I just read an article about how companies are laying people off and they feel betrayed. They attracted people with a fun family atmosphere, and then laid them off like the expenses that they always were.

I luckily learned a lesson back in the 1980s when I worked at AT&T. During a performance review, I began to feel my oats because our media department was winning hearts, minds, and awards. The review was unremarkable, but I still asked for a substantial raise or threatened to leave.  I was treated to one of the best lessons I have ever learned in my life.

My supervisor said, “Son, you are an expense. I can hire two people for what you are asking for and I would do better with that than with you alone. So the answer is NO!” Let me repeat that… “YOU ARE AN EXPENSE” and that opened my eyes to the matrix of being employed. Not only are you trading time for money, but you're trading life. All your experience before and during employment belongs to them in exchange for a paycheck and benefits. I was not a person. I became nothing more than an interchangeable part that could be replaced at a moment's notice.

People Who Need People

Then, I opened my own business which had five employees. Then I sold that and became an employee again (I did not like it). Yet I traded that job for a higher-paying one. When I was fired (over 20 years ago) I vowed to myself that I would never do two things… become an expense again, or treat other people that way. That meant that I would never become an employee or ever hire employees again.

But how can you run a business that way? You try to sell your knowledge and experience, but not your time. Yet people and businesses run on budgets, and rates, and need a fixed system that fits their business accounting model.

So I ventured down the path of selling knowledge by selling books and creating courses. That was like climbing a mountain in flip-flops. Yes, it can be done, but most who are really successful got there by building a company to support them. You know… a company with employees (or expenses).

I Got This (Maybe)

See, I thought I could do this all by myself, and I did a pretty good job. I ran a consistent six-figure business for almost 15 years with a little help from the occasional contractor. When I wrote my books, I hired an editor and a proofreader. Then I hired a designer who did the cover and the formatting design. But then I flowed in all the text and published myself. I created and programmed the online courses, booked my own speeches, and did my own accounting.

I also did some client projects. Mostly by myself, but I hired contractors to help with pieces that were beyond my skill level. Each project was unique so I could never create consistency. I also stuck my foot into the virtual assistant pool. It was the same thing. Most were inconsistent, and eventually either burnt out, took a job, or just flat-out disappeared.

I was stuck in a rut and started to burn out myself. But I was not going back on that promise I made to myself to not become or treat people like expenses.

The Epiphany

I realized that if I did not make a change, no one would do it for me. I needed to leverage my time, and leverage the time of others in a way that was successful, repeatable, and valuable to clients so they would want to invest in and integrate my solution into their business.

Then, I made a pivot with the help of two business coaches. One was my own (Marla Tabaka) and the other was a Virtual Assistant coach (Kathy Gougenhour). Marla kept pushing me to work to my strengths. It was not until I started working with Kathy that I realized how to hire to my weaknesses.

Kathy was teaching expenses (who were now independent experts) how to actually run a business. After her training and masterminds, they learned how to charge enough to make a living, while being affordable enough to become team players (not just solo acts like most VAs). They were motivated and willing to invest the time and money to learn. I knew I could call Kathy and fill a void or need I had for clients with a highly qualified expert (rockstar).

I started to work to my zone of genius, then incorporate great people and let them work from theirs. It has become the winning combination. Businesses could meet their needs, communicate to their audience, and use this business model to generate greater profits at a lower level of commitment and costs.

The Team

I started with writers (people who could do it better than me) and started to build systems around them. Next, I found people who could manage websites, create emails and social posts, and topped it off with a project manager who had extensive corporate experience. I can bring people into some consistency of repeatable projects with room for them to learn and grow with other clients.

It is better than having employees whose time needs to be filled with projects to become profitable. Traditional agencies are made of teams of people (expenses). They have to optimize their use to become profitable so they sell to their inventory of experts.

This model allowed me to bring in an expert at just the right time to complete a task and then let them focus on other customers they were working with. The key was a level of expertise, that could work the client's ebbs and flows of needs and wants. It allows them to access an incredible pool of talent who bring creativity and innovative solutions to keep them at the forefront of trends.

Finally, it lowers the costs for the businesses we work with since they only pay for what they need when they need it (just-in-time service delivery). This offers a higher quality, at lower costs. I get to focus the projects on the customers' main goal… to produce and increase sales.

Final Thoughts

The thing about this model that I find to be most important is that everyone gets to have a life and be human. One expert lost her husband unexpectedly, another had a whole family get COVID at the same time. I got to move and change states and homes without missing a beat. Each of us had the flexibility that a traditional job does not afford. With a traditional job, each of us may have lost our jobs or been replaced.

I work hard to make sure that everyone feels valued, respected, and in control of their own time and destiny. If they want to change jobs or focus they can. They are missed when they do, but they are never treated like an expense. We all understand our roles and obligations, but we also have the opportunity to have a family, and life, and live it to the fullest.

It's the Win-Win-Win that I imagined when I was told, “YOU ARE AN EXPENSE.” It's the best investment ever… an investment in PEOPLE!

“If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done.”
– Anonymous

Comment below and share your thoughts, ideas, or questions about your business model. Have you ever been treated like an “EXPENSE”? Do your customers view you as an invaluable partner or an expense? Do the people you work with feel valued and allowed to be human?

To learn more about this and other topics on B2b Sales & Marketing, visit our podcast website at The Bacon Podcast

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