I want to thank Ted Schmidt for graciously agreeing to be the first interviewee for my new series, Five Questions for Entrepreneurs. He has a wealth of information and insight about how businesses grow and become profitable.
Anna: “You have the cleanest desk I think I’ve ever seen.”
Ted: “When I walk in, in the morning, I like to have a clean environment. I work on one thing at a time and then I put it away.”
- How did you get started?
“Wow. Well. I got started in business just as a summer job, working my way through college, and that was in the tool and equipment rental industry, and it was wasn’t anything in particular that I targeted or anything. It just happened to be something that was available and I took it, and I enjoyed that industry.
After I graduated college, I was working at a firm in Seattle. I finished college in Seattle. They offered me a management position, and I decided to take that. That led to me becoming a partner in the business. I started with them in 1980, and they had 3 locations at that time, and over the next 20-some years, we grew it to 22 locations and then we sold the business in 2000, my partners and I.
That was the bulk of my career in business up to that point. Then my wife and I decided to move back to Spokane. I’m kind of a serial entrepreneur, and I started another business. I got involved in house flipping and rental houses. I did that for a while, and my brother-in-law was really into that, and he did a good job with that, so I learned a lot. But I also learned that I missed the traditional business world, and I kind of got bored with it, and then the market crashed in 2008.
I was talking to a friend of mine, who is also an entrepreneur-spirited guy, and he was talking to me about what he was doing in his business. I mentioned to him that I thought maybe I’d like to so some consulting, because I had consulted with him and coached him a little bit over the years. He said to me, “You know, you’d make a great business coach! That’s what you should do!”
So he planted that seed with me. So I looked into the business coaching world, and I found ActionCOACH, which is a global organization. We have approximately over 1,000 offices in 60 or 70 countries.
Long story short, I decided to go with ActionCOACH. It’s a franchise situation. I started with an existing franchise, to test the waters, and to see if it was a good fit for me, and when the opportunity came about, I acquired my own franchise. I’ve been coaching for about 6 years now, a little over 6 years.
That’s how I got started; it’s kind of a winding road. If you’d asked me 15 years ago, or even 10 years ago if this is what I’d be doing, I probably would have said, “What?” but I really love what I do. It’s very rewarding, it’s very satisfying, gratifying, and it’s very important to me.”
- What can you tell me about your company or about your current project?
“At ActionCOACH, we do business and executive coaching. We mostly work with small business owners and some executives. That’s our focus – primarily business coaching, and there’s some executive coaching as well.
We generally work with businesses that are anywhere from $500,000 in revenues up to the tens of millions in revenues. Most of our clientele is probably up to $10 million in revenues.
My focus, typically, when I engage with a client is I want to help them finish the business. What I mean by that, is we talk about their destination, how they want to finish the business, when, how they want to finish it, under what terms do they want to finish it. And obviously, exit the business.
Because we’re all exiting at some point. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, we’re all going to exit our businesses. I like to say, you’re either going to walk out under your own terms or get carried out feet first. I try to help them position themselves and do the things that they need to do, and make the changes that they need to make, in order to be able to walk out under their own terms. Maintain their quality [of life] and the lifestyle that they choose, that they would like or desire.
That’s really what I do. Basically, in order to do that, we have to look at where they currently are, and then we talk about where and when they would like to finish and what that looks like, and then we start formulating a pathway to achieve that.
There’s usually an evolutionary process. We have something we use called the Six Steps. It starts out, the lowest step is Mastery, then Niche, then Leverage, Team, then Synergy, and Results.
When you’re at the Results level, basically, your business is finished. What Results looks like, is a “commercial, profitable enterprise that works without you.” In other words, the business will run without you. Then it gives you a lot of options and ability to do a lot of things. It gives you options on how you can exit, and maximize what you’ve built.
Because it’s really an investment, when you think about it. You’re investing in your business, for your future return on that investment. So we have to look at that. When you go through the Six Steps, there’s years of things to do. For the mastery part, we use the analogy that it is the foundation with which we build that we can sustain that growth over a long period of time.
There are four areas of Mastery:
- Destination – where are we going;
- Time mastery / self-management;
- Delivery mastery – delivering your goods and services to your customers; and
- Financial mastery – your numbers mastery.
For example, do you understand your numbers? Do you understand not just your financial statements, but do you understand how your leads are being generated, where they’re coming from, what your conversation rates are. Things like that. So you need to understand if you do something in the way of marketing, what sort of return on investment are you getting on that marketing campaign?
So Mastery is really important, then we’ll move into Niche, and that’s a little more about consistent cash flow and eliminating the chaos that’s going on. Once you’ve got the Mastery level down, then the chaos is pretty much eliminated. You can start building and growing your business, and then we focus on that.
Then we have something called The Five Ways, which are kind of the keys to the kingdom for us.”
- When you think about your career, what were your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
“I think it was understanding how to build relationships and doing it well. That’s really the key. You have to build confidence. You have to build your ability to believe in what you do, and believe in yourself.
Those are challenges, especially early on, when you’re young and you’re not sure about yourself. When you lack a little confidence, and you’re a little insecure about things.
You don’t necessarily see the value in building those relationships, and you want to get it all now and be successful and you don’t want to take the time to do and you have to be patient. The relationships you build are really the keys to opportunities that will present themselves, and success.
You have to build your ability to believe in what you do, and believe in yourself. – Ted Schmidt
You never know. I kind of believe that things happen for a reason. You never know who knows somebody you would really benefit from knowing. You just don’t know where a relationship is going to go and how it can benefit you in the end. So you always want to build positive ones. So learning that over time. It’s more about understanding what people want and need and being able to provide that for them, and if you can do that, then you’ll get what you want as well. But it’s a challenge. It’s hard to do.
Another challenge for me was balancing my life – personal and business. I tended to be a workaholic, and understanding that there’s more to life than work was a challenge.
You have to build for the future and invest time and effort to provide for your future. But you don’t want to pout all your eggs in that basket, cause you don’t know what the future holds. So you have to live for today as well, especially if you have a family and kids. It’s important to find that balance.
When you do find success, the different levels of success, or achieve success, don’t feel guilty about it because you earned it.
That was one of the hardest things when I was back in the equipment rental industry. When I became a partner and I had a level of success, I’d have a lot more latitude in my schedule, I could do anything I wanted whenever I wanted.
I started to feel guilty about that because I knew that I had a lot of people who were working really hard. Once I was able to recognize the sacrifices that I had made, and the financial risks that I had taken, and all the long hours that I had worked, I became comfortable with the fact that I had earned some perks, so to speak. So I could actually go out and play a round of golf in the afternoon during the week and not feel guilty about it.
That was hard for me. It was challenge for me. It was really hard for a few years there. But I’ve gotten past that and now, it’s a lot easier to balance things.”
- What person or advice has made the biggest impact on your business?
“I think that early on, it was my dad. He had a really strong work ethic. He was part of the Greatest Generation. I learned from him what it was to get up and go to work and go to work for your family, and to have self-discipline, and to do what you needed to do. You had to earn it. You just didn’t get it.
So I’d start with my dad. Then kind of my second dad was a guy named Doug, and he was the senior partner in the equipment rental business that I was working for when I was still in college in Seattle.
He took an interest in me, and he really inspired me. He presented me with the opportunity to be a partner. He took me under his wing. He was really great at building relationships and he showed me how to do that, and how important that was.
From there, mentors, I would say that there are a lot of coaches in ActionCOACH that are just fantastic people. Right from Brad Sugars, the chairman and founder, who is still very active, to other coaches around the world. I could start naming the coaches I’ve had contact with who have really influenced me and helped me become successful, but they are too numerous. I’m grateful to them.
I currently have two different coaches that I’m working with that are coaching me. One is coaching me in business and one is coaching me in mindset.
I think everybody needs a coach, really. I think it’s important to keep your mind open to learning and continue to try to improve yourself and get better. Improve your skills all the time, always.
That’s probably the best lesson I’ve ever learned, is that if you think already know it all, you stop. Believe me, nobody knows it all. Fail and fail fast, and fail often, and you’re just that much closer to success. Just keep learning. Keep improving everything. It doesn’t have to necessarily be business – your personal life, your health.
Do something every day that helps you become a better you.
That’s really what the people who care about you, who surround you in your life – that’s what they want more than anything. They want you to be good; they want you to be happy, and a good you. Then you’re going to be at your best for everybody else. That’s the way I look at it, whether it’s family or my clients.
Probably the best lesson I’ve ever learned, is that if you think already know it all, you stop. Believe me, nobody knows it all. Fail and fail fast, and fail often, and you’re just that much closer to success. Just keep learning. Keep improving everything. – Ted Schmidt
If I’m not “on” and in a good place, I can’t be my best for them. I do something every day to improve myself.
It’s important to recharge, reenergize… Sometimes you just need to sit and think.”
- What’s next for you?
“Grow this firm. We’ve already grown: we now have an employee coach, Stella Fox.
The next thing would be to add another employee coach, and just continue to grow. Out a few years, add more locations. Obviously, at some point we’ll need a bigger office space, but immediately, it’s to grow this firm.
Which we’re kind of in the process. Continue to grow the firm, I guess.
Find ways to leverage better. And if you look at it purely from that perspective, help Stella be more successful. I would love to see her be more successful than me. My clients as well.
I’m also thinking about providing other services, maybe proving marketing services, evaluation services, accounting services, to add to our repertoire, so to speak.
Surround yourself with people who are better than you, and don’t be afraid to do that. A lot of people struggle with that. Once you’ve done that, let them do their work. Let them do their jobs, and get out of their way. I think about it, that’s probably the best lesson I got from Doug, and he surrounded himself with great people, and he didn’t have to do anything, except cash checks!”
Ted Schmidt’s ActionCOACH website.
Ted Schmidt’s LinkedIn Profile.