Don’t Let Uncertainty Get In The Way Of Business Growth
Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan and Shannon Waller
Every so often, there are major world events that affect things economically and can lead to people feeling a lot of uncertainty. In this episode, business coaches Dan Sullivan and Shannon Waller talk about the best business strategy an entrepreneur can take to make sure their business not only survives, but thrives while other people are feeling uncertain about the future.
Here's some of what you'll learn in this episode:
How Strategic Coach® acquired a whole new capability during COVID lockdowns.
The advice Dan gave clients after 9/11.
What a lot of people’s futures depend on.
The single question that will renew clients’ sense of their future.
Things clients can work on while cash flow is an issue.
Why it’s really easy to compete during an economic downturns.
Why Dan predicts scary times for most of the world over the coming decades.
Big companies and corporations make all their gains and market share during bad times.
Economic downturns are always going to happen, so it makes sense to develop a skill around them.
Instead of worrying about yourself, you have to give other people a chance to be clear about their future.
As the leader of the company, your number one daily job during uncertain times is to keep everybody's confidence high.
Everybody is coming from different worlds when they come into work.
You should come out of a period of uncertainty with the same team you went into it with in terms of numbers and in terms of the power of your team.
When uncertainty happens, most people lose their ability to take action.
You haven’t solved a problem until you can laugh about it.
Your job during uncertain times is to go out and create new futures for all of your clients and prospects.
A client’s money is frozen when their brain is frozen.
Resistance and uncertainty are normal for entrepreneurs.
If you allow external forces to control your future, you’re not being an entrepreneur.
Shannon Waller: Hi. Shannon Waller here and welcome to Inside Strategic Coach with Dan Sullivan. Dan, one of the things that I've been hearing a lot about from people thinking about Strategic Coach, from our people who talk to prospects, is that there's a lot of uncertainty. And now, this is also from what I've been reading and listening to, is there's so much uncertainty and there's a lot of headwinds for entrepreneurs. I couldn't wait to talk to you about that because I'm like, "Damn! I have some very interesting things to say."
One of my takes on it is that Strategic Coach helps entrepreneurs get stronger, especially in the face of headwinds, uncertainty, strange economic and political times, whatever we're facing, however you want to think about that. So you're someone who's incredibly in tune with what's happening in the world, you read voraciously. We'll talk about what you watch in just a moment. But I'd love to get your take. What is the best way for entrepreneurs to respond with all of this stuff, distracting stuff, going on around us? How can we be strong and powerful?
Dan Sullivan: It's a great question and it's a periodic problem because there's upturns, downturns in the market, and there's world events that happen which affect things economically. So I started coaching in 1974. Next year, it'll be 50 years that I've been coaching. So essentially an entrepreneur for 50 years. I don't know the exact number, but there's been like seven significant events where people lost their confidence about what was happening in the future. It affected me a couple times and then I said, "Well, this is always going to happen, so why don't you develop a skill around downturns?"
Just as it relates to the company, I have two fundamental rules about the company itself, is that as the owner and the leader of the company, co-owner... And we have a great leadership team. The number one job every day during the uncertain times is that you keep everybody's confidence really high day by day. This is why we do Positive Focuses for everything. Every meeting, everybody shares something they're excited about. And at the end of the meeting, they share the best thing they got out of the meeting. If you're in a meeting with Dan, I can tell you, you're doing a Positive Focus at the start and at the end. And we did that before we started today.
The big thing is because we come from different worlds when we come to work, and oftentimes, the world we come from, people are really scared, they could be depressed and everything else, and then you have to come into the space. So I don't want any of that. Coach is a very confident place to be, Coach is a very confident place to work, and it's all on winning. Where can we win today? So the first one is, keep everybody's confidence up. But the second rule is come out of whatever the shaky period is with the same team you went into it with in terms of numbers and also in terms of the power of your team.
Because if you look at the larger economy, you look at big companies, big corporations, they make all their gains in market share during bad times. And I say in our world, the coaching world... I remember before the '08, '09 subprime market crash, subprime mortgage, there were two big coaching organizations. One was Action Coach and one was One Coach. I talked to the salespeople and I said, “Who else are prospects talking about?” They would mention these two coach and neither of them came out of the downturn. That was 2009, 2010 at the latest. In the last 13 years, I haven't heard about any coaching organizations.
But since '09, we've grown 10 times. I mean, just top line, we went 10 times and the profit's been... last year was even greater. I mean, I think we had our best bottom line year ever in history. We've never had a loss year, but we've had breakeven years. I think '09 was breakeven. Then 2020 with the COVID, I think that was a break even year. Top line was way down, but we still were a profitable company. I think the same thing happened as a result of the lockdowns, COVID and everything. We acquired a whole new capability, because first three months, we had to recreate the business model because there weren't going to be any live workshops.
So you and I especially, we created a whole book, which is called Scary Times Success Manual. And I just created a... I don't know, it was eight points... 8, 10 points. When 9/11 happened, we were going to New York to talk to all of our New York clients because they were right at ground zero and we said, "This is the time you're going to make market share. The way that you make market share right now is you take the emphasis off you and what's happening to you and you go out and you talk to all your clients and you give them a new future." Your job during uncertain times is to go out and create new futures for all of your clients and for your prospects.
Because a lot of people, their future depends upon... in their mind, on external factors. Okay? What you'll realize is that instead of worrying about yourself, you have to give other people a chance to be clear about their future. We have a whole process, which is called the D.O.S. Question. And you don't go three years, you go one year. If it was a year from now, you say this to your customer, client, and the key people who your future depends upon. You go out and you renew their sense about the future. I would just say, 12 months from now, if we were having this discussion and you're looking back over the year back to now, what has to happen both professionally and personally for you to feel happy with your progress?
The moment you get them on that line of thinking, they begin to realize there's actually lots of opportunity. There's a favorite... It's kind of a children's book, but it's not actually, it's an adult book. It's called Watership Down. Watership Down. It talks about what happens to rabbits. They're crossing a road and there's headlights coming and they go tharn. Instead of jumping back or jumping forward, they just sit there and get hit. And I said, when uncertainty happens, most people go tharn. They lose their ability to take action. So just by asking the question, first of all, you're getting them out of today and you're taking them a year forward.
Well, they don't want things to be worse a year from now. What do they want to say a year from now of how they operate? And they said, "Oh, I made progress here." The moment you break the spell, all of a sudden their imagination comes back to them, their ambition comes back to them. Then you say, "So what dangers do you have right now that need to be eliminated a year from now?" Cashflow is obviously an issue. But you can work on new capabilities, you can work on new technology, you can work on new learning. Then what opportunities do you have right now?
Well, they have opportunities, but they've lost their will to go out and develop. And immediately once you break the spell, they say, "Oh, yeah, I could do this, I could do this, I could do this." You can feel the energy coming back, their excitement coming back. What it does, they've given control to outside factors. Now, all of our clients are entrepreneurs. So long time ago, I had a client... I had a great, great Zoom workshop, a little mini Zoom workshop this morning. And I've got my first 50-year client. I just turned 79 and he's 29 and this is my first 50-year client.
Shannon Waller: With the age difference, right? Yeah.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. He's an entrepreneur just like I am and he is doing great. That's really great. As a matter of fact, everybody in the room was doing great. The problem is, you've attached your confidence to outside factors over which you have no control. So you've got to bring your confidence back and your capability back where you're totally in control. Then the next thing, what strengths do you have that don't depend on the outside world? You're a problem solver, you're great at asking questions, you're great at coming up with new strategies. And all this power returns back to the person.
I remember with 9/11, I said, "How many of you from the standpoint of cash reserves you're okay if you don't make a sale for the next 90 days?" And the vast majority of our clients said, "Yeah, I do." I said, "Okay. So forget about cashflow, forget about sales, and just go out there and... breakfast, lunch, or dinner, go out and put your best clients, best customers, best prospects through the one-year take ahead, and looking back from a year from now back until now, and just see what happens."
I remember some very, very good financial advisors, they did that. And they came back in and they said, "You can't believe the quarter I had. It was the best cashflow quarter I've ever had." I said, "It's not that they don't have the money, the money is frozen because their brain is frozen. The moment you unfreeze their brain, the money comes out." But there's this tendency to batten down the hatches and cut costs and then-
Shannon Waller: The interesting thing is, Dan, that what's true about the D.O.S. Conversation is it really taps into, I would say, the innate resilience that entrepreneurs have. I love what you said, breaking the spell, because it's true. Being frozen, tharn, is not the natural state. I was actually talking to a great entrepreneur the other day. She goes, "Headwinds, resistance, uncertainty, that's normal for entrepreneurs."
Dan Sullivan: Well, that's where your opportunity lies.
Shannon Waller: Right?
Dan Sullivan: Yeah.
Shannon Waller: It was such a great reminder. She goes, "Yeah, so what else is new?" That thought was great context. And what I love about all of the... including the D.O.S. Conversation, all of the tools of Coach, just really helps people get stronger in terms of their time, their money, their relationships, clarity about their purpose, is that regardless of what the external environment is that you talked about, it's about strengthening that entrepreneur.
Dan Sullivan: Well, the other thing is that there's a lot of global things happening that are permanently disruptive. What I mean by that... One of my favorite writers who I've followed faithfully over the last seven or eight years is a man named Peter Zeihan. He is written a series of wonderful books, but he has great YouTube videos. He said that what happened after the Second World War is basically the United States took charge of the world, the free world. Not the communist world, but the free world. They had just been through two world wars where American troops went overseas, first war and second war, and then they went to Korea.
This wasn't for economic reasons, this was for security reasons. The US, what they said to everybody after the Second World War... I mean, and the world was in shambles. The United States represented half the world economy at the end of the Second World War. What they said is, "Here's the deal, the UK is bankrupt, so the pound can't be the reserve currency anymore. It has to be the dollar." So since 1945... They had a meeting in 1944 of July, and I was six weeks old. So my entire life has been lived during that historical period.
They said, "Here's the second thing. We will lend you massively to rebuild your economies. And anything you produce, you can sell into the United States and we won't have any tariffs on it. The third thing is the US Navy will guarantee all shipping routes." The whole thing was to build a prosperity curtain around the communist world. We couldn't allow them to come any further than they did. Then they had a series of wars, smaller wars, to kind of nip them in the bud. But in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Without anyone's permission, they just quit.
But the rest of the world went on as if this was the deal forever. It really didn't profit the United States that much because with the exception of Canada and Mexico, the United States only trades with the rest of the world 10% of its GDP. Americans just make things and buy things as Americans. Well, the whole world went on and they acted as this deal was going on forever. So about five presidents in a row, they just kept pulling back the military things overseas. For example, if they hadn't done that, there'd be no Ukrainian-Russian war and everything else.
But all of a sudden, this is a big war. I mean, this is the biggest war in Europe since the Second World War. United States will send them equipment, they'll send them advisors, no American troops. I don't think you'll ever see America ever sending large bodies of troops overseas again. The other thing is that they're pulling an enormous amount of their manufacturing back into the United States. 1.5 million jobs have been created in the last two years in factories. So it's all coming back to the United States. There's three countries. There's Canada, the United States, it's one economic system. It's called NAFTA. It's the biggest economic system in the world.
Shannon Waller: And Mexico. Yeah.
Dan Sullivan: Well, the Canada, United States, and Mexico. The United States has a separate deal with those two countries, but basically, it's one system. The rest of the world is going to be in for amazing turmoil. So I remember we did the Scary Times podcast. We wrote a book, and that's available at Strategic Coach, is how to think about scary times. Well, it's not scary times for two years. I'm predicting it's going to be scary times for most of the world over the next 30 years, maybe 40 years. The United States says, "Okay, training wheels are off, now you got to pedal yourself."
The other thing is the Baby Boomer generation is disappearing from the marketplace in the United States, Canada, Australia. This was the biggest working generation of all time. When COVID happened, I think two things happened. People were near the end of their career and they just retired or they got bought out because they were expensive. You see that with the airlines. I mean, they bought out their most expensive pilots, their most expensive cabin crews, their most expensive ground crews, everything related with the ground. And the new people were reading out of the job manual to do their jobs.
We are going to London next weekend. The last time we went, 50 people on the plane didn't get their luggage. Okay? We were there for five days and our bags arrived on day four. But the reason is, there's people who had tremendous knowledge on how to handle very complicated, complex situations, and they're all gone. The other thing is the US saying, "Fight your own wars. Do your own thing. We're not interested anymore." It's not the US declining, it's the US just coming back and sort of saying, okay, "We're going to build America now."
So I think United States and the allies of the United States are going into warp drive, in the US especially. So this is a difficult period. But entrepreneurs, you're the one who said you wanted to take complete control of your financial future. Well, if you're allowing external forces to control your future, you're not being an entrepreneur. So go back and be an entrepreneur.
Shannon Waller: Also, Dan, as you said... talked about with 9/11, don't focus on you, focus on your audience.
Focus on how you can create value for them. Focus on what they need in their future. With all of the disruption and the change, new needs arrive, new issues, new problems that need to be solved.
Dan Sullivan: Well, there's new technology. I mean, artificial intelligence has just arrived with a boom. We have really, really great coaches who are clients of ours. So we're starting with one of them. In the next quarter, our entire team is going to learn how to use artificial intelligence related to their specific work. Not to learn artificial intelligence, but to use the tools that are available. So this is a great period of time to retool, to take skill levels to a higher level. But as I say, I've been through this seven times and it's like... We live in Toronto, and guess what? Summer goes away after a while-
Shannon Waller: Doesn't last long.
Dan Sullivan: Canadian Thanksgiving's the second Monday in-
Shannon Waller: October.
Dan Sullivan: ... October and then that's the end of summer. Then it's dark. So you have to switch into another gear during the cold months. But I like it. I love it. I love the change. So think of this as an economic season or a political season. And you do different things during different seasons, but you still go on playing your own game.
Shannon Waller: I like that, Dan, because I think, if anything, lean in to being an entrepreneur. One of your expressions of being alert, curious, responsive, and resourceful with what's in front of you. Thinking about this as a different economic, and I would add political season, was really helpful. It's a great context for what we're dealing with, and lean into it. If anyone's going to make a positive difference in the world, it's going to be entrepreneurs, right? Sitting back and just being tharn, not going to contribute to anyone or yourself, is what I'm hearing.
Dan Sullivan: Well, it's interesting. I had 15... I mean, these are really top-notch entrepreneurs on a Zoom call this morning. Not a single one of them brought up anything negative about what's going on in the world except new opportunities that they were developing. I mean, I hadn't thought about it until you brought up the issue here. I find most Coach workshops people are saying, "You got to have different gears. There's different conditions or different season, you just switch into another gear."
But the big thing is, take care of your company, keep everybody's confidence up. Then make sure that when the current period is over with, your team is as strong or stronger because half your competition didn't get out of bed in the morning and the half that did don't get out of bed sober. So it's really easy to compete during a down period because the competition just disappears.
Shannon Waller: This message to me is so fun, it's inspiring, it's a little bit of good fire under people to just... Don't be afraid of it. This is kind of normal. This is a different season and gear up, if anything. There's a lot of opportunity here.
Dan Sullivan: I don't tell too many of my own personal stories from a negative side. But in 1978, it was August, I had already started my company, so I was five years. But on August 15th, 1978, I got a divorce in the morning and I went bankrupt in the afternoon. I arranged the timing so I could keep my credit card to celebrate lunch. It wasn't a fun day. I mean-
Shannon Waller: No.
Dan Sullivan: It wasn't a fun period. But the day after, I was going for breakfast at a restaurant, I noticed nobody was unhappy because of my divorce and bankruptcy. I said, "I'm feeling really down and nobody else seems to be affected." So I just look at it as extreme market research now. I mean, you haven't solved it until you can laugh about it.
Shannon Waller: That's such a great point. It's interesting, Dan, because the entrepreneurs that you were working with this morning are ones who have... they're experienced long-term entrepreneurs. They've been through lots of trials and tribulations. They've got what's called cash confidence. They're now at the point of no longer competing, but now they're at the point of collaborating.
Dan Sullivan: They're masters of creating new futures for their clients and customers, and that's what you have to do.
Shannon Waller: A hundred percent. Yeah. Create new futures for your customers and clients.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. Use this downturn as weightlifting so that the next time you hit something like this, you're totally prepared for it.
Shannon Waller: Fabulous coaching, Dan. Thank you so much.