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WS284: Failing Forward Into Success with Coach and Author, Todd Palmer

RES 284 | Failing Forward Into Success

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Todd Palmer thought he had a successful business, but he experienced what he calls impostor syndrome. He was quickly at the bottom. He then fired all his employees, hired a coach, and made INC 500 within a year. Today, he explains how “ATV” (authenticity, transparency, vulnerability) are the personal changes he made to reach real success. He now coaches others to do the same thing. We both discuss how a coach has helped us be successful and how speaking with our coach often, even when we didn’t think we had anything to talk about, was crucial.

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Failing Forward Into Success with Coach and Author, Todd Palmer

Our guest is Todd Palmer. Thanks for being here. Todd.

Whitney, thank you so much for having me.

I’m excited to have you. Todd is a renowned thought leader, CEO, executive coach and author who is committed to improving lives. As a successful entrepreneur and business owner, he works with both individuals and companies to support corporate growth, foster business startups and guide leaders in the areas of talent management, workforce planning and organizational development. CEO of a six-time Inc. 5000 company, Todd knows the struggles that businesses face around the areas of people, cash, strategy and execution. Through his firm, Extraordinary Advisors, Todd is able to guide leaders into programs of sustained profitability. Todd, thanks again for your time. I know our readers are looking for that path to that sustained profitability. I’m looking forward to this conversation. Give them a little more about who you are in case they haven’t heard of you. We’ll start in a little bit to how you got to where you’re at now.

The path that you’re talking about is never a straight line. It’s never from point A to point B, super easy, super linear. No. It’s riddled with land mines. It’s more of a corkscrew than a straight line of anything else. I started my company Diversified Industrial Staffing in 1997 for literally $15,000. The business plan said I needed $150,000. I got one of the three F’s, friends, family and fools to give me a little bit of money because I just had that wild hair to start a company. It’s been a super interesting journey. It’s been so much differently than I would’ve projected 23-plus years ago when I got started. We’ve had some great highs, we’ve had some incredible crashing lows. What it’s really taught me is that every step in this path, it teaches me how much better I can be, how much more resiliency I can have. I know we talked about a lot of the people are in that startup or early entrepreneurial stages. When they hear it’s an Inc. 5,000, six-time CEO, he must have had it easy. I’m here to tell you it’s been a rough road, but a very rewarding road.

I’d love for us to dive in a little bit. Maybe you can elaborate on some of the land mines or some of the things from your startup. I know just from our conversation, you mentioned all the land mines. You mentioned it’s not a straight path and not as easy as what it seems to look like when you see these people that are experiencing all this success. That’s when you happen to see them. They’ve got the big smile on their face on Facebook but that’s what you see. That’s what they want to promote. Can you elaborate on your journey a little bit and let’s dive into how you managed to stay either step over the land mine or either keep walking after you stepped on it, one or the other?

[bctt tweet=”The path to profitability is never a straight line, it is riddled with land mines. ” via=”no”]

I think when you think about the land mines, it was a lot of triage applied before the patient bled out, I’ll tell you that much. For my journey, it was a quick takeoff. I started the company in ‘97 and the country was at full employment like it is now. I just didn’t know that. There’s a lot I didn’t know. It’s like if I knew the journey I was going to take, would I have really taken it kind of thing. With the first nine years, we had some high highs, we had some lows, but basically we were doing pretty well. We were making money by day 72, so we’ve gotten a lot of things right. What that did is it gave me also this false impression of success. I bought my first house, I was doing some cool things. I thought I had it all figured out. Come about 2006, the company was in a rocky spot. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were right at that start at tipping point of the big recession and companies weren’t hiring. We were taking out a lot of debt. My employees weren’t performing. I was suffering from imposter syndrome. I didn’t want to tell anybody I didn’t have it all figured out. I didn’t want to tell anybody that I needed help. I collapsed within myself.

By September of ‘06, the company was $600,000 in debt. We were about two months away from running out of all money, including all my personal money. The bank was knocking on our door, and I was in bad shape from a leadership perspective. I wasn’t going into the office. I was avoiding difficult conversations. I’d hit my bottom and I decided to what the last few dollars I had. I actually went out and hired a coach, which you’d think, “You’re in bad shape. You’re basically bankrupt and you’re going to go out and now you’re going to get help.” It was a little crazy, but a lot of my friends who are successful athletes, some of the most successful actors will hire an acting coach when they can’t pay their rent because they’re that passionate about getting it right. I reached that point. I hired my coach. He looked at the finances and he thought there were some things that were salvageable. I plugged into his confidence because I had no confidence and I was feeling pretty hopeless. The big tipping point decision is I realized that I had trust issues with my team and I had trust issues with myself. I could fix the trust issues with myself by using the coach, reframing my mindset, but I couldn’t fix the trust issues with my team. On September 9th, I walked in and fired my entire company, and I started over.

At that point, we iterated a lot, I hired new people, I got people bought into the concept of where I wanted to go, not where I had been. I started hiring for DNA, not for resume. For a company like Diversified Industrial Staffing, I started to hire a lot of people with HR backgrounds, a lot of people with recruiting backgrounds. I scrapped that. I hired people with restaurant retail, the great customer service thought processes. A most successful recruiter came. She was a medical office assistant. I went contrary to what my industry had been doing. Within a year, we made the Inc. 5000 as one of America’s most successful companies for the very first time. We went on a great run rate of six out of that seven years of being on the list. That’s a cool story and I’m very proud of the team and what we accomplished. More importantly, I’m more prideful that we paid off all $600,000 in debt, every single penny. That’s I think the legacy that we’ve been able to leave with our vendors, with our employees, with our bank. It was a tough journey.

That it’s incredible though that you took that path. You were at the bottom, but then you hired a coach and you turn things around. To elaborate, let’s go back a little bit. The imposter syndrome you mentioned, tell us what that is a little bit in case we’re experiencing the same thing or in the future.

I think it’s important for entrepreneurs and for leaders to realize that we don’t have to have all the answers all the time. A lot of entrepreneurs see themselves as we used to call it the smartest kid in the class. “I’m the leader. It’s my risk. I have to have all the answers.” The reality is there’s so much more value driven where a group of ten people are going in one direction versus a leader trying to go that direction by themselves and not communicating with their team. I find so much now the work I do with Extraordinary Advisors is getting leaders to get out of their own way. It’s just like my coach did back in ‘06 to get my act together to get the company to drive forward. That is putting aside the masks we wear every day in the office and going to your team.

RES 284 | Failing Forward Into Success
Failing Forward Into Success: There’s so much more value-driven where a group of ten people is going in one direction versus a leader trying to go that direction alone.

I went to my team and I was saying, “I don’t have all the answers. I have a vision of where I want to go. I want you guys to come with me, but we’re going to have to figure out the map to get there together because we have to try a lot of different things. We have to iterate, we have to strategize, we have to test that strategy through execution. Things are going to work. Things aren’t going to work. I have to create a safe space as a leader so that we can fail forward into success and not become debilitated by the mistakes we make.” We did that at a very comprehensive, stumble forward, three steps forward, two steps back method. The team had to plug into my belief that they weren’t going to get criticized, they weren’t going to get chastised, and that we could do this together. The imposter syndrome I was feeling before that shift was I had to do it all by myself.

You mentioned we don’t have to have all the answers all the time. There is so much more value when ten people are going in one direction than one person. That makes so much sense when you say it like that.

It is something I had to learn. It’s funny, when I’m coaching my clients now, I’ll tell them stories of crazy, bad ideas I had and some good ideas I had about the things I had to learn. I had to learn that. For so many of us, we’re chasing the revenue line. Only 4.3% of companies ever become a million-dollar company. With nine out of ten businesses failing, the odds are challenging. I’ve got a client that I work with. They’re doing $800,000 in revenue. It’s great numbers, but their margin is $400,000. They’re killing it. I know a lot of people in the real estate space, they want to have healthy margins. It’s a good place to be and you don’t want to have crazy operating costs or ego-driven salaries. The bottom line is I love the guys who are doing $800,000 making $400,000 at the bottom line. Good for them. They were more sophisticated in how they looked at solving problems than I did. That required my coach shifting my mindset. I was literally checking in with him every single day and the five positive things we did. I’d rather just be honest with you, your startup nation here and your early-stage entrepreneurs and say sometimes the most positive thing I did that day was get out of bed.

At this low, you decided to hire a coach. You mentioned many other people that you knew that were entrepreneurs were hiring coaches or recommending hiring coaches. Even at that bottom, how did you pick that coach? How did you know, “This is the coach that even though I’m in this position financially as well, I’m going to go hire this person. I know they can help me?”

I interviewed a bunch of coaches. I talked to a bunch of people. What I discovered is most of the coaches that I was talking to had never run their own company. Most of the coaches had never had skin in the game. Most of them had never had the setbacks that I had. The coach I ended up working with grew a company. He started it for $2 million and grew it to $500 million. He had skin in the game. He had expertise and experience. He had used a franchise model, so he was used to working with the crazy people that are entrepreneurs. He used to call them watch-preneurs. They want to be an entrepreneur, but their risk tolerance is so low, they’d just rather buy a franchise from him, which was great. It was a real vetting process. When I get approached nowadays to coach people, and the typical question ultimately becomes, “Why should I hire Todd?” On my side of the fence, I’m thinking, “Why should I work with you?” We have to reach a mutual understanding.  

[bctt tweet=”It is important for entrepreneurs and leaders to realize that they don’t have to have all the answers all the time. ” via=”no”]

I always say to clients, “If you’re going to work with me, realize I’m a lifelong learner. Recognize that my job is to tell you the truth, I work for the entity, not for the CEO. I’m going to tell you things like, ‘Don’t spend that money, don’t do this, do that, do this, do that.’” Am I coaching the same thing for me? I’m like, “We had a great year. I should go out and celebrate.” He’s like, “No. Address your debt service.” Sometimes we just need the coach to point things out to us. For me, it was getting somebody that ultimately I could trust. He actually, in his own way, had coaches in his life. In my own way since ‘06, I’ve always had a coach in my life. I’ve changed over the course of time as my life has adjusted, but I believe in it so strongly. The coach I use, he was a college golfer. He had a swing coach. It’s like, “This guy is investing on what’s important to him. He cares about what he’s doing. He’s putting his money where his mouth is, not only for his business but for his personal life. This is the guy I need to work with.”

I can relate to so many things you said. I highly recommend getting a coach as well. I know when I got a coach, that’s when I experienced so much more growth. You said you checked in with your coach every day. I can relate to that as well. When I first started with a coach, I noticed I was checking in every once in a while, maybe once a month, something like that. I noticed in my relationship, it’s up to me to reach out or to schedule those times and things like that. I noticed a few other guys that he was coaching, we all know each other to some extent, were experiencing a lot of success. I was talking to them and almost interviewing them and they were talking to this coach almost weekly at least. I was like, “I need to start talking to him at least weekly.” Sure enough, I started just every week, even if I didn’t have anything to talk about almost, but it would help motivate me and drive me. Even keep me through the week thinking about that call that’s coming up. Is that how you experienced it as well?

The coach I currently use, he’s actually a neuroscientist. He’s on the West Coast in San Diego and he’s literally a doctor. He’s an MD. He can tell me what’s going on in my thought process by just me talking about what’s firing, what’s not firing. When we first started working together, I would try to cancel a call. He was like, “Call me. We’ll find something to talk about. You’ve already paid me. Just call me.” He’s brilliant. We’d have such so many light bulb moments, so many a-ha experiences. Now, I’ve already got my agenda written down on, my itinerary laid out, but I talk to him impromptu because I had an issue come up. I think for me, that’s the kind of coaching I like to do. I know there are coaches that do a certain kind of platform, a certain kind of program and they can do the quarterly meetings and sometimes they check in with the CEO. There’s nothing wrong with that. For me, I’m a very passionate guy. I want to walk the path of my entrepreneurs. I’d rather be more engaged than less engaged. With my pricing platform, it’s one price. It’s as little or as much as you want to use me. We have a structure to it, but there’s a lot of freedom and flexibility in there. I found that works best for me.

All these fifteen, twenty-minute conversations with my guy and these little nuggets just come at me. Now I’m using the coaching methodology, not only for my clients in their businesses, but I’m getting calls, “I’m having this problem with my teenager,” or “My wife and I have some discord,” or “My husband and I have some challenges.” We talk through how to reframe that so that they can be present in their business. We can all talk about work-life balance. That’s great if somebody has actually cracked the code on that. I’ve not seen it. It’s all about work-life integration, especially as entrepreneurs. Wherever we are, our work is with us. Wherever we are, our family and our loved ones are with us. There’s never that pure separation. It’s an integration. Sometimes you’ve got to like, “I’m all up and crazy. Business problems are hitting me left and right. I yelled at my family. I need to step back. Todd, do you have ten minutes?” “Sure.”

You mentioned within one year, you made the Inc. 500 list. That’s after firing your team, after being on this really low time financially and just business-wise and then you hired this coach. Outside of maybe hiring the coach, what were a few things that pushed you to that success that fast?

RES 284 | Failing Forward Into Success
Failing Forward Into Success: At the end of the day, we make decisions based upon the emotional connections and relatability we have with somebody.

It was changing who I hired. We created a program called Hire for DNA, Not for Resume. We got good people on our team, we trained them to be good recruiters. That was a big shift. We drill that in and as a collective, we created the company culture. It wasn’t just my culture. It certainly was a big part of the conversation, but we came up with culture points that tied into everybody who was on the team. It was their stake in the game and then they all had stories to tell off of those culture points. We changed how we measured the business. We measured it on the profitability of the account, not on the revenue of the company. Certainly there has to be revenue, but if I’m billing out $1 and I was spending $0.95, do I have a revenue? There’s got to be the appropriate margin. There are two worlds we can operate. We can be a low-cost provider or we can be a premium provider. We try the low-cost model. We’ve got our butts handed to us, and we got kicked out of the game by our competitors because we couldn’t match their infrastructure. We decided to pivot and become a premium provider. What that required my salespeople to do was to sell completely differently. It was very consultative. This was in the recession and we were a staffing company where the country was at a 15% unemployment number and we were growing. It was very contrarian.

We did that by saying to our customers, “If you could hire one person, even in bad times, even in manufacturing, in the automotive city here in Detroit, who would you hire?” We kept getting back two or three different categories, but I could get a CNC machine that could do this. I’d make room on my team. I would go to management and get the money for them because these guys are unicorns. “A unicorn is pretty hard to find. It’s going to cost more than your average line worker.” “No problem. I found an area where there’s increased demand and diminished supply and someone agreed to let me charge them more for it.” It took us a while to figure that out with the different questions, but I had to empower the team. We changed how we measured them. We didn’t measure them on results, we measured them on activity. I know I’ve said a lot of different things, meaning it just wasn’t one silver bullet. It was trying a lot of different things, seeing what worked and what didn’t. As the leader, it was my job to create an atmosphere we call a safe space. The staff could then try a bunch of different things, report back on a daily basis at our huddles, “This is what worked and this is what didn’t work.”

One thing I liked though, many things, but you asked the client who they would hire and that’s who you would find. You filled that void without just having your own thing over here. You’re trying to say all you want to the client and said, “What are you going to hire? Who do you need?”

I actually learned that from a buddy of mine. He was in the restaurant space. He said, “I may think my restaurant concept is the greatest Italian restaurant in the world. If I’m going to open it in a town where there are fifteen Italian restaurants, chances of me succeeding are probably pretty small. Maybe I should look at a different area. I still want to own a restaurant. My intention is to own a restaurant. If my expectation is the only way I can own a restaurant is to have an Italian restaurant in a town with fifteen other Italian restaurants where the population isn’t going to support it, then I’m going to fail.” A lot of what we did, we’re going back to the diversified story, and what we’ve talked about with our clients is, “What is your intention, not your expectation? If your intention is to have a successful recruiting business, if your expectation is the only way you’re going to do it as being a low-cost provider. With Kelly Services World headquarters a mile from your office, you’re setting yourself up to fail, flat out. I’ve lived it. I’ve done it. It did not work.” “My intention is to have a successful recruiting company.” “Why don’t we find out what the marketplace needs and ask them? If we ask enough people and we keep getting the three to five data points back continually, then we’re onto something.”

I can relate this to the syndication business. Our clients, were raising capital and you’re meeting with investors and things like that. They’re our clients. Why not ask them the types of things they’re looking for in a syndicator or in our type of business and be able to know what they’re looking for exactly instead of trying to create what we think they want.

[bctt tweet=”If the deal doesn’t make sense, don’t do it. ” via=”no”]

Going back to the imposter syndrome, I have an idea. I know my idea is brilliant because my mom told me how smart I was. My wife thinks I’m a genius, and so this is the only way to do it. The reality is people will watch shows like Shark Tank and The Profit. If you really listen to a lot of the investors, they invest in the entrepreneur, not always their idea. They want to change the idea because the idea has no market relevance. They like the entrepreneur and they believe in the entrepreneur. At the end of the day, whether you’re hiring an employee, whether you’re investing your money in someone, we make decisions based upon the emotional connections and relatability we have with somebody. We justify with logic more often than not.

What advice would you give to a new startup or a new business owner? Obviously we’re in the real estate space. We’re talking to investors or purchasing commercial properties. All entrepreneurs experience or have to step over or step through land mines. How do we work through some of that? Give us some pointers in how to be successful and do those things.

I think a universal decision, whether it’s human capital space where I’m at, manufacturing where I’ve been or real estate, you want to make data-driven decisions. If the deal doesn’t make sense, then don’t do it. If there’s not enough margin, if the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, then don’t do it unless you know with your expertise you can go in and turn that property around with a couple of small, inexpensive tweaks. If it’s a seller’s market, I would say think about where else you can place your cash until it becomes a buyer’s market.

What’s the one thing you would say has contributed to your success?

I think that the biggest thing for me is the pivot I made going from the imposter syndrome to leaning into the uncomfortable. I created this moniker for myself that I tell my clients. It’s called ATV and it’s not a four-wheel fun vehicle to ride. It’s Authenticity, Transparency and Vulnerability. I spoke in front of 2,000 people in Mexico where most of the people did not speak English. The vulnerability in which I share the stories, the transparency, the authenticity. I have a client who makes fun of me. Every time we do our quarterly meeting, he goes, “Who are you going to make cry?” If I can get the leadership team to speak from the heart, speak from their fear or speak from their concern and they’re able to bring that emotion to the service, the rallying and the galvanizing of those teams is incredibly powerful. It goes back to the statement, “If you’ve got twenty people going in one direction as a cohesive unit, it’s much more powerful than one lone gun trying to go out there and take on the world.

[bctt tweet=”A lot of investors invest in the entrepreneur and not always on the idea. ” via=”no”]

Todd, tell the readers how you like to give back.

I think for me, that going back to being authentic, transparent, and vulnerable is I love to have these types of conversations. I’m super appreciative of our time and the great questions you’ve asked. What I’d like to do is offer to your readers, go down my website Go to the Contact Us page, send me a message saying you want to have a half-hour consultation for free. Just mention you learned about me on this show and I’m happy to do that. We can talk about cash, people, mindset, strategy, execution, anything you want. That’s my thank you to the coaches who helped me over the course of time and my give back to your readers. I appreciate you allowing me to do that.

We appreciate your time, Todd. Any other way that you’d like to tell how they can get in touch with you or learn more about you?

I’m on social media, I’m on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Reach out to me. It’s amazing how many people will check in with me on Facebook from around the globe. I’ve got people from Africa. Technology is so amazing now. I love our global entrepreneurial economy. I’m very accessible. I love having a conversation. I’m very passionate about helping others and it’s my way of going back to improving lives, which is what I learned from working with this guy nobody had heard of several years ago, Simon Sinek, who’s now this international rock star in the leadership space. He really did teach me that it is the give back and the legacy we create in others. If I can help people, I’d love to do that.

Thanks so much, Todd. I know I’ve learned a lot and I know the readers have as well. I appreciate the readers being with us now and every day. I hope you leave us a rating and review. Go to Life Bridge Capital and connect with me. I’m happy to help you as well in any way I can. Go to the Facebook group, The Real Estate Syndication Show. We will talk to each of you next time.

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About Todd Palmer

RES 284 | Failing Forward Into SuccessTodd Palmer is the collaborative business advisor and CEO of Extraordinary Advisors
(EA). Simply put, EA helps business leaders Get S#!t Done.

As the CEO of a 6-time INC 5000 company, Todd knows that business success begins and ends with people. People make all of the business decisions regarding strategy, execution, cash and staff.

Todd isn’t happy until his clients trust themselves as leaders, AND their decisions. He won’t rest until teams trust the leaders AND each other. He knows they’ve nailed it when CEOs and their leadership teams take action towards high-level achievement, resulting in clients that trust the company. (Read: more sales, more profits, more partnerships.)

Todd is also the author of the popular book The Job Search Process: Find & Land a Great Job in 6 Weeks or Less.

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