There is a concept called ubuntu which means “I am, because you are.” It is impossible for me to be great without others. Companies who understand this begin to see the value in all who are around them. Their ability to identify, champion, and support a cause that impacts the people they depend on simply shouldn’t be a question. It should simply be normal practice. When we champion others they champion us. It’s the law of reciprocity. Being on purpose about how we interact and support our world will result in the same or better, good or bad, being extended to us. Great businesses understand that we are mere servants. Additionally, if a company can get others to rally around them and the cause they begin to create a community and its the community that can push businesses through their challenging times.
As part of my series about the “How to Take Your Company from Good to Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Collette Portis, M.Ed., RED Development Group, Inc.
When your Grandparents are entrepreneurs and your parents are entrepreneurs. Is it really a surprise when you become a serial entrepreneur? That is what happened to Collette Portis. She has business in her DNA. The drive she inherited has always pushed her to reach for new accomplishments. Earning 6 degrees including a Masters, completing her Doctorate in Transformational Leadership, author of G.O.A.L.I.E., her own business strategy system, radio host, and a contributing writer and influencer for PRiME Women Magazine are only some of the things Collette has accomplished.
As CEO and Founder of RED Development Group, Collette has proven that her entrepreneurial roots run deep. She also founded Collette Portis & Co. and Destined Designs and is a profound speaker. With over 20 years of experience as a master business coach and strategist, she has helped business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives develop their roadmap to business expansion and sustainability. It is her heart’s desire to help business owners realize the full potential in their business, gain their freedom, and implement the steps to generational wealth and legacy in their lives. Collette Portis has proven to be an asset to all who have the opportunity to cross her path.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am Collette Portis, M.Ed. and I’m the CEO and Master Business Coach at RED Development Group, Inc. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Both sets of grandparents, my mother and father, and aunts and uncles were all entrepreneurs. I didn’t know that a time clock existed until I was traumatized by it at the age of 27. I started my first business at the age of 14 and was successful at sustaining it from middle school through college and after becoming the mom of the most amazing son ever made. Then I began to focus solely on what my parents told me was the road to success and wealth, I worked and earned 6 degrees including a Masters and Doctorate degree. Then, after looking for work for a full year, earning my 5th degree, racking up 185,000 dollars in student loan debt, and being told that I was “overqualified,” I realized that my only option was to start the graphic design and branding firm that I knew I was supposed to start 15 years prior to that day. So that’s exactly what I did. Now nearly 7 years later that one business has turned into 3 businesses. Destined Designs is a branding firm specializing in helping small businesses show up like big business. Collette Portis & Co. is a publishing company where we publish personal stories and technical books based on a person’s expertise teaching authors how to leverage their intellectual property, maintain 100% control of it, and maximize their profits. Then there’s RED Development Group, Inc. which is where I spend most of my time. While my family members were entrepreneurs, they never learned how to move from the worker bee seat to the CEO seat. So, regardless of the success they achieved financially, they never built the business and systems that were necessary to help their businesses live beyond them. Because of that there was nothing to pass on. My drive as a Master Business Coach is to ensure that my clients never have that same story.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
April 1st, the day I finally submitted to what I knew was my path, I spent the day building my website, designing business cards, and everything else I could think of. While working, I received emails, text messages and phone calls asking me to design for them. At this point I hadn’t shared with anyone what I was doing, but somehow, I managed to get 7 clients that day. I was on high and feeling like this would be easy. Well little did I know that my car would get totaled 4 months later and then I would be homeless 9 months after starting the business. Being homeless forced me into a new city that I was unfamiliar with without a car. There were so many points at which I attempted to give up. I looked for work for 3 years after starting and nothing. Finally, I knew that entrepreneurship was the only way. At that moment I knew that I had no choice but to make it work because it was my only option. I had to meet the obstacles, ups and downs head on knowing that I would achieve what I set out to accomplish.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
One of my funniest business mistakes happened when I was 16 years old. My first business was being the go-to hairdresser in my community. I had no formal training, but I grew up helping out in the salons that my aunts owned. So, my skills were very advanced. However, a friend asked me to cut her hair like that of a well-known celebrity. I was hesitant because what she wanted, I hadn’t done in the past. Well she wanted to go through with it and so we did. By the time I was done, let’s just say I did what she asked me to do, I just cut it about an inch and a half more than necessary. I finished the style and turned her around to face the mirror and she was startled. She was furious. The good news is we were and still are great friends so we laugh about it today. I learned in that moment to stay in my lane and do those things that I was great or good at. I learned that it’s ok not to know everything, but it’s a requirement to know all that I can about what I know well. I carry this philosophy with me to this day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
RED Development Group, Inc. is my third company. It’s the global business development firm where we coach business owners in order to help them get unstuck and achieve the success they want to see. We are unique in our space because we are rooted and grounded in results and data driven processes. This year February we had a client come to us who had consistently made 250 dollars a month in her business for 3 years. That’s 3,000 dollars a year. We used our business assessment to evaluate her business so that we could identify what life cycle stage it was in, where her deficiencies were, how much her business was worth, and where her potential revenue streams were. We then created a strategy to increase her revenue and the value of her business. After only 10 months in our coaching program she will close out the year at more than 110,000 dollars in revenue. We are extremely proud of her and the work we’ve been able to accomplish. RED Development Group is always working to help our clients build strong sustainable businesses that creates lasting legacies. She helps to take care of her parents and her nieces. Because of the work we’ve done with her, 3 generations of her family are being impacted in a positive way. It’s these types of stories that we create and are most proud of.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The coaching industry can be very frustrating. Often times what I encounter with coaches is 3 things,
- Their revenues are very low and flat
- They have no tangible processes and data to prove how they’ve impacted their client’s business, and
- They are the worker bee.
When I’m working with coaches it is always my recommendation that they clearly define who they are and how they help businesses. Many say they are business coaches, but most in fact have taken on the wrong title. I’ve worked with a coach who was in that exact position, but after her first two coaching sessions with me we came to understand that she is a Marketing Coach. Making that one adjustment to her business had a positive revenue impact because she was now connecting with her ideal client. We then made a small adjustment to her programs which gave way to her connecting with her ideal buyer because she could be clear and concise about what her objectives were and what tangible results her clients would get. Now that we’ve eliminated her worry about revenue, we are finally able to focus on making her the CEO of her company. As a coach she can now thrive because she’s not trying to translate what she does to everyone. She is focused on solving the problem that her ideal buyer has. It is this key that allows owners to walk away from the work with peace of mind each day so that they feel the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of their clients.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are a number of people who helped me along the way. However, there were three who had the greatest impact on my life.
My sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Timothy Elliott, helped me to understand that the world was so big and there was so much to learn that to stop learning was not an option because I never know what I’ll miss out on. The simple act of him introducing me to paprika, yes, the spice, not only changed my worldview, but it helped me to understand that having a worldview is actually a thing.
My high school counselor, Mr. Timothy Reese, was and still is an important person in my life. I work daily to continue to make him proud. I was an A student in high school who hadn’t put any serious thought into going to college. I was afraid of leaving what was familiar. Plus, I knew that my parents, who were both addicted to drugs at that time, had no money for college. Nevertheless, Mr. Reese made me come to his office and fill out college applications. He was not accepting any excuses from me. He was committed to my success in a way that I wasn’t. That day I began to explore why I was less concerned about my success than someone else. From that day forward I knew that I had the ability and requirement to take my future seriously. It’s because of Mr. Reese that I earned 6 degrees, two of which are in education.
Lastly, there is Coach Tony. There is no one in the world that taught me more about money and how the world works than him. He pushed me at every chance he had. He taught me that success was far greater than making money and if I focused on developing myself, mastering myself, and understanding the rules of the game rather than blindly playing there is nothing in the world that can stop me. Because of him I truly understand what freedom is and how to create it for myself and others. Because of him I have a great understanding of legacy, how to build it, and why I should build it and help others do the same.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A good company is one that serves its community, creates jobs, and provides good service. A great company is something completely different. A great company understands that its greatest asset is the people who help to do the work each day. Great companies make a commitment to their employees because they want them to be better if and when they leave than they were before they arrived. Great companies understand that they are servants to their client base and community. They understand that they can only be great because of the greatness of others. So, they seek to identify and exploit that. Great companies don’t just want someone that can perform a function. They are looking for those who will be an asset to their company culture, but also have the skills to get the work done. Skills can be taught. Character takes time and in most cases more time than companies have to spend to help bring someone along. Great companies understand that revenue is a result of how well they help others get what they need and want. Great companies are headed by great leaders who understand that leadership is top down not bottom up. Great leaders know that if an issue exists in the company, they must first evaluate themselves and work backwards to come to a conclusion then find a resolution that allows all parties involved to maximize their greatest self. Sometimes that means releasing an employee so that they have an opportunity to find the place that allows them to flourish.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
PLEASE SEE ABOVE FOR THE 5 POINTS.
On my radio show, REAL-Eyez Destiny, I had the opportunity to interview one of the greatest CEOs I’ve ever met, Mr. Alan O’neil. He talked about one of his employees conducting an interview and asking him to drop in to say hello to the candidate because they were having a hard time getting him to join their team. When he entered the room and introduced himself as the founder and CEO the candidate introduced himself and then asked, “Why should I work for your company?” Mr. O’neil was stunned and didn’t know how to answer. So, he did his best and left the room. When he returned to his office he couldn’t stop thinking about the question and had to answer it. As a result, he came up with what is now their company promise,
- To help their employees make more money by the time they leave then they ever did before working for his company, and
- They will have more education when they leave than they did before working for the company.
Alan’s dedication to his employees is amazing. He certainly understands that his dream would not exist without them.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
There is a concept called ubuntu which means “I am, because you are.” It is impossible for me to be great without others. Companies who understand this begin to see the value in all who are around them. Their ability to identify, champion, and support a cause that impacts the people they depend on simply shouldn’t be a question. It should simply be normal practice. When we champion others they champion us. It’s the law of reciprocity. Being on purpose about how we interact and support our world will result in the same or better, good or bad, being extended to us. Great businesses understand that we are mere servants. Additionally, if a company can get others to rally around them and the cause they begin to create a community and its the community that can push businesses through their challenging times. We buy Tom’s because they donate shoes to those who don’t have them. We eat Chick-Fil-A because of their moral fortitude. We shop on Amazon using Amazon Smiles because we can make a difference in our communities and support the causes that we want to impact. Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Life is full of peaks, valleys and plateaus. The best way for me to describe it is to think about how video games work. Everyone understands that all have to start a new game at the same starting place. We also understand that there are different levels and at each level you have more and more access to resources. Through play, we learn that while we were able to get to level 8, if we would have changed 1 thing in level 2 it would have helped us to succeed at level 8. Nevertheless, you didn’t discover that until you got to level 8. This is the plateau. In business there are different levels, more commonly referred to as business life cycle stages. Each stage requires the completion of specific tasks. However, if a step is skipped in earlier stages or not fully thought out there is a need to go back to the earlier stage to give it more thought. Well, the answer to overcoming stagnation in one’s business is to go back to the basics to determine 5 things,
- Are your mission, vision, goals, and core values still relevant?
- How has your company changed since the last plateau?
- What adjustments are necessary to get you to the desired goal?
- Are you willing to make the necessary changes to jumpstart your growth?
- Who do you need on your team to make the necessary adjustments?
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
At RED forward movement is always top of mind. Everything we do is about planning and strategy. We spend a week developing our annual strategy every year. Because of this when we’re faced with challenges, we consult our strategic plan to see how we should pivot. Because we track data in our company on a regular basis, we typically have a more proactive approach than one that is reactive. As it pertains to new business, our understanding that business and entrepreneurship at its essence is the ability to solve problems. When we think “new business” we are looking first at our current clients to understand what problems exist for them that we don’t currently solve. Then we create new business around those issues. That could mean a new product or service for us or a new partnership or affiliate relationship with a company that specializes in resolving that issue. Then we look at new customer acquisition. Acquiring new customers is expensive. Yet, more often than not small business owners start there and miss the gold mine hidden in their current customer base. Your business will always reveal your growth points. However, if the owner has taken the time to focus the business on the thing they do best and they’ve been working to be everything to everyone they will find it challenging to identify those growth points. At RED we advise our clients to focus on one target audience and solve just one of their problems for a 12-month period. That doesn’t mean they can’t sell other products or services, but that means 75% of their energy and resources are directed to that one thing. We call it focused concentration. It’s one of the keys to the success that we’ve achieved. These are the practices that help business owners overcome their challenging times.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
This is a great question and I’m so glad you asked it. When you’re talking about small business, the thing that is most challenging is determining what’s most important and how to spend your time. If a business owner has a cupcake shop more often than not you will find them baking cupcakes, shopping for supplies, and selling cupcakes. They are typically spending 90% of their time in this process. At RED Development Group we help our owners understand that their ratios are off. As the founder/owner 90% of their day should be spent on building and growing the business
- Identifying and developing income streams
- Determining how income is generated (one customer at a time, recurring, contracts, etc.)
- Understanding where the business stands financially, team development, messaging, marketing, branding
- Exposure to the right audience, and
- So much more.
This is one of the biggest issues that business owners face. We underestimate the value of the CEO role in our own business while understanding its importance in other businesses. It is the CEO role that drives revenue and more often than not we miss it because we are in the trenches working to generate it a couple of customers at a time.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
The masters of conversion are car dealerships, cell phone companies and the Asian inspired restaurants in mall food courts. The one thing they all have in common is the “try it before you buy it” offer. How many times have you been walking through the food court not thinking about food, but was offered a piece of Teriyaki Chicken that caused you to buy? How many times have you gone to the car dealership to find the car you want only to purchase the more upgraded model? How many times did you get the extra line because it wouldn’t cost you more than 9.99 dollars a month? These are all try it before you buy it offers. It allows clients to build a relationship with you without obligation, but it offers you the opportunity to show them the best of who you are. All of these customers understand that they will have to pay to continue to have access to the product or service, but that’s not what we’re thinking about when we’re racing down the street in that new 2021 Mustang. We’re listening to the engine, feeling the seats, enjoying how the car handles the road. We are building the trust customers need to feel safe to buy. These customers typically convert themselves. Now, let’s be clear, this is not an “I’m going to have the lowest price” model. This is a low cost to try model. You MUST make your potential customer aware of the cost of acquiring the product or service so they understand its value.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Branding is important, but more often than not it’s misunderstood. Branding is the building of a company’s reputation based on the information that is presented to the marketplace. Here are a couple of the ways that RED Development Group works to build our brand,
- Collaborative partnerships — we partner with companies and organizations that serve our client base. We become a complement to the products and services they offer. However, our collaborative partners must meet certain standards and align with our core values. A certain percentage of them just have well established brands themselves, but we leave room for brands who are working to build their brand to come alongside us so we can help them.
- Community Service — RED is big on community service. It is a requirement for us as well as our clients to be an active and impactful part of their community. We donate our time, our money, and fundraise for them as well.
- Events — Events are a great way to build your brand reputation. We participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week annually. We host events and sponsor other events during that week. We are on purpose about where we show up at. We’re always asking how our participation in an event will create a win win win situation. That means a win for the event, a win for us, and a win for our collective client base. If it’s not a 3-way win, we decline the opportunity.
- Influence — Many underestimate the power of influence. We assume because we don’t have 1 million followers on Instagram, we have no influence. That’s simply not true. We teach our clients that you have the ability to influence any captive audience. Whether it be on social media, print media, digital media, etc. I write for an amazing magazine, I have a radio show, I have a weekly Facebook live show, I’m on multiple social media platforms, I’m an author, and speaker. I have many opportunities to influence an audience. But to be effective decide what you want them to know that you’re an expert in. What do you want to teach them? What should they know before becoming your client? You must first determine how you want to influence them.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Wow customer experiences begin with under-promising and over delivering. A great example of this is Aveda Salons. You schedule your hair cut, but what you get is a commitment to getting you in and out of the salon in record time, an amazing style, organic products, and oh I can’t forget the hand, head, and shoulder massage that is standard for their brand. I mean what? When’s the last time you scheduled a haircut and got a massage? These things are their brand standards.
Develop solid brand standards that set you apart from others in your industry. Use your points of greatness in your brand standards. Aveda has salons and spas, but those who come for salon services aren’t expecting spa services, but they get them at a very basic level. Nevertheless, customers don’t expect them so that makes them big for them.
Refuse to compete. At RED Development Group we refuse to compete. Now this doesn’t mean that there aren’t companies paying attention to what we do and looking to repeat it. However, we understand our industry. We know that there are approximately 30.7 million small businesses in the U.S. and only 15,000 coaches and only 7,000 coaches that do similar work that we do. Because we understand our industry, we know that we need allies if our hearts desire is to really create a positive impact on small businesses. So, we are actively seeking to find allies with a shared heart’s desire to help businesses thrive. That opens the door to building new partnerships that benefit our clients in major ways. If we identify a problem that our client has, we can make a referral to a company or organization that has similar customer service values as ours. It’s a win win win!
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
There are two things we use each day that many of us don’t truly understand. That’s money and social media. Everything is about intention. What do we seek to accomplish through the use of social media? Then there’s the art of standing next to the fine lines of controversy and knowing when to pick a side and stand up for what you believe in. Once you stand up, act out of love when you’ve been met with adversity. Chick-Fil-A is another great example of this. They hold fast to their beliefs and not all of them are popular beliefs, but they stand in them nonetheless. What was their response to the backlash? Give away free chicken sandwiches. They submitted to the adversity, but not in a way that caused them to go against their core values. I think it’s most important to remember that we are all human. At the core of us we all want to be understood, appreciated, and free to authentically be who we are. If companies can find a way to get back to those three basics we can overcome anything.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The most common mistake that I see CEOs and founders make is to assume they understand how business works. No one would think of getting into professional football without a group of coaches. However, business owners strike out into the business “profession” without guidance. Many without even having a mentor that has been where they are going. Having a coach means that you have an increased opportunity to learn the fundamentals of business. Sustainability and legacy lay in the fundamentals. These are the two things that are the most common mistakes. To resolve them owners should
- Determine what their top 3 objectives and goals are
- Find a coach with a proven track record in helping others achieve those things
- Ensure that the owner understands and has in place the fundamentals that create a solid foundation starting with a solid business strategy, not business plan, those are two very different things. Then build around that working daily to achieve a new goal. Remembering that success is a series of tiny wins.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!