“Reacting to opportunity”, With Douglas Brown and Ami Kassar of MultiFunding

` Promote ourselves organically (word of mouth, affinity groups), conventionally (writing a book) and by working with the media. The latter is important because while many entrepreneurs are suspicious of the press, it can work in your favor, too. We have cultivated good media relations by always being available to be interviewed by reporters and […]

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Promote ourselves organically (word of mouth, affinity groups), conventionally (writing a book) and by working with the media. The latter is important because while many entrepreneurs are suspicious of the press, it can work in your favor, too. We have cultivated good media relations by always being available to be interviewed by reporters and by providing content, such as blog posts to Inc.com.

As 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 Ami Kassar, founder and CEO of MultiFunding and author of The Growth Dilemma, has earned a national reputation as a thought leader in business finance.

An in-demand speaker and trusted advisor to growth-focused business leaders, Ami has helped thousands of business owners achieve ambitious growth goals through creative and personalized funding solutions. His work has helped create tens of thousands of jobs.

For more than 20 years, Ami has challenged executives to think differently about how they capitalize growth. Regularly featured in national media including The New York Times, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Forbes and Fox Business News, Ami also writes a weekly column for Inc. Magazine. He has advised the White House, the Federal Reserve Bank and the Treasury Department on credit markets.

Ami regularly speaks at corporate, academic and industry events on topics including entrepreneurship and access to capital.

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 Ami Kassar, CEO of MultiFunding, which he founded in 2010 to help small- and mid-sized businesses meet their growth goals with creative and personalized funding solutions. He also is the author of “The Growth Dilemma,” which describes how various types of businesses view and tackle their financing needs. Kassar frequently is quoted in the press and writes often on small business issues, including a column for Inc.com.

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?

At my prior employer Advanta, I saw how small- and mid-sized businesses often struggled with finances, entrepreneurs often have great ideas and plenty of energy, but not necessarily the financial savvy to really make their idea fully blossom — nor a place to turn when they needed help. I wanted to be that help.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

It has to be the start of the pandemic. Things were going along smoothly for our company, and we were building a nice base. Then, all of a sudden, all the rules went out the window. We were inundated with clients (both existing and new) that needed our help. It was made even more challenging as we had to quickly get up to speed on how to best access new federal loan programs.

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?

It has to be my father, Barry Kassar. Aside from being an all-around great guy, parent, grandparent and ophthalmologist, he was an inspiration to me in both the usual ways and also for his own personal courage. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008 and managed to fight it for 11 years, undergoing 23 surgeries, as well as numerous rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy trials. He never quit, remained positive and was the epitome of courage.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve always been partial to a quote by a guy who had nothing to do with business — Henry David Thoreau. He said, “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” That says it all. There’s no substitute for hard work.

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?

We provide niche resources that’s often overlooked. There’s more to business than just having an idea for a product or service. That’s crucial, of course, but most people aren’t well rounded when it comes to business. Some are big picture types. Some do all the drudge work. Some are good at organization, supply chain issues, promotion, etc. But not a lot know the financial world well. As companies grow, they often end up with a financial whiz on board, but for many shoestring start-ups and smaller companies, financing is left in the lurch. That’s where we come in.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I have a great team. Any company is only as good as its employees, and my people know the ins and outs of financing better than anyone. Equally as important, they excel at listening. You can’t do your best for a client if you don’t understand what they need. No single story comes to mind, but I have several that showcase our best work at https://www.multifunding.com/success

When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?

I was at a point in my life where I had worked for some visionary people. I had learned a lot but felt it was time for me to run the show. When I identified a business need that I could meet, I took action.

What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?

I enjoy shaping my company, but the main pleasure comes from helping clients, especially those in dire straits. I take pride in seeing my clients succeed and love to share in the success; it’s almost like they’re family to me. When a client comes back several years later seeking my help again because they’ve enjoyed explosive growth, it’s a great feeling.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’ve revamped our website, but the pandemic has given us as much business as we can handle. We’re one of the rare businesses that has benefitted in the past year. One of these days, I’ll get around to writing the follow-up to my first book, “The Growth Dilemma.”

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?

It just took us a while to build critical mass. I knew the need was there, but it’s always hard for a fledgling business to attract clients. Once we were able to secure clients — and proved that we could be helpful to them — word of mouth helped us grow. Regular speaking to affinity groups also was helpful.

Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?

It really came down to word of mouth promotion. As I mentioned, speaking to affinity groups was helpful and positioning myself with the media as a small business expert helped, too. A lot of people are scared of the media, but becoming a go-to resource for prominent outlets can generate plenty of positive publicity.

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?

We were close to closing on a transaction for an SBA loan for an all-girls horse riding camp and in the eleventh hour, we learned that the loan could not proceed. The SBA considered it to be a discriminatory business because boys were not allowed to attend. Whoops. Best advice is, when bad things happen, get involved and be 100 % honest with the customer.

Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

For a long time, our sales team was every employee. We did our best and let things go from there. But right around the time the pandemic descended, we hired a business development senior director. Our financing team is just too swamped for them to effectively promote the company, so having someone dedicated to the task was the right move. We also now have a marketing manager, who helps clients assess their needs.

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.

  1. MultiFunding filled a need that was sorely lacking. When I started, there weren’t many opportunities for entrepreneurs to find one-stop shopping when it came to their financial needs.
  2. Our team stays on top of the ever-changing world of financing options. We have to know those options better than anyone if we want to continue to attract clients.
  3. Promote ourselves organically (word of mouth, affinity groups), conventionally (writing a book) and by working with the media. The latter is important because while many entrepreneurs are suspicious of the press, it can work in your favor, too. We have cultivated good media relations by always being available to be interviewed by reporters and by providing content, such as blog posts to Inc.com.
  4. Reacting to opportunity. As terrible as the pandemic has been, we made sure we were in the right place at the right time when the country locked down in March. Our team put in incredibly long hours to help our customers get the funding they needed.
  5. I trusted my team. I hired the best, most experienced people I could, gave them the resources they needed and got out of the way. Less sometimes is more when you work with great people.

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”?

Sometimes you have to take a step back. We’ve found plenty of entrepreneurs who are so focused on their business that they tend to get tunnel vision. For example, maybe a company founder should take a month off — completely walk away from their business — and let their team run things (if they’ve hired the team, they should trust it). There’s no one way to run a business and maybe your team can implement some changes that make a difference.

Alternatively, have some outsider friends take a look at your business. A completely unbiased eye can spot problems that you’re blind to at this point.

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?

In our business, there are no right or wrong customers — only those who need help. We’ve found word of mouth to be effective because if we’ve had a positive experience with one customer, they’re likely to recommend us to their peers. In most cases, those peers have asked why, what we do works, they’re more likely to consider us than someone walking in off the street. We can literally work with anyone as long as they have an open mind.

Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

Empathy is important, especially in 2020 because of the pandemic. We’re dealing with a lot of panicked clients and need to hold their hands. Even in “normal” times, a large chunk of our clientele is in distress, so we need to be calming.

In addition, merely knowing the available options for our clients is important. Many of our clients come to us thinking their financial options are limited — and we usually can show them that isn’t true. We can provide peace of mind.

And follow up is crucial. We don’t just work with a customer and then move on. Even if we never do business with a client again, it’s vital to check in and cheer their successes and sympathize with setbacks.

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?

By the nature of our business, there’s going to be customer churn because when we help our clients, our job often is done; they “graduate,” so to speak. Yes, sometimes clients return when things go wrong or they’re ready to make another leap forward, but that’s relatively infrequent. I suppose the best advice I have for any business is to simply make yourself too invaluable to quit. Doing a great job is the simple way to keep clients.

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. 🙂

In general, we need to have more confidence in ourselves. There are great things to be done, but too many people are hesitant to make a difference. That problem’s been exacerbated by the pandemic — and rightfully so — but greatness often appears when you least expect it.

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 🙂

It may be a cliché, but Warren Buffett. His view of the business world from 30,000 feet must be breathtaking. He’s forgotten more in the course of his career than most business gurus have learned.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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