Welcome to the Rialto Marketing podcast. Today's episode is a revenue acceleration series interview where we talk to seven figure B2B professional service firm owners that are actively trying to grow their business and get to the next level. We talk about the good, the bad and the ugly so that you can learn from their experience.

Join Tim Fitzpatrick and Ann Westerheim for this week’s episode of The Rialto Marketing Podcast!

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Stick To What You Do Well

Tim Fitzpatrick
Welcome to the Rialto Marketing Podcast. Today's episode is a revenue acceleration series interview where we talk to seven-figure B2B professional service firm owners that are actively trying to grow their business and get to the next level. We talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly so you can learn from their experience. Hi, I am Tim Fitzpatrick with Rialto Marketing, where we believe you must remove your revenue roadblocks to accelerate growth, and marketing shouldn't be difficult. Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in. I am super excited to have Ann Westerheim from Ekaru with me today. Anne, welcome and thanks for being here.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, great. Thank you so much for having me.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yes, I'm excited to dig into this with you a little bit. Now you're based out of the Boston area, yes?

Ann Westerheim
Yes, suburban Boston.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Okay, awesome. Well, are you getting fall colors yet?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, we are. It's leaf peeping season. I had to explain that to somebody today from Florida, but we're getting the oranges, the yellows, the reds. It's looking pretty amazing.

Tim Fitzpatrick
I love it. Yeah, we're starting to get that in Colorado, too. It depends on where you are in Colorado because of the elevation change. The mountains get it a little bit later than the rest of us. But yeah, it's that time of year we start to get it. So beautiful time. Before we jump in, talk a little bit about what you're doing at Ekaru and learn from all your experiences. I want to ask you a few rapid fire questions if you're ready to jump in with both feet.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Let's go. So very quickly, what do you do? How long have you been doing it?

Ann Westerheim
Yes, I've been running Ekaru. We're a security first IT managed service provider. So providing IT support to local businesses. And I've been doing this remarkably for 20 years because time has flown by. Before that, I worked as an engineer at Dec and at Intel Building Microprocessors and started a consulting business when my kids were young.

Tim Fitzpatrick
I love it. Twenty years is a long time in IT. There have been so many changes. Yeah, crazy. What's the most important lesson you've learned in those 20 years?

Ann Westerheim
I think one of the lessons I've learned along the way is to... I'm usually very optimistic about taking on projects because I have the engineer's mindset of everything's possible. I've learned the hard way to not take on things that really don't fit into what we can do well as a team at Ekaru.

Tim Fitzpatrick
It takes a lot of us time to get to that place, right? When we initially get in business, most of us are very open to taking all kinds of business, and we realize, gosh, maybe I shouldn't have done that project.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, and I definitely live the mindset I can figure out anything, but sometimes, yeah, maybe that's possible, but it's not good.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yes. So do you find yourself saying no more often now to projects that you just know are not a good fit?

Ann Westerheim
We try to stay in our lane. With cybersecurity, there's always so much new stuff going on that you have to be moving fast all along. But there's things that are peripheral to all of this that... And what to say? I don't think we're the right team to do that particular project or maybe there's a client that's a little too far away from us where we think that it's just not going to be good for our team to have travel. I think that just trying to be upfront about it is really helpful and sticking to the things that we do really well and constantly improving the things that we do well so we can do them betteras well.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. It's really hard to say no to projects sometimes, but not a good fit. We're so much better off just saying no because we're doing the client a favor, and we're doing our company, our team a favor, right? You think on projects that aren't a good fit, your team isn't happy either, are they?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah. I guess it's a lesson you could just be very focused and disciplined about at the outset, or it's a lesson you're going to learn the hard way. Hopefully, if you learn it the hard way, you actually learn from it and you move on and...Brighter days.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yes, we've all been there. Do you have any mantra or motivational saying that you say to yourself, share with your team, when you hit those times where you're hitting hurdles or roadblocks?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, one of the things we have a morning huddle every day, and one thing that I say every day is carpe diem, seize the day, and just getting us all to approach the day with energy and try to focus on the things that we can do to help people. So that's my battle cry at the beginning of every day.

Tim Fitzpatrick
That's a good one. I love it. Gently and relentlessly beating the drum of Carpe Diem. If they don't get it the first time, they're going to get it the 300th, right?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, and the day is what we make it to. I think that a lot of times working in IT and support, stuff is coming at you all the time, and they really get in the mindset of let's make this happen and not feel like it's all coming at us all day long. That's probably true for any business.

Winning Businesses Against Larger Competitors

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. So Anne, one of the things we talked about in the pre-interview, you had mentioned that you've won some business against larger competitors, which I don't care what industry you're in, we all have larger competitors that we're battling. What types of things are you doing that are helping you accomplish this?

Ann Westerheim
I think that one of the ways that we position ourselves is not too big and not too small. We bring a team of various expertise to the table, but we're not so big that we have one department does this, another department that doesn't even talk to the first department, does something different, and we definitely don't have a very super slick sales intro, and what you see is what you get. We're very authentic, and I think that really helps. So folks know that they can drop by our office if they want. They'll get me on the phone. We really want to keep in really close contact with our clients, and I think that is something that sometimes when different firms that are in our space get bigger, they lose sight of that.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. I love this. You're bringing up multiple things here that I think are really important to hone in on. It sounds like you guys have really honed in on what makes you different compared to not just your larger competitors, but your smaller competitors as well. And that attracts people to you. People that want to work with somebody that's not too big, but not too small, when you communicate that to them, they're naturally going to gravitate towards you. The way you've positioned it, you're naturally attracting the people that are a good fit for you and the ones that aren't are going to go somewhere else. But I think it's so easy for us as business owners to... We're too close to the fire, right? It's hard for us to think objectively about our businesses. But no matter where we are, we still have advantages over any of our competitors, right? If you're smaller, larger companies are like the Titanic. They don't turn around very quickly. They're not agile. So you can use that as an advantage. There's all kinds of advantages that we can use. We just need to be able to step outside and find those advantages and then, like you said, position it and talk about it throughout our marketing and our sales process. It sounds like you've done that and that's what's helping you.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, I think being authentic and trying to be again, picking the things that we can do well so we focus on those and we don't have to approach the different things. I'm just reminded of, and I saw Robert Hershevec interviewed at a conference once talking about this issue where he's on Shark Tank, he's a major celebrity, and he's gone into deals in cybersecurity where the folks say, Well, wait a second, you're a big star. Are you really going to take care of our business? And so it can work in every direction. Big believer, you got to deliver and that will get traction.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. If you don't deliver, you're going to run into some long-term issues. So super important. Now, this is one use some business. We didn't say it's shielded you from struggling to compete against competitors either. What are your competitors doing that's winning business sometimes that's different that you see?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah. I mean, I think folks with bigger marketing budgets. There's so many ideas that we want to pursue that it's just tough to do it on a day to day basis. So the work we can do to clarify our message, just get it down to the core, that can be helpful to us. And you know, there are some folks out there that's an adage of nobody knows how good your services or your product is until they experience how good your marketing is. So some folks are just going to be more known out there. I think there's a space for everybody, though. In IT, cybersecurity right now, I think there's a lot of opportunity. It can be frustrating sometimes because you're going against different people, but I think just stick to what works for you.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Do you feel...With some of your larger competitors, do you think there are certain things that they're really excelling at that's difficult to keep up with as a small to medium-sized competitor?

Ann Westerheim
In our particular space, some of the very large players in the space don't want to work with smaller businesses, and that varies with how the economy is doing. People have very different definitions of what small business is. So from our perspective, maybe 20 people in the business, we're working with folks around our size, probably 100, 200 in that range would be who we work with. Some of the larger folks want to go, they want to move up market where maybe the cost of sales is more efficient, account management is more efficient. So that leaves this whole area wide open. When I started this business, I'm a major technology enthusiast, and a big part of what I wanted to do was help small businesses leverage technology and decrease that digital divide. I find that after all this time, there's still a giant opportunity to do that because a traditional Salesforce isn't really set up to work with 20-person prospects out there. So I think it means that there's a place for everyone.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Well, and one of the things you mentioned too is larger competitors typically tend to have larger budgets from a marketing and sales standpoint. Now, what I will tell you is that doesn't necessarily... I think it's important to remember a few things. One, just because they have a larger budget doesn't necessarily mean that they're actually spending it wisely because in my experience, they're not always spending it very wisely or where it should be. Larger competitors can make the same mistakes that anybody else can. But the other thing, too, that I think is important to keep in mind, and this is apropos in the MSP, in the IT space, but just professional services in general. I think it's really important to know where you are and what your actual goals are because most of the people that I talk to do not need that many new clients to reach their goals. It's not like we're talking about we need hundreds of new clients a year, right? Gosh, if we could get 10 new clients this year, 20 new clients this year, that'll help us reach our goals. So with marketing, it's not so much having a huge budget and being involved in all the channels because gosh, it can be overwhelming. Information overload with marketing. There's all these marketing channels now. Most businesses really need to choose a few and go deep, and that's what's going to help them be successful. I think it's really important for everybody just to keep that in mind. You do have to have some budget, but as long as you have some budget and you spend it wisely, it'll help you get where you want to go.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Big budgets. I mean, they can spend a lot of money going in the wrong direction and I think that especially with the Internet and social media, there's a lot of ways that you can connect with people and get your message across without really spending any money.

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Education-first Approach in Sales and Marketing

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Well, they have a larger budget. If they're heading in the wrong direction, they're just flushing more money down the toilet. Yeah. Right? Education-first approach. You're super big on that. Love to educate with your sales and marketing. Can you share some of the things that you're doing in that vein that are working well for you guys?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, we do a lot of... So in terms of the cybersecurity side, we have a whole formal cybersecurity training where we do microtraining and annual exams, and a lot of that's driven by insurance requirements these days. So we have that going on. And then in terms of engaging with our clients, we do regular email blasts with something new. We do webinars on a regular, I'm going to say monthly, but it's not exactly monthly. And we also have in-person lunch and learns. It's great pandemic is long behind us, but we're actually doing one next week where we just get people together and say, Hey, there's going to be networking, tech talk, and great food. And that's always a fun time because we can be relaxed. It's just learn something new about technology, learn about the technology you have, the technology you need to know about. That's one of the lines that we use. And then it's just genuinely fun to see people in person. And then some of our clients will get to meet other clients, which is always fun too. And I say, Karu, E for engineering, education. I think at the core, as I started doing this, I want people to enjoy technology, and that's tough because sometimes people get pretty annoyed at their IT department. We're telling, oh, you can't have these privileges, multifactor authentication and stuff. But when people understand the security reasons behind that, and how much safer you are when you do that, and if you can just explain it without a lot of complicated language, people will, okay, yeah, I get it. I want to protect my coworkers. I want to protect my company. I want to protect our clients. And then they get it, and we don't have to get into really crazy, exhaustive explanations of all the technology behind it. But yeah, that part is... So I just love technology. I could talk about it all the time, and I would like people to enjoy it. Some of our clients want to have a little more knowledge. Some, hey, I don't care how it works, but I need it to work and people have different flavors. So we try to get something for everyone.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. With your lunch and learns, how many people do you typically have at those?

Ann Westerheim
We're planning on the one we're doing next week, which is going to be actually on internet phone technology. We're going to have about 60 people.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Okay. Wow. Yeah, that's a pretty good group. And is that clients and prospects or what does that look like?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, clients and prospects. So we have folks usually we'll talk about some topic that people are engaged with with us. So either they're already to get more from the technology you already have or learn about the technology you need to know about. Then we try to bring in prospective clients as well. They get to meet the team in a low pressure way, maybe to see how we think, how we work, hopefully get a flavor of what we're like, and that's worked out well for us.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Gosh, I wish I could remember who it was that I interviewed. This was a while back. She was talking about how bringing current clients and potential clients together, that works really, really well because one, like you said, it's very low pressure. But your current clients talk to the prospective clients about what it's like to work with you. They're doing some selling for you as part of this process. I think it's great that you're combining the two. Some people don't combine them, and I think it's a great opportunity just to bring everybody together like that.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah. And generally, the people who are going to come are going to be the enthusiastic clients as well. I don't think folks should be afraid of that, like get people together. One of our core values is being friendly and helpful, so hopefully they actually get to see that. I mean, who's going to... I don't want to say we're unfriendly and unhelpful, but hopefully they get to see what we're really like, and they can meet some of the technicians on the team as well too. There's really no pressure. They can come, enjoy lunch, maybe network a little bit, and maybe we wind up doing business with them six months down the road or at some future time.

Tim Fitzpatrick
You're just continuing to... You plant the seed and you continue to water it?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah, long term. Because this is no different in IT than it is anywhere else, but we never know when the need or the problem is going to be triggered, right? And they're like, Oh, my God. I got it. Because look, there's plenty of people that have problems that they don't choose to solve at that point. Something happens and they're like, I really need to fix this problem. And so you're staying in front of them just consistently over time so that when they are triggered, they're thinking of a card.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, and we hope they'll consider us when the need arises. I'm not going to change doctors every 90 days because I get a cold call from somebody really compelling. We want to develop relationships with our clients. There's a high degree of trust. It's not something people are just random like, oh, yeah, I'm going to... It's building that trust over time. And then maybe somebody may leave the area, or sometimes folks have an internal IT person and they decide, hey, you know what? For the same price or actually a lot less money, they could get a whole team of people, and it makes sense for them. But it's... And we do a lot of co-manage IT, so we work with in-house IT. So there's all different flavors of doing that, but there has to be a match of when the need arises and we just want like, hey, folks you may consider, hey, consider Ekaru.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah, consider us.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah.

Tim Fitzpatrick
And you've been, because of your education first approach, you've just been building credibility over time, right? And so.

Ann Westerheim
It's- Oh, yeah. Yeah, we've been doing a newsletter for the whole time, 20 years, and it's funny. One of my clients. So long before people were... Cybersecurity was way bigger in the news. We were writing about patch Tuesday and keeping your tech up to date. And I've had... I had one client tell me, and this goes back so many years, Anne, you're talking about security patches. It's so boring. It's like, oh, well, this is what we're talking about.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Is your newsletter print or is it email?

Ann Westerheim
It's email.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Okay.

Ann Westerheim
And we have upon occasion done print, and that's another thing we do. So by following the anti-spam rules, if we send out bulk mail, it's done through a platform, and it has the disclaimers and the opt-outs and all that. But then you can get if folks don't open it, then you don't send next time to the unengaged. So we actually go old school and we... In theory, every quarter we send out a print letter, because I find that that's something that everybody reads, and it would just highlight some things that are new or in January we'll talk about maybe some goals for the year or what we saw in trends from last year. So the print is often overlooked because it's so low tech, but I think that has a higher reach rate.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Does the print... In that month, does the print go out in place of the email?

Ann Westerheim
No, the emails go out on a regular basis. We typically do one that's back to school, back to business. I think we did one at the beginning of September, we had one, and we'll talk about end-of-year budget planning, stuff like that. In January, we always had kicking off the new year, talking about trends, things that we think are going to be important, and try to make it's advisory as well, like things that we think people ought to be thinking about for 2024.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. I love the fact that you brought that up because print is so overlooked at this point. So many people just default to digital and online. But I don't know about you, but my mailbox is not nearly as full as it was 15 years ago. So definitely, if you do it consistently, it is a great way to stay top of mind. I've had people even say to me like, hey, I actually had a new client come in who actually had kept one of whether it's a direct mail piece or a print newsletter, but they had just kept it and they still have that. That was their reminder that, hey, I might want to follow up on this at some point.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah. I had a meeting like that. Many years ago, I met with a medical practice. We went into the meeting and the practice manager opened up a folder and it had just one sheet of paper in there from us. So it's like, wow, that's cool, you hold on to that. And again, when the timing makes sense for them to talk. And then for the letters, I write them... I put a lot of thought into the letters. I try to make them... They're always a front and a back, so just trying to keep them relatively short. And I think that people appreciate... It's not a marketing pitch, it's not a sales pitch. It really is more of an analytical approach to perspective about technology, and I think people appreciate that. And I once got a client, one of our clients was a business consultant, and he showed the letter to one of his clients saying, Oh, you should be doing this. And then they hired us for IT. You never know how these connections are going to get made.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yes. Well, we also need to think about in your space, the lifetime value of a client is very high. So even if you pick up a handful of clients from this approach over a period of time, it still makes that particular effort well, well worth it.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah.

Tim Fitzpatrick
So it's important. A lot of people overlook that, right? They look at the initial sale and they're not really looking at the lifetime value of the client, which is really, really important. Yeah. Oh, please, go ahead.

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, I was just going to say, I mean, that consistency over time. So it's never really been my mission to be some rocket ship Empire builder. Let's build some great relationships, deliver great value, and be consistent about reaching out. And we've got a really good team. In IT, there's always some crazy stuff going on and the last-minute emergencies and stuff like that, but it's a team of people that really wants to help other people, which is great.

Consistency as a Driver of Growth

Tim Fitzpatrick
What do you think has been the biggest driver of your growth?

Ann Westerheim
Consistency and not trying to do too much. So as I mentioned, I started a consulting business when my kids were young because when I worked for Intel, the expectation was that you don't leave the office. If you have any level of responsibility and there's something going on, you're expected to stay. It's probably changed over time. I thought that that wasn't going to work for me. And now kids are grown and I can put more of an accelerator on, but I feel like by not taking on more than we can do, we were able to always deliver on our service along the way. There was never some like we did some big, giant initiative and it all collapsed. So I would say consistency.

Tim Fitzpatrick
I love that. Have you ever read the book The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson?

Ann Westerheim
That sounds familiar. I'm not sure.

Tim Fitzpatrick
It's an older one. I bring this up all the time because I just love the book, but it's all about consistency and making the right choices no matter how small they are, each and every day. Because when we make those right choices, each and every day, take those little actions that seem insignificant, but we do it every day they compound, right? Yeah. And that leads to exponential growth. Now, the reverse is true as well. If you make poor choices over and over and over again, it compounds. And it goes down. Yeah.

Ann Westerheim
And I think there's another book that talks about the compounding versus the steadily getting weaker. And it's tough because sometimes you're working on things and you don't get that big victory every day, but it's that, you know, just constant progress in the right direction.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Well, and that's where a lot of us give up, right? Because they're like, I'm taking these little actions every day, but I feel like I'm not having an impact. You are. You just haven't seen it yet, right?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, and it's tough. I know, earlier on, trying to build up a critical mass in the client base, I described it as like a kid on a swing where you're kicking your legs, but you're not moving. Then maybe you get one little boost, something good happens, and then suddenly you've got some momentum and things are happening. So try to stick with it, but also read the signals; what's working, what's not working, and to make sure you're headed in the right direction.

Conclusion

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. So what's next for you? What are your aspirations for Ekaru?

Ann Westerheim
Well, what I would love to be able to do is we built out this whole technology stack or what we think are the best practices for small business. Folks we work with are in different places of progress with respect to that. I would love to be able to build that completely out and to say, hey, here's the car away. This is what we recommend, a smart and affordable approach to IT and cybersecurity and get everybody on that consistent program. And then we're doing a lot of work to improve our processes so things don't slip through the cracks. If there's a last minute thing that happens that could have been handled earlier, it puts a lot of stress on the team. I plan on doing a lot of work within operations and processes in the business. I view it like a Rubik's cube, still trying to get it all working.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. So if I understand you correctly, this tech stack best practices, some of your clients are on it. Not all of them are on that entire stack. Is that right?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah. I would say they're compliant to varying degrees. Got it. And just trying to uplift everybody and can come across as... I've spoken to people who've had cyber events or experience ransomware, and it's the most awful. It's very emotional. It's one of the most awful experiences of their lives. And those small businesses don't make the national news, but the business could be completely wiped away. And we will approach it as, okay, here's the things that we recommend. You got to spend three dollars for this license, two dollars for this, six. It's not just buy this, buy that, but it's putting together a comprehensive program that's going to be smart and affordable and greatly reduce your chances of cyber risk. Also, keep your systems up and running and healthy so you can actually leverage technology to be successful and not just get mad at it every day.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Are all your new clients coming on that standardized stack?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, we recommended... So there's different philosophies in the industry. There are some folks, and actually some of the bigger players will just say, this is it. You do it exactly the way we say, or we don't work with you.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Right.

Ann Westerheim
And my perspective on that is a little... It's too extreme. Some people would say, I'm very wrong for saying that, but I view it as like a doctor just refusing you as a patient because you smoke. They're going to try to get you to not smoke, but they're not going to not treat you, or try to help you. And that's where the education comes, and we want to try to explain this is what Excellent looks like, and let's come up with a roadmap and be respectful of people too, that people have to deal with budgets. You don't know what else is going on, maybe within their family, within their business, there's other things going on. So we steer people in what we think is the right direction, and pretty much have a minimum for security patching and antivirus and all the real fundamentals. As we move along, we're trying to do that more through persuasion and education and showing people what excellent looks like versus saying, here's your ultimatum.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Got it. One last thing I want to ask you before we wrap it up. This has been a great conversation, and I really appreciate you taking the time. Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would do differently?

Ann Westerheim
Yeah, that's a tough question. Yeah, it's a real tough question because I really feel like you can learn from anything that goes on. So maybe mistakes along the way. I would think that maybe I'd put the accelerator on a little bit sooner, that I could have had more confidence in doing that. I've been very conservative. I think it's been a strength to be conservative about what we're doing and how we grow, and I think it's also maybe a little bit acting out of fear. So maybe that's something I would do differently. But I also feel like I've learned from everything along the way and really feel grateful I work with a great team and work with some really, really amazing clients.

Tim Fitzpatrick
I love it. Ann, where can people learn more about you?

Ann Westerheim
Yes. Check out our website www.ekaru.com. That's E-K-A-R-U. I'm also pretty active on LinkedIn, and I love connecting with people there. So that's just Ann Westerheim on LinkedIn.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Cool. And we will make sure both of those links are in the show notes. Please connect with Ann. I have had the pleasure of chatting with you now twice, so thank you for that. Those of you that are watching, listening, appreciate you. Anne shared her journey. We talked a lot about what's helped her along the way. If you are looking to accelerate growth and you want to know which of the nine Revenue Roadblocks are slowing down that growth, you can do that over at RevenueRoadblockScorecard.com. You can also always connect with us over at RialtoMarketing.com. Happy to chat with you. You can Book a Free Discovery Call there and help give you some ideas of where you should be focusing based on where you are now and where you want to get to. So thank you again. Til the next time. Take care.


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About the author, Tim Fitzpatrick

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