Welcome to another episode of the Strong for Performance podcast. I’m your host, Meredith Bell, and I am delighted to have with me today, Aaron Young. Aaron, welcome to the program.
Thanks Meredith. The great to be here. It is always fun to be with you!
Oh, thank you. Well, it’s so interesting because Aaron and I probably “met” about five years ago when I listened to him as a guest on a podcast and he just really touched my heart as well as my mind with his story and the things that he shared. In his business, Aaron is a lifelong entrepreneur and he’s an advisor to CEOs and business owners and he is the CEO and chairman of a company Laughlin Associates that’s been serving business owners and entrepreneurs, I think for 44 or more years, is that right?
We’re up to 48 years!
48 years. Wow! More than a hundred thousand business owners have benefited from their advice in regards to growing, well starting their business to start with, then growing it and really expanding it. The other thing I want to say about you, Aaron, that I admire so much is on social media Aaron demonstrates repeatedly his devotion to his family. His wife is just the number one person in his life. His five, is it five kids and I don’t even know how many grandchildren you have now!
Four children plus a fifth one that we raised and four grandchildren and two under production.
A large family that he just adores. I’m really excited about going deep with you today, Aaron, on both the business side and also somewhat on the personal side because I know one of the challenges that coaches and consultants face is that work life balance. That can be a challenge for them. Let’s jump into some of the things I’d like to cover, tell us a little bit more about your unique journey.
My wife told me one time, she said, “You’re like the luckiest person on the planet.” I’m going to say something that may seem controversial, but I was saying people should be able to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. You know, I was being very haughty in my belief in probably in my late twenties right? I thought I knew everything. She said, you’re a white man in the United States of America. Your mom and dad stayed married. Everybody thought you were so talented and so capable, you know? And she said, you don’t even know how lucky are, what a huge advantage that was to you. Of course, my wife is always like a hundred miles ahead of me in thinking. I agree, I really was a lucky kid.
I grew up with a mom and dad who loved me in a kind of a lower middle class family, as they say, in a sketchy neighborhood. I was the oldest of five kids. So if you’re going to have anything extra back in the late seventies early eighties, you know, I had to figure out how I was going to get it. I learned by the time I was about 14. I was making money, enough money to buy a pair of shoes or buy a pair of jeans. I got a little older to go on dates. I was going to say buy a car but I actually won my first car by selling tickets to a school event. It was this fabulous VW Dasher station wagon, no radio, no air conditioning, but I won it selling tickets!
I started my first business, which was a recycling business when I was 18 years old. Before I turned 19 we had three people on payroll and about 5,000 monthly customers that we picked up from. I then met this super cute girl that I wanted to impress and hopefully get her to marry me. I thought, Ooh, she’s not going to want to marry this garbage man because I’m picking up old newspapers and throwing them in trucks and stuff. I decided to sell that company. At 22 I sold my first company and made money. I took that money in 1986 and became one of the first cellular phone dealers in the Northwest. I ended up with three stores and we were on TV and in the newspapers and all that. I was in my twenties. I was married to this adorable woman, Michelle, whom I’m still married to 32 years later.
We were growing and we went from an apartment to our first house that we bought, to our next house that we bought. The whole market changed and we closed some of the stores and we sold the shop. I took my first job as my only job I’ve ever had, I was 29 years old and I was vice president of sales for 350 office, publicly traded multinational. Can you even believe they would give the keys to a 29 year old? But they did. We did that for three years and made a lot of money in the stock and on kind of a whim one day – I never talked to Michelle about it – I just gave my notice. We had money from the stock and I started buying companies and I’ve continued buying companies and fixing companies and selling companies and keeping companies all these years since ‘97 till now.
We’ve had a tremendous amount of good luck and we live a phenomenal life. We live on a farm, we have a beach house, we travel all over the world. I get paid to speak. Michelle has become a very successful executive life coach. We have this ideal life and everybody says, “Oh my gosh, I wish I had your life.”
That is the shiny version of my journey. Everybody sees the shiny version, right?
Everybody wants to make their bio perfect. By the way, it’s over 200,000 companies and that’s a legitimate number that we’ve worked with at Loughlin, not me individually. Everything I can tell you shines this fancy picture, this beautiful trajectory of my life. The reality is it’s really true about how I grew up. I didn’t really get an education and went to one year of junior college. I started that recycling business during that time. I was really sick as a kid and I had my large intestine taken out at 21 and thought I was going to have to have one of those colostomy bags but thankfully there was a new surgery. I was able to be rewired. I was super sick for years. When I closed the cellular phone business, I did close the stores and I did sell the shop, but the reality was the industry had changed and I was young and stupid and didn’t know any better. I thought because I was big that I could overcome the change in the market and I was wrong.
My wife was sitting nine months pregnant with our second child with me in bankruptcy court as we were going bankrupt in 1992. That’s why I took the job at the public company. I never wanted to have a job. Thankfully they saw some value in me and recruited me and it gave me a second chance. And then as we grew our business and got big in that business, somebody we had worked with before got in trouble with the IRS and because we had worked with them, the IRS and the FBI came to my office and raided our office looking for any information about this guy and his companies. I tried to be super nice and compliant. They weren’t after me or my companies and I was trying to help.
Four months later I was indicted on criminal conspiracy. They said I either knew or should have known what that guy was allegedly up to. After three and a half years of fighting and $2 million in legal fees, I finally just said, this is insane. I took a plea bargain and I went to federal prison.
Now you don’t have to feel too sorry for me because the companies that I’d built still worked, even when I was in prison and we made a lot of money. We made just shy of $1 million take home pay the year I was in prison. So my wife and kids were okay, but I was in prison. And I’ll always be a felon because you can’t get rid of that federal felony. I came back, got my head back on straight.
We started to grow the company again, got out of prison in July of ’07 and just about a year later came the crash in ’08. And because my company serves 100% small business owners and investors, by 2010 we had lost millions and millions in revenue and my business partner and I decided the only way to weather it is to keep the employees intact and we both took 80% pay cuts because we were the highest paid people in the company. We took 80% pay cuts, had to short sell our homes, move into rentals while we kept all of our employees in place.
Then the market came back. We came back. We’re bigger than ever. We make more money than ever. I get to live on this farm, I managed to keep the beach house. But the reason I tell you that is you said, “What’s your personal journey?” And I want to say that there’s the beautiful cleaned up Facebook version of it and then there’s the reality of being an entrepreneur. And the reality is a freaking roller coaster. It’s not a perfect, you know, 45 degree angle hockey stick kind of trajectory. That’s baloney. Anyone who thinks it’s true is out of their mind. Because I don’t know one person who’s really successful who hasn’t been kicked around and just had to keep getting up and trying again.
Because you’re dealing with coaches and because you’re dealing with people that are both hearing things from their clients and also experiencing things themselves, I thought it’s only fair to tell the unvarnished story. The best part is I feel great. I’m married to a phenomenal woman who just couldn’t have been more of a trooper through all this. She just had emergency surgery this last week. We all go through real life. We go through real life. The issue is always, what did we learn from each experience? And do we let the downs define us or do we let the downs say, okay, so now I’m down, I can only go up? So what are my options? And figure out new and interesting ways to solve a problem. So anyway, that was a long, long-
That’s okay because there’s a really important takeaway there. Because your story became more interesting with version two. Where there was the real pain and the real challenges. And I think sometimes folks that are hired as coaches and consultants feel that need to have only the shiny side. After all, they’re being hired for their expertise. But in reality, I think there’s an important lesson there. There are moments when it’s really appropriate to be vulnerable and share your own challenges because then it makes you more real to your clients and I think it goes a long way to building trust with that other person when they see, oh, you didn’t really have it as easy as I perceived you to have it. You struggled. You had to overcome some adversity. Maybe in my own challenges you can help me overcome my challenges.
You know Meredith, I wanted to tell this story about prison in a more significant way and my team, especially the marketing people just didn’t want me to tell the story. This is way back more than 10 years ago. I knew I needed to tell it and I remember so distinctly standing in front of about 500 people in Palm Springs on the stage this nice big audience, knowing this could be the end of my speaking career right now, because I’m going to tell the story.
The host had given me permission to tell the story. At the end of the talk, people just jumped to their feet and just applauded and were so excited. Of course, I thought it was over, but I knew I had to get it out. I went out afterwards and I went to the back of the room to meet with people and I was, I kid you not, surrounded by people so much that it became disruptive. They needed to get the break going and asked me to move out, but people came up and they hugged me and they whispered in my ear, “I have cancer right now or I just went through a really bad divorce, or my child died, or I did eight years myself in prison.” They’re whispering in my ear, they didn’t want everybody else to hear it, but the guy on the stage told them, “I went to prison.” Which gave them permission I think to go, “Oh, I’ve had hard times too, and maybe if the guy on the stage could go through that and now be up on the stage teaching me, maybe I can do it too.”
I think that’s the most important part of that vulnerability or transparency or whatever buzzword you want to attach to it. The fact is people relate to real people and I think from a coaching perspective, as long as we don’t make it about us and we make it about them, right? That vulnerability at least at the front end will help. I just got hired to fix a hospital that’s in jeopardy of being closed in San Fernando Valley, California, and when I was interviewing for the training, they wanted me to come and do three one day trainings with their different levels of team. We did all the business side of conversation.
I said, “Now, before you hire me, I want you to know something because I want you to hear from me, not find it. I’ve served some time in federal prison. Here’s what the deal was.” And the president of the hospital said, “It was when you told me that story, I knew I had to hire you because you would understand the people that we serve. You would understand the challenges we’re facing. I was embarrassed as the president of hospital of all the problems we have and now I know you’re going to be able to come in and be understanding.”
So our vulnerability, well I should say our transparency, that thing is what often, it doesn’t take away all the other truth about me as a successful business owner. It just says this happened and you should know it because it could influence your decision. And so that transparency will separate us. If it’s the wrong person and they don’t like that, then they shouldn’t be our client anyway. And we shouldn’t be the one teaching or serving them. And if they resonate and that gives them permission to be open and move more quickly through the coaching, that’s an advantage.
Oh, no. But what you brought up I think is so critical because I think in general, any business person wants to hide flaws for fear that that’s going to turn somebody off when in fact what your story with this hospital demonstrates is sometimes your history makes you unique and makes you attractive to them. So it’s important to evaluate. You’re right. You don’t want to throw up on somebody with all kinds of details that are unnecessary and yet and when it’s relevant to the situation and it’s a way for you to really stand out. Taking a look at what’s unique about your history, your past that you can bring to the table that someone else might not be able to is fabulous for setting you apart, so I just love that.
I do have a few things I wanted to ask you about just because your work with clients, with the different business owners I think is very relevant for coaches and consultants who are entrepreneurs too. They’re working on their own business and how to grow it. I was curious, what are two or three things that you see business owners do that get in the way of them being as successful as they might want to be?
First thing that comes to mind is they try to force something onto the market that nobody wants to buy. That’s the first thing, is they get passionate about something and very often it’s because they’ve gone through some experience like a death or abuse or an accident or something that really freaked them out or shaped their life and their perspective and then they try to come up with some way of leveraging that to save other people the same pain. But a lot of times it’s so specific that they have a hard time selling it. I mean I see this with products too. I see it with a variety of business services. People get excited about their idea, not realizing that people are having ideas every day, right? And just because you get excited about something doesn’t mean anybody wants to buy it.
And I’ve seen people go broke trying to force their concept on people who don’t want to buy it. So that’s the first thing is make sure … you don’t need to pursue your passion, you need to become passionate about what you’re doing. And finally, the way that you’re transforming or helping solve a real problem for people, not because … my passion is horseback riding. Well, if I tried to make a living with horseback riding, I would never make very much money. But instead I’d make a boatload of money doing things that people need and then I can go out and horseback ride whatever I want. I can buy the nicest horses, the nicest saddles, going the coolest trips. I can buy land because I can do it out of abundance. I can contribute to rescue programs, I can contribute to horse therapy programs, I can do all the things I’m passionate about out of the abundance of my business because my business does something a lot that people want. Does that make sense?
So that’s a big one. The next thing is most people, as soon as they start making a little bit of money, so they leave their job or whatever, they start let’s say coaching, and they start to make a little money. And let’s say you go from living off credit cards or your savings to making $1,500, then you start getting better at sales and now you’re making five or $6,000 a month, six, seven, maybe some people listening to me go, “Wow, I wish I was making 7,000 a month.” Other people are going, “Oh, that’s nothing. I’m making 200,000 a year.”
Here’s the thing, I see people all the time, they start to make a little bit of money, they get enthusiastic about that and so they’re able to move into a little nicer place or buy a little nicer car or buy some nicer shoes. Or I don’t know, they start spending the money. They get used to the money. And then they start going, “Well, I’ve plateaued because I’m busy with my customers, which means I don’t have enough time to go out and prospect and do whatever people call them. My wife calls him creation sessions. Where you do the first free one to see if we’re a good fit for each other. If you don’t have time to prospect and do the sales call and serve your clients, then you level out. Everybody goes, “I’m so busy. I’m so busy. I’m so busy.” And what you need is an assistant or a housekeeper or both, or you need somebody to help you with marketing or something but you’re going, “But I don’t have any money.”
Well, it’s because you’re consuming all the money. You heard me say in my story, when the market crashed and we went into the second biggest depression since the ’20s, right? What is my did my partner and I do? We had to cut by 80%. We had to short our homes in a terrible real estate market and move into rentals that we could just barely afford. And we had to do that because as an owner, your job isn’t to enrich yourself. Your job is to enrich the business and then pay yourself out of it a great wage if you can afford it. We had to keep the employees in place because the employees are the goose that lays the golden eggs. Right? And we knew to rebuild this team will be difficult. If we can manage to keep the band together, we will come back. We know we’ll come back.
It’s hard to retrain people to do what these folks do and plus they don’t have another way to get a job, right? So we’ve got to take care of them and we’ve got to suck it up. And then when it comes back, we make way more money than they do. You’ve got to take care of the business. And most small business owners are completely clueless to this because they don’t really have a business. As a matter of fact, folks, listen to my voice, most of the people that say they’re business owners are not business owners. They are self-employed. They own a job, they work harder and take more risks and often make less money than if they just went and worked for somebody else.
The great thing is people that do that see something bigger, they see themselves becoming more successful. They see themselves being more meaningful and impactful to others. They see that their message might be something that could make a difference, a lasting difference in people’s lives. So make sure that you create a safety net of financial security so that when things ebb and flow, you can survive, you can keep giving your message and you have bandwidth to go out and find new people because there are a lot of voices out there saying that they are the answer.
If you really are the answer for some niche, then I strongly suggest give yourself some wiggle room to survive the growth. So those are two things. Don’t just pursue your passion, become passionate about what you’re doing and don’t just suck up all the money. I love stories. I mean, I have my stories, but let’s use somebody else. Mark Cuban who’s on Shark Tank, he’s a billionaire, owns the Dallas Mavericks, talks about he couldn’t afford to go to McDonald’s to get a hamburger, but he could go grab a handful of ketchup package and squeeze the ketchup into his mouth so he could eat, right? I mean, my buddy Brian Smith who started UGG’s boots. Brian was living in his car and had a few UGGs he’d brought in from Australia in his trunk and he was going in and going, hanging out with surfers, getting them to be interested so he could presale shoes.
Daymond John. I was just with Daymond John doing an event and he was talking about FUBU, which became a multi, multi, multi-million dollar company, put him on Shark Tank. He had four shirts and he would take them to the rat rappers and have him put them on and he would get pictures and video. Then he’d take them back and wash them and let somebody else wear it because he didn’t have enough shirts to just give one to the people that he was taking the pictures of. Guys live small while you build some financial strength and then you can move into building a real business. Even if it’s a lifestyle business, you want to have wiggle room. You really want to have that. Those are long answers.
I don’t know that’s very helpful.
I can go and go and go on this stuff.
I know you can, but I want to pick up on one of the things you were talking about because, well actually two things. One is, what kind of a mindset is required, because you and I are both big pursuers of expanding your own thinking about yourself and what you’re capable of. What have you found to be effective so that if we could share some tips that coaches and consultants that maybe have been thinking smaller about their business, they’re just so glad to be working on their own, or they did hit a really good stride at one point, but then there’s this ebb and flow. What are the elements of a really powerful mindset that a person needs to develop?
So I have several thoughts on that. First one is, it’s really easy to get buried in day to day. It’s really easy to get slowed down. It’s real easy to get distracted, and then you may have people that love you who go, “Oh, hey mom. Hey dad, can you watch my kids? Hey mom. Hey dad, can you come help me with this thing? Can you drive me somewhere?” Because you don’t have to clock in 8:00 to 5:00.
The first thing is remember that you really are in business and that you absolutely can give the time you want, but you have to own your time. You have to schedule stuff and then honor the fact that this is a business. Otherwise, don’t gripe and moan when you’re broke. If you want to be poor, then act poor. Act like a poor person, which is, “Oh, the whole world is conspiring against me.” That’s whininess. Get over it. If you want to be successful, decide to be successful.
I see this with coaches. Coaches are so wonderful and tenderhearted and lovely people, and they’re usually broke. And the reason is because you’re scared to ask for money. You’re scared to make the sale. You then go, “Well, this person, they can’t afford it, but they need to help as much as the rich person does.” And I’ll promise you, as long as you’re poor, you’ll relate to poor people. And you’ll think rich people somehow have some advantage. Well, the only advantage they have is they can actually hire you. They can actually buy your service. Somebody that seems rich, which is so ridiculous, but believe me, the rich people are spending all their money too.
I see coaches get bogged down dealing with poor people who can’t really pay, and they somehow feel noble and heroic by this, which is absolute crap. So just let me tell you guys, get over yourselves. Figure out how to make money because when you make money then you go, “Wow, I can scholarship people who can’t really afford me. I can sponsor this group. I can donate to things that really make a difference in people’s lives.” To say that you’re the one salvation in their life and that’s why you’re going to give away your service for three months of coaching for $750, it doesn’t help you or them. I know that sounds definitive. 99% of the time it doesn’t help you or them.
If you want to help more people, put together group coaching programs. And keep your one-on-ones limited to high dollar clients and do more group because then you can get paid and they can get help. You have to think bigger. You’ve got to think to live a life I want to live, how much money do I have to make? To make that much money, how many hours am I going to have to coach? How many hours does that leave me for doing sales calls and prospecting work? To go out and speak to that group? To go out and do my social media marketing? Wherever you’re going to meet people. To just be out at meetups or in the grocery store line talking to people.
You have to have enough time to do it all to make the money, which means you’re going to do more group, less one-on-one. By the way, people do great in group coaching. Don’t fool yourself that everybody needs privacy. That’s fantasy. That’s not true.
You also want to be thinking about what is the real world-class problem that I can solve? What is my world-class solution to a world-class problem? In other words, think of it this way. I don’t know, depression or let’s use health. Obesity is a problem. It creates all these other issues. Heart disease, lung disease, cancer. It hurts your joints. It makes you sleep badly. Being overweight and out of shape sucks, and so I can coach you on whether it’s physical exercise or mental help or eating or whatever. There’s all this coaching around health and nutrition. The world-class problem is if we don’t figure out the solution to obesity in first world countries, we’re shortening our lifespan. We’re creating all these things. Obesity is a problem. If we don’t solve it, these things only get worse.
My solution is I’ve come up with a proprietary five-step program that is just guaranteed to help you get mindset around how you eat, mindset around how you exercise, mindset around dealing with a chronic illness. How to take baby steps to do it, but if you follow my five-step program, these are the results we get.
So what’s a world-class problem? What happens if we don’t solve it? What’s my world-class solution? Mindset for you, you’ve got to think of yourself as solving a bigger problem than just like, “Oh well, I help people who are struggling and they’re sad.” Get over it. You’re a hero. Be a warrior. Be noble. Be big. Be cool. You don’t have to be known by the whole world. If you can have 30 or 40 people that you’re making a real impact on, you’re going to make a ton of money. You’re going to help a lot of people, and the ripple effect is going to change their life, their family’s lives, their friends lives, their coworkers lives. You’re having an effect on thousands of people by being bad ass with a few dozen. So just realize what you do matters, but you have to believe it is making a difference and act as if you are that person. Get on with accepting your stuff. Love yourself enough to go, “I’m a bad ass, I’m going to do it.”
I love that. It’s so true. The stories we tell ourselves about why somebody may not want this or they might object to that. People just allow fears, doubts and their own thoughts to really hold them back. I love the fact that you’re just kind of blowing through all of that and saying, “Get over yourself.”
Everybody struggles. Everybody’s afraid. Everyone. Everyone. Every time I go into a big corporation, and these have been some big companies, huge companies that you know. And I meet with the CEO and I say, “What are you great at? What do you suck at? What do you not want me to know about you as a leader?” Every single one of these big huge, I’m talking huge companies, they start to cry a lot of times. “Oh my gosh. If people knew that I’m making it up as I go, they would lose faith. Oh my gosh, if I make a wrong choice, it’s going to impact all these employees, and it’s going to hurt the company or I’m going to get fired. I don’t know the next thing we should do. I know how to run what we’re doing, but the world’s changing fast. What am I going to do?” Everybody’s afraid. Everyone is. What is that famous book: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,”
Okay. It’s scary. The difference between successful people and failures is successful people just push through the fear. They push through. If they’ve got a chronic fear, then get some therapy or get some help. Get a coach. There’s an idea. Every successful person I know has somebody that they’re being accountable to and that is coaching them. Everyone. So if you feel scared, just go, “Oh, I must really be in the game. There must be something to lose.” Isn’t that exciting? Isn’t that better than sitting on the sidelines and wishing and dreaming and wringing your hands and crying in your soup? Get in the game. Be real.
That’s great. And you know Aaron, I just checked, we are running out of time. You and I could talk for, I know, a couple of hours easily so we’ll have to have another conversation soon. But what you’ve shared I think is so important about the world of someone in coaching and consulting and what they often bring to the table that they don’t give themselves credit for. You’ve just done a great job of kicking them in the butt and offering encouragement today to help them get over themselves and whatever fears are holding them back and just get out there and do it. go ahead.
My wife is a coach, and everything I described in this, she did it. Everything. Selling yourself short, not really believing that many people would need to work with her. And now she makes close to $250,000 a year. The only difference was she started to realize that it wasn’t about her. It wasn’t about this person.
When she started getting all these psychologists and psychiatrists and surgeons coming to her and she felt inferior for her training and so on, when she realized they’re just real people, they’re just people. They have the same issues. And as a coach, you’re not trying to psychoanalyze, you’re looking to the future and trying to show somebody a brighter future.
And when she saw that she was really brilliant at helping them achieve these things, she realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s worth the money,” and the reason her clients re-up and re-up and re-up with her is because their lives are better. You guys, coaches are the ones that are the wind beneath the wings of so many people’s successes. Don’t ever sell yourself short. I mean, this is important work that you’re about. So be big and be bold and know that what you do matters and it’s valuable. It’s valuable. Go ahead, Meredith. I’m sorry.
That’s great. Well, just in wrapping up, I wanted to ask you to share how people can find you online and connect with you because you’re just such a joy to be involved with.
Thank you. That’s so nice. Thank you. Here’s what you can do. You can write to me at email@example.com. Most people on podcasts, if you give out your email, almost nobody ever writes, so I have no problem. That goes to me. I’m not going to try to sell you anything. But if I can help you in your business and there’s a ton of stuff that Laughlin Associates, you go to laughlinusa.com.
I’ll put it on the show notes.
That’ll help them with corporations, LLCs, making sure they’re operating legally. We do that for, as you said, we’ve worked well over 200,000 clients. So we would love to just help you guys be successful so you can go out and do your great work. And I’m easy to find. My podcast is The Unshackled Owner. You can go there. There’s a ton of ways to find Aaron Scott Young. You’ll find me.
Great. And I’m so glad you mentioned your podcast because I remember when you just first launched it, it was a great way to just feel like I was getting to know you better because you just speaks from the heart about real situations that everybody deals with. I just loved your, again, openness, authenticity and transparency. I know those can be buzzwords, but for you, to me they just resonate with who you are.
Thank you. I appreciate. Thanks so much for having me on.
Oh, it was such a pleasure. Aaron, we will be talking again soon, I hope.
I hope so. Thank you.