There’s so much too running a successful business…attracting customers, retaining employees, running financials, improving deliverables, managing payroll, dealing with taxes…the list never ends. That can feel overwhelming, especially when what got you here won’t get you any further. To that end, we’ll be taking a look at how to develop systems that allow you to grow your business.
Rich: Our guest today is a business management coach and strategic advisor who helps her clients get out of their pickup trucks and on top of their businesses. She specializes in working with skilled trades businesses or business owners to help them streamline processes, train leaders, engage employees, and make their businesses efficient and profitable.
She grew up in a family business, a rutabaga farm in Falmouth, Maine, and went on to earn her degree in business management. From there, she managed several large lawn and landscaping companies in Southern Maine. She became trained in Six-Sigma and LEAN systems management, and High Performance Team Building, and earned her coaching certificate through the iPEC Coaching.
She now uses her 25 years’ experience in business management to help focus on helping skilled trades business owners simplify the way they run their businesses, gaining back precious time to focus on what really matters, enjoying quality of life that they have worked so hard to earn.
Today we’re going to be talking about how to run your business more simply and efficiently with Priscilla Hansen Mahoney. Priscilla, welcome to the podcast.
Priscilla: Thanks, Rich. I’m glad to be here.
Rich: So I understand you’re also a registered Maine Guide on top of all of those other accolades and things you’ve accomplished. How’d you get involved with that?
Priscilla: Being a registered guide was just something I wanted to do since I was 10 years old. I found a silver badge in my dad’s jewelry box and found out that he was a registered guide, and my grandfather was a registered guide. And I was like, wow, people get paid for going out and having fun in the woods. Sign me up! And I don’t guide right now. Like I don’t do that as a profession now, but I’m glad that I went for my certification, and I’m honored to be part of that tradition.
Rich: Awesome. Now you focus on skill-based businesses, but the lessons we’re talking about are universal. Wouldn’t you say?
Priscilla: Yes, absolutely. Unfortunately they’re not always exposed to the skilled trades businesses, and they’re not always readily accessible. And so that’s really my goal is helping bring those formats and those business models to the skilled trades industries so that they can run leaner and more efficiently and more profitably.
Rich: So I love that. Now obviously that’s your focus. You focused your life in helping these skills-based businesses. But I know from just what I do, that when I got into doing it, I had no idea how to run a business at all. At 22 years, I finally started to figure out the basics. And I think a lot of people get into business because they’re passionate about something or they’re good at something, but they never actually learned how to run a business. So I’m glad you’re here today to talk to us about that.
Priscilla: You’re not alone in that, Rich. Most people start up a business, especially in the industries that I work in, they buy a pickup truck, they buy a lawn mower, they pick up a few accounts, they have great work ethic. They do a wonderful job and word gets out, and they wake up 10 years later and they’re like, oh my gosh, what am I doing? I have employees. I don’t know how to go on from here. Sometimes their bodies are getting tired, and they don’t know how to make that next step from being the doer, the one who is actually going out and doing the production, to owning the business. And they’ve been kind of winging it from the get-go.
Rich: Yeah, no, that definitely resonates with me, too. So let’s talk a little bit about that. So what happens when somebody finally recognizes that they want to stop doing the work and maybe growing the business. And I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons when they get to that point. You said, especially in the skills area, we’re talking about physical, exhausting work. But then they’re also in any industry you might get bored of what you’re doing, or you want to grow the business. And like for me, I recognized multiple times I’m the bottleneck. So when somebody, whatever the reason is that they get to this point, that they realize that they need to run their business better. What are some of your recommendations? Where do we start that process?
Priscilla: Yeah. And again, a lot of people think in order to start up a business, people must go to SCORE, MCED, or they must go to a business incubator. And I would say the majority of businesses do not start that way. A lot of people start out as accidental entrepreneurs and they just start applying their skills, getting a paycheck, and then they wake up one day and realize that what they’re doing is no longer sustainable. And I hope that the awakening comes sooner than later, because it gets really painful when you’re trying to run an unsustainable business by yourself.
But oftentimes it’s just a point where you figure out that you need to have people, you need to start forming a team. And that freaks a lot of people out because a lot of folks start a business thinking, I don’t want to manage employees. I don’t want to manage people. I don’t want this to get out of control. And when they find the concepts of team building can be easy, it can actually be fun, that’s usually where I start them is how do we get the10, 15, 20, 25 years of knowledge out of your head and into a process that can be duplicated, replicated, easily trained and start building your team from there. So that’s really where I like to start.
Rich: So Priscilla, you focus on the skills-based businesses, but the lessons are universal aren’t they?
Priscilla: Absolutely. Absolutely. And oftentimes I find that the skilled trades don’t have access to these universal concepts. So I try to make them as accessible as possible.
Rich: And I can speak for myself. Like even though I’m not in a skills-based business, like when I first started, I just kind of went after it. You know, I just started my business out of passion. I’m sure a lot of other listeners right now are thinking the same thing. It’s like, few of us went into business to make a business. We kind of went into business because we needed to make some money, or we had a passion for something. So how do you go from running a business or how do you go from being a doer to actually becoming a business person and running a business? What are some of the steps that you take your clients through?
Priscilla: Yeah. And you were not alone, Rich. The birth of a service business is providing service and getting paid for it. Oftentimes we start accidentally, whether we’re let go from a job or we just find that this is a passion of ours. So we start where we are, and we offer the service. And one day we wake up and we realize, wow, I have tons of clients and I have tons of services to provide, and I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’ve been winging it this far.
So the first thing I have a business owner do is sit down with me and unpack that 10 or 15 or 25 years of experience and take it out of their heads and put it into a process that can be replicatable, duplicatable, and trainable throughout their services. So that they can either hire, or delegate, or find professionals to offload some of the things off their plate. And so that’s the first step.
Rich: So what I’m hearing is that if we really want to grow our business, we need a team, whether that team’s internal or external. Because I know a lot of people use 1099s or virtual assistants these days, depending on the type of business your running. But what we need to do is systemize what we’re doing and then start delegating some of that work off of our plate.
Priscilla: Yeah, absolutely. And it does freak some service businesses out when I say, “You need a team.” They’re like, I got into business so I didn’t have to deal with employees or being a manager. And having a team can actually be a lot less stressful if you put certain things into place first. And you’re right, you might have a whole team of 1099s. My husband’s business is designed like that. My business is designed like that. Others find it’s better to have internal employees doing certain processes.
But the reason that it becomes hard or unmanageable is because you haven’t taken the time to set up the process, to set up the systems, so that people know what is expected of them. They know the direction that they’re going. They know the tasks that are expected of them. And you can easily replicate that throughout the entire company. So that’s just a matter of unpacking what’s in your knowledge, what’s in your head, and putting it into a process. And honestly, that’s hard to do by yourself because people don’t know how they got successful. They don’t know how they got from point A to point B. They just know they got there.
Rich: So you know, using any of your clients in the back of your mind as an example, that does sound pretty challenging. It’s like you you’ve learned how to do it. And I know sometimes delegating that work or training someone else a feels like a waste of time because you can do it faster, better, whatever. But also just that it seems like, well, isn’t this why I got into business?
There’s a psychological barrier here. How do you help those business owners overcome that and realize that they need to invest in other people, in training systems? You seem to hint that there’s a couple of things that you need to put into place so that other people can take this off your plate. Can you speak to that at all?
Priscilla: Yeah. So one of the questions I’ll ask owners is, what if something happened to you? How many contracts would you breach? This personally happened in my husband’s business. He is an event DJ, he performs weddings. You upset brides when you don’t show up to provide DJ services for their wedding. But you cannot show up and do DJ services for a wedding when you’re scheduled for brain surgery the next day.
So he experienced this firsthand, so he really knows the value of a team and being able to count on people to take those processes. He luckily had everything processed, managed, and he was able to have other DJs log into a system, find his plans, and do the performance without much of a glitch. We did not breach one contract during that time. And that was a really big deal.
So what would happen if something happened to you? And that’s usually the first question I’ll ask. And some folks don’t think they could step away from their business for a week or even two weeks without chaos. So that’s one thing we want to safeguard against is you breaching contracts if something happened to you.
The second thing that we want to do is make your life easier. Give you the quality of life that you’ve worked really hard to have. And part of that is being able to take time off to be with family, to celebrate big events, to raise your children. And so how can you create that team so that you could step away and feel good that your clients are still being serviced with the quality that you have set the expectation for. And that’s really the importance of it. So it is a mind gap, it is hard to let go. This is your baby. You birthed this. And it’s really hard to put it into the hands of other people. A lot of times too, in the industries I work in, it’s your name on the side of the truck and people call you when things go wrong. So I can absolutely understand the stress of putting that responsibility in somebody else’s hands.
Rich: That’s got to be one big hurdle for people to overcome. And the other thing I think is just like, you always know how to do it, except it maybe is a little mushy in your head. And then maybe working with somebody like you, Priscilla, having to actually create these systems. And I know that you’re trained in Six-Sigma and Lean Management. So what are some of the systems that you can help people put in place so their business runs like a fine-tuned machine?
Priscilla: Yeah. And you know, ‘fine tune’, even the finest tuned machines still break down. So I don’t want to create an expectation of nothing will ever go wrong. But it’s a matter of when things go wrong, what’s plan B? And you have those different plans already thought out. Now that you’ve been doing this for so many years, you’ve probably experienced every situation that could possibly pop up. Now it’s a matter of taking that knowledge and putting it in a process where other people can learn it.
So it’s a matter of, you know, Six-Sigma and Lean Systems, some folks have never heard of those systems. We’ve learned them because we’ve been in business for a long time. I’ve been in business management, I was trained in those. But it’s not necessary to take those systems and work them to a T. What’s necessary is creating a foundation of process that’s consistent in your business. So whether it’s onboarding an employee, you have a process that every single employee goes through so that they are introduced to the same people, they’re introduced to the same core values and beliefs that the company believes in, they’re introduced to the same orientation schedule. That way you don’t have any dropping the ball or forgetting to teach Tommy how to do something because we’re just winging it, or every training situation is different. We can’t understand why Tommy hasn’t been trained to do something is because we forgot to train him to do that.
So if you have those processes check marked out and templated, it makes it so much more fair to your new employees. They’re going to stick around longer because they can see the path to success when you onboard them. And they can see once they complete orientation, here’s what’s next for me while I’m working here. And if you’re always offering that clear path to success, people are going to stick around. They’re not wondering, do I belong here, or can I do this job, or am I skilled enough to do this? They’re going to stay with you because they can see the plan that you have for them.
Rich: So there’s definitely a certain amount of leadership in your new role as owner. And I want to come back to that. But what are some of the other, so we talked a little bit about HR issues, on hiring people, delegating work, a little bit about systems. What are some of the other things that are either strangleholds on a business becoming successful moving to this next iteration? Or what are some of the opportunities or things that you take them through? What are some other things we should focus on?
Priscilla: When you are working with a new team or you’re forming a new team, or even if you’re bringing new employees up to leadership, the stranglehold is expecting them to do it exactly the way that you’ve always done it. We have to give the autonomy for people to be creative and use their creative outlets, within a framework that you’ve proven for success.
So when I say ‘processes and systems’, I do not mean step one, step two, step three. You know, this is how you do it, and this is how I’ve always done it. We have to allow for some wiggle room for people to be able to do the process better than you can do it. Because guaranteed, your team can do a lot of processes better than you can. I know that there’s some weaknesses that I have that other people just do it so much more brilliantly than I do. And I gladly let that process go. Do I overlook it and do I inspect it and make sure that it fits my brand quality? Absolutely. But do I have to be part of every step of the way? No, absolutely not. And it actually works out better that way.
Rich: That is something that I definitely struggled with for a while in my company, thinking I had to be the writer and the designer and the builder and everything else. And little by little, I’ve been able to give that away.
I love what you’re saying right now. And one of the things that working with a business coach that I’ve kind of tried to focus on is that I’m in charge of figuring out what the north star is, where we want to ahead. But then letting the other members of the team tack the course, plot it out, and get there. Again, with my oversight. I want to make sure that it still has the DNA of flyte new media in it, but at the same point, my team is more talented and sometimes more creative. Although I hate that part, but they are more creative than I am. And so that’s what it takes to get us to that next level. So this is really good. I’m sure it’s tough for a lot of owners. I know it was definitely a struggle for me as well.
So let’s talk a little bit about leadership. Because like you said, a lot of your clients, or a lot of business owners, might be like, listen, I didn’t get into this business to manage people. And HR is its own nightmare/opportunity. So what is the role of the owner? Let’s say that you’ve helped them, or somebody has just evolved or gotten to the point where they’ve got the systems in place. They’re ready to delegate. What do we do next? What is our role as we continue to grow and scale up our business?
Priscilla: Well, you asked me like the first step. The first step for me is helping them unpack their processes. The second step is getting their team on board. And I’ve walked into buildings and done a site visit with owners of companies, and they have amazing ideas. Like they built the company from the ground up. And they really have this idea of where they want this business to go, and they can’t understand why their employees aren’t on board with it. You know, they cannot understand why their employees are not as excited about it. And I’ll walk around there and I’ll say, “Okay, so what’s your vision?” And they’ll tell me, and it’s usually brilliant, and I’m excited about it when they share it with me. And I look around their building and nowhere is it obvious what their vision is. They haven’t posted them anywhere. They don’t talk about it. They don’t share it in meetings. They don’t talk about it in the hiring process or even the retention process.
And so that’s really, I think, where a lot of owners forget is that we’re creating a vision, but the vision goes nowhere if we don’t share it. And if we’re not able to clearly state it so that people are excited about it as well, not just the people who work for you, but also your community, your customers, everyone should be really excited that your vision exists. And your vision is something that, like you said, is the north star. At the end of the day, the world is a better place because you existed. And so how did you make that ding in the world? It sounds crazy to think a landscaping company can make a ding in the world, or housekeeping, or arborists company, but they affect people’s lives in ways that they don’t even see themselves.
Rich: You literally pulled my next question out of my head right there, Priscilla. Because I was going to say, and I’ve struggled the same in my own business sometimes. So you do a lot of skill-based business, and we’re not even going to pretend that skills aren’t one of the most critical business types out there. But if you have basically been a guy or a woman in a truck for years, and you’re starting to build out your company and you do electrical or you do house painting or you do landscaping, how do you create a north star? How do you create a vision that people get excited about when all you’re doing is mowing lawns?
And obviously I’m being a little facetious here, but there is that moment where you’re like, I make money by mowing lawns, too, I’ve got this vision. How do you frame that so that it’s a north star that people will actually look up to and get excited about, versus just, listen, I’m just here to get paid?
Priscilla: It’s very easy, especially an employee mindset, but also owner mindset, to be well, we just provide a service. And so therefore we just provide lawn mowing or housekeeping. What a lot of us forget is when people are asked what’s their number one bucket item is, one thing that they would absolutely love to have if money was no object. Having a personal chef, having a personal trainer, having a housekeeper. It’s on their bucket list. It’s that important to them. That is the definition of success, is to be able to have those services.
So you have a client that has gotten to that level of success, where they can engage in your services. That’s a big deal. You’re a big part of their world. And you might be, even if you’re a housekeeper, you might be going in and you might be helping a mom be able to manage her day because her home is clean and she’s able to tend to her children. And especially right now where we’re homeschooling, and we’ve got so many other things on our minds. That’s really kind of more than just housekeeping. That’s a lifeline for a lot of folks.
For some people, their landscaper is the one service that comes to their home every single week. So their landscaper is the one noticing if newspapers are piling up on the front porch, or if the trash hasn’t been taken out. The landscapers are the ones who are checking on the property every week, therefore checking on you. So it can just be another lifeline. So we have to remind our employees, our staff, just how important we are and how much a part of our client’s lives that we are. That’s what helps create the mission and the vision. And so that’s what makes you so much greater than just a service, hour for dollar. And that’s part of the creative process.
Rich: Okay. We talked about some big picture stuff, but I also just want to kind of hone in on a tactical question. So we’ve got this vision in our head, and how specifically should we disseminate this? You mentioned posters around the office, which is great, but some of us have a hybrid or work from home model. So what are some of the ways that an owner can get that vision out of their head and reinforce it to their team?
Priscilla: It really needs to become part of your culture. It’s something that you repeat often, it’s shared during weekly meetings, it’s shared during safety meetings, it becomes part of who you are, it’s the constant reminder. So whether you have it visually in the workplace, up on a wall, or whether you send it out in your memos and your newsletters, on your social media. If you make it part of engagement with your employees, it has to be a constant reminder. And it has to be something that not only are you excited about, but it makes your employees and your community excited as well. It should be something that they’re so excited about that it’s hard to forget.
Rich: All right. This has been great. And we have a question that we ask all of our guests here on the show, and I’m going to ask you right now. What one thing would you change if you could to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?
Priscilla: I’ve been looking forward to you asking me this question the entire podcast, because I have subscribed to your podcast, and I’ve listened to some brilliant people share what they feel they should do to change the ecosystem. And I think we should get all those people in the room and create an actionable plan to set some fantastic ideas into motion. But for me, because I do work with a skilled trades businesses, I really think that we need to put more emphasis on the trades as being part of that path to success for our young people, and especially girls and women. I know some women who are earning six figures welding, and they love it. And they have no college debt. They’re earning great money for themselves. They’re financially independent. They own their own homes. They’re doing so well, comparatively, where we’re hearing the woes of the millennials and the Gen Z’s. And there is another path that we can take. And it’s not just women, but also anybody. It used to be that you had to be a certain body type to do some of these jobs, whether it was arborist work or landscaping or truck driving. And now because of technology and computers and automated systems, we truly can have any body type to do these jobs. And so I think that we just need to be talking about this more with the middle schools, the high schools, the trade schools.
Maine should put a much greater emphasis on providing services, because that’s who we are. We are a service-based state. That’s really our bread and butter. We have so many family-owned businesses and we serve the tourist population. Tourism is such a huge impact on the state’s economy. We need to be able to have the people here serving those people and building the economy and being sustainable as a state. And that’s really, I think, the focus that we need to be doing.
Rich: Awesome. Priscilla, if any business owners are out there, they’ve heard you, they’re like, “Oh my God, this is the point I’m at in my career. I should be talking to her.” Where can we send them?
Priscilla: I would absolutely love to talk with anyone. You can go to blazingtrailscoaching.com. That’s blazingtrailscoaching.com.
Rich: Awesome. Priscilla, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Priscilla: Great. Thank you.