Give your employees work-life balance and let them know their well-being is more important than their job working at your company. Build your company so that it can be wildly successful with the average teammate at your company working 40 hours per week or a bit less. We were not created to work — we were created to make the world a better place. If someone can’t spend stress-free time with their family and friends, while being well-rested, it will be hard for them to make the world a better place. In addition, if someone has a family crisis come up, or a personal crisis, tell them to focus on their family or their personal need and then have a culture where you, the CEO, as well as everyone else in the company, is willing to roll your sleeves up to help them get their work done while they are out.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Soltis of ChoiceLocal. Joe is a serial-entrepreneur and purpose-driven business leader. Joe has transformed and created companies, and throughout his career, he has brought a constant and tireless emphasis to helping partners find success, helping team members grow, and helping the community. Joe is the Founder and CEO of ChoiceLocal, a digital marketing firm that serves small and medium-sized businesses and franchise systems. The average client partner of ChoiceLocal gains $15.51 for every $1.00 invested in marketing. ChoiceLocal is one of the fastest growing companies in America and northeast Ohio and boasts an annualized client retention rate of 94% and a net promoter score — higher than Google, Apple or Netflix. Joe and his wife Becky Soltis founded The Benjamin Isaac Foundation, created after the death of their unborn son Ben, late into Becky’s pregnancy. Today the Benjamin Isaac Foundation helps kids from around America and the world who are in physical, emotional or spiritual need. Joe Soltis co-founded ChoiceFinance after working with hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses, and he discovered in these businesses a strong need for financial discipline, KPI measurement of business performance as well as employee performance backed with the financial processes, CRM, and technology that drive profitable growth and strong cash positions. ChoiceFinance technology and services integrate directly into what ChoiceLocal does as well as all other marketing investments. This enables ChoiceFinance partners to know exactly what marketing investments are driving profitable growth and what other marketing investments need to be cut or optimized. Prior to co-founding ChoiceLocal and ChoiceFinance, Joe worked for 10 years as a top executive at one of the leading digital marketing firms in North America.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Late into a pregnancy my wife Becky and I lost a child. It had a very strong impact on both of us. At the time I was working 60 hours per week as VP of Operations, running what was at the time one of the top digital marketing firms in the nation. After we lost our child I asked myself what I was doing working so hard and missing so much time with my family. I also felt like I wanted to make much more of a difference in what I do every day than simply creating profits.
As a result, my wife and I decided I would create a company with the mission of “Help Others.” We would take 10% of the profits out of this company to help kids in need. We would grow the company to the point where we could offer substantial help to 10,000 kids per year through our charitable giving.
We would always do what was best for our “employees.” Yet, the word “employees” did not reflect our values so we would create a work environment for our “teammates” that focused on providing them a super happy and fun work environment, good work-life balance, good pay and excellent benefits. We would treat our teammates as we would a member of our own family who we loved very much.
We would help our client partners by always doing what was in their best interest, with an attitude of complete service to them. We would not call our clients “clients” because it would not reflect our mission. They are “partners” because we are partnering in their success.
We chose to partner with franchise systems because we loved helping small and medium sized businesses owners who have a dream. It was our job to make that dream come true.
Through development and living our mission of “Help Others” and only hiring people who believe our core values, of Integrity in All Things, Amazing Customer Service, Everybody a Leader, Candor with Goodwill, Giving & Family we have been able to build an awesome team that every day is making the world a better place.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We are a digital marketing firm, that serves franchise systems where the average franchisee gives us $1 and we give back to them $15.54 in new client revenue.
As a result of that we have done some really cool stuff that has deeply affected people’s lives. Things like growing our partners’ businesses 40% YoY and making their financial dreams come true or helping them grow so much they can afford to acquire another business, is so much fun.
What is more fun is really personal stories of help we have given to others. For example, a business owner had a stroke and had serious contraction in her business as a result. This business owner was a long-standing and loyal partner of ours for 5 years. So we gave her our services for free for as long as it takes for her business to rebound just to help a friend out — she never asked for it. We just wanted to help.
Another husband and wife couple had a child that was battling cancer and the diagnosis happened about the same time they both quit their jobs to launch their business. As a result, their financial situation was really, really tough. We gave them 4 months of free service and then wrote a check to help them pay their medical bills.
After working with a partner for 2 years, who was in his late 60’s, he called us up out of the blue one day to say “Thank you, because of you guys I can retire now. I am selling my business.”
In addition, we have saved 8 companies that I know of from going out of business. This is the kind of stuff that really fires me up. It is when we do stuff like this that we are really living our mission of “Help Others”, and it feels so darn good. Not just for me — but for everyone at ChoiceLocal.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
There are so many. Here are two.
The first is the integration of all sales and marketing with CRM and business financials through our sister-company ChoiceFinance, which I also founded. With this integration our partners can see all aspects of the financial performance of their company, including sales and marketing expenses and the resulting revenue, profit and ROI. This will enable us and our partners to invest more in what is working, optimize or cut what is not, and ultimately fuel profitable growth fast.
The second is the launch of a new product we are calling ChoiceLocal Retain & Evangelize. With this product our franchisee partners will be able to know their net promoter score for all of their clients/customers every single month. We will send them alerts as to what clients are unhappy and why. This will help them see how they are doing as a whole but also fix client issues before it results in a cancellation. Their happy clients will then be asked to leave a review online. They will also be able to know their net promoter score for all of their employees every single month and gain an understanding as to why their employees are happy and unhappy.
This product will help in countless industries, resulting in seniors receiving better in home care, children receiving better child care, and ultimately lead to people having better and happier lives because they enjoy their job more. It really lives to our mission of “Help Others”, and it will drive significant value to millions of people.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
The answer to this is super simple. Most “bosses” and most companies don’t follow this simple rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” My parents raised me to love everyone and to see each person in the world as my own brother or my own sister. I really have internalized this. When I took this style of leadership into the business world, I found that no matter where I went, people worked smarter, harder, and were more loyal because I simply treated them the way I wanted to be treated.
At ChoiceLocal we have placed a huge focus on only hiring people and keeping teammates who believe what we believe — and want to live their life by helping others. This has resulted in us always dramatically outshining industry benchmarks for employment satisfaction for every survey and award.
The other part of being happy at work is winning. Everyone likes to win. A great company to work for needs to have a good business strategy, definitive leadership, strong process and strong best practices, and excellent training so everyone has a framework for success. When you layer in reasonable-to-hit KPI’s and treat KPI’s as INDICATORS of performance and not absolute DICTATORS of performance, people will be happy as they will see they are hitting their goals or beating them and see the rewards that come with it — they will win, and the company will win.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Unhappy workforces drain energy, talent, loyalty, employee health and well-being, productivity and profit. If anyone thinks they can create a great company with happy and engaged employees, while treating their employees as parts of a machine or system they are delusional. Every person must be seen exactly as that — a person. Every person has the same value and dignity — it is the way it is.
At ChoiceLocal we survey every teammate, anonymously, every 2 weeks with the question: “How happy are you are work, on a scale of 1–10”? We do this to make sure we are keeping our teammates happy and adjust what we are doing to keep that morale sky high. We do this simply because we care about everyone here. The bonus is that this focus on employee happiness drives business results. An unhappy employee will become stressed. They will then bring that stress home. This will make things either a little worse or a lot worse in their home life. All of this will then elevate, for prolonged periods their cortisol levels. The result of that is it inhibits their ability to think, makes them angry and resentful, cuts down on team work, drives down productivity, kills loyalty and hurts profit. So if any company wants to avoid that vicious cycle, try treating people the way you want to be treated and watch the benefits unfold.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Treat people the way you want to be treated. I did this at my old roles prior to ChoiceLocal and whatever I was in charge of grew 20% to 400% YoY, every year when I ran it. When I left those roles and other people took over, after I was not in charge, everything shrunk every year since. The golden rule of “treat others the way you want to be treated” is the most important rule in business — my predecessors did not follow it and their business results proved it.
2. Have a well-though out business strategy and plan of execution — without it you will not win and people like to win. No one likes to lose. No one likes to do a ton of work only to have a shift in direction due to a leader who can’t make up their mind. Before you move your company in a direction, have a strategy, plan, numbers and testing to indicate the plan should work — otherwise you risk abusing your employees and having a losing streak as a company. We have all of this at ChoiceLocal and we have gone from a start up with me as the only employee, and no venture funding, to growing to soon be the largest franchise marketing agency in the world in just a few years.
3. Have good training in the form of process, best practices & KPI’s — but allow freedom and testing free from micro-management. Almost no one likes to figure out things completely on their own with little to no guidance. You need a strong operational framework in place to be successful so everyone knows what they need to do to be successful. Everyone likes to see if they are winning so give them reasonable but somewhat stretch goals to hit and measure it. Then reward them for hitting those goals. Trust the people you hire to do the job well — only after they have proven otherwise do you need to get into the details. If their core values are right, with super aggressive training you can almost always help them find success. If only after then someone can’t find success, you need to lovingly find a way for them to find a role where they will be successful inside or outside of your organization — otherwise you risk demoralizing teammates who are relying on someone who can’t do well in their current role. The key is to do everything with love, respect and honesty and it always works out well in the end.
4. Give your employees work-life balance and let them know their well-being is more important than their job working at your company. Build your company so that it can be wildly successful with the average teammate at your company working 40 hours per week or a bit less. We were not created to work — we were created to make the world a better place. If someone can’t spend stress-free time with their family and friends, while being well-rested, it will be hard for them to make the world a better place. In addition, if someone has a family crisis come up, or a personal crisis, tell them to focus on their family or their personal need and then have a culture where you, the CEO, as well as everyone else in the company, is willing to roll your sleeves up to help them get their work done while they are out.
5. Give back. At ChoiceLocal we have a 401K profit-sharing match program that lets our teammates have a share in the profit of the company. In addition, no one wants to work for a company that only cares about profits. If you donate a generous share of your profits to charity to help the least among us, you are not only making the world a better place but you are showing your teammates their daily work goes to help good people help people in need. At ChoiceLocal we give 10% of our profits to help kids in need. We also have a day of giving, every quarter, where ChoiceLocal teammates are paid to go out and volunteer and help people in the Cleveland, OH area that need a hand.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I believe the best way to do this to show the world what purpose-driven businesses like ChoiceLocal and ChoiceFinance do and how they perform compared to the rest of businesses. They simply produce better business outcomes. Then maybe it will be better to convince the CEO’s of the world to “treat people the way you want to be treated.” My hope is that the hard-to-win-over CEO’s experience how it feels inside their soul and heart to help and love others — they will then get addicted to it and go out and change the world for the better. The work that your organization is doing is helping to get the word out, and it is critical.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Caring, loving, compassionate & strategic, while still expecting top performance from everyone. I have given examples of this throughout this entire interview. The key is to not make people fear for their livelihoods based on KPI goal, but to use them as opportunities to coach, teach and invest in your teammates. Again, if their core values are right, 95% of the time, you can get someone to be a superstar.
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 about that?
I am thankful to my wife and Mom and Dad for teaching me what is important in life…faith, family, friends, and quality time.
I am thankful to Bill Fox, a former boss of mine, for teaching me, just through his example, the loyalty that can be created by treating people the way you want to be treated.
I am thankful to Scot Lowry of the Flourishing Leadership Institute for teaching me how you can take what you believe and effectively make it the culture of an organization.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In the past year alone, we have hired 25 people, driven $170,000,000 in sales to our partners, promoted many teammates into bigger positions that moved their lives forward, provided good pay with great benefits and a good work life balance to 65 people, done recruiting that found jobs for 14,680 people, launched 2 new companies out of ChoiceLocal, funded bereavement support and counseling through donations to Cornerstone of Hope for 120 kids, saved 3 businesses from closing their doors, enabled a retirement, tutored and hung out with 45 great kids, fed 40 families, bought Christmas gifts for 9 entire families and offered job interview coaching to inner-city youth and young adults…and the best part is we are just getting started!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Help Others” — It has transformed my life, created a business and created the impact I just wrote about above.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want people in every walk of life, in every business and every family to love one another. If people have the love of a kind and wonderful God in their heart and bring that to others — they will change the world and make it a much, much better place. Through the businesses that I create I plan to do my part to boost this movement of love — which is the only thing that can heal the heart of each person, our country and the world.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.