a business owner. And none of it was really relatable. It was all theory, none of it was practical. I wouldn’t say a waste of time. But if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have gone to a college that was a waste of time.

Yeah, it’s not the first time I’ve heard that. And someone said to me once, if nothing else, he said, look, going to college and learning all the theory just gave me confidence that what I was doing was right anyway, and that academics are behind the eight ball, especially when it comes to owner managed small businesses where they’re very dynamic, they’re very intuitive, and the owners really have their hand and finger on the pulse and have a strong idea of what’s really going on in their marketplace.

Totally. I think if you’re not going to start a business, then, yeah, go to college, but basically what a degree most degrees do for you. It just tells an employee, an employer, that, hey, I stuck this out, I got it done. I’m the kind of person that can do that. But if you’re going to go into business for yourself, you can learn more about what it means to run a business by starting one in a weekend and getting five customers than you will. In five years of business school.

Yeah, that’s for sure. So you started, well, a lawn mower business while you were at college. When you started that business, did you have any idea of where it was going to end up, or did you start it with that? Here’s a way to make some money and pay the bills to keep me going until I get a real job.

Very much started off as a practical matter. In fact, it went all the way back to 15 years old. And I was pissed off that my parents wouldn’t buy me the pair of soccer cleats I wanted. So I thought, well, I’m going to go make the money to buy the good cleats I want. And it was a good thing they didn’t buy me those cleats, because that gave me the ambition to go out. And hustle up some customers. But after that, I kind of worked through levels of the game, so to speak. And I guess level two of the game was, man, I could really build something here. I don’t like the lawn mowing business. I don’t like mowing yards. I don’t like landscaping. But this could be my vehicle to create something that I could build, something that would have employees and that could grow and be bigger than myself. So I kind of had a chip on my shoulder for that, I guess you could say.

Yeah, well, there’s two things there. First one is I’m getting the tough love by parents and going, look, we’re not going to give you everything you want. Good things don’t land in your lap. You’ve got to earn them. So you went and totally. And the other thing, how long were you running this business? So you’re earning some money. How long had you been running it for? And what sort of age were you when you decided, hang on a sec. This doesn’t just have to be income for me. I can turn this into a business and generate extra income beyond just getting family and friends and people down the street for clients and customers.

Yeah. It was a real practical conversation in my head. I was getting done with college, and. I started doing some basic math, and. I saw that if I was going to go into the job market and start all over again in a career path, that I was going to take a pay cut. I was actually making pretty darn good money just running this small little home services business.

And I thought, I’ve got three or four employees now. If I had ten, made a little business plan, it could look like this. And then what if I could double it again? And then I started noticing luckily, I was in a thriving community, Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States. And it was growing. And I started noticing, okay, well, these people are going to need more of my services. And this company across town is running ten trucks every day. And I heard they were doing two or $3 million a year in revenue that could be me. This could be my lane. And I kind of had a chip on my shoulder to prove to myself that I could do it. After I got to a point of maybe 10 or 20 employees, then I started to realise that it’s not about the chip on my shoulder now. It’s about my people that work for me. It’s about my stakeholders. It’s about my customers. So it kind of like, as you work through the levels of the game, you unlock these greater feelings of satisfaction and purpose and fulfillment. It was a very fun thing to experience as a young man, and I still experience it today, 20 years later running green palette. The growth and the prosperity of it is what gives me fulfillment.

Yeah. So you end up with three or four employees how much bigger? Did you keep growing that before? So you’re looking after employees. You’re serving the community reading between the lines. You started extending the service offering to your clients instead of just mowing lawns, you moved into landscaping as well. So the value add, the upsell, if you like. Do you want fries with that? How far did you take the business, Bryan?

Yeah, I think I had an epiphany, maybe year five, that I actually wasn’t in the landscaping business at all, that I was in the sales business, that I had to figure out a sales engine at the core of the business and figure out a way to connect what it was that we did with potential customers that needed our services. Because I was banging my head against the wall, competing on price with all of my competitors.

And it’s a very hyper competitive industry. It’s low barriers to entry, and the margins are already pretty thin. So I had to develop a sales process to where I could pitch clients on. Okay, this is what we do. This is how we do it differently. This is why you should work with us instead of our competitors. Here’s what we can do for you. In fact, actually doing trial runs where we would just go clean up somebody’s property, like McDonald’s, they became a big customer of ours, and we would show them, demonstrate to them how we were different. And I created a little sales process around that and was able to start landing bigger contracts, 50,000, $100,000 a year contracts. And that’s how we were able to scale the business from 500k to a million to ultimately around 8 million a year in revenue.

Okay, so an $8 million a year lawn mowing and landscaping business. So you had some pretty good commercial clients. I’m guessing that a lot of them stuck around for a long time. You worked with them for a while.

Yeah, totally. It was really hard to get a customer in that business. It’s hard to work your way in the door to pitch them, to earn that business. So once you’ve earned it, you got to keep it.

And that was one of the hard lessons I learned in that business early on, was we were keeping accounts for one year, and I thought, there’s no reason to work on the sales process until I can fix this problem. I got a leaky bucket. So started to work on that, started to just straight up ask our customers, what is it that we’re doing that’s pissing you off? What do you wish we would do differently? What do you wish that we would do that we’re not doing and that was hard because I didn’t want to hear that feedback. But that’s what I needed to do at the time to fix the leaky bucket in the business. And ultimately, that was one of the reasons why we were able to get the business acquired was because we had really strong retention. You can’t build a successful business off of unsatisfied customers.

Totally. The awareness and the aha moment of you going, hang on a sec, I need to fix my sales. I need to create a pitch that entices and demonstrates the value to these commercial type customers so that they see that I can deliver and that they want to work with me and my business rather than someone else. And then down the track, another aha and awareness moment of, well, hang on, I’m winning the clients now, but they’re only staying with me a year. I’ve got to make sure that they stick around for the long term. Those awareness points and realisations, did they come about in hindsight from the college studies, or did you get some sort of consultant in? Did you have someone else in that was helping you make these realisations?

Yes. Certainly didn’t come from college. They don’t teach you things like retention and customer service and value proposition and differentiation in business school. You think they would, but they don’t. And so, a lot of times in business, you’re just putting in the reps, and you’re getting the reps in, and you’re figuring out what’s working and what’s not working, and then you’re going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.

And if you’re a good founder, you make mistakes, but you don’t make the same mistake twice. And you try to figure out what is the root cause of what is going wrong in the business, and you fix that, and you improve that, and it’s never done. You’re always making it better and better. And so those two aha moments came from a year, two years, maybe even. Three years of doing it wrong, getting upset, getting fired up, getting pissed off, and then realising the simple truth of in business, everything is your fault. You cannot blame market conditions. You cannot blame employees. You cannot blame suppliers, the government, the taxman, whatever. It’s all your fault. It all begins and ends with you. And that was, I guess, an epiphany that I had that coincided with the other two of I built this. This is all an extension of me and my efforts. So if customers are canceling the business after a year, they’re canceling me and what’s wrong with me, yes, my employee is servicing the accounts, but I didn’t train them right at some point, or I don’t have a good training system, or I don’t have a good quality assurance system. And so a lot of times it just comes from banging your head against the wall and doing it wrong and. Then coming to realisation that you got to take action, you got to fix it. These days, we have YouTube university and things like that to learn these things. But back then, it was just doing it wrong and then trying to figure out how to do it right.

Yeah, but I think there’s more to it than have to know that you’re doing a number of pitches and not getting them all and understanding your conversion rate. You must have been keeping records of those sort of things to be able to know. Right. And not everyone knows what they should be monitoring and what reports they should be producing to give them visibility and how often they should be looking at those reports. So what was your mindset around that? How did you decide what to measure?

Yeah, a lot of times it’s funny. I’ll read books now, 20 years later. One of my favorite books about this kind of stuff is Atomic Habits. And in that book, he talks about, we don’t rise to the level of our goals. We fall back to the level of our habits. And that’s how it’s always been for me in business. I would have a goal that, okay, we got to break a million dollars a year in revenue this year, and then a year would go by and. We didn’t hit it. And then I would get pissed off and upset, and the goal almost didn’t matter.

It was, what are the daily routines? What are the daily habits in the business? And so I was able to kind of figure out that, okay, well, that means that we have to close 100K a month in business. So what do we got to do to do that? Okay, well, we have to pitch at least 20 customers. Okay, I got to pitch 20 customers, and I got to close seven or eight of them. Okay, well, how do I do that? Well, I got to get on the phone and contact at least ten or 20 people a day to get those pitch meetings. So it became real clear that the output of a million dollars a year increase in sales really boiled down to ten to 20 pitches a day. And so that’s what I did. I didn’t worry about anything else other than fixing that habit, that routine. And then once I got that down. Okay, well, now my closing sucks. Well, what is it? Well, because what I’m selling is not differentiated. I’m selling the same thing everybody else is, and they’re picking the lowest price. I got to figure out how to differentiate that. So I worked on that piece of it. And this stuff’s not rocket science, but it is difficult. And a lot of times in business we’re sold this lie, this myth that if you work hard, success will come. And, yeah, you do have to work hard, but you also have to do the difficult stuff. And the difficult stuff is the systems, the processes, the tracking of this stuff and figuring out what’s working, what’s not. That stuff’s difficult. It hurts the brain, and that’s what. I don’t really want to do. But if you want to get to the next level in business, you have to. You have to work on the difficult work.

You got to work hard, but on the right things.

Yep. Work hard on the difficult tasks.

Yeah. So this is gold right here, Bryan. You’re saying it’s not hard, but you got to work on the right things. You’ve got to be measuring, you’ve got to be monitoring these things, and you’ve got to have daily habits that will point you. If I keep working on these daily habits, they will lead to the outcomes, the goals, results I’m looking for. If I don’t work on these source items, then I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t achieve the outcomes I’m looking for.

Totally work on the inputs and the outputs will follow. The problem is we all just stare at the output and get pissed off and we don’t hit it and really. Get to focus on the inputs.

So I sense I’m talking to someone, a bit of a sage here, so I’m going to put you on the spot. And have you got some mantras or a list of golden rules that you follow that you just keep locked away in the back of your mind. You go like, here’s my things that I must do.

Yeah. There’s one in the first business and the second business that I always have. To beat into my head, and it’s. Listen to your customers or you will have none. And at times I get pissed off. And annoyed at insatiable customer demands. We all do, especially these days. It seems like particularly the American consumer is insatiable and they can be difficult to work with. And you always have to tell yourself as the founder, that this feedback is. Not happening to you. It’s happening for you. This is free R and D. You don’t have to have an R and D department if you just talk to customers every day, because they will always tell you, what are the two or three things that you’re doing that’s pissing them off and what they wish you would do differently, and then you have to go to work solving those problems. Even to this day with GreenPal, we have 300,000 people using the app every week. I don’t personally handle the customer service for all of them, but I do at least one or 2 hours a day of actual in the trenches customer support. So email, tickets, answering the phone that comes into the main 1800 number, live chat, things like that. So I can always not have this gap between my perception and the customer’s perception that we’re all looking at the same problems the same way, and that I’m never at a loss for what we should be focusing the team on. It’s free R and D. So my mantra is, listen to your customers or you will have none.

So I love that, and I’ve written that down, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing that again. So you get in the trenches and you listen to the feedback from the customers. Now, there’s a couple of schools of thoughts out there, and let’s just break it down into left and right. There’s one school of thought that says, the customer’s always right. And there’s another school of thought that says, well, the customer’s not always right. So what do you do when the customer’s going, hey, Bryan, but we want you to do this. And you go, yeah, but our business is not set up to do that. Our factory, if you like, isn’t designed to deliver that. If I try and deliver that to you, I’m not going to give you a good experience. So in those scenarios, the customer is not always right. People who advocate that go, we got to be true to our vision. And this is the problem we’re trying to solve. How do you reconcile that when customers are giving you feedback and going, we want you to do this, but you go, it’s not the direction we want to go in?

Yeah, that’s part of what makes a good founder is being able to cut through what is good feedback. What I mean by that is, is it your ideal customer, your ideal segment that is giving you this feedback? Is it who you’ve built the business for? And if it’s in that camp of customer segment, then that’s good feedback. If it’s somebody who’s not a good fit for the business, who’s not your ideal segment, then you really can’t just be all things to all people, because that’s a good way to dilute your value proposition. And so you always have to be looking at your value proposition and honing that and figure out what that is. And the way I like to think about value proposition is if I’m your ideal customer. Meaning for GreenPal is, do I have a basic yard with grass that’s 2ft tall and I need somebody to mow it? If I’m your ideal customer, why would I do business with you versus anybody else? And then the answer is because well, because X, Y and Z. Because I can get this without having to do that, even if it’s this. So with GreenPal, I can get a lawn mowing service to show up today without making a phone call, even if it’s 3ft tall. And so that’s how we think about value proposition. So if it’s somebody who’s telling us, hey, I need a basic lawn mowing service for every week for the rest of the year. I tried your system. I got four quotes. I hired one. The guy showed up and he wouldn’t honor the price. Well, if we hear that point of feedback ten times in a week, we got to fix that problem. And you can’t say, well, they are just unreasonable and it was bigger than they thought and the grass was taller or whatever, it’s like, no, that’s a problem. Now, if they were saying, yeah, we. got a lawn guy to come out, but I’m really looking for a private gardener to plant some lavender around the back patio. And I want somebody to create, like a Zen garden in the backyard. That ain’t us. That’s not what we do. We are not Uber for Zen Gardens. We’re Uber for lawn care. And so you got to really figure out who your ideal customer is. And then when they speak, you got to listen, you got to organise their feedback into a place where you can take action on.

That’s brilliant feedback, Bryan. Thank you. So let’s move it on. Know, back to the lawn care business at some point you decided you were going to sell it and then you had to go down the route of selling it. How did that unfold for you?

For me? I didn’t build that business to intend to sell it. I wish somebody had shaken me at year five and said, hey, you need to really think about this. If you’re going to ever want to sell this business, you need to run this business this way. And if you’re not going to sell it, then you need to run it this way, because the way you run a business that you intend to sell versus the way you run a lifestyle business are vastly different. The way I like to think about it is you can run your business. From the heart or you can run it from the spreadsheet.

And a lot of times it’s hard to do both. And if you’re going to ever sell the business, you really need to run it by the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet really dictates a lot of the decision making. I did it. I ran the business from the heart. Here I am, 10,12 years in, and I had this epiphany moment where I realised that I had personally plateaued as a founder. The business was challenging to run, but I was no longer growing and evolving as a founder. I was no longer being challenged by new things, and I became discontent about that, because for ten or twelve years, here I am evolving and going through levels of the game and becoming a whole new person every year or two. I think if you’re throwing everything you’ve got into a business, you evolve into a whole new person every two years. And I no longer had that satisfaction from the business. And so I thought, well, maybe I can get this business acquired. I’ve seen bigger companies and bigger markets do it. I’m going to explore that. And from the moment I had that thought to the moment that I was able to get it sold was a little over two years, and I had to really take the business back down to the studs and rebuild it from the inside out and begin to run it from the spreadsheet. And it was a very painful process. But I guess it was the final level of the game for that journey for me, and it was rewarding in its own right. And I was glad I was able to get it sold. And that created a space for me to then become a tech entrepreneur and build GreenPal.

Okay. I’ve heard that referred to as career boredom before, when you’ve just reached the plateau and you’ve gone, hey, look, I can either totally transform my role in the business, and some people decide to succession themselves out and they still have ownership of the business, but they’re not hands on and they’re just running or leading and inspiring the business. Others go, look, I’ve just got to get out of this business. I need a total change. So for you, did someone approach you? Did you approach someone? How did you value the business?

Yeah, it was very much a push. That type of business is hard to sell because very rarely do they run without the owner at the helm. There’s oftentimes very little differentiation between one landscaping company and another. There’s not a lot of moats around the business. So we had to figure out ways to strengthen all of that. And so it was very much a push. One good decision that I did make was I worked with a broker that specialised in what they call the green industry, which is landscaping, lawn care, fertilising, things like that. So he had kind of the Rolodex of players in that space that were acquiring companies of my size.

So that helped us and he was very quickly able to look at everything we had going on. And say, yeah, you got to fix this, this, and this. You got to make this higher. This person you’ve got is redundant. And so you need to make that salary over here with this type of person, and you got too much overhead over here. So that’s one of the things we. Started to work on, is fixing all those problems that took a couple of years, and then we were able to get it in a position where it could be acquired. I oftentimes tell people a lot of times you want to sell your business because you feel like this. I’m exhausted. I hate my customers. I hate my employees. I hate this business. I hate going here every day. I just want out. Somebody buy it.

Yeah.

That is not a position in which to begin exploring an exit.

Exactly.

For a lot of reasons. One, nobody’s going to buy your problems. Two, if you are desperate to get out of the business, the acquirer is going to smell that like blood and they are going to wear you out and beat you down. So really, you kind of have to. Be like, this is where you need to be. Business is going great. It’s growing, runs smooth. I enjoy it. I could sell it. I could not. I kind of want to explore some other things, but I don’t have to sell it now. But if the right fit came along, then maybe that’s the position you got to be in. And I learned that the hard way.

Yeah. So what I heard is you also benchmarked your financials to make sure that you were operating financially. You’re efficient compared to others in the marketplace. You were operating from financial efficiency perspective. So great profits for the size of the business, then the next one is also structural efficiency. So is the business running? Do you need to be in the business? Are you running the business, or are you running in the business on a day to day basis? 

And it sounds like you got the business in a position where you were running the business rather than running in it. So that you weren’t immersed and therefore feeling and experiencing all that stress so you could go, hey, the business runs great without me. I don’t need to be there every day to make it happen. If you want to buy it, great. But it’s not taxing me too much. If you don’t want to buy it.

Exactly. You can’t be in a position where you’re feeling like if I left for a weekend, this business would implode. And that’s the way most small businesses operate. It should run smoothly if you step away.

Yeah. So that’s one of the key criteria I look at when I think of exit readiness or is the business exitable? Well done and it sounds like your broker. So key tip there, get a broker or M & A advisor who specialises in your industry because they know who’s acquiring and they know what you need to do. They can point you in the right direction to make it look attractive, or be attractive, rather, to those acquirers. They know what buyers are looking for and they can tell you if your business is sellable.

Exactly. That was one of the only lucky things that I experienced selling the business was at least I had a guy who had been around the block, had sold 20 or 30 of these companies, knew the niche, knew the vertical, and knew all of the nuances around that. Had I not done that, I probably would have never gotten it sold.

Okay, so great advice there, and I know we’ve sort of skimmed through it. But the next bit I want to. Pick up on is just to explore. You sold the business, I think you then had some time off and then you’ve started a new business, but kind of in the same industry, but a totally different product in the same industry.

What I want to know, Bryan, is starting the new business effectively from scratch. What lessons did you consciously apply and have been applying in running this new. Business that you learned from the whole. Process of building, growing and exiting the old business?

Yeah, that’s one of the cool things about running a home services business. Lawn mowing, roof repair, pressure washing, pool cleaning, it doesn’t matter. You can learn about 80% of what goes into running any business in a very approachable small business. So what I like to tell folks is like, hey, get some reps in running a small home renovation company for a couple of years, and then you learn things like sales, leadership, management, hiring, firing, legal, HR, marketing, bookkeeping. The list goes on and on and on and on and on. Of all the things that you learn running your own business.

And then you can apply those to the next thing. And so that’s kind of how I experienced it. The first company taught me, like the 80-20 of what it means to be a founder, to be an entrepreneur, to be a good leader, to know what you’re looking for when you’re hiring people, to know when it’s time to fire somebody, to know what you need to do in terms of differentiating yourself into the marketplace. I learned all that in the first 15 years. So then when I started GreenPal, I had learned all those lessons that I didn’t make the same mistakes around hiring the wrong people and keeping them on too long.

That’s a big mistake that a lot of new founders make. So I was able to avoid all. Those mistakes, but there was a lot. Of things that were different starting GreenPal here we are, we’re inventing an app. We’re inventing a new product, a new way of doing things. And I didn’t anticipate how challenging that was going to be. There’s a big difference between running a traditional small business, a construction company, a restaurant, a car wash, whatever, versus inventing an app that will have somebody come out and wash your car for you.

Those are two different things, two different journeys. And so I didn’t know how challenging that piece was going to be, trying to figure out, just through trial and error, how do we make this product? How do we get people to use it?

So that was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. But at least I had all of the other stuff learned. I had the scars, and I didn’t make all of those mistakes again. So then I kind of started on second base, I guess you’d say.

Okay. So getting the right people, getting the right people, doing the right things, and knowing who does what in the business. Right. What about standard ways of doing things? What are your thoughts around systems and structures to guide people around what they should be doing day in, day out? That, I guess, helps with your monitoring that we talked about earlier.

Yeah, this was a big mistake I made in the first company, my first two or three employees, or maybe even five or ten, it was basically all of us were doing the same thing. And it was like we were all just trying to make customers happy. And nobody had any real clear roles, nobody certainly had any goals. And it was just like organised chaos every day and did that wrong for a long time and quite frankly, lost. A lot of money doing that. And then I read a book called the E Myth by Michael Gerber. And one of the simple things he talks about in that book is going through the exercise of creating an.org chart. And you might say, well, it’s just me and a helper. I don’t need an.org chart. Well, yeah, you do. And your chart should be like, okay, who’s the Founder, who’s the CEO, and who’s the Operations Manager? And then maybe there’s head of marketing, head of customer service, head of strategy, head of R D, and then underneath marketing, there’s social media marketer, and then there’s the guy or Gal running Facebook ads, person running Google Ads, all these things. And the list goes on and on and on. Who’s in charge of making sure we have the right insurance? Who’s in charge of legal all these things? And it’s your name on every one of these roles. And as time goes on, you can then peel your name off of these. Roles and say, okay, well, now I’m going to invest in a full time person that’s going to deal with social media. Now I’m going to invest in somebody part time who’s going to help with customer satisfaction. Now I’ve got somebody who’s going to help with operations. And these could be employees, freelancers, contractors, consultants, however you see fit. But now you can peel your name off some of these roles and identify what are the goals for that person, what does success look like, what is it not?

And if you start with that foundation, then you can avoid the mistakes of hiring, a lot of redundancy, or quite frankly, just doing it lazy like I did. You don’t want to do this difficult stuff, of thinking through this stuff. And so that was a mistake I was able to avoid in the second business was okay. We started off with me and two co founders. What individual roles are we each going to take on and what are the goals for those roles? And then as time goes on, we’ll. Delegate these to specialists.

Yeah. So the key point there is your chart was based around what needs to happen, not who’s doing stuff.

That’s right, yeah.

Brilliant.

What needs to happen first and then who’s doing stuff can be when you’re two co founders, it’s like, okay, you tackle everything that goes along with engineering and coding and development, I’ll tackle everything. That goes along with growth. And you tackle everything that goes along with design and product. And then underneath of those categories, there’s about 20 different things, but it’s your name on all those things. And as time goes on, you scale, then you can specialise, get specialists that. Can do those things better than you yeah.

And if you do it a thorough job the first time around, all of those things, all of the things that what need to happen, they don’t change as your business grows. It’s just how much time is spent on those things as your business grows, that increases.

That’s right. And people can focus on them, execute at a higher level than you can. But at least you’ve done them to where you have the 80-20 kind of knowledge of what goes into getting it done. So then you can delegate from a position of stewardship. You handle this I’ve done it a little bit in my part time. I know how it should be done. This is what success looks like. You’re not delegating from a standpoint of I don’t know how this works. You handle it. That never works out well.

That approach that you’re describing allows you to delegate rather than abdicate, which is what a lot of people do. So, Bryan, look, need to start thinking about pulling it all together. So you’ve described some great things. Picking out the systems approach, getting a chart where everyone knows what’s expected of them and how they’re going to be measured for performance.

And you’re monitoring and measuring and scheduling things all the way along. You’re talking to customers, you get in the trenches regularly and you listen to feedback. You told us that you make sure you listen to the feedback from the people who are your ideal target market. So you don’t just listen to all feedback. You’re really focused on who you listen to feedback from.

Can you describe what of your average working week now, what’s the most important thing that you’re working on on a regular basis?

I think as a founder, you should be doing three things at once in kind of buckets. The first thing is working in the business, which is just making sure that the trains are running on time, that customers are getting serviced, that bills are getting paid, that the business is running. You’re working in the business.

And then the second thing is you’re. Working on the business. What are the systems look like? What are the processes look like? What’s my marketing system? What’s my employee training system look like? How am I gauging customer success and happiness? What does that look like? And all of these processes, you’re working on those.

And then the third thing is you’re working on yourself. Every business reaches the choke point of the founder’s abilities. And usually pretty much anytime there’s something wrong with a company at any size. It can always be mapped back to a founder’s or the CEO’s inability or weakness, it always trails back to that because it was not made a priority.

And so you need to work on yourself. What does my leadership strategy look like? What does my management skills look like? Am I reading books on marketing or copywriting or design or whatever the stage of the game you’re in? A lot of the things you’re working on are block and tackling for whatever level of the game you’re at. And for me, I try to work in those buckets and understand which bucket I’m in.

So broad strokes, 10% of the time in the business, another 40% of the time on the business, and then everything else is on myself because I’m the main choke point of the business’s trajectory and the business’s growth. We’re always outside of my personal abilities. I’m always ahead of my skis.

So that’s how I think about it. I really try to take time to read. I really try to take time to listen to podcasts, listen to talks from people who are doing what it is I’m trying to do and learn from them to level up because I know that the business is always going to be stifled from my personal abilities.

Look, it’s going to sound set up, but I did not expect this. One of the things that we suggest that business owners focus on is when they want to get their business exit ready or exitable. Whether they exit or not is that they need to be focusing on three things. The first thing is set the vision. Now, that’s what set the vision is. All those things of going. What do I need to be working on my business today to get it geared up to where I want it to be in the future? So that was your second point.

I think it’s pretty close to your second point. I then need to manage the energy. The energy is all about the culture and the style and the tone and the pace of the business. What’s the work style? What’s the energy of the business now that comes from the founders? The energy is like radiates out like the sun radiates out from the solar system.

Absolutely.

All to do with the capability of the leader and the founders leadership and personal development. Development, so that’s your number three. And the third one we talk about is coach, not play. So get in the business, but don’t do the jobs. Make sure people are doing them and have the skills and are trained to do them the way you want them to be done. Which was your first point? It’s getting in the business and make sure the business is running as you intend it to be run as you can see it to be run. And that could include working with people to help them or them to help you develop best practice. But it’s getting in that nitty gritty and making sure it is as efficient as possible.

So it’s brilliant that that’s replicated here.

Yeah, that lines up pretty tight. And one thing you mentioned is the founder’s attitude, enthusiasm, vibrations, energy levels. That’s going to set the tone for the rest of the business. And a lot of times as founders, we get pissed off that the culture in the business is not where we want it to be or the vibe is off.

And really, it’s like, you built this. This is reflecting who you are. It’s reflecting your level of enthusiasm. And I’ve caught myself several times in 22 years having to check that and say, okay, I need to be enthusiastic about what it is we’re trying to do. And everything is going to be an exact mirror of my enthusiasm and my energy level.

So I love that you said that, because that’s a mistake I’ve made a few times that I’ve had to catch myself on.

Well, I think every business leader has made that mistake. Why can’t you just do what I ask you to do rather than follow my lead and follow my energy and follow my behavior over the example I set? And it’s great self awareness.

As leaders, you get measured with double standards. Doesn’t make it fair, doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make it easy, but it’ just human being, so It is what it is, and pulling yourself up on that is kind of important. Bryan, look, I really need to wrap this up because we like to keep the episode length, to sort of dog walk length, and really keep us focused and tight. And you’ve been fantastic. I could learn a whole lot more by keeping this conversation going.

But if we were to narrow it. Down to one, maybe two things, what’s the key message you’d really love listeners to take away from our conversation today?

I hope anybody that listens to an interview with me comes away with, if that guy can do it, I can do it, too. He built and sold eight figure business, and now he became a tech entrepreneur. And GreenPal is doing around $30 million a year in revenue, and I want to get to 100.

And what I hope somebody comes away with is there’s nothing special about that dude. He just really got in there, rolled up his sleeves, and figured it out, and just went from failure to failure until he figured it out. And that’s really what business is at every level. So I hope that somebody listens to an interview with me and understands that this is not as hard as you think it is.

There’s nothing particularly different about what I’m doing versus what they’re doing just to get in the game. Roll up your sleeves and put in the reps.

Bryan look, you’re an absolute. Inspiration and I’m sure listeners will take a know from this conversation and just going Bryan’s a normal guy and as you’re right, as you say, if he can do it, I’m not sure anyone can do it.

But if they take it on the chin and they learn and they listen to a lot of what you’ve said. But they’ll go a long way. Hey, thanks for sharing your exit insights with us Bryan Clayton.

Well, thank you, Darryl. Thanks for having me on.

About Bryan Clayton

Bryan Clayton is the Co-Founder and CEO of GreenPal, an online marketplace that connects homeowners with local lawn care professionals. GreenPal has been called the “Uber for lawn care” by Entrepreneur magazine and has over 300,000 active users completing thousands of transactions per day.

Before starting GreenPal, Bryan Clayton founded Peachtree Inc., one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee, growing it to over $10 million a year in annual revenue before it was acquired by Lusa holdings in 2013. Bryan‘s interest and expertise are related to entrepreneurism, small business growth, marketing, and bootstrapping businesses from zero revenue to profitability and exit.

If you would like to learn more about how to start preparing your business, then you can get more information here: It All Begins with Insights.

Darryl Bates-Brownsword

Darryl Bates-Brownsword

CEO | Succession Plus UK

Darryl is a dynamic, driven Business Mentor and Coach with over 20 years of experience and passion for creating successful outcomes for founder-led businesses. He is a great connector, team builder, problem solver, and inspirer – showing the way through complexity to simplicity.

He has built 2 international multi-million turnover businesses; one now operating in 16 countries. His quick and analytical approach cuts through to the core issues quickly and identifying the context. He challenges the status quo and gets consistent, repeatable and reliable business results.

Originating in Australia, Darryl’s first career was as an Engineer in the Power Industry. Building businesses bought him to the UK in 2003 where he quickly developed a reputation for combining systems thinking with great creativity to get results in challenging situations.

A keen competitive cyclist, he also has a B Eng (Mech) Engineering and an MBA.