Angela Druckman Of The Druckman Company: Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue

An Interview With Sara Connell

Sara Connell
Authority Magazine

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We made referrals the primary way we got new clients — as a small business, we don’t have the budget to simply throw advertising dollars at getting new clients. Instead, we focus on getting referrals. We make sure people have a great time in class and that they want to tell their friends and colleagues about it. When I ask in our public classes “How many of you are here today because a friend or colleague came to one of our courses and liked it?” usually about half the class raises their hand.

As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Druckman.

Angela is a Certified Scrum Trainer, Agile Coach and owner of The Druckman Company. She is also the author of the acclaimed book “30 Days to Better Agile.” Angela’s clients include Fortune 50 companies to small start-ups and everything in between. You can learn more about Angela’s work at www.thedruckmancompany.com .

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am a Certified Scrum Trainer. When I decided to go back to school as an adult in my mid-twenties, I knew I wanted to pursue a STEM (science, technology, mathematics, engineering) career. Computer science seemed the most compelling. At the time, companies like Microsoft were just starting to really take off. It seemed like a degree in computing would offer a wealth of opportunities. And that is exactly how it has turned out.

I discovered Scrum, an agile approach to project management, after a disastrous project early in my career that went years (yes, years) over schedule and millions of dollars over budget. I knew there had to be a better way. Scrum focused on delivering smaller bits of functionality more frequently, regularly incorporating stakeholder feedback and using working product as the primary measure of success. As soon as I saw the power of Scrum, I quickly began using it on all of my projects.

Fast forward a few years. I was delivering a presentation at a conference about Scrum when afterward, a woman approached me and asked if I had ever thought about becoming a Certified Scrum Trainer. I had considered the idea so her inquiry and the subsequent support and help from the other CSTs I met through her led me to this career. I’ve now been a CST for 14 years, ten of those being with The Druckman Company.

Can you share the most interesting or funniest story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the best things about my job is that it has taken me to parts of the world I would have never otherwise visited. Occasionally, when I am teaching internationally, I will partner with a local training vendor. One of my EU partners reached out to me an asked if I would be open to doing a class in Tallin…to which I replied “Please don’t be offended…but where, exactly is Tallin?” He said “It’s the capital of Estonia!” to which I replied ”Please don’t be offended…but where, exactly, is Estonia?” I think, at the time, I knew that Estonia was in Europe and “east-ish” but beyond that I really had no idea. It turns out that Tallin is a lovely city right on the Baltic Sea, across from Helsinki, where I already had a class planned. So I did indeed go there and it was delightful meeting the people and seeing the sites.

I love having the chance to meet people from different cultures and places. It has made me very compassionate to people in the United States for whom English is not their first language. I know first hand what it is like to be in a place where you cannot understand the language or even the road signs. One time, in Malaysia, I was asked, half verbally and half in a makeshift, quasi-sign language to help a young girl (she looked about 13) to her flight gate because he mother was not allowed to accompany her. I didn’t understand the instructions she gave her daughter but I did pick up the word “auntie” which I knew to be a term of respect for an older woman. So, for the few minutes it took for me to help the girl to her gate, I was indeed her “auntie.”

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

Scrum promotes the idea of the servant leader — that the best way you can serve others, like your employees, is by helping them get the resources and opportunities that they need to make themselves successful. To find the model for servant leadership we need look no further than the ancient text ”The Tao te Ching.” Written by Lao Tzu well over a thousand years ago, it is a treatise on servant leadership. I believe this so strongly that I included a classic quote from it in my book 30 Days to Better Agile: “When the master governs, people are hardly aware that she exists. When her work is done, the people say ‘Amazing! We did it all by ourselves!’”

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Part of maintaining the Scrum certifications is that one must gain Scrum Education Units (SEUs.) Not a month passes that we don’t get a panicked call to our office because a person has realized that their certification is about to expire and they have not acquired any SEUs. To help with this, we are starting our Coaching Circle program. This will be a low cost way for people to attend short sessions of 1 -2 hours a month and thereby automatically fulfill their SEU requirements. We thought this would be a great way to ease the stress of re-certification and also provide some great, shorter training sessions on relevant topics.

Awesome! Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s talk about what you are doing now, and how you achieved the success that you currently enjoy. Can you tell our readers about the business you’ve created?

As a new CST, I worked for a training company. But I knew eventually I wanted to have my own business. So in 2012, after publishing my book, I transitioned to working for myself. Eventually, I asked other trainers to join me. I have been fortunate to only work with people I know very well. Though many of our competitors have rather corporate, generic-sounding names, I chose to name our company with my family name, The Druckman Company. I did that because I told myself that I never wanted to do anything in business that I would be ashamed or uncomfortable putting my own name on. I still believe that. It is also the reason that, when you visit our website, the first thing you see is a picture of me. The integrity of our business is something I take very personally.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When I get into a long-term relationship with a client for training and coaching, we may work together for a number of years. I have confidence in saying that anyone who is a Certified Scrum Trainer is knowledgeable. But what makes a training and coaching relationship really special is when there is that “click” between me and the client. Sometimes, the advice and observations I have to give clients is pretty hard to hear. What makes that possible is to have a trusting relationship. Then they know the feedback, even if it is harsh, is coming from a place of caring and not criticism.

I have one client, a software company in California, who originally worked with another trainer. I know this individual and I can vouch for his knowledge and experience…but he didn’t click with them. They asked me to teach a class and have worked with me ever since, about 12 years. Even in my public classes, where people might be choosing my class from many available, people will comment “I watched some of your YouTube videos and you seemed nice.” People want to learn but they want to do so in an environment where they feel safe, heard and appreciated.

What was your vision when you started this business? What’s the WHY behind the work that you do?

My biggest goal is to reach people who were like me — they were managing a project that had gone millions of dollars over budget and years over schedule thinking “There has to be a better way.” Sometimes, the people in my class are just looking to add a certification to their resume. They want to learn enough to ace the next job interview and then will promptly forget what you taught them. But then there are those magic moments where you realize you really did get through to someone. I get emails all the time that start with “Your class changed my life and I want to tell you all about it!” That is what makes it all worth it.

We’d love to explore the traits that help you achieve your success. What were the mindset obstacles that you had to overcome in order to reach the place of earning a million dollars? Can you tell us what you did to overcome them?

I am from the Midwest and grew up on a farm so I understand work ethic. But working harder is only part of it, because that has a natural limit. At some point, you have to work smarter too. We learned early on that, rather than constantly getting new customers, it would be good to develop long term relationships with key customers. I have several clients that I have been working with for over a decade. That kind of relationship is not just lucrative financially but it is also tremendously satisfying because you get to see the client grow and improve as they implement the principles you are teaching.

One lesson I did have to learn early on, which I now tell my clients up front, is that I “cannot want it for them.” When I was new to teaching Scrum, I was so full of enthusiasm that I found myself trying to convince clients that they should use it. I learned that is much like trying to convince someone to eat healthier or exercise more. If their heart isn’t in it, they won’t be successful. Now I tell client that, if they want to learn Scrum and get better at it, I am right here every step of the way to help them. If not, well, that is ok too.

What were the external obstacles that you had to overcome in reaching these milestones? And how specifically did you overcome them?

We are a small company that competes in an industry with many large competitors. Worse, some of those competitors are not in this industry because they believe in agile practices like Scrum but because they sell software to manage Scrum projects. One former employer actually told me that my job was to deliver “warm leads” to the sale people, as in people who were excited about Scrum and therefore would buy the company’s software.

Needless to say, I found that a complete conflict of interest. At The Druckman Company, we keep our recommendations completely based on merit. Software vendors reach out to us all the time to promote their products and receive a “small fee” in return. We are never going to do that. If I like a particular tool I will gladly share that with my clients but I will not take a penny to do so. In my mind that would be a complete conflict of interest.

Was there ever a point where you wanted to give up on your journey to creating a million dollar business? How did you work through that panic point? Please share a story.

My first public class was a disaster! I didn’t really understand the ins and outs of advertising with Google so our ads weren’t getting good placement. Then I managed to accidentally schedule the class on the same date and in the same venue as a large training company who was having an event with a very well-known speaker. We only had four paid attendees. I asked two friends to attend the class just so it looked a bit better. I remember leaving the class thinking ‘Well, that was awful.” But we took what we learned from that event and, within a few months, were teaching sold out classes.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

No question — my daughter. When I started my business my daughter had recently graduated from college. She had a contract position with a company but didn’t really feel like it was where she wanted to stay. So I asked her to come work with me. That was one of the best decisions of my life. I recently read a quote from Sarah Blakely, founder of Spanx, where she said “Part of my success was that I hired for my weaknesses.” That is most certainly true for me. I am a great big-picture person, an excellent communicator. But Morgan excels with details. She manages all our contracts, our enrollments, pretty much everything to do with operations. Together, we are the perfect pair. I joked when I started my company that I wanted to see how successful a company I could build hiring only my kids and my friends. So far, that is exactly what I have done.

Great! Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.

Here are the things we did that I think made the biggest impact:

  • We didn’t focus on constantly getting new customers, we focused on making more from the ones we had — we teach our certification courses publicly, meaning anyone can sign up for the class and privately, with everyone attending being from the same company. Our typical first contact with a new client is when one or two of their employees attend a public class. We then encourage them to send their colleagues to class. Very often this will then blossom into private training and coaching. With large clients, this can mean hundreds of course attendees over a period of years. It is always less expensive and less effort to make more money from the customers you have than to acquire new ones.
  • We made referrals the primary way we got new clients — as a small business, we don’t have the budget to simply throw advertising dollars at getting new clients. Instead, we focus on getting referrals. We make sure people have a great time in class and that they want to tell their friends and colleagues about it. When I ask in our public classes “How many of you are here today because a friend or colleague came to one of our courses and liked it?” usually about half the class raises their hand.
  • We decided we weren’t going to compete on price — we decided early on that we did not want to compete on price. It was a two-fold decision. First, we found competing on price drew the wrong kind of client, one who was just interested in adding a certification to their name and not really understanding the material or making meaningful changes in their organizations. Second, we realized we wanted to focus not on being the cheapest but instead being the best. I’ve been a Certified Scrum Trainer for 14+ years and worked with Fortune 50 companies, small start-ups and everything in between. We knew the right kind of client for us was someone who appreciated and valued that deep experience.
  • We published (often!) — whether you prefer doing videos, writing blogs or writing books (ideally all of these), it is important to get yourself and your message out there. When I wrote my book 30 Days to Better Agile it wasn’t because I envisioned making millions of dollars from book sales. It was because I knew each person who bought a physical copy of my book would probably keep it at work with them. They would look at it every day on their shelf above their computer. My book was a way to keep us constantly in our customers’ minds and awareness.
  • If writing isn’t your thing, video is a good choice. We did a series of short instructional videos addressing common questions about Scrum. I had a lady from Spain attend one of my classes in Chicago (yes, she came all the way from Spain just to attend my class!) because she had seen my videos, liked them and wanted to take her certification class from me. Chances are you know a lot more about your product or service than your prospective customer does. Sharing that knowledge is the first step to building a relationship with them.
  • We judiciously chose the markets we wanted to dominate — again, if you are a small company going up against large competitors, you have neither the time nor money to beat them in a battle of might. We decided the Bay area market in California, though full of tech companies that would value Scrum training, was not one we wanted to fight for. Several of our large competitors were based there and expenses were very high. The Seattle market however, was one we wanted to dominate (since we are based there.) We did lots of marketing and even partnered with a local college to hold and promote our courses. Because no travel was required for our trainers, we kept our expenses low. As a consequence, our courses there are wildly popular and typically sell out, yet our expenses are low

We are sure that you are not done. What comes next? What’s your next big goal and why? What plan have you put in place to achieve it? Why is it a stretch for you? What will achieving it represent for you and for others?

Right now, Scrum is associated primarily with software. And it is certainly useful for managing projects in technology where risk is high, resources are limited and there are emerging requirements. But the truth is that lots of things in life fit that description. I would like to see the iterative, empirical approach that Scrum uses be applied outside the realm of software. I have one client in Houston that runs their whole company using Scrum. At first, only their software developers and testers came to class….then it was the Finance department…then Marketing…then Customer Service. They even send their administrative assistants to my classes. When I asked them why they said “Its is just easier if everyone thinks the same way and uses the same language.” This, to me, is one of the most exciting transitions a client can make. They stop thinking about Scrum as a way to build software and they simply think of it as a way to do work.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I was drawn to Scrum because it is based in empiricism, the idea that we will try something for a short period of time, evaluate the result, tweak a variable and then repeat. I think sometimes people get paralyzed in pursuing their goals because they think they need to have the “grand plan” all laid out before they even start. I believe in the old Dwight Eisenhower quote that says “Plans are useless but planning is essential.” A plan is great. Have one. But then try something, see how it goes and then tweak the plan. Repeat, over and over. If there is one thing I could convey to people it is this. The most successful people in the world are not where they are because they had all the answers. They are successful because they kept looking for answers. The magic is in the journey of looking.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I always have been and continued to be amazed by Queen Elizabeth. To me, she is the epitome of “servant leader”, thrust into a role of huge responsibility when she was a just a young wife and mother, trying to form a home and raise a family while leading a country and, really, an empire. She is, I think, what we wish all leaders and authority figures would be: calm, wise, patient and good. There truly is no one I more admire.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us and our readers. We know that it will make a tremendous difference and impact thousands of lives. We are excited to connect further and we wish you so much joy in your next success.

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Sara Connell
Authority Magazine

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