Welcome back to another episode of Strong for Performance. I’m Meredith Bell, your host and I’m so pleased today to have with me Dr. Shohreh Aftahi. Welcome Shohreh.
Thank you, I’m so glad to be here.
Well I am just delighted to be able to have a conversation with you and share with our guests some of the great insights you have about developing and building your own business.
Shohreh is the founder and CEO of ThriveVance a business advisory group and she is a very skilled growth strategist. She knows how to go into an organization and identify where they are and what they need to do to grow to the next level in their business. But Shohreh one of the interesting parts of your journey is your years in the corporate world and how they prepared you for what you’re doing now. So, tell us a little bit about that story.
I’ve spent the majority of my professional career in the corporate world, up until about four years ago. And I led very large teams, nationally, regionally, locally, depending on which assignment. And I’ve noticed a few things, number one, the best way I could get my teams to perform was to coach them, because I wasn’t on top of their head everyday seeing what they do. They were mostly remote. And coaching became really second nature to me in developing high performing teams.
Secondly, in corporate it’s very easy to understand and recognize how the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and there is no congruence. So, as I’ve come in working with organizations that’s what is the one thing that I focus on to make sure everyone’s on the same page. So, the activities that we have with them, the engagements that we have with them, produce results that truly matter for the organization.
So, I’ve taken about 17 years of professional life and now used that experience and knowledge in helping organizations and small businesses. I do feel that small businesses are the cornerstone of success for our economy. I truly believe that. And as I came into the coaching and consulting, I quickly realized the one segment of people that I really couldn’t help at the beginning, with the setup that I had, with the fees and the way the coaching and consulting was structured, were those small businesses, because it was just out of reach for them.
So, as I’ve segmented my services, it’s always been a great focus for me to have something, a service that is of value that helps small businesses. Whether it’s perhaps an individual contributor, meaning a business owner who’s an individual contributor, which in a lot of ways, small business owners are that because they’re the visionary, they’re the technician, they’re the manager, they’re everything all in one. So, from a time perspective as well as cost perspective, for them to be accessible to them and be able to utilize it and be even more successful than they could’ve been without the services that we offer.
So, when you were just leaving corporate and deciding to get your business started, who were you focused on and did you have any kinds of challenges as you were getting started?
Absolutely. So, when you come out of a corporate world, at the beginning you probably don’t think how much or how useful, I should say, the corporate checkbook is, right? When I started going solo and starting my organization, I immersed myself in networking like I’ve never had to do in the corporate world. I had gatekeepers for people not getting close to me, but now I was trying to break through those gatekeepers to go deeper in the organizations and connect with the decision makers. And as I immersed myself in networking, I quickly realized that a majority of people that I met could not afford the time and cost of what I offered them.
Usually executive coaching and development programs are in thousands of dollars per month and hours spent in a month, which is not suitable for the people that I was talking to most every day. And that’s what prompted me to create a revenue bucket, as you may call it, to offer those people that I was talking to the most. The ones that I could offer my elite program, the executive development programs, I did not speak to everyday. So, then I found myself marketing and selling to people that did not fit the services that I offered.
So, in that perspective I created a program based on my conversations and qualifying, I’ve been in the sales world most of my life, qualifying and really asking these people, “What would you like? What would suit you best?” And came up with a program which I called Coaching on-Demand and was able to offer them a service that is more of what you may call membership, an annual fee. It did not require very specific face time from me on a regular basis and we really utilized a lot of content that I had developed, I had access to throughout the years, that I had available, I could make it available to these clients and they could utilize it as their time allowed them to. So, it’s not as though you have to finish this assignment in a week, in two weeks, in a month or six months even if you wanted to, but it is your time. So, reduce that stress, but have it available.
But I also was able to tailor it to these clients because not every single one of them had the same need. In conversation, as I met with them for talking about their business, we identified what is their need. For some of them it was, how do I market? Some of them was sales. For some of them, time management and personal care. And depending really on what they needed, I could tailor the content that I offered them, that suited their needs. So, it really quickly, and it was to my surprise, it quickly became a very nice steady revenue bucket for me, without me having to spend so much face time on a regular basis.
I never believed in chopping down, per se, my services just to get a client. I had a lot of colleagues, several of them, that embarked on the same type of services and when it came to coach and development and training, they kept offering reduced fees for three months and after three months it would go to the normal fee. And guess what, they got clients for three months, but not longer. And I didn’t want, and I don’t believe in reducing the value of what we offer. I never want to reduce the value of what I offer.
So, it became … I did an experiment and it worked. I wanted to offer services and truly genuinely been wanting to help this segment of people that I met in my coaching, in my networking group for my coaching services and some led to consulting. And that’s important to mention because when I, for example, had a loan officer that became my client in Coaching on-Demand and she’s been with me three years now in that service and she has been able to open doors in the company that she works for even though she’s an individual contributor as a loan officer, it has opened the door for corporate engagement for me for consulting services.
So, one leads to another and the people that I met came to me from … I’m open, I meet people and conversations we strike, it just leads us to different places. Some of these people I met in networking group, I actually got a very large consulting project meeting one of the senior VPs of this very large organization at Starbucks.
Tell us more about that, because I think that’s a fascinating example of how to keep your marketing and sales antenna up at all the time-
All the time.
Because you never know where an opportunity will arise for you. Tell us how that happened.
Yes, so I was getting coffee at Starbucks and I have a very specific coffee that I actually, coffee drink that I order and I’m very specific about it. So, it’s not just a cup of coffee. So, it has a long name, I usually say I like to get a triple shot of espresso macchiato, which is simple, it’s just three shots, lots of foam and no milk. But believe it or not, because not many people order that, they mess it up. So, I’m very specific how I order it.
So, one day I’m ordering at Starbucks. I had a meeting scheduled so I was there an hour ahead. This gentleman that was standing next to me ordered another somewhat complicated order. So, we both laughed and said, “Yes, this is a science, how to order coffee.” And as we’re waiting for coffee, he asked me what I do and I said, “I’m a consultant. I’m a growth strategist.” And we talked about business and re-engineering processes and such and-this gentleman is a Senior VP of one of the largest home builders in the United States. And they actually had a need. So, he started asking me more questions about re-engineering processes and as such, and that conversation led to $560,000 agreement that we fulfilled last year.
So, conversations come up anywhere. You meet people everywhere. And believe me, I’m not a social butterfly, so I don’t walk around and just talk to anyone. But I am open when conversations come up to see where the similar interests are and take it from there. It is really important to always be alert. The environment that you’re in, and what opportunities may be available. You know, airplanes are other marketing opportunities. You never know who’s sitting next to you. I did meet a CEO of a company, manufacturing company, 250 employees on a plane. And they have been my clients ever since. And we’ve done a variety of programs. They, of course from a consulting perspective we’ve done several projects with them. But, development, HR… just several different things that we’ve done that they are continuously using my services. And, he was just sitting next to me on a plane.
That’s great. I love both stories because it just shows, when you demonstrate an interest in someone else by asking questions and giving them an opportunity to share with you, it really does open the door for you to be able to talk about how your services could be of benefit of them.
Well, let’s go back to the Coaching On-Demand, because I think this is something that our listeners may want to think about adding as a revenue bucket as you called it. Because if I’m not mistaken, you’ve got a pretty good number of clients this way in a period of about six months, which came up to almost six figures, just for that one aspect of your business.
Yes. As I mentioned, it was… it actually, the idea came to me from a colleague of mine. So, I have to give credit to Johnny. But the idea was to offer a service that individuals can benefit from. So, I structured it. It’s basically, I offered $2,000 a year. However, the one on one meetings are very limited to 30 minutes at the beginning, the one time for needs assessment. And thereafter, when they complete their assignments, we meet again for 15 to 20 minutes. And of course, you’re in charge of it. This is how I structured it. And really drive it through the content that I have… I had developed and I had access to. So, I use content that I developed, others developed that I have access to and have permission to use such as Harvard Business Review. It’s a… and I’ve been a subscriber and I reached out to them. I understand that I could offer some of the articles and videos that they offer. So, all of the content that I have access to.
Books are another resource I use. I’ve had clients that reached a point that I recommended a book. They needed to read a book, and we would discuss it based on their needs. So, that’s how I structured it. I made a flyer. I went and tested it in one networking group that I was participating in. And I said, “Let me just test it and see what happens.” Obviously, every idea we have, we need to test before we embark on the larger project. So, I offered a 50 percent discount for the first 10 people that signed up. And, I quickly, within two weeks had 10 people. I said okay, so then I started offering it in all my networking groups, and within six months I had enough people… I had 56 people enrolled, and then I was not offering discounts. 10 percent discounts of some of them. I did offer a 10 percent discount if they were a networking group member. You know, within the groups that I was attending and participating. And, quickly really from… in that six month’s time frame, revenue, with all the discounts, that I generated was over $86,000.
So, I decided this is testing well. In anything we do there are those that sign up and never do anything with it. And those that sign up that have been with me for three years. At this point, I have to say I limit that bucket for me, because now my organization has grown to a point that I want to make sure when I commit to someone, I can deliver truly what they need. But, even with the limitation that I put on it as to how many people I would take as someone that I would coach and develop, still it’s a nice six-figure outcome that is just coming. And we are so in-tune together, because a lot of these people have been with me now for three years, our conversations are limited to a text message or an email. Because they have grown so much. They know what they’re doing. And they just… they just see me as being their trusted advisor, if that makes sense?
It has developed to a very nice bucket for me, and it’s growing. And people are getting benefit out of it. And I’m happy because… the only way I’m happy is if I’m producing results. I’m an over-achiever, and if what I do is not developing results, then I don’t feel good as a person.
Well tell us a little bit about results that some of your clients have gotten from this approach. But before you do that, let’s just recap. So, what you’ve created is a one-year program where they, up front, have a 30-minute call with you or conversation to determine what it is they really want to focus on?
And then, you start giving them assignments, and they have to complete the assignment before they’re eligible to have that 15-minute call.
So, you’ve put requirements in place, and depending on how quickly they want to work through the assignment, they could potentially have contact with you very often? But what you’ve seen in reality, because these are very busy people in their respective jobs or businesses, you’re not finding that to be a big drain on your time. So, you’ve really leveraged your time in a very smart way to work with more people. And get still, very positive results with them. So, it allows you to then serve even more people through that structure.
That’s correct. And the material you mentioned… the content that I offer them is extensive. So even those that are over-achievers, and when we first got going, they said, “Oh, I can set as many 15-minute sessions as I want?”
I said, “Absolutely. As long as…”
And I have dedicated chunk of time on my calendar for this. So, they can’t just book any time. But the link that they have to my calendar is for this specific event that has… it’s dedicated time for this event. So, my answer to them is, “Yes, absolutely. There is time open, you can book as many 15 minutes as you like as long as you have finished the assignment.”
And of course, they can come back to me. They can reach out if they have a problem or a question with the assignment. But outside of that… so she’s an over… one person comes to mind. She’s an over-achiever. She said, “Oh, my God. This is phenomenal. I can probably do four a week.”
I said, “Just do the assignment.”
Well, by the time she got done with the first assignment was two and a half months later.
These are not simple, quick, easy little exercises that they’re completing.
Correct. So, I have videos that I’ve created. Workbooks that go along with the videos. And different things that they have to do. It’s not easily done, so they can’t just sit down in a ten-minute session and complete that. It takes time. But the beauty is it’s on their own time. It’s not on my time.
So, it works. Because they can take the time, but since they are doing the work, they see results. So, you mentioned some of the results. I’ve had clients in Coaching On-Demand, that they have doubled their business within the first year that we’ve been working together. Now… statistics, sometimes words are cheap. How did this happen? Right?
When people learn how to leverage time to be most effective, to get most done, they will quickly see results. A lot of us don’t know how to leverage our time. And we think that if we throw 10,000 things at the calendar, and every minute is booked then we’re very organized about what we do. But the problem is maybe we’re organized, but we’re not leveraging because are we doing the right things at the right time? And that’s… if I’m working with an organization or an individual, it doesn’t matter. Are we doing the right things at the right time? And that’s how we can maximize our business. Maximize on time and make more money. Grow our business. Grow our organization. So that’s key, and a lot of the material, at first, really that most need, is how do I leverage my time? How do I focus on doing the most important things? And more importantly, how do I identify which things are most important to focus on?
And this is a challenge particularly for small business owners, because they’re involved in doing everything.
Yeah, you and I can probably relate to that, right? We all are small business owners, or we have been small business owners.
Or we have been in business as small business owners that we had to do everything ourselves. As we grow, how do we organize ourselves to get better? So that’s where the result comes in. It’s not just the magic and it’s not a magic of the content. It’s how the content is helping these individuals
So, for example, the one individual financial advisor that I’ve been working with since I started this program, we just went over … Every year we go over their numbers. So, she has had in this time span, she realized that the second year we worked together, she had 230% growth, revenue growth.
I do this because it’s important for them to realize what they’re investing in. And afterwards she said, “I never knew I had grown my business this much.” And I said, “Well, it’s getting harder because it was a little. Now it’s at a sum that growing, get another 230% is not as easy, but nevertheless.” So, or someone who’s a loan officer, there is one with me. She has achieved, she wanted to do x number of loans a month and in a year. So, she’s been able to achieve that. So, she has achieved that revenue and now she’s growing it even further. It’s really basically learning what to focus on, how to focus on it, and also the competencies they need to develop. So that’s the where the development comes in.
Right. I would suspect knowing you and your work with them that another part of that is simply expanding their belief in themselves and their capabilities, because that is a universal challenge, I think, for people to really step into what their actual abilities are versus having a set image of what’s possible for them. Do you run into that a lot?
Pretty much everyone. Pretty much everyone. Last week I was meeting with a client, and she has gotten to a point that she … I said, “Okay, so what’s the goal now?” I said, “Well, do you realize the confidence you have in yourself?” Now I’ve got to tell you, we had a lot of challenges with this one particular client, all internal. They were all in her. The way she viewed herself, the way she viewed challenges or how overwhelmed she got. So, this is all of our self-perception and how we deal with those challenges as we grow our business, because the higher or the more we develop our business, the busier we get. There is more to do. Guess what? We are now at a different wave length. It’s a different energy. It’s rhythm that we’re not used to and how do we deal with it? How do we deal with us and our families and that rhythm? So yes, a lot of it goes back to the individual and who we are, how we see things, and how we deal with these different changes.
Well, one of the other things, because I know we’re getting close to time here, I wanted to be sure to mention is one of the reasons Shohreh and I ended up forming a joint venture partnership together. We were in a mastermind group together, and she was struggling with how to organize all this content that she had for this particular program. We have a platform called strong for performance for development, which has its own content but allows a lot of custom content to be added as well. So, it turned out that that was a perfect platform for Shohreh to use to basically distribute her material.
It just made it so much easier. At first, I call it, it was clumsy. I used ever Evernote and I used links for videos and the communication, the Dropbox, this, that, and the other, and I was looking for a platform to make this now a more robust process for me and for my clients. So that’s where when you, Meredith, and I, when we met and we talked, it just was a marriage in heaven, I guess, partnership in heaven, because this strong for performance allowed for all of that. It became very streamlined as I assign things to clients or how they can kind of dabble into the content. And it was that it made it even better, because there is already content embedded that now I have access to, my clients have access to. So, it just made it that much easier.
The other piece that I found very beneficial to clients, and they agree, is that piece of being able to reflect because sometimes when I read the reflections that my clients share with me, I find things that just unravels something we’ve been working that in conversation doesn’t come up. But when they are naked with their thoughts and experiences is the best way actually I can put it, and they’re writing just to themselves and they choose to share with me, it unravels something that just pushes them forward, that allows me to help them in a better way and pushes them forward in their success. So, I really, really like that combination, that strong for performance software. So, I’m grateful for that.
Thank you. I am continuing to learn from you in every conversation we have, including this one, where you shared so many really good tips about how to think about your own business and how to look out for opportunities that are there that we may say, “Oh, I don’t want to be pushy or I don’t want to be salesy.” And yet if we turn it around and say, “Where am I overlooking opportunities to really serve?” I could have the answer, but if I don’t let them know, how will they ever find out I could be the one to deliver that?
I just love your Starbucks story and your plane story, because we often think we have to get so fancy with marketing strategies and this and that. If we can slow down, relax, and just be present for the opportunities that are there, it’s amazing what presents itself. So, thank you for sharing those experiences along with your unique coaching on demand approach, because I think that there are a number of folks listening to this. They could see how they could adapt that kind of approach, even within a corporate setting where they might provide coaching on demand to a group of leaders who the company might not want to invest in an individual coach for some of the supervisors, let’s say, and mid-level managers. They may be able to structure something like this where it’s more economical for them to do.
Right. You can leverage. It’s a matter of leveraging the information, the content you have developed, you have access to for years. Now, if you can get the content and leverage that in helping those people that need your help and you can dress it up. You can obviously do group coaching, which I’ve had occasions that I’ve done, and I do. There is a lot of … Group coaching in general has become a very nice revenue bucket in coaching and development and training. So again, the best way we if you’re one individual offering coaching and training and development services, there is so many hours in a day that you can sit one-on-one and have these conversations. And if you can leverage your time and the content and drive it through the content to minimize that face time for you, then you’re maximizing the revenue you’re creating within those hours, within those minutes.
And that’s where it’s at.
So Shohreh, tell folks how they can find you and connect with you to learn more about you and what you offer.
Absolutely. Obviously, you’re welcome to visit my LinkedIn profile. Messaged me that way. You can also go to our website, which is ThriveVance, which is thrive and advance, ThriveVance.com, and look at the variety of things that we do, as well as you can send me an email, which is saftahi@ThriveVance.com. If you would like to reach out, learn more, and I love helping others, so if I can be helpful to you, don’t hesitate to reach out.
That’s great. And we’ll also put in the show notes a link to the website where you can learn more about this combination of coaching on demand and the strong for performance. I’ll just give that URL right now. It’s Thrive, and that’s T-H-R-I-V-E, Vance, V-A-N-C-E, dot com/codinfo. Shohreh, just because you have such a unique first and last name, I want to just spell that for folks that are listening only, and its S-H-O-H-R-E-H, Aftahi, A-F-T-A-H-I.
So, look up Shohreh on LinkedIn and connect with her. She’s just a wonderful person to know, and I want to thank you so much for being my guest today.
Thank you for having me. Hopefully this is a benefit to some people.
I’m sure it will be. Thank you.
Thank you very much.