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John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Jack McGuinness. He is a co-founder and managing partner of Relationship Impact, a consulting firm focused on helping great leaders build great leadership teams. So Jack, welcome to the show.
Jack McGuinness: Thanks so much for having me, John. I really appreciate it.
John Jantsch: So full disclosure, you and I’ve worked together, our firms have actually worked together, so I do know a little more about your story than maybe some folks. But why don’t you start by kind of giving a little bit of background on you and your journey as an entrepreneur and maybe tell us a little about your work.
Jack McGuinness: Sure. So my journey started, sort of my entrepreneurial journey I guess started in around 1993. I was looking for a job, just got out of my MBA program and I got very lucky and got connected to a guy that was about 15 years older than me from Deloitte who was starting his own management consulting firm. And I really wanted to get into management consulting field. So I helped, I was one of his first employees and wound up becoming the chief operating officer and running part of the firm and we grew at our peak to around 50 people or so. And it was great from a number of perspectives. Number one, it helped me, I got experienced both learning how to be a good management consultant but also had the opportunity to learn how to build and manage a consulting practice as well. It’s relatively small business, but I had a big part in helping build the infrastructure for the firm and hiring people and kind of the whole business development side and just really helping a firm grow. And it was a great experience from that perspective.
Jack McGuinness:It was also very informative for the type of work I do right now. But a lot of the people that we hired in after me had organizational development backgrounds and PhDs in psychology, master’s in organizational behavior. So, my partner, my boss had a strong vision for what he wanted the firm to look like. And in order to compete against the big guys, the Deloittes, the McKinseys, the Accentures, our niche became large scale change projects, anything from mergers and acquisitions to large scale system integration work. We rode the re-engineering process, re-engineering craze in the 1990s, but we did it from a change management perspective. So how do you bring the people along?
Jack McGuinness: So I feel like, through that experience, not only did I learn how to become a good managing consultant and help build the firm, but I also learned another part of I’m an engineer with an MBA. And it’s sort of a right and wrong way of doing things and that way of thinking and sort of a linear way of thinking. It’s kind of a simplistic view, but kind of that’s where my head was. And so I learned really this whole new dynamic of how to bring people along and how to lead large scale change efforts, which has really been informative for the type of work that I do right now.
John Jantsch: Yeah. So give us a little taste of that. What’s a typical engagement for you as a management consultant?
Jack McGuinness: Sure. So right now, we call ourselves executive or leadership team coaches. And to be honest with you till a few years ago, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a leadership team coach. But what we do is we work with executive teams at growing companies, say, anywhere from 15 to $150 million in revenue to help them build the structure for the team to be able to be productive and build the relational dynamics for them to be more effective in terms of how they work together. And so we call it two sides of the same coin. It’s like there’s a structural side of building a great team and a relational side of building a great team. And what happens oftentimes with growing companies is they get out of sync. Everyone would be pulling their weight and rolling their sleeves up when they’re young with not a lot of process, not a lot of structure in place. And then relationships sort of get out of whack because people are stepping over each other or whatever and then you put new structure in place and the people don’t necessarily trust the structure.
Jack McGuinness: So what we do to start is really help leadership teams figure out where they’re out of whack structurally and relationally, help them move to some commitments collectively and individually to make the changes they need to make to strengthen how the team is operating to get the results they’re looking for. And what really it is, an accountability model of leadership team coaching. We help teams help themselves, hold themselves accountable to the commitments they make. Again, really what we’re very much focused on, how does this team become as good as it possibly can be to face the challenges what environment demands from them?
John Jantsch: Your firm is how old?
Jack McGuinness: We’re about 10 years old now. Yeah, we started in late 2009, so a little over 10 years old. Yes.
John Jantsch: Do you remember why you started your business or why you decided to have on your own?
Jack McGuinness: Yeah. There’s a practical and then there’s sort of a visionary kind of part of it. In 2008, after working for that management consulting firm, I owned a contract packaging firm. It was an entrepreneurial venture but we bought it with two passive partners. I bought a family-run business and we made some great strides to turn that around, bought some new equipment, brought on some customers like Unilever and Hershey and Godiva and did some great work. But then the financial crisis hit and we got our butts kicked with that whole thing. A lot of our customers brought their packaging back in-house, there wasn’t as much demand.
Jack McGuinness: And so some great lessons from that as well. But I was looking for my next gig. I thought I was going to get back into management consulting because that’s what I knew and had a pedigree in. And I reconnected with a classmate of mine from college that I had stayed in touch with. But we sort of put our heads together. He was getting his PhD in leadership at GW University, which is near me in the DC Metro area. And we sort of just put our heads together and said, “What do you want to do for the second half of your career? What unique contributions do we think we have to offer businesses?” We knew we wanted to do some sort of consulting work and we settled on… We thought we had some interesting things to say about teams in organizations. So when we started we were more broadly leadership development, team development across organizations. Right now we’re much more over the last five or six years, frankly with your help, much more focused on a narrow target market of working with the executive teams of growing companies.
Jack McGuinness: So circumstance certainly drove it, but also a passion for teams and we felt like we had some interesting things to say about teams. And it’s really come to fruition because I have to say in the last five years, this is the most fun and most lucrative. So both, we’re doing well both financially and professionally and personally because we love the work that we do and we think we are having some really good impact with the firms we’re working with, the companies we’re working with.
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John Jantsch: So since you’re having so much fun, what’s the hard part about doing what you’re doing as an entrepreneur in your view?
Jack McGuinness: Yeah, so a hard part is, like a lot of firms, you think you got a great Rolodex to start. And so frankly business development and selling is maintaining consistency of pipeline and it was the hardest part of our business. We started off with Gangbusters in 2000. It really got our stride in 2010 and had some great clients and big clients. And then the Rolodex runs dry a little bit and then you have to like, “Okay, well, what are we going to do now?”
Jack McGuinness: And so, I think I read your book, Duct Tape Marketing probably in 2011 or ’12 because I was just really doing some soul-searching about how we were going to make this thing work. And I came across your book and used it for a few years and then I was just like, “I got to dive in.” So I called you, you did one of your assessments for us and then I hired you for, well, I don’t know how long it was, maybe 18 months or off and on for two years. So the hardest thing was business development and building a strong rhythm of marketing and selling.
John Jantsch: Well, so let’s talk about marketing specifically.
Jack McGuinness: Sure.
John Jantsch: Professional service providers are essentially selling air to some extent. Management consultant, I mean, what does that mean? That can be very broad in general. What have you done, particularly as you kind of mentioned that you felt like your pipeline was good and your rhythm was good? What’s been the most effective way for you to market your business?
Jack McGuinness: So a couple things. First of all, you’re right, selling professional services and selling leadership development or leadership consulting, it’s a very crowded space. So getting targeted and narrowing our focus was, I think, the first thing that your book’s helped us with, but then when we started working with you, you really helped us with this, you can’t be everything to everyone. You got to narrow what you do and you got to be able to tell a story that’s compelling and that connects with them, that doesn’t talk at them. And the work that we do is very much an unrecognized need in many cases. There’s not a lot of CEOs just sitting around saying, “My team’s really dysfunctional. Let’s hire someone to help them.” But I guess some of them do, but we weren’t getting calls all day. So I guess that’s one way of putting it. But I guess the first was really narrowing our focus and getting a more narrowly-defined target market.
Jack McGuinness: And then the second thing that really has helped us is becoming thought leaders in the work that we do. Now, we’re not Marshall Goldsmith or anyone like that, but we have developed a lot of content in the last three years and we did that with a lot of discipline. You call it a content plan, I think. I can’t remember the term, but we had a content plan with a schedule and the types of things we were going to use, LinkedIn, writing for magazines, doing webinars, speaking, those types of things. And until you get disciplined at that, and frankly you have to write something before you can do much of anything else. And then re-curating other people’s content, re-curating our content, words that I didn’t even know what they meant frankly. And so I think those two things, targeting and becoming thought leaders in a very disciplined, organized way has been really instrumental for us.
John Jantsch: So a lot of folks, I mean I think a lot of people hear that advice that they need to be doing that. But when it really comes down to it, as you alluded too, it’s a lot of work or can be a fair amount of work. So when did you kind of realize, “Hey, you know what, this might be paying off?”
Jack McGuinness: Well, it wasn’t too far after, probably six months after we put our content calendar together and started writing for Chief Executive Magazine. We started getting some calls. So a couple of our biggest clients now are from the writing we’ve done for Chief Executive Magazine. And so I’d say within less than six months we definitely saw some benefit. And then you guys helped us. You and Jen have really helped us figure out how to track our Google and our LinkedIn and Facebook numbers as well. And using SEO and using just simple things like having better titles. And it is a lot of work, but we have seen the impact. I mean frankly, nothing’s perfect, but our first five or six years, it was up and down every month, particularly in the first quarter of the year really. At the end of the year we haven’t had a good year pretty much. And then all of a sudden you’re like, “Okay, well, what are we going to do now?” We’re looking at each other trying to get the next sale. And we don’t really have that anymore.
Jack McGuinness: Our sales, our pipeline is much smoother or robust, I guess you would call it. And our monthly revenue is smooth out, so we don’t have those peaks and valleys anymore. Knock on wood. You can never rest, that’s for sure, running a small business. But I feel like with a lot of discipline and targeting, it’s really paid off.
John Jantsch: So let’s start a little bit about family life and owning a business. In your time before, and obviously your life has changed the 10 years you’ve had the business, but how do you manage? Because a lot of times running a business, it’s like, there’s always more to do.
Jack McGuinness: Right.
John Jantsch: So how have you managed kind of the elusive balance of trying to do all of this but also trying to enjoy a rich personal and family life?
Jack McGuinness: I’m fortunate from a couple perspectives that I have a wife who is a partner in a big law firm, so that certainly helps from an earnings’ perspective. But I think we were all over the place when we first started in terms of marketing. We would go to conferences, we’d go to networking events, we just did a lot of stuff that really just didn’t have… And handing out business cards was a useless construct to be honest with you. And so with the discipline came a much more productive way of managing what we do. Particularly as it relates to marketing because we don’t do those events or those pay for play things anymore. I have like three different breakfast groups that I formed with people that are like-minded, that are selling to similar people, that are willing to give to each other. I do writing, webinars.
Jack McGuinness: So everything’s very targeted and pretty disciplined so that I don’t feel a need to just go do lots of activity. So I feel like it’s been much more focused. Because frankly, as a small business owner, we’re both marketing ends selling and delivering the work that we do. And so the delivering takes up a lot of our time and it’s what we really like to do. So that one you can’t mess with, but you can mess with how you generate your business and get much more discipline there.
John Jantsch: Anything on the horizon for 2020 that you think is opportunity for relationship impact?
Jack McGuinness: Yeah. Again, through your advice and counsel, I’m very slowly and methodically putting together… I have an outline for a book that I’m planning on when my youngest daughter heads off to college in the fall. I will have even more time to focus and just go every couple of weeks and start the process of writing a book on how to build a great executive leadership team.
John Jantsch: Well, obviously I applaud that because, I mean, that’s the next logical kind of step in your content platform, if you will, that you were talking about. And Marshall Goldsmith, beware.
Jack McGuinness: Yeah, that’s right. Thank you for that. I don’t know. I don’t know about that. My aspiration is to meet him. I love that guy. But I think that’s the other thing is too, you pushed, you guys were really encouraging me to do more video and I made some attempts at that and it just didn’t feel right. So I hired a firm that does video and I did my first shoot last week. A couple of days worth of both customer, partners and me. And they have a lot of micro clips, some larger videos. So I’m starting that whole process this year. It took me a little longer than I wanted it to, but that’ll be a big push this year as well.
John Jantsch: Well Jack, thanks for stopping by and talking a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey and relationship impact. You want to tell people if they want to check out your work where they can find you?
Jack McGuinness: Yeah, please. It’s relationship-impact.com and lots of rich content in there, all focused on how to build a great leadership team. John, I can’t tell you thank you enough for having me on your podcast and for the great partnership and advice and counsel that you’ve given me over the years and will continue to do so. It’s just been… I really don’t think that Gil and I would be in this place without you.
John Jantsch: Oh, well, thank you. I appreciate you sharing that and hopefully we’ll bump into you soon out there on the road.
Jack McGuinness: Thanks, John.