Craig Handley – CEO & Co-Founder of Listen Up Español

[quote style=”boxed”]However, if I was to start again I would charge more as a consultant; I made many people a large sum of money and charged very little because at the time I didn’t have the courage to ask for what I was worth.[/quote]

Craig Handley is a networking monster with an unstoppable combination of hard work, ingenuity, and creativity that has sparked the vision and growth that drives the success of both companies he leads: Listen Up Español and its sister enterprise, Revenue Enhancement Consultants (REC). Handley’s expertise in maximizing the sales process – and Listen Up Español’s impressive track record of higher conversion rates and average order value than any other Spanish language call center – was achieved from the ground up, having started his professional career in door-to-door sales and rising through the ranks in many call centers. He is well known for being an entrepreneur who lives and breathes the Maverick motto: “Make More Money, Have More Fun, and Give More Back”.

Where did the idea for Listen Up Español come from?

Listen Up Español’s sister company is a business called Revenue Enhancement Consultants, Inc. which is a consulting company focused on helping businesses who advertise on TV to improve their call to action and back end messaging. By analyzing and rewriting sales scripts and reviewing how they worked within the call center, we became experts at finding more money in the calls. Eventually REC quickly became really good at fixing campaigns; what previously took 4 to 6 weeks, REC could accomplish in 2 weeks. Businesses were willing to pay $50,000 dollars for 6 weeks of work that showed continual progress, but paying the same amount for progress made in 2 weeks- even though the results were the same- seemed to make businesses uncomfortable. After clearly assessing the situation and understanding that the potential of our skill set was more powerful than anticipated we decided to build our own path. Several of our clients had been talking about the U.S. Hispanic market and how there was an opportunity to help grow that market. And so, even though we don’t speak Spanish, instead of opening another U.S. Call Center we decided to open a bilingual call center that focused on sales. We started with 20 seats leased from an existing center and after struggling for about 6 months, gained some traction and started to achieve success.

What does your typical day look like?

Personally speaking, my typical day is a hodgepodge of projects. It’s hard for me to schedule too much because I’m involved in so many projects within Listen Up Español. For the most part, I have a list of priorities and as things are added I plug them into an ongoing document based on where I think it belongs on the priority scale. Of course weekly performance updates, monthly financial reviews, bi-annual strategy sessions, and other regularly scheduled meetings are always at the top of the list. However, with a yearly strategy and awesome staff who are a fit culturally our communication is great. Each member of the Listen Up Español team knows what their priorities are and because they can handle them on their own, I can focus on writing a book, brainstorming a project with a small group of business acquaintances, pick my kids up in the middle of the day if necessary, create a webinar, or attend a conference and “grow some brain cells”.

How do you bring ideas to life?

At Listen Up Español we bring ideas to life during our Strategic Planning sessions. As a part of our “Growing Brain Cells” company core values, upper management regularly attends conferences and Mastermind sessions. By spending time with entrepreneurs who are open to sharing what’s working for them we build great knowledge. Lessons learned and great conversations with others helps build a strong base of knowledge that can be applied to our business and spark ideas. We know that in order for Listen Up Español to be successful in the long-term we have to look at existing and potential problems then use those ideas to best influence our business. We use something called a “2×2 Prioritization Matrix” which puts ideas into one of 4 quadrants. On the left side of the quadrant we have a box entitled “Selectively Invest” followed by a box entitled “Do First” on top of two additional boxes “Ignore/Delay” and “Work In”. We measure “Value” and “Effort” in each box. Each person in a leadership position submits a Matrix of their priorities and we align the company. You can only execute on 4-6 ideas quarterly. There is only so much time and so much money for new projects. Once everyone is aligned then ideas tend to move ahead fairly quickly.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

A trend that excites me is witnessing the endless options consumers have today to purchase a product. Companies that service their clients adequately are starting to see social sharing, and customer reviews as an avenue to grow their brand. Companies that ignore their customers or provide less than a “Wow” experience are going to lose money and brand loyalty to other companies.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Being able to recharge my batteries is key to maintaining productivity levels. As a businessman and family-man, I travel frequently for conferences, meetings and family vacations. By resting and enjoying a great book to recharge I manage to continue “Growing Brain Cells” and I’m always trying to “Live Life Like an Extreme Sport” – two of Listen Up Español’s core values.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Being a door-to-door accident insurance sales man for Combined Insurance wasn’t the worst but definitely the most challenging job of my career. By the end of my 3 year trajectory in that role, I had become one of the best in the country and received 8 Grand Diamonds, as well as other awards. However, I was working 80 hours a week and residuals were paid for 5 years. At 2.5 years of exceptional work I was reviewing my residual check and felt like I was worth more than what I was getting. Based on that realization I decided to move on, bringing with me a lifetime of sales experience. During those three years I learned how to motivate others, hear buying signals, laugh at rejection and self-motivate. To this day, I still remember driving up and down a street trying to get started, looking for the right kind of house, a buyer’s house- someone with a work truck, a high risk profession, a 4 wheeler in the driveway. All great memories and a strong component of why Listen Up Español is successful today.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I think everything happens for a reason so I’m not sure I’d want to do anything differently. What I know today is based on what I didn’t know back when I got started. However, if I was to start again I would charge more as a consultant; I made many people a large sum of money and charged very little because at the time I didn’t have the courage to ask for what I was worth. This is tough to answer because I’ve learned so much. My business partner is everything I’m not. If he was my partner sooner we’d be more successful today, but I had an ego and it took me time to learn that someone who does the things you don’t like to do is what makes you successful. I’d be more selective in my partnerships. The only ones that work are the ones that aren’t based on money but based on shared values.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Determining what our core values were at Listen Up Español has provided great success. As an entrepreneur, I highly recommend you take the time and energy to determine your core values and base more company decisions, such as staffing, on those values.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

We’ve grown our business by hiring people who are motivated to be the best. We route calls to the best agents and pay a higher commission to the best agents, and we give everyone the opportunity to be the best. At Listen Up Español we don’t believe in anything but results; you either sell or go home.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We’ve closed a few businesses. But “failure” to me means you gave up. We don’t give up. We make decisions to spend time and energy on projects that have the best potential for success and generating revenue in a manner that aligns with our values. I might label a past investment as a failure but that’s only because we didn’t have the right people in place to execute it properly, and decided not to pursue it further. It’s funny because of course we’ve failed, but I cringe thinking about using that word. We’ve failed a lot, but we overcame it by growing from the experience.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I see opportunity in everything and anything that you think about can be done better. Let’s take DRY CLEANING (this is truly off the cuff) – you could start a Dry Cleaning business that charges a monthly fee instead of a per garment fee. I take shirts into the dry cleaner after business trips but sometimes I don’t travel and over a few months I don’t bring any garments in. Wouldn’t a business be more stable if, instead of doing a forecast of revenue on garments, they did a forecast of revenue on customers? The business could charge $19.99 a month for up to 10 garments monthly, $99.99 a month for unlimited and just focus on obtaining customers. Would this appeal to everyone? No, but if it was offered as an option you might find it is preferred over paying per garment.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I wrote, produced, and sang on two albums. I performed my album in front of about 13,000 people at an event in San Francisco that also included other artists, including Coolio and had an opportunity to continue to travel and promote my music but I turned it down.

What software and web services do you use?

I don’t do anything fancy. I use LinkedIn, and Facebook for business connections. My business is networking so I look for ways to stay in contact with the people I am already in business with.

What do you love about them?

I love staying connected and looking for new opportunities to work with people I know and respect.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I regularly read different business books and articles. The Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish and Traction by Gino Wickman are both great books focused on the business process and strategic planning. Books like Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and others about happiness and culture are great assets for an entrepreneur as well. And we modeled out our core value process by working with Janet and Chris Atwood who wrote the Passion Test. I recommend you read a book that addresses something you want to improve on in your life.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Richard Branson, W. Clement Stone, the Dalai Lama, and Zig Ziglar were big influences early on in my career. Although you can learn from books and online videos there is nothing as powerful as learning from fellow entrepreneurs. An awesome experience I still think about today was when I spent a few weeks on Necker Island with Richard Branson. One of my dreams had come true. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet the Dali Lama.

Yanik Silver(@yaniksilver), founder of Maverick Business Adventures has also been an inspiration. Early on, Paul Rodman who was one of the original three founders of Staples, Mark Stickney who owns Spinglass Management Group, Tim Storm who founded Fat Wallet, Cameron Herold who was the COO for 1-800-GOT-JUNK, Joe Polish from the Genius Network, Tony Hsieh from Zappos and Mike Lally, have all been great mentors in different areas of our business. It’s hard to pinpoint just a few people. The honest answer here is we learn from every one. We strive to be the dumbest people in the room and we learn as often as we can and teach when we have something to teach.


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