As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Levy.
Danielle Levy is the CEO and Founder of The Boardroom League. A sought-after executive who has helped six and seven-figure businesses expand with clarity and efficiency, Danielle established The Boardroom League to give other entrepreneurs a little black book of trusted industry professionals to help them implement and scale their businesses. The Boardroom League consists of experts in a variety of fields; including metrics, design,copywriting, strategic pricing, funnels, social media, and more.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Out of college, I ended up backdooring my way into one of the most successful advertising agencies in Boston. It was during the dot-com boom which gave me a trajectory to work on the agency’s biggest clients and then I moved over to their spin-off agency. From there, I moved between agencies and communication consulting, and design studios which led me on a direct path to burnout. Around the time of my 40th birthday, I headed to graduate school and also was looking for a 40th birthday “adventure”. I ended up heading to a woman’s summer camp (one of the most amazing experiences of my life) whereby happenstance I met a few incredible people. One was an Ontraport specialist who encouraged me to check out a certification program for OBMs and the other was the right hand to one of the most successful coaches who would end up introducing me to several of my initial clients. From there I was “addicted” to the online space and made it my mission to learn as much as I could about online marketing, launches, coaching programs, etc.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
There was no particular hard time just a lot of hard work. I always had a full-time job and two young children. Throw in graduate school or clients that wanted all of my attention and it was a lot to juggle. I didn’t consider giving up….had I thought about how crazy it was I probably would have, but I thought everyone hustled that hard, and with two small children to worry about, I didn’t have a choice.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I was working for an ad agency that was pitching a really big name in beer so there was tons of the beer at the agency. I was an intern working for one of the executive vice presidents and he was a very tall, loud-spoken, and demanding person. He came around the corner one day and asked me to get him a beer. Startled I ran off to get it and came back with a warm beer. He was visibly upset and asked for a cold one. I told him there weren’t any but I could get him a glass of ice. (Clearly, I was barely old enough to drink and didn’t know anything about beer.) He briskly placed the bottle on my desk, walked away, and slammed the door to his office. For the rest of the summer, he didn’t make eye contact and would just yell things to me from his office to get done. At the end of the summer internship, the other EVP that I was working for took me out to a very fancy restaurant for a wonderful lunch. At that point, I believed the “beer” executive just wanted me gone. A month later, still working at the agency, I received the nicest letter of recommendation from him. The letter discussed my professionalism, my hustle, my intelligence, etc., and that I was the best assistance that he had ever had. Months later it was that letter of recommendation that landed my next job (not the fancy lunch) and also it was a huge lesson that people often watch even when they don’t let on so it’s always important to perform at your best.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our commitment to servicing our clients at the highest levels. That exceeds scope and contracts and goes beyond hard skills into soft ones. We all love what we do, have been in the seat of the struggling start-up business, and have worked with not-so-great vendors and clients. We want to change the client experience for the better.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s so cliche but it’s so true. Hustling harder isn’t the answer (and I’m the queen of trying to prove that theory wrong). Creating space and boundaries (even when it’s hard to do) is important. Also personal life balance (also still working on ) — eating right and sleeping. It’s amazing how much more focused I am and how much more productive I am when I make smart lifestyle choices.
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?
I worked at an advertising agency and was introduced to a woman named Jennie (her last name was iconic of a famous Hollywood figure which didn’t help her). Jennie was formerly a marketing executive but she was in law school and working at the agency because she needed a side position and the agency desperately needed her. Jennie always wore a white tee, pair of jeans, long hair in a ponytail, and white keds (an extreme difference from the suits and formal attire of the agency). Under the pressure of the agency’s biggest launch, I remember Jennie’s sneakers up and down the halls, politely interrupting the executives for sign-offs that she wouldn’t leave until she got, and out conversing every “suit” in terms of the strategy, deadlines, and completion plans for the initiatives. She was polite yet an incredible force in all that she did and was able to turn heads and obtain the undoubted trust of every single person (entry-level to CEO) because of her expertise and 360 knowledge of how the agency worked (and she wore jeans and keds– what a lesson!)
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
In my opinion, a good company is profitable, motivates its team members, and has a clear product, service, or purpose. A great company, however, has a clear vision and plan that guides the company and drives team members to inherently give their best because they understand their contribution and how it fits into the mission.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Your people are everything. Listen to them (internal team, vendors, client, end-client… they are your lifeline)
- Know your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Hiring people that are smarter or better than you in their areas of expertise and trust (but challenge) them. CEO is not Chief Everything Officer.
- Mistakes will happen. It’s how you learn and coach to those moments.
- Systems will break– they are generally symptomatic of something greater that is broken or a symptom of growth (otherwise known as a growing pain). Listen for them and don’t get comfortable.
- Lead with integrity. Even when the conversations or admissions are hard, as a leader your job is to serve the business above all else.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Social impact and social responsibility are core values in my life however I don’t think that purpose-driven necessarily means that a company needs to have social impact. Most importantly, to me, is that companies exist within the integrity of who they are in a truly authentic way and, when they are able, can later step into social impact. Many companies aren’t in a position to make a huge social impact and that’s okay in my opinion to spend the time and build the infrastructure and stability that will allow them to get to the point where they can make an impact beyond their core offering. Are there smaller ways to have a social impact and/or support team members in doing so– of course!!
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Connect with the people in your ecosystem. That may be team members, coaches, vendors, customers, potential customers, or industry experts, and figure out what has changed so that you know how to respond. Also, the response should be simple and streamlined. Going in too many different directions will spread resources too thin.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Simplify — Systems, stakeholders, tools, offerings. Be great and known for what you do rather than being spread too thin. And know your numbers (financial, marketing, sales, etc.)– this allows you to operate from a place of fact rather than emotion. Look at trends and changes.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
People. People are complicated. Their motivators, approach to learning, and dynamics across team members. It takes time, patience, and clarity to manage people that have life circumstances that are beyond our control as business leaders. We need to rely on our people but we need to protect our business and that is a tough balancing act.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
The only strategy, in my opinion, is “micro-conversions”. All the little ways that we build trust, collect information to close different kinds of “Sales”. Maybe it’s gaining a follower or opt-in email address, maybe it’s having them attend a free workshop, maybe is a low ticket product before landing the high ticket sale, or maybe it’s selling the ascension or continuity offer to keep customers in your ecosystem. It’s about creating micro-opportunities to build that relationship with people and to go on a journey together as a client-vendor partnership.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Transparency is everything in my opinion. Clear on what you are giving, clear on what you are receiving in exchange, refund policy, guarantee, and great customer service in case bumps come up. I also think it’s important to be “human” in decision-making relating to your customers. For example, someone’s poor financial planning doesn’t mean that a refund is in order but putting someone’s program on hold because of a life-changing event (such as a long term illness or unplanned life circumstance) is the right thing to do and they won’t forget that or be afraid to tell others).
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
- Stick to your word (when you promise something to a customer make sure you come through on it).
- An unexpected delight is the best! As the CEO create that delight by reaching out (once in a while) to a customer to let them know how they have impacted you.
- As much as possible, provide a truly customized experience. Small things make a huge difference.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
I think it depends on the business. Every business needs to be marketing themselves where their client avatars are hanging out. If that is on social media then they need to be there. Social media is a really powerful tool that needs to be handled responsibly but a company can’t not be there if that becomes costly to their sales and growth.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
There is a point at which many companies turn from a passion project that makes money into a “real” business. CEOs and founders need to recognize that and make sure that they run their business as a real business in their operations, infrastructure, processes, people they hire, etc. This also allows for them to think of themselves as CEOs because, at that point, the business is a bigger entity than just them and needs to be able to run without them. Isn’t that why businesses are started? So that CEOs and founders can truly work for themselves instead of the business running them?
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)
Every business needs a scholarship or loan program. Whether that is internally funded or externally, there are so many wonderful businesses out there that have such incredible impacts that are simply not accessible to everyone for one reason or another. It’s a shame, in my opinion, that finances limit this impact and the potential successes and future impact of the recipients.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
Thank you so much for the opportunity, it was a pleasure!