Never give your team a reason NOT to trust you. Overpromising, underperforming, double standards, etc. all come out eventually and the moment it does, your teams trust in you deteriorates. It turns a company against each other instead of joining forces against the competition. If you are wrong, say it and own it.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Micah Johnson, CEO and Co-Founder of BGBO Co., an operations and growth strategy consultancy. Micah helps companies skyrocket their business by creating and improving processes that help them proactively address roadblocks to growth. He has founded, merged, scaled, and sold multiple companies as a serial entrepreneur. In his 18 years of experience, he has been a CEO, COO, and CTO, and he truly understands what it takes to make a company (and its culture) thrive.
Since successfully exiting his previous multi-million dollar company, Micah launched BGBO Co to help startups and e-commerce businesses: gain insight, create strategic plans, fine-tune business operations, improve processes, get projects finished on-time or early, incorporate new technologies, improve their company culture, learn how to manage remote teams across multiple departments, and more.
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 first got started as an entrepreneur when I was 20 years old. I dropped out of college after my second semester to pursue my own business ideas. I worked around the clock. I made sales calls during the day and then turned around and did client work at night. That business gave me the confidence to continue growing and scaling companies. A few years after starting I merged it with a larger company and got my first taste of what’s possible. Afterward, I started and built up a software company, which I exited in 2018. I now consult for other companies doing what I love most, creating processes and improving their operations so that they can scale and grow.
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?
In my first business, I also worked a full-time job at RadioShack (gotta do whatever it takes sometimes!) so that I had income while building my business.Money was tight in the beginning and for a while. I rented a loft apartment above an art studio and many times ate army rations for dinner. I loved painting but I couldn’t even afford canvases. I painted on expanded cardboard boxes. It was not glamorous back then! I never gave up though. I knew I could do it. My drive came from the internal push of seeing other entrepreneurs, that weren’t necessarily very skilled, still have a successful business. That inspired me to take the plunge of starting my own business and dropping out of college. I have not looked back since.
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?
I’ve made so many mistakes! My biggest mistake and learning curve was not looking at the red flags I’d see in interviews and being too optimistic about whether they could do the job that I was hiring for. That really hurt the culture of the company in the beginning. We’d have team members that ended up having to carry too much of the weight while other team members were only causing more problems. I finally had the realization slap me in the face when one of my top employees got in a yelling match with me over not hiring someone just because they could do some of the job! Sometimes we need that slap in the face! After that moment, I stopped doing the hiring, and delegated it to people that were better at it than myself.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are very selective of the companies that we work with. We want to enjoy working with them and truly know that we can add value to their business. We aren’t looking to chase down every sale there is. That is a good place for us to be in and even better for our clients! We realized early on that 80 percent of our time was being taken up by clients that really weren’t a good fit for us. We adjusted from there to make sure every moment we spend on client work is providing real value!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I know how hard business can be. I have hit burn out before! Now everyday I ask myself, “What can I do to bring myself joy today?”. That has helped me slow down and enjoy this journey rather than push, push push! I think the most obvious thing is also to not try and do everything yourself. Upwork has been a great tool to find experts in areas that can execute quickly on exactly what you need to do. This is especially important when you are a startup and don’t have the resources to hire employees for everything you need.
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?
My Co-Founder at BGBO Co, Alane Boyd. She and I ran my previous software company together and after exiting started BGBO Co together. (She was also the one that called me out on my hiring practices!) I have been able to learn a lot from running businesses with her and really showed me that we all have blind spots and we need to let those with stronger skill sets in areas lead in those areas.
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 has a complacent team that is getting their work done and is chugging along. A great company is bursting at the seams with energy. They are always referring people to work for the company, they aren’t against each other, only the competition, and they live and breathe making their company great.
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.
- Respect your employees and give them a quality work experience. Everyone wants a work life balance and if you can give your employees a nice place to work and they feel good about the work they are doing, the stronger your company will be.
- Give teams the opportunity to voice what they want and not be told what they want. This took me a while to learn. In the beginning, I always thought I knew what they wanted and should make all the decisions for the company. Through a lot of mistakes, I figured out that is not the case and opening up for teams to be heard, gave me less decisions to make and give them more ownership.
- Make communicating between teams, departments easy! I remember the days early into my previous software company where we didn’t have any customer support ticketing system, no internal knowledge base, and no project management system! It was nearly impossible for teams to share information and you can forget them having a real vacation!
- Take company culture seriously and work every day to improve it. Often, companies start to look at their company culture way too late and it takes a lot of hard work and time to improve it. If companies start early on having a good company culture then those habits and keep your company strong and growing.
- Never give your team a reason NOT to trust you. Overpromising, underperforming, double standards, etc. all come out eventually and the moment it does, your teams trust in you deteriorates. It turns a company against each other instead of joining forces against the competition. If you are wrong, say it and own it.
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?
As a purpose-driven company, your employees are motivated, energetic, and dedicated. That employee satisfaction flows into the relationships with the clients, leading to stronger connections and client satisfaction.
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”?
Two things that I have seen work time and time again are: partnering with (or even purchasing) another company to extend your product or service line and restructuring how you are selling into more of a subscription model.
With people extremely busy, they tend to lean towards companies that can offer more without having to have multiple vendors to work with.
A lot of the time, it isn’t what you are selling it, it is how you are selling it.
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?
Staying motivated is easy when things are working. Finding motivation when things aren’t going smoothly can be tough. For me, the trick is to find ways to get a steady stream of small wins and focus on baby steps. Over time, as those small wins build, it’s easier to keep that momentum and stay motivated.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Documenting processes so that team members don’t have to ask a coworker! Resources that include how-to docs, short mini-courses, and guides are so often underestimated. It may take a couple of hours to put one together but it will save hours and hours of your employee’s time. It also improves their daily experience having a place to go to answer their questions and it reduces company frustration.
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?
Go through the book, Building a StoryBrand and reduce the “noise” on your landing pages. We get in a poor habit of trying to put too much information on landing pages and don’t talk about the benefits of the products and services we offer and that makes a potential customer unlikely to convert. Going through your StoryBrand helps you refine your messaging and communicate in a way that someone immediately understands you are the solution they have to have.
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?
- The less people have to read to gain trust in your brand, the better! Pictures of customers using your product and loving it is one of the best ways to show how much your brand is loved. Make it easy for your customers to share pictures and testimonials that your brand can use. If you have a physical product that gets shipped to them, put a card in the shipment that tells the customer how they can share photos and comments with you. It could be a social handle, and email address, website URL.
- If you are an e-commerce site, adding a social proof plug-in or app to your store can instantly give credibility and trust to your brand! It also gives a sense of FOMO for the person on your site. It can be a great way to increase conversions.
- Tell stories (short ones) of how customers are benefiting from your brand. Kids aren’t the only ones that love stories, adults do too! And, they are more likely to trust your brand by simply being told a story of how people benefit from you.
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?
Implementing a customer service ticketing system, such as HelpScout, can greatly improve the customer service experience. For a company, it gives transparency for managers and supervisors to help quickly answer support team questions, create saved responses so that there is answer consistency and saves your team time, and links to an internal or external knowledge base so that resources can be referenced easily. It can also be linked to a beacon for chat support, which can also be linked to the knowledge base. Customers want questions answered quickly and a customer service ticketing system and help you provide that!
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.
I do not share that concern if you have a professional person or team managing the business’s social media. Sharing resources for on how customers use your product and how it solves problems is a way to market your business and social media can be a way to do that. Don’t fall into the trap of not telling anyone about what you do because of being scared. You can’t grow your business that way!
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 is that founders spend more time on building their products and services and forget that they have to do sales and marketing in order to get customers. They start too late trying to get customers and have run out of resources. To avoid this, start marketing your product and services immediately. Get people using it and giving you feedback that you can turn around and use for marketing.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 would start a movement for people to take back control of their mental health by going outside and meditating for ten minutes a day. Slowing down and giving your mind space to relax opens yourself to even more possibilities instead of continuously forcing yourself to push through. It is hard to adapt to taking even a ten minute break but with a little bit of organization, a lot of being honest with yourself about priorities, and then setting and sticking to boundaries, you can be productive at work and still give yourself the mental break for a short period in the day.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!