E-Commerce secrets to scale

010 - Why Building Community Is Essential To Growing Your Business

010 – Why Building Community Is Essential To Growing Your Business

E-Commerce Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories and strategies of successful entrepreneurs and e-commerce professionals to uncover scaling secrets that will impact your online store.

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Tanner:

This week on the show, I have Earl Foote. He is the founder and CEO of Nexus IT Consultants. They are a cybersecurity and IT company based out of park city, Utah. Earl and I talk all about building community and networking and how that can really help our business and how we can go about it in a very authentic way. I really enjoyed this interview and I hope you guys do too. Let’s just get right into it.

Welcome to the show Earl. I’m so excited to have you. Go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience.


Earl:

I’m Earl Foote, founder, and CEO of Nexus IT Consultants. I have a 22 year-old IT outsourced support cybersecurity and cloud firm.

Tanner:

Awesome. Earl. So how did you get started in cyber security? Can you kind of take us on a walk down memory lane?

Earl:

Yeah, for sure. And really cybersecurity was more of an evolution. So we, we started in 1998. So 22 years ago, and cyber security, wasn’t a real heavy consideration back then. We really started more as a contract IT services firm, doing essentially fractional IT, you know services or departments for organizations. Our business model has morphed over the years. Certainly cybersecurity has become a bigger concern throughout the year, then particularly the last decade. That’s where we’ve really specialized our IT support and service programs all are built with cybersecurity and compliance in mind, so that organizations that work with us, they’re secure out the gate and generally all of their compliance considerations are taken care of. Which are really, you know, cybersecurity considerations.

We’ve had to fall flat on our face many times and then figure out how to dust our knees off, get back up and trudge forward.

Tanner:

What are some obstacles that you faced? I mean, you’ve been in business for 22 years now. I’m sure there’s been a lot of them, but are there any that really stand out?

Earl:

Yeah, man, there’s been plenty. It’s been 22 years, you know. First and foremost is just the reality, which is when I started in business at the age of 22 or 23 years old frankly I had no idea what I was doing. You know, I hadn’t gone to business school, I’d gone to engineering school. And I had no knowledge or background or education in business. And you know, for me it was a massive knowledge gap, a leadership gap, connections, of course financing. We’ve always been a self-finance company. And so, you know, funding or financing, we’re definitely stuff, significant challenges in those early years. Proper alignment with the partners within the organization was certainly a challenge. And then we formed the organization during the .com boom, but we had to go through the .com bust, 9-11, you know, the downturn economic downturn that caused, the ’04, ‘09 downturn. We’ve dealt with internal fraud and theft to some significant quantities in the past when we were a young company and didn’t put all the checks and balances and all the measures in place to curtail that type of problem.

And so there’s been, we’ve had our fair share of challenges over the years. We’ve had to fall flat on our face many times and then figure out how to dust our knees off, get back up and trudge forward, for sure.

Tanner:

Sure. Yeah. You know, I think most people, when they start their first business, they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. I think that’s the case with a lot of people. It definitely was for me. I mean, I definitely had no business getting into the marketing industry with no experience at all in the workforce.

Speaking of marketing, how did you handle marketing and sales in the beginning and how has that evolved over time?

Earl:

Yeah, that’s had a massive evolution for us. And that’s one of the things I didn’t understand. I didn’t know, frankly, you know marketing and sales in the early days was a with a back plate kind of consideration. We weren’t really, we didn’t pay much attention to it. So really we grew and marketed through word of mouth, through relationships, some networking, but for the most part we had some brick and mortar stores. Because in the early days we also did consumer computer services and sold computers to consumers, not just business to business, which, now we’re just business to business. But, what was I going to tell you? I mean, we did some radio ads, some newspaper ads, that kind of stuff. Most of that, you know, when you’re a young company and you’re self-financed, you don’t have a significant budget to dedicate to that type of thing. And so most of that you can’t do for more than a month, maybe three months, and it doesn’t produce a whole lot of results for you.

Our approach to customer service, we call it white glove, hyper-responsive, customer care.

Tanner:

How do cyber security companies differentiate themselves? Like what makes you guys different from everyone else?

Earl:

Yeah. So Utah, I think, like in most industries, is a very saturated market. In our market it most definitely is. And nationwide there are a significant number of IT service providers. There’s a couple of very different things about us. We are very much a boutique type of company. We are a premium service and first of all, with us having cybersecurity compliance built into all of our programs and packages that’s a unique thing in and of itself. It’s not very common. You know, our approach to customer service, we call it white glove, hyper-responsive, customer care. We blow the industry out of the water when it comes to taking care of our customers. And by that, I mean, the industry average nationwide and actually the same here in Utah. The average ticket response time is about four hours.

When a client opens a ticket, whether that’s phone or email or on your chat, or a portal or something like that, the average response time is about four hours. We are under one minute. And the average ticket resolution time is about four days and we are under a half hour. So just being hyper-responsive and giving our clients that white glove kind of care approach is a big differentiator for us. And then just being very ingrained partners with them. We aren’t just a standard sub-par, outsourced help desk. We’re very ingrained in our relationships. We are an extension of our client’s team, and in most cases, we take over the role of virtual CIO or virtual IT manager. And we’re helping them sync and plan strategically and understanding how to leverage technology correctly so that they can use it to add to their bottom line and to grow their business, rather than it just being a cost center to their business. And certainly, we also augment services for organizations who already have a CIO or an IT manager. So we don’t take on that role, but we work with them to achieve their objectives and make sure that we’re all on the same page.

Tanner:

Well, I think that’s incredible that you’ve been able to get those response times down to under a minute. I think that’s crazy. I mean, but at the same time, like that’s how you position yourself as a premium service. That’s how you create that relationship and keep that partnership intact. So I commend you for that. I think that’s awesome.

Earl:

Thank you.

I mentioned authenticity because a lot of organizations, I think, talking about culture is lip service. And for us it’s not, we live and die by it here.

Tanner:

So, going back to the beginning, was it just you, did you have any partners?

Earl:

So my brother and I were partners from 1998, until 2012, we were partners in the business.

Tanner:

Cool. So who was your first hire and how long did it take until you guys were ready to hire that person?

Earl:

That’s a good question. I gotta think here, in those early days it probably took us 12 to 18 months. My brother didn’t come on board until didn’t come on board full-time I should say probably until 24 or maybe even 36 months, you know, after we got started. I went on board almost immediately full time and yeah, probably took us about a year, maybe year and a half to bring on that first employee to ramp the revenue sufficiently so that I had, you know, my salary to take home and then we can also pay for another salary on top of all the other overhead.

Tanner:

So fast forward to now, how many employees are you at now?

Earl:

Total with interns and part-time and that kind of stuff. We’re about 30.

Tanner:

Very cool. How do you keep your employees around? How do you keep them happy?

Earl:

Yeah. First of all, we’re an organization who one of our core values is authenticity and our culture is extremely important to us and we don’t, and I mentioned authenticity because a lot of organizations, I think, talking about culture is lip service. And for us it’s not, we live and die by it here. And we’ve created a culture, first and foremost the most important entity that we serve is our clientele, but second is our team members. And so we created a culture where we have a very productive, high producing, enjoyable, fun dynamic among the team. And everybody is rewarded well. They’re paid well, they all have opportunities to advance within the organization, they have a career trajectory within the organization, and they have opportunities to make incentives above and beyond their base pay. So that they are well well-rewarded. You need to have good benefit packages.

But first and foremost, it’s just treating people right. Another one of our core values is fairness. Fairness, compassion, and the assumption of positive intent and the practice of abundance and growth mindset. So when things go wrong in a business, things are going to go wrong, right? Nobody’s perfect. No individual team member is perfect. Sometimes things are not going to go according to plan and we generally just approach those, you know, in a calm manner. We sit down, we figure out, Hey, what went wrong? Why did it go wrong? How do we fix that? How do we never have that happen again? You know, certainly, when there’s a repetitive problem you have to address it more aggressively, but upfront we’re very fair and we assume positive intent. We assume that our team members are always well intentioned that they’re always trying to do the right thing. Just sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, you got to give them the benefit of the doubt, right? I think so many businesses get this wrong, where they just will fire someone over a single mistake when I think that that’s so detrimental to the company’s culture.

Earl:

Totally. Yeah. I mean, again, if there’s repetitive problems sometimes you have to take disciplinary action, but for the most part, even with fairly significant problems that come up, you can sit down and work through those. And those boost morale so much. When your team members know you have their back and that you’re going to take care of them especially if they’ve messed up and they know they’ve messed up, then they will have your back going forward and you know that they want to fix those problems and they want to achieve, because they know that you’re going to have their backs.

Tanner:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more with you. So you’re super involved with Silicon Slopes, right? And for anyone listening that doesn’t know what this is, Silicon Slopes is a non-profit organization in Utah that just basically serves as a hub for Utah’s tech industry. Do you feel that your heavy involvement with Silicon Slopes has helped you scale your business more?

I don’t love the word networking, I prefer building community.

Earl:

Yeah, most definitely. And we very much believe in building community, connecting authentically again, having genuine connections. Our leadership team, our sales teams, we encourage them all to foster genuine relationships. And Silicon Slopes has most definitely helped us do that. Certainly, it’s put us more on the radar as well. But being part of a healthy, thriving tech community here in Utah and having relationships with a lot of the other tech companies out there with SAS companies, with their founders you know, it gives you a network and a community to draw upon when you need ideas, when you need help solving problems. And most definitely, oftentimes it leads to new business.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, networking is super important. Not only because it can get you more business, but like you said, building that community, having people to bounce ideas off of, really just creating a family of other business owners and ultimately more friendships, right?

What can aspiring entrepreneurs do to get started in a network like that? Like, what’s the process?

Earl:

Yeah. I think first of all you have to do some trial and error. You have to test out different groups to see what fits for the objectives that you have. If you’re in a specific industry, you probably want to get involved in industry specific groups. There may be other groups that are really not applicable, and you’re not going to really be in touch with other business leaders that either can help you grow and be part of your network or who are potential targets for your products or services. And so you know, figure out the right places to be where you’re going to be in contact with the community that you need, that can help you grow your business either through ideas and problem solving or through business development opportunities.

But you know, the thing I would caution is learn how to connect in an authentic way. Don’t walk into a, I really don’t use or love the word networking. Honestly, I don’t like the connotation for me anymore. It isn’t right. I prefer building community. And you know, we walk into scenarios with that mindset of we’re going to build community, we’re not here just to be fly-by and see what we can extrapolate out of the group as quickly as possible. If you have that mentality, you’re probably never going to actually receive any benefit from being part of a group. But if you go into a group with an idea of I’m going to build community, I’m going to help, and I’m going to give first and that might be giving ideas that might be helping other businesses solve challenges that might be connecting them with somebody that is a potential client for them. If you go in with that sort of mentality, I believe in karma, karma comes back around, and when you give first, you’re going to get at some point.

Tanner:

Yeah. I completely agree. I mean, you have to approach it in a value first approach. You need to give value before you can take value. But I mean, we’re talking about groups of successful business owners. They can smell that stuff from a mile away. If you’re there with the wrong intentions, it’s not going to last, right?

Earl:

Yeah. If you’re superficial, you’ll never get a good conversation.

Believe in yourself, believe in your dreams and pursue those and get help along the way.

Tanner:

Completely agree. What’s one piece of advice you could give to anyone listening that has an intention or they want to be an entrepreneur?

Earl:

I would say, first of all, you know, believe in yourself, believe in your dreams and pursue those and get help along the way. I took way too long in our ramp to really begin to engage with mentors or coaches or peer groups and fumbled for a number of years before I really started to fill my knowledge and skillset gaps, when it came to business and leadership. And so that’s the first thing I would start to do, you know, there’s organizations like Score out there that’s part of the SBA. It’s a non-cost or no cost type of organization where you can go and meet with mentors and they’ll help you formulate your business plan and fill your knowledge gaps and help you understand how to get financing and all sorts of things. Right. So, get involved as soon as you can with community, get involved with peer groups get involved with coaches, with mentors and you know understand what it’s going to take for you to be successful.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, I think that a lot of entrepreneurs that don’t get help, I mean, like you said, you’re just going to stall, you’re not going to be able to really reach your full potential right away. I think that we really do need help from others to learn even just more about ourselves, but more about our business and things that are going to help us grow.

Earl:

Totally.

It’s a matter of ongoing education and training and guidance and coaching.

Tanner:

What do you think your secrets to scale are?

Earl:

Very good question. For us, that’s been an interesting journey. I think when you’re in a product based business that that’s often a lot easier. You know, nailing your product and then scaling it at a rapid pace is significantly easier than when you’re in a service industry and your product is human capital. And so for us, it’s been a very concerted effort in journey. First of all, the create the right culture so we attract the right human capital. And then, it’s been a journey of keeping that culture intact so that our team members want to produce, they want to collaborate, they want to be cohesive and they want to produce for our clientele.

Also, for us, it’s a matter of ongoing education and training and guidance and coaching. And you know, I would say generally, from my experience, and maybe others have had different experiences service-based businesses. You have to scale at a slower pace than can with a product-based business. But system and process is super important. While we don’t encourage people to be robots in our organization. And in fact, one of our other corporate core values is empowered, shared leadership and autonomy. We provide baseline guidance so that our team members understand how to interact directly with our clientele, how to provide value, how to avoid common pitfalls. And then we let them take the reins and run with their role. And so, yeah, it’s been an interesting journey for us to kind of figure out that scaling component.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, to me, systems and process is more just like a general guideline to prevent catastrophic problems. Right. It’s more of a resource to your employees, so they don’t have to ask you a million questions on how to do their job. Right? What do you think about that?

Earl:

Yeah, I completely agree. We have a process library, we follow step processes. I know most companies refer to them as SOP or standard operating procedures. We have a library and our team is encouraged, you know when you have a question, the first thing you do is refer to that library. It’s a digital library, so they can search it. They can search for a term that they’re they have a question about certainly they can turn to their colleague, that’s sitting at the desk next to them. But we also encourage them to use that library. And that’s a library that we continually add to. In fact, one of the incentives we actually give our team members on a monthly basis is they get a bonus if they write a six-step process. And so that, that keeps our library dynamic that keeps it growing, and keeps it fresh with new information that is coming all of the time. Particularly in the technical industry, things change so quickly. You know, we have to keep our library of processes up to date.

Tanner:

I think that’s a really cool idea, you know, like offering them incentives to keep it updated because a lot of businesses just put it out there and then it just sits there and collects dust, they don’t really update it. So it ends up not being what it was supposed to be. I think that’s a really good way to combat that is by offering incentives. And I’ve never heard of that before. So I’m going to take that.

Earl:

Honestly, I’ve never, you know, we were never able to keep it up to date. It was like leadership would write the processes. And then they wouldn’t really get used or they would quickly go out of date until we implemented. We decided, look, the people that are in the trenches day in day out, they’re the ones that are most intimately familiar with what’s going to work and what their other teammates need to know and so they need to write them. And so we started asking them to write them and honestly, there was no headway made until we incentivized it. Once we started offering a bonus for every SOP that they write, that’s when we started getting a far more vast library of processes place.

Tanner:

I mean, no one wants to write processes all day. It’s no fun.

Earl:

No, definitely not.

The practice of abundance and growth mindset have been pivotal to my success.

Tanner:

Is there anything I have not asked you that you think might benefit the audience?

Earl:

You know, I think just one of my keys, I guess, a couple of my keys to finding success within my own profession within my career and within our organization is first of all, understand that you’re not perfect, that you always have room to grow and learn and to change and adapt and evolve and be entirely open to whatever feedback you might receive or to other people who help you understand your blind spots. And be open to working on those things, filling those knowledge gaps and those skillset gaps. But for me also just the practice of abundance and growth mindset have been pivotal to my success. And if you’re not familiar with them, I would look them up, get more familiar with them. Anyways, that’s just a quick piece of advice.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. Well, this has been really amazing. What’s a good way for everyone listening to get in contact with you?

Earl:

Yeah, probably the best thing to do is follow me on my LinkedIn profile. Just look up Earl Foote, CEO of Nexus IT. You can email us [email protected] or our website is www.nexusitc.net.

Tanner:

Awesome. We’ll also link up those in the show notes anyways. I really appreciate it. Earl. You have a great one.

Earl:

Tanner, thank you so much.

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