Mitch Russo is a certification business model expert who specializes in working with companies that are looking to quickly grow substantially in size. He understands that making small, calculated shifts in your thinking can change everything for your business and your success. This is a lesson Mitch learned when his career took a sudden turn toward success — even though he was faced with what initially looked like a major setback. He shares the story of his success and the mindset that created it, on this episode of Consulting Success Podcast. You’ll also hear what it takes to identify your greatest strengths, and how you can use them to secure the high value clients that you’ve been seeking.
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Don’t waste your time dwelling on your problems — use your setbacks to achieve the consulting success you’ve been dreaming of.
How to Capitalize on Your Setbacks to Propel You Toward Success with Mitch Russo
I’m really excited because we have Mitch Russo with us. Mitch, welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you.
My pleasure, Michael. Thanks for inviting me.
For those that don’t know you, tell us what you do.
I work with specific types of companies who are looking to grow substantially relatively quickly over the course of the next 90 days to two years. I work with this type of company that can utilize the business model that I’m an expert in, and that’s called certification.
What does certification mean for those that have no idea what it means?
Most people probably know brands such as Intuit or Infusionsoft or Salesforce. All those companies built their entire organization around certification when they were much smaller. Here’s an example, let’s take Intuit. It turns out that I built certification for the first time in 1989 and I had done it so well that the CEO of Intuit, Scott Cook came and asked me if I would give him and teach him everything I know about doing and building a program like this, which I agreed to do. Later, he returned the favor by giving me a back-end access to QuickBooks and Quicken so that I can interface my software when no other competitor had that advantage. He took certification and he created his accountant certification for QuickBooks. That’s grown into the thousands at this point and has propelled the company into the billion-dollar sales mark.
It’s the same with Infusionsoft. Infusionsoft is a software company. They were known at first for having a very difficult product to use. In fact, many people nicknamed it Confusionsoft later. They had become so strapped in terms of trying to deal with customer support that they actually enrolled their existing clients, just like I did, and then built certification to train them, which later evolved into a worldwide network of resellers and trainers who are out there every day reselling Infusionsoft and booking thousands and thousands of hours per week in training, all paid. Certification is a way of mobilizing your existing client base if you are a consulting company, a training company, a software company, and in some cases even a medical device company because these people need to get other doctors out there teaching doctors how to use their medical device that comes with certification. When I look at other certification programs and ask myself what are they doing wrong, in many cases, all they do is award a certificate at the end.
We’re all familiar with DigitalMarketer. They sell certification for $1,000 and the only qualification is that you need to be able to pay with a credit card. If you have a credit card, you’re qualified. If you buy their certification and you complete it, you get a certificate. At that point, you might say that you’re on your own. In fact, this model is so worthless that they charge $1,000 but they frequently have it on sale for $500. I recently saw them offering their certification programs for $99. Clearly, what we’re seeing here is that people invented a way to sell a certificate for $1,000. They sold as many as they thought they could, and they dropped the price by ten times because ultimately it’s worthless. That’s part of what makes the experience of being certified sometimes negative for people. They spend all this money, they spend all this time, they get certified, but in the end they don’t know what to do with their certification. What I do with my clients is I build a business around their company so that they can invite potential certified consultants to build their own profession around the business model, which my CEO client and I create together.
How did you get to where you are today? At what stage did you get involved? Where did this idea even come from?
Like most people, I had a job and I had some other activities that I did. I was a very ambitious young man in my twenties. I had a job, I also program at night for $25 an hour. I would leave my job at 6:00 PM or 6:30 PM, I would drive 30 miles. I would then work in the basement of some guy’s house for four to six hours per night. I get up in the morning and I go back to my job. My objective was to save some money so I could buy some real estate because I knew real estate is a good way to ensure your future, which I then did. I got to the point where this job was so uncomfortable for me, it was so out and so dissonant to who I am and incongruous with where I wanted to be, that I knew I needed to leave it. Unless I did something different, I would be miserable.
I started to come up with ideas for businesses. I actually came up with five different ideas, and I started all five businesses almost at the same time thinking, “Let’s see which one catches fire.” That’s how my software company eventually started. I ended up having a conversation with a neighbor, and he and I talked about this idea I had for keeping track of time. He loved it and on his own went off and built a prototype. The other four were somewhat dead on arrival because of different circumstances. Ultimately, it was Timeslips that took off. I had quit my job, he had quit his job, and we had been working on the product in stealth mode for months. We’re just about to release it, and then the IRS changes their ruling about keeping track of time to deduct your computer from your taxes. All at once, our entire company had been building something completely worthless.
You mentioned that you had five ideas for different businesses. Many consultants have five, sometimes more ideas, in terms of who their ideal client might be and the market that they should go after, most often because they bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise and experience to the table over the years of corporate life and many different positions. How did you go about narrowing in on what really was the one ultimate winner for you? Do you think that it was a good idea that you took these five ideas and tried to move forward with them all at once, or would you suggest that someone take another approach and try and gain more focus early on?
We’re all different. Some people will work well by trying multiple things at once, and some people will need to focus and spend as much focus as they can on something to ensure that it works. For me, I was basically loading up my opportunity gun and firing all five bullets at once, seeing if I could hit a target. It didn’t mean that I focused all my time on all five. I’ll give you an example of one of them and how little time it really took. At one point, I had made the decision which filters through the universe so that the universe now knows that I am now looking to build the business. I’m looking to leave my job, and within weeks, I was approached by somebody at one of my client companies who said, “I’m going to Asia to find vendors in the electronics industry, and I don’t know anything about electronics. Do you want to join me?” All of a sudden, things started to find me. I didn’t turn that down, I explored it. That didn’t work out, but there were other things that showed up that I felt could be opportunities in disguise or maybe not so disguised. As a result, I followed them, and by following them, that’s the only way I was able to determine which would be successful.
That’s a great point that you’re making, that not everyone is the same. For some people, having that real clear focus on one thing right away is going to serve them best. For others, it’s okay to explore a little bit and refine as they move forward. You’ve focused in creating this company called Time Slips. The IRS changes everything and that puts your whole business model in jeopardy. A lot of people, consultants, and other types of professionals, find themselves in challenging times. What did you do at that point? How did you handle that setback?
There was a lamp in the room above my garage. I picked it up and flung it against the wall. My partner and I broke up laughing at that point. He cracked up, we complained, we screamed, we hollered, we said, “It’s not fair,” we made plans to blow up the IRS, all these different things that were basically a way of trying to express our frustration. When the dust settled, we said, “We just came up with this very cool piece of technology. Where else can we use it? What else can we do with it?” That’s where the idea of applying it to law firms to keep track of their time came from. The whole thing happened in the afternoon. It was very lucky for us. Some people can go months trying to find the solution, but it happened quickly for us because we were open to exploring the unknown. Remember, I said sometimes opportunity comes disguised as a problem. If we would have gone forward with the original idea, what would have ended up happening was that we probably would have sold a few copies of our software and gone out of business. This “disaster” turned out to be the biggest opportunity we could have ever found.
What do you think gave you the ability to look beyond that challenge and get so focused on it that you didn’t spend more months on it? You were actually able to move past that in a matter of hours, already pivot to something that ultimately became very successful. A lot of people have trouble around that. They get stuck on something and they spend weeks or months, in some cases, even years, just spinning their wheels and not seeing the opportunities and instead focusing on the challenges and the negative around them. How do you think you got yourself into that place? Does that just come naturally to you?
I don’t think it came naturally at all. I was disappointed as a person can be. I felt devastated. I made light of it, but it was true. I felt completely devastated. I felt like I had just basically walked away and crushed my entire future. Ultimately, what got me through it was letting it go. It’s like building a building on a cliff because you know the view will be amazing, but the cliff basically completely evaporates before you’re able to get your permits or after you buy the land and they have to put the foundation in. Look at what the cliff left behind. It left behind the space. What might you do with that space? Might you build on more solid ground? Might you be able to make use of the current circumstances? If you go with the attitude that says, “We just had a disaster. Where is the gold in this disaster?” Where is the opportunity that we are currently not seeing because of our emotional disposition and because we’re not looking for it?
How do you get to that place? Is there an experience that taught that to you? Is it something that you read many years ago in some book? Is it just life, going through the motions and facing challenges and overcoming them yourself? How did you get to that insight? A lot of people struggle in seeing that in the same way that you’re sharing right now.
I was desperate. Honestly, I had just left my job. I had no other options. My back was against the wall, and my partner was in exactly the same place. The two of us are looking at the crumbled foundation that just tipped over the cliff and we’re saying, “What do we do now?”Here’s one thing we didn’t say, “Let’s go back and get another job.” We hated working for other people. To this day, I don’t make a very good employee. I never would and never will, because I understand what the nature of that relationship is. I knew that I would never ever want to take another job, but I also knew that I had this burning desire. My desire was stronger than my grief and was stronger than any other emotion, even the disappointment that I felt. I knew I had to figure it out. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know what method, I didn’t have some deep inner knowledge or secret idea, or I wasn’t taught by an ascended master. I had none of that. I was just desperate and I knew that if the two of us put our heads together, we would come up with something. That’s the only thing I knew.
Your company, Timeslips, ended up being acquired. How many years later was that?
We were slow. First of all, I was very unsophisticated financially. I did not understand what venture capital was. All I could see was a large vulture-looking bird with wings diving in and scooping up the goodies. I thought venture capital was evil. We stayed away from it. We decided that we would build this business on exactly what we had, which was we had some money but not a lot. We had some money, and we had very little in expenses. We built the business above my garage in my house, and the sum total of our expenses during that first month was about $125 a month. If we would’ve sold two copies of our software for $99, we would cover your expenses so it can be profitable on two copies of our software.
We did not know if this would ever work and we didn’t know how long it would take to work. There was one tipping point later in the future of the company that made it clear exactly that it would, but until that point, we had operated just like you and your family operate your own checkbook. You don’t typically spend a whole lot more than you make. You’ve probably even put some away to save. That’s the same formula we used when we built our company. We basically said, “We have already set aside what we need to live individually for the next year.” Once that’s set aside, then we don’t really need to add more expenses until we make more money. We would love to bring in some help and maybe hire an agency here and there, but the bottom line is we said, “No, not until we make the money.” That’s what we did.
You then went on and you had a very important role with a company that Tony Robbins and the late Chet Holmes started. Talk a little bit about what that experience was like.
While I was growing Timeslips Corporation, this very pesky persistent sales guy named Chet Holmes kept trying to sell me ad space, and I resisted. I wouldn’t buy. I just couldn’t believe how pushy he was. Finally, after a year and a half, I had bargained him into a position where he was going to give me way more than he originally offered, and I said, yes. Those ads became the cornerstone of my marketing in the legal profession. At that point, we became friends. We became lifelong friends, which we didn’t know at the time. After my company was sold, Chet and I stayed friends. We would talk every week about life and fate and all these things. One day, I was talking to him and he asked me for some help. This is years after I sold Timeslips. I said, “I’d help you,” and I got involved. Before I knew it, I was running the company for him. He then told me that after seventeen years, he’d finally got to bring Tony Robbins into a conversation about building a company together.
That’s when Tony, Chet, and I got on the phone every Thursday night and we started to figure out how we could possibly put this together.
After three months of talking and six months of planning, we were able to launch the Business Breakthroughs International, that company, with an event in Las Vegas called the Ultimate Business Mastery Summit, headlined by both Chet Holmes and Tony Robbins. We also had fifteen other people there like Brendon Burchard, Jay Abraham, and many others. The idea was that we were going to take that event, record all of the content, turn it into courses, and then build the company based on offering that box of CDs and DVDs, and that’s how the company started.
You said one thing that caught my attention, that back in the day Chet Holmes would be very persistent in selling you ad space, and then you became friends. People have this idea that if someone’s going to be very persistent, that keeps trying to get your attention and have a conversation would turn you off. Did it turn you off? Did you later on just decide he’s actually a nice guy? How did that come about?
Ultimately, I laughed at this guy. He was the typical sales guy who just would never let up. After maybe two or three months of this, I figured most salespeople would have given up by now, but he didn’t give up. In fact, if anything, he adapted to me and he started sending me things in the mail. He started really working to understand my business much better and started connecting me with other people in the industry. He was trying to add value to my life very distinctly. I started to respect him at that point.
Many people out there that have this idea that “sales” is still a bad word and that they hold back reaching out and doing a lot of follow up because they’re concerned that they might come across as being too sale-sy or too pushy. This is a great example of how you can use that approach to ultimately win someone over and to differentiate yourself.
Here’s something that Chet taught me that I’ll never forget. When Chet came to me, he said to me, “I know in my heart that if you advertise in my magazines, it’s going to build your business. I know for certain that this is going to work.” What I later learned from Chet is that he believed that he had a moral obligation to sell me advertising. When a salesperson approaches a client with the deep understanding that what they are selling is truly going to change their lives, the lives of their families, and the lives of everybody who works for them, then there is no possibility of that person ever feeling like they’re bothering that person or they’re being too persistent. They know that they have a moral responsibility to close that sale to help other people.
How does someone get to that place where that belief just becomes natural for them?
Part of it is understanding the way people are and the way people work. Part of it is understanding the product. If you walked into a company and you saw a product and you saw testimonial after testimonial, there’s clear proof that this thing works. You get on the phone with somebody who has the same exact problem and they’re seeking a solution which you have, but they’re not interested. How’s that going to make you feel? That’s where you go. That’s where you start. You start by having an unshakable desire to ensure that you’re helping another. If you come from a place of helping, instead of from a place of selling, then you’re going to ensure your own success and you’re going to be delivering something of extreme value to your prospects who then become clients.
You ran that business for Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes. After that, is that when you then ventured out into running your own consulting practice and helping others with this certification process?
I had been working with clients to help clients for decades. Before I sold Timeslips Corporation, I went into business as a consultant. I became so enamored with some of my clients that I actually invested in them, nineteen venture investments at that time. I have been helping clients and helping small companies scale for many years. When I was done with Chet and Tony after Chet passed away, I knew my time was over there. I wrote the book, The Invisible Organization, and it was in the writing of that book that it was somewhat cathartic for me. I was able to pour everything I knew about what I did to grow that company to 300 people and $25 million in sales completely virtually into that book. At that point, I did an assessment of what my strengths were, and I tried to figure out what I could do next.
I was still a young man. I wasn’t ready to retire, so my belief was that some of my greatest strengths would potentially be good business ideas. Honestly, some of them were complete duds, so I went around for several years trying to come up with something that would truly work for other people and I thought would make decent money for me and keep me very motivated and happy, but I could not figure out how to make those things work. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out which of your very most powerful skills can be set up in such a way so that they could be both marketed and useful to others.
When you started consulting, how did you go about getting clients? What was the most effective way of finding the ideal client for you?
It still is the most ideal way for me, and that is attending masterminds.
Are these specific paid groups that you’re going to, or is it more of like a general event for a specific industry?
It’s a little of both. Luckily I am invited to many masterminds, complementary. I’m not invited to participate for the year-long program, for example, but I am invited as a guest to many masterminds. I don’t think I can remember leaving a mastermind without securing at least one client.
How do you go about finding someone that could be a client? What do the typical day or process look like for you to be able to successfully find and engage in a conversation with someone at these events?
All I’m doing is I’m looking to help other people. It’s my only goal. If I go to a mastermind, I’m there to serve. I happen to be old enough and experienced enough to have seen many of the solutions to problems that people in the room are having. I try to take my time and focus entirely on others to see if I could help them get to the next step in their business. In many cases, I could sit with somebody for several hours and completely map out a solution to exactly where the company should go. At that point, if it’s appropriate, we’ll talk a little bit about what I do. The only approach I have is knowing that I’m there to help. That is what my goal is.
A lot of people have this concern of giving away too much. They don’t want to give away so much that a prospective buyer may not need their services. It sounds like your approach is to really open up the door to as much value as you possibly can demonstrate even in a shorter period of time. What is your mindset around giving away immense value to people?
Most people these days are not paying a lot for information. If they are, those days are becoming numbered. Information by itself is not particularly useful. It is enlightening in some ways, but what really only counts is its implementation. If people understand how much I know about something, and they know that they need it and they know that they probably can’t implement it on their own, particularly not at the level that they need to be successful first time through, then it only makes sense to talk to me about helping them in a paid fashion. That’s how I do it.
What is your mindset and thought process around work-life balance? How do you balance growing businesses and growing other people’s businesses with making sure that you’re taking care of yourself?
I work from the standpoint that I take care of myself first, and then I allocate whatever time is left over to working with my clients or working with people who need some help. For example, every morning I’m up at somewhere around 6:30 AM to 7:00 AM. I go downstairs, I have a cup of Bulletproof Coffee. I then sit and I read for a half an hour spiritual books or books written before the Gutenberg press, and I make notes in my journal. When that half hour is up, I then go to the gym, and I go every day, I would do what I do at the gym. I come home, I get settled, I start answering email, and my first appointment begins at 11:00 AM. That’s how my day starts.
You are making sure that you’re taken care of before you start trying to take care of others?
You have to. As they say, if the jet is going to be coming down in a crash, you got to put your own air mask on first before you help others, or you can’t help others.
Is that the thing you’ve always done, or is it just more recent?
It was after my daughter was born that I realized that I needed to make sure I had that time. In the beginning, when I started Timeslips Corporation, I worked fifteen plus hours a day for seven months straight because this was now going to be my future. This business was my grand obsession. I knew it was going to be my future and therefore dedicated and devoted all of my time to it.
It’s a different perspective certainly when you have kids. I like the way that you’ve carved that out and have a great start to every day. You mentioned that you find a lot of business and opportunities at masterminds. What’s your overall thinking and your personal experience in terms of working with coaches, mentors, or joining masterminds? Has that played a role in growing your business over the years?
Yes, it has. I would say more mentorship than anything else. I’ve been very lucky to have found people to help me along the way in my journey. I’ve given back and I continue to give back as well, but I have a coach as of today. I still have a coach. Having a coach or having a mentor or both is instrumental in overcoming the circuits that you ended up running in your own head. Somebody has to be able to look at what’s going on in your head with you and basically guide you to where you need to be. My coach is not at all a business coach. I am not to say that I couldn’t benefit by that, my coach is a mindset coach more than anything else. That’s where I spend a lot of my time. In the morning I’m reading books that really boosted my mindset and keep that ground fertile for me to plant the seeds of success in.
I want to thank you for sharing and for your time. For those that want to learn more about you, about your work, and want to reach out and connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
The best way is to go to MitchRusso.com, my standard website. On there you could subscribe to my podcast, which I would love to see you do, and you could contact me. I have 50 to 60 articles on building businesses on my website. I also have the entire link to the Power Tribe’s website so you could see exactly what I do in certification as well.
Mitch, thank you so much.
My pleasure, Michael.
Mentioned in This Episode:
- Mitch Russo
- Ultimate Business Mastery Summit
- Chet Holmes
- Tony Robbins
- Brendon Burchard
- Jay Abraham
- Timeslips Corporation
- The Invisible Organization