Growing up poor in the inner city of Seattle called Rainier Valley, James Smiley always had a knack for making money – from doubling his revenue working multiple paper routes as a kid to making his first six figures getting involved in IP on a software company in his twenties. James is the world’s highest-paid B2B marketing consultant and has been recognized as one of the most innovative and in-demand entrepreneurs under 40. His primary specialty is helping entrepreneurs with rapid revenue acceleration by leveraging online automations and his proprietary digital marketing systems. In this interview, he shares how he moved his expertise to where the leverage is the highest and got into consulting, focusing especially on the solopreneur.
Listen to the podcast here:
Download the audio file here.
Rapid Revenue Generation And Automating Your Business with James Smiley
We are here with a special guest, James Smiley. James, how are you?
I appreciate you having me here.
James has been recognized as one of the most innovative and in demand entrepreneurs under 40. He has led zero to $20 million growth for not one but two different companies. He has been part of a Silicon Valley Software as a Service IPO and consulted for three of the Fortune 10 companies. James has been behind the scenes paid an advisor to over 560 executives and entrepreneurs. His primary specialty is helping entrepreneurs with rapid revenue acceleration by leveraging online automations in his proprietary digital marketing systems. It’s pretty cool, James.
It’s funny, I consider myself as a normal dude. My dad always told me, “The moment that you a don’t put your pants on by yourself, then you made it but until then you’re just a normal dude, so go to work.” That’s what my dad told me.
I always say when you get to the top, don’t get too high. When you get to the bottom, don’t get too low. You’ve got to stay in that even keel. Take us back, before you were an entrepreneur, what were you doing? Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? Give us a glimpse into the past, the previous life.
I grew up really poor in the inner city in Seattle in a place called Rainier Valley in Beacon Hill. I had this knack for making money even when I was young. I used to work multiple jobs, multiple paper routes and things like that. I learned how to double the revenue on a paper route. I’ve got another paper route and doubled the revenue of that one. I did simple things. I knocked on every door and made an offer. It was so crazy. You’d just be surprised how many people don’t even know a paper is in their area and they got these marketing teams and all these people trying to figure out how to market. I was like, “You go knock on the door and put an offer.” You don’t even have to sell. If you can put your offer out there, people will buy.
People wake up wanting to buy something; they just don’t want you to sell them.
People wake up more than ever before in history wanting to buy something. They just don’t want you to sell them. That’s how I started. I was involved in an IPO in a software company in my twenties. I made my first six figures when I was twenty years old. That allowed me to get recruited to a software company. We were the first Google Maps and that went well. From there, I bridged that and leveraged that to do consulting for hundreds of companies, coaching programs and stuff. I’ve been doing executive coaching and entrepreneurial coaching for over twelve years and it’s been really awesome fun. It’s my passion to help people grow their revenue.
You work with a lot of different businesses, small startups, coaches, influencer of larger companies. What’s your favorite and why? Do you prefer that the smaller people getting up the top, do you prefer people that are already established and taking them to the next level?
I focus on the solopreneur right now and I think that’s going to be the big thing. I made that shift years ago because I realized that we’re at a place that was unprecedented and that there’s going to be an increase in capabilities for the average human being. If you have a phone and internet access, what you can do now, you couldn’t do a few years ago. If you can dance and you’re a kid, you can make $3,000 to $5,000 a month getting sponsors to dance on Instagram or TikTok or whatever. I’m 38 and back in my day, when I was a teenager, people told you you’re dancing on the street, “Go get a life. Go get a job.”
If you’re good enough and you can provide content that people want, the capabilities are there like never before for you to serve your market, serve the world, make money or whatever it is you want to do. I realized that the shift was happening about seven or eight years ago. I realized that this era was coming about because of social and things like that. I’ve always tried to move my expertise to where the leverage is the highest. At the end of the day, you only have a certain number of hours you can work. Like Gary Vaynerchuk or Steve Jobs doesn’t have more than you or didn’t have more than you. Elon Musk doesn’t have more than you. You have the same amount of hours that they do.
The question is how do you leverage what you’re doing? One of the best ways to do it is to be in a highly leverageable market like social media, internet marketing and those kinds of things where you can do one to many and there are all these capabilities that are available. Economists and politicians, they’ll tell you that it doesn’t matter if people are left, right, up, down or whatever their belief. Economists will tell you and a lot of people will tell you that things are going to crash. I believe it’s the opposite. They might think things are going to crash, but I believe there’s going to be more Fortune 500 brands crashing in the next five to six years than ever before in history. We’ve already started to see that. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an up rise of millions of people like us. I saw this wave coming in and I knew that I could be a part of supporting it and enabling people.
Let’s talk about the solo entrepreneur. Where do you see people struggle the most and where can you make the most impact the fastest?
There was a study, I believe it’s by Carnegie Mellon, and it really specifically studied entrepreneurs who are using the internet. It said that typically in entrepreneurship, eight out of ten businesses fail. On the internet, it was 96%. It’s almost 100%. Almost everybody in some way is not doing what they wanted to do or were not doing their dream on the internet. When that survey said that the number one reason that people checked the box and said, “This is why I’m failing,” wasn’t money, it wasn’t they didn’t have skills. It wasn’t the typical things. It was the word overwhelmed. Overwhelm specifically means you know what to do, you’ve read the books, you know the nomenclature, you just don’t know what to do and in what order. There’s so much to do. It feels like you can’t get the right things done and so you end up failing.
I think having really good systems, being good at enabling people with automation and teaching them how to leverage their time and their money, their data, their resources, what they know, like all that stuff can help make them money. Although I’m good at funnels, sales copy and all of those things, I find you can have an amazing funnel, amazing sales copy but a bad business system and a bad business process and never get your business off the ground. You look at all the 2 Comma Club winners or all these people who crush it in ClickFunnels or whatever. They are amazing at running their business. Their business models are really efficient. Many people don’t have that and that’s what we provide so they can have the stability of growth in automation and freedom.
You mentioned never before have people had so many opportunities. With those opportunities comes a lot of things to do, a lot of lessons or people saying, “Do this.” It comes down to that prioritization. Let’s say there’s someone reading who has struggled to prioritize, do you have any tips for them?
If you struggle to prioritize, I think the number one thing we all need to do is figure out what’s the core purpose, the core skill or your destiny from God, whatever you want to say. What is your thing? If you don’t know, there are a couple of ways to figure it out. One, what do you enjoy? You could write down a short list of that. Number two, what other people think you’re good at? That’s easy to figure out. People will tell you. Another good way is what can you do to make money? Not that the world is about money, but money will open up a lot of doors and get you places and help you. If you want to build wells over in third world countries, money’s how you do it. You can’t do it with just talking about it.
Figuring out what you’re good at and then figuring out how do I spend 80% of my time doing what I’m good at. That’s the key. That’s tough when people don’t have money, they don’t know how to outsource or whatever. Once again, capabilities are there more than ever before. You can hire people. For me, on any given year, we’re going to do somewhere around $1 million. Our goal is about a net profit margin of over 80%. I can do $800,000 and make more cashflow into my bank account than friends that I know that do $2 million or $3 million. It depends on the given year or what we’re doing. Sometimes we’re way over a million or more.
For me, it’s about cashflow and leveraging that cashflow. One of the cool things is I have two employees. They’re contractors, two main people who are involved in my business. In any given month, we’re going to pay between six to eleven people that are contractors. It depends on what we’re doing. We could scale that back on months. Maybe we’re doing a little bit more, but those capabilities were never there before. For a company my size to be able to do that, we would need an office and all these things. Now with technology and communications the way they are, it’s unbelievable what’s possible.
Overwhelmed specifically means you’ve read the books and you know the nomenclature. You just don’t know what to do in what order.
Let’s talk about hiring a little bit. You’ve obviously hired a lot of people. You’ve helped people hire a lot of people. What do you look for when you’re hiring someone? I’m sure you’ve figured that out a little bit by now.
I have a little bit different philosophy the most, but I believe my work is really well. The one that we teach is you want to try to hire within a process or a system. This is in the virtual assistant world where somebody is not coming to work with you every day. It could be in the US, it could be abroad or wherever. What we’re going to do is we’re going to put a really good application out there that talks about we’re looking for the ideal candidate. We’re not looking for people who are good. We need people who are rock stars. We want the best of the best. If I’m hiring a salesperson, “You have to have the abilities and the capabilities and the skills to do $150,000 or $180,000 or more per year. If you don’t have the skills for that, do not apply.”
It doesn’t mean everybody that applies is going to be that rock star, but you’re going to get a certain mentality of a person who has the guts to apply that. That helps you out a lot. The second thing we’ll do is in there, it will tell them exactly what to do. This is how you’re going to figure out can they self-manage themselves because that’s ultimately what their job is. Their job is about doing a repeated system over and over again without you seeing, without you knowing. We do not check in with them every day. There are people out there who have huge coaching programs which teach that. I have found you do not need that if you know how to bring them in, onboard them right and manage them by results.
At the end of the day, I can see if the social media posts are going up. I can see if the videos are being edited. We have very few meetings at our company. Our company runs extremely efficient. We might have one or two total meetings, maybe one meeting a week. We very rarely have meetings. I don’t like meetings because it ties up a lot of people’s time. If we’re having a meeting, it needs to be efficient. It needs to be about productivity. You think about pulling five people together. The amount of money and resources that are being spent there is incredible.
In Corporate America, people have meetings all day long. They’re in board rooms and conference rooms meeting after meeting. All people are doing is talking about problems. No one in the room knows the solution. That’s why the companies are inefficient. When we look to hire somebody, we will give them the process of exactly how to get hired, “How do you beat everyone else?” We will literally tell them that. We’ll tell them to send a video. This is important. We’ll tell them to include your favorite color or something weird and random to see if they pay attention and to see if they can follow a process. We might give them a link about somewhere out there on the internet and we’ll type it in there and say, “This and this and they’ll write the word dot and then we’ll write the rest of the URL because it’s really long.” We’ll see like, “Do they realize this is a period, not the word dot? There are spaces in between that were a dot.”
What we’re trying to see is what’s the intellect? Can this person solve a problem on their own? Do they need to message me? They’ll send me a video. Typically, you might have 50 applications, 100 applications but you’re going to get five or ten videos. You created a tremendous amount of leverage and automation around a process where now I’ve got the ten best candidates right in front of me in my inbox. We’ll look at those and then we’ll take the best people out of there. We’ll give them a specific task. This is the next level. If you get the task, you’re one to like the three or four people. Usually, a lot of times we’ll pay people for that because we want them to do the task. We want to see what they’re going to do. Honestly, it doesn’t cost you that much to have three people do a two-hour task, but that task is going to send them all over the internet. It’s going to be like, “Google search this, find an article posted here, start a Dropbox account for free. Go over here and do that.” They’ve got to solve problems and it may not have anything to do with their job.
If they’re a video editor, it may say, “Find a video on YouTube about this, download it, edit here. I need sixteen seconds of this, then go here and get some royalty-free this and get music and do all this.” They’ve got a huge process and things to follow. I’m trying to see if they can follow 21 steps. They literally look at a video, pause it, go do it then because that’s going to be their job and you’re going to come down to one or two people every time. It’s like you’re going to have one or maybe two people who are going to do that task and do it right. Most people will not do that task. You’ll be surprised. If you get ten, half of them won’t even turn it in. The people who do it right and do it well, now I’ve seen how they can perform what they can do.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a sales call or whatever. I’ll tell them, “Find somebody. Do a mock call recorded on this app.” I want to see how they are live. From there, we’ll usually hire them. What we do is we apply a lot of pressure in the first week. Unless I know for sure, maybe if I’m hiring a friend’s assistant or something like that, but if I don’t know them, we are going to apply the maximum amount of pressure in the first week almost where they’re going to be like, “I’m out of here.” We don’t want that but we want to know how do they perform under pressure and can they hang with us? The last thing you want to do is figure that out in six months. Everybody knows him. Now you’re going to look like you can’t hire people. If you can figure it out the first week and sometimes we’ll even give them a severance or something. We’ll pay him for the rest of the month, if they’re nice and they tried, but we’re going to put a lot of pressure on. That’s what we personally do. If they make it through that hell week, they’re gold. They’re an unbelievable employee.
Talk to us about the strategy that comes behind growing a business from $1 million to $5 million. That process from zero to $1 million, you hire a few people, you figure it out and you’ve helped people take that next level from one to five and we’ll work from zero to one, doesn’t work from zero to five. Do you have any insight into that kind of business owner?
The first thing I would say is you have to have a reality check on where you really are. I can’t tell you how many people come in to the programs that we do or coaching or whatever and they’re posturing. They’re trying to impress me or impress someone else. If you tell me you’re fast at running the ball and then I give you the ball in the game and you’re slow, that’s your fault. People are going to tackle you. No one can prepare you if you don’t have the reality check of where you really are. If you can’t communicate that, then you’re in trouble because of yourself.
The reality is a lot of people we work with, we’re one of the only coaching programs that do this. We will work with people who are pre-revenue. In fact, almost all big high-ticket programs, they will literally tell you and they tell people like me, “Do not work with people who are pre-revenue. Do not work with small companies.” The reality of that is those people, even though they’re good, even though they’re smart, even though they have a talent, they’re cool people but they don’t know how to coach those kinds of people. That’s the bottom line. They don’t know enough to coach those people. We don’t have any problem doing that. The first goal, if you’re not there, is you need to get to $10,000 a month. I promise you, you will never hit $1 million unless you hit $10,000 a month. There’s no mathematical way to do it. Let’s not even talk about a million. That’s what I tell them. I’m like, “Let’s get to $10,000. Let’s figure that out.”
Once you get there, then it’s about duplication, duplication of processes, eliminating. It’s real. Everyone heard this phrase now, 10X. Grant Cardone has made it big. Before Grant Cardone, 10X was from another guy, who taught what’s called The Ten Times Business Growth Theory. He had called it 10x and then Grant was in that program. Grant called a 10X and made it big. The Ten Times Theory, is not what Grant teaches. Grant teaches 10X your revenue. 10X in revenue is truly a small company strategy. There is no Fortune 10 that will 10X their revenue this year, zero. That is a small company startup strategy. It sounds good, it sells good but it doesn’t implement.
With technology and communications the way they are, it’s unbelievable what’s possible.
The real 10X strategy that started out with is the best one, which is how do you ten times productivity? How do you get ten times more of the lifestyle that you want out of your business? That could mean that you double your revenue but do 50% less work this year. That is the real 10X mindset. The true, authentic. That’s what we teach. For some people, 10X-ing a revenue is where they need to because they’re at $10,000, they’re at $2,000. That’s totally fine. When you get to $1 million, 10X-ing a million is extremely complicated.
The first place, realistically of plans is how do we get you to $10,000 a month? We just had a girl, Sonya Lee, she did $54,000 in her first month. She’s from California. Ed Bordi did $106,000 in his first month. We have people who can crush it in the first month. These are people that goes zero to that. They’re not bringing in revenue. They’re going to zero to that. From there, my next strategic goal is the plan around how do we get you to $1,000 a day. $1,000 a day is achievable. It might be $7,000 a month, depending on what you sell. It ends up being about $30,000 a month. If you can get there, you’re close to being a one percenter. A one percenter is $412,000 a year. You’ve got a $300,000, $350,000, $380,000, $280,000 or somewhere in that range.
I’ve taken a lot of businesses to that point. You can make a logical decision. At that point, at $300,000, whether you’re a ten-man operation, 50 men, one man, one woman, it doesn’t matter. At that point, you can make it. You know how to acquire customers. You’ve got a sales process down. You know how to support them. You’ve got enough in your business to say, “Do I want to create $1 million business here?” You could look at hours, effort, energy, all these important things that you need to track and go, “Do I really want to 5X my time? Do I want to spend 5X more time in the business or am I okay? Is my goal going to be the 2X business and do the same amount of work?”
When you get to $300,000, it’s a magical number where you can make a very realistic prediction of what you want to do and sometimes $1 million, people are like, I don’t care about a million. I just want to make $100,000 in a week or a month or whatever. You have to set a goal. At that point, one of the best strategies I’ve done for a lot of companies spending $100,000 and bringing in a top notch operations person. Somebody who can get a little bit of equity. They’ll work for $80,000 or something like that, but they are operations genius.
You can get these people from big companies. They’ll take a lot less pay than they make now because they’re into the entrepreneur thing. You can get people that will take your sales process, 4X the amount of leads you’re getting, take your support and double the support. She can handle that, double up accounting. It’s literally a mathematical equation. They’re literally were like, “Write it out in a spreadsheet and we will see it happen.” At that point, that’s one of the smartest ways to grow from that point. You could do it yourself too, but I can tell you if you bring on one of these people, that is their life. Truly it’s more of a mathematical equation executing on that once you get to about $300,000.
How does someone make that decision? I’ve always been in the mentality, “We hit $1 million, let’s get it to $5 million. We hit $5 million, let’s get to $10 million.” For me, it’s taking a step back and maybe that’s because I don’t have a big family and I’m all focused. Maybe that will change when I get older, but how does someone make that decision whether, “Let’s try to 10X or let’s organize this business and take a step back and have more of that lifestyle business?”
It’s based on what the person wants to do. What makes them happy? For me, my business can run on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, all our meetings and all our coaching. Monday and Friday, it is a buffer day. If we need to have meetings, we can. I love my business so much. I pretty much work seven days a week. I like it because I’ve set it up so that I have that flexibility. If I don’t want to work for two or three days, I don’t have to. I might need to check an email every now and then. One of my right-hand people, she’ll tell me, “You need to look at this,” and I’ll look at some things here or there but I’m not hustling, not balling out for three days in a row.
When I want to take time off, I want to go out to our ranch and do some hunting or fishing with the kids or whatever. I have that flexibility. It depends. For some people, they don’t want it. They don’t care. They don’t own any outdoor equipment. They don’t own a boat. They don’t have kids or whatever. They want to see what they can do. That’s the cool thing about business. It’s never ending what you can do. There’s no unethical like, “If you make more than $10 million, then you’re unethical.” There’s no such thing. You can go and do whatever you want, make whatever you want, as long as you’re not doing something wrong.
The beauty is, especially if you want to help people, I’m telling you, it has been proven more than ever before. It used to be ten years ago, twenty years ago, people would say, “If you want to help people, don’t make money. Don’t be an entrepreneur. Just go try to raise money and put out a charity. I’m not against it, I give money to the people who put out the charity buckets, but you can put out a charity bucket and put it on 10,000 grocery stores. The guy who works for five years and crushes it will smoke all those people in one year. He’ll smoke what they can do in twenty. That one person in one year will smoke what they can do in twenty years. That’s been proven. That’s why all these guys and gals make all this money and they now become the philanthropist. Some people make fun like, “If you’re really philanthropist, you would have been a philanthropist this whole time.” You don’t understand. What they’re saying is they can do what Bill Gates can do and in one day, what a huge charity would take them 30 years to do.
People think when you give these charities, people will think, “Start a 501(c)(3) all this stuff when you have no money.” When you give to a broke 501(c)(3), 90% of the money goes to the operations of that business. Your money is not hitting the field or hitting the well or whatever it is you’re trying to do. You’re given a dollar, only 10% of that goes towards building a home or helping a child or whatever it is. When you give to the Bill Gates Foundation or whatever, it’s a huge percent of that money goes out, plus he’s giving his own money, which is 100% of that money goes out. Anyway, it’s endless what you can do. It’s about what you want to do, what you’ve been called to do.
Any last tip or advice to the entrepreneurs out there?
The one thing I would say, number one, get used to failing. Get comfortable with failing. There are five big failing lessons. One is there’s fail early, fail fast, fail cheap, just fail. You’ve got to fail so much, you can finally get to a win. That’s how it is when you start. Don’t feel like, “I did those leads, that didn’t work. I sent those emails, that didn’t work. I did the sales call. It didn’t work.” Good. You’re like everyone else. You’re exactly like all the winners, all the players, like you are finally at first base. This is where we all were. Don’t feel bad about that and get really used to failing but learn how to do it cheap is the key. That’s what my business partner, Kevin Harrington from Shark Tank always tells me.
The other thing I would say, and this is a big thing I believe, if you have a dream or something in your heart or in your mind where you’re like, “I’ve got to do that. I’ve got to develop that. I’ve got to sell that. I’ve got to be this person. I want this freedom.” Whatever that weird dream that you never tell people because if you told them, they’d probably think you’re weird. They don’t get it. You very rarely tell people. If you have that thing and that dream, that idea, it doesn’t stop and is here again, it’s here now, it’s there when you go to bed, you wake up and it’s there, you’re sitting there listening to podcasts and it’s there. I am telling you that is your ultimate, most real, most physically tangible confirmation that you are supposed to do that.
I won’t go into all the psychology of it but I’m not thinking it, Nate’s not thinking it. You’re thinking it, you might say, “A bunch of us are agency owners.” You live in a different area. The way you want to do it with the way you can do it is different than Nate or me or someone else. Let that be the confirmation and the confidence that you need to go out there and do and take risks and take chances. People like Nate is that you’re here to help you. I’m here to help you whenever you need it. That’s the beauty of it. Wherever level of learning you’re at, if you need to make millions or thousands or hundreds, the capabilities are there more than ever before. Don’t be a victim, don’t be a complainer, go out there and get it done. I’m telling you, if you put your head down, you’ll be surprised at how far you can go.
I love the word weird. As entrepreneurs, we’re all weird. James, how can people find out more about you?
One of the best things to do is look me up on Facebook. Send me a friend request or PM me or whatever. JamesSmiley.org is where all the cool stuff is. You can get free playbooks on stuff, free USB drives with all the thousand dollars masterminds that we do. You can get that stuff for free. If you want to join a coaching or something like that, there’s a bunch of programs and stuff on there and every level, whatever you want to do. If I could help you in any way, let me know. I appreciate you having me on here. I appreciate all your followers too.
Check out James’ website. He’s got a cool offer, a free USB that he’ll send you with a ton of great content on it. Thanks so much. I appreciate the time.
I appreciate it, Nathan.
About James Smiley