Hire senior talent fast. A big mistake I made before hitting seven figures was hiring junior-level talent. You want to get high executors on your team as quickly as possible. It makes a big difference — your team is everything.
Create leaders and hire leadership roles. This is really important. You can’t do it all. The most liberating thing is when you’re able to hire someone to take over a role you were spending a lot of time in and can’t continue to afford to do. For me personally, I felt that the only thing I should be doing in the company is the strategy, leadership/management, and sales, and if I wasn’t, I was hurting the business. That’s why hiring leadership roles was really important.
As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Black. He is on a mission to prove that anyone can reinvent themselves during these challenging times, so he started the Million Dollar Comeback YouTube series. He gave up all of his belongings, his network, his money, and now has 12 months to make 1 million dollars starting with nothing but one pair of clothes and a cell phone. Mike is also the founder and CEO of Told Media, a seven-figure software development agency focused on helping companies build better software for less.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It took me a couple of years of learning and failed businesses before starting Told Media. I started my first company selling on eBay at 16 and started a couple of failed tech companies through my late teens and early twenties before starting Told Media.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There’s a lot, but a pretty interesting one was when I was building ParkingBee — the “Airbnb for parking.” I was working out of a basement with my co-founders. We were so broke we couldn’t afford rent, so to pay for rent, I would Venmo my co-founder using my credit card (to get the money off of our credit card), and then he would Venmo me it back so I had cash to send to my bank. I would then withdraw it and pay our landlord. This was before you could pay rent with a credit card. I highly recommend never doing that, not smart!
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’ve had a lot of help along the way. My dad has been my biggest supporter since day one. I “failed” a lot. Working on companies from 16–24 years old before seeing any success — most people would think you’re crazy, but my dad supported me the whole way and never stopped believing in me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I really like a Tony Robbins quote that goes, “It’s not the lack of resources, it’s your lack of resourcefulness that stops you.” I think in most cases, there are no excuses, and your success is really determined by how resourceful you can be with what you have. Resourcefulness is up there with some of the most important skillsets to have in running a business.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
At Told Media, we help startups build better software for less. The pain point we solve is the problem a lot of startups face with getting their MVP to market. We mix product development know-how and explain to all of our clients their different development options so they can make the right technical decisions for the first iteration of their product. We find it really important to coach our clients so they understand product development well enough to stay involved with all the technical decisions. It’s really important that founders understand what technical decisions are being made and how to run their product team, so they’re not left in the dark. They need to know how to scale their technical team and understand what’s been built.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Most development agencies will keep you in the dark with the development process and recommend building things the “right way,” which will cost significantly more and won’t align with the company goals. When you’re in the earlier stage of getting an MVP to market, there are many ways to cut costs on development that you should be aware of, and we help clients with that. A great example is a client we recently worked with. They wanted a mobile and web app built. Instead of pitching them the “right way” to build their product, which would have cost 150,000 dollars, we showed them how they could get the same product to market for just 30,000 dollars. It would work similarly and could be used for the next two years. Once they have proof of concept and learn about their customer and start scaling the product, they can rebuild without the initial risk of 150,000 dollars.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
I really love product development and helping non-technical founders understand product development. I started a couple of tech companies, so I know how hard it can be — it would have been really helpful to have more mentors to help me with this and to point me in the right direction.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
Right now, my main focus is making an impact. I want to help other founders as much as I can. This is something I’ve always spent time on and have always been passionate about. I understand the world of building business so I feel like it’s where I can add the most value to others.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I started a project called the Million Dollar Comeback, where I gave up everything I own, cut off my network, and started with nothing but a cell phone and one pair of clothes and nowhere to live. I have 12 months to make 1 million dollars. Right now, I’m on month six, and it’s been a crazy journey. Not having a place to live on day one was extremely challenging. I’m hoping anyone who is working on reinventing themselves right now can get inspiration from the project. We can reinvent ourselves together- all while showing people how to get a business off the ground with nothing.
The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?
The most difficult part for me was figuring out the right business model to scale and hiring the right people. When we first started, I pitched fixed projects but quickly realized how much better monthly retainers were. Once I figured out the business model and hired the right people getting to 1 million dollars became a lot easier.
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
Add value and care. I built Told Media to over one million in revenue without spending a dime on marketing — it was all warm outbound sales. I would get on calls with people and truly try to help them. Most the time, I thought there were better options then working with me, so I would point people in the right direction. When you really care and try to help the other person- when it’s a good fit, it’s an easy win to get them as a client because they make the decision.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A big mistake I made was not doing a good job of using basic sales tactics like time sensitivity, perceived demand, etc. If you want to increase your conversions in your sales process, you need to consider having time sensitive discounts and offers for people on the fence.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
I have always run sales myself, which I would say is a big mistake. It’s my biggest strong suit, but if you want to build a real company, you need to hire a salesperson as quickly as possible, and another and another. If you don’t, and you walk away from the company, it stops growing and, in my opinion, isn’t a real business if it can’t operate without you.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.
The five strategies I used to grow my business to seven figures were:
- Hire senior talent fast. A big mistake I made before hitting seven figures was hiring junior-level talent. You want to get high executors on your team as quickly as possible. It makes a big difference — your team is everything.
- Close deals by using consultative selling, which is a fancy expression for solving your potential client’s problem on sales calls. Tell them exactly what they need to do and help them as much as possible, even if it means turning down their business. This builds trust and helps the right people make the decision themselves to work with you or not.
- Prepayment. This is game-changing. When we first started, we had a big issue with cash called float. We would pay our developers, and then 2–4 weeks later, the client would pay us. This meant we had to “float” a lot of money, which is a big problem for a growing company. Then we switched to having our clients prepay and made it a benefit rather than something negative, and we increased our fees by 20% for anyone who didn’t prepay. We framed it like this: “If you prepay, we’ll give you a 20% discount.” All we really did was increase our fees 20%, and if someone prepaid, we made the same amount. If they didn’t, we made an additional 20%. We realized we weren’t charging enough, and the 20% covered all the risk involved of not getting paid, float problems, and other headaches caused by floating capital.
- Create leaders and hire leadership roles. This is really important. You can’t do it all. The most liberating thing is when you’re able to hire someone to take over a role you were spending a lot of time in and can’t continue to afford to do. For me personally, I felt that the only thing I should be doing in the company is the strategy, leadership/management, and sales, and if I wasn’t, I was hurting the business. That’s why hiring leadership roles was really important.
- The most important one is to always believe in yourself and be persistent. It’s a grind, but you have to enjoy it and have fun. There’s a lot of ups and downs, but you have to enjoy the downs as much as the ups. It’s the journey that’s fun. Enjoy the learning that comes with both sides.
What would you advise to another 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 or sales and “restart their engines”?
If growth stalls, my advice would be to figure out why. Does it have something to do with your sales leaders, strategies in place, or maybe there has been a competing product on the market, or bad press/reviews? Starting at a top-level and asking why is the first step in solving the issue.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
The most effective way to attract the right customers for us has been by providing value to as many potential clients as possible. Be active in your communities, especially in Facebook groups — answer questions, help other businesses, and get on phone calls for the sole purpose of solving their problem, not selling. IF it turns out that person would be a good fit, sell after providing as much value as possible. I get on calls with people all the time and answer people’s questions in Facebook groups, Slack groups, etc. I try to provide value, expect nothing in return, and it leads to business at the end of the day.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Giving our customers the best possible customer service is easy. In the agency world, the most important thing you can do, even before doing good work, is to overcommunicate. Clients need to be over-communicated to. The way we do this is by creating a private client Slack channel for every client, scheduling recurring calls, and setting internal team notifications to check in with clients even if there’s not much of an update. The update can simply be, “There’s not much of an update; we’re on track.” Overcommunicate. I also have account managers on our team set calendar notifications to check in with clients to make sure they’re happy, and everything is going well every two weeks. It shows that you care.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
I couldn’t agree with this more. To increase retention, we do a couple of things. First, we care. We always check in to make sure things are going well. Second, we overcommunicate always. Overcommunicating is just as important as doing good work and can significantly increase the length of the relationship. Lastly, do good work and if you mess up, admit it and compensate for it. We messed up something for a client and refunded them the 8,000 dollars they spent. We went on to do over 500,000 dollars in revenue with that client that we would have potentially lost if we didn’t do what I thought was the right thing.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
The movement I would love to trigger would be to get people to stop caring about what other people think and start believing more in themselves. You’re amazing. Once you truly don’t care about other people’s opinions and focus all of your energy on your mission — on your impact, on what YOU want to accomplish — and realize that you can achieve whatever you want as long as you’re willing to put the work in, everything changes. The truth is there are a lot of people that have built very successful companies that might be much less intelligent than you are, but they took massive action, they took accountability, they took the risk, and they believed in themselves and didn’t care about what other people thought. I believe everyone is very capable; I just want you to realize how capable you are.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
If there’s someone I wanted to have lunch with, I probably already cold dm’d them 100 times on all of their socials, emailed them, and tried to add value to get their attention. Lol. I’m a big fan of Gary Vee.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!