Scaling your business is a Game of Phones (or how to knock some fun out of rejection! :-) ) – Sunday’s “Coffee with Colm”

Carambola has grown to over 1200 times its original day one size in the fifteen years since we served our first school lunch to a school in a, back then, very disadvantaged area of Limerick City, Moyross.

A random (or Universally designed!?!) meeting with a man on a train (link at the bottom), led to an opportunity to participate in a Government pilot scheme to provide more nutritious food to children in areas of clear disadvantage. Our first order was for 27 lunches. As I write this the average number of meals we provide daily is over 32,000 – we have 1200x’d our business since 2003.

At Pendulum Summit in Dublin in January, Brad Sugars, founder of the Global Coaching Phenomenon that is Action Coach spoke of 30X’ing your business instead of trying to grow it by 30% – these require very different approaches and mind sets and they are worlds apart from each other.

I hear too many self-employed people and small business owners talk about the struggle trying to get their business to ‘the next level’ – the ‘next level’ is boring, no wonder they are struggling!

Setting a goal of growing your business by 30% is hard work, worry and struggle – deciding to 30X your business is fun and exciting and the 30% ‘next level’ is in fact just a ‘next step’ on the journey.

Growing by 30% means picking up the phone to more prospects, growing by 30 TIMES means picking up the phone to more markets (possibly countries), prospective partners, recruitment agencies, etc. – far more exciting in my opinion.

Regardless of whether you want to 30X your business or simply grow it by 30% you must pick up the phone (or reach out in some way) and you must be aware of 7 numbers:

To find out the 7 numbers and which you need to measure, watch the video (7 mins teaching), listen to the podcast (7 mins teaching) or read on below…

Prefer Podcast? Click here.

The seven numbers are:

  1. The number of leads in your pipeline
  2. Your conversion rate
  3. of customers you have
  4. Average spend per customer
  5. Your top line sales value
  6. Your profit margin
  7. Your profit

Most people when asked will admit to measuring, 3, 5 and 7

  1. The number of leads in your pipeline
  2. Your conversion rate
  3. of customers you have
  4. Average spend per customer
  5. Your top line sales value
  6. Your profit margin
  7. Your profit

But 3, 5, and 7, No. of customers, Top line sales value and profit are in fact derivatives of the other 4 numbers so for you to grow them whether by 30% or 30 times, you would be far better served working on the other four and let the results fall out the bottom.

Here is the formula

  1. The number of leads in your pipeline
  2. Your conversion rate
  3. of customers you have
  4. Average spend per customer
  5. Your top line sales value
  6. Your profit margin
  7. Your profit

So measure and increase your leads and your conversion rate and you will increase your no. of customers.

Measure and increase your average spend per customer and (multiplied by your ever growing number of customers) and you will increase your top line sales.

Measure and increase your profit margin and you will increase your profits!

The best way to do this is therefore measure 1, 2, 4 and 6

  1. The number of leads in your pipeline
  2. Your conversion rate
  3. of customers you have
  4. Average spend per customer
  5. Your top line sales value
  6. Your profit margin
  7. Your profit

An improved number at each of 3, 5 and 7 will be the result!

My dad, Tommy O’Brien, now retired, was involved in selling for over fifty years in his career and was very successful at it – he didn’t work off CRM systems, Google Maps, or email, yet, alone on the small country of Ireland he outsold the entire UK sales force for a particular piece of kit that had its origins in Germany – yep, just my dad, with my mam along for the ride, in a population of 3.5 million, outsold the entire UK sales force handling a population of more than 60 million!

How? His philosophy; “The more calls you make, the more orders you take.”

Listen to the beautiful simplicity in that ‘Tommyism’: “The more calls you make, the more orders you take!” Simple. Beautiful. Effective.

So why don’t more people do that?

They are afraid of rejection; you see the more calls you make the more nos you take too!

The winner will be he or she who can collect the most nos quickest!

Rocky Balboa said, “It’s not how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep going…”

The yeses are hidden like rare jewels in the dross of nos. Are you willing to dig and keep digging?

Collect more nos. (link at the bottom)

Turn it into a game – a Game of Phones! See how many nos you can collect in a day! (By the way every no is worthy money – link at the bottom)

Want to 30X your business? 30X your calls, 30X your activity!

So how are you going to do this? You will do this when you do Owners Work, not Operators Work.

“What’s the difference Colm” I hear you ask?

Owners work is working ON your business, Operators work is working IN your business. I

f you are doing something within your business that could be done by somebody else, then you are doing Operators Work and when Carambola started, I did operators work too! Why? No choice. We were broke. Our first business had failed. We were quarter million Euro in the hole. We had to do whatever we could to get out of the hole. So we set to work.

So I made sandwiches, packed lunch bags, loaded the van, drove the van, washed the van, jumped up and down on the refuse in the skip to allow us get more in before it was emptied to save money, answered the phones, took orders, placed orders, received goods in, processed invoices, lodged money and wrote cheques. This is Operators Work.

I don’t do any of that today.

Why not?

Because I realized very early on if I didn’t discipline myself to do Owners Work, I would be doing Operators Work forever. This is the trap may self-employed fall into.

Truthfully I refuse to answer the phone in Carambola these days. Want to know why? If the business relies on me to answer the phone, then I don’t have a business, I have a job.

However owners work requires letting go and this can be scary, after all you are allowing somebody else hold your baby.

The dilemma is, hold the baby yourself forever and molly coddle it but it will never grow and mature and become all it can be in the world or allow others in to help and watch it mature and develop. The self-employed out there practice the former, even if they talk about the latter, business owners talk about and practice the latter consistently. And yes, sometimes the baby falls; it definitely will have bumps and bruises and may suffer the odd break, but being dropped is rarely fatal.

How do you learn to let go?

It starts with a decision. You either want to build a business or stay in your self-created job – you can’t do both simultaneously.

Once the decision is made, then start letting go of the reins in some area – in my case it was getting off the van in the early years. I used start work at 5am, load the van, drive to Cork, do the deliveries and get back to our kitchens circa 1pm to start the real work. I did this for about a year and then finally identified a guy that I felt could replace me so I took him with me.

Working together we got through the route quicker and so I got back to the ranch around midday instead of 1pm and I used that extra hour to work ‘on’ other aspects of the business.

He got to see me in action, I got to see him in action and eventually he started doing the run himself, at first a day a week, then two, then three, then full-time.

To have your people learn to fly solo in the context of your business and your brand, fly alongside them for a while – learn to trust them before you allow them off alone. You will benefit, they will benefit, your business will benefit. By the way, they won’t all work out, so we are back to playing the numbers. However if you want to build a business, this letting go is a must!

Want to 30X your business?


Then play the numbers game, play the Game of Phones!

PS To finish, I am reprinting a snippet from my book, Feeding Johnny – How to Build a Business Despite the Roadblocks recounting a typical day in those early years – might be of interest – find it beneath my signature…


HIRE ME TO SPEAK. Consider me speaking at your event, launch, awards, or as your after-dinner keynote. Find out more here.

MORE. Some of the issues touched on above have been discussed in earlier “Coffee with Colm” Blog posts:

  • The Man on the Train – the meeting that changed my life! Click here
  • Collect more NOs. Click here
  • The difference between Self-employed and Business Ownership. Click here.

STAY CONNECTED. If this is your thing, consider joining in the conversation here.

FREE BOOK. If would like a complimentary copy of my book “Feeding Johnny – How to Build a Business Despite the Roadblocks” in audio, narrated by yours truly so you get all the nuances, feel free to grab one here.

DEEP DIVE. If you would like to go deeper in your own personal journey, you can review the first step in my “12 Steps to Create the Life You Really Want” for FREE. Check it out here.

Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly,

“How can I help?”

PS A typical day for me in Carambola in the early years.

4:30am: Beep, beep, beep, beep…alarm goes off; time to get up. Jump into my jeans and work boots, pull on a sweatshirt, fill a flask with coffee and out the door. It’s minus 5.

Our estate is eerily quiet at this hour, not a sound until I start up the 2.5l diesel engine. One sure way of getting a bad name with the neighbours is running a diesel engine to defrost the windscreen of a second hand van so you can drive to work in the middle of the night. Thankfully I remembered to put old sheets on the windscreen under the wipers last night; it’s easier to peel them off, stiff and crystalline, than to try scraping the ice off the windscreen but the engine still has to be run to get the screen clear. Our good friends, Robert and Fiona Byrne who lived two doors up coincidentally moved house during this period. They admitted years later that they could only sleep with the windows open for air and absolutely hated that I drove past their house at that hour however the Merc was my only mode of transport at the time. It didn’t help that the van was a much used second hand relic, perfectly food safe on the inside but, until we repaired and branded it, looked awful on the outside; I’m sure people were wondering what had our little estate become.

5:00am: Arrive at Raheen and begin the process of loading up. 1700 lunches at an average of twenty lunches per tray is eighty-five trays, each weighing an average 20kg means that I have a full work out done by 5.45am. I take eight trays at a time on a hand cart and run them through the kitchen, down a ramp to the back door of the van, whereupon I would load each by hand (known in the trade as hand-balling) into the refrigerated compartment, climb in, re-stack them and shuffle the stack into an exact position for safe transport – climb down, repeat the process 10 more times. I’m fit – and sweating – despite the minus 5 air temperature. Before I leave for Cork I review orders for the following day to make sure the sandwich makers, who will be in before I get back, have proper instruction..

6:00 – 8:00am: I load up my favourite motivational cd’s and off I go on the 250km round trip watching the sun rise slowly as I travel. Two hours to myself. Bliss.

8:00 – 10:30am: Systems and rhythm are everything. I must be finished deliveries in all schools by 10.30am, i.e. before ‘sos beag’ or little break, so taking account of where the schools were located, how many trays per school, caretaker habits – some were early risers, others not – and traffic movements, I must be at my first school by 8am – any delay will cause me problems. Johnny must be fed.

Every school is different; some have steps to negotiate, at some I can reverse to the front door, at others I have to park on the street and ‘hand-ball’ the trays on my trusty hand cart, 100 metres or more. Everything also works backwards: the first school on the route has been packed last in the van so that the trays are facing me when I arrive at 8; the air temperature has warmed up to freezing by now.

As I deliver today’s lunches, I collect yesterday’s empties; these needed stacking and shuffling so as not to impede my second, third and subsequent deliveries. This is work. This is pressure. There is sweat.

10:30am: Head towards Limerick.

1pm: Arrive back at the factory. I stopped for a twenty minute snooze around 11am followed by lunch at a lay-by outside Cork. Lunch or perhaps more correctly brunch consisted of, by then lukewarm, coffee accompanied by some fruit, water and Carambola Kidz sandwiches. This, by the way, with the exception of the lukewarm coffee – we have a ‘real coffee’ machine in the office – is still my lunch today.

Immediately upon my return the real work starts. I pass the van over to one of the guys to unload it, clean it and wash the trays for re-use. The Limerick route, at that stage outsourced to Noel Neville and Eddie Stewart, good people, is already completed and the empties washed before I get back.

The sandwich makers have been in since 8am and there is always something that needs my attention; a supplier hasn’t arrived yet, we got the wrong amount of something or other, one of the staff hasn’t turned up but is on her way, there is a note to say a school rang to change Johnny’s order, cheques need signing.

The tray packers are also in. At this stage in our development we have separated the various processes and so have a separate crew packing trays with everything else other than sandwiches; these will be added later. All of the trays are labelled with the teacher, class and school and filled with water, juice, fruit and snacks and then placed in our cold room until we are ready to add the sandwiches.

There are suppliers to meet, samples to taste, production schedules to review, meetings to be had, brewing inter-department rows to head off at the pass. Stuff.

4:00pm: It’s late afternoon as the kitchen finishes production for the day and begins the clean down. The packing room will continue for another few hours because they started later; to allow for the lack of cold room space available we had to split the processes by time so we could effectively manage product in and out of cold storage safely.

5:00pm As the last of the kitchen crew leave, the Sandwich packers arrive. These are two guys who dress up like Eskimos and enter the cold room with class lists, whereupon they take one stack of trays at a time and tray by tray, class by class add the correct quantity of each sandwich type before restacking it in a fashion that allows it be taken to the correct van tomorrow morning in the correct order so it is first tray in, last tray out as the van gets to its schools. They begin alone, I’ll join them later.

7:00pm Tray Packing guys go home leaving just me and the sandwich packers in the building. I don my own Eskimo gear and head in to the cold room at 5 degrees Celsius – a full ten degrees warmer than when my day started fourteen and a half hours ago.

10:30pm Finished. Home to shower and bed for a few hours – assuming nobody has made a mistake. There is nothing worse at the end of an eighteen hour day than finding you are missing three sandwiches when you get to the last tray. It’s deeply frustrating to have to go back into the kitchen, gown up and make a handful of products because somebody messed up earlier. Actually, there is something worse than being short three sandwiches at the end and that is being left with three sandwiches at the end! This means we have to back-track until we find the mistake!

But Johnny must be fed. And he always was.


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