Welcome to the Eventual Millionaire Podcast. I’m Jaime Tardy and today we have Tony Hartl on the show. Tony is an entrepreneur and his greatest success was Planet Tan which is a franchise that made his net worth jump from $10,000 to millions of dollars in a 13-year period. He has been in Ink magazine and Fortune Small Business and he recently wrote the book Selling Sunshine 75 Tips, Tools and Tactics for Becoming a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur. I’m really excited for having Tony on today. Thank you so much for coming on, Tony.
TONY HARTL: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
JAIME TARDY: Great, so let’s first talk about your book, Selling Sunshine, and I have to first say I get a lot of books sent from millionaires that are authors and yours so far has had the best packaging. It looks great, feels great and you signed it and it’s funny because when I had it, I usually throw away the dust jackets but it was like so pretty and it had like a sticker that said that you signed it that I didn’t even want to throw away the dust jacket. So I was really impressed.
TH: A lot of success in business obviously, and first of all, it was sincere to sign it to you and send it to you, but obviously you have to stand out and in order for me to stand out with people that are interested in the book is to somehow differentiate myself whether that’s a sticker or even a glossy jacket on a book or a special way that I signed it. That’s part of the keys of really kind of standing out in the crowd with everyone else.
JT: Well and it did make a big difference and like I said, I interview only millionaires so being able to get a millionaire’s book usually you’re like “Ooh it’s a millionaire’s book” but yours you could really tell. You could really tell that you put some detail into it. So now that we sort of talked about the outside, tell us a little bit about what the actual book contains because it’s more than just a pretty package.
TH: Yeah, no, that’s right. So the whole goal behind the book was to put together a book that would have helped me in my journey as I was running a company and really building a business to become successful. And I read a ton of different books whether it would be on branding, human resources, strategy, goal setting and out of each of those books I was trying to find out what were the most important takeaways that I could incorporate in my business. I used to joke that I didn’t read for fun, I read to put things into action and so my book, what it attempts to do, is put together 75 tips that someone could take out of the book, dog ear it, underline it and use for practical application to their own business or even to their own stage in their life.
So it’s really about two-thirds instruction, one-third inspiration or depending, you might think it’s two-thirds inspiration, one-third instruction but it’s very practical and written really in the spirit that someone could actually use this book as a workbook to help them get better.
JT: It was excellent and easy to read where you can just sort of pick it up and read just a couple pieces at a time which was good. So what’s your favorite couple of tips that you have in the book?
TH: I think one that stands out and right now I am in the process of looking to buy another business and I was just on the phone with the gal that will head up my peopling program, chief director of talent. And in the book, whether you have one employee or you have several and people are the key to success in business. So I would say the chapter on peopling would be one of the most important and that talks about attraction, how do you hire the right people, acclimation, development and care.
It comes down to who you’re hiring, are they self starters, are they genuine, are they smilers, are they extroverted. Depending on obviously your business, you’ve got to make sure that you really get those core competencies down and then you think through how are you going to hang on to those people and develop them and create an environment that they’re going to want to stay. So that’s, I think, that chapter really stands out the most because it resonates the most right now while I’m in the process of starting a whole other company.
JT: It seems like that’s sort of a key theme throughout all the tips is that you really care and it’s more about the people and the branding and who you are as a company that really shines through which is great. So tell me, so how did you learn how to get the greatest employees? Did you read it from a book and just sort of implement all the action steps or what is sort of a trial and error for you?
TH: I think it’s a combination. It was really mostly trial and error in the beginning because I started my company at 26 and so even though I had a background in business, I had been a vice president of a large chain of health clubs and had a degree in business, really nothing can prepare you for understanding how to relate to people and creating an environment where people actually want to come and work and is a thriving environment. So a lot of that is really trial and error and then over time, I read different books that allowed me to optimize interviewing techniques.
But most importantly, what I found out in business and it sounds so cliché but it is so true is that if you want to create a magical environment for your people, it’s one of those things that you got to think about every single day. I’m not sure that you have to deliver bagels and get back massages but it has to be a place where you care about people, that their input is valuable, that they understand the job they’re doing, that there is some runway in front of them to either be promoted or to grow within their position and I think it’s commonsense things that you really need to think through. You don’t just want to hire people and throw them in because you’re doing them a disservice and you’re really not going to end up getting the maximum output from that individual. So trial and error and then learning over time.
JT: I run into a lot of companies who just do the standard evaluations and go that’s sort of enough for our communication and that’s sort of enough in general. What are some tips that you have for companies and what’s the most important thing that they’re can be doing with their employees to make a better work environment?
TH: That’s a great question. I would say getting the right people on the team. That’s where I’d begin. So first of all, what we would do is we would use a standard program, PXT International, which was a profile that we used to try to find people after they filled out a questionnaire online. Did they match up with the traits of the people that were already successful in the job? Then based on a score above, we would either interview them or we wouldn’t. Then we would do two interviews. Then, if after the interview, we liked them we would do a background check. Then we would hire them and would be a probation for 30 days where they would shadow another coworker.
Maybe we would lose 10 percent at that point but when you go through that process, if someone is really not committed, they’re going to drop out and when you go through that many screenings, even though it might be laborious, you really show everyone on the team including that person that’s thinking about coming into the company that you really care about people. Then, once you hire them, how do you treat them and treating them is what type of programs are in place to get them onboard. Small things like we would have easels signed by every staff member every tine we had a new employee.
We would also have the manager take them to lunch. In the corporate office, we would put picture frames and balloons in the office. It could be small whether it was the front desk person or a person in the accounting office. The whole point was we care about you and the way we treat you is the way we want you to treat our members. We want you to make, we’re fanatical about your job satisfaction and we want you to be fanatical about the members’ experience.
JT: So what does that do to your lead time? You’re going through, you’re hiring employees if they don’t fit after 30 days you’ve spent a lot of time on them and you’ve written the signs for them and taken them out to lunch and you’ve done tons and tons of stuff. So how does that work and how often do you have to deal with employees that don’t work?
TH: So I’ll give you an example. Before we implemented this peopling program, so it is a lot of time, and initially everyone doesn’t buy into it because obviously they’re thinking geez this might take two months to four weeks to hire someone. So you’re always, no matter, even if you have the greatest team, you’re always in the process of interviewing. So you’re creating a virtual bench even if you have a great team. You’re hanging on to resumes, you’re going through the process if you don’t have an opening.
So that’s one of the processes how do you keep this going all the time. The other thing is we had at the front desk, the tanning consultants, we had turnover over of about 126 percent attrition which is typical in retail. We went through employees about every five to six months which was horrible because the turnover is horrible for the morale of the staff, it’s bad for the members to see it. We implemented peopling. It took about close to a year. We cut attrition down to somewhere in the high 50 percent. I mean you’re talking about less than half.
So yes, it did take time and it was very laborious but what happens is when the people finally make the cut, they know that only a few are selected. We generally would have about 50 applicants for one position on average. That’s an estimation and when those people were hired we knew they would be a good fit and so our retention of our employees was a lot longer. I had started my company and had it for 14 years when I sold it. I had three employees that had been with me for a decade or more and a ton of employees that had been with me five to seven years.
So you just create a different kind of environment. So yes it takes time but you end up having the best people on the team which ultimately is going to decide your success or failure.
JT: What I loved hearing you talk about was numbers. So you even talk about this in your book about how using numbers is really important and I love that because I agree, businesses should love numbers and measure them really often. You talk about how you even used the net promoter score. So what I’d love to hear is sort of talk about why numbers are important to you in your business or your previous business and how you use like net promoter score to help improve your company.
TH: Sure. The way we thought of numbers was just like being an athlete and being able to see the score. It’s one thing if you’re sitting there playing a game of basketball with someone and no one is keeping score and maybe you think you’re doing well, maybe you think you’re losing but you’re really not sure. The benefit of keeping numbers is you always know where you stand and you know where you stand at that moment, previous to last year and then you should benchmark yourself against the best numbers in your industry. Typically, those are pretty easy to find out.
We use numbers for everything that was really critical to the business. Now, you can go down a deep hole and try to track everything and then nothing becomes important so you have to really focus on just a few key driving metrics, maybe four to five. One of our key metrics was net promoter score and what NPS was, there’s a wonderful book that was written called The Ultimate Question and I would recommend for your listeners to go out and pick it up if they want to find out what their customers think about them. The whole premise behind The Ultimate Question was here’s a survey that will give you predictability into the future about future retention which obviously is future success.
So we thought we were doing a good job. Our employees thought we were doing an amazing job but we wanted to really measure what do the customers think and the whole concept behind net promoter score is that most companies think well my success is dependant upon how many raving fans are out there saying good things. Well the net promoter score says no what’s really important is how many people are out there saying bad things about your company because it might take 10 satisfied customers before they really say anything positive about your radio show.
You could have a bunch of listeners but maybe 1 out of 10 might say boy that was really a cool interview you should listen online next time. But if it’s a really bad experience, you find a higher percentage of people that are willing to go out and kind of say something bad. So the whole thought behind net promoter score is how do you shrink that number of people saying bad things because obviously with the internet and other ways to communicate, that can really spread pretty fast virally.
So we went out there and we said okay what are the things that people aren’t happy about our business whether that’s the contract, the hours of operation, the pricing, whatever it might be and let’s look for themes because themes will give us an indication. We were really happy. We ended up scoring, when someone reads the book, we scored a 66. Well that puts us above Southwest Airlines, on par with Apple, I mean the best companies in America. We said okay well how do we beat these best companies? But what are the themes right now where people are unsatisfied? We saw some themes like we were having people cancel by certified mail. Well we saw a glaring theme that said you know what certified mail sucks. It’s a big pain in my butt to join a tanning salon and cancel via certified mail. We thought we had a good process.
So what we did as a result of that we ended up eliminating certified mail. We came up with a better process and that’s where your team has to say yeah maybe this is the way you’ve done it but if your customers aren’t happy and they’re saying something bad, well listen to what they’re saying and come up with a better offering. That’s what net promoter score did. So how do you shrink the number of people that are rating you with basically a below average score and then shrink that number so you have a greater number of people that are really advocating your business.
JT: Excellent. I’m going to change it up a little because I have a question for you. You probably know a lot about this. There’s a lot of negativity surrounding tanning salons in general like Skin Cancer Foundation has a whole case against it and I don’t necessarily want to get into whether it’s unhealthy or not because everybody has their own opinion but how did you as a company navigate all that?
TH: That’s a great question because that came up a lot. How were we so successful in an industry that was filled with a lot of negative publicity? I think, here’s the thing is you have to communicate, communicate often but more importantly what we did is we didn’t get into the real whole negative debate. What we wanted to do was focus on, we had and literally, a plan tan. We had over 100,000 members so obviously a lot of people liked it. So what we wanted to do is say well how do we take care of those customers and the people that do want to do business with us and create a magical experience.
So rather than focusing on what was being said, because we couldn’t control that, what we could control was our four walls. We couldn’t control the construction down the road, whether gas went to $5.00 a gallon, whether in Vanity Fair something was said about tanning, couldn’t control that. But what we could control is when someone drove up to the parking lot, to the moment they walked into one of our Planet Tans, the moment we said see you tomorrow, how could we create a magical experience? Because we certainly have got control over that choice.
So that’s what we focused on. What do we have control over and those kind of things are what you’re going to find out in life and in business, you can’t control everything else. It’s innervating. It sucks the energy out of you to sit there and try to combat that stuff because you really, at the end of the day, you can’t really impact it that much. What you can impact is your four walls or how you think about your current problems day to day.
JT: I’d love for you to sort of talk about how you’ve changed your industry because I know at the beginning of the book you talk about how there were all sort of mom and pop stores beforehand and you really branded it to be a nationwide brand. You even raised the gross for every store. Tell me a little bit about that so that way people can see exactly how you changed the industry.
TH: It was a highly fragmented industry back in 1995 when I started. The average tanning salon might run 175,000 revenue. Very small mom and pop fragmented industry. No chain in the industry represented even 1 percent of the business so there was no Blockbuster, Home Depot, anything like that. The revenue was really low so you didn’t really get a lot of suits and ties, a huge level of business acumen. We went out and we said well how can we change the game? What could we do to really differentiate ourselves but make it meaningful to the customers?
The big thing we did is we came up with 50 beds which was the largest not only in the United States but in the world at the time. What we were focusing on was access. How could we get people in a three foot model in and out having a magical experience every time they came in and really want to come back because they never had to wait for a bed, we were 7/11 seven days a week and we had great people behind the front desk. Over time, we raised the revenue to each location to a million dollars or more which was five to six times the industry average.
We also partnered up with the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban who sold to Yahoo, the Dallas Stars cheerleaders became the Planet Tan Ice Girls. The Dallas Cowboys, I became a judge and we branded those girls. We sponsored the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. So one of the things that we did is we aligned ourselves with really successful businesses and because we had a great credibility in Dallas, it was really, I wouldn’t say easy but it wasn’t that hard for us to do it and we started gaining national attention. I was on the cover of Fortune Small Business. We started winning best companies to work for so we were starting to attract great employees.
Fastest growth company. One of the fastest growing Top 100 companies in Dallas. You’ve got to understand we have technology, banking, oil, big industries but we could compete with all those guys because we weren’t a tanning company, we were a really great company that just happened to be in the tanning space.
JT: That’s a great segue because I was going to ask you how exactly you got into tanning out of everything and how did you start as an entrepreneur. I know you said you were a VP of health clubs beforehand. How did you take your way to tanning?
TH: I really couldn’t say that it was by design, a little bit by chance. At a young age I was in the fitness industry and health clubs at the time were in excess of a million dollars or more so the barrier of entry of getting in was pretty high and I had seen an opportunity, I was looking at several different industries and tanning had a lower barrier obviously to invest and create this but I saw an opportunity to create a membership model like fitness in the tanning industry.
Back in 1995 when you went to a tanning salon maybe you paid $50 for one month unlimited, $10 a session, really just sort of not a lot of business analytics approach and really kind of a low service level high price which is a huge opportunity when someone is looking at a business is where’s the value proposition off and that’s kind of how I saw tanning. So we started with three locations in 1995 and what we did is we used some great strategies that were already being employed in the fitness industry like unlimited memberships, billing the customer out of their account each month to make it easy from a collection standpoint but also be able to lower our fee structure to provide a better value. That’s how I looked at tanning is I saw high prices, low service level and the space in between create a great value from an ownership standpoint.
JT: So you said three locations. You didn’t start out with one? You started out with three locations?
TH: Yeah, I started with three.
TH: The reason why is my background was marketing and so I thought it was critical once I got out the gate was to have economies of scale in advertising in Dallas. We literally started on the radio, we did a ton of grow marketing but we started with some unconventional marketing methods because again, my background was really a brand guy marketing. So I wanted Planet Tan to feel like a larger brand. I knew if we felt larger we would have a perceived credibility because like I said, it was really sort of a cheesy mom and pop industry but we wanted to add a level of sophistication and credibility. So by starting off with three, that helped out because we had economies in advertising and we were able to parallel that with credibility. So that was really kind of key to the strategy.
JT: That sounds like a lot of risk though. How did you fund it when you first started and how did you deal with all the risk of starting if one doesn’t do well you don’t know, you did three? Three wouldn’t do well if it was a problem.
TH: Right, you multiply your risk. You have to take risk. Look, if you don’t put risk out there, there’s no enormous reward and my goal wasn’t to be mildly successful it was to literally retire by 40. So, in order to back into that goal, I really was willing to take that on and so it’s sort of like dogs. Really two dogs isn’t any harder than one dog and really three and they keep each other company and so for me it lessened the risk because I was able to employee share between facilities, I was able to get economies of scale. It was really strategic.
So the risk might have been higher but for me it would have been riskier to have one location because I wouldn’t have had all these synergies that I was taking advantage of. So I funded it with ten grand. I mean I went out and just sort of hustled. Good entrepreneurs aren’t like great chefs. We’re like iron chefs, you throw a bunch of stuff at us and we sort of like figure it out real quick and put something pretty magical together or we set the kitchen on fire and we burn it down. It’s one or the other.
But that’s sort of the deal. My goal wasn’t really anything to do with mediocrity. It was really to sort of be the 1 percent in the world and you just have to believe in yourself but you’ve got to be willing to put the time, effort and energy into it otherwise you’re not going to have the results.
JT: So what do you think makes a good entrepreneur then?
TH: Several things. I think some things aren’t teachable. I think you do have to be intelligent. I think you have to be driven. I think you have to have an incredible appetite for risk and some people don’t and so you have to be able to deal with risk. You also have to be able to deal with adversity while maintaining a positive attitude. I think probably the most important thing is you really have to be driven towards achievement because otherwise if you’re not a self starter driven towards achievement you’re really never going to achieve anything substantial because you’re going to settle for just sort of like in the middle. So you have to really be achievement oriented.
JT: It sounds like you started this at the age of 26. How did you grow as an entrepreneur starting at 26 to where you are now?
TH: I think one of the real keys is surrounding yourself with people that have different core competencies that are better than yours. Not being afraid to say that you don’t know. One of the things that I did at an early age is I reached down and developed a mentorship group, a group of men that were much older than I was and had several successes in their lives where I could learn from their experiences. So that sped things up and then also I had an incredible appetite for learning. I would include that to be a good entrepreneur you have to really be a learner and a developer.
You’ve got to want to personally develop yourself and continuously learn and since 26 to this day literally, I’ve always had a minimum mark of 2 books a month, 24 books a year, that’s my minimum goal to read a year and if you do that over 10 years, I mean you’re so far ahead of everyone else.
JT: I loved how you have on your website sellingsunshinebook.com. You have a reading list and in the back of the book you have part of a reading list too. That’s huge for me because I’m a voracious reader and I want to know what everybody else is reading that’s good books. So that was great. What were some of the few that you had on the list?
TH: Well one was Titan, the biography of John Rockefeller. I really loved, it’s a big book, it’s one of those 800 to 1,000 pagers but it showed you the importance of cadence and routine and not having a formal meeting to get information out of your teammates but being able to have a discussion over lunch. I learned a lot about cadence and routine and thinking big. I would say also Think and Grow Rich from a Motivation Inspiration Standpoint really sort of opened my eyes at a young age. Then I read things that would help me sort of learn and grow like Walden Thurow’s books and things like that just to be more contemplative and to be thoughtful and to be present.
So I would try to really kind of work on each piece of myself to really kind of put the best me forward and I think that’s what each person needs to do is you don’t need to really be in competition with anyone else personally, you just need to be the best version of yourself and you’ve got to put the effort into that.
JT: So when you read say two books a month, how do you implement them? Sometimes we just read books and they’re really good but we don’t necessarily take the action steps that we need. That’s one of the pieces that you said when you were doing your book that you wanted people to be able to take something away from it. But how do you normally do it when you read?
TH: Great question. So I would say for the last 16 years, something like that, I have with every book that I read, and they’re my books, I’m not borrowing books. So I dog ear, underline the area that I’m interested in when I’m reading it. So I’m marking these things up and I’m dog earring them. I’m a big dog ear person and then when I finish the book I go back to the dog ears and the underlined pieces, I take a sheet of paper, I date it, put the title of the book, the author, I rate it and what it’s about because I might need it for a meeting, I need to review it.
I have a file and what I do is I divide it up. Is it something on strategy, branding, HR, whatever it might be. Inspiration, thoughtfulness, whatever it is, I have a manila folder and all the books that I’ve read on that it’s in that manila folder so I can always go back to it and review it. So I go back and write it, I review it, then I file it so I can go back and I have that file always next to me at my desk and I’m always looking at something when I’m working. Even when I was working on my book I went to that file to get ideas from other people to be quite honest.
JT: That’s great. I have to admit, as I said, I didn’t want to touch your book. I usually dog ear just like everything, just like you and I write in it and I didn’t want to. So I don’t know, you made it too good, so I didn’t even want to dog ear it. But it has got tons of really good information so I have little dog ears instead of the big dog ears that I usually make. It’s sad. So I want to change it up a little. What do you think is the best way to achieve long-terms success? Do you set goals? I know you said by the age of 40 you wanted to be retired.
TH: Yes. I think that the most important thing hands down is you have to create your one-year goal and so many people either they don’t do it or they do it and they don’t review it either every two weeks or monthly and I think that’s critical. I think it’s a few things that have contributed to the reason why I retired young but I will say the most important, anyone that knows me well knows that I write every single day. I have a journal and I write every day and not only that I have this appointment with you but that I was going to run seven miles, then I am going to ski later, then I am going to read. Everything that I’m going to do is written down in my journal and then I have my annual goals.
My annual goals are broken out by personal, business and family. Within each of those categories, they can be as little as four or five up to maybe seven and then what happens is I have what’s called a gant chart. Now this is a little sophisticated now because of my assistant and she’s a business intelligence person so she creates deadlines for every one of my goals but I set up goals within those categories and every month I review my goals and that’s why I think I have such a high level of success of hitting my goals because they’re in my face all the time.
You’ve got to create personal accountability. If you’re not reviewing your goals on a month in, month out basis, and here’s the benefit once you do it. Then you can go back and look at 2008 and say what did I say I was going to do and when a year goes by, you should be able to say hey did I become a better person? Did I achieve something? Did I make a difference in my community? The world? Personally? Did I learn a language? Whatever it is. Did I qualify for the Boston marathon? Whatever it is. Then you should be able to go back and go oh yeah, 2010 rocked. I got my sailing license, I qualified for Boston, I achieved this much in income, I sold this many books, whatever it is.
You should be able to review that and then what you do is you put those annual, you print out that sheet once the year is over and you put it in a file and I have every one of my one-year goals and I review that. To be honest, some themes, some things that I haven’t done such as an advanced accounting course and the reason why I know that it’s on my to dos. I haven’t done this advanced accounting course. Probably I’m not real driven to take it but wanting to start a new company I’d like to have some really advanced accounting skills but I’m not really driven to do it but I got to push myself where other things like running the New York Marathon November 6, I want to do it in under 3 hours and 10 minutes. I’m very driven. That’s why I ran seven miles today at a certain pace at elevation in Jackson Hole. You just have to work on your goals constantly. They’ve got to be in your face.
JT: That’s excellent advice. I love what you said about goals but it also sounds like you are extremely well organized. Is that something that comes naturally to you I’m assuming?
TH: No, it’s really something I’ve had to force myself. I’m a big file guy, manila folder person and I’m just very tactical so I like to write things down, touch it and so that’s my learning style. But when it comes to your goals, and I think it’s the most important thing on earth, when it comes to achieving what you set out to achieve, I am organized in that because it’s just so critical and then I think if somebody could, I know there’s, I have an iPhone, I’ve got a computer, I’ve got Outlook but next to me on my left right now literally, I’m jotting down as we’re talking just different things and I keep my little journal next to me. I was a big day planner as a younger person and so I like writing things down and reviewing them.
JT: I know when I switched from the day planner to my iPhone I couldn’t write anymore and I didn’t like it so I have the same thing. It’s funny how tactile you need to be just to write things down. That makes sense. Excellent. Good to hear though that you aren’t automatically perfectly organized ahead of time. Awesome. So let’s talk a little about your book in that the fact that I read that you’re donating all your book profits to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. So what made you decide to choose an NFTE and why do you think it’s so important to give back?
TH: Okay. Well, the first thing is when I owned Planet Tan, NFTE had reached out to YEO, Young Entrepreneurs Organization, and looked for entrepreneurs to go into the school system in distressed areas to go out and teach entrepreneurship in the classroom and so I started doing that back in 2000 and I’d like to say 7, and when I went in the classroom just something magically happened. I was amazed at some of these kids coming from some of their situations just how incredibly bright and driven they were. So something just resonated with me and I always thought boy I’d like to get more involved in this organization and then later on, they asked me to join the board of directors in Dallas. When I joined the board of directors it was about the same time I was selling my company and rather than just writing a check anonymously to some charity I wanted to get involved in this charity because I could see that if we could help children graduate from high school and see the relevancy in that, then they could create a pathway to prosperity.
What the book sets out to do is to hopefully teach entrepreneurs how to get better or motivate someone to start their own business or if someone is in a job, help them become a better version of themselves. But the profits are going to go towards funding NFTE which is I think is just an organization that’s out there to help fund the teachers to teach entrepreneurship in sort of these lower income areas and I think part of what makes a community important is how much you’re involved and whether you’re able to make a contribution financially or through your specific knowledge or the amount of time. That’s what makes a community is that you care and that you’re involved and so I live in Dallas, not only has it been great to me, but I live there and I love Dallas and I love the community.
So why wouldn’t I go out and make a difference in especially young kids lives that at a young age they really don’t have a choice, but if we can get them fired up as they get older and they move out of those situations, then it’s all about choice not chance and then they can take control of their future.
JT: Sounds like a great organization. I started looking into it just because you had it written down. Thank you for telling me how it’s spelled NFTE, I didn’t know it’s called NFTE. But it’s a great cause and I highly recommend anyone that’s a business owner that’s listening right now just sort of investigate it too because the more information we have out there for people the better. Excellent.
So what I’d love to hear, we’ve talked a lot about how successful you are and how great it was, you know what I mean, but we talk a lot about failures and obstacles and I think when we hear success stories it’s really easy to just sort of be like oh of course they’re successful, he’s really smart. But what sort of failures and obstacles did you run into while you were trying to build your company?
TH: Oh geez. Just a number of them. That’s part of the deal is that when you’re running a company it’s really dealing with the adversity and not letting that adversity become overwhelming. I would say one of the most difficult things is not overspending when you start a business is being able to manage your cash flow. Not really running, the P&Ls are important but the most important number is your cash flow so how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. It sounds easy but you really have to have tight controls and I tended to spend less than I should have because that was a big concern of mine.
One of the things that I made a mistake on that I think I could have done better is I could have built out my corporate office sooner and if I would have done that, brought the right people in, I think I could have sold, I could have had 30 or 40 locations as opposed to 17 when I sold. So one of the things I learned is at the right time, bring the people on but in the beginning be very conservative with your cash flow.
The second thing is when someone shows you who they are believe it. What I mean is that with people is I made a lot of mistakes on hanging on to people too long, trying to really, I personally felt responsible for their failures and their failures were their personal choices and so I should have gotten rid of some people a lot sooner. I think that’s toxic to the culture and I certainly, I hated letting people go but you know what, you’ve got to do the right thing because what happens in the long run is you free them up to go somewhere else where they’re going to be successful. Your staff that’s watching this person fail, they feel better about their leader making the right move and then you get someone on the team that can do the job. So I didn’t let people go at points and times that should have been let go and I should have built out the corporate culture sooner.
JT: So what are some tips on firing people because I know it’s hard for every business owner to do. Nobody wants to do it. That’s why usually it takes so long for people to fire people. So what tips do you have from the trenches?
TH: Well I think one of the things is always let people know where they stand. Give them the chance, depending on how, if it’s a severe violation obviously you’ve got to let them go immediately, but if they have the values, if they’re a good employee and they’re not able to hit the numbers or the success, then maybe you can move them into another area or department if your company is big enough. But if they don’t have the values, whether they’re successful or not, they’ve got to go. The reason why is ultimately they’re going to be a culture killer.
So my recommendation is to move sooner than later. The minute someone violates the values of the organization whether it’s integrity, the way they’re treating coworkers, the level of reliability in a position, whatever the values of your organization are, that has to be non-negotiable. So generally when it was time to let someone go, when I sold the company, not in the beginning, when they came into my office, it was no great surprise to them. Actually they probably were thinking I should have done it sooner. But when I sat down with them I generally would tell them, “Hey we’ve given this every shot, it’s time to part ways” and what I would do with people is I was always very thoughtful in how to help them if they wanted it. Internally, we’d have someone in the company help them maybe move along as they left the company in trying to look for another position if it wasn’t a severe violation in the company but we had to separate ways.
I was always very, I never bad mouthed and I never said anything negative about the person because the way you let that person go, everyone is watching you and they know the way you’re treating them is maybe the way you’re going to treat everyone else or themselves. So it’s very important that you stay above the pettiness and you just deal with the facts. I pretty much, when it was time to let someone go in the end, it was pretty much they knew it was coming. There was no great surprises.
JT: Thanks for that. That’s what people need to know is to set up the systems that you guys set up so that way it does turn out that way, because I know business owners, in general that I talk to for clients and stuff, makes it difficult because if they don’t have those set in place, they don’t feel justified in letting them go and it makes perfect sense. You need to know where you stand. Excellent.
JT: So let’s talk about some fun stuff. So tell me about what it’s like. I was reading in your book about you traveling, I mean you’re in your second home. You live in Dallas and in Jackson Hole. Tell me a little bit about how great it is to be retired by the age of 40.
TH: It’s fantastic. Actually, not to throw more sugar on top but I also live in New Orleans. I split my time between Dallas, Jackson Hole and New Orleans. I’m in Jackson Hole right now and the skiing is pretty phenomenal. It’s important that you’re very aware of what your values are. One of my biggest values was financial independence and that’s why that goal was to be retired at 40. But right next to that value is health and vitality and what I mean by that is not only to take care of my health but to also live in environments and be around people that support living a healthy lifestyle and so you’ve got to be real clear on what your values are.
So I sort of backed into what those values are with my life and it is phenomenal to be successful at a young age and have the opportunity to give back and travel the world and write a book but I can also tell you when you’re young and you retire and some of your listeners have probably experienced this is you’ve still got a lot in your bag and after a little time off, if you’re a pro athlete, gosh you feel the best when you’re on the field or on the court or wherever it is, and so I’m excited, at some point here, to get back into business and most importantly not because of financial reasons but just the pure enjoyment of competition and working with a great team of people. That’s very inspiring to me and that also fuels one of my most important values is to learn and grow and to be the best version of myself and part of that is to constantly push myself to be a better version of myself.
JT: That’s excellent advice. One of the things I say on my blog is that you have a goal to become a millionaire not just for financial reasons but for the person you’ll become when you get there. I think a big quote by Jim Rowan or something like that. That’s really important and you’re right, having those specific goals that make you push because otherwise you just sit down and not push. So you don’t become that better person without them. That’s excellent. So what’s one action that all the listeners can take this week to move them forward towards their goal of a million?
TH: Oh boy. That’s a great question. So the one tip within a week that they can do to move them towards a million? I would say take on the biggest thing that you’ve been avoiding that will raise the revenue of your company. So, if you’ve been putting off something, the goal is not to tackle the biggest, the whole problem, is to tackle the next step. So what I would say is whatever the next step is that will give you the greatest return on revenue or generate the most revenue no matter how difficult it is, knock off the biggest and the hardest thing to do that.
Don’t focus on the big problem. Focus on just the next step because it’s sort of like eating an elephant, right? Just one bite at a time. What I would say is don’t get overwhelmed by the entire goal, just look at the very next step because success is a series of steps. It’s not one big concept or one big great idea, at least not in my world, it hasn’t been one great idea. It’s a series of days, to dos, intense focus. So I would say whatever the thing is you’re putting off, you need to do that next week and don’t let anything stand in your way. I don’t care how late you’ve got to stay up or how uncomfortable it is to have the conversation or make the car or drive to where you need to drive to try to make the sale, but just do the next thing to get you to the big goal. Just whatever that next things is.
JT: That’s great advice. So everybody that’s listening right now needs to go ahead and put it on their calendar that they’re going to make a priority of exactly what they’re going to do next week. Excellent. Well where can we find you online? What’s the best place to find out more information?
TH: You can go onto sellingsunshinebook.com. Again, all the proceeds, 100 percent of the proceeds, are going to NFTE so we’d love you to go out there and buy it Selling Sunshine Book, 75 Tips, Tools and Tactics to Become a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur. You can also follow me on Twitter or on Facebook. Tony Hartl and/or Selling Sunshine, either one.
JT: Excellent. So thank you so much for coming on today and I totally think everybody should go pick up the book. You can get it on Amazon too or at sellingsunshinebook.com. It was an excellent read. Thank you so much for coming on today, Tony, and I hope you have a great day.
TH: Great. Thank you so much for having me on.