It took an FBI agent appearing at John Jantsch’s office for him to rethink his target market (the agent wasn’t interested in him, but in a client). But Duct Tape Marketing has thrived, and its founder John Jantsch talks to Clate and Scott about managing a business where all employees are remote, tools to help foster communication between people who aren’t together, why duct tape is like Chuck Norris, and how to be intentional about growth.
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John Jantsch: In our form of business where they really – they don't have to see the client face to face, and they don't have to see team members face to face, I think one of the greatest ways to build the business today is with virtual staff, and in some cases virtual resources.
Clate Mask: That's John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, sharing secrets about how to work effectively with remote employees. To hear the full story, listen to this episode of the Small Business Success Podcast.
Scott Martineau: Welcome everybody to this episode of the Small Business Success Podcast, I'm Scott Martineau, and I'm Clate Mask. We're co-founders of Infusionsoft, and today we've got a good friend, long time friend, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing. How are you doing John?
John Jantsch: I am doing great, really great to catch up with you guys.
Scott Martineau: Yeah, it totally is. Why don't you tell everybody what Duct Tape Marketing is, how long you've been in business, employees? Give us just a little quick overview of your company.
John Jantsch: Sure. So, I actually started my own marketing consulting firm 28 years ago now. I always tell people that was back when it was code for you couldn't get a job. Now, everybody wants to starts their own business, which is awesome. At some point about 10 years in I – again I jumped in like a lot of people no real plan necessarily. I knew I could hustle work, and I did whatever somebody asked me to do. But at some point I found I really enjoyed working with small business owners, but terribly frustrating in that they had a lot of the same needs and challenges. Never, of course, the same budget, and most of the time not even the same attention span. So, around 2002 exactly, February 18th I can peg it exactly, I registered the domain Duct Tape Marketing, because I decided what the world needed or at least what I needed to solve my frustration was to be able to walk into a small business
and say here's what I'm going to do, here's what you're going to do, here's the results we hope we can get, and by the way, here's what it costs. Essentially, turn marketing from being this what do you need, I can do it, into this is – we're going to install a marketing system, and so that's where the name came from. Because I figured if I was going to productize this service to some degree, a brand name was appropriate, and really, obviously that was about the time when people were starting to put their credit cards into the Internet, and the exchange of money for services, and products. So, I continue to document Duct Tape Marketing that turned into a blog, it's turned into several books, and now I have a network of independent marketing consultants around the world. We've got about 115 right now that actually install the Duct Tape Marketing System, use our methodology to work with small business owners all over the globe.
Clate Mask: That is so great.
Scott Martineau: One of the things that we love to do on the podcasts, especially with someone like yourself who has shared with thousands and hundreds of thousands. I don't know if we're in the – if you're in the millions category yet, but so many have learned from your marketing advice. We're excited to help them see the behind the scenes story that has been you building your business. So, we're just really excited to understand a little bit more about that part of the story. Maybe to start…
Clate Mask: Just a second, before you do the to start. I have to just say this, I love when you're talking about Duct Tape Marketing, I can't help but – Scott and I have a special affinity for your brand, because in the early days of Infusionsoft when we were trying to get people to understand what it was, Scott used to actually talk about how people were duct taping together a bunch of different tools and systems to try to do their sales and marketing automation. So, we had some pretty vivid videos that we did, and some onstage presentations.
Scott Martineau: We actually did – took a roll of duct tape up on stage and stuck it to Monica.
Clate Mask: Scott did that, and anyway I just – I couldn't help but think back on that fun experience…
Scott Martineau: I had totally forgotten that.
Clate Mask: …when you started talking. So, your brand is powerful.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I remember it, and actually what interesting is that's certainly the negative to the idea of Duct Tape, but I think that the good news is there's a lot of strong, very positive association with the idea of it may not be all pretty, but it always works. Simple, effective, affordable, so that's what I really tried to tap. Then as you guys have probably learned there's this strange affinity for Duct Tape [inaudible].
Clate Mask: That's right.
John Jantsch: I used to when I originally started, and I'd go out speaking I'd carry rolls of duct tape with me, and people just wanted them.
Scott Martineau: That's so true. Duct tape is like Chuck Norris, somehow it just became this natural sensation. That's fantastic.
John Jantsch: You read my book Duct Tape Marketing has been translated into 14 languages now, and the metaphor doesn't translate.
It would be like coming up to you and saying electrical tape marketing. That isn't the same thing at all, and so…
Clate Mask: That's fascinating.
John Jantsch: We're looking at the Portuguese version and it translate to something like marketing that is low cost and effective.
Clate Mask: Scott, I interrupted you, sorry. Go ahead.
Scott Martineau: Yeah. I think – let's start with the raw – the low, what's been the lowest point in the business when maybe you thought it was just time to throw in the towel?
John Jantsch: Never, has that ever happened. [Laughter] I tell this story all the time, and I'll just cut to the chase. It was when an FBI agent showed up and said they wanted me to appear before a grand jury. It – I hinted at this idea that I took work from – I hustled work, and told people sure I can do that. I'll figure out how to do that, and what that led to was really a mismatch I guess of ideal clients, and
maybe my beliefs, and so I had a client that was doing somethings that the FBI end up being interested in. Unfortunately, I knew nothing, although I tell me people – I knew nothing interesting at least to them. But I tell people I was pretty convinced something was not right, and it was really that – that was like a lot of low points that also can be an opportunity, and a turning point. That was really the point of my business where I basically said I don't care what it takes. I'm never working with somebody that I don't respect again, and I think that I go out now and really preach that to every business owner. I we have to get ourselves in a position where we choose our clients and not the other way around.
Clate Mask: The FBI shows up, and you get brought into testify, and you have this feeling that something's not going on right with this client. Did it have to do with the fact that they were able to pay a lot of money?
Was it – they were – why was it that you had this feeling that they were not on the up and up?
John Jantsch: Again, it was probably more to do with some of the folks that they associated with. I was doing legit projects, but there were definitely people that clearly were not, and so they ended up being indicted for money laundering, and some things of that nature. But, again, the good news was I had a service to provide, and I provided it. Like I said, unfortunately the FBI didn't have any interest in me. But, again, it was one of those things where I said how did I get myself here.
Clate Mask: Yeah, totally, so let's – that's a pretty extreme example of something where you felt like your target market was off. But let's talk a little bit more practically, because I think your point is really valuable for everybody listening about not doing business with the wrong kind of customer.
Either from a values perspective or ethics and values or from a – just a fit, a product market fit. Just your ability to help that customer be successful. So, what advice do you give to business owners who are trying to keep the lights on, they're trying to pay their bills. They're running like crazy on the treadmill of small business trying to keep up. It's hard to say no to stuff. How do you tell – how do you coach people and help them from your perspective to say no to the wrong kinds of customers?
John Jantsch: Yeah, you're right, it's very easy for me to sit back here and say you should only take this kind of ______. Because you're right, especially early on. Part of the challenge is most small businesses, they may have a hypothesis about who they can serve. But a lot of times it's just the market's going to tell us, we're going to learn, and we're going to evolve. So, there – I think the key, and lots of people write about this stuff, but I think you have to get very certain about what value you bring, what it is that you do, what it is
you want to do, why you do what you do. I know that's stuff a lot of people write about, and give a lot of lip service to. But I don't – I think if you don't have that anchor, that's what really gets you drug into situations that don't make sense. I fully believe that's what happened to me, I hadn't really spent time. It wasn't that I was taking the wrong clients, I just didn't really have an idea – I didn't have this profile or this description of what the right client was. So, I think when you get really firm about that, and now we're going to go into the Sedona version of the show. But it's really easy to – once you have that clear picture all of a sudden they start showing up. A lot of it's because you're looking for them, and you know what they look like, and you know they act like, and you know what their behavior is, and what they say that demonstrates they're the right fit for you.
That's was probably a light bulb or magic moment for me when I started realizing that having the faith that I provide a lot of value, and I just have to get really clear on who I want to serve, and who I can serve, and they will start showing up.
Scott Martineau: I'm curious, you teach marketing principles. I'm curious if over the past several years as you've grown the business have there been things where you're like – just maybe it felt like it should have come to you more easily? What have been the areas of the business I guess that have been most challenging for you to grow, and just maybe shed a little insight there?
John Jantsch: One of the things that I've attempted to do is replicate myself. So, in other words, I have these marketing consultants, I develop this system and this methodology. Then I said why don't I teach other people to use this, it seems to work for me, and that's been a huge challenge. Everybody is in a different place, everybody has a different set of experience and values and confidence level and
money, there's so many variables that come into – when you attract these consultants that are in some ways attracted to the idea of Duct Tape Marketing, and what they see on the outside. But it's – it has been a 10-year journey, and I'm not done, and I'm not sure I'll ever be done developing a transferable methodology and system.
Clate Mask: That's really great, and that quest to replicate yourself is – you're doing it very much in a – from a consulting standpoint, and creating other consultants who can do what you do. But every – to a certain extent every entrepreneur is doing that with their employees. They're trying to make the business less dependent upon themselves and more scalable, a business that can run where the boss can – the business owner can go on vacation, can think about other things besides the business 24/7.
That only happens if you create systems and processes that you can hand off to others. So, you've got to do it in a very explicit and buttoned up way, because you're taking your whole – in some ways you're almost franchising yourself, and – but for any business owner, any entrepreneur that challenge of replicating themselves is very real. We see that, I'm sure you see it all the time; how does the business owner actually do that, and help their employees to run the business without them.
John Jantsch: You see this, and we have a good mutual friend, Michael Gerber, who is espouse this idea forever. But there's so many business owners that we work that really have just created a job, and in some cases it's not a very good job.
Scott Martineau: I think Gerber says and you do you realize you're working for a lunatic.
Clate Mask: That's right.
John Jantsch: You're working for a lunatic, that's right, and it's true. It –I joke about you have total freedom, the freedom to work any 80 hours a week you choose. [Laughter]
Scott Martineau: So, there are distinctions between an employee, and an independent contractor or independent consultant as you have. What have you learned about working with independent consultants? What are some key lessons?
John Jantsch: That's actually – that's been big part of my journey. You think about – because you guys have been doing this for a while too. You think about the last 10 years; how access to collaboration and access to credible resources have changed so dramatically in the last 10 years. Working with independent marketing consultants, in a lot of ways they're clients. So, while I'm trying to teach them and replicate and deliver a service, in a lot of ways I – my point of view is that they're a client that I'm trying to serve.
But, one of the things that we have done over the last – particularly over the last couple of years, we have about 15 staff members, and they – at one point we had seven or eight internal showed up what do you want me to do now Mr. Jantsch kind of approach. Every single one of them now is somewhere besides Kansas City, Missouri, and we are – we work really – it took some learning, but I think that the opportunity today in our form of business it won't be for every business. But in our form of business where they really – they don't have to see the client face to face, and they don't have to see team members face. I think one of the greatest ways to build the business today is with virtual staff, and in some cases virtual resources. So, that might just be a person that does – we're an Infusionsoft user, Brett Farr does our Infusion work.
He does –gives us X amount of time every month, and we're able to buy what I feel is one of the best resources possible for that very specific need without hiring a programmer and teaching them – telling them go learn Infusionsoft.
Clate Mask: Yeah, that's great. So, it's interesting. You've got – I don't know if our listeners caught that, but you got 15 employees that are all virtual, and you've got people who are – or I should say staff members, probably some are independent contracts, some are employees. But you've got these staff members, and you've created roles effectively for them that they can execute those roles outside the office, probably in a lot of ways similar to what you've done with your independent contractors. That's a valuable thing that a lot of business owners out there are trying to do, and you're doing it effectively as basically a stage four business, which we refer to as that – those companies that are – that have 10-25 employees, and generally are somewhere in that $1-3 million range.
That's an impressive thing to have 15 virtual employees. I'm sure we've got a bunch of people out there saying how does he do that effectively.
John Jantsch: One of the things that – the model to me, the old model of I have a need for say – let's say it's content. I need to bring in somebody to do content or we bring that person in and the reality was that job was about 20 yours worth of doing content. Then we sat around and said what else can we make them do, and I think that – at least this is my experience, so I'm really telling on myself more than anything else. What happened was over time that person would become a jack of all trades, but it was really just became dependent on me or somebody in the organization saying go do this.
Scott Martineau: Finding the next thing to do, yeah.
Clate Mask: So, in other words you took a specialist and turned them into a generalist.
John Jantsch: Exactly, and they were never happy about it. They were happy to get a paycheck, but even that, of course, as we know would wear on people.
Clate Mask: When I say you did this I'm only saying all business owners everywhere. [Laughter]
John Jantsch: It's true, and today what we really do is we hire specialist and only use them for their specialty. I think that is – first off it's a great opportunity that's available to us, but I think it's just a really smart way to use resources and get far more productivity by doing so. I think our productivity doubled when we really wrapped our heads around that mindset.
Clate Mask: Yeah. It turns out that Adam Smith guy who wrote The Wealth of Nations, he's a pretty smart guy. The specialty concept, specialization, getting people to focus on what they do best increases productivity dramatically. As an economics – I'm probably revealing some boring stuff here. But as an economics major, I remember learning that about the concept of specialization and recognizing what happens when people are – what happens to productivity when you put people in that zone, and it's very academic when you're learning that in college.
But when you're a business owner you see it over and over again, and if you want to grow your business effectively you and your people need to stay in their zone of specialty. It's hard to do that if you have a specialization role that only takes five or ten or twenty hours a week, because we turn them into generalist. Then we've actually worked against the very productivity, and profitability we're trying to achieve.
John Jantsch: I'll tell you another thing, of course I'm telling on my – you guys aren't even asking me these questions. I'm just admitting... The – I'm sure you run across this all the time too. Another key productivity is getting me out of the fricking way, because as a typical business owner, especially as you start to grow, you want to keep your hands in stuff. You're the only one who knows how to do this stuff, and what about this, and what about that. That's a hard lesson for somebody that – particularly somebody that had worked on their own maybe for a number of years. But I – we finally I think gotten – it only took me 28 years to figure out that as
the CEO there is high pay off work for me to do, and everything else is a little bit of getting in the way.
Scott Martineau: A quick question; what's your favorite tools – tool or tools for collaboration – remote collaboration?
John Jantsch: We happen to use a set of tools, and again, the thing that's so cool – for project management we use Asana, and there are 15 other pieces of software that pretty much do what Asana does. But the ability to track things, and to create tasks list, and to have as you said remote folks be able to plug in. We've also been a long-time Basecamp user, and I don't know if this is best practice by any means. But we use that with our clients because we find it to be a little more easy – a little more user friendly from somebody who is coming in kicking and screaming anyway to us wanting them to use technology.
So, those are probably our two greatest platforms, and then like a lot of businesses, this is not earth shattering, we banned internal email, and went with – we primarily use Slack now for team communication, and really trying to – obviously we do some sort of meeting rhythm as well. But we try to move all of the internal communication to using that platform, and have some rules about when is it an emergency and all that kind of stuff. But getting all the internal email cleared out when people are asking questions, and they have a client request, and there's a project, that sure leads to chaos when you've got – particularly when you've got remote folks.
Clate Mask: Yeah, those are great tools. I'm glad you asked that Scott. So, you mentioned Asana, Basecamp and Slack. Aside from technical tools. What other things have been effective for you to lead a remote team – a virtual team I should say?
John Jantsch: I think meeting rhythm is an important concept, and for somebody like me who hasn't been employed maybe ever, but I can't remember the last time or nobody told me to go to meetings for a long time. I did – certainly the last thing I wanted to do as we grew was to start saying we're going to meet this time and this time and this time, and we're going to sit around talk about what we're going to meet about before we meet. So, we do have – depending upon who's reporting to whom or what projects people are on we do have brief meetings, and we use Zoom and we use actually Slack has added some video, and phone, communication pieces as well. So, we try to have regularly scheduled meetings, but they have a very specific purpose. Every now and then you've got the meeting to say let's talk about this idea, but a lot of times we have the – my
director of operations will meet Monday at 10:00 a.m., and it will be – we'll have a – not an agenda even, a spreadsheet of ideas that we need to discuss. Then that'll be the last time that we – in most cases, and I'll talk to her that way.
Clate Mask: That is great. So, you're meeting with them, and the tools you shared, those are valuable for our folks out there who have virtual teams, and remote employees. Were you going to say something, Scott?
Scott Martineau: We're running short on time, and I still have – we'd like to give you an opportunity if you have any questions for us. But I want to maybe take 60 seconds, take us to the high point in your business, the time you felt most satisfied, most excited about what you've created.
John Jantsch: There's probably a couple of times. Frankly, when I went out there and started telling people this – the first three small business I walked in and said I – here's what you're going to do, here's what I'm going to do, here's the results we get. They all said when can I start. I was like this is going to work. Sweet.
So, that was awesome. I think any author will tell you getting that first box of books is pretty cool so that was another high point. Then the first group of consultants that came to Kansas City and – this will show you how this was a – I actually had them telling me I want to be a part of a network. We should for this thing. I was like that's a good idea, but it was half-baked, that was a – that was probably overstating the first group. But when they left and they said this is really cool. Again, I thought this isn't going to be easy, but this is going to work.
Scott Martineau: Jeffrey Mark told us a couple of weeks ago sell yourself into the problem, work your way out of it. That's how you do it.
John Jantsch: That – [inaudible comment] don't say that to any of my staff members, because I can't tell you how often I'll say we need to do this, and they're like we need to build this process, and this sounds like – no let's go sell something first.
Clate Mask: No, that's great. Thank you for sharing that, that's awesome. I – do you have any question for us that you'd like us to address?
John Jantsch: Yeah. Obviously, we've done okay. We've been hanging in there for 20 something years, but you guys have experienced some pretty rapid growth. I think you were growing, growing, banging, banging, banging, and all of a sudden it took off, and obviously that's an outsider's perspective. You guys probably maybe have the exact same perspective. But when you started to experiencing growth that was beyond what you had before; how did you keep your arms around that or how did you let go?
Clate Mask: Great, I'll address a piece first, and Scott you can hit that. I think the thing for us was that we knew that we wanted the – we had – we were very intentional about what we'd created, and how we wanted it to feel. So, we had a way of running the company's culture that for us was – it was not just important because of our ability to attract talent that way, our ability to find fulfillment and
satisfaction with what we're doing. But it also made it – it just made it much more possible for us to go through that hypergrowth and not have everything – the wheels all come off. So, I think what I would say, John, is that for us we did a lot of work understanding how do you scale the culture so that the company can grow, and not outgrow itself or lose it soul or however you want to describe that. We did a lot of research, did a lot of learning, did a lot of – read a lot of books, talk to a lot of people, and a lot of the things we found pointed back to Jim Collins, and the things that he wrote, the different books that he wrote; Built to Last, Good to Great. So, my answer would be that we got – we did a lot of studying and a lot of learning about how to inculcate a culture at Infusionsoft, and it really comes down to write the purpose and the values and mission, and hiring and training and firing to that.
So, we've been very intentional about that, and I think that has kept it fun, kept it exciting, and kept the wheels on when I think in some cases they could have come off. By the way the wheels did wobble quite a bit.
John Jantsch: But that's a pretty important disciple, a lot of people start and just me and the other guy, and there's a couple of desks, and that's when culture starts right?
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Scott Martineau: Yeah, the aligning power of a really clear mission I think is just the exclamation point to put on what Clate said. I'd also add that I think if you go trace back every surge in growth you can find back up six months or a year or 18 months, and then we did the work to install the right leader and the right talent in the business in the right – in each of the respective areas to make sure that we were growing. I think of all – it all comes down to do you have the right people who can execute, and that changes. You need certain skills to go from each of the different phases of the business, and we see
that in the stages of success from one to two to three to four to five, and we've seen the similar thing as we've continued to grow our business. So, just having the right people, and investing the time and energy to get the right people.
John Jantsch: So, one more question?
Scott Martineau: Sure.
John Jantsch: I see a lot of people, and I'm familiar with your stages model. I see a lot of people stuck in that $1 million. They – by sheer force of being a good sales person, and having a decent product, and a few good people a lot of companies are able to get there. It's very hard to pass that threshold.
Scott Martineau: Yeah.
John Jantsch: What would you advise somebody who's listening, and says I've been there 10 years, and get past it?
Scott Martineau: Everybody who's in that position they have one common characteristic, and that is if you look at their knuckles they're very white because they're bear hugging in their business, and holding on to everything that they – that it as you said earlier the common the feeling is I can do this and nobody else can do it any better than I do.
It's the ability for the entrepreneur to let go, and we teach our business owners all the time that leadership is an exercise of relinquishing control, and there's an art to that. It's a skill that has to be developed by the entrepreneur, and until they do that they're – and it might be that they're stuck at $900,000 or it might be $1.2 million or whatever. But there's that point where you just can't – your arms can't – arm extensions don't work.
Clate Mask: Yeah, and your exactly right, John. We see this – we've watched this problem for a decade now, we've seen it over and over and over with our customers. We see how it's – it might get up to $1.2 million, $1.3 million, then it comes back to $700,000, and then it goes – it's this back and forth, and they just get stuck. It was about five years ago we had a bunch of customers who came out to ICON and they said why don't you teach this stuff that you guys do
about strategy planning and culture, and how to align everybody to the purpose, values, and mission. So, they actually started asking for it a couple of years before that, and we said no, and then we began doing it. So, we actually teach the – we do the thing called the Leap Forum that teaches business owners that are at that seven figure – the stage four mark at around $1 million, and they want to grow to $10 million and beyond. But they've – there's – they're stuck in that spot. Sometimes they're moving, and moving fast, and they know I got to change some things, and other times they've plateaued. But we've got a whole program on that. The short of it is we teach purpose, values and mission, hiring, training and firing to that, and then a strategic planning process to execute that mission. The summary of it is that a business owner who gets that business to stage four, like you said through sheer will, grit, tenacity, charisma, whatever you want to call it, needs to develop some
different skills to be a people leader of a team that is achieving the goal together, the same goal and all working on it. So, that's what we teach, it's a ton of fun, we love doing it, and we find that for the ambitious entrepreneurs that really want to go after it, and build a business to eight figures and beyond there's nothing more fun than being in a room with those folks, and helping them work through it. So, thanks for asking. We love that topic.
John Jantsch: It's a beautiful thing too, because I think – and I have this on the wall. That I'm trying to help my consultants grow their business faster, but at the same time I have to teach them how they can help their clients grow their businesses faster. If you do those things together then you're going to fall short.
Clate Mask: Yep. That's right.
Scott Martineau: John, thanks so much. I really appreciate you giving us time today. That was fund, and I appreciate the insight that you shared with our audience.
Clate Mask: Yeah. John, why don't you share where our audience can learn more about Duct Tape Marketing.
John Jantsch: Sure. A number of places, but the easiest one is ducttapemarketing.com. and I may be down for spring training this year. So, let's maybe go grab a cup or coffee or a beer or something.
Clate Mask: Definitely.
Scott Martineau: There's also electricaltapemarketing.po, that's Portugal. Alright thanks so much John.
Clate Mask: Thanks, everybody this has been another edition of the Small Business Success Podcast.
Scott Martineau: I thought you were going to end it with that _____.
Clate Mask: You suck. Go ahead, finish it off.
Scott Martineau: Oh no, that's good. If you're looking for more ways to grow your business, check out our knowledge center at learn.infusionsoft.com.
Clate Mask: No, you're still good.
Scott Martineau: I think you left them on a high, we're good.
Female: Do you have a question that you want us or an expert to answer? If you have questions about your small business, submit them at smallbusinesssuccess.com/questions.
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