William Lieberman, Founder & CEO, The CEO's Right Hand, Inc.

Scaling Up Services - 015 - William - Lieberman

William Lieberman, Founder & CEO, The CEO's Right Hand, Inc.

Mr. Lieberman is an experienced founder/entrepreneur, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer available to provide strategic and financial consulting services as a trusted advisor to the Founder/CEO or Board of Directors.

Since 2013, Mr. Lieberman has acted as a consultant and advisor to a variety of companies across a myriad of industries: technology, fashion, business services (consulting), and more. Mr. Lieberman is the Founder of “The CEO’s Right Hand”, a New York-based consulting services firm that provides the full breadth of strategic, financial and operational advice to founders, CEO’s or Executive Teams.

Building upon the experience of its founder as an entrepreneur and operator, The CEO’s Right Hand enables the founder/CEO to focus on the core strengths of the company. From strategic planning to budget/forecasting, Board-level presentations to development of key performance indicators, compensation planning to margin analysis, the company provides an end-to-end solution for supporting ongoing or one-time (project) needs.



[00:00:01] You're listening to Scaling Up Services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier.

[00:00:15] And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt

[00:00:22] Welcome everyone. This is scaling up services. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt. I'm your host and our guest today is William Lieberman who is founder and CEO of the CEO's right hand and all around financial genius. So William and I have known each other for a while through the Entrepreneurs Organization and various kinds of groups and I'm really fascinated to talk to him today

[00:00:43] About his entrepreneurial background and the company he's working on now which is very Severns space. William thank you for being on the program.

[00:00:49] Absolutely and I'm glad to be here and looking forward to it.

[00:00:52] Great. So why don't we start. I always like to kind of have people just go a little bit about their background so how you know what was your background how did you get into services.

[00:01:01] How did you start this particular company and then we can talk a little bit about what we what you're doing with the CEOs right hand.

[00:01:06] Sure. My background has been business and finance. Both the mix all my life. So I built a couple different companies.

[00:01:14] The main one being a fin tech business that started in San Francisco and then I moved it out to New York and built and ran that as CEO and chairman as well as CFO for many years. And then I left that in 14 and went to a startup that was President CFO of that business startup that didn't start for a variety of reasons as many people have experienced. And then from there I started my current business CEOs right hand as a boutique financial consulting firm.

[00:01:48] Awesome LMB I think a whole nother broadcast on startups that didn't quite start.

[00:01:54] I think everyone's got a story to say. And this is great because I think a lot of what I love to talk about is a little bit of a contrast or the differences in service based businesses than other titan in product because business manufacturing based businesses. So so tell me a little bit about when you started the CEO's right hand what what services were your focusing on. What did you. What problems were you're trying to solve for folks. And then we talk a little bit about the evolution of that over time.

[00:02:22] So I think it's important to understand some of the reasons I started the business right.

[00:02:28] So I started the business so that I can have flexibility in my life. And so that I can have really a bit of risk diversification. So in my mind if I have 10 15 20 clients and I lose one or two it doesn't matter but if I go work for somebody full time you know that is could be perceived as even riskier. Lots of people don't realize that. You know I could go get a job it's safe. But there's a lot of ways that it isn't. So just want to put that out there. So I started this business looking to be the outsourced CFO for early stage growth companies where I provide strategic advice based in finance that help people go from point A to point B to point they will added How are you going to get there. And let me figure out with you as a partner what we can do from a financial perspective to help you. So that was the genesis I had spent many years in. You know you know an Entrepreneurs Organization in the accelerated program. I spent many years as a mentor to a very early stage companies and I really enjoyed that I really enjoyed being able to help them. And so now this gives me a vehicle to do so.

[00:03:38] And so you mentioned sort of strategic problems. What were their typical things that you tended to focus on or problems that you ran into with these early stage folks.

[00:03:48] So what kind of problems to do generally focus on with these early stage companies like what were you what are you running into any any common challenges that you'd find that they have shared in the beginning.

[00:03:58] Lots of companies especially as they're growing have struggled with cash flow and how much cash they have so much that they need. How are we going to get it. How are we going to generate. What's the best way to generate cash be it internally or do we need to raise capital. We need to raise capital how do we do it how much do we need. Who do we approach. So we spend a lot of time on making sure a company doesn't run out of cash as long as there are growth. And that's a real core area of focus for us even today. Beyond that we guiding to and get into very strategic issues with you know what products or services should be selling how we sell. Who should we be selling to. You know you think through all the different types of aspects of a business when the company is young and you are actually a trusted adviser consigliere if you will for the CEO Founder and because I've been in your shoes and have been there done that it brings a lot of experience to handle that helps them avoid the landmines.

[00:05:00] Yeah I think that's you know that that advisory role can be can be really kind of important for early stage companies because oftentimes you know they haven't been through it before or they've been through it in one particular way and they haven't been through it the way they're international. So helping them navigate that stuff. I also think you know from a finance it's fascinating because it's you know we always say you know show me your bank account or your credit card statement and I'll show you what your priorities are. Know they will they will spend money right. Based on what they really want to do and what they really think is important. So I think it's a fascinating way of kind of looking or advising a business.

[00:05:38] So it's not like in the beginning it was kind of this finance and then it would kind of filter out or kind of spread out to lots of different aspects of the business as you started to grow. What did you notice about some of the challenges of picking clients picking services. What was the what was that process like for you as you as you grew the company.

[00:05:56] Yes. In terms of looking at clients and qualifying clients I think that was a big challenge for me is how to qualify clients especially in the beginning I was taking everything in. Right there was I was being very opportunistic and not strategic in terms of my ability to to look to the client. What are their needs and what are my abilities and my team's abilities to service those needs. So now I boil it down to you know pretty simple list. No one you know are you passionate about rolling your business right. There's lots of companies that are lifestyle companies that are just kind of you know going along and they're happy to do that and not really interested in growing or changing or mixing things up so that they can really increase the the bottom line too. Are you willing to listen. Right there's lots of people that you know you got in. They have their own ideas and they're just going to do what they were going to do. So I'm not quite sure why I'm even there. And three I have to like you. Right. So you know life's too short. So if you really are not a person that would like to have a beer with I'm probably not the one to do business with you. Talk to you on a regular basis. The other than that we're pretty open to it and I guess for can you pay my bill. Rick that you know we're open day age and geography and we're really looking to grow that business significantly and we have so far yeah.

[00:07:19] So tell me about the gross where where have you seen traction in terms of being able to grow and scale the services from UP SOME value or from an offering point of view like what do you go out with at this point in terms of services.

[00:07:34] What are the things that I've learned is there are you know on the food chain of Flint finance there are you know the bottom sort of bookkeeping. The top is the Qiangic advisory and there's everything in between accounting controller financial planning BPO finance CFO and strategic advisor. That's the spectrum and that's this officer is we offered. And what I found is that the higher up the chain that obviously the more you charge. But those are the people that are in demand because there's fewer and far between. Right. So finding a really good business analyst with the new financial planning in Excel is very difficult. And so what we do is we found some people that we know that were great that are client facing same unless you year both sides TJX you both. There's tons of bookkeepers. But the bottom of the food chain. And so I stay away from that work and focus on the high value add where I know that we can bring a lot to the table and that I can can we charge a lot more than you know. Again that sort of commodity service within the financial realm.

[00:08:43] Yeah yeah I mean it sounds like really kind of figuring out the where do you have the most impact from a client point of view. And whereas where do they have the hardest time finding things that we find a finding those services and there are companies that provide outsourced bookkeeping and they do it in mass.

[00:08:58] Right. And you know there are some of them are pretty good but that's just not the space that we play in.

[00:09:03] Yeah. Yeah. No that makes sense.

[00:09:05] And you know certainly figuring out that the addition of them and the focus anything you've seen in terms of the customer side in terms of types of customers either you know demographic or psychographic or situational that you end up finding a lot or doing well with or selling easily to.

[00:09:22] Definitely. I think again the ones that are passionate about really and those tend to be and it happens. You know the people that I get referred to either from gazelles that go Zales coaches or Twitters organization know folks this Dedge and less to a lesser extent Wakeel but the people that are in organizations like that that are really interested in learning more and growing the business and listening to other people from a host or BBQ IQ quotient kind of big. They're right up there ready to dig in and improve their game. So that's the best. And then from there I just I've been working my network and finding people that are in a state of change. So what something's happened in their business that gives them a pinpoint. And once they hit that Pinguin then they say hey I really need your help here.

[00:10:13] So I'm sure a lot of people listening are kind of in this professional services world of various kinds of flavors we say I have been some of the bigger challenges for you as you kind of look to grow the professional services organizations where were you hit challenges roadblocks obstacles and what are some of the things that you've done to overcome those strike that you know some of the biggest challenges especially in it in the services organization or if it comes down to people.

[00:10:40] So finding the right people that can deliver and understand the consultative approach to a service based business. Right so there's you could buy lots of people that are really good say in a specific domain like spread the word or you know financial analysis whatever but it might be. But to find the people that are good at that and are really good communicators that can go and be client facing and listen and ask the right questions take it back digest it and put it packaged up together in a solution using the various constituents and resources that they have at their disposal. That's critical right. But he knows people is what he's spent a lot of time on. And you know I've been able to do that so far. Some people have worked out and Paston but you know my great team is great and I'm continually looking so I'm always interviewing always talking always meeting people even if I don't have an immediate need. I'm always building a bench and that I've found is very critical across the whole spectrum. So from bookkeepers all the way up to CFOs I'm constantly building a bench.

[00:11:47] Yeah I would say probably aren't a crit unless and like the top three things for a CEO of a service based company.

[00:11:54] But you know talent talent is probably number one or number two. I mean after I made it a little bit but I could yeah well yeah yeah. 1 and 2 because I think you're right. I like that.

[00:12:03] That's kind of the maybe the mental shift of it's not that you're all you're always developing talent you're always looking for talent. And I often find that in fact companies run into problems when when they if they start to look for talent when they need the talent it's far too late. You really you really need to have that pipeline that that bench that talent flow coming in so that when you do need it you can kind of pull from the pool that you have rather than trying to create it because it can take months and it comes and goes in fits and starts based on what's going on on the market in the economy.

[00:12:34] Yes in the 40s model right. So I used to 99 contractors so that I can scale up and scale down depending on the volume of business coming in. And so that creates its own challenges by the way there are some great things about it but yet the same issues that come up with some of these people have their own clients or their own businesses et cetera. So they might not always be available. So that's where I again I have to build that bench outside always have enough capacity of people sit on the bench so that if something comes in and closes then I know and then I'm always forecasting up my pipeline and ugly people say this could close in the next 30 days. Are you going to be available on Saturday.

[00:13:11] So I'm as a financial person. Sure you're a lot of experience doing forecasts and stuff but I actually think that's one of the big challenges for a lot of professional services firms is they think that OK I'm going to do my forecast in January 1st for the year and then I'm going to look at it again next January. In fact it's a it's an ongoing process. It's every you know every week every other week once a month sit down and doing the forecasts and forecasting and adjusting based on the new information we have.

[00:13:39] How does that change our outlook and developing that sort of that bench and keeping that bench kind of warm based on what what might be coming down the pike as Sabiston is and whatever forecasting them up with.

[00:13:51] Yes exactly yes guess it's forecast that it's forecasting that the forecast that's important. Okay.

[00:13:57] And I think that Tom you know the whole you know the accordion contractor model you have a sense of the ratio like how many what then. And then 10 then 9 or how many capacity of 299 do you typically kind of need are you target relative to the work that you think you're going to get because you're right that you don't know. You know you could go to any one of those people for a given week and they could say well look I've got another gig I'm available that way. What is that multiple for you do you have a Sandoval's.

[00:14:25] You know I always like to have would be about two or three people that I know I trust that I have vetted that have some capacity. So was a 25 to 50 percent capacity at any given time. So I kind of because even within that they'll ebb and flow but if I have sort of 3 people within the function that are you know relatively available that's a good number for me given the volume of any inbound leads or the gen that I'm doing.

[00:14:54] Yeah because I was there there's always a cost around it and it takes you time and money and energy to develop that pipeline.

[00:14:59] You don't want to develop a 10 dB. I'm probably over invested in that whereas if I only have one I'm probably to resk so exactly.

[00:15:06] Understanding how that balances enter time and I think that's a key one for service the company is just looking at resources honestly the same kind of idea and model can be applied to full time hires as well. Right. And unfortunately we got rid of untenured servitude centuries ago so you know we can't guarantee that everyone's going to be around. You never know when you're going to get a notice. So having that venture on that side to him is always you know it's like there's a key idea particularly if you're growing you know if you know that you're going to be scaling up over the next you know the coming quarters coming years.

[00:15:35] Talk to me a little bit about this idea of like this Venn diagram we had you know people that are highly skilled and we have people who are great at client services and then we've got this little sliver football shaped sliver of center.

[00:15:48] How. What have you founded in terms of how you find these people. Any any approaches techniques either in terms of sourcing or in terms of filtering through folks in terms of finding that the football. Paul Fox right.

[00:16:02] So sourcing you know I use my network right so I use my existing personal network I use my business school alumni network. I'm constantly reaching out and then I'm also talking to competitors. So I always say hey what are you doing Bob how is this working. And I get some GTU on it. You know what they're doing and sometimes they'll say hey look you know we don't have a need for this type of thing or it's just that they're not a direct competitor so we even share resources. So there's all sorts of opportunities and by circulating and telling people what I'm doing what I'm looking for I just get people giving me leads on resources in terms of vetting them. I always look at technical skills as well as you know consultative skills so there's a soft skills and I meet with them and sit down with them understand how they communicate. I always get samples of the writing. So yes we do and say stuff but I always give writing samples because I want to see how well they communicate and then what I do is I have them start with a small project and I sit with them on that is a really good test project if you will and I stick with them when they're going to a client or on a. Right. So I get to hear are they asking the right questions etc.. So it's it's a it's a multi-step process. And then from there I can sort of start giving them more and more work.

[00:17:26] What level of confidence would you say you'd get to before you know when you pull the trigger on a hire versus you know you're still kind of evaluating over a period of time. Q Do you have a sense of what that is you get you get to 100 percent certainty or you know very very high level of certainty before you kind of bring someone on and have them start working with clients are you still you have some kind of well like I said we formally have like a three month probation period or some kind of trial period and you see how it goes and only certain parts and it actually may get past that.

[00:17:56] Yeah it isn't probably closer to the latter than the former. So it is a hey let's try each other out right because it's also a hate. Can we work together. Well I mean I want to make sure there's a chemistry between myself and the you know the CFO consultants so that they feel comfortable working with me just as I feel comfortable with them and obviously clients are comparable and I tell clients they look you know here's a person that I think is the right fit for you. If you don't feel that there you know I have you know two or three others that I could replace as well. So in many respects you know I'm staffing business in many respects but I do spend time with them in the eye and I'd like to sort of understand what their concerns are. Frustrations are it's natural when they're digging into engagements so they don't get stuck. You know I got to help them get unstuck as quickly as possible.

[00:18:49] It's an interesting kind of way of positioning that you're you know you're putting them on the client.

[00:18:55] They're kind of in charge and responsible the client you're there. As you know it kind of does the SWAT team or something goes wrong or if you need help or if something is unclear you know call me and you can kind of come in in an effort to graduation exactly what I did.

[00:19:09] Yeah.

[00:19:10] So tell me a little bit about how you know you're kind of we used to call it playing chess in the consulting game is like figuring out how to deploy your various people on various clients.

[00:19:21] Are there techniques question strategies that use to kind of figure out who should be working with who for whom long for what project.

[00:19:27] Is there a rhyme or reason to it's not as disciplined as I would like what you just said is a good idea. Matrixx so I could actually kind of envision that.

[00:19:37] But it's a kind of a diagram like you said looking at the personality of a blind person I've been looking at the consultants background in terms of domain expertise do they know manufacturing versus you know professional services versus e-commerce. Right. So depending upon what the engagement is and what the background is so as an example somebody happens to you know have worked in Japan and I happened to have a client in Japan and they need help. Well you know there's maybe a good fit so that the domain expertise that the personality and capacity and their ability and sometimes geography breaks who all have a client in Sido middle New Jersey I'm not could play somebody from Long Island on that account. So that happened. So kind of a combination of those four items now.

[00:20:26] Yeah and I think that's one of the big challenges of service makes businesses you're dealing with people and people are are a little complicated.

[00:20:36] You know they live places they have personalities they have different skills. You know something right now is kind of the matrix of how you map them together.

[00:20:44] This stuff is not even in the Tri-State area. We do a lot virtually right. So there's a lot of clients that you know maybe it will go once or twice in the beginning but ongoing. We just use Skype. We're on the phone.

[00:20:58] Yeah. That's certainly changing a lot of a lot of industries. And I think it's an interesting example here where it's it's not the while I've got someone you know South America or in Eastern Europe like I'm I'm bridging these huge geographies.

[00:21:13] You're actually bridging 20.

[00:21:14] Right. And it's just you're actually taking a local market and just making it that much more efficient in terms of being able to bring resources together that otherwise you know might be commuting for an hour twice a day if they really had to get them out.

[00:21:29] So part of it is my billable hours by 25 percent just by doing it.

[00:21:33] Yeah yeah that's huge. Well that's all. Bottom line you look at the finances of it you know that's drop in your bottom line that you're still bad people.

[00:21:42] So tell me as you think about kind of growing and scaling the business as CEO. What are the things that you kind of think about focus on it in terms of the strategic side of the business where it.

[00:21:55] Where do you spend your time and what would you do with that time. In terms of thinking through your business and how you grow it.

[00:22:01] So currently I'm spend a lot of time on sales and marketing. So there are two very different things that as I've learned so what I need to do is do a better job. Not only just filling the funnel which we're doing a pretty good job of selling a photo but making sure everything is dropping the ball. And so I'm actually looking to bring on a consultant to help me do that. Right so a I know you were doing sales and working people through that funnel and so helping me and my biz dev team worked through that. I think it's been a very valuable so we can increase our close rates and decrease our sales cycle time. That's one thing that I'm working on too is marketing with a message that's clear and defined in and really make sure that resonates with my target market. So you know we spend a lot of time on that as opposed to throwing spaghetti on the wall because you know I could do webinars like it did ebooks do all sorts of things but let's do things that really drive people to making a decision about hiring us. And so I'm trying to focus in on that. Now you know in the past I was trying a bunch of different things.

[00:23:13] Yeah it's always a balance of the kind of experience experimenting for new ideas but then taking the ones that get traction and actually honing down and optimizing them.

[00:23:22] And any any piece of advice to get some there's probably quite a few people that are in leadership positions and service based companies that are looking to grow any piece of advice or thoughts that you would give them in terms of areas of focus. Things to think about you know maybe things they're not thinking about. They should start thinking about.

[00:23:39] I think you know one of the things that is important is having a playbook in place so you follow a process. So be it looking for talent. How do we do that. How do we go about that. What are the right types of people that will fit. So coming up with a playbook on finding talent and ensuring the quality of the service that you're providing with that help it will help you scale because by putting in a process in place you then can enable people that work with you and work for you to start putting that into motion. Meaning I can now say hey this is the playbook of how we go out find somebody and now we can delegate pieces of that to somebody else and start inculcating that with them. So now I can take a step up and grow my organization because other people doing pieces of it for me. So by putting processes in place I can delegate out more and more.

[00:24:35] Yeah. And I think that's it's a big sort of mind mental shift that a lot of founders CEOs go through you know process structure will set you free. You know it's just a matter of kind of embracing it and thinking on how to do it in a way that works for you. Yeah but I think those are great. Those are great points.

[00:24:53] We're going to hit time here in a second. So why don't I give you a chance if people want to find out more information about you about your company about your services. What's the best place to get a hold of you and waiting to contact you.

[00:25:04] So the easiest is just to go to a website that the CEOs. So it's the CEO s right hand or a key in the code of conduct code and everything's there and contact us is there. Read my bio you can contact me anytime.

[00:25:23] Right. And I'll make sure that the link is below or in the show notes whoever wherever it ends up being so they can get that through and get to that lane. This is a pleasure. Thank you so much for being on the program. Absolutely. Thank you.

[00:25:36] You've been listening to Scaling up Services with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt to find a full is the podcast episode. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. Visit the Web site at scalingupservices.com and feel free to sign up for the free newsletter scalingupservices.com/newsletter.