The greatest challenge that almost all small businesses face is building an actual system around how to continue growing. Systemizing sales and lead generation is what allows companies to sustainably scale to seven figures in revenue and beyond. Yet, most companies, especially service businesses rely on unpredictable channels such as referrals and word of mouth for the bulk of their revenue-- which can turn the experience into a financial roller coaster. Charles Gaudet, the CEO of Predictable Profits, is the expert that many seven and eight figure CEOs turn to when they need to bring predictability (hence their name) to their sales organization.
Before becoming one of the most sought after sales coaches for small and mid-sized companies, Charles built multiple successful companies of his own that taught him a lifetime of lessons in sales and leadership. Predictable Profits became his vehicle to put those lessons and best practices to work for other companies. Now Charles is often cited in outlets like Forbes and others for his insight which has helped countless companies break record revenues. He is perhaps the busiest sales coach in the US. We sat down with him for expertise on surviving and thriving during the journey of building a company.
When did you realize you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Charles Gaudet: I started my first business at the age of 4 years old, selling artwork to my neighbors. On the surface, it could be construed that I was "born an entrepreneur," but I had an alternative motivation.
Experts in human psychology tell us that we make decisions from either inspiration or desperation. For me, my decision to become an entrepreneur was developed from desperation.
As a child, I hardly knew my father. He was running his own business and worked seven days a week trying to provide for his family. On most days, he left for work before I woke up and came home after I went to bed. During the limited occasions that we crossed paths, he'd often tell me: "Kid, if you want to make something of yourself, you've got to be an entrepreneur."
In hindsight, I learned he wasn't against working for someone - but doing his best to explain why he worked so many hours. Of course, as a young kid - I translated that to mean only one thing: "I had to own my own business."
So, desperate for my father's approval, I embarked on my own entrepreneurial journey without ever having a traditional "real job."
What role did higher education play in preparing you for entrepreneurship?
CG: I attended Babson College, globally ranked as a leader in entrepreneurship. While there are plenty of examples of successful business owners who either didn't go to school or dropped out, graduating college with an advanced understanding of accounting, marketing, operations and all other facets of entrepreneurship provided me with a powerful foundation for making better decisions.
In fact, one year after graduating, supported by my Babson network, I founded a business nominated by Ernst & Young as "One of the Nation's Best-Seed Stage Companies." I believe it was the foundation of knowledge that I learned in college that provided the impetus for such an accomplishment.
After running a few successful businesses, you started Predictable Profits, which has become one of the fastest-growing coaching organizations. How did that come about?
CG: In 2010, someone took notice of my ability to grow and scale a company and offered to pay me to help them grow their business.
I accepted the work and realized that I love helping others escape the occasional frustration of growing a business - to ultimately exceeding their goals.
At the time, I didn't realize that I was doing anything different than what other "experts" would have done for their clients - until it became more clear that my clients consistently achieved uncommon results (often helping them earn more money in a few months than they had the entire previous year).
So in 2010, I founded Predictable Profits. Since that time, I've worked with hundreds of businesses - helping many companies achieve "Fastest Growing Company" status by building better marketing and sales systems.
What was one of your most difficult days as a CEO and what lessons did you learn from it?
CG: There were many difficult days, months and years - but perhaps my most difficult was in 2001. I borrowed money to start a business and almost instantly found myself in over a million dollars in debt and paying a double-digit interest rate on those loans.
At that time, I remembered a lesson my dad told me as a kid: "The secret to success is hard work." I took that literally. I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. so I wouldn't "oversleep" and worked seven days a week.
Hard work was my primary growth strategy, but it came as a cost. In addition to the lack of sleep, the stress caused frequent chest pains.
The stress and lack of sleep caught up with me. One day I was driving home from work and my health took an unexpected turn. I felt a sharp pain running from the base of my spine and into my brain. Within minutes, I was on my back in the Emergency Room where my doctor told me that I was suffering from a stress-related condition, my organs were shutting down and my lifestyle was starting to kill me.
That experience forced me to look at things differently. And that's when I realized that if I couldn't work any harder, I had to work smarter. That became the turning point of my life and, within a year of that incident, I paid down my debt and founded my first multi-million dollar company.
What's the hardest part about coaching other entrepreneurs?
CG: When you work with some of the smartest people in the world who count on you to provide them with tips, insights, and actionable advice to help them create sustainable growth in any economy - that challenge becomes the hardest part of coaching other entrepreneurs.
It's constantly forcing me to develop new skills, conduct research and analyze data to maintain our edge. Fortunately, this is what I was born to do and I love it. Some people have hobbies - as for me - my hobby also happens to be the business I'm in.
Is there a skill set that you think is underrated among founders?
CG: When it comes to growing a business, many business owners can get to around $1M/year in revenue through word of mouth and referrals - but that approach limits their ability to scale.
To get to the next million and beyond - the skill that's most underrated is the ability to create scalable marketing and sales systems.
What about one that is overrated?
CG: Many people think that if they just could get Facebook marketing, webinars, outbound prospecting or any other funnel-type strategy working for their business that they will finally be able to scale.
The reality is that if you're generating traffic, leads and sales - you already have everything you need in your business needed to scale to the next million. You have momentum.
Businesses don't get stuck or fail because of the lack of a bad idea - they fail because of a lack of momentum.
Rather than trying to learn a new marketing skill from scratch, learn to leverage your existing momentum and you'll scale faster and more efficiently.
How should early stage founders choose between investing in product and investing in sales/marketing?
CG: You can have the best product in the world, but if people don't know about you or why they should buy from you - nothing else matters.
Sales and marketing is the lifeblood of the business.
Even before the product/service is completed, marketing/sales should be generating demand so that when the product/service is ready - selling becomes easy.
For early stage founders, focus on developing an MVP (minimum viable product). Then spend the rest of your time on marketing/sales to ensure there's sufficient demand to continue developing the product/service or adapt to make it more attractive to the consumer.
Are all founders good salespeople?
CG: No. Founders and CEOs often have a special clout that comes with the title that allows them to do better at sales than others - but be careful to confuse clout with ability.
What is the biggest misconception about an effective sales strategy?
CG: Many companies hire salespeople based solely on sales ability. They give their newly hired talent a quota and set the guideline as: "Go out there and close some business."
Top-performing organizations don't just hire on ability - they are also supported by a proven sales playbook that defines the best practices and communicates them in a way that can turn any average sales person into an above average closer.