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Season 01, Episode 02

How To Keep Your Team Aligned And Up To Speed

With guest Dan Martell, Founder of SaaS Academy and Clarify.fm.

About the Episode

Dan Martell is a lifelong entrepreneur, starting businesses at 17, 19, and 24. He raised venture capital for his two companies, Flowtown and Clarity.fm, and he’s successfully exited three businesses. He’s been an advisor for massive success stories like Intercom, Udemy, and Hootsuite, and he’s personally invested in over 40 companies. Dan also runs the biggest YouTube channel in the world for SaaS entrepreneurs. He’s the founder of SaaS academy, helping SaaS companies reach the next level in attracting and converting leads, expanding their customer base and increasing revenues.

In this episode, we talk about creating your business playbook, keeping your systems consistently updated by your employees, and ramping up new hires fast.

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Full Transcript


Chris: What’s up everyone? I’m Chris Ronzio, founder of Trainual and this is Process Makes Perfect. We’re talking with experts in process creation, automation, delegation, just people that know how to make business easier. And today we have Dan Martell. If you get a chance, you’ve got to go to Dan’s website, scroll through his about section. His bio reads like a story – you don’t want to stop scrolling. But just a few highlights, he started businesses at 17, at 19, and at 24. He raised venture capital for his next two companies, Flowtown and Clarity, which I’ve been a customer of. Then he successfully exited three of those businesses. He’s been an advisor for massive success stories like Intercom, Udemy, and Hootsuite. He’s personally invested in over 40 companies, and he runs the biggest YouTube channel in the world for SaaS entrepreneurs. Dan, welcome my man. What’s up?

Dan: Chris! I am so freaking excited to be here, man. I appreciate that intro. You’ve got my energy going. Anything I can do to serve, I’m more than happy to do that.

Chris: Amazing. All right, so funny story for everyone watching now in the time between me booking Dan for this show and him being on the show, I actually joined, personally invested in his group SAS Academy. So he’s been coaching me and I’m excited for him to share all these lessons with you guys that I’ve been learning behind the scenes. So I’m excited for you to be here.

Dan: Chris, It’s an honor man. And I find it just shows to everybody listening. You’re a man of action, you’re guy that gets shit done. I apologize if you can’t swear, but I just want to honor you for doing that and it’s super exciting to be here.

Chris: Absolutely. You can’t teach without learning, right? So you have a framework called the Business Playbook™, and actually that’s how I found out about you. As I was going through something on LinkedIn, people were talking about standard operating procedures. I always try to jump into those conversations and someone said, talk to Dan Martell. He’s the man, he’s the master. So I ended up on your site and I see that you’ve got this framework, Business Playbook™. So where’d that come from? How’d you come up with that?

Dan: Yeah, what’s funny is that my background is in software and architecture and what happened was, as I built my early companies, 17 years old, 19, and finally when I was 24, I’ve kind of figured it out. I read a business book. And the first kind of book that really inspired me is the E-Myth, which is probably everybody’s kind of first foray into systems. And I just decided that’s how I wanted to build my business. I wanted to build a franchise prototype. I even hired an EMF coach, man of action just like you. So like before I even had the business going, I hired this guy named Bob out of Toronto and I paid him $1,500 bucks a month back in the day. This would have been 15 years ago. And he taught me what the E-Myth taught and I took that and I kind of brought it into my own world.

Dan: So we used wikis back then. So this is like back in the day of Atlassian and Confluence. And so we were wikis, Google sites was around, but I essentially fell in love with the idea of taking the same thing as I learned around writing software, which is a system and a functions approach to outcomes and doing the same thing for building business systems. And I’ve always thought that the right word for it for me was playbook cause it’s not like SOP ever really resonated. And then I’d just gotten good over the years to kind of remove all the things that I don’t feel served, that makes it so that they’re impactful and they’re useful and easy to put together.

Chris: I like that term playbook too because it feels team-oriented. It feels like you’re playing a game. Like everyone can get involved and everyone can run some of the plays. So it’s, it’s definitely more accessible. So I know a lot of companies, they feel like they need something like this and they want to start writing something down, but it feels like maybe it’s just a waste of time or they don’t have time for it. So when, when do you think is the right time for someone to start making a playbook?

Dan: As soon as you do anything that’s going to be done repeatedly, I think you need to document it. Now I, for example, marketing, I’ve always built out the playbook as I was doing it. Even if I might do it for six months or 12 months before I hired somebody to backfill that role. Just because as you’re doing it is when A. you should be following your own process and B. you’re going to be able to add the nuances and the tweaks to the, the procedures and the checklist. But what I recommend to keep it simple is a few things. One, we create a program doc for each core function of your business. Meaning that, you know, you have a way to get customers, you have a way to serve customers. You have a way to manage the business. Those are kind of the high level you know, programs you could create.

Dan: So I have a marketing program, a sales program, a delivery program, a customer success program. And those are just for us Google Docs that have two parts to it. I think that there’s the workflow, which is just the checklist of things in different phases of that activity. And then second is the schedule. What’s the cadence for things that need to be checked on a daily, a weekly, a monthly, a quarterly basis. And, and you put that all on the same document and it’s just super simple to maintain. But to do that, we have a rule. So our rule is that you can’t be working on a process that exists without having it open. So we actually use the version history to check often if people in those functions are actually using their documents because they should be updating it at least once a week. It could be as simple as tweaking a label or fixing a typo or adding an extra step to a checklist. But that’s the lightest implementation I think when it comes to, especially for entrepreneurs that want to build some systems and procedures in their business, just create one for each core function in the business and put it in one document.

Chris: So do you think it’s pretty universal that every business has those core departments? So those core functions, and that’s really where they should start?

Dan: 100%. I mean, if you don’t have a repeatable process for getting customers, even if it’s word of mouth, there’s ways that you can amplify your referrals or you have a documented procedure for how you do the thing you do. And at a minimum a checklist for when something’s done, what I call the definition of done, of being able to checklist, you know, and it doesn’t matter if it’s like a service business or a software. Then I think you’re depending too much on people’s inherent intelligence and/or skill level. And that’s just a dangerous place to be in business.

Chris: Yeah, definitely. Okay. So as you get the process started and you’re starting to frame out the departments who really has to own this? Who has the champion the effort?

Dan: So I think whoever’s doing it the first time champions in for the most, most part it’s the entrepreneurs, the CEO, right? Like we’re, we’re always, the way I think about it is we’re always looking to buy back our time and the way we do that as we hire people to take over those roles. But when you hire them, you want them to be given some kind of instructions or manuals. And what I love about our, the program concept is if you do it right, I even do this thing called the camcorder method where I record my screen when I’m doing certain things so that I have like a training backlog. So I might try to record three or four times that I do something and I add it to that section in the program as a link to a Dropbox video. And you can use whatever tools quick times lets you screen record. And that way when you hire somebody, the training and onboarding for them is reading the whole thing and following the links and reading all the training documents, etc. And then at the end you can have a quick test or outside that document is you don’t want them to know the answers. That just verifies that they actually have read the procedure. And I think that’s just the fastest way for somebody to self-learn get ramped up, be productive day one.

Chris: Yeah, it’s funny. So we have this hashtag #explainitonce because if you’re going to sit with someone and explain it or you’re going to do it on the screen, you might as well fire up a recorder and just record yourself doing it because then you’ve got an asset that you can use over and over again. 

Dan: That’s what I’m a big fan of, like Skype recordings or Zoom. You Zoom a lot in our team, and we record everything just because if there’s a 20-minute conversation where somebody asks a question, you explain it, it’s like, “Hey, can you clip that and add it to the program doc or to the systems docs” so that way there’s, you know, even if it’s, it gets stale over time. That’s why I’m not a big fan of documenting to the nth degree, the button clicks, the form labels and all that because the document gets stale really quick. I’m more of like, you know, this procedure, this procedure, this procedure, and then here’s the checks. Did you check the links in the email? Did you send it to somebody else for copy review? You know what I mean? Just like when you get caught and you break something, go add it to the checklist for completion.

Chris: Yeah, great point. Don’t overcomplicate it because then it’ll get stale. So there’s this competing back and forth methodology or philosophy, I guess some people want to have everything super dialed in so that they can hand it off to someone and know that they’re just going to do it and other people want to hire someone that’s the expert and say, “Oh, they’ll figure it out. I have no idea what I’m doing.” So where do you fall on that spectrum in terms of documentation? Is it the person’s job that you’re hiring to do the documentation or do you have to figure it out in advance?

Dan: I think it’s both. I’m a big fan of, if you have, again, most entrepreneurs are gonna to do things the first time themselves if they’ve got a business before they can even afford to hire somebody. Unless they raise venture capital and go down that route. But what I’ve learned is that businesses have a heartbeat, a rhythm, a way they like to do things. And it’s not that the expert doesn’t know how to get an outcome, it’s just their approach is different. And there’s nuances into why your marketing program has like this structure that they may not know. So they might be able to do Facebook ads, but you might have a nuance to it. And I find I’ve always ended up in a better place if I hired somebody that had less experience but followed my procedure that I documented than hired somebody with experience and ask them to create it because a lot of them don’t understand. I mean, creating systems is actually a skill, right? That I teach my team because I don’t think it’s natural to break things down. Like I feel super lucky that a lot of that came from designing database architectures and system architectures, like decomposing complex problems into modules and components. And it turns out to be a great skill for building business system.

Chris: Yeah. Every time I’ve sat down to document something, I’m amazed at how long I get so deep into it. You know, you think you don’t know a lot about something until you start writing about it. And then it’s just detail after detail. So it’s amazing how much lives up here for sure. So once you get started, once you’re documenting something,  a lot of people will, they’ll make a manual, they’ll make a document, they’ll make something and then it just collects dust. It sits on the shelf. So how do you start to build a culture around process? How do you make it something that’s consistently updated?

Dan: I think there’s a few things. One, we have a rule called linkability. So like everything we work on has to have a direct link. So that means we don’t use project management software or anything else that doesn’t have that. And because of that we in our communication guidelines, which is a system if you mention a link, you have to provide the link, right? Cause there’s a good chance you had the thing open anyway. Might as well add it to the email. So one of the things is we always are linking to procedures because if we mention it like, “Hey, go follow this and, and get this output or work with this person to implement this thing.” Second is as a team, every Monday and our weekly sync, we update, if there’s new systems or procedures created, the person has to kind of communicate it to the team that it exists.

Dan: And then anytime, you know, we have the rule as a culture that you don’t work on a system that exists, not have the document open. And if you see something wrong, everybody has the ability and responsibility to update it regardless of if it’s you that created it or not. They’re not locked in stone. Anybody can collaborate. You know, it’s cool that, you know, there’s the tools today that allows you to maintain version history so that you can revert if somebody changes or delete something by accident. But yeah, I think a cultural thing and if you make it a game and you reward the behavior, I think people want to do it. You know, I always tell people, I need you to build out this system so that we pass the ‘hit by a bus test,’ that you can get promoted, that we can hire somebody to replace you. And it’s super painless, right? That if something happens where you have somebody you care about that gets sick and you need to take time off, we want to support you in that. But we obviously need to deliver the value to our customers. So I think it’s just important to make it part of the culture.

Chris: So I want to dig into the weekly sync a little bit. Is this something that you include as an every week agenda item where you’re talking about process and policy updates? How do you reward the behavior of actually keeping things updated?

Dan: Yeah, so the weekly sync has a lot of different aspects to it. I mean, we start with wins, we talk about customer headlines, but in there, there’s an announcements section where people can announce things. You know, new changes, infrastructure tweaks, process improvements. And I just think that people, they manage what you reward and measure. And by having people share some of those updated systems and then me as the leader saying, “Hey, that’s amazing, thank you so much for creating that.” Or you know, “Kelsey, congrats on creating that new section of our customer success process or whatever it is.” Or like event registration flows, automating that. Like I just think it’s important as a leader that you recognize it, identify it and let everybody know, you know, I think it’s always best to shine the spotlight on the right behavior than criticize the wrong behavior. Right? And so that’s what I’m always doing. I’m always trying to say these are good things to build up the growth engine and the infrastructure. Let’s recognize it and reward them for that.

Chris: Totally. We try to tie our meetings back to our core values. And so one of the values in the company is to initiate and embrace change. And so for us, the process improvements are tied to that core value. And so anytime we’ve got a good example of those, we’re laying that out. And I think sometimes companies, if they don’t have a value or a culture that supports process improvement, they can talk about. We want to be process efficient, but if people don’t truly believe it, it’s hard to keep that up.

Dan: Yeah. And what I’ve seen is the biggest pain is when people are like, alright, we’re going to build an SOP, you know, and then they’d do like an offsite for three days and like try to document everything and that to me never works. I think it has to be integrated in the culture to the communication flow. It’s gotta be a living document. You know, you’ve got to teach people the tools to capture an update. You know, like I think like audio capture, video capture. Even a friend of mine, he has like site guys, field service techs, and I showed them how like you can use this upload Cam app to videotape and upload to Dropbox, in the background and that way that gets connected to a job and that gets shared with the customer. And it’s just, I think when you start looking at automation and training and you know, kind of culture from that point of view, that’s when it really works. You can’t just cause you have, it doesn’t mean it’s done. You actually need to, to kind of use it.

Chris: Right. Okay. So in your framework you talk about there’s three sections that you have to document and procedures, references, templates. So talk a little bit about that.

Dan: Yeah. So to me, procedures are things that you follow to get something done. References are data, right? So like most of us have like some kind of spreadsheets or customer lists or you know lead magnets, audits, like pretty much anything that looks like a spreadsheet that has like referenceable material that goes in the, the reference tab in a spreadsheet. And should we keep it simple? And then the templates are kind of the repeatable templates for like, you know, email templates to posting on social media to you know, creating a events calendar, whatever it is. Like it’s, it’s in that way, it’s just easy people to find. And then, if you scale the business and you have like hundreds of employees, you might need to break it down and have every department have their own playbooks. But for the most part, you know, again, most people listening to this are probably doing less than a million in revenue for those folks, you could just keep it all in one spreadsheet or move up to a full, like Trainual as you scale. Because honestly, it does break down from a securities and permissions point of view. 

Chris: So as people are creating these things, how long should they be, you know, and so when you tell someone create a playbook, are they making like the encyclopedia Britannica or is it just like a, a handy laminated guide, where is it in terms of length?

Dan: I actually don’t set a limit on length just because the tools are so easy to find. But I’m a big fan of clear table of contents. So if you think at a high level, I think there’s kind of an overview of what the goal is for that thing. And then there’s like the, the pre-work, the doing,the post-work. That’s maybe on the checklist side, the steps. And then underneath, like I mentioned, there’s the schedule itself of what should be done on a weekly basis and that might reference, back up to something else. So I think if as long as you nailed the table of contents and it’s clear, then it can be as long as it needs to be, especially if you start adding some other examples and trainings and templates in that document and then it could get long. But honestly I care more of, is it clear, than the length of it? Like is it clear? Are you clearly communicating what’s involved and how people should use it?

Chris: Right. So as you’re creating your playbook, writing out these things, do you ever revisit the old stuff or, or throw away things that aren’t used anymore? You know, how often should people flush through these things?

Dan: I mean, to me, you do it in real time. So I might have a core five systems that I’m working in for this quarter based on some of the big rocks that are on my projects. And those documents for the most part are being updated in real time because every time I do something and it could be like send an email or add something to my calendar and set it up as a recurring task, I’ll then want to make sure that the system reflects that activity. So to me, again, they’re living documents. If I noticed there’s a section in there that’s like add a date. Where it mentions we used to use Skype, now we use Zoom. And I see it, I’ll just like update it and tweak it or I’ll like select it and tag somebody in the team and be like, “Hey, this is outdated. You might want to update it,” if it’s not my document. Cool. Or if I don’t know how to answer it.

Chris: So the last step, number five in your framework and the business playbook framework, was to use it for onboarding and training. So obviously this is close to my heart, but how do you see the playbook, the documentation, segwaying into the training and onboarding? How does it get used day to day?

Dan: Yeah. I think one question I asked my team when they’re building out their programs is like if you had nothing other than a list of things you would want to cross train somebody else on to do your role, that would be the beginning, right? Like that would be a great place to do it. So I think as long, so in regards to onboarding, we want to make sure that for whatever role you’re hiring for, there’s at least a first level list of, I want you to manage this, manage this, manage this, managers just manage this. And even if there’s nothing in those sections yet, at least you have a checklist of like, oh we already talked about that you feel comfortable. Boom. So it’s just like even giving people guidance in case, you know, cause many times we’ll hire somebody and maybe a week later we find out we hired the wrong person, and we’ve got to go through that process again.

Dan: So you might as well at least create the outcome. In regards to training, what I do is I like to record everything. So it could be from, you know, publishing something to a meeting with somebody to an interaction with the customer, you know, obviously with permission and then those all get added to the, so every document or every major section would have a training, a subcategory, and I would just link those specific recordings to the training. They’re not professional, they’re not polished, they’re literally screened recordings and or just audio recordings. I mean it’s, it, I call it ghetto, but useful. Like it works, it gets people context and at the end of the day we’re still going to have a conversation about it to make sure they truly understand it. But it allows me to avoid having to, like you said, explain it twice, right? I want to explain it once, capture it, let somebody else consume it, and then they can ask me questions around the areas that might not be clear.

Chris: Yeah, I love that. And so one of the things I’ve loved about being in your group is all of the content that you’ve done, the webinars, the presentations, those all get logged into a system that members can search. And it’s not that we’re necessarily following a training track, but when we need something, we know where find it. And I think training inside your business is the same thing. You know, there’s certain things you want everybody to know and you want to check off. Did they get this? Did they get this, do they know this? But then everything else is just there for reference. Look it up when you need it and you know where to find it.

Dan: 100% I think that’s it. I think that to me is the biggest opportunity is when, especially when somebody else finds it for you, they’re like, “Hey, I actually found this. I did it. And it’s done.” And you’re just like, oh my gosh, it’s amazing. All right. Nobody had to tell you to do it. You just thought about going to find it yourself.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. And when I talk to people about this, I say it’s like trying to bookmark every website on the internet or just googling something. You know, you don’t need to have everything organized and structured. You just need to know where to find it.

Dan: And, and I think the biggest opportunity even on that is linking to external content, right? Like we don’t have to create all the training. We can go on Google and find the best, you know, video on that topic, link it up in our systems and build a world-class onboarding and training process without having to do all the heavy lifting.

Chris: Right, exactly. You can’t create everything, but you can curate a lot of things. So to wrap this up, I know people will want to dive more into your stuff. What resource would you send them to or where can people find you to learn more about what you do?

Dan: Yeah, I think the most useful thing for, for most entrepreneurs is getting their weekly syncs in place. And to me there’s a specific format that I’ve created over the years to help me build multimillion dollar companies and keep my whole team collaborating and aware as you’re like, if you’re growing 50% a year, pretty much every six months, your whole business looks different. So that format’s called the Weekly Sync format, so you can get it at danmartell.com/theweeklysyncformat. And it’s really just a worksheet that walks you through the key areas that you should be doing on your weekly meetings with your team and how to kind of keep the conversation going so nobody feels like they’re out of sync with where the business is going and how they should be contributing to that growth.

Chris: Awesome. I love that. So check that out, danmartell.com/theweeklysyncformat. As Dan mentioned, the weekly sync. That meeting is crucial for ingraining that process culture into your business. So definitely start there and learn more about Dan on his website. Dan, thank you so much for being here. This was great.

Dan: Chris it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thanks so much, man.

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