Building tribes can benefit everyone, especially when it comes to business. Someone in the tribe wants to sell their business, who will they go to first? Some stranger or their tribe? It’s important to let your tribe build trusting relationships by themselves. That is what Mandi Ellefson did with her tribes. Mandi is the founder of Hands-Off CEO. Discover how she created a tribe with a hands-off approach and the benefits it offers. Learn how building a tribe can further help you in your development and growth. Join your host Mitch Russo as he gets Mandi to tell you why tribes are important to business and yourself and how you can start writing your tribe manifesto today!
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When Tribes Mean Business With Mandi Ellefson
Welcome to the show. Our goal is to help you be a better leader, inspire more people to create the passion your community wants and profit from experience. I want to hear from you. Tell me what you want, who are you interested in hearing from and what actions do you take from each of these incredible guests that we speak with?
Our guest started out, like many of us, a bit overworked and disorganized and way too much to do on her own. As her small business continues to grow, she tried everything until one day she realized what was missing. She discovered that a simple system of organization and delegation may be the solution. She tried several different strategies until she discovered a methodology that completely solved her problem and rapidly and almost effortlessly scaled her company from that point on.
She wasn’t done. In fact, others saw what she was doing and asked how they could do it too. That became the beginning of her rapidly growing tribe, a dedicated group of people who believe as she does that CEOs and company owners can be hands-off and work less. Mandi Ellefson, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Mitch.
My pleasure. Mandi, tell us the story about what brought you to the point of building your community.
I was doing, like many consultants, working one-on-one with clients and you get to a certain point where your head’s about to explode. You can only work with so many clients in a one-on-one way. This was a real challenge for me because I also saw a lot of coaching programs out there that threw a bunch of people in a group and said, “This is good for my scalability,” but fingers crossed, let’s hope that it works out for our clients. The reality is there are a lot of junk programs out there. It declines in quality.Building a tribe is all about the added value where people could communicate and build each other up. Click To Tweet
This is something I was resisting for a long time. What I did is I looked at what can I do to be able to build a tribe. I call it a tribe. We have a tribe of Hands-Off CEO Tribe and our Scale to Freedom Tribe. I looked at it and said, “How can I make this add more value to what we’re already doing in a way that will allow us to scale?” More than anything, I started this tribe because I saw this added value where clients could communicate with each other and be able to build each other up. There’s this community that’s like outside of me.
I started that a few years ago. I was nervous about doing it because the whole point of a tribe is for it to grow beyond you, which means you have to let go of some control. It also means that you have to set a vision. At the time, I was working with a mentor who helped me be able to craft who’s in and who’s out. How I started this was getting those people together. It was amazing because we had clients that were sharing with me who had been working with me for years one-on-one said that, “I liked this even better.”
That’s when I knew like, “We’ve got something going here.” It took a real commitment to keep building that. As we continued to build it, what happened is that people came to us for our consulting and for our expertise to be able to help them scale their company but they stayed for the tribe. It became a nice value add for our clients.
Mandi, as you probably realized, I reject a lot of people who simply want to promote their business because this isn’t necessarily about business. More importantly, what we’re looking for is people who are dedicated community builders. That is the distinction. What I loved about what you said is that there’s one element of this which is you are helping your clients be more hands-off, hence the name of your company.
The part that resonates with me and with anyone who’s reading this is that you had this realization that the community might be as important or maybe possibly at a different level, more important than a particular client per se because the client relationship is great. What we don’t get from a client relationship are the insights of others. There’s where the tribe mentality and the power of a great culture, which you’ve created, permeate the whole group.
It sounds like everybody’s happy to help each other, pull each other up by the bootstraps, share their wins, ideas and techniques all without worrying that, “Mandi’s not going to like this for some reason.” At this point, you’re not even leading it anymore. It’s more or less taken on a life of its own. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t need a leader but a great community has a culture that supports that.
You know that’s working when you have other people within the group that meets outside of it. They go and meet in person, they connect. One person will go and help someone else and say, “I noticed you have this problem.” No one’s getting paid for it. These are high-level CEOs. They’re choosing to spend time and invest in these relationships. That’s when you know that you’ve got this momentum building. I agree with you.
Here’s some insight, for any CEO’s reading, once again, your value both your clients and to the people who you work with can be greatly enhanced by thinking the way Mandi has thought about her business. Thinking about pulling your own clients into this group called your tribe, which you can call anything you like. There are paid versions of this at some level. They’re called masterminds. What you’ve done is you kept this fairly loosely structured so that people can get together and meet any time they want, which is a beautiful thing, in my opinion.
There are some loose structures too but there are also set times where we meet. We get together for retreats in person as well. There is room for it to grow organically, with interactions within the tribe. We also have very strict requirements for people coming in and that’s why it’s valuable. A lot of those group programs pretend like they’re tribes but they’re not. What happens is they’re going to take anybody in with a pulse. I’m looking at this as like the guardian of our tribe that we’ve built. I want to know how is this person going to be adding value to the tribe. Is this person going to say, “If they helped me, maybe I will.” That attitude doesn’t belong there.
Also, the other part of it too is that the whole point of a tribe is to have like-minded people who are at your level or around your level. Maybe a little below that will give you some ideas for, “I’ve been there. I remember what that was like,” and above you because you can say, “This is where I’m going to.” Every person, having something to add, even the newest, even the people who have maybe the smallest businesses within that but having a minimum standard. The minimum standard, the tribe would not be what it is if we let anybody in. It was about the growth of the company.
Here’s the thing, in years past, we could have grown a lot faster if we would have done that. It takes integrity to what you’re building. That vision is what creates the container for this tribe to be in. It creates something very different because I know that I’ve talked to other people who are creating group programs for agencies, for example.
We work primarily with agencies and consultants, consulting agencies we call them. One of the things he said is like, “We’ve tried putting together a mastermind or a group but what happens is that their competitors have nobody wants to share anything.” I’m like, “I haven’t found that at all. It looks like nobody’s competing. We help each one of them create a different offer that looks completely different from the rest. They’re collaborating and sharing resources. They’re saying, “This is working for me.” What this looks like is we have other experts within the tribe teaching different pieces of it so that we can all benefit from what they’re bringing. I learned a lot from our clients.The whole point of a tribe is to have like-minded people who are at your level. Don't just let anybody in. Click To Tweet
In my life and all the companies that I’ve built throughout my years, I have done one thing that freaks most people out and is somewhat unusual. It sounds like you do this too. I would reach out to my competitors and take them to dinner at trade shows. I don’t even talk about business. I just want to get to know them. I want to get to know them because they’re genuinely interesting people who’ve taken a risk themselves to create their business.
By the time I sold Timeslips Corporation, we were having dinners with twenty different competitors all at the same table at the city where we were meeting. Everybody would go for their wallet. They’re like, “I’m paying.” It was because it was such a fun evening and so much we got from each other. When I sold my company, I got more and faster congratulations from my competitors than from anybody else.
They were genuinely happy for me. When you build a relationship with the people who you think of as your adversaries, all of those dissolves, all those feelings go away. Like you were saying about the agency owners, everybody’s a competitor, the fact of the matter is none of them are. You know this. It was super cool.
The other added benefit of what you were talking about is building those relationships. Now you have acquisition merger partners. They might want to buy your company. You might be able to look at them and say, “I want to buy your company.” You’re going to get the very best opportunities before they go on the market. They’re going to want to sell to you because they like you and they trust you.
In fact, we bought one of our competitors out of that group. We rolled that into our offerings. Later, what that did is it increased the value of my company when we sold it to Sage later. You’re right. It’s an almost invisible strategy because nobody would think it should work but it is wonderful. I love how you encourage that in your own tribe as well. Let’s switch gears here. As a leader of your tribe, how many people are in your tribe now?
It’s small. This is another thing, we talked to people that have hundreds some thousands of people but when you have a tribe this small, it becomes very intimate. Tell us a little bit more about the dynamics of a twenty-person tribe.
There are two different tribes. There’s the CEO tribe. Something that’s innovative that we do is we put together a tribe of our operators, the CEOs are second in command. We have a tribe that we’re training and developing to run the company without the CEO. They have this group. We have COOs and some project manager-level people in there, vast difference.
There are leadership opportunities within that to be able to coach the people who are earlier. It’s a safe place for them to be building those leadership skills. They are learning how to run the company. That’s one tribe that we would do. That’s something that we include as part of our Scale to Freedom program. What we’ve seen from that is that the mass resignation that we’re running into, we’re seeing a very small percentage of those people who turn over. Almost none of them are quitting because they are being invested in.
I want to add to what you said. In the news, we have people resigning because the powers that be want to dictate how we act, particularly when it comes to our health circumstances. What I’m saying is when you teach your tribe members to create a culture like the one you’ve created then there’s much more of a reason for them to want to stay and become part of this. It’s not a mandate anymore. It’s more an invitation to stay included with who we are and what we’re doing. I’m not one to change the meaning of words. That’s not my goal here. It’s simply to share the ideas that you said in a way that others who are not deep into it might relate to as well.
We need to create tribes of our team. We needed to be able to create that in a way that they want to stick around, where they’re getting developed, where they’re getting that mentorship within a tribe like that. In the bigger perspective, building a tribe for our clients adds a lot of value. Something else that we’re doing is we’re building a tribe for our partners. We have a specific tribe that we’re building around there in a way that adds value to them. That right there leads to more growth for everyone.
Let’s talk about the management aspect of this. You said you have two tribes. You probably have two separate communication channels, one for each. How does that work? Is it as simple as sending out emails or do you have a group? Do you have a place online where they meet and can have a community online? How do you manage that?When managing a tribe, be able to create an experience where there's engagement and not just a bunch of noise. Click To Tweet
I can’t talk too much to the tech. I’ll say a little bit because my team handles all that. What we do is we have a Slack channel. We used to be on Facebook. We’ve had to transition over because we don’t want our platform to be controlled. We want to have access to our own. We want to be at a place where there is positivity and not a lot of messages that are going to do.
That right there is a challenge. We’re building that back up because I remember even the first time when we started adding that channel in Facebook, it took some time to build that up, to build the interaction that people communicate and talk. We’re back to square one a bit. We started this by moving over to Slack. I know from experience that you have to stick with it and build the community within that and find reasons for people to be there. There’s a balance. Particularly for our clients, their CEOs were busy. How do you be able to create an experience where there’s an engagement but there’s not a bunch of noise.
Mandi, for those of us who are not yet at the place where you are with an active running tribe, you’ve spoken a lot about the benefits to the members. Let’s talk about the benefits to you. Share some of what they bring to you, it could be monetary or philosophical, whatever way you feel you benefit. We’d love to hear about it.
One of our tribe members made a referral for someone who wants to buy our company. I’m not going to sell it. Also, on the side of that, that’s a licensing deal that we want to be licensing out a piece of what we’re doing and then helping them build a seven-figure company out of it. That’s one very relevant one. There’s loyalty to the brand.
They give us referrals. They are constantly sharing wins and we’re creating case studies. We have many case studies, more than we possibly could even put up on our website. Part of our tribe, the environment in that safe place of sharing both wins. Here’s the thing, there’s success shaming in our society. Where do you go where you can talk about this without hearing people like, “Wouldn’t that be nice if I had a company like that?” That’s the attitude that you hear so much. This is an environment where you could be like, “I made a six-figure sale. I’m amazing.” You can be that energy.
When COVID first started, it’s a challenging environment to be in business. Being able to have a tribe there where we’re like putting a little circle of abundance around us, where we’re thinking in a specific way and we’re taking specific actions. Even that responsibility of the leadership required me to up my game in a big way. It was a big transformation for me.
Let’s talk about that. That’s interesting. If there’s ever been a reason to create a tribe that allows you and helps you up your own skill levels and be on top of your game, it’s a slam dunk. Explain how you did that and what have you changed about yourself and the way you work even since your tribe has been in place.
The thing is that to be able to lead a high-level group of people, you have to be high-level and continue to grow. Especially if you want to continue to grow the kind of people that are in your tribe. I want to be doing that. What that looks like is that, if I want to set the culture and the intention that our clients are ridiculously successful in any market condition, I’ve got to own that and I’ve got to be that. What that looks like is that’s fully embodying the movement that you’re creating. I am always aspiring to fully embody the hands-off CEO.
This is a very big deal. For most people, they build a company, they generate what they hoped they would, they run it and then they start to go to sleep. They start thinking, “This is running on its own. Maybe I’ll take a fishing trip.” What you’re doing is completely different and your community is pushing you to be a better person and leader and create a better business in the same vein that you’re promoting that they do.
We’ve seen tremendous growth in our business since then. While many companies are struggling, our clients are doing better than ever. Our company is also doing better than ever. We’re seeing a tremendous amount of growth. There’s real pride in that if I’m going to be honest with it. I know that we’ve changed a lot of people’s lives that their businesses otherwise might’ve gone even worse than they would be staying with this company that is eroding away their life.
Ten years later, they look at this and hate everything about it. We want to help people create companies that leave a lasting legacy, that creates much wealth for them, that they have the freedom to be able to say, “That’s not a choice I’m going to make for my health. I don’t want to live in this state anymore.” That’s one reason why I moved to Southern Utah. I could have that freedom to make choices for myself and my family. If you don’t have the wealth in your company to do that, your options are limited and your freedom is taken away. I’m very passionate about people having that freedom.
The term freedom has even more meaning to me anyway than it ever has before. I’m glad that you brought that up. Mandi, we have people reading this who don’t have a tribe but have been thinking about it for quite some time and potentially would love to have one. What would you advise somebody who is thinking of and wanting to start a tribe? What would be the very first thing they should do to take the next step in creating their own community?Build a tribe so that you can up your own skill level and be on top of your game. Click To Tweet
Think about how you’re going to monetize it because otherwise, it’s not worth putting your energy in it if I’m being quite honest. It takes energy and resources. I shared with you how I have to change and show up to be able to do that. That’s energy and lifeblood and I’m going to be paid for that. That’s something that if you are interested in building wealth for yourself, owning the energy that you need to put into place because it’s not just about your time, it’s also about your energy.
Thinking about your vision for what you want to create in the world, what is the change that you want to create in the world, then get that aligned with where your skills are. If you don’t have the skills, I might not build a tribe yet. I would build the skills first. I build the skills through running two different companies and working with clients one-on-one, fine-tuning our systems before we got to a point where somebody wanted to come into a tribe with me.
I want to offer a different perspective too. I’ve spoken to many folks who have built tribes that have nothing to do with becoming wealthy or generating revenue. My advice answering my own question is what would be that first step, would be to crystallize what your purpose is. One good way to do that is the word manifesto. I would love for you who are in that place to write your manifesto. Write down what is it that you are passionate about. What hill would you stand on and die for if it were your cause? Once you have that then everything under that will fall in place.
Mandi already has that. It was unconscious for her to even bring it up because that’s how she’s wired. Many of us need to have a starting point. Particularly for a community that’s not focused on necessarily building a business. No matter what, if you’re going to build a community, you need a passion, purpose, mission and a manifesto is a great way to convey that.
Secondarily, even if it’s a nonprofit, you’re eventually going to have to ask for money because you’re going to have to run this thing and it’s going to have to be able to be self-sustaining. No one has the savings to build an unlimited size tribe forever. All of these lessons are very important but I’d start with the manifesto. What do you think, Mandi?
I completely agree with that. I don’t think that every tribe you have has to be monetized by someone paying money because it could be a way that you’re giving back like I was sharing with one we have with our partners. It has a long-term game of being monetized. In that way, we know that we can invest our time and energy into it in a way that it’s worth people showing up for. The manifesto is fantastic and that’s something that I wish I would’ve written. It’s something that is good to revisit and up-level because as we are continuing to grow and develop, we want to keep pushing the edges of that.
When we were talking about me embodying the Hands-Off CEO, what that means year to year is getting to be a little bit different. What that meant when our company was at $200,000 a year is very different than what it looks like as a seven-figure company because we have different resources. I’ve changed. My vision’s changing. It’s constantly expanding. That manifesto was a great tool to be able to bring it to life.
What I would also encourage you and our readers to do is to think way bigger. Write it down and then go way bigger to the point where it scares you, to the point where you want to lean over to the garbage can and throw up. If your manifesto doesn’t scare you a little bit then you need to go back to the drawing table and make it a little bit bigger.
If you haven’t gotten that feeling of wanting to find a garbage can quickly then you’re not thinking big enough. Mandi, another element of this is not just running a tribe day-to-day but projecting the future. A very big and important point. You have two futures to think about. I want you to tell me about them both. One, what is the future of your tribe? Two, what is the future of your company? I’d love to find out how those two futures seem to meld together at some point if they do.
They go hand in hand with the business that we’ve chosen to create. I can’t imagine running our company without a tribe. I remember when I started it, I was scared. I was terrified to be able to do it because I knew what it would take of me personally to be able to create that container. Also, it’s vulnerable. The future of the tribe is I see it continuing to scale and grow and that the twenty people that are in there are going to be more of our tribe leaders that are elite. They will continue to get different support levels because they’re going to be supporting us in building the tribe.
That will continue to grow. We’ve been selling just one thing for a long time because that’s the fastest way to be able to create a seven-figure company, is to sell one big thing over and over again, build your systems clean for that. We’ve done that. We’ve been very successful doing that. We’re also expanding out to allow some of our systems to go to a market that isn’t quite ready for what we do yet. They’re not yet at the place where they’re ready to scale a multimillion-dollar company.
They need to be able to increase their prices and get to a $50,000 offer first. We’re going to be building a tribe for them, which is separate from our other tribe. It has to be. There might be some mixing may be at an in-person event but you can’t do too much mixing of that because then it devalues your whole tribe, what you’re building.
It also means that there are two purposes on the table at the same time to the same person. A confused mind does not take action. That’s a brilliant strategy. Mandi, we’ve covered so much ground here. Before I let you go, I know you’re busy with the community and company. First of all, you have a fantastic tool that others can have for free. Include your company URL when you tell us about that as well.To be able to lead a high-level group of people, you have to be high level and continuously growing. Click To Tweet
For those who are interested more in our message, how to scale a multimillion-dollar consulting company that can run without you, a service company that can run without you, you can go to HandsOffCEO.com/Roadmap. This is the ultimate roadmap to scaling your consulting agency and how to get out of the day-to-day, how to be able to double your current pricing and five simple ways to be able to finance your growth without diminishing quality.
It’s a fantastic offer. Mandi, if somebody wants to connect with you directly, how would they do that?
If they want to connect with me personally, you can go to [email protected]. My team is the one who manages that email but I’ll get it eventually. I’d love to hear any comments that you have and any insights. If you want to have an opportunity to connect with me deeper, if you download that roadmap on the next page, it’ll give you an opportunity to come to one of our executive briefings. That’s a small group of people, where I ask about your business and get some ideas about what you’re doing. You can see the whole process for how to scale a consulting agency. That’s a good way if you want to have an interaction with me.
That’s an incredible offer and I hope that everybody takes advantage of that. I don’t see why you wouldn’t. Mandi, thank you so much. Mandi, it was a pleasure and I can’t wait until we get a chance to talk again soon.
Thank you so much for having me, Mitch.
It’s my pleasure.
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