Joe is the founder and president of Business GPS, a company with a very simple, but unique package to help companies in debt complete successful turnarounds.
A serial entrepreneur, Joe has built over a dozen successful businesses in financial services, investment banking, accounting, finance, IT, business, and legal consulting before becoming a turnaround expert.
Over the years, he has regularly contributed to TV and Radio including Fox, CNN, and CNBC. Business GPS have offices in Washington DC and Los Angeles.
I had read that Joe started his first business to pay his way through college and wanted to ask him more about that. He told me that he grew up in the Washington area, and his father was very stern. There were other siblings and not very much money coming in. His father told Joe if he wanted to go to college, he would have to figure out a way to pay for it himself.
At 18 or 19, most people are thinking small. Joe was determined to win a big contract of some sort to see himself through. It took him over twenty attempts, but finally, he won a government contract. At the time, everyone was still using toner cartridges for printers, which had to be replaced and recycled. Joe beat off huge competition to win the contract to replace both the governments and the naval cartridges.
He says it was a great lesson to learn that “you only fail when you give up, or in other words, just keep going.” He applies much the same principle to help business owners survive and turnaround their companies today.
We all look back and say if we knew now how tough things would be, we perhaps wouldn’t have started, but he thinks one of the character traits of entrepreneurs is that we are naturally optimistic. Sometimes that can be dangerous.
In 2008, Joe had a very successful business, growing 40-50% a year and felt he was pretty secure and knew what he was doing. Then came the 2008 crash. Far from being recession-proof as he had believed, he found he didn’t have a realistic plan B.
He went to his attorney and asked for help. Nothing. He asked his accountant, who told him he needed a lot of money. He had to lay off his staff, and everything looked grim. But Joe had come across an individual who did business workouts and thought he had nothing to lose by contacting him.
Within three or four months, they had solved all of Joe’s problems and carried out a complete business turnaround. Joe only received a bill at the end. Joe says it was around $5,000, and he a price he happily paid to save his company.
The experience of nearly losing and managing a turnaround of his own company had started a seed of an idea. Joe says at that point, he had twenty-five years of business experience and had considered himself fairly smart. He reflected that if he had no idea what to do in those circumstances, there must be many other people just like him.
Joe started Business GPS to use his experience to help other struggling businesses. That was back in 2013, and since then, they have helped around two thousand businesses turnaround. Sadly, COVID-19 is going to mean a whole new volume of them.
Joe approached setting up the business by considering how he would have wanted to be helped. He recognizes how business owners in that situation are often deluged with people offering help, but they don’t know which way to turn or who to trust in that desperate mindset. He wants to be like a friend to them during the turnaround.
They need expert advice, covering a vast range of issues, including tax relief, debt mitigation, landlord disputes, restructuring, more effective sales, and marketing, alternative financing, and government loans.
Just as Joe experienced when he had help with a business turnaround, Business GPS only gets paid at the end of the process making it a unique model. Joe felt it was the best way to build trust from the owners in what they were offering. His people go the extra mile to win both sides.
Building the Business:
It was tough to get the business off the ground initially. Only billing at the end, when they had successfully completed a turnaround, inevitably meant there were cash flow problems to deal with. Joe also quickly realized he could only help a small number of people himself at any one time, so he needed to form an organization.
It was hard to find the right people. Initially, Joe looked for and hired amazing people from judges to corporates with fantastic resumes. He found they all just box checked and were unable to think out of that box.
He changed his approach and instead started looking instead for good people with enough accounting skills to follow the numbers but who wanted to really help others succeed. His people will work for nothing on a Saturday if someone needs it. Joe looks for smarts certainly but also fighters who are street-smart plus people who were inspired by his vision.
They have around a dozen on the turnaround team now, and most are relatively young but have been working with Joe for five years or more. These years give them the broadest experience. People get in touch and say the “weirdest thing has happened,” but two thousand cases on, Joe and his team will have seen the weird before.
Joe also contends that business turnarounds are not something you can learn from textbooks or studying a degree course. There are too many skill sets involved.
His team has to have the knowledge, but they also need people skills, intuition, empathy, and the ability to think creatively. He says that, above all, they need the determination to fight with their clients through to see them survive. They also need to be educators and coaches who help the owners learn from the turnaround experience and be better business people.
Joe believes they can help any sector because while there are differences, business principles are still the foundation. Joe is focused on helping as many businesses as possible both turnaround and survive the next few difficult years.
Business Turnarounds in COVID
COVID has resulted in them seeing a broader than ever variety of problems businesses are coping with. Some are re-opening, and some are still closed, waiting for permission to open again. Every company is facing a different mix of issues.
Joe told me how, initially, in April, the phones just went silent. They went out and started talking to existing clients to find out what was going on. Even with those existing clients, Joe realized that people were unaware that they could claim perhaps $100,000 from government programs and so missing out. Joe and his team started helping people with those claims.
In the summer, banks and creditors were not significant problems, many being shut down themselves. Now that is changing, and creditors are banging on doors.
Business GPS’s approach is to simplify everything. Joe finds that human beings complicate everything.
There is the inevitable human fear of the unknown when business owners start to worry about how long they can stay open, question if they can turnaround things on their own. They have often gone into a paralysis of thinking, worrying about their employees, worrying if they should tell their spouse, and probably hiding it from them. They have all the very worst thoughts.
The problem with that is that fear makes them freeze. When people freeze and put their heads in the sand, they are in the worst possible mindset to make sound decisions. Joe and his team coach clients to focus on the first problems step by step and ignore the rest. When they have worked through the first three steps, they tackle four to six.
It is a hectic time, and Joe feels for the people he works with. He says he was taking calls at 6.30 in the morning this Sunday, not because there was anything that could be done at that point, but to help calm.
Joe feels that we have by no means seen the worst of the damage. There have been structural changes to the economy, and he believes that creditors won’t hit their peak till October/ November time.
I asked Joe what percentage he manages to help of those he signs up, and he is proud to say it is incredibly high, around 95%. The few that he doesn’t fall into two categories. One group can’t fully trust anyone and go back and take bits of advice from spouses or attorneys and do other things. The other group simply asks for help too late; when they have no money left for the wages, all their savings have gone, and there is no room left to maneuver a turnaround.
Joe says this is a crucial piece of his advice. The sooner you get help, the better off you will be.
Entrepreneurs’ positivity can also blind them, so part of Joe’s work is to teach clients always to have a really good plan B in future. People also need to learn is that there is no quick fix. If there were, Joe says, he would sell it. Realistically it takes six to twelve months to do a sound turnaround and for both the business and to come out better, stronger, wiser at the other end.
He advises that if you want to develop a robust plan B, keep it very simple. That simplicity keeps the fear at bay. Make a spreadsheet of your revenue. Then list out the costs that you have to have to achieve that revenue. If it doesn’t balance, it is merely a question of finding a way for people to work through it and make those figures work to keep the business open.
We never know what the future is going to hold. But right now, we all know it less than ever. Don’t worry about November. Definitely, don’t worry about 2021. Fight to be open and surviving tomorrow. Keep it that simple.
You might find it useul to read these tips and advice on cash flow.