Drew Doolan started his business, Sites N Stores, in 2008 to help small businesses build their websites and “be the big brother” of the small businesses they were working with. Drew has since grown is company to have 35 full-time employees, but it was a long road.
He talks with Clate and Scott about the fear of hiring that first person and getting over viewing employees as “necessary evils”; the shadow of discontent that came over his business four years ago and how they overcame that; and the importance of continuing to tell your company’s story.
Drew is a member of Elite Forum.
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Drew Doolan: I maintain that the sale is just a story and if the client likes the ending then they’ll want to work with you.
Clate Mask: That was Drew Doolan of Sites n Stores talking about how a sale is just a story. To hear the rest of it, tune into the full episode of Small Business Success Podcast.
Scott Martineau: Welcome to the Small Business Success Podcast. This is Scott Martineau.
Clate Mask: This is Clate Mask. We’re co-founders of InfusionSoft and we’ve got Drew DOolin for Sites and Stores with us. Drew, how’re you doin’?
Drew Doolan: I’m really well. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Scott Martineau: We are excited – we’re excited because the Australian accent always increases ratings on our podcast.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Drew Doolan: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: So it doesn’t even matter what you say today, Drew.
Clate Mask: [Laughs] Nah. Drew, we’re glad to have you. Scott’s joking obviously. You’ve got a lot of great stuff to share with our listeners and you’ve had a lot of great success in your business.
So it’ll be fun to talk.
Scott Martineau: And the Australian accent is –
Drew Doolan: Yeah. Well, I’m hoping you’ll be able to understand me.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: Yes. We understand you very well.
Clate Mask: Well, so let’s – why don’t you just take a minute, Drew, and tell everybody what your – tell everybody what your business is and kinda – when you started it, number of employees you’ve got.Drew Doolan: Okay. We started – gosh – around 2008. Initially we got into the marketplace when I had an understand that small businesses were needing websites. I was curious to getting into the IT industry, or at least get involved with web because I was quite sure that something was going to be happening over the coming years, which I wasn’t wrong about. We’ve got about 35 employees now. Full-timers.
We have all of our people in-house, so we’ve always gone – we’ve had a clear vision to start off with – and we’ve always gone the route of more people and human interaction and wanting to have everyone close by so that we could build our community.
Our role is what we define it as now is we build small business online and our purpose is to simplify small business success because really we’re all about the small business owner. I mean, building a website and helping with their CO and paper clicker and all of those sorts of things are tools for small business owners, but you know, as business owners move forward and as they grow or as they get involved in the business world, there’s so many things that they need help with. And as we master things, we try to package that for a small business owner. Or as we learn things from bigger businesses, then we try and package that down to make it –
really affordable and deliver something, which is just as powerful to them so they don’t need to go out and spend all the moneys that we do.
We take it on ourselves to be the big brother of the small business owner that we interact with. Although we’re open to them being better and greater than ourselves. It’s a two-way street. We’re learning everything everyday – lots of heaps of stuff everyday anyway. So – but yeah. We’re all about the small business owner. And we’re not going to change. We’re not going to shift that at all ‘cause the small business owner, for me, I think it’s so close to the heart of people trying to exist because a small business owner, really, I think, wants to be empowered or autonomous and look after their family and get more reward for less time so they can spend more time with things that matter. So I find –
Clate Mask: Well, the people that are listening – they can’t identify with anything you're saying. [Laughs]
‘Cause you're – no. You're speaking right to the audience obviously. This wasn’t intended to be marketing for you, Drew, but it’ll probably turn out to be just that since what you do is really – you really do help the small business listeners – you know, the small business listener that are trying to grow online. So most of our listeners are in that category and they’ve got a business they’re trying to grow.
Thanks for what you're doing. We love your mission. We love your purpose. We think that you're doing some great things. It’s one of the reasons we wanted to talk on the podcast, but it’s also that you are – you’ve gone through all the stages of small business growth. You are a stage five growth company. And you are – you’ve learned a lot through that process. So I know you’ve got a lot you're going to share with the people today. Yeah. Go ahead, Scott.
Scott Martineau: I’m curious. I want to ask you a question that we’ve had asked to us many times: why small business? ‘Cause you have options, right? I mean, you got the – different places you can apply technology and you go into big businesses.
They’ve got much bigger budgets, much bigger accounts. Why on earth small businesses?
Drew Doolan: I think it’s got to who I have chemistry with. I think I have more chemistry with a small business owner rather than employees or highly-paid decision makers. So I feel like that I understand them also. So I think I might have more ability and more talent to share with them more so, so I think it’s just got to do with that. It’s got to do with me, maybe, enjoying more so, and maybe just tricking myself into believing that I’m not working as well. ‘Cause I guess when I’m in a corporate, I am working. So when I’m interacting with bigger businesses, I’m very clear that – the structure and all that sort of stuff. I wouldn’t – yeah. Dealing with small business owners, I can – it just feels a little more freeform.
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Scott Martineau: So great.
Drew Doolan: A little more agile so we can be a bit more creative, do you know what I mean?
Scott Martineau: Yeah. I was just at a party over the weekend and talking with a friend who has a small business, small IT firm, and we spent most of the time with him talking about a particularly type of client that was just sucking him dry emotionally, you know. And it was interesting because he felt a little bit trapped. It was a decent amount of his income.
And as we talked through it, my advice to him was you got to get clear on what your sweet spot is. And he – we talked through a strategy that he could probably employ. But I love that – well, one, I love anybody who’s out to serve small businesses. That aligns with the mission that we’re out to accomplish, but also just the – every business owner has the ability to go follow their passion and as you said, make it not feel as much like work. I love that you're putting the focus there. It’s fantastic.
Drew Doolan: Yeah. Definitely.
Clate Mask: Yeah. That’s great, Drew. Thanks for sharing that with us. Okay. So let’s jump into –
I’d like you to just think back on the early stages when you were trying to get the business going, and you had, maybe, some really tough times. When you look back, what were some big – you know, what was one or two big thing – big problem, big challenge that you had to overcome and how did you do it?
Drew Doolan: The – I think the biggest thing is given that we entered the marketplace where – I mean, let’s face it. There’s only a million web businesses around the world, and in our marketplace, let’s say there were 10,000 when we entered the market. And having new employees or people that you're interviewing, or people that possibly might start with you, convincing them that when you're a three or four-person team that it’s a better option than say, Google in the marketplace, or – I don’t know – other bigger businesses that just seemed to be able to offer much more.
So the biggest challenge with getting appointed traction or moving towards just the starting point of community in the business. I think that was the most challenging thing. And to be honest, I don’t know that that’s – that’s ever gone away and –until recently. So that’s actually gone on for years and years and years. And I maintained that there was going to be a tipping point of people that were all growing in the same direction, but the only way we could overcome that was by just being really consistent with – just our story and our reason as to why we were doing this.
And in a way, I was the indigenous storyteller and I had to be really active about telling the story over and over and over again. And even though it was a sales pitch, somewhat, it was real. So it wasn’t a – it was genuine. So it was something that was coming from something real and then the challenge was to have people starting to embody it. I was calling it the myth of Sites and Stores from the beginning.
So even from day one, I was calling it the myth. And that was the reason the business started, which was because we got ripped off by a bigger IT agency and I figured that if a small business – if a business could deliver something that was of value with integrity, with understanding of the budgets for small business owner, then it might go off. So the myth started from the beginning and the story as to why. And it was a verbal story. We kept it to ourselves, but it was something that had to be embodied by everyone. It’s been challenging, but we’re at a good point now where there is a story in the business and you can feel it.
Scott Martineau: Nice. This is interesting because Clate and I – one of our early marketing mentors was Bill Glazer. I don’t remember if you remember, Clate, at the time when he said – he was teaching and he said one of the key mistakes that business owners make is they forget to tell their – they get sick of telling their story, and they stop telling it.
And maybe let’s just spend just a few seconds on this. I’m curious, from your perspective, Drew, what it is about a story that’s important? I’d love that you’ve called it out. I’d love that you’ve gotten to the other side of what happens when – not only do you tell the story, but it becomes part of your culture. Why do you think that’s such a critical.
Drew Doolan: I think storytelling’s really important. And I think that’s key to anything in a business ‘cause I think – maybe it goes back to a childhood where – primary school or you know, you might daydream about your parents telling you a bedtime story if you're lucky enough to get one. But story is really important. People love going to movies and people like hearing the story, whether it be a good or bad ending. It’s going on a journey and taking you out of yourself. So I think it’s key. If you're telling – I maintain that a sale is just a story. And if the client likes the ending, then they’ll want to work with you.
Clate Mask: [Laughs] That’s great.
Drew Doolan: I think story’s key. And I maintain that a good communicator is a good storyteller. And I – everyone can tell a story when they’ve had a few beers, you know, at the pub. You can relate to a story. And it’s just a matter of taking those abilities to work and enjoying engaging on a human level, just - yeah.
Clate Mask: Let me jump here – jump in here on a couple things. So Scott’s called out the importance of entrepreneurs – the importance of entrepreneurs to tell their story and you're making it clear that the storytelling of how your business started and why you got started has helped you to get through some of those challenging tough times. And you started off by saying there were – let’s call it 10,000 competitors that were all providing the same type of thing you were calling – that you were providing at the time.
What was it about your storytelling that allowed you to cut through that clutter and, maybe, over time leave a bunch of those competitors behind and get to the point where you are now as a growth company, stage five business, 35 employees and a lot of success in roughly 9 years of business. In other words, what did the storytelling do for you to push you through the stages of success if you had to look back and put your finger on it?
Drew Doolan: We – I talked about two things from the beginning. There’s something and we’ve turned them into – now we’re calling one of our values, which is we believe in being fully self-expressed. There’s another one that we say is we believe in having unconditional positive regard. And I always knew what was key from the beginning was the ability to empathize with the business owner that we were talking with. And what that opens up is the ability for an employee or us to actually have a transfer of emotion with the clients.
And I always said from the beginning that could be good, great. It could be bad or it can be ugly. As long as there’s a journey in the conversation. Small business owners can be really short of time and they can get really aggressive and upset if things go wrong, et cetera. And it’s okay if that’s occurring, as long as by the end we’ve got things resolved.
So it wouldn’t be unusual that we could be upset with the client and move forward through the conversation. I’m okay as long as it’s not just a customer service call. If there’s a transfer of emotion, then I believe there’s a connection occurring and you can’t be in fear of a bad results, given that we’re trying to do our best, and we’re trying to do everything within our own resources. I think that’s empowering for an employee or just a member of our team to go on a journey with the client.
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Drew Doolan: I think it’s the – it’s no fear of the transfer of emotion. Do you know what I mean?
Clate Mask: Yeah. When I – when you were talking a little earlier, you said it’s almost like – people love stories. They want to hear the story. If they like the ending of the story, they buy. And then you're talking about the transfer of emotion. And Scott made the point that a lot of times as business owners, we get tired of our story and so we stop telling it.
And one of our early mentors taught us that. And so I guess my – the thing I want to draw out for listeners is it’s probably not news for people listening that stories help sell. That’s probably not news. But maybe what we don’t keep our – we don’t really to see clearly is entrepreneurs is that it’s the transfer of emotion that occurs in that story that draws the person in and causes them to want to be – to buy and want to be a part of what you're doing.
And that transfer of emotion can happen – is going to happen new every time you're telling the story if you just keep telling it. And when you take it out – when you take the storytelling out because you already know the ending, right, as an entrepreneur so you stop telling the story ‘cause it’s no longer interesting to you, you're missing, actually, the transfer of emotion to the customer and serving the customer, and giving them an opportunity to be a part of what you're doing.
Drew Doolan: Exactly.
Clate Mask: Good on you for keeping that going, and hopefully our listeners will think about their business and how – whether they’re telling the story and maybe they’ve gotten tired of telling the story. Maybe they haven’t created the story and it feels very transaction what they’re doing. It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of excitement or a lot of passion in the work that they’re doing because they’re not – they’re not bringing that emotion into the conversation with the prospect.
Scott Martineau: Maybe just one more point before we move on from this.
But I think that the – you know, small businesses have a distinct advantage in the marketplace because of the relationships they can create and I think, maybe, an exercise for everybody listening would be to think about the companies that you felt the most connection with, the best relationship with and maybe explore – it’s probably not the case in 100 percent of the time there is a story behind it, but I’m – I just had this – I was going down the thought and I went to gelato shops in Italy. My family went there this summer. It’s, like, where’s the best gelato shop, right? I remember there was a – when I heard the story behind a particularly gelato shop and saw the story from back in the 50 years ago – you know, something about that created a different distinction –
Clate Mask: Connection.
Scott Martineau: and it just came to my mind. Yes. Some connection. And even big brands, you know, like, when I think about Apple, I’m frequently thinking about – I’m going back to watching the Steve Jobs movie and the scene where he shows up – he rips this guy’s computer plug out and says, “You're coming to work for me.”
And all of the – kinda to your point earlier, Drew, it could get ugly. You know, part of the beauty of that story and the connection is actually the ugly part of it. And the fact that Steve Jobs is ousted from his – you know, his – leaves his company, comes back. So, yeah. It’s –
Clate Mask: Yes. And I love the way you said it. A lot of times we’re afraid of that transfer of emotion, you know? You – it’s like, well, that’s not professional. That’s not businesslike. And the reality is –
Scott Martineau: It’s human.
Clate Mask: the transfer of emotion is human. It’s critical. It creates the connection, and it drives sales. We all need to drive sales in order to be successful, so that’s cool. Thank you for sharing that. I can see how today your story is very clear and very crisp and is continued. You’ve shared that with us. You’ve shared how that has helped you grow through the stages of small business success. Thank you for that. It’s cool.
Scott Martineau: Take us back to the transition from stage one where you’re a solopreneur to the first decision to hire one or two employees and move into stage two.
What was that like for you?
Drew Doolan: It was – I think the decision to do that occurred before I started this business because I was going through the process of not wanting to be an employer that I just wanted to be able to build a business online, which was flavor back then and not actually having to interact with people. It was the dream in my mind to possibly – you sit at home and you just bank the money, and you have this amazing product. But it became really clear to me – I don’t know just as me growing up or just throughout the years that I actually liked interacting with people. But I also found it treacherous ‘cause it’s a double-edged sword, but I knew it was going to have to happen in order to grow. I had no idea how to do it.
But I knew that it was something that was going to have to occur. So the decision occurred before I started the business. So employing the first person was just a natural progression and just putting one foot in front of the other. A lot of people talk about business plans and planning this and blah, blah blah. I don’t know that that occurred for us for starting this necessarily. I planned what the product would be and worked hard on it, and made the journey to starting the business. It took about two years in the sense that so that it was quite clear. I got to a point of clarity, but the journey of the fear of having employees occurred in that two-year period. But once we got the first person – once I got the first person, and then the second and third. Then the jump to about 15 or 20 occurred really soon after that.
But it was the first person and – it was quite joyful when the first person actually came. And we’ve still got the first person with us believe it or not.
Scott Martineau: Wow.
Drew Doolan: Yeah. And he’s a great addition. He was a young fellow there and he’s still a young fellow now. [Laughs] But it’s a testament to him, really, that he stayed through the years and heard – seen the different evolutions. But I think the treacherous idea of having employees was more inside me and my reluctance to actually want employees.
Clate Mask: Okay. So –
Drew Doolan: And it’s not like I haven’t thought about that over the years either. Do you know what I mean? But, yeah.
Clate Mask: Yeah. When you mentioned that you have got this – you know, you had this reluctance to have employees and you had a little bit of a struggle inside of you, but you also knew at some point you were going to have employees, took a couple years before you hired your first one.
By the way, the things you're describing are very, very typical of the getting started process in small business. A vast majority of small businesses, over 80 percent, even over 90 percent if you count the small businesses that aren’t on the government’s radar, so to speak, but the vast majority are solopreneurs.
And many of them are in – I think you described it well. They’re in this place of viewing employees as necessary evils where they don’t really want them and some may be romanticized the idea that they can just build a big company and it’s just them self – or build up a very successful business that provides all the financial freedom that they want, but they don’t have any employees. And yet, most get to a point where they realize in order to have the impact, let alone the financial success that they want, they do need employees.
And you went couple years before you at employees. Very common, again. It’s common that people go a year – two years – without any employees. And yet you said I knew I was going to have them. So what you got you comfortable with having employees because I know that that is a very real concern for many people that are out there running a business right now. They’ve got this tension inside of them about having employees. What got you comfortable about doing it?
Drew Doolan: I think – given that – I made a decision. I just went through the process of understanding that if I wanted to have financial success in my life, I was going to need people. So I wanted to have a fulfilling work life as well as a fulfilling home life. And so I decided that, okay, well, obviously I can create my home life the way that I’m wanting so that I feel fulfilled.
And I just came up with the daydream of possibly trying to create that at work as well. And I just took on that as an idea that I was going to try to fulfill. The only way I could see to do it was to try and create an open and honest community within the business, which I know is a risk. But I didn’t want to go down there, hey, we’re family, but no one’s – there’s no real engagement within the group.
So I wanted to have a real – like, a real interaction at work so that if I’m at work I’m fulfilled ‘cause I feel fulfilled by some engaging at a real level with people. And if I’m fulfilled at home, it’s ‘cause I’m engaging in my real world. So I decided to take on the challenge of having a real world in my office as well. So I just saw that as me building a work – I always avoided the word “family” because if someone’s an employee, there’s always that veneer there.
But I wanted to have a real connection at work as well, which is really taking on the idea that we did with clients and that is that there may be – there will be a transaction of emotion and there will be engagement in a real way. Do you know what I mean? So I think that I got over it by going, right, well, I can be fulfilled at work emotionally as well. And then just going on that journey. So I think that’s how I got over it –
Clate Mask: Okay. So –
Drew Doolan: by believing – by believing it was possible.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Yeah. So what I’ve – what Scott and I find frequently in talking to solopreneurs is it’s the concept of employees that concerns people. It’s the notions that they have in their mind about what that’s going to mean, the problems, the issues, the experiences that they’ve had in the past of being an employee or watching other employees.
And yet, the very thing that makes them a great entrepreneur is their ability to create, very intentionally, the future that they want. I mean, that’s what entrepreneurs do. They create with great intention and so it’s funny that many times entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, are not willing to – or they’re not able –
Scott Martineau: It’s harder to get there as it relates to employees.
Clate Mask: Yeah. As it relates to employees, it’s hard to get to that place where you can intentionally create what you want. But what you just described –
Scott Martineau: I think that’s because –
Clate Mask: is what you did, right?
Scott Martineau: I think that’s because maybe as the business owner, I doubt my ability to lead. Maybe I’ve never seen an example? I don’t know. What do you think it is?
Clate Mask: I think a lot of times it’s based on our past. You know, we look – it’s our experience of the past. We look at how we were, how others are. We look at other businesses. I mean, as we’ve grown Infusionsoft, I think over and over and over again, we’ve had to break in our minds a model of what it looked like to be a company of this size, or to be an executive of a company of that size, or to be – to have this many employees.
You have to break in your mind, a model that is naturally building all the time of how you're comparing you to what’s out there in the world. And I think that’s hard to do as an entrepreneur in the very early stages when you're breaking out of just you. When it’s just you all by yourself, you can be very intentional in what you're creating. You’ve got – the time is all yours. The decisions are all yours. The control is all yours. And so, I think, it’s just a little bit frightening for people as soon as it goes to now there’s somebody else.
Like you said, Scott, do I have the ability to lead that person and work together with that person to intentionally create what I want. And it takes time for people to get to that, which is why the vast, vast majority – or one of the reasons why the vast, vast majority of small businesses are solopreneurs and many of them will say, and they’re listening right now and say, yeah, “And I always want to be a solopreneur. You can say all that crap, Clate.
And I don’t buy any of it ‘cause I just always want to be on my own.” But when you really – and we’ve talked to many, many entrepreneurs – when you break it down, they have fears about what it is to create and build their company when they’re not the only person. And I commend you, Drew, for getting to a point where you are, like, “You know what? I can be intentional about this. I can create what I want. I can have the kind of happiness in my business the way that I’ve intentionally tried to create that individually.”
And ultimately, in order to achieve your goals, your financial goals, the impact that you want to have, you find that you do need to add more people otherwise you’re left to play a very small game. And while that might be perfectly fine with many people, I’ve found that most of the time when you talk to those people and they’re very honest about it, they are content to play a small game because they’re afraid of what it is to take on a playing a bigger game.
So those are my – [laughs] – those are my thoughts, Scott.
Drew Doolan: Do you think they’re afraid of showing themselves?
Clate Mask: What’s that, Drew?
Drew Doolan: Do you think they’re afraid of showing themselves fully to others in a work environment? Or do you think there’s a – there’s also a fear? ‘Cause I fear – because I try to be unguarded so that there’s a real transfer. I do fear being misunderstood and misinterpreted given that it is a work environment and there is an employee relationship. I have a fear there constantly. I mean, I’m lucky now. I’ve got a good team around me that can – will filter or I guess, indoctrinate against the stresses or pressures that we have. But I do fear being misinterpreted or misunderstood. Do you know what I mean?
Clate Mask: Yeah. For sure. You know, we’ve seen lots of varieties of that fear. We’ve seen the fear of being misunderstood. We’ve seen the fear of being the jerk boss that someone was to you.
We’ve seen the fear of not being able to delegate effectively and so it all comes on your shoulders anyway. So why should I pay – make payroll? We’ve seen the financial fears, for sure, about having to ultimately be in a positon where you're responsible for others ability to provide income. There’s lots of different varieties of it.
Scott Martineau: I think most the time business owners wouldn’t – I don’t know that they think as sophisticatedly as you're expressing yourself, Drew, and if they do, they may not be willing to admit it. I mean it’s ironic because that same emotion, maybe, would cause them to not to want to admit it. I think it’s probably – the way I hear it is more like the way my wife approaches our policy at home of extra chores. Extra chores is our way of punishing the children instead of other options.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Drew Doolan: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: And to me it’s very simple. There’s a list of all the stuff that needs to get done and it’s, like, “All right. Hey, go pull one off the list.”
But for Andy, she has a challenging – she feels like the concept of extra chores is just more work for her because now she has to manage this and think – so in her mind, it’s –
Clate Mask: More to manage.
Scott Martineau: It’s more to manage and that – and the management of that is just more stress. So I think, in my experience, most times business owners it’s – I just think it goes back to not seeing examples of healthy relation – I mean, I think if you lay it out and you said, “Hey, look. You're going to build a team. Number one, it’s going to allow you to live the life you want. Number two, it’s going to provide income. Number three, you're going to do it in a way where you're only hiring the best. And these are people that are going to own things, take things off your plate. You're going to have a system of leading them.”
Clate Mask: It’s fun to work with them.
Scott Martineau: Yeah. “You’ll have to way to monitor the effect of _____ _____ employee. I mean, do you want to sign up for that?” I think if more business owners could see the vision of that and feel empowered that they can make it happen, I think they’d be more inclined. But it’s –
Clate Mask: And let’s be honest.
There’s real – like, that concern of the management overhead – more to manage when there’s a person, that’s – I mean, remember when we had our very first employee, Cliff, and we’re, like, “Hey. This is going to be so great.” And then all of a sudden it was, like, wow. We have a whole bunch of extra time and work that we got to put into this to keep him productive and keep him doing the things. And he wasn’t a bad employee. He was a good employee. We just – there’s management overhead that comes with that to keep the person working and on task and all of that. And there’s some mistakes.
And so I think it’s natural for a solopreneur to be, like, “Aw. Crap. I don’t want to deal with that.” In the back of your mind you know you have some of that. But that crowd’s out. The positives and the ability to create in a more expanded way and to be intentional about the things that you're trying to do in your business.
Scott Martineau: All right. We’ve psychoanalyzed this one.
Clate Mask: Yeah. We – [laughs]
Scott Martineau: Plenty.
Drew Doolan: But you know what? You know what also? I don’t reckon – I reckon you get stuck in thinking that the people you're hiring now are going to be with you in 20 years if you have a long view and a long vision.
I think it’s about just being with those people now and just knowing that whoever is going to be right for you will be – you will find those when the time’s right as well. And it may not be the people you're with. You just got to enjoy the journey along the way and it’s almost a non-attachment-type scenario even though you're enjoying the journey. Do you know what I mean?
Clate Mask: Yeah. It’s tough to strike that balance between the non-attachment and the family feel that you're after. You know, it’s a tricky thing, but you can do it.
Scott Martineau: So next question. Take us to the darkest moment when you were ready to throw in the towel and maybe there’s been more than one. I don’t know. I’m sure your unconditional positive resolve has come into play many times, but take us to that place where it was just hardest on you as you’ve grown the business.
Drew Doolan: [Sighs] There’s got to be 20 moments. [Laughs]
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Drew Doolan: I think the hardest – the darkest moment. I think the very darkest moment would be when there was – there was a sade of discontent in the business about four years ago, and we didn’t really take it on as well as we should. We’re, sort of, ignoring it somewhat. And it was not such a great time in our evolution, and me, personally, either. And the darkest time is it just gains momentum and it really impacted multiple people in the business, probably about seven or eight people, where they started really not enjoying what the business was and who we were. And it really harmed who the business was. I really thought the business was not going to be moving forward.
Scott Martineau: And this was internal. So internal strife.
Drew Doolan: [Inaudible comment due to crosstalk] Yeah. Internal where there was not – people were disappointed with, I guess, the opportunity that the business had. Maybe they lost faith in the leadership somewhat, which is my role, and the people around me. We weren’t really edifying each other or really seeing the best in each other.
So, really, it was – I think, just as a business, we lost our way a little bit. And it really showed itself up in discontent within the people in the business. There were very – we’re all very verbal about it, and it could have led to the destruction of the business, and I was so disappointed. And it did lead to me to being – well, not feeling very good about it, and not that great about myself. It was a dark time. It was a dark time because I realized that there was going to have to be a turning over of people and it was going to take a number of years.
And I was really just facing whether or not I had the energy to do that because to get a business from zero to four years is energetic. And then to run into strife at that point and just knowing it’s going to take a few years to get out of it. It was –
Clate Mask: How many employees did you have at the time?
Drew Doolan: Probably more than we had now. Forty? Forty – forty – the most we’ve had at any moment is 45, I think. We were closing in on 50. But what I realized was we hadn’t bedded down the vision and culture of the business properly and that the leadership wasn’t there. And not everyone was clear on it. And so the seed of discontent started. And it started from a few people. And it was probably valid, what was being spoke about and what was being talked about. And we had to really face it.
So it was dark ‘cause I took it personally, obviously, that – because I really blamed myself in how people were just lost faith in the whole thing. I took it personally and that was really hard for me ‘cause that just comes down to how you feel about yourself. Number one, I had to get myself out of the funk. And number two, we had to find a pathway and really get everything back on track, which we are now.
And we have been so for probably about eight months. And we’re at a really good point in our evolution, but it was dark. It was dark. And it wasn’t just, oh, no, finances are tough. It’s how I felt about myself. And you know, I liken it to sportspeople or even just normal living. I don’t know that it was a clinical depression or anything like that, but it was where I didn’t feel energized. I didn’t actually feel like doing what needed to be done, and then I was just facing whether or not it was too hard.
And I think a lot of people go through that. But I just – I knew it was going to pass, but I wasn’t quite sure whether the business was going to be there until I decided it would be.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Interesting.
Drew Doolan: And then I made that decision and then I just trusted the fact that as I each day just put in – I was just intentionally doing things that would have me feeling increasingly better, like, increasingly having positive interactions with people around me at work, positive interactions with people outside of work. Just normal stupid things that people take for granted, but just gradually reinvesting in everything and just re-telling myself the story to the point where there – your body kicks back in again and everything’s moving forward. Do you know what I mean?
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Scott Martineau: Yeah.
Drew Doolan: But it was a dark time. It was a really dark time.
Scott Martineau: Yeah. That’s – I mean, I think that helps us understand the unconditional positive resolve. That’s – and by the way, I feel like that is – it’s really just a matter of when for every business owner that they face that moment. And I love the way that you talked about the decision – you know, the key was you making that decision. And that’s what it always comes down to.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Totally.
Scott Martineau: And the intentionality – I mean, the positive mental attitude. It’s so easy to slip into the mind and saying I’m the victim of this circumstance. That’s why I’m feeling this way. It’s not actually the way that it needs to work. The way it can work is: no, this is going to work, and what needs to happen. Well, first, I got to get my head right. And I’m going to do the things that make me get to that place.
Clate Mask: Well, and I think it’s –
Drew Doolan: It was me. It was me. I knew I had to – the rate of the growth of the business was going to be determined by the rate that I started and moving forward.
Clate Mask: Yeah. That’s great.
Drew Doolan: That was the difficult thing.
Clate Mask: That’s great.
Drew Doolan: ‘Cause I knew it was a long journey.
Clate Mask: Yeah. And that’s a lot of times why – you think back to our comments earlier in this podcast about solopreneurs.
You think about your experience when you’ve got 40 employees – 50 employees. And your comment that you just made. The growth is about – the growth rate of the company is about the growth rate of the entrepreneur. And if you don’t – if you're not willing to take those things on the company’s not going to be able to out – it’s not going to be able to outgrow your ability to grow. If it does, you're going to be left behind and – more often than not, it doesn’t because you're not leading it to make that happen. But when you made the decision, no. You changed your outlook and said it’s going to be around. It’s going to survive. we’re going to be fine. That makes all the difference. It’s true when you're a struggling solopreneur. It’s true when you’ve got 40 employees. It’s true when you’ve got 600 employees and thousands of employees. The leader’s got to drive that. And I think sometimes as entrepreneurs we think, you know, you're just going to get to a certain point and then everything gets easy. You don’t have to worry about that anymore.
That’s not the case. I’ll bet – I know Scott and I were thinking you’d probably talk about a hard time in the early days, and the reality is you built the business to over 4 years to 40 plus people and there were new challenges you had to take on as an entrepreneur. And facing those challenges is really tough. I’d love to understand – you said once I really faced what needed to be done, then I was able to start seeing my way through it. And it reminded me of the quote that all progress starts with honesty. What was – what did you have to get honest about in order to solve those problems? What were the brutal facts staring you in the face?
Drew Doolan: I didn’t want to work hard.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Drew Doolan: [Laughs] I didn’t want to commit everything. I guess I was still attached to the idea that I could work a shorter week and still achieve everything that I wanted to achieve.
That possibly I could work a 20 to 30-hour week –
Clate Mask: You're dashing the hopes of our listeners, Drew.
Drew Doolan: and still achieve everything I wanted to achieve.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Drew Doolan: What’s that?
Clate Mask: I said you're dashing the hopes of our listeners, Drew. [Laughs]
Drew Doolan: [Laughs] Am I?
Clate Mask: I’m totally joking ‘cause you're exactly right. I mean, that’s the truth is it’s just – it’s hard work and that’s why we – that’s why Scott and I revere entrepreneurs so much. That’s why our number one value is we empower entrepreneurs because it is hard and you don’t get to a place where things are just suddenly easy. You got to keep working through it. The rewards are worth it, but it’s just hard work.
Drew Doolan: Yeah.
Scott Martineau: One more –
Drew Doolan: It’s almost like you're on call. It’s not like I physically work 60 – 70 hours. It’s just that –
Scott Martineau: Emotionally on call. Yeah.
Drew Doolan: you know, I’m needed – being – I’m needed to be in the work environment, so the employees want to see me because I’m part of the story. And they enjoy interacting with me.
And I enjoy interacting with them, but it is draining because in a way, as the owner, your own show somewhat. It is a – it is an energetic thing to be interacting with and always giving, but then you are on call ‘cause you can’t stop thinking about it. So it is 24 hours in a way, but not really. Do you know what I mean?
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Drew Doolan: But it’s just knowing that that’s what it is. It’s not like – I have envied employees at times when let’s say they’ve got a three-week holiday planned. Well, they literally do have a holiday. They literally do get to stop and then start in three weeks. It’s – they’ve got a complete time out. And I don’t know that I’ve had that since I’ve owned the business. But it’s being okay with that and then trying to build and structure people around you so that you can have a version of that.
And then that was just where I had to get to inside my head. That’s – it’s like a relationship that you’ve committed to, which I do – you know, _____ _____ for several years. And I think that was the relationship that I was having with the business that I’d committed to forever and so I had to do whatever was needed to keep that dream alive. Do you know what I mean?
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Drew Doolan: Yeah.
Scott Martineau: Well, thanks for – thanks for your vulnerability around that. I’d love to hear, maybe, the – let’s go to the peak of the peaks. What’s the moment where you felt the most satisfaction for the work you're doing in your business?
Drew Doolan: You know when I – you know when it was? And it’s recently. We created a video – and it was from the work that you guys had helped us with. It was from our vision work that we’d done. And we created a video, which was stating out our values. And we actually had a vision event a few months ago.
And that was the biggest high I had when we had the whole 35 people there. I felt unified and united that we’d reached a point. And then we showed the video of where we’re out in our values. And that was the most exciting moment for me, personally, that everyone was there and then we’re all watching that video together. It’s – it was like – it was everything we’d worked towards and we had our whole group of people in the room and we’re all in the same journey. And I felt like that was the first moment I’d ever felt that. So that was the biggest high. And that was only recently. So it was –
Scott Martineau: So fascinating because –
Drew Doolan: So it’s so satisfying. [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: That’s fantastic. I think the –you know, the vision of, okay, I’m going to start this business so I can have unlimited income potential and as much time off as – I mean, that’s, maybe, the vision we commonly see in our mind when we go to start a company. And here you are talking about two things. One, you're acknowledgement that this actually just really, really hard work –
that I have to show up maybe more days than I want to, and that the pinnacle was your growth and development as a leader, getting to the place where you're setting a vision for your team that created this unit and this – it’s so interesting this transition from, well, I don’t know if I want employees but I sure want to sit on the beach and not do anything all day. And then the transition to, actually, I’m working – I’m working a lot and I’ve created a vision and we’re unified around it and that is the pinnacle. That’s fantastic.
Drew Doolan: Yeah.
Clate Mask: Yeah. It’s just so fun to work with people that are –
Drew Doolan: I had an ugly cry about it.
Clate Mask: Oh. Go ahead?
Drew Doolan: I had an ugly cry about it.
Scott Martineau: [Laughs] An ugly cry.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Drew Doolan: My partner’s got nothing to do with the business, but I brought the video home and then I had an ugly cry afterwards.
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Scott Martineau: [Laughs] That’s fantastic.
Clate Mask: That’s awesome. Yeah.
But it’s not – the thing is it is so – it’s so exhilarating as an entrepreneur when you’ve got people around you who are aligned to your vision, and you're all working together. It is so fun. And then like you said, your lowest of lows was the draining feeling that you have when – or the draining experience that you have when people are not aligned and they’re – there’s not unity in what you're trying to accomplish together, so I think that the work –
I applaud you for the work that you’ve done on your vision and getting people aligned to it. It’s so much more fun and exciting and as a leader, I know exactly how you feel. We – we’re fortunate to have a great culture here. We’ve worked very hard on that. But at times, I can look over the years and see at times where it’s not as strong, and times where its really, really strong. And the difference in the energy that you have as the leader when the culture is just rocking, when everybody’s aligned, it’s beautiful. And the more people you have aligned to that, I can attest from experience – at least at the stage where we are – that the more fun it is.
I gotta believe that’s true as we get to the future with thousands of employees. Thanks for sharing that. Very cool. So what would you – kind of, we’d like to ask in parting, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs and what one characteristic do you think has been most important to your success? So this might be two different questions, or sometimes they’re the same thing.
Drew Doolan: I think key is my – is my unwavering determination to have empathy for all and everything around me, and to continue to communicate, to continue to express and to just keep trying to understand what’s happening around you, not from a data point of view, but from a human, from a person point of view. Because the key to success of the business will be the people around you.
The people may change, but understanding the people around you is key and that’s going to be key to the enjoyment as well. So engaging with your employees, but also engaging with the clients and then there’ll be real satisfaction from that because I think engaging with other people is a real source of enjoyment – for me, anyway.
And I would say that that _____ advice to entrepreneurs is don’t be afraid to engage and try to advance your ability to empathize, your ability to understand the point of view that your employees and clients are coming from. And I think more so communication and empathy are going to be massive focal points over the coming years as well. So I mean, I think people – people think the world’s moving away from people and people are _____ behind and less engagement. But I actually think the opposite. I think the more able you can engage on a human level, the more successful you're going to be as a business in the coming years.
Clate Mask: It’s great. It’s great.
Scott Martineau: Good advice. Thank you, Drew. This has been a fantastic journey as we’ve been able to listen about your business. Maybe let’s make this commercial a little more explicit. Tell people where they can go learn more about Sites and Stores.
Drew Doolan: Oh you can go to our website. http://www.sitesnstores.com.au at the moment.
Scott Martineau: Sites –
Drew Doolan: S-I-T-E-S-N–S-T-O-R-E-S.com.au.
Scott Martineau: Great.
Clate Mask: All right. Well, Drew, thanks so much for spending some time with us and sharing your thoughts with our listeners. We appreciate it and we wish you the best of success on your continued journey and look forward to the great things you're going to do in your business.
Drew Doolan: Listen, thanks so much. It’s bene an opportunity. This is first I’ve done something like this and I really – I feel so grateful for the interactions I’ve had with your business.
And it’s really been – it’s really cemented the good journey that we’ve been going on just being able to see you guys do what you're doing as well. I’m really appreciative. Thank you.
Scott Martineau: Well, you can demonstrate that appreciation by taking a four or five-week vacation, sometime in the next 12 months. How does that sound?
Clate Mask: [Laughs]
Drew Doolan: [Laughs] Thank you. I will.
Clate Mask: No. We totally appreciate it though because the fact is it’s a lonely journey out there for entrepreneurs, whether you're solopreneur or you’ve got dozens, or even hundreds of employees. It’s lonely. And for you to take some time and share be vulnerable about some of those things is helpful.
It’s why we do the Small Business Success podcast to help our listeners gather some nuggets along the way and maybe a little hope and inspiration as well for some of the challenges that they face and know that they can do it. So we appreciate some real-life examples and stories that you’ve shared with us. And we wish you the best in your journey.
Drew Doolan: Thank you.
Scott Martineau: Thank you, Drew. And thank all you listeners for tuning into this episode of the Small Business Success podcast. We hope you’ve gleaned some insights that you’ll be able to take back and especially this attitude of unconditional positive resolve. We all need more of it. We’re going to call this a wrap. And thanks for tuning in today.
Clate Mask: All right. Thanks, everybody, for listening in to the Small Business Success podcast. Don’t forget to rate on iTunes, and share and subscribe. We look forward to the next podcast. Make sure you tune in.
[End of Audio]
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