InnovaBuzz Episode #33 – Christie Hamilton of Benelds

Christie Hamilton of Benelds

In this episode number 33 of the InnovaBuzz podcast, Christie Hamilton of Benelds talked to us about business processes, marketing automation, Infusionsoft and being the best you can be.  On this latter point, Christie pulls no punches, and described to us her criteria for a great customer.  It’s another fascinating interview, so listen to the podcast here.

Listen to the Podcast

Well, if you want to really get into this stuff, find out who are the power players and get it from them directly.

Christie Hamilton

Show Highlights

Some of the highlights of this episode include:

  • Sound processes, well documented, are critical to all businesses. The business owner must be involved in establishing the culture and the quality standards from the beginning.
  • Have everyone in the business document their day to day processes, but to do it in a way that’s really the warts and all reflection of what actually happens, and not this Nirvana workflow that isn’t actually real.
  • The most critical part of automating your processes is being very clear of what you want to achieve, the outcomes and why you want to do that. Once that’s clear, you can work out how to do it.
  • Making use of the Cloud can bring a huge productivity boost – giving you access to your business data from anywhere.
  • Surround yourself with exceptional people – use that as a criterium for selecting your customers.

Customer Selection Criteria: First is we’ve got to be able to learn about business from them, the second is they’ve got to be a good potential referrer, and third is they’ve got to not be a dickhead!

Christie Hamilton

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Christie’s answers to the questions of our Innovation round. Watch the interview to get the full scoop.

  • #1 thing to be more innovative – Do SOMETHING, test ideas, take action!
  • Best thing for new ideas – Surround yourself with people who are better than you – clients, partners and suppliers. Learn from them.
  • Favourite tool for innovation – The Cloud – the ability to access your information from anywhere.
  • Keep project / client on track – Mutual accountability and setting clear expectations
  • Differentiate – Pick a Niche – every time we’ve niched down further, our business grew massively.

To Be a Leader

Constantly be learning and be mindful of the sources of your knowledge –  go directly to the leading authorities.

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Christie via the Benelds website, or email: christie@benelds.com.au

Suggested Guest

Christie suggested I interview Peter Moriarty of itGenius and Ossie Pisanu of Guardian Australia on future podcasts. So, Peter and Ossie keep an eye on your Inbox for an invitation from me, for the InnovaBuzz Podcast, courtesy of Christie Hamilton!

Links

Full Transcript

Click to Read…

Intro:

Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz. Welcome to Episode No 33 of the InnovaBuzz Podcast – designed to help smart businesses with an interest in innovation and the Internet of Things become even more innovative.

In this episode, my guest is Christie Hamilton of Benelds, a Small Business Automation Consultancy and Infusionsoft Partner providing training to Infusionsoft’s customers in Australia, as well as selling Infusionsoft directly to small businesses across Asia Pacific. In 2014 they were the fastest growing Infusionsoft Partner in the world.

I’ve been looking forward to this episode for some time, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  Christie is very passionate about helping businesses achieve success through marketing automation and streamlined processes and she pulls no punches in this interview!  We talked about processes, Infusionsoft (of course), surrounding yourself with exceptional people, the Cloud, picking a niche and much more.

This podcast is sponsored by Innovabiz, where we partner with innovative business owners to transform your online presence into a business generation platform that delivers exceptional results. If you want to learn more, then go to innovabiz.com.au or contact me directly through the contact information there.

Now, let’s get into the Innovation Hive and get the Buzz from Christie Hamilton.

Interview:

Jürgen:
Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz, and I’m really excited to have here with me on today’s episode of the InnovaBuzz Podcast, all the way from Sydney in Australia, Christie Hamilton from Benelds, the small business automation experts. Welcome, Christie. It’s a privilege to have you on the podcast.

Christie:
Thanks, Jurgen, it’s great to actually finally be on it.

Jürgen:
Yes. Now you’re here because David Heatley suggested we invite you. David from Cycling-Inform, so a big shout out to David.

Christie:
Yes, he’s done very well lately. He just won online sales of the year from Infusionsoft over at ICON in Arizona a couple weeks ago. He’s doing very well.

Jürgen:
Yes, I saw that. I saw you post it on Facebook, and I thought, “That’s awesome,” yes.

Christie:
Yes, so a lot of hard work at his end to execute all of the strategy, so he’s done very, very well.

Jürgen:
Yes, and for listeners that haven’t heard the podcast episode where we interviewed David, that’s well worth listening to, because he’s got an awesome business model. Now, Benelds is a small automation business consultancy that is also an Infusionsoft partner, and you provide training to Infusionsoft customers as well as setting up Infusionsoft and selling Infusionsoft. In 2014, you were the fastest growing Infusionsoft partner worldwide.

Christie:
Yeah, that’s right. We’re actually exclusively an Infusionsoft consultancy. The only thing that we consult in is Infusionsoft and its peripherals, so our memberships are platforms like iMember360, and the integrations with things like Xero or other cloud apps, but we more and more as time went on, we found that we did less generic business process automation and more specific, more Infusionsoft delivery, and now we have one of the biggest Infusionsoft consultancies in Asia-Pacific, and have some really fantastic contracts with Infusionsoft to handle their local customers here in Australia. It’s kind of been a wild ride, and great fun!

Jürgen:
Yes, it sounds like it. So, anyway, before we get on to all those fancy marketing automation things that Infusionsoft can do, let’s find out a little bit more about your background and person. I saw you had a career in pharmaceuticals, but before that, even, what ambitions did you have when you were a young child?

Christie:
Well, when I was a kid I was a tomboy. I’m still am, and I wanted to be, very specifically, I wanted to be a project manager for Himalayan mountaineering expeditions, and I think at quite a few points I wanted to be a pilot and an astronaut. I used to be very jealous of my American cousins that got to go to space camp. I always wanted to do interesting and exciting things, and I never quite wanted to, I guess, just have a-nine-to-five-job.

Jürgen:
That’s fascinating. I’m just trying to think, I think somebody else on the podcast, but I can’t think who now, wanted to be an astronaut when they grew up.

Christie:
It must be the kids of the ’80s.

Jürgen:
I went through a phase, but I don’t think it was really strong drive. I always wanted to be an astronomer.

Christie:
I could absolutely understand that too.

Jürgen:
Yes. What led you into the pharmaceutical industry then?

Christie:
Well, my family, my mother was one of the first MBAs in Australia, female MBAs, and my father had a software company, so growing up my mother certainly taught my sister and I fierce independence, and I think between that and probably being one of the first kids to have access to computers in my generation,I sort of landed in a software world. When I went to University I decided I was going to pursue science and engineering, so I think probably just to do something different from the software that my family had done. I ended up with a neuroscience psychology degree, and went into project managing clinical research in Asia-Pacific. After seven or eight years of doing that, I got frustrated with being a very, very small wheel in a big process, and I thought there might be better ways to do things.

So, I started my first business, and no surprises, I’m sure people on the podcast we would be used to, we just bombed. We ran through a lot of money and we didn’t get anywhere. It was only because I picked up some work on the side to make ends meet that I fell back into IT, because it was something that I could do, that was very easy to do, that wasn’t in pharmaceuticals and didn’t constitute a commercial conflict of interest. One day we looked at each other and my partner and I went, “Hang on a second, work is falling out of the sky and we’re getting great successes for our customers, and everyone’s really happy? Why are we flogging the dead horse of the first business?” It was more that the business happened to us in the early days, than we ever intentionally went about becoming a small business automation consultancy. I have no idea how we got here. I feel like it was just a series of events.

Jürgen:
Yes, and did Infusionsoft come into that early on, or did that sort of happen later?

Christie:
Really early on, actually. Our first client had been through the business program Business Blueprint, and she actually became my client simply because she’d put an ad in Gumtree looking for someone to help with Gmail implementation, and I thought, “Oh, I can do that. I’ll go and work for this person for a day, and work out how to do it.” I was sitting in front of this woman who was very, very switched on, business savvy, if she realized that I could help her implement a bunch of things she’d learned about but didn’t understand how to actually get live. I was fortunate to work for her, and between the two of us, we looked at Ontraport and we looked at Infusionsoft.

We actually started with Ontraport and decided that it wasn’t a good fit, and so she bought Infusionsoft on my recommendation and sent me to an Infusionsoft university three and a half years ago. It was there that I realized that there was this whole world. I’d grown up in a custom software house, and all of a sudden the stuff that was a six figure job for a medium or enterprise business was now accessible to the people like David Heatley, who are fundamentally living with their wife in the country with a dog, and in his instance, coaching hundreds of cyclists around the world. I think that moment of being at an Infusionsoft university made me go, “Wow, this is the crest of a wave.” What I felt, I remember really clearly sitting in that room at that time, and thinking … Because this is 2012/13, thinking, “What’s happening to these service based businesses with tools like Infusionsoft is the same as the e-commerce wave in 2000-2001.”

The businesses that adopt this automation will be able to get margins that their competitors could not dream about and in the same way that the local bike shop down the road that went online and became Chain Reaction or became Wiggle, is now a completely different business, and the bike shop down the road is going broke slowly. It’s exactly the same thing but in service businesses, because the software is now facilitating complete shift, and I remember sitting in that room thinking, “I just want to be a part of this. I just want to get involved in it.”

Actually, in that room there were a couple of people, and that was before I was certified, or before Benelds existed, that basically chased me around the room and said, “I want you to come and … You obviously know what’s going on, I want you to come and work for me.” We went from one client to a handful of clients and four months later we were doing $30,000 months of billable. It was really, really quick but I remember just sitting in that room and going, “I can see the next wave of the internet and IT tools for business and this is really, really cool.” So yes. What was the question?

Jürgen:
I can’t remember either. I think it was how did you get into Infusionsoft, or when did that happen in launching your business. It is fascinating, though. I’m doing some work for a few clients where Infusionsoft is involved and we’re working with Infusionsoft partners to get that side of it up and running, but we’re doing the integration with websites and so on. It’s just fascinating what you can do with that, and I’m a bit jealous because I’ve got my own account, but I just don’t have time to get into that and do some more with that. It’s very powerful, and like you say, it’s the difference between, like the bike shop that’s got a physical store and the ones that are online who are just cleaning up right now.

Christie:
It really is because they chose to do it ten years ago. When I was in Uni, year, 2000, 2001, I was working part time in a mountaineering equipment shop, and I ended up building a website for them. That shop, now, is one of the biggest online retailers in Australia. Now, full disclosure, the website we built was incredibly clunky. It was just a cash job for a Uni student at the time, but what happened in them doing that, was that they were there in the early days, and they got the leap on all their competitors. It’s exactly the same thing that’s happening now. I see accountancy firms who are off-shoring with really high quality because they’ve got systems and processes, and there’s just no way that the accountant down the road can compete. There’s also nothing stopping the accountant down the road from taking that leap of faith and investing in the innovation.

Jürgen:
Yes, that’s right. They’ve just got to understand that. It never ceases to amaze me, though, that there are a lot of businesses around, quite successful businesses too – that sort of run by the older business models that don’t understand the importance of processes and having documented processes for everything they do. To get them beyond that stage, then, and actually start automating some processes is kind of really difficult.

Christie:
It’s very difficult, and I don’t think it’s an exercise in software. It’s an exercise in change management and accountability, because I think a lot of people read The E-Myth, and they go, “That’s great, what I’m going to do is I’m going to hire someone to solve this problem for me,” but they don’t realize that as much as they’re fundamentally the business right now, that means that no consultant can extract the business from their head. They need to really get their hands dirty in doing it. The great success I see is, we used to do a lot of $20-30,000 implementations of Infusionsoft for an established business. It’s not that they’re small or new but – it wasn’t so complex, but what we realized is that we’re much better to empower the business owner, and his off-sider to understand the platform and want to do it themselves, rather than spoon feed them, because it just, it doesn’t work. I’d love to take money from people and build stuff for them, but it just doesn’t work.

Jürgen:
Yes, it’s not sustainable for that business is it?

Christie:
No, absolutely not, and forgetting the consulting fees of course, which is another problem, again.

Jürgen:
One idea that somebody suggested to me a while ago on this topic was, for the business owner to hire a student to shadow them for six months or so and then just write down everything they did, and start to build the written processes that way.

Christie:
That works. One of the things I’ve seen work really well is just get a Google site up and have everyone in the business just document their day to day processes, but to do it in a way that’s really the warts and all reflection of what actually happens, and not this nirvana workflow that isn’t actually real. Yes, the art in this stuff is actually extracting the business processes from a business with no processes. Then it doesn’t really matter what platform you put it into, the most profitable part of the thing is actually having the processes.

Jürgen:
That’s right. So, in terms of your business, what do you see as the biggest challenges for you right now?

Christie:
Right now? The biggest problem with the industry that I see, and where Infusionsoft is on a spectrum of it’s used for people who are doing information marketing and selling online products, and it’s used for service based bricks and mortar type businesses, and everyone in between. We work more in the bricks and mortar end of the spectrum of Infusionsoft, rather than the online stuff. The problem that I see with it is it’s such a blank canvas that unless you have a really, really clear strategy and really, really clear outcomes, it gets very overwhelming and very tangled up very quickly. What we’re working on doing, and what we’ve been working on doing for the last eighteen months now, is building packaged solutions for business industry. If you’re a broker, there are certain campaigns that you can pretty much pick up, turn on and run with, and they’re going to get you a return on investment. What we were doing two years ago was we were basically reinventing the wheel every time we worked with a business. It was just too expensive and too clunky, and it would take too long to get buy-in, so I think that’s the real challenge. Stuff is out there and really powerful, but there aren’t standards, there aren’t best practices and there aren’t road maps yet. That’s the thing that ultimately causes a lot of people to fail, when they pick up something like this and they don’t actually get it working.

Jürgen:
Maybe we should take a step back, actually. I’m making a presupposition here that everybody knows what we’re talking about in terms of Infusionsoft, so maybe you could just explain the tool a little bit for those that perhaps aren’t familiar with it?

Christie:
Okay, all right, so Infusionsoft is a CRM, which is a way for your to store customer information or contact information, so it might be customers, it might be prospects, it might be vendors and partners. With modern CRMs, as compared to your old spreadsheet type thing, they will have automation built in, and Infusionsoft allows you to build with a drag and drop canvas, workflows that are live and dynamic, so if you needed to build a form to put on your website, you could build a form in Infusionsoft, and when that form was submitted by someone on the internet, a record would be created automatically in Infusionsoft, in the CRM, with all of the information they entered into the form already populated. If you had a thing that said, “Whenever someone submits, say, this contact form, create a task for me to get back to this inquiry,” then you would see a task pop up on your dashboard for this new person.

Infusionsoft and tools like Infusionsoft, these modern CRMs, are like a spreadsheet of all your contacts, but far more elegant than a platform like MailChimp, which can send emails and a web form landing page builder. In a sales and marketing sense, they become a way for you to capture, to lead the market to them and convert them into customers, but if you take a step back from that, you can see that the same processes allow you to capture a customer, allow you to fulfill on a customer too. So it becomes like a skeleton for your business, in a way for you take those processes, which hopefully you’ve written down, and turn into a workflow.

Last week we had a whole bunch of schools, so music schools and drama schools, extra-curricular schools, come in to do a workshop, and the sorts of things they were doing with Infusionsoft was when someone becomes a new customer, capture all of their, you know, their music teacher, and lesson and time and day or week, and instrument, and then send the parents an email, send them some text to remind them that their lesson is tomorrow, and also create tasks two weeks later for the team to call the parent and make sure everything’s good. All of a sudden, this little on-boarding event kicks off a process that runs automatically, and that’s the power of these tools, and that’s what these tools are all about. That’s what we’re consulting. I hope that helps.

Jürgen:
That’s good, that’s good. We did something last week for a business coach who was putting together a leadership program, which was a marketing thing, but there’s a landing page at the front end of it that sends just an email and a name to Infusionsoft and populates that, but then puts them in a campaign where they send some further information as follow up, and depending on what they do with that information, so if they … There’s a bunch of things in the follow up emails that might be, whether they’re interested in one particular sort of training, or another particular sort of training, and depending on what they click on that email, they’re then sent to a different place in the process, so it’s conditional. They’ll get specific tailored information to their interest, which to me is one of the really powerful things within Infusionsoft.

Christie:
It’s very powerful. One of the most powerful things we did was for a non-bank lender that has 3,500 mortgage brokers selling their mortgages, and we created a system that looked for people checking the rates, and if someone checked the rate, we could assume that they were working on a mortgage and perhaps comparing products. What we would do is at that moment, we would send a text message to their BDM, because there are 13 BDMs managing 3,500 brokers, and say, “Hey, Christie has jumped on and checked the rates for this kind of loan. Give her a call.” So, what it means was that the BDMs would see that flag, pick up the phone and say, “Hey, just checking in and seeing if there was anything I can help you with.” All of a sudden, instead of thirteen managers trying to speak to 3,500 brokers at the right time, the system told them when the right time was, and they could act on it. It became very, very, very efficient very quickly.

Jürgen:
You could turn that around the other way too. I’ve just had a personal experience like that. I don’t know whether it was … I don’t think Infusionsoft was involved here, but I can imagine you could have an alert coming into the brokers when the banks change something, so if they know Jurgen’s on this particular bank, and this particular product, when they see that change they’ll pick up the phone and call me or the other clients on that and say, “Hey, we can change something here that will put you on a better deal.”

Christie:
Absolutely. The client facing stuff is never ending. I mean, brokers are such a good model for it, but I won’t ramble on about that process and automation.

Jürgen:
What’s your sales process then? How does yours work?

Christie:
Funny enough, we don’t do any paid marketing. We’ve been at capacity for three years now, and the business problem we have is finding staff. My sales process? There are some brochures online, and basically it all ultimately ends up with a ‘book an appointment for a sales call’ type thing. All I do all day long is talk to businesses about models and opportunities. We’ve got a team of staff now that do the implementation. Basically, I talk to a lot of people, and some people are a really good fit for Infusionsoft, and other people aren’t. From there, they basically go into one of really only five products, which are all geared around on-boarding them based on what their business needs are and the way that we’re going to tackle it. Really, the sales process is incredibly simple. It’s usually just a conversation and screen share, and that’s about it.

Jürgen:
So you show them the power of the product.

Christie:
Yes, that’s the thing. You just go, “Look, this is what it is.” Some people get it and they’re ready for it. That’s the other thing. Often times we’ll have a conversation, you’ll go, “Here are some templates for campaigns, go and build them in MailChimp, run with that for six months, do all this other stuff for your business, and then come back when you’ve reached these milestones.” Infusionsoft is a multiplier, and if you don’t have great turnover, then your return isn’t going to be that high. Once you’ve actually got a business and customers, and you know what your core product is, it’s very, very easy to multiply it. Yes, it’s often times a conversation, just finding out at what stage the business is at, and if process automation is a problem they’ve got right now, or if they’re earlier and they’ve got a sales problem, or if they’re later and they’ve got an HR problem, and then working out how to deliver it for them.

Jürgen:
Okay, so in terms of your business then, if you had a magic wand and could fix one thing today, what would that be?

Christie:
In my business, internally?

Jürgen:
Yes.

Christie:
Probably staffing, to be honest. We just have a really hard time finding good team members that are good communicators, so they can understand what the customer’s actually saying, and good translators and implementers, so they can take those concepts and put that into a workflow. We typically seem to find people that have come from a small business office, admin background. They’ve worked in the trenches for a while, are a really good fit, rather than, perhaps, the IT nerds that you’d expect a company like mine to hire. We can teach them the IT, but the soft skills are much, much harder. Probably staffing is the first big problem. Secondary to that, it’s just the day to day. It’s the taking the “time out of the business to work on the business” problem. That’s the same old story.

Jürgen:
Yes, you have to set aside time for that, don’t you?

Christie:
Yes, absolutely, but it’s been good. In the last eighteen months we’re very … There are two directors, and between the two of us we’ve been very clear about the division of labor, and since we did that things got an awful lot better. Now I don’t really have anything to do with the day-to-day running of the business, or working out the profit and loss or line managing staff. I just get to do business development and sales, and speaking, and that seems to work really well for me, because it’s what I love doing.

Jürgen:
Yes, if you don’t love doing it, you shouldn’t be doing it, right?

Christie:
It takes an amazing amount of time for people to realize that. I one day went, “I’m really not good at getting back to people on the detail and implementing the details. I’m really, really, really strong at strategy.” So I went, hang on a second, I can just hire people to do the detail work. It’s not that I don’t have attention to detail. It just doesn’t excite me to get in and do it. Yes, the power of actually realizing what you enjoy doing instead of just slogging through everything, whereas my partner is absolutely a numbers person, was an elite athlete, is very, very numbers driven, he’s very precise, so he’s well placed to actually run the business. That’s good.

Jürgen:
That’s a good match, yes. What you said earlier about communication and understanding the customer problem, I think if you look at something like Infusionsoft, yes there’s a lot of technical stuff in the back end that I find a challenge at times, but it really is about understanding what it can do for the customer, and then implementing the solution that actually addresses that, which brings that communication thing up as the most important thing to actually get on top of, I think.

Christie:
Absolutely. I like to say it’s like sitting in front of a piano, having never played piano, without sheet music and a teacher, and hoping to put more than a couple of notes together. It’s absolutely insane. You’d never do it. If you have sheet music or you have a plan, or you have a song that you want to learn, it’s very easy to note by note teach yourself. Don’t tell any of my musical clients that. We understand that concept, but then we see people looking at that blank slate of Infusionsoft, and just being totally overwhelmed. If you know what you want to do, why you want to do it, then you can work out how to do it fairly easily, but people get overwhelmed because they don’t actually have the ‘why’ drilled down first.

Jürgen:
Yes, that’s right. All right, well I think it’s time to move on to our innovation round, or buzz as I call it, which is designed to help our audience, who are primarily innovators and leaders in their field, with some tips from your experience. I’m going to ask you a series of five questions, and hopefully you’ll give us some really insightful answers that will inspire everyone and help them to do something awesome.

Christie:
No pressure at all.

Jürgen:
None at all no.

Christie:
Absolutely no pressure.

Jürgen:
So the first one is, what’s the best way to keep a project or a client on track?

Christie:
Accountability. I think if the client actually has a really clear why, then when you get caught in a block, it’s easy to take a step back and keep them focused. We actually do a fair bit about getting clients to bring their A game from the first sales call, and how we frame the relationship they’re going to have with Benelds. So we set the expectation, that seems to work. It’s much harder to retrospectively try and keep them on track, if you set an expectation of mediocrity. We very much have, you know, “If you’re going to work with us, we are the best in the country and there’s a reason for that, and you’ve got to keep up, or your project’s taken off the top of the list and we can’t allocate resources to it,” which sounds really brutal but it’s exactly how it is.

Jürgen:
I love that.

Christie:
It’s great to be coming from the position of power that we come from, which is, “If you want to play with the big kids, put on your big boy pants.”

Jürgen:
I love that. That’s awesome. I could probably do with that for one or two clients where we struggle to get content, and they say, “Why isn’t the website live?”

Christie:
Yes, absolutely. We say things like, “Every day that you’re late getting copy back to us, we’ll add five days to the project, because if you’re a day late, I’ve already scheduled my team in for what they’re doing tomorrow, so they can’t do your stuff when you have it ready. They have the time to do it when we’ve scheduled that.” Yes, if you’re late a couple of times on copy,” like you’re talking about, then that website simply won’t be up. If they’re okay with that, it’s okay not do your homework.

Jürgen:
All right.

Christie:
It sounds very brutal when I say it like that.

Jürgen:
It does, but yes. What’s the number one thing anyone needs to do to be more innovative?

Christie:
Just do something. If you have an idea, test it. I see a lot of people talking about doing something for three months, which becomes six, which becomes twelve, and the fact is that with all of the tools that we have these days, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t do a test. If you have an idea, you might have an idea for a new product. I’m not so fond of minimum viable product, but I like the idea of minimum viable marketing. Let’s see if anyone’s interested, and to throw up a landing page and see if anyone bites is really empowering, but I see a lot of people just sitting around for six months and wondering if it will work. To me, I think the number one thing is to simply take action. Then dynamically assess what comes out of that action.

Jürgen:
Yes, that’s great advice, and also it comes back to holding yourself accountable too. I like the idea of put up a landing page, and if people start to sign up for it, well, then you’d better get to work on building the product, right?

Christie:
Yes, look we do these workshops once a month, and they’re three days. We’ve done them for over a year. We’ve done them for fifteen months. That was a case of going, “Well, hang on a second, we’re quoting these big projects and then we do this back and forth over email, getting assets together to build a website or whatever. What if we just got people in a room for three days? Would that work? Would that be a great way to pull content out of people and to get their hands dirty?” So we build a product on Infusionsoft. I don’t mean we built the product, we built the order form and said, “You can buy this workshop.” It was dirt cheap, and we sold out in three days and we put on another date the next week, and it was a January workshop and we were selling it in November, and so we had six weeks to work out … I mean, we’d worked on enough workshops already for Infusionsoft, so we had a pretty good idea, and selling it made us work out how to deliver it. If we’d sat around and wondered about building a curriculum and creating the workbooks and everything else, we never would have launched.

Jürgen:
I like it.

Christie:
The old school vaporware, Bill Gates of the 1980s model. It still holds. You just do something and let the market get you to get your act together.

Jürgen:
Maybe you’ve covered this already, but what’s the best thing you’ve done to develop new ideas or new products?

Christie:
Yes, I guess I have covered it, but here’s something else that we really deliberately did in the early days. We were very mindful about working with people we could learn from, so our A-class clients … We were looking for who are we going to work with, because we quickly got quite busy, was, and you’ll have to forgive my swearing, but this is it verbatim, first is we’ve got to be able to learn about business from them, the second was they’ve got to be a good potential referrer, and a third was they’ve got to not be a dickhead. If they met those three criteria we would work with them, and so very early on I was spending 40 hours a week working with someone that had been writing the small business column in The Financial Review or The Australian for a decade, or someone that was one of Australia’s biggest non-bank lenders, or someone that was the best strategy manager actually in Australia. If you have people, I’m expert at software, but they were experts in business, and they taught me things that I could then translate into my industry, and then regurgitate into other businesses. I think exposure. Do whatever you can to be in front of not just people that are like you, but people that are better than you. That will give you the ideas, much more than trying to think of new ideas will.

Jürgen:
That’s great advice. I like the way you kind of strategically set that up. All right. Now, the next question on my script is probably redundant, but I’ll ask it anyway. What’s your favorite tool or system for improving productivity and allowing you to be more innovative?

Christie:
Not Infusionsoft. I think it’s the cloud. I think just having stuff up in the cloud, whether it’s in Xero … I use Evernote all day long, just me having … Actually, probably Evernote. Me having a way of capturing all of the little tidbits that come past in my brain, and being able to put them into some sort of structure, and then I can see how they all come together and that then becomes something. That starts with the ability to really quickly capture it, and to be able to find it easily. If I had that buried in my laptop, I’d never see it again, so being able to be, you know … Waiting to get on an airplane and pull up a Google Drive doc on my phone, or be able to work on my book or my laptop, that’s the biggest thing I think. That’s the thing that makes people productive, and I think sometimes I see businesses that have still got desktop based software, and I think, “They literally have to go into their office to see the health of their business. They literally have to be in their office to be doing work.” I think that’s just not a good way of doing it. Yes, I do also love Infusionsoft of course, but I think succumbing to the cloud is the first thing that you can do.

Jürgen:
Yes. Obviously there’s a lot that enables within Infusionsoft as well, but you’re right. The ability to … The classic example for me was transferring my own accounting stuff into the cloud, because I used to use QuickBooks, and then I’d send information to the accountant, and they’d do their stuff and send the reconciled accounts and updated accounts back to me. Inevitably it would be on the next version of QuickBooks and then I’d have to update the software, and then the files would get out of sync.

Christie:
Meanwhile I’m standing at Sydney airport flying to Phoenix, and I’m taking photos of the receipt of the sushi that I bought in Expensify, and that syncs to Xero and does my reimbursement straight away, and does a running tally of what I’ve spent on the trip to the US, and already assigned it to the right category. It’s just night and day. It’s ridiculous. I can engage a bookkeeper in the Philippines to do everything for my accountant for the end of the year, so now at the end of each quarter, I don’t have the, “Oh crap, have I done my Math,” problem, which everyone seems to. It’s like, that’s just done. That’s done because I was taking photos of receipts as I went along.

Jürgen:
There’s one location where the file is. It’s not corrupted data or something.

Christie:
That’s what I mean about succumbing to the cloud, and just going, “Do you know what? It’s just got to be online.” I probably every three months throw a glass of water on my laptop and have to get a new one. It’s great that I can trot down to the Apple shop, pick up a new one, turn it on and it’s my computer. It’s all that sort of stuff. That’s, right now, the most important thing for small business, is just to be online and take advantage, too, of all of the small business tools that are available, Infusionsoft being a small part of that.

Jürgen:
That’s right. I remember that. You’ve reminded me of an experience a couple of years ago. We were in Europe and my laptop hard disk died, and I thought, “Oh gosh, what do I do now?” So I went out and bought another laptop, and within less than an hour I was up and running.

Christie:
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s cheap insurance, isn’t it? You don’t even have to think about it.

Jürgen:
Alright, so on to the next question in the Buzz. What’s the number one thing anyone can do to differentiate themselves?

Christie:
Pick a niche.

Jürgen:
Pick a niche.

Christie:
Niching is scary, but every time we’ve niched with a business, the bottom line has literally doubled. We were scared about going from being a small business automation house, to being an Infusionsoft house, and when we did, the business doubled. Then we went from Infusionsoft to everything, to just selling events and it was really scary when I had a client on the phone to say to them, “I’m not going to scope your project. You can either come to a workshop and get it done or you cannot, but I’m not going to write you a quote.” Scary, but the business doubled again. Now we do implementation again, because we’ve got staff and we can, but I just all too often hear, “I’m a personal trainer,” or “I’m an accountant,” and I just think, “If you were an accountant that specialized in fast moving consumer goods,” or, gosh, I don’t even know, then all of a sudden, you speak directly to your clients. If you’re a personal trainer that specializes in preparing the bride for her wedding day, then if the bride is looking at you or four other personal trainers in the area, you’re the only one they’re going to pick.

Jürgen:
That’s right.

Christie:
To me, you need a niche that is one inch wide and a mile deep. That’s why we have the vertical solutions that we do. We do Infusionsoft for everyone. Our niche is very much the size and age and pro activeness of the business owner, and that kind of stuff, rather than the industry, but we’re certainly going down the track of having solutions by industry, because we can say then, “We do Infusionsoft for schools, or we do Infusionsoft for mortgage brokers, we do Infusionsoft for orthodontists,” and that’s a very different conversation.

Jürgen:
That’s right, yes, and it comes back to what we were talking about earlier, about communicating with the customer, and like you say, speaking their language and understanding their very specific needs within their niche.

Christie:
Yes, and it’s a very, very powerful place to come from, because as my friend Peter Moriarty from itGenius said at lunch yesterday, “When you can explain their problems back to them better than they can, the sale conversation is over.” It’s not about price or value or anything else. It’s simply that they have to work with you.

Jürgen:
That’s right, yes. The amazing thing is it’s, for a lot of people, it’s counter intuitive, because they feel, “Oh, we’re going to miss out on something, if we specialise,” but like you say, every time you’ve niched down further, it’s actually grown your business massively.

Christie:
Hugely. The other thing is, too, I’ve seen some … We work very closely with Infusionsoft community here in Australia. We run a big Facebook group, and we mentor a lot of other certified partners, because we believe that if Infusionsoft’s gold standard then everyone wins. We shouldn’t be competing with each other, but we should be creating a great community, so the community is better than the Ontraport community and so on. One of the things I get often from them is that they’ve had this $50,000 or $100,000 project come past them for a business that’s on the big end of Infusionsoft, and that is a huge project, by the way guys, but what happens is, they want to say yes, because it’s such a big sexy piece of work, but that client becomes this absolutely ball and chain that means that they can’t win little work anymore, and they’re absolutely invested in that one client. They basically become that client’s dogsbody. They’re not empowered any more. Again, it’s having the balls to say no to the big stuff, and to say, “You know what? This is what I do, and I do it really well, and I’m not going to get sucked into big sexy projects that are going to completely take me off mission. I’m just going to speak to my niche.”

Jürgen:
Yes, that’s great advice. I really appreciate that. What’s the future for you and for Benelds?

Christie:
We’re going down the path, like I said, of getting into sets of solutions for particular industries and particular verticals. I want to see this small business automation landscape shift a little bit, and I want to make it a little bit more accessible, because right now it’s for the people that are really, really invested and are really proactive and are really switched on. I think for the main market to benefit it needs to be easier to adopt, so that’s what we’re really working towards, deliberately, right now.

Jürgen:
That’s great. Do you expect any impact from the Internet of Things and what’s happening there on this space of marketing automation?

Christie:
Absolutely. I’m fascinated to see what social media channels bring to it. Marketing automation seems to be very much existing very much in a world of emails and text messages, and probably in the last six months has come into targeting Facebook marketing based on particular audiences within your CRM. That Facebook thing is really new, and I’m really fascinated to see how we go from having a conversation over email to having an automated conversation on Snapchat or having a conversation over Twitter. I don’t think that anyone’s really done that well yet. That, I think, will be the interesting thing to watch. That’s the scary thing, because that’s the thing I don’t know. I don’t know where it will go, and I don’t know where to position us to be ready for it.

Jürgen:
It certainly opens up fascinating possibilities doesn’t it?

Christie:
Yes, it’s good fun.

Jürgen:
All right, well, finally then, what’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to any business owner who wants to be a leader in their field and in innovation?

Christie:
Just constantly be learning and be mindful of the sources of your knowledge. I see a lot of really, really good information out there, but I also see, with the internet, there’s no peer review any more. There’s no editorial. It’s really just a lot of vomitous spew on my world, so I think find yourself a really good mentor, whether they’re a personal mentor or people whose books you read. Be mindful that there are a lot of pretenders out there, and do the homework and vet the people that you are taking advice from. To me, it’s all about the constant pursuit of knowledge and constantly, constantly learning, and just realizing that there’s always something else that you don’t know.

Jürgen:
Yes. That’s good advice too. So you wouldn’t recommend Wikipedia as an authoritative tool.

Christie:
At least it’s different. I’m probably more saying, you know, I think there are a lot of business coaches out there these days who really don’t have any runs on the board themselves, who like to tell people that it’s all going to be okay, but don’t really have much more value to add. Then you get on the other end of the spectrum, with the Gerbers and the Gary Vs and stuff, who really have demonstrated consistently that they know what they’re talking about. I think it’s probably more about that, that there are people who are selling the latest course, but if you do a little bit of research you’ll see that that’s the content that Gary V gave away for free six months ago.

If you actually get to the font of the knowledge then you are far more ahead of the game. It’s funny, we go to the USA about twice a year at least, and it always baffles me the consultants that don’t, because we’re on the edge of the earth here, and there becomes this Chinese whispers chain of knowledge where I see things that were talked about on stage a year ago in the USA, now being part of the speaking circuit in Sydney and you think, “Well, if you want to really get into this stuff, find out who are the power players and get it from them directly.” I think that’s being very down on the coaching industry, I guess, but to me, if you’re going to continue to learn, the missing piece of that is be mindful of who you’re actually learning from. That’s because I was an academic for too long.

Jürgen:
That’s great advice as well. Well, thank you Christie, it’s been really fascinating to talk to you today. I’ve certainly learned heaps. I hope the audience has as well. Where can people reach out and say thank you?

Christie:
This is really terrible, but I’m not really so much on Twitter. I’m not really so much on Facebook. The best thing is jump on the website and you’ll see all of our contact details there. If you want to shoot me an email, I always get back to people, and of course always love to talk to people about businesses, even if your businesses is absolutely not a future Infusionsoft, I just like talking about strategies and models. So, yes, jump on the website, which is Benelds.com.au, and get in touch.

Jürgen:
Okay, thanks for that, and we’ll hopefully visit the website and to your email if we can find it there, on the blog post when we put it up.

Christie:
Cool. No worries.

Jürgen:
So, finally, who would you like to see me interview on the InnovaBuzz podcast in the future, and why?

Christie:
Oh, that’s a really good question.

Jürgen:
That’s how we got from David to you.

Christie:
Exactly. Gosh, I’ve just gone completely blank. There are quite a few people. I’d probably put you in touch with Peter Moriarty from itGenius, because he is absolutely switched on when it comes to getting seed business and small business moving on their processes. He’s quite a player. Probably Peter Moriarty. I’m just trying to think if there are any fantastic customers. Also probably Ossie Pisanu from Guardian Australia. He recently won a Microsoft small business makeover because of his innovation awards in industry, and was on a series which is a web episode series, about seven different episodes, so maybe he would be interesting for you to have a chat to.

Jürgen:
Okay, so Peter and Ossie, keep your eyes on your inbox, and we’ll be coming to get you courtesy of Christie.

Christie:
Awesome.

Jürgen:
Alright, well thanks again Christie, it’s been great to spend time with you and learn about your business, and get your insights today on the InnovaBuzz podcast, and thanks so much for generously sharing your time.

Christie:
No problem at all. Thank you very much for listening to me ramble on.

Jürgen:
It’s been thoroughly enjoyable and I’ve learned a lot.

Christie:
Excellent, thanks so much.

Jürgen:
Thanks.

Wrap Up:

Well I hope you enjoyed meeting Christie as much as I enjoyed speaking with her.  There is a lot of really useful information in the interview, from being clear about your niche, getting your REAL processes clearly documented and how the Cloud can help you be more productive.

All the show notes for this episode will be at innovabiz.com.au/christiehamilton, that is C-H-R-I-S-T-I-E-H-A-M-I-L-T-O-N, all lowercase, all one word, innovabiz.com.au/christiehamilton, for all of the links and everything we spoke about in this episode .

Christie suggested I interview Peter Moriarty from itGenius and Ossie Pisanu from Guardian Australia on future podcasts. So, Peter and Ossie keep your eyes on your Inbox for an invitation from me, for the Innovabuzz Podcast, courtesy of Christie Hamilton!

Thank you for listening to the InnovaBuzz podcast.  We’d love you to review this podcast, because reviews help us get found and your feedback helps us improve.  You can review us at iTunes or Stitcher and while you’re there, please subscribe so you’ll never miss a future episode.

Until next time, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz.

Remember, if you don’t innovate, you stagnate, so think big, be adventurous and keep innovating!

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Jürgen

Jürgen is the chief innovator and founder of Innovabiz who partner with innovative, exceptional business coaches to enable you to acquire more leads and more business by reaching your ideal target prospects with your message, so that you will achieve growth and be able to make a difference to more ideal clients. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, as well as on Innovabiz' Twitter, Facebook and Google+ Pages.

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