This is episode #316, and Ben Rao, founder of Community Buying Group is my guest. Ben has grown is material buying COOP for real estate investors from himself in the garage of a rental property to 19 employees, with thousands of investors using his service. In today’s show, we talk about how to network and leverage our resources to build our businesses. Many of you listening may be solo-preneurs, or have a small team…and today we discuss how to scale a business through building a solid company culture where people love to help you achieve your vision. Even if you’re a 1 man band, you’re going to love today’s show. Also – Ben shares access for members of FlipNerd.com to get free access to a Community Buying Group membership – where you can save money on every purchase at Lowe’s, Sherwin Williams, and almost 20 other vendors that you’re likely already using.
Please help me welcome Ben Rao to the show…
Mike: This is the FlipNerd.com Expert Real Estate Investing Show, the show for real estate investors, whether you’re a veteran or brand new. I’m your host, Mike Hambright, and each week I bring you a new expert guest that will share their knowledge and lessons with you. If you’re excited about real estate investing, believe in personal responsibility and taking control of your life and financial destiny, you’re in the right place. This is Episode #316, and Ben Rao, Founder of Community Buying Group, is my guest today. Ben has grown his material buying co-op for real estate investors from himself in the garage of one of his rental properties to 19 employees with thousands of investors using his service.
In today’s show, we talk about how to network and leverage our resources to build our businesses. Most of us have a vision that we just can’t do on our own. Many of you listening may be solopreneurs or have a small team, but today we’re going to discuss how to scale your business through building a solid company culture where people love to help you achieve your vision, where members of your team can become almost members of your family to make your business and your office a fun place to work.
Even if you’re a one-man band or a one-woman band, you’re going to love today’s show. Most of us get into this business not to be essentially just self-employed slaves to our own selves as employers, we truly want to build something special and something that gives us a lot of the freedoms that we didn’t have from wherever we came from. Ben also shares with us today for members of FlipNerd access to a Community Buying Group membership for free. It’s normally $99 a year. You immediately save money on every purchase from Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams and almost 20 other vendors that you’re likely already using if you’re a real estate investor. So we’ll talk about that in the show as well.
Please help me welcome Ben Rao to the show. Ben, welcome to the show, my friend. Ben: Hey, thanks, Mike. Happy to be here. Mike: Glad to have you here. I’m excited to talk about these things today. You and I are actually in the Collective Genius Mastermind together, and of course we talk a lot about – a lot of people would probably be surprised that it’s a real estate investing mastermind, but we talk a lot about building businesses as entrepreneurs.
None of us got into this to have a job or be a slave to a job. But we just don’t talk about that stuff enough. I’m excited to talk about how you built your business today and how we can learn as small businesses, how we can learn from some of your experiences as well. Ben: Yeah, for sure. I’ve been in real estate investment for more than 10 years. I have rental properties; I’ve flipped properties. It seems that throughout my life, businesses have built on each other. I was in technology before I really focused on real estate, and now I have a business with Community Buying Group that’s both technology and real estate, and it’s just from the experiences I’ve had before. Mike: I think what you find out – there are some members of our group and other people I’ve had on the show before, and what I’ve come to realize is that even though we primarily focus on real estate investors and people that have been doing things, I’ve had people on that are consultants or in kind of variants of the real estate investing space and we all have the same issues like managing people, how to have some sort of balance in our life so that we’re not just killing ourselves by another job. All small businesses I think have many of the same fundamental issues. Ben: Yeah, they do. We’re all entrepreneurs. That’s really what we are, right? There are a lot of great things about that and there are a lot of challenges. When I started Community Buying Group in the garage of one of my rental properties, it was myself and a part-time employee, and you really had to think through when you’re doing a start-up, one of them is bootstrapping it, but then you’re just doing everything you can just to get business in and you’re working as hard as you can work. What you eventually figure out is that there are only so many hours in a week and there’s only so much work that you can do and there’s a window that you’re up against that you can’t work any harder, so you have to start looking to do what can you do different to get leverage.
I talk about leverage a lot, in a lot of different parts of my business, and talk to my people within our company about thinking that way. Mike: It’s critical for small businesses, too. I know we’ll talk about this in a little bit.
Before we get started, why don’t you take a minute and just tell us a little bit more about you. We kind of skipped the intro part, but just tell us who this unshaven guy on the other side of the camera is here?
Ben: I’m just not that interesting of a person, so we probably shouldn’t spend so much time on it. Mike: Join the club. Ben: I live in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, which is outside of Kansas City. I’ve been investing in single-family rentals for the last 10 years. I have rental properties. I still flip properties from time-to-time.
What I saw was a lot of fragmentation in the real estate investment market from small to medium businesses. A lot of them don’t have processes and don’t have structure. They’re just trying to get it done through hard work and hustle. I wanted to build something that was a community of people that were in the same industry that we could come together, share information, and then leverage each other as small businesses to get better pricing on materials and get the same kind of pricing that big companies were getting that the little companies couldn’t get.
That’s kind of how Community Buying Group was born six years ago. Mike: That’s great. It’s funny; because as a coach and a mentor to real estate investors, I talk a lot to them about when we find contractors or other people to work with, I say, hey, tell them you’re part of this group. We’re always trying to find ways to make ourselves bigger or have leverage because that’s a hard thing to do as a small business and especially as a small real estate investor.
Ben: You talk about groups, and there are things like the typical REIA groups, but you’ve got to kind of expand your mind out beyond that. If you’re not involved in some kind of REIA group or networking or mastermind group, you’re totally missing the boat on one, to have some support mechanism for the same problems that we’re all having to share. I mean, with people, there are lots of different ways to do it. You talk about networking and being at events and you’re collecting all these cards and shaking hands and meeting all these people, but then are you coming back? Are you going out and connecting on every single one of them through social media, whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn? Are you putting relevant information back in front of them so that your brand stays more top-of-mind?
That’s the kind of thing that – I’ll tell you who does it really good is Cory Boatright. He’s constantly blowing up with articles, and he’s not asking for anything. He’s just like, “Hey, did you see this crazy thing or this app or did you see this article?” It’s like it keeps him top-of-mind, and here we are, you and I talking about him. Mike: That’s funny; I was just writing something about Cory for one of our upcoming blogs about some other podcasters.
One thing I want to mention before we get too far into this, and I’ll kind of mention it at the end of the show too, maybe you can tell us a little bit about Community Buying Group, for those who don’t know about it.
Ben: Sure. Mike: I do want to tell people – I know normally you charge $99 for somebody to join to get access to your co-op to get massive discounts from Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams and a whole bunch of other brands, and you’ve offered listeners of FlipNerd to get access totally for free. So it’s $99 a year, right? Is that what it is?
Ben: That’s right. And guaranteed, if you’re buying materials, you’re going to save way beyond that. Our average member saves about $1,600 a year with CBG, and that’s through our programs with Lowe’s, with Sherwin-Williams on paint. The paint prices are almost 40% off. When you sign up to be a CBG member, we’ll get you a little key fob you can put on your keys and they can scan it at the store. That will be your account.
Everything we’re doing all has to be – it’s your account. It’s not some bar code that everybody in the United States is using. We’re setting people up with their own accounts so then they can get access to all of our pricing. We’ve got an amazing insurance product that is specific to non-owner-occupied property, so if you’re flipping or you’ve got rentals, that’s all they do.
There are a lot of other things on there. Office supplies, we have 20+ suppliers. But those are the big ones; tool rentals, all kinds of different stuff. Mike: Awesome. If you’re listening right now, make sure you write this down. Just go to FlipNerd.com/CBG for Community Buying Group and you can enroll in like a minute or two and it’s totally free through the software that Ben is sharing with us. So thank you, Ben.
Ben: It takes less than two minutes to register. Go take advantage of that, for sure. Mike: That’s awesome. Great. Let’s talk a little bit about kind of how you’ve evolved with leveraging and networking your relationships and stuff like that. I know a lot of us feel – everybody knows how important this is, and some people actually do something about it and some of them know it’s important but never get to it.
What are some helpful tips you can share with people that are listening about how to build out your network as a small business owner?
Ben: I look at leverage in a couple different ways. I look at in people, I look at in technology, and I look at it in process and systems. The people part of it is what we talked about earlier. If you’re out networking and going to an event – I’ll give you another great idea. If you go to an event and they have a booklet of everybody that is there in a program, are you getting out and connecting to everybody in that book?
If you want to leverage yourself better and do that with technology, go get a VA. Give them your login credentials for your social media and have them go make all the connections to all those people, and then change your login credentials after they finish doing that.
If you talk about trying to build out your network and sphere of influence and connecting with people, that’s kind of like a double-punch there as far as using some technology or using a VA. A VA is a virtual assistant, for those of you that don’t know.
Referrals are something that sounds so simple, but are you asking everybody you know, hey, who do you know that – whatever your product or whatever you’re looking for to make connections? Who do you know that’s a great contractor that you use to do some kind of a service?”
These are all people that if you’re meeting face-to-face, whether it’s a REIA group, mastermind – we talk about Collective Genius. We all share our systems and processes about how we do things. It helps us all elevate as a group of business people to better all of us. So you can’t be stingy about always asking. You also kind of have to share things that you do, too. Mike: There are a couple of things you’ve said there that I want to elaborate on. I’ve given some presentations on a similar topic before at a REIA club. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but when you go to a REIA club or an expo or an event, you get a big stack of business cards, put a rubber band around it and throw it into a drawer, and you’re like, “Well, I’m a networker. I networked with people.”
But you and I both know . . .
Ben: That’s the easy part. Mike: I know. How are you going to stand out? You’ve got to build those relationships from there. So any kind of tips on that – I’ve got awesome tips that I’ve shared before, but tips on how to make yourself stand out? If you go to a club like that, everybody leaves with a pocketful of business cards, and then nobody knows anybody, right?
It’s time for a quick announcement. We’ll be back to the show in less than 30 seconds.
Passiverental.com is your source for turnkey, done-for-you rental properties. If you’d like to be an investor and not a landlord, please visit passiverental.com to learn how to purchase cash flowing, professionally managed rental properties in the hottest rental markets across the country. We can also help connect you with financing for your next property. Invest the easy way today and get started by visiting passiverental.com. Mike: Everybody leaves with a pocketful of business cards, and then nobody knows anybody, right?
Ben: So take your business cards, and if you don’t have a whole lot and you’ve got time, go make those connections on your own. An email, a follow-up; it goes miles. Ask that person a question. Everybody who’s an entrepreneur wants to help. It’s something that we all want to do. Hey, do you know the best idea to go do this? And they’re going to probably respond to you.
Connect on social media. Take the cards and scan them. There are five or six different apps that you can scan business cards. It will do the OCR and put them into an Excel .csv spreadsheet. If you’re using any kind of technology – which you should be – some kind of CRM, whether it’s Salesforce or Podio or something, you’ll be able to import that stuff in and then create some workflows, or even Infusionsoft for email marketing, and be able to touch those people in a more automated way because you’re too busy to say, oh, I’m going to touch them once a month with just a thought of the day, you know, that kind of stuff can go through social media. There are a lot of different ways to do that. But I agree with you. You see most people collect the cards. They contact two or three people, and the rest of the cards sit in the drawer rubber-banded. I have a whole drawer of those.
Mike: I do too. Ben: I wish they were $100 bills in stacks. But they’ve already been scanned. They’ve already been put in Salesforce. We create things like campaigns to know, hey, where did we meet those people, so it’s easy to keep track. Mike: I think that is an important thing when you meet somebody. You don’t have to do this for every single person you meet, but sometimes you meet somebody, an influential person you could maybe do something with. What I’m getting at is to kind of make a note of how you might be able to help that person, how they might be able to help you, something noteworthy about them, because when you go to a big event and you walk out of there, you forget all of that.
So if you just kind of say, hey, this person works here and he’s working on this, and I told him I could connect him with somebody or whatever it is. I think you’re right. If you find a way to give to people – a lot of people go to networking events or they go to expos or things like that and they’re in kind of get mode, like, what can I get? You know, the people walking around with the bag and filling it with all the pens and Styrofoam cups and all that stuff. Ben: It’s ridiculous. We had a booth at one of these events. A lady comes through and scrapes the whole table of all of our pens into her bag. We were in shock. Mike: She was there to get.
Ben: One of the people at our booth said, “What are you doing?” She said, “I’m getting some pens.” He said, “You can have one.” She dumped it back out on our booth. It was beyond. . .
Mike: But the people who go talk to somebody and think about, is there anything I can help you with – most people don’t do that. First off, you’re memorable because you stand out, and secondly, that’s how you get back. Like, give first, and then maybe they can help you as well. They’re much more likely to help you if you start with that giving mentality, right?
Ben: Yeah, they are. There’s also something else that you see a lot of people fall on execution when they’re going to go to any kind of a networking event; I don’t care if it’s a chamber breakfast, go there with something in mind, not just showing up. You’re going to look for something; look for somebody. You’re looking for – do you know anybody who can do this? Can you connect me to this? Do you know a banker? Do you know somebody that might be interested in funding something if you’re trying to raise money? That’s why you’re there. You’re there to network and expand out your sphere of influence.
I was going to make one other point about leverage. One of the business models with Community Buying Group is that we have hundreds of REIA groups, software companies, folks like yourself, FlipNerd, technology companies and they become Community Buying Group affiliates, so we have the ability to tap into the relationships that they have.
So if we have 300 or 400 affiliates, that may represent 70,000, 80,000, 100,000 people that you immediately get the leverage of the relationship these other people have. That works in a personal relationship or in anything else, too. Mike: Right. This is a perfect example. People can sign up for free instead of going to your site and paying $99. You and I are friends, and you said leverage my network, and we’re leveraging the fact that you have a team of people. . .
Ben: Not to mention that you spent thousands of dollars to give it to you.
Mike: And you have a team of people that you’ve leveraged as an employer and they’re leveraging you in ways too to go build relationships with Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams and lots of other people.
Ben: It’s gone from me being by myself with a couple of part-time people and a Border Collie, Charlie Dog, who you’ll see on our website. He’s in the office every day. Now we have 19 employees, which is like a totally different deal to be managing that many people.
Some of the things we’ve been able to do is you learn, one, to hire good people that have expertise to help you to do the things that you don’t know how to do, you know, delegating and getting stuff off of my plate to get it to somebody else, even if they can only do it 75% or 80% to the point of what maybe that I can do, you’re getting leverage using other people. And then we’ve started to build, you know, a lot of the people in Collective Genius, we’re all using Traction. We’ve had that implemented for 10 months. So we’re highly committed to that. The weekly meetings and the cadence of what we’re supposed to do. We’re getting leverage out of that because it’s creating accountability, it’s creating a system to make sure we don’t lose track of things.
When you talk about process and systems, those are just different leverage points that people kind of overlook, whether you’ve got automation through your CRM or Infusionsoft. What’s that book by the guy that started Infusionsoft? Invisible Selling Machine. That’s one that if you haven’t read or you’re looking at how to really focus and leverage technology, that’s a really easy read. There are lots of books like that out there.
The process and the systems piece is an area to me that gets overlooked so much because most people that are entrepreneurs don’t necessarily like that part of it. They like to build the business. They like to generate. They like to start it. Mike: Right. But you can never get out of that mode. We were just talking about some different trips you were on this summer, and I travelled three or four different times this summer with my family, and I can’t just walk away from my business forever, but I have systems in place and processes in place and people in place that allow me to get away for a little while. And if there’s ever a problem, I can get pulled in, but at least I can leave my business periodically. Ben: You’re not handcuffed to it. That’s really important. I’ve got two kids that are teenagers. I’ve been married for 20 years. One of my biggest things, my why and why I work and why I’ve built businesses to be an entrepreneur and owner myself is so that I have more flexibility in my schedule. It’s so odd to hear other companies that are owners and they started a business and they’re like, “I can’t get away. I’m handcuffed.” And it’s usually because they haven’t created either technology, they don’t have the right people or they don’t have processes in place. Mike: Right. I actually have a question for you, the FlipNerd question of the week, Ben. Ben: Uh-oh. Mike: It’s perfect for what we were just talking about. I know a lot of real estate investors, a lot of small businesses suffer with this, and this will be different for everybody, but if you had it to do over again, when it was you in your garage and you were going to hire your second person that was not your dog, by the way, who would your first hire be?
You know a lot of small entrepreneurs. What do you typically advise when they’re going from one to two people? Who should be the first person they hire?
Ben: Actually, that’s not as easy a question I thought you were going to give me. I thought you were going to give me – lob this big softball at me to hit it out of the park.
It’s tough. I tend to lean more towards business development. So how are we going to hire somebody that’s going to help me get more people in the door, bring more affiliates into the Community Buying Group to build it out so then you can bootstrap it and have enough cash flow to then go be hiring other things?
The one thing I probably did wrong in the first year or so is I didn’t take enough time to plan or build processes. I just did it, you know, hard work, nose to the grindstone and just banged it out, rolled up the sleeves and banged it out. It’s like if I had maybe stopped for a second and not been so excited about building and creating, and stepped back to say, “What are the processes here?” I would have gotten the leverage. That maybe if I took a few steps back in the first part of the business, but then it grows faster once you kind of get past the point of when those processes kick in. Mike: In my experience, we’re going through some changes here as well. We’ve really made a concerted effort on the stuff that I’ve known how to do forever of just sitting down and documenting right down to the last thing of what exactly do you do?
Ben: Did you find that to be so painful?
Mike: It is, because you start to think things – I found myself jumping from like step two to step eight, and it’s like, well, there are a whole bunch of little things in here. In my mind, I’m like, well, they’re not noteworthy, but they will be for somebody that’s never done it before, right?
Ben: That’s right. That’s scalability. Mike: Once you get that down, it’s like maybe you can check off two, three and four in like five seconds, but at least it’s part of the process that needs to be kind of documented.
Ben: That’s what gives you the scale. If you can hand a process to somebody else that doesn’t know anything about it and they can follow it step-by-step, then it’s scalable at that point.
Mike: I found myself too often – I know you have too – somebody needs something done and you’re like, “I’m going to have to do it because it will take me longer to tell you how to do it than to do it.” But until you document that, then you’re going to be the person that always has to do it. Ben: And you can’t delegate it if it’s not documented. You know Robert Nickell, he’s got his big VA business focused in real estate investors. One of the things they force you to do if you’re going to use them is documenting what the process is because they need to have somebody else to follow it that doesn’t know what you want them to do. Mike: Right. Ben: It’s painful, but once you get past it and put that investment in, then you’re fine. Mike: Yeah. For those that are listening, we’re going to go into the second part of the show in just a second here. We’re going to elaborate more on building a business and learn how Ben went from one guy in a garage to having 19 employees. But in the context of those of you listening that say, “I’m never going to need 19 employees,” that’s fine, but how do you go from one to two to three to four? How do you build out a team?
A big part of what we’re going to cover is talking about culture. I have several employees, and I find myself thinking about culture a lot. First off, I run a bunch of different little businesses inside here, so they’re all segmented and it just starts to feel like a hodgepodge of stuff going on sometimes, but culture is really important.
So let’s go ahead and jump into the second part of the show here. Maybe you can start by helping share how to truly build a business. Most people say, “I’m a small business owner.” But if you’re just a guy with a truck, it’s debatable whether you have a business or whether you’re just self-employed, right?
So talk about the difference there. I know some of the lessons you’re going to teach are if you had it to do over again, because you probably didn’t do everything perfectly. None of us do, but share your thoughts there.
Ben: Culture is so personal. That is so personal with everybody in the way that they run their business. It really becomes an extension of the personality and the values of the person that owns the business. So whether you’ve got three employees or 300, culture is something that most people don’t even think about defining until they get something put in front of them that they need to formalize it. A lot of people start thinking, oh, I need to write a mission statement and a purpose and these things, and those all are great. Those are just a little bit different than what your values are as a business owner.
If I look at what our values at CBG – I’ll give you a quick example of what they are. We’ve got Think. We expect people to think. We talk about Grow. We want people to grow and to expand their minds and to challenge. Why are we doing this, and think about doing things. We talk about the Leverage. Everybody’s challenged with think about how we would do something with leverage that’s some kind of function or how we do business or how we can change the business. Play is a big one. It used to be Fun. I used to describe it as, hey, I want this to be a fun place, but we’ve described it and defined it as Play. We have fun. We play. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s just work. And we Care. We spend more time with everybody at CBG than we do with our own families. You go home, two hours in the morning maybe, two or three hours at night, you go to bed. You get up. You do it again. But then in the middle of the day, you’re spending anywhere from six to 10 hours with that group of people, so that’s family. So caring about that is a big part of what we’re doing.
Then there’s one that’s a little bit ambiguous, and that’s Hustle. That’s just kind of, hey, we’re moving. We’re keeping it moving. Everybody’s hustling to get stuff done. We’re not lethargic and we’re keeping it moving.
It took a while. It took actually a formal exercise and some time to really kind of – but if you can think about what’s important to you and what you want your business to be, I mean, the whole point of we treat everybody like a family and we care and that we put our families in front of the business, we do a lot of different events, usually one to two a month, and we’re inviting all of our family members to that event, whether that’s bowling or we’re going to a Chiefs game or we’re going to Topgolf, and those are the things that really pull it together.
When you have everybody aligned with the same core values, it makes it really easy to move the company forward and it also puts this glaring spotlight on people within the company that don’t necessarily align with your core values, and the core values for us are hirable or fireable. So it’s a really easy guide. If somebody doesn’t align, something needs to be done or they have to go, or you’re not living by your core values in front of everybody else in the company. Mike: Ben, you’ve been operating your business for a while now. Did you learn that stuff? I’m not going to ask you your age if you don’t want to tell us your age, but I just turned 42, and I find myself . . .
Ben: I’m 28. Mike: You’re full of shit. For me, it was a maturity thing. I know this sounds bad. I didn’t necessarily think like this but I kind of acted like it where some employees on my team, I viewed them as almost a necessary evil. I just needed them to get the job done. It was never – some of the things that you said just a minute ago I think a lot more about now.
I definitely care more about people. I want to find people that I would like to hang out with as well, not that I hang out with everybody because everybody has busy lives, but I think more about what the other person wants than just like, hey, I just need somebody to do what I need them to do, and that’s what I pay them for. That’s a business maturity thing there, but I was immature for too long. Ben: I agree. I think it’s a business maturity, and also you have to stop because it requires some deep thought. If you’re talking about that one of your core values is honesty, that’s not really a core value, that’s just kind of a given.
So you’ve got to get past things like that. We worked through with Traction, the Gino Wickman book, some of those exercises helped to do that, but we tried to – I mean, we care about the employees and we do things to show that. We do things like reimburse all of our employees monthly for their gym memberships. You know, healthy life, healthy mind. Throughout the summer, we do enrichment days and they get half a day off every other Friday to go work on something that they’re too busy for to enrich their life, and that’s what we do there.
We just rolled out of those enrichment days what we call Dream Space. Friday afternoons between 3:00 and 5:00, everybody is allowed to either be by themselves or get with a group of people and go dream up anything innovative, any idea you want. We’re tracking all those just to come up – it creates energy and new ideas. Those are the things that people are attracted to at CBG. We live in a relatively small town, 100,000. It’s a suburb of Kansas City. Word gets out pretty quick about what your core values are, and the next thing you know, you’ve got people coming to you saying, “Hey, let me know if you have an opening. I’d like to work there.”
Mike: Yeah, that’s cool. Those Dream Days are intended to be things where they come up with innovative ideas to bring back to the company, right?
Ben: Yeah. In those two hours, they can think about, work on, do whatever they want in those two hours that’s outside of the normal realm of what we do.
I sat with a group of three or four people last Friday and we got into a heavy conversation about could we bring in something to do this? We would never be able to do that or implement that, but that’s not the point. It’s not to shoot it down. It’s to dream big.
Somebody in all of that time is going to come up with the next really great idea for us to provide more value to our membership. I saw stuff that was even related to providing more value to the employees on some ideas on things.
We’ve got all kinds of little things like that we’re doing. Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m., we do Java Jumpstart. Java Jumpstart is 30 minutes. Everybody is in the same room; obviously they’ve got their coffee, we bring in some donuts or snacks or something, and everybody is wide open to talk about any kind of things that happened over the weekend. Then we go straight from that into what we call Power Hour. A Power Hour is something we do each day that’s door closed, off email and you’re highly focused on what your top thing is that you need to get done that’s the most important thing that you’re doing in your role in the company.
So those kinds of things are a big investment in the people and the culture. I promise it works and it brings people to your brand. We just had some folks that came through our office – they were coming to visit somebody, and when they were walking out, I heard like, “You guys have got to let us know if you guys are hiring anybody. I want to work here. This place looks fun. What’s going on? There’s energy and things are happening.”
Mike: Yeah, that’s awesome. Ben: It’s a good vibe. Mike: People listening to this, probably most of them don’t have 19 employees. Some might have one, some might have two or three. Can that be done if you have two or three employees? Presumably it probably gets a little bit easier to let people off early and do things because you have more coverage if you have more people. I know that’s not necessarily true, but talk to the people who are listening right now who have just a couple of employees and they’re like, “Man, I want to get there, but maybe I’ll never have that many employees.” Can you still do those things when you have a much smaller team?
Ben: 100%, yes. There are a couple of things here. One is, I don’t know about your business, but I’m not saving any lives or curing cancer, so what we do isn’t critical. So if our business is shut down, meaning nobody answers the phone, nobody does anything for two hours, it’s not going to burn the business down. Some of that is because people, technology, processes and the things that we’ve invested in to do that. The other side of that is even when we were small with two or three people, we still had a barbeque grill right next to the door. We had a football. We’d take it outside and throw it in the middle of the day. We would go bowling and everybody would bring their family. There were only 10 of us, but when you add family, it’s still just extended family. You don’t need to wait to have employees to do that. If you think about how you spend time with your family, the most important people to you, and you kind of apply some of that with the people that work for you or even with you, we’ve invited people that don’t work for CBG to go to some of those events because it’s just an extension of our family, people that we like or people that we do business with. Mike: Right. That’s awesome. I know we we’re talking about building a business with employees and then we said we were going to talk about culture, but you’ve really been covering culture the whole while. What are some of the things that you learned along the way that clicked at some point but not nearly enough? For people that haven’t gotten there yet, what’s a common mistake or a mistake that you saw that you’re like, “I wish I would have done this three years ago?”
Ben: Do you mean in regards to employees, or. . .
Mike: In terms of building culture and kind of building those things. It sounds like you’ve been pretty good at it from day one.
Ben: Well, it’s just a focus. I don’t want to go to work. I just want to go do something that I love and have fun doing it. If you’re not doing that, you need to get out of whatever you’re doing anyway. I’m excited in the morning to get up and come into the office. What would I do? I would love to figure out how to – you know, I do have something.
People may not realize that there are programs or money available to help them to build their business out there. I would encourage them to go out early and go find entrepreneurial incubators. It doesn’t matter if they’re real estate or not. You talk about networking, but then you start hearing about different things. Last year, we had an idea for an estimating app and we pitched it and we made the top 20 for Techweek. We didn’t finish in the top 10, which would have gotten us $50,000 towards that app. We’ve also applied for a program in Missouri, a technology program where they match funds that you raise. There’s something called Digital Sandbox in Kansas City that you can apply for that would be $25,000 towards technology. My whole point in this is that don’t overlook that there might be money available for you in your state for small businesses.
There’s something called Missouri Works. If you hire 10 new employees on payroll, you can apply and they will actually for five years waive all the payroll taxes that the company has to pay as long as you stay with 10 or more employees. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when we added healthcare, which I underestimated greatly on how much that was going to cost the company, but we spend $80,000 a year providing healthcare to our employees. But we’ll get a credit on that payroll that will almost kind of fund some of that or more than half of that by taking advantage of a program that didn’t cost us anything besides applying. Mike: That’s great. Ben: Free money. Mike: Any kind of advice you would give to people who are listening – it’s easy to say just have a cool culture and come up with things that are important to you and stuff like that, but for folks who are listening that are like, “This sounds awesome. What do I go do tomorrow?” What’s some advice you can give them on framing this up?
Ben: The things that I talked about like the Java Jumpstart or enrichment days, some of those ideas are mine. Some of those ideas are things that I’ve heard. The Dream Space thing came from reading something about 3M gave a certain percentage of their employees the ability to go off and go work on projects of their own, and that’s actually how sticky notes were invented. You don’t have to do it all at once. Keep it simple. Start with something small. Start with something like, hey, we’re going to do a family barbeque at the park, or we’re going to do something that we wouldn’t normally do, or surprise people and say, “We’re leaving the office today at 2:00 and we’re going to do this.” It doesn’t have to be that complicated. You can start simple with things. Just make sure they align with where you want this to head.
They don’t have to cost money either, Mike. It’s not like, “Well, I don’t have the extra money to go get football tickets,” and who does for the NFL these days? But it doesn’t have to be that expensive. There just has to be a little bit of thought and people will appreciate that. Part of the culture is that I care; it’s one of those core values for us. Think about some of the things that you care about and what you like and what you don’t and what you want this thing to be when it grows up and work backwards. Mike: I think you said this; you kind of alluded to it a little bit ago to include your team in making decisions on what things to do. That was a maturity thing for me. I used to always say, “Here’s exactly what we’re going to do.” Then I got to a point where I was like, “What do you guys want to do? Do you have an idea about this? Think about it for a little bit and let’s talk about it again.”
Ben: Are you talking about to go do things that are fun and outside of the box or are you talking about within your business?
Mike: Both. When it got to the point to where it was like, “What can we do? This is kind of a problem we’re facing. What can we do here,” instead of me kind of feeling like – I think it got to a point to where people didn’t really share their ideas because they thought, well, Mike’s going to give us the answer. I think that’s probably a maturity issue and some of it is indicative of being kind of a solo entrepreneur and growing. You’re so used to having to do that yourself, you just have to get out of those shoes and say. . .
Ben: You talked about the empowerment part of empowering other people that work for you to feel like they have the confidence to make a decision, whether it’s right or wrong. You talk about the ability to be able to direct somebody in the right way with what’s supposed to happen and here’s the process. You can’t get mad as owners or entrepreneurs because somebody didn’t do it quite as good as us when we didn’t even take the time to go put it on paper to say, “This is what I want you to do. I want you to do one, two, three, four, five,” and we gave them one and five, or one, three and five, right?
Mike: I think the point is to get to a point where you don’t necessarily have to tell them what to do. Just give some general guidelines of what I want you to do, and I trust you. Figure it out. If something comes up and you don’t like it, then you’re like, “Okay, let’s just talk about how to maybe do it better or differently next time.” I think what a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with, and I have historically, is just getting out of the way. Ben: There’s one other thing too that kind of goes along with that. It’s kind of that follow-up part of when somebody does something and you want to give them some feedback and you’re going back to measure it and follow it. I’ve really had my handle on the financials and some of the analytics, but I didn’t do enough measuring with people as far as were they really doing their job as well as they should?
I was too busy trying to fill the top of the funnel with business because it’s what I enjoyed and what I did well. As it went through the different processes in our company, I wasn’t doing enough following-up to make sure that everything was working the way that it should. There’s part of that Traction piece that’s called Delegate and Elevate.
Quickly, it’s very cool, it’s one of these quadrant tools. In the top right is stuff that you love, that you’re really good at, and the other side is stuff that you’re good at, but you don’t really like, and then stuff that you’re bad at and that you don’t like. It’s amazing to go through an exercise that simple. It really gives you some guidance on who you need to hire or what you need to get off your plate that you hate because it’s probably not getting done as well as it should because you don’t like it and you keep procrastinating and pushing it off.
And then, can it be sent out to a VA? Can you bring somebody in part-time to do it and it frees you up to do what you love?
Mike: Yeah. I’ll add a link. I know there are a lot of folks that are in our circle that have either gone through the EOS, Entrepreneurial Operating System, from this book Traction. So I’ll share a link for the book here because I know we’ve talked about it a lot and people want to reference it. Ben: I’ll say it’s kind of a boring read, but it’s good stuff. Mike: It’s one of those things when you read it – I haven’t applied – we haven’t had a consultant come in and help us to figure stuff out like the way that you have and a lot of other people have, but fundamentally as a business owner, you’ll understand. It’ll make some lightbulbs go off, like, “Aha, there’s nothing wrong with me. It’s because I’m trying to do stuff that I suck at and I hate.”
Ben: And none of it is rocket science. It’s a matter of there’s lots of different frameworks or methodologies you can adopt for your business. That happened to be the one we adopted, and so far, it seems to be working pretty well. It’s pretty simplistic, but it’s very structured. And you have to stick to it. Mike: Absolutely. Awesome. Well, Ben, I appreciate you spending time with us today. Ben: Thanks, Mike; anytime. I love to be on your show. Mike: For those of you who are listening in, Ben has offered a free membership in Community Buying Group. It’s normally $99. If you go to FlipNerd.com/CBG, you can register in under two minutes and get all sorts of discounts from Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams. You have 18 or 20 vendors at least, right?
Ben: We do. Yes. You have the ability to opt-in for whichever ones you want to take advantage of. Some people will take advantage of some. But I can guarantee that if you’re buying materials, if you’re a real estate investor, rehabber or contractor, it’s very likely we’re going to save you money. Mike: Awesome. So we’ll add a link down below for that. For all of you that joined us today, thanks for joining us. Ben, thanks one more time for spending some time with us today. Ben: Hey, Mike, thanks a lot. I appreciate it. Mike: Take care, buddy. We’ll see you soon. Ben: Talk to you later. Bye. Passiverental.com is your source for turnkey, done-for-you rental properties. If you’d like to be an investor and not a landlord, please visit passiverental.com to learn how to purchase cash flowing, professionally managed rental properties in the hottest rental markets across the country. We can also help connect you with financing for your next property. Invest the easy way today and get started by visiting passiverental.com.