Fran Biderman-Gross, Founder & CEO, Advantages

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Fran Biderman-Gross, Founder & CEO, Advantages

Fran Biderman-Gross is the CEO and Founder of Advantages, a NYC-based digital marketing and branding agency that helps companies uncover their “Why” and implement it to drive success beyond what they imagined was possible.


[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. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.

[00:00:22]Welcome everyone I’m Bruce Eckfeldt, I'm your host and our guest today is Fran Biderman - Gross and Fran is founder and CEO of Advantages which is a New York City based digital marketing and branding agency and we're going to learn a little bit about what she does for clients and how she helps clients find at the core of their message and communicate that out. We're also going to learn about how she she's grown and scaled her business as a service based business. So Fran welcome to the program.

[00:00:47] Well thank you for having me.

[00:00:49] It's a pleasure. So what do we start with a little bit of the backstory I know you've been working on this business for a little while. We've known each other for a while. I've been privy to various stages of it. Why don't we give the audience a sense I guess maybe even where you what you were doing before advantages have advantages came to be and a little bit of a journey that it's been.

[00:01:09] Absolutely. Boy it's a mouthful for a show. I don't know what I was doing before advantages actually in selling Tupperware or maybe you know writing sample sales for my late husband's family business all sorts of entrepreneurial endeavors but and say really advantage has been in my blood since 92 so yeah definitely have raised it's in my knees a lot and it's broken a few bones or a few people's noses I'm not really sure. And just really have taken it really two in five thousand five hundred Best Places to Work was definitely the highlight something that we didn't really even expect.

[00:01:48] So that was really that was really the apple and another surprise. And also just really running the gamut working with like just such a phenomenal team. Really it's been an evolution really. Yeah. It started out as a as a mom and prompt a mom and pop corner printer right. So we started printing black and white really what I used to call is Clark craft printing and at letterheads and balloons and things of that nature. And we learned along the way because I wasn't I wasn't a daughter or a printer. My late husband who's my partner founding partner wasn't a son of a printer. So we were nothing expires and do some accounting work but other than that one could argue I learned much more much later on my a piano really is. But being a daughter of an accountant that said we had you know I really focus on marketing and school and you we're and printing company jeans. I don't now I couldn't stand the smell of ink. I couldn't even work in the facility for a while. We evolved right because everybody just kept asking me questions you know why do I think I saw I work as an and I would ask them questions people I really puzzled. But. For the right people they didn't come to me for the solution. I really wanted to help them with the solutions is really how we evolved really into an agency really crossing over not becoming you know the print company that it could because we do far more consulting at this point helping companies really get noticed and byproduct by which medium and where does it live whether it's online or you know in your mailbox it matter to us.

[00:03:26] We like the hybrid that that matters. But it's really about you know what's the one thing that you're going to be focused on. My favorite word. You know it is why it started long long before you know really understanding what what the heart of a company really was and really understanding that. That communications Foundation was the crux of it all. Why does your company exist. He told me to make money and to go indications and whatever how. It's not about that right. Your company exists for a complete purpose and I want to understand what it believes in and I want to understand why I exist in and there's always a cool sexy story in that story. But you don't have to flower that story and elevating that story gets you into that tribal mode of like minded where your best customers are they get you we get you differently. Probably even sent you a Valentine's Day note today. You know we're just you know who they are because they get unit in place in your brain that you can feel that you can speak and that really started to completely shake the foundational elements that when you believe their brand really needs to understand and articulate.

[00:04:36] And we've done a lot of work over the last 10 years with core values and Gallup and string finders and really tracing back and writing the way paper if you will on how moral and ethics really evolved from community into you know the 50s where we really brought into organizations right Dennison introduced it into an organizational behavior that businesses are small communities to which we might some might argue we spend more time than we do at home right. So a lot of people do exactly unfortunately and fortunately when you love a matter at least in but when you can really harnesses those values and use them and share them not only with your team but your numbers and your customers you start to really align in a different way with a different mindset. And you really can do anything with them and for them right. You can sell your products at the time but do you know who the go to is to solve that problem. Doesn't matter when the product actually yeah you know that evolution has just been really incredible especially in the last 10 years kind of really unlearning. You know I gosh you know I've been called a printing princess for a long time now but I don't really know me as you know the strategies to who really understands how to implement what you do when you act and repel like minded a strip.

[00:06:03] I like the idea that you kind of went from this you know very kind of kind of transactional let me do your job let me put your letter ahead to kind of what is the letterhead what's on the letterhead. What are you trying to say. Well you know backing up those question to the point of well are you actually a business like. What's your purpose of being on. And I think it's I mean I think it's a fascinating story and I think it's one that is kind of it's an interesting one to follow but it's also from a strategy point of view an interesting one that I think a lot of service based businesses are in the problem of. If your service is transactional you will be at the very whim of the market and you know that the person next door who's willing to do it for a penny less. If you are much more around a consultative helping you figure out you know your essential meaning you know that is not something that I'm going to you know. Well you know there's other push next door that I think they can do it for 10 percent less. It's not nearly as much of a kind of a price commodity. What's the conversation look like with a client at this point in terms of you know helping them have that conversation or discover those values or answer those questions answering those questions on purpose and why they're in business. What does it look like. It's not it's not. I'm assuming it's fairly involved process I guess.

[00:07:17] If it's simple it's just not easy. Right.

[00:07:20] So every good tried battle tested process is going to yield consistent results on the other end. And after 10 plus years of honing you know I'm going to say skill based questions to emotional intelligence or being able to really help organizations whether it be teams or leaders. All right teams of leaders really go on this journey to understand why are we here and that it gets very personal and sometimes we get comments like Well you know I didn't know it's going to take a psych eval today but the truth of the matter is you're here for a reason you can't get excited about coming here wherever here is every single day jumping out of bed with great intention and really maintaining that without some great anchors and every visionary leader that we really work with successfully. And of course there's good talk about success and not successful. They're really engaged and aligned organizations that we've really been fortunate to last certainly in the last number of years as you watch our brand come back to us like a boomerang you know at this point there is pretty much that. This one told me to trust you and how can you get me noticed.

[00:08:34] Do you get it on some level and they evoke a lot of trust into you. Well what path are we going and what does this look like. How am I going to get to this end result and why are you able to achieve these. No metric you know driven case studies or how could you fill these seats or fill this room or create engagement based on this purpose style. So making those connection between emotional and commodity is very interesting when you can change the intentional mindset or. And I wouldn't say change but make them aware why they're here and you can really help them refine it and articulate it the stuff the work that we do really does not end up in a jar on a shelf. And that's the best part about it you can totally see it come alive. And the more engaged the organizations are the more culturally sound they become. Because really when you look at right I'm going to see a really thriving purpose based organizations today or Y based organizations.

[00:09:34] They are some whacked down culture right on some level or they're not whacked but they're hurt like it's like a little bit of a cult. Yeah they're right.

[00:09:44] So there's things that happen around their watercooler or on in team meetings or they just do things in a special way because really what they're doing is they're taking the buyers right that the CEO has this you know depicted vision and innate strains to tie them right back. And he he or she this leader will create these empowering values that will are really meant to empower and inspire others. And that's really when you see it come to life right when they bring it to life in their called Sure. And that's why it's so rewarding because you can see it so quickly on the marketing side of it which is usually the place where we're brought into stardom is how can we align and experience how can we speak about it in an elevator or a perfect intro if you will. And how can they validate it through the experience through whether it's their in-store or online right. That's your brick and mortar. That's the way that someone's going to validate. Oh I met this guy. Tell me about the service. I'm going to go check out his site. Typical. So the conversation and the way you felt meeting this CEO leader person team company or brand is going to be validated some way somewhere online socially linked then Instagram Facebook doesn't matter where Twitter as basic as your Web site. So is this is a feeling that they have when they walked away from talking to you and then going to see your website. Is that is that in alignment. Yes.

[00:11:12] Right. And then you look at service these companies and this is how we discovered this process where they're really more of a communications foundation than actually as much as it guides brands. Right. So it's really cool to see a dozen CEOs or a couple of years ago started tapping me on the shoulder going could you help align myself. And they would look at the proposal and go what. And I'm like Listen I'm going to pay for myself. Just relax. Yeah look at take your eight people to we're going to naturally self-selecting they're not going to align and we're going to kick up what's going on. When you're a players you're B players are going to move up. Also I'm going to tell you it works every single time. Now my line. The result. Right. So it's really fun to see how the alignment happen because all we focus on here in this agency is really helping CEOs and leaders realize their vision what their teams what are they really trying to do. And when you're not clear on that we have some work to do. If you really are clear on that cutting the rest of the five things that you need together or really get your brand cookin. I mean it's just intentional by core values. Why. Mission Vision. They live inside your life story. What's that great thing. What's a great story. What's the great piece of that story that you're going to launch right. That's your internal yet external facing document. That's your first piece outside.

[00:12:33] And let me ask a little because you touched on something and I think it's an interesting and also oftentimes a very difficult discussion which is this whole you know you get this right and it serves as the ultimate Attractor and repelling people. And I find it you know simple it's hard. It's hard to be that decisive it's hard to kind of take that stand and really kind of swallow the idea and I'm going to I'm going to be specific and differentiate I'm going to be specific enough about who I am and who I want to work with.

[00:13:03] Some people are going to get turned off. And I always say look it's good if you want that. It's not easy for folks to do.

[00:13:09] You know there's a lot of unlearning to do. It is painful. Like I said it's simple it's just not easy. What's really amazing though is this little thing called the funnel right. What happens when you put out a campaign and you get your typical requirement. You're hoping to get a thousand people and knocking on your door and then what do you have to do. You start sifting right. And you have them respond to all thousand identifiable signs of urgency. They're willing to pay her a year ago little carrot for you a little obvious solution.

[00:13:42] And I started putting down the funnel all the way down to the end.

[00:13:47] And what are you left with. A couple of good warm leads maybe a couple of. And what's really cool is I say all the time you know flip the funnel amount of megaphone I want to amplify one thing that some people are just going to love. There you get it. And then I can let them be the ambassadors. Right. Let them go fine. All right. Let them let referrals really come into play. But when you can be memorable and consistent and concise when your communications you can attract and repel and to be honest. I don't want to track them many without repelling. It's exhausting.

[00:14:21] Yes exactly. It's inefficient. You know just to give you a really clear or I don't know uncommon example yes one of the things that we do for

[00:14:31] Our clients was by accident somebody said you know I'm so excited I got like 82 applications for this position in our company and I looked at that person like eighty two.

[00:14:41] Are you crazy. I don't want to interview or respond to 82 people right. So we all have our little scorecards right depending on what method or or tools we're using right. So they start to sift them through. But I want to get it right the first time I know I want no more than a dozen people. And then I want to put them through. You know they have to think about if they really want to be part of this culture. So you start testing for core values skill you can train for. I'm not saying it's important it's not important to put in yet. I'm saying put it at the bottom because if you're in the right category so you're in the right ballpark. You can't hire for fit. Yeah. You just can't. So you have to interview for it. Yeah. And that you know that's how you start working back from you. Like I said over the last couple of years Wright served as a leader would say hey could you help me with my sales team. It's great. So I got a great Web site. I got to crank it sales team. Then what happens. Oh customer service is not delivering exactly the same story in line with the sales team. OK let's go work with customer service. That's really normal. Her marketing agency.

[00:15:47] It's really communications. Yeah. Did you start writing playbooks and you start taking these unchanging core values because they're really rooted in strength. And I see that a couple of times because there is a way to do things that are just like amazing and they really are it's not they're not they're pompous ideas are all verbs but they're rooted in strengths which means rooted in data and a bit of psychology when you do it right the first time you know what happens right. You never really have to do it again. And you know in the last 11 12 years now that we've been retired five years we've been developing core values they really are unchanging matter of fact about a year or so ago we went back to 10 companies that we worked with 10 years ago and started calling people that we haven't spoken to in a while you know what was happening and what were they. When was it on a shelf. Was it in a drawer. Yes. Matter of fact and we got great stories I partnered with this guy and use it to hire people a word. Our culture is alive and well. We bought two other companies are all in alignment. It's like it becomes its decision making filter for everything you do. And internally it'll serve the people

[00:16:56] And externally and serve accordingly. I like the way you phrase it. The whole idea of you know your values are a tool to make better decisions faster is always kind of this idea. It's not you know it's not a feel good thing you know it's a it's a very practical decision making framework to be able to say look we can go down a path a B or C or based on our values you know it should help clarify that and you know we shouldn't have a whole lot of argument you know it shouldn't be you know a day debating it you know we should be able to say well it's pretty clear I may not be easy. You said it may be hard to get on that. But it should be clear that that's the path we need to be going down. If if we are going to live our values if we are going to stay true to our values. So in the last couple of years we don't take on a new client contract without

[00:17:44] Doing a values test.

[00:17:46] So what does that look like to you. I'm curious. Well you know I could adopt my values. You can see them. Yes go to my wife.

[00:17:54] You know we really do. We love them out loud. There on the wall. Everything we do. Really. We don't start adding programs or processes unless they're in alignment with our vision and our mission. And I mean our guys are an absolute filter. Everything nothing with zero rights. So for example I could be on a pitch and this comes up a lot. Sometimes clients don't want to put in the work they want you to weigh their magic wand as they call the printing princess to do it. And they say I'm just making a great campaign and flood my stores or I'm like Listen let me explain something you know we're going to thrive if you understand that my one stays in a drawer and we're engaged because really what we are our sherpas. Right. What we do is burden the goals that you have. And we walk you bit by bit step by step. But you have to engage with us. We won't thrive in another way. We will not leave our magic wand and all of us and poof out the other side comes this amazing Candy. Our kids really need to walk. Walk this path with us and really burden we really take it personally.

[00:19:03] Yeah. So when the leadership team says hey they want to hire us we go back to the leadership team and say This is awesome. Well we don't usually get to a proposal. We actually do it. We do it before proposal stage because it saves a lot of time but when we're having trouble with things we go back to the night when we're looking at new products or services or anything. We go right to our about how is this going to help us aspire higher. Are we going to be able to earn trust. Are we going to be tenacious about this and are we process oriented. And what's really great about that is I can hand those values onto that team. That I work with and love so much and they do the same things that I do and they are empowered to be tenacious. I might not like the decision every single time but I love the outcome and they're going to do it in their own way. So you know that's that's the trust love and respect that you have to have and family unity.

[00:19:59] And I think it brings up an interesting one which is I think it's one of the challenges that a lot of owners a lot of founders a lot of owners have when they begin to scale a company is they they struggle with letting go. You know they struggle with you know I I know this better than anyone else. I kind of have to do this piece or I have to meet with this client or I have to do this part of the sale or I need to review I need to do this creative work you know. And you know and that will keep them stuck at the level they're at unless they figure out like this. And I think the values are actually a really interesting way to be able to do that to be able to say well you know yeah. There are lots of ways to kind of you know execute on this thing. There's a lot of processes that we could have. I want to make sure that the outcome you know not only has quality but is aligned. And by clarifying your values you can actually ensure that the final product that we're going out the door the communication with the client that the conversation that you're in the meeting that you're not going to be in you know is still going to be on late. It's going to be on value by having that clarified above and beyond just a quality level. But a real you know what is the underlying message that's being delivered. And you can actually step back from that and that now you can begin to scale. Now you begin to start putting in people in place to skill sales skill delivery skill implementation and I am not sure people realize that I think you know I still think a lot of people kind of look at the value stuff as being this kind of fluffy feel good things and now it's actually it's a really important practical strategic decision making tool in more ways than you can ever imagine.

[00:21:29] By the way I am no different than any other sea leader out there. I had trouble letting go. My team call B.S. on it all the time. The matter is I'm human right.

[00:21:43] I'm human and I want people to do things of course the way that I would like them to but that's not but that's not really true it took me a really long time to say no I'm I'm good in this quadrant my highest and best use in my job as a leader is to support and inspire the team around them to do their best work to stay in their quadrants of their highest and best use. And it really does make a difference when you can consistently come back to those values. You know there's so many uses for them even know performance reviews. We actually call them scorecards and they're all based on values looking at where each individual in the company is doing whatever seat on the bus they have where they want to shop or what leadership pieces know how did they aspire to lead rank eating the of a lot of focus and intention to be able to take time instead of telling people how to do things but to coach them into a way to encourage them to do it and to figure it out and to be patient enough to do that. And that's really learned over time. Are you now as you coach many great leaders and you watch them along by having those anchored core guys is just a game changer. Yeah. It's amazing to say to watch a team that has what I'll call key influencers really people who lead with you even though you might be the visionary and those values that you have the values that they have become shared. And you know so really looking at company values are shared values much more than core people have core values. Organizations have values at their core but they're shared. I don't really kind of fun to give ownership to everyone.

[00:23:30] Yeah it's interesting. Interesting way to look at it and how so. So let's go back to how you're kind of engagements look. How does a process work and where are you at this point in terms of helping companies through this process. What does it look like are you. Are you setting up offsite retreats with things are you going in and do investigative research do you meet with employees you meet with customers like what is what is the process actually look like if someone's going to engage you to help answer these questions help advance this what what would they expect. What should they expect.

[00:24:02] So first of all everybody always wants you to go off retreat and speak to a million people and say that they want to do it really quickly to set a price tag on the labor that goes into all that stuff. And in truth we really know as a traditional if you will a traditional agency you're looking at a discovery process which we did in their earlier years and looking at where we really need to start.

[00:24:29] Even if you're a really big global company we really need to start. So these were these five foundational elements were really key right. Why the mission a clear mission a clear vision articulated shared values and a story it's really very much about what people are coming to you for. So if someone is coming to me typically come to us to fix something larger. And it's funny because I'm really always is tagged as a cross between a psychologist and a chiropractor is really what I have to take the project could you know I can't really pay attention to the brand persay because like it's on the wrong side of the piano they don't really want to invest it that way. So it kind of gets hidden a bit into the big project the big webs trade show booth whatever it is whatever big campaign big. Or of course branding which is the most holistic. Because then you really look at all those elements. If you're starting with a website you still have to be the communications brand foundation before you can even understand more elevated components of what you need. So we looked at a lot of discovery processes from a lot of very wonderful colleagues and competitors and realized here's what we're gonna do. We're going to start with those five things. We're gonna figure out what you're coming to us for. Sometimes it's just a brochure sometimes you know it's project driven and then we'll get through as much of the process as we can and then get passed that test and then dive in a little bit deeper. But when we really look at it holistically I would say it's four to six weeks I could have it done in four to six weeks. Now I could do it on retreat in two days.

[00:26:06] You get more time to digest a checklist or a time to process it. You need more time to pressure test. So we really do this within

[00:26:15] I would say for as aggressive but six weeks right 28 days you have to learn something forward to the most progressive to a job. It's usually about three months to get from initial request to deliverable and sometimes deliveries are rolling all along. And remember we're dealing with visual and verbals right. So the discovery pod process is broken into a couple of components the visual side where we get through all of the wide discovery. Get you into a draft what we'll call a working draft 80 percent right and perfection is the enemy have done so 80 percent there on your y your mission your vision and then really take some time to develop the values by yourself with your team pens on what the dynamics are usually within three to five meetings which are never more than a couple of hours we really are we could do a day and a half and tensor you get all the way through it and then just start on the visual stuff right. So the logo refresh and then go right into whatever the deliverables are the project could be for start ups is usually like an investor donor dog and a very scaled back sight for more advanced company is it's usually brand overhaul or a larger project could be web could be trade show. Those are typical typical margin get larger engagements they could take a couple of three to six months and then depending on how complicated the Web site is like our printing history is to your advantage because like everything done you know we want to keep it moving and keep momentum. Yeah well it's great too because it's not your typical project manager right. We have a strategy team. You always feel like you're running a you're walking a three legged race so you're always attached to people you know and you're not working with a project manager who's completely disconnected from it. It's a bit A.I. agency because I never do anything like it.

[00:28:01] And it's good. And you know me long enough to know that's true. Do I do it. It is true.

[00:28:08] This is good. This has been a pleasure. We're gonna hit time here. If people want to find out more about you about advantages about work that you do. What's the best way to get that information.

[00:28:17] I would definitely tell you to visit our web site at and I would definitely tell you to kind of search me out on LinkedIn. I'm definitely kicking up some vocal you know non-verbal pieces I get getting my pen and paper if you all are keyboard out and definitely much more vocal. I definitely search me out and see some of the stuff that I've written some of my opinions we have some of the great award winning work this team has put together. There's been some really amazing very emotional not surprising candy for some non-profits. We run the gamut from Fortune 100 through local small solo pioneers. It's really fun challenge you got to try.

[00:29:00] Oh sure I will make sure the link is on the show notes so people can click through and and get that information. Thank you again so much. Has it been a pleasure. I always enjoy conversations. I always enjoy this topic so this is really special I appreciate it.

[00:29:13] Thank you so much for having me. We love doing things with such a purpose driven guy.

[00:29:19] Thank you. I always look forward to keeping in touch. We'll have you on again as you advance on things and you it right. I'm

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