How Craig Paxson Overcame Fear of Public Speaking to Become a Successful Business Leader

How do you help small business owners achieve lasting success and build generational wealth?

In this episode, Craig Paxson, a fractional COO, certified strategy planner, and business coach, shares his insights on creating profitable and sellable businesses that stand the test of time.

As the founder of Visionary Results, Craig works with overworked and under profitable business owners to help them increase profitability and create lasting value in their companies. He emphasizes the importance of focusing on both the financial aspects and the intangible factors that make a business attractive to potential buyers or successors.

Craig discusses his 3-step system for helping business owners gain control over their week, plan for the quarter, and align their actions with their 3-year vision. He also shares his 7 operating principles, which include embracing continuous learning, taking action, seeking diverse perspectives, and maintaining a no-jerks policy.

Throughout the episode, Craig opens up about his personal challenges, including discovering he had Asperger’s syndrome later in life and pushing himself out of his comfort zone to become a more effective communicator and leader. He credits his participation in Toastmasters for helping him develop his public speaking skills and confidence.

With his passion for coaching and mentorship, Craig aims to help business owners not only achieve financial success but also experience personal growth and fulfillment. He emphasizes the importance of measuring progress, identifying areas for improvement, and embracing both incremental changes and bold innovations to drive profitability.

LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE

Transcript

Intro  

Welcome to another edition of inspired stories where leaders share their experiences so we can learn from their successes, how they’ve overcome adversity, and explore current challenges they’re facing.

 

Anthony (host): 12:09

Welcome to another edition of the Inspired Stories podcast, where leaders share their experiences so we can learn from their successes, how they’ve overcome adversity and explore current challenges they’re facing. My name is Anthony Codispoti and today’s guest is Craig Paxson. Craig is a fractional COO, certified strategy planner, certified exit planning Advisor, certified executive coach, and founder of Visionary Results, an organization that helps overworked and underprofitable business owners achieve greater profitability and build lasting generational wealth. He is the author of two books, the Goal discussion guide, and co author of Unstuck Ten proven strategies for breaking through the barriers to small business growth. He is also a mentor for the Nashville Entrepreneur center. Now, before we get into the good stuff, today’s episode is brought to you by my company, add back benefits agency, where we offer very specific and unique employee benefits that are both great for your team and fiscally optimized for your bottom line. One recent client was able to save over $900 per employee per year by implementing one of our proprietary programs. Another client is going to save over one $200 per employee per year by implementing a patented construct that we offer. Results vary for each company, and some organizations may not be eligible. To find out if your company qualifies, contact us today@addbackbenefitsagency.com. Now back to our guest today, the founder of visionary results, Craig. I appreciate you making the time to share your story today. Thank

Craig (guest): 13:44

you, Anthony. I appreciate you letting me. So,

Anthony (host): 13:46

Craig, tell us in your own words, what does visionary results do for its customers?

Craig (guest): 13:52

Yeah, so I help small business owners achieve greater profitability now and then create lasting generational wealth through being able to pass down or sell their business. And you think about a stock, this is what many business owners do. They have a stock portfolio. And if you had a stock portfolio and all you looked at was the dividends that the portfolio was throwing off and never looked at the value of the stock, people would think you’re crazy, right? But that’s what we do as small business owners is we only look at the cash that’s being generated by the business and we don’t think about the underlying business value. So I help business owners create that lasting generational wealth to take the biggest asset they have, which is their business, and make it so sellable and so valuable that they can pass it down to their heirs or sell it and fund their retirement or fund their kids educations or whatever it might be.

Anthony (host): 14:54

So this could probably be a two hour conversation on its own if we got really into the weeds. But I’m curious, could you maybe give like one or two very specific examples of how you do that? How is it that you help the business owners sort of create that value in the company that makes it more sellable or more valuable to their heirs?

Craig (guest): 15:14

Yeah. So there’s a few factors that go into making a business valuable. Right. Obviously, there’s the financial stuff. And so one of the things that I do for every client that I have is I do a business valuation that tells us what is the business worth right now. So that’s all the hard numbers. Right. But people who want to buy the business or somebody who wants to pass the business on to somebody else needs to think about some more soft factors. So this can be things like how involved is the owner in the business? Right. If the owner left the business for any lengthy period of time, would the business fail? If that’s true, the business isn’t sellable. Right. What’s the customer concentration? Right. Is it 80% one customer? That’s very risky business. And so it’s going to be very difficult to sell that business. How much of the business is documented? Is there good procedures around how things happen? Does the business have a good value proposition that’s more than just competing on price or the owner’s involvement as the rainmaker. Right. So those are some factors that we look at to see how well positioned is the business for sale? Because at the end of the day, really, the business is worth what people will pay for it. And so we want to make sure the business is not only valued, but also sellable.

Anthony (host): 16:37

That’s helpful. So a lot of business owners I talk to, the idea for starting their company came out of kind of a eureka moment. Oftentimes their own experiences where they’re like, there is a need for this that just isn’t being met. Do you have a story like that that led to you starting visionary results?

Craig (guest): 16:57

Yes. I was CEO of an $8 million business, and we merged with a couple of other companies, one of which was significantly larger. And after transition, I was given my bronze parachute to go away. Not a gold parachute. I still got to work. Just a bronze one. And so then I decided that I would go into really small business, coaching, consulting. So I learned so much as CEO. I had been managing multi million dollar organizations with hundreds of, you know, when you’re part of an IBM or here in Nashville, Ingram, you’re way far down from the top. And so even though you might have a bigger budget or more employees than an $8 million company with 50 employees, it’s a completely different animal. Right. And I learned so much when I was CEO of that small business that I said, I’m going to pass all this knowledge that I have on that. I learned from being a CEO of the differences from being at a large company to being CEO of a small company. And I learned so much. And so that’s when I decided to work with small business owners and pass that on. I had been a member of the National Entrepreneur center since 2014. And so it seemed like a natural transition because I really enjoyed my mentorship with some business owners through the EC. And so that was my journey for starting this little business that helps business owners.

Anthony (host): 18:29

As you and I were communicating back and forth and organizing this interview, I noticed in your email signature a link to something you call the 15 Minutes weekly plan. Can you talk more about

Craig (guest): 18:40

that? Yeah. So for most, not just business owners, but pretty much everybody in business, knowing what I need to do today is the most important thing, right. And a lot of times what we do is we simply do what’s most urgent or what people are yelling the most about, right. I used to have this saying that a lot of times in a big company we do strategy and strategy is piled on top of our daily job. And so it comes up to be October and everybody’s like, well, I guess we should start working on the strategy now, right? We haven’t really linked what we want to accomplish back to what do I do today? And so a lot of what we need to do is one plan our week, what do I want to accomplish? And there’s a complete methodology over doing this. Reviewing last week, looking at the metrics from last week, what we call learning a lesson from last week or what went so well last week that we should make sure it continues to happen. Did anything go so bad last week that we need to put in place something to make that never occur again? Figuring out what are all the tasks and projects that we have, figuring out what I call the MVP or the most valuable priority, what is that most valuable priority that I have to make sure gets done this week to move the business forward, to make the business change and be better next week. A lot of times we just get so caught up in the day to day that we’re not working on things that move the business forward, right. And then finally actually executing a plan. Right. So we plan out when we’re going to do stuff. I use a lot of time blocking, so actually calendarizing when I’m going to do certain things and then executing that plan, which is learning how to eliminate distractions, learning how to set up time for the unplanned work that always pops up. Right. We can schedule ourselves for 40 hours a week, but there’s always 10 hours of stuff that comes up that we didn’t know. Right. So how do we plan that week out to account for all that stuff? And so I teach the process of doing that weekly plan inside of 15 minutes.

Anthony (host): 20:52

So the 15 minutes is the amount of time it should take you to set up your plan for the week. That’s what the

Craig (guest): 20:57

15

Anthony (host): 20:57

minutes refers to.

Craig (guest): 20:59

Exactly.

Anthony (host): 21:00

And then it’s prioritizing. Okay. What is my most valuable, what did you call it? Priority. My most valuable

Craig (guest): 21:06

priority.

Anthony (host): 21:07

And what can I do Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and block it out in my calendar to make sure that I get to it so that I’m not just getting to Friday and saying, looking back at my week and being like, I mean, I know I was busy. It was putting up fires the whole time, but I’m not really sure what I got done.

Craig (guest): 21:23

Right, exactly. Yes. There’s a lot of things that we don’t schedule in our calendar that should be scheduled. Right. So travel time. Right. We have to account for that. There’s a lot of meetings and stuff that we have that we don’t really put in our calendars or don’t think about too much because they happen. Right. Every Monday at 09:00 I have a staff meeting. Right. So making sure all of that stuff is in the calendar, then eliminating all the things that don’t need to be in the calendar. Right. Can I look over the next two weeks and say, I don’t need to do that. Let me eliminate that. Right. And then learning how to eliminate distractions. There are seven. What we call time sucks. That range from unnecessary meetings to people dropping in just to say hi and to talk from social engagements, responding to email right away, which is the bane of our existence. I tell every single one of my clients, turn off your email notifications on your phone and on your computer and only go check your email on a periodic basis. Right. Set up times and people will know, hey, Craig checks his email from eight to nine in the morning and from three to four in the afternoon and I block that time off and that’s my email time. And if there’s a really big emergency that comes up between, then you better text me, but don’t text me if it’s not an emergency. So doing those little things can really learning how to eliminate those distractions. What really gives us the time to accomplish that? MVP. To make sure we’re moving the business forward. Right. And the pace of change, whether new entrants coming in, a client leaving, making sure that we have a value proposition that continues to respond to the market, getting a new resource, whatever it might be. Those are things that move our business forward that tend to a lot of times take a backseat until it becomes an emergency. Well, we don’t want to do that. Let’s think about those things and put time in them to do them.

Anthony (host): 23:26

You’ve got a three step system that helps overworked business owners. Is this part of that 15 minutes weekly plan or are these

Craig (guest): 23:33

two

Anthony (host): 23:33

different things?

Craig (guest): 23:34

No, it’s part of it. This is really sort of module three of what I call the visionary results system. So module one is the three year vision, right? So what do we want to accomplish in three years? What does our personal and business life look like in three years? Part of that is the value proposition. Why do people choose us instead of choosing competitors? Right. Is it solely price? That’s bad. Is it solely owner connections? That’s bad. What’s our differentiators, our value proposition? What does the business plan look like? Right. So what capabilities do we need? And I have a tool that I developed called the business capabilities matrix. But what are the tools and resources that we need in order to sell that product or service? To create a paying customer, to deliver that product or service to the paying customer and then collect the money that’s owed to us. And then govern the organization. Right. If we don’t collect the money, then obviously we’re going out of business. Just because we had sales doesn’t mean we’re actually staying in business. And then, of course, we have to govern the organization. We have to file taxes, hire people, fire people, all that kind of stuff. Right? And so that Matrix helps us determine what are the capabilities that we need, and then we put those into a solid business plan that says in order to sell x amount of product, we need to do these things right. We need to have a certain amount of meetings, a certain amount of leads, et cetera. So that’s all part of the section of three year vision. The next section is quarterly planning. So in quarterly planning, we really want to look at what are what I call initiatives or the projects that move the business forward, the projects that make the business better, close capability gaps. We may say that one of the capabilities that we need is an ecommerce system. I’m just going to make something up. We don’t have an ecommerce system right now, so we’re going to put in place a quarterly project to research and decide upon an ecommerce system. Maybe next quarter, then another project or initiative would be to implement the ecommerce system. Right. So what is that quarterly project that coordinate initiative that’s going to help move us towards that three year vision? And then the last part is the weekly execution. What do we actually do this week to make sure that we are accomplishing the initiative? That we want to make sure that we’re actually doing all the key activities to sell, deliver, and collect and govern our organization, moving us towards that three year vision.

Anthony (host): 26:09

So it starts out as this big thing, like, where are we going in multiple years from now? And then you’ve sort of slowly chunk that down into more digestible pieces.

Craig (guest): 26:22

Yes,

Anthony (host): 26:22

correct.

Craig (guest): 26:23

That’s right. And it’s in the system. We link everything together. Right. I studied every productivity hack that there was getting things done from David Allen that he wrote back in. The things that I’ve really taken from David Allen, when I start with my clients, is we start with, how do we plan the week? If we have so much chaos in the week, we’re not going to be thinking about what does my three year vision look like? Right. What am I going to do this quarter to make my business better? We got to control the week. You know, we got to stop the bleeding before we can stitch up the wound. Right. So we actually kind of go backwards through the program. But yes, that cascade of three year vision to the quarterly plan, to the weekly execution, is really what is, I like to call it, 313 seven. It’s a three year vision. It’s a 13 week quarter, and then it’s a seven day execution.

Anthony (host): 27:20

Yeah, that makes sense. As you were sort of redescribing that, I was thinking, oh, that is backwards. You’re starting with the weekly when it seems like you should start with the bigger vision. But the way that you couched that made a lot of sense. If typical small business owner, your hair is on fire. Like, you’re just constantly going from here to there, solving one problem next. And you’ve got to get that under control before there’s the time and the headspace and the energy to sort of think, like, big picture, like,

Craig (guest): 27:49

okay,

Anthony (host): 27:49

where do we really want to take this long?

Craig (guest): 27:51

Absolutely, you are 100% correct.

Anthony (host): 27:55

Tell me about your seven operating principles. Maybe choosing one or two that you’re particularly fond of.

Craig (guest): 28:02

Yeah. Wow. I don’t know if I can choose just one or two. So one of my favorite authors is Mike Mikowski and his very first book, the toilet paper entrepreneur. He talked about values, and they struck me in that they were kind of different. Right. Most company values are things like honesty, integrity, innovation, people centric, maybe something like that. Just boring stuff. And he gave examples that were a little bit more interesting. And so I took those to heart and really made the principles sort of in that level. Right. So I’ll go through a couple of them. One of them is learn something every day. They all have a heading and a description. So learn something every day. The only way to grow is to learn, have insatiable curiosity, read, listen, ask questions, share what you have learned and celebrate. Aha. Moments. So that’s one of them. Another one that I like is be like Mike, just do it. Practice, try, experiment, fail, take action. Right. Remember the Michael Jordan commercials where he says, know he made X number of game winning shots but he also missed a bunch of game winning shots. Right. But you have to try in order to succeed. Another one. I’m not right and neither are you. No. One person has all the answers. Seek other perspectives.

Anthony (host): 29:34

And

Craig (guest): 29:34

then finally my last two. No jerks allowed. Nobody wants to work with a jerk, so don’t be a jerk. But at the same time, everyone is a jerk. Sometimes. Everyone will act like a jerk sometimes. Forgive those who act like a jerk. If you act like a jerk, ask for forgiveness. So those are a few of the ones that I really like.

Anthony (host): 29:55

I appreciate you sharing those. Two of those are ones that I kind of send my kids off to school with every day. I’ve got two boys who are seven and nine and I tell them every morning when I drop them off at school, choose kindness and curiosity today. And that’s, I think your first one. And somewhere towards the end of the list, fourth or fifth, about sort of the kindness, forgiveness people are going to be jerk. Don’t you be a jerk. Sometimes you’re going to be. And sometimes other people are going to be

Craig (guest): 30:22

like,

Anthony (host): 30:23

let’s move on from it and forgive them and let’s bury the hatchet. Yes.

Craig (guest): 30:27

That’s

Anthony (host): 30:27

good. Tell me, what is a spark type and what is yours?

Craig (guest): 30:33

Oh, wow. So spark type is there’s an assessment, I think you can go to sparktype.com and find it and it really talks about what are the things that sort of move you. Right. The things that make you just tick. Right. So it’s not really a personality assessment and it doesn’t really talk necessarily about what you’re good at, like strengths. Finder would more talks about what are the things that really move. So my top two spark types are the maven and the sage. And so the maven is somebody who has insatiable curiosity who just wants to learn. And the sage is somebody who likes to pass what they’ve known on to others. And when I took this thing, I was like, holy cow, that’s me. It nailed me. I kind of knew it. Obviously I had the learn something every day before I took the spark type, but I was like, yes. That just confirmed it. So, yeah, I love sparktype. I think it’s really good. I encourage anybody to go to sparktype.com and just find out what their spark type is, find out what makes them tick. It’s really good.

Anthony (host): 31:46

And when you find that out, how do you make that useful? How do you incorporate that?

Craig (guest): 31:51

Yeah, for me it was much more confirmation. There is a book that the person wrote that goes through in a little bit more detail all the different things about your particular spark type. For me, it was much more confirmation. But I can imagine somebody who’s just kind of the hair on fire, right. They don’t really have time to think about it. And in 15 minutes they can find out that, oh, what really makes them happy, what makes them tick, is being whatever of the spark types and make sure that those are the things, and this is what we do in the program. Those are the things that they’re really concentrating on. Right. So if they love talking to people, then let’s make sure that we’re incorporating that into their activities and delegating out or eliminating the activities that don’t correspond to their spark type. There’s actually one of the three things you get when you take the assessment is your anti spark type or what really you hate. Right. And so let’s get those things out of your daily or weekly routine. Let’s concentrate on the things that really make you tick and go forward. Right. And so that’s part of what we do in the program.

Anthony (host): 33:03

The better you understand yourself, the better you can understand how to sort of assign tasks to yourself, outsource or pass along the ones that you’re delegate, the ones that you’re not particularly interested or well suited for.

Craig (guest): 33:17

Right.

Anthony (host): 33:20

So writing a book takes a lot of time. You’ve written two of them, co authored one of

Craig (guest): 33:27

them.

Anthony (host): 33:28

Tell me, what was the inspiration behind writing these books?

Craig (guest): 33:31

Yeah. So the goal by Ellie Goldratt is one of my favorite books ever. It’s a story, it’s set in a manufacturing setting, but it really goes through the principles of how to ensure that you get the right stuff done at the end of the day. Right. And so I think Ellie wrote it back in the, read it in like 1990. And it was one of the books that sort of turned the corner for me on how I think and what I wanted to do with my career. And so I was teaching this in 2014, I think, at a company. And I said, I need, like, a study guide, right? I need, like, a discussion guide. And there wasn’t one. I googled everything, and I could not find her. I found all kinds of little thing, tidbits here and there, but there wasn’t really a good discussion guide. And so I created it. Ellie Goldred, in the goal, he uses a socratic method, right, which is really about asking questions. And so the book really uses that socratic method. We go through the chapters of answering a question, how that worked, and then what’s the next question? That what we just went through is the logical progression of. And the hero in the story, Alex Rogo does that, right? He asks a question. Jonah, the sage, or the Gandalf, so to speak, of the story, actually goes and gives him a hint of the answer. Alex goes and implements it. Kind of figures out what works and what doesn’t work. And then that sparks another question that he needs to ask to Jonah. And then he asks Jonah, and we repeat the cycle. So the book goes through that same cycle of chapters so people can really learn and understand the principles. And so it’s a great book of the goal. I encourage everybody, if you haven’t ever read it, to read the goal.

Anthony (host): 35:39

And is that book available on your website or on Amazon? How would

Craig (guest): 35:43

people

Anthony (host): 35:43

find your discussion guide? Okay.

Craig (guest): 35:45

Yes, it’s on Amazon. And

Anthony (host): 35:47

then the book that you co authored, unstuck, ten proven strategies for breaking through the barriers to small business growth. Let’s talk about that for a second.

Craig (guest): 35:54

Oh, man. So that book was written, I think, in 2015 and 16. We actually did a conference called Unstuck. The figure skater, Scott Hamilton, was a sponsor of this here in Nashville. So we did it at the Bridgestone arena where the Nashville Predators hockey team plays. And that was a collaboration between myself and nine other authors. And every author wrote a chapter on something different, whether it’s cash management or leadership, human resources, sales, integrating technology. And so everybody wrote a different chapter for that book, and it was a great collaboration, and it was a lot of fun to write. And that book’s also available on Amazon.

Anthony (host): 36:41

Aside from all the certifications that you’ve attained, Craig, which is impressive, it took me quite a few seconds there in the intro to go through all the certifications that you have. Why should someone work with you? What do you bring to the table. What’s

Craig (guest): 36:57

special

Anthony (host): 36:57

about Craig Paxton?

Craig (guest): 36:59

Yeah. Excuse me. So, I am a question asker for the first. Right. But I bring an outside perspective that has been shaped by education and experience to the table. Right. When I work with a small business owner, they may know everything to know about drywall or home health care or immigration law, but what they don’t know is all the things that I know about leadership and management and finance, et cetera. And so I bring that different perspective to the table that helps them understand and make different decisions than they probably would if they were just stuck inside that glass. Right. You can’t read the label of the jar that you’re in. Right. So you need that outside perspective. Now, there’s lots of business coaches who do that, but I think what sets me apart is the fact that I’ve developed my own system. I’m not using something that I’ve bought. Right. There’s a lot of places business coaches go. They buy. They buy, you know, rights to a system. And that’s wonderful. The system is proven, but in many cases, you want somebody who’s a thinker, who’s going to change and modify and do things different than just using a system like it’s a recipe. Right. So I like to say that when I work with a client, I’m more of a chef than a cook. I’m not following a recipe. I know the outcome that I want, and we’re pulling in different ingredients to make that outcome happen.

Anthony (host): 38:41

You need to be able to go off script.

Craig (guest): 38:44

Absolutely.

Craig (guest): 38:48

That’s kind of what sets me apart is that. And I don’t know. I feel like I’m pretty good at it. My clients think they think I am. I guess they continue to. You can

Anthony (host): 39:01

think on your feet. You think creatively. You’ve developed your own script based on your experiences. But like you said, you think creatively and you ask questions. So when something comes along that doesn’t sort of fit into this multi step plan. Okay, well,

Craig (guest): 39:19

let’s

Anthony (host): 39:19

sit back. Yeah. What do we do?

Craig (guest): 39:21

Yes. So another one of my operating principles is what I say, principles over practice. Why is more important than how. Learn the principles and then create the practice. Right. So basically, learn how to be a chef. Don’t learn how to be a cook. Now, I was a cook, a line cook back in college, and my boss was a chef, and he gave me the art of french cooking. I don’t know. Some people might have seen the movie. I don’t remember who was in it, but a great way to learn how to cook. Is to use a recipe. But at some point, you need to go out of the recipe book and understand of, okay, I had to learn how to make a roux using a cookbook, but now that I know that, how to make a roux, what can I do with this roux, right? What dish can I create? And so it’s good to learn the principles by using a recipe, right? It’s good to read a book and apply something step by step, exactly how they say, that’s really good. But if you understand why that recipe works, why that step by step instruction works, now you can modify it to fit your. So, you know, I really work with my clients to understand why we’re doing something, not just do this because I. Said so,

Anthony (host): 40:44

Greg, most business leaders I meet have at least one story where they overcame a big, huge challenge. We don’t often get to hear about these stories because people are too embarrassed to share. But these are really some of my favorite conversations to have because it inspires other people to be resilient in the face of their own challenges. Do you have an example of something you can share?

Craig (guest): 41:07

Yeah. So, people who know me now would not ever think this, but there was a time when I wasn’t a people person, right? I used to say that employees were like tomatoes. You pick one up at the supermarket, and you look at it, and if you don’t like it, you put it down and you pick up another one, right? It was all about process and the machines and that kind of stuff, right? Not to say that I didn’t like people, I really wasn’t a jerk, but that wasn’t my focus. And it turned out that I read a book called don’t look me in the eye. And it was about a man who learned as an adult that he was an aspie, that he had Asperger’s syndrome. And I was like, holy cow, this is me, right? I don’t understand social cues. I don’t really understand facial expressions and what people are, the subtext when people say stuff and what all that means. And so I started doing two things. I started one, studying, right? So I read tons of books about social interaction, about social cues, about learning facial expressions that actually become like a formula for me, right? Like, you go to the doctor and they have that little pain chart up there, one through ten, and each of them has a different face, right? There’s a different little face. And so I learned to read social cues by basically comparing them to pictures in a book, right? To learn when somebody might be angry or sad. Or miffed or confused or whatever. But then the other thing that I started doing is I forced myself to go to tons of meetings, right? So I remember the very first meeting that I went to was a Toastmasters meeting. My boss had encouraged me to go to toastmasters to kind of learn how to speak interactively with people. And so I did that, and it started at noon on Wednesday. And so I drove and I sat in the parking lot because I was like, man, I don’t want to go in and be a new person and be their center of attention. And everybody has to. Everybody’s going to be, hey, what’s your name? And welcoming me. And I have to interact with people. I don’t want to do that. So I sat in my car, and then finally I said, I promised my boss I’m going to have to do it. So I walked in a little bit late, and of course, the door was in the front of the room, and so that really made me the center of attention, right? So now, walking in late was worse than if I would have gone in on time. But I continued to go to Toastmasters. I actually became a really good speaker. I was one step away from going to the world championships in 2016, but that kind of was the kickoff for me starting to go to lots of networking meetings, right? I went to networking meetings that had something or nothing to do with what I did in my business. Just to meet people, right? Just to say, okay, I’m going to go to a meeting just to force myself to learn how to be friendly, to learn how to introduce myself and say hi. And then it became, after a few years, it became a norm. It became easy, and then it actually became kind of a need. And then when COVID hit, then that need kind of wasn’t being met anymore, and it became easy to fall back into the just being alone kind of thing. But, yeah, that’s kind of the biggest challenge that I overcame just by forcing myself to learn and putting myself in situations that were uncomfortable, like going to all these different meetings that forced myself to do something I didn’t really want to do. So that’s kind of it.

Anthony (host): 44:57

This is great. There’s two different threads here. I want to pull at a little bit more. I want to talk more about the realization that you fall into the Asperger’s category as you think back in your life. Did you realize when you were younger that, man, I’m having trouble picking up on social cues. Like other people seem to understand when somebody is upset or they’re happy or they’re bored, and it’s all just the same to me.

Craig (guest): 45:28

Or

Anthony (host): 45:29

was that not even something that was on your radar, that you perceived those things differently than others? Until this one time,

Craig (guest): 45:36

yeah. No, I didn’t really know, especially as a kid. Right. And back when I was growing up, a long time ago, the autism spectrum, which used to include Asperger’s, now it doesn’t. But that wasn’t even a thing. Right. But I was very much a loner growing up. Sit in my room and read all the time. I was not, like, a socialite. It was very hard for me to make friends. But I certainly didn’t understand all of that stuff about social cues. Right. It really wasn’t until I read that book around 2006 that I was like, oh, my gosh, this is how I feel, right? And so that was the before then, I didn’t really know about it. I was nice. I could talk to people. People talked to me. It didn’t seem like it was a major problem. But looking back on it now, I’m like, man, if I would have known about this when I started my career, I see situations that I would have acted different. Right. Looking back on it. But that’s okay. We live, we learn, and we grow, right? And it just so happens that that little gross bird of mine happened when I was 40, I guess. Yeah, 40. And not when I was 20 or 30 or ten. Right. But that’s okay.

Anthony (host): 47:16

Well, I mean, good for you. I go through this conversation with my kids a lot. They look at me and they think, oh, dad’s got it figured out. Like, he knows everything. They’re still young enough where they believe that. Give him a couple more years, and I’m sure I’ll be in

Craig (guest): 47:31

a different

Anthony (host): 47:31

category.

Craig (guest): 47:32

But

Anthony (host): 47:32

I try to tell them all the time, no, guys, if you’re doing it right, you are learning something new every day. I’m constantly learning new things. And here you were at the age of 40. You just discovered something pretty big about yourself that is different from most other people, and you had a choice to make. You could have been like, well, whatever. I’ve gotten this far,

Craig (guest): 47:55

right?

Anthony (host): 47:56

I just got to soldier on, the way I always have. You’re like, oh, no, this is an opportunity for me to improve myself. Right? I see that there’s this. I don’t know if deficiency is the right word, but there’s this difference in how I perceive things from most other people. What can I do to level up? How can I coach myself to get better now that I’ve identified this area of need.

Craig (guest): 48:19

Yes, that’s right. I like what you tell your kids with that, or that your kids might think you know everything. I tell this story, I graduated from high school and went to college, and I thought my dad was an idiot.

Anthony (host): 48:32

And

Craig (guest): 48:32

then four years later, when I graduated from college and moved back home and met him, I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in four

Anthony (host): 48:39

years.

Anthony (host): 48:43

That’s great. Now, the other thread I want to pull out here is toastmasters. Because this was another place where, man, this was not your strength. This was not something that you were comfortable doing. You tell the story at the start. You just sat in your car. You’re like, I don’t want to do this. This is awful. Every part of what I perceive to be going on inside that place just makes me uncomfortable, makes my skin crawl. Maybe it makes you want to vomit. Like, I want nothing to do with that. And at some point you’re like, all right, I’m just going to take that step and I’m going to go for it. You deserve a ton of credit for making that first step in the moment, but I want to hear a little bit more about sticking with it and improving to the point where, like you said, you almost went to the national championships for Toastmasters. This organization designed to help people be better public speakers. Right. Talk to me about sort of a little bit more of that space in between there.

Craig (guest): 49:48

Wow. So, yeah, I went that first time, and then I continued to go. It got easier, obviously, right? But for a long time, I just sat there. I didn’t actually do anything. I might have done a role. In toastmasters, there’s multiple roles. There’s a timekeeper who times people when they’re speaking. There’s basically an MC, a master of ceremonies who runs the meeting. There is what they call a grammarian who sees if you have any grammar issues or you say filler words, right? Like, I just said filler words, you know, and so we track all that stuff. But I just sat there for a long time. I remember that I had to give my very first speech, which is called the icebreaker. It’s supposed to be between four and six minutes long. And so I wrote it. Really? I wrote it, and then I basically practiced saying it exactly how I wrote it. And it was like four minutes and 40 seconds, and I was like, all right, I made the time, right? And then I got up there and I was so nervous. I spoke so fast. It was like three and a half minutes, right? I didn’t make my four minutes, and I’ll just never forget that. And it was okay, but it was like all of a sudden it was like, you know what? I can actually do this. I can speak in front of a room full of people. And I didn’t die.

Craig (guest): 51:16

Nobody shot me. A bowl of lightning didn’t come out right. I didn’t trip and fall on the way up there, the way back. And so I learned to kind of enjoy it. One of the things that we do in Toastmasters as well is we do what’s called table topics, which is basically an improv. So somebody will ask a question about something and you have to improv an answer. And I found that I was actually really good at improvving an answer. So that became kind of like my jumping off point was I would have a really good, really funny answer. And for me to be able to say it, obviously I had to stand up in front of the group and actually say my answer. And I won that contest many weeks, far more than anybody else did. And that became then sort of another jumping off point of, I’m no longer uncomfortable with standing up in front of people, right? So then it just became, okay, what are my topics? What am I going to speak about? And so the good thing about toastmasters is there is sort of a curriculum of topics that you go through, right? So you’re going to go through this set of basic topics around body language or movement or speaking on a certain subject or using props, right? Whether it be a slide deck or a physical prop. And so you kind of learn all these different topics and these different ways of speaking in front of people. And that really honed and helped me to understand, especially the movement part. Right. I remember in 2000, and I’m going to say twelve, a guy who was prepping for worlds came and spoke in front of our group. And he used the entire space of the group in such a way that when he was talking about something sort of negative, he was on the left side of the room. When he was talking about something sort of positive, he was on the right side of the room. And I was like, wow, that’s brilliant. I never would have thought of that. And so I started prepping my own story about what it was. If you just Google Craig Pax and Toastmasters or go to YouTube and actually search for Craig Pax and Toastmasters, you can listen and watch the speech that I gave for the regionals, which is the step before worlds.

Craig (guest): 53:41

I incorporated that whole movement pattern into that speech. I just thought that was brilliant. And so I started speaking more and more after I got used to these networking groups, I was in one and somebody said, hey, we need a speaker for the next one. And I was like, I’ll speak. I’ll just do it. So that was my very first instance of sort of doing a talk for a networking group, an educational thing. And I was like, dang, this is pretty fun. So then I started doing it more and more and more and more, and it just became fun and exciting. I enjoyed the teaching part. I love to teach, so I enjoyed the whole teaching part of this. And, yeah, that’s kind of the evolution and story of me and toastmasters.

Anthony (host): 54:34

It’s great. I love hearing that because I mentioned before, I’m a father of two young boys and my oldest son, he’s athletic, he enjoys participating in sports, but he really only likes playing with kids that he knows. He’s a little bit more on the shy and reserved side. And so we’ve been trying to get him into other sports leagues where he doesn’t know the kids. As practice,

Craig (guest): 54:57

he’s

Anthony (host): 54:57

like, dad, I don’t want to do sports anymore. I’m done. I’m burned out. And if he didn’t want to do sports and he wanted to do chess club or drama club, that would be fine. But I really want him to have that practice of doing that thing that he’s most uncomfortable with. My youngest son, he’s very sociable. He can go into a group of kids and no problem. And so that’s not something that I need to force or encourage. But with my older son, I feel like I really need to put him in those places that you did for yourself. You did that for yourself when you were 40 plus.

Craig (guest): 55:26

Put

Anthony (host): 55:27

yourself into those uncomfortable places, because I think that’s where the growth really happens.

Craig (guest): 55:31

Yeah, absolutely.

Anthony (host): 55:33

So, Craig, as business leaders, one of our many jobs is to find ways to increase profitability. I’m curious if you’ve got any interesting stories of things that you’ve done to either lower cost or increase sales that were a bit creative.

Craig (guest): 55:51

Excuse me. Yeah, boy. Where to start with this one?

Craig (guest): 55:59

So, you know, so there’s really two ways, I think, to go about this. So one of them is, is drastic innovation, right? And then the other one is sort of the japanese kaizen method of constant improvement. Well, in either of those situations, what we need to do is we need to measure what we’re currently doing, right? So I give an example. Part of what I go through with my clients is we talk about different kinds of metrics that they have, and one of the metrics is cost. But cost doesn’t have to be money. Cost can be a proxy for money, like hours. So when I was CEO of my business for one of the profit centers, we started tracking the hours per application so somebody would apply to become a nurse and to get their certification or their license as a nurse. And so we tracked how many labor hours that it took to do that. And we also knew based on the budget, then we calculated, what is the target for break even, and then where do we want to get to once we got to break even? So understanding that simple metric of hours per application that everybody, from me as the CEO on down to the workers sitting on the phone every day or doing the actual work, could understand, made it so then we can make improvements, right? Once everybody saw, okay, our break even is 2.4 hours per application. Currently we’re at 3.2. We need to save 0.8 hours per application. Then everybody became invested and involved with saying, well, I could shave 15 minutes if we just did this. Oh, okay. So it really became a driver for everybody in the organization, not just for me looking at the PNL, right? So I think that’s the very first thing is to really identify what are the metrics that we really want to track in something other than just dollars. And that will help us drive down the cost, because it’s easier to drive down something like hours or something like touches or some other proxy for cost than it is to think about X amount of dollars. It’s easier to think about this in a different way. And so that’s where I always like to start is with that. Now we can also do big dramatic things, right? We outsourced an entire department to a company that that’s their job, right? We used to do scan all of all documents in house. And so I found a company locally that would scan all the documents. And so they went and they picked up all the documents, they scan them and they put them in our system. And it was faster turnaround time because that’s what their job was there was dedicated, it was a little bit lower cost. But then the real proof was in the pudding. When COVID happened and everybody had to leave the offices, the scans kept on coming, so we didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Right? So there’s really those two different things. But at the end of the day, the bottom line is, what is that metric that we can track around cost? That is the proxy for money that we can really think about making changes to that will end up being monetary savings.

Anthony (host): 59:28

Craig, as I understand it, you have sort of two different types of clients. You have your clients that you provide fractional COO services to and then you have your coaching clients. Can you talk about the type of service value that you provide for each of those client types?

Craig (guest): 59:44

Yeah. So I’m a fractional integrator for companies that run EOs and also do then strategic and business planning. Right. How do we compete in the market? What do we want to accomplish? And then a business plan is basically just the financial ramifications of executing the strategy plan. But as a fractional COO, I’m generally working with companies that are say between five and $20 million. They really need somebody to organize, look at processes, make the processes better, hold people accountable. They need that, but they don’t really want to go out and spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars on a full time COO. Right. That doesn’t really make sense for them. And so I provide that on a part time basis for those particular companies for my coaching clients. My coaching program is really designed for solopreneurs and micro business owners. Basically businesses with less than 20 employees. Right. So the owner is very involved in that business. Right. They’re probably doing as much work as anybody else. They just happen also to be the owner. Right. They’re an owner worker as opposed to just a worker worker. Right. And so that coaching program is really designed for those micro businesses.

Anthony (host): 1:01:07

Who is your ideal client for either of these client types? You kind of mentioned a little bit of the size. Are there particular industries that you’re well suited

Craig (guest): 1:01:15

for? Yeah, I’m pretty industry agnostic when it comes to working, except there’s some things that I don’t do. Right. I won’t do restaurants and food service. I won’t do residential real estate. But I’ve worked with companies ranging from legal to home health care to manufacturing textiles, so home construction. So I’m pretty industry agnostic. However, right now I’m really focusing on small healthcare businesses and legal firms, right. So law firms, which are generally going to be a solo owner who has a staff or maybe a small partnership, really focusing on those two for my marketing right now. But I pretty much can work with anybody from an industry perspective. Now, from a psychological perspective, my business owners, the people that I work with, they must want to learn. So again, coming back to my spark type of being the sage and teaching, they must want to learn, they must want to grow. And I don’t mean grow from a financial perspective, although that’s nice. I mean grow from a personal perspective. Right. They want to learn and change. If they don’t want those two things, I can’t work with them. Right. If they want to just be a cook and follow recipe, it doesn’t work that way. They have to want to learn and grow. They can’t be a jerk, obviously. Right? So I kick those people out as well. But that’s kind of like the psychographic of the people that I enjoy working with. If somebody comes through my program and they have an aha moment, I am just happier than a clam. Why are clams happy, by the way? I’ve never figured that out.

Anthony (host): 1:03:09

Do they just sort of have a natural looking smile

Craig (guest): 1:03:11

there on their smile? Is that what it is? They’re sitting in the muck at the bottom just eating garbage.

Craig (guest): 1:03:20

Maybe that’s another allegory of you can still smile even if we’re sitting in the middle of the garbage, in the bottom of the ocean. But if somebody has one of those aha moments, then that, to me, is the best feeling, right? That’s better than getting paid. Getting paid by a client just means that I don’t have to do something else where I can’t serve the client, right. It’s not the end of the journey. It’s not what I want. I have to get paid just so that I can continue to afford to live to help my clients. But having seen that aha moment when a light bulb goes off and somebody all of a sudden gets it, I’m like, yes.

Anthony (host): 1:04:11

That’S a good feeling inside. What passions or interests do you have outside of business, Craig?

Craig (guest): 1:04:19

So I have coached youth baseball and football for forever. I’ve taken a year or so long break here, hopefully going to get back into either a baseball or football team in this next year. But that has been my passion. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of kids in either baseball or football. And for a long time, since 1997, was my very first team. And if you watch the Toastmasters speech, you’ll learn more about my very first team. But that’s really my passion because I played baseball in college. I know a lot about baseball, so that’s my maven. And then being my sage of coaching somebody, some kid, how to hit or throw or field or whatever it might, that’s, that’s what I enjoy doing the most.

Anthony (host): 1:05:12

Where did you play college baseball?

Craig (guest): 1:05:15

I went to Laturno University in Texas, a tiny little school. This is many years ago. And

Anthony (host): 1:05:23

what’s the age bracket that you’re coaching?

Craig (guest): 1:05:26

So I have coached for football. I coached five and six year olds for a while, and then eleven and twelve year olds, and then for baseball, I have coached anywhere from ten up to 15. When they get past 15, it becomes problematic. They end up traveling crazy, a master in the summer. And when you have a job, you just can’t do it right. So if we play a weekend baseball tournament when you’re twelve, that’s one thing. When you’re 15, you go to Atlanta for a week. It’s hard to do when you actually have a job.

Anthony (host): 1:06:04

Well, as a parent of kids that are at the younger end of that spectrum, I have a lot of admiration for your patience to handle the youngens like that. My son always asked me if I would coach his team. I don’t know that I have patience for that. He’s like, you’d be great at it. I said, I’d be great with you. But trying to wrangle all those other little kids who are just ping ponging all over the place. So you’ve got my respect and admiration for that. Thanks for what you do there.

Craig (guest): 1:06:32

Thank you.

Anthony (host): 1:06:34

Craig, I have just one more question, but before I ask it, I want to point people to your website so they know how to get in touch with you. You are going to set up a custom URL for listeners of this show, and we’ll have this in the show notes. But for those people who are listening now, it’s go visionaryresults.com slash inspired stories. So go visionaryresults.com backslash inspired stories. Okay, last question for you, Craig. How do you see your industry evolving in the next five years?

Anthony (host): 1:07:12

What big changes do you think are coming or small changes? Do you think it stays relatively consistent?

Craig (guest): 1:07:18

So right now there is a huge opportunity for business sales. So we call it the $4 trillion opportunity. Actually, there are tons of boomers who have owned their own businesses now for a while, and they all want to start to retire. There was that, call them boomers for a reason, right? Huge population boom. And so there is a huge opportunity for people to sell and or buy businesses. And that’s happening right now. Over the next 15 years, there’s going to be trillions of dollars of businesses that either get sold or just go out of business. That’s a huge thing that’s happening right now inside of the business. The second thing is that there’s an acceptance of fractional

Craig (guest): 1:08:13

as a way to get expertise in the business. Right. Remote work became really a norm during the pandemic. So now I haven’t had a single fractional client in Nashville. They’ve all been somewhere. So, you know, that norm of being able to work remotely, to use Zoom or whatever it might be, to communicate with clients, has really made the fractional part time role, whether it’s operations or marketing or finance, be much more acceptable than it was even ten years ago. Right. So the rise of the fractional is another thing that’s really shaping our business. And so a lot of people call themselves fractionals now, right? I see a lot of people who, they’re really consultants, they just say they’re a fractional simply because it’s a trendy thing. But actually being embedded in a business, to be part of the actual organizational structure on a part time basis is something that’s becoming more palatable to business owners. So those two things are really shaping our industry.

Anthony (host): 1:09:22

Craig, thanks so much for sharing your story with us today. I really appreciate it.

Craig (guest): 1:09:25

Yeah, you’re welcome. This has been fun,

Anthony (host): 1:09:28

folks. That’s a wrap on another episode of the Inspired Stories podcast. Thanks for learning with me today. 

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