Carissa Reiniger is an entrepreneur and small business growth expert and the founder of Silver Lining, a company that has helped over ten thousand small businesses hit and achieve their financial goals. She is also an author.
In this episode, Carissa talks about the strategies that she uses to help small businesses achieve their goals by adjusting their behaviors. She explains the macro view of small businesses that make them beneficial and crucial in a community more than big businesses.
Listen in to learn the importance of rethinking your business’s strategy during the COVID season with small and eventual changes. You will also learn the need to be at your best mindset while planning for the future of business in these hard times.
“The privilege and opportunity of being a business owner is that you can choose your own path. You can choose who you do business with, you can find people who’re aligned with you, and you don’t need to do business with everyone to make a good income.”- Carissa Reiniger [9:31]
What You Will Learn:
• [0:49] She explains why she started helping small businesses grow and how that has changed from just a micro view but to both micro and macro view of a small business.
• [3:09] The importance and contribution of small businesses in the community while they make a profit.
• [6:54] She explains how her business operates with a model of making changes and finding success in more than just money while helping other small businesses do the same too.
• [11:27] How they build the SLAP plan for small businesses to adjust their behavior and achieve their goals. Why small businesses need to rethink their strategy during this COVID-19 period.
• [18:06] How small changes in smart work will eventually pay off with your business as opposed to expecting immediate unrealistic changes.
• [21:27] How Carissa is challenging herself to get a pilot’s license as a way to live her life to the fullest.
• [23:07] She talks about the ‘Thank You Small Businesses’ movement that gives thanks to small business owners doing great things with gifts and experiences for their amazing work.
• [26:20] Robert relates the passion of sports fans with that of small business owners.
• [28:07] How to adjust your mindset to tackle your future and that of your business in this COVID-19 period.
Carissa Reiniger Interview Transcript
Robert: In this episode of the AIDtoNAV podcast, we catch up with Carissa Reiniger. Carissa is an author, entrepreneur, and small business growth expert. She founded Silver Lining and her company has helped over 10,000 small businesses hit and achieve their financial goals.
Carissa, welcome to AIDtoNAV. How are you doing today?
Carissa: Thanks so much. I’m doing good. You know, we were just talking crazy times, but I’m hanging in there. I’m doing good.
Robert: So, you are the founder of Silver Lining. Tell me more about Silver Lining and especially the focus on micro-business, small business.
Carissa: Yeah. So, I started 15 years ago, which makes me feel old, but it’s true and when we started Silver Lining 15 years ago, my mission was to do whatever I could to help more small businesses succeed. That mission has just gotten stronger. Every year I’m in business I’m more committed to that idea and you know, when I started the company, I was a bit naive. The reason I cared about it, is I met all these amazing business owners, micro-business owners who were amazing at what they did, passionate about the work, they did worked hard, deserve success. So often I saw them struggle to find new customers, get to profitability, get to sustainability. And I felt a really deep passion to help those individual people to help an individual make money doing what they love.
It’s sort of what my original idea was but over all these years there’s a micro view of that. But the macro view, which I’ve become equally passionate about is that when you look at creating a just and fair economy, the answer is not big business, it’s small business. When you look at restoring communities the answer is not most things that we try. It’s small business. When you look at job creation and even just helping families live the lives they want, you know, small business is the answer. So, at a micro level, we have a program that helps small businesses set financial goals and hit those goals. But at a macro level, I really believe helping small businesses grow is an act of justice that has a very direct impact on families, jobs, communities, and the economy.
Robert: Yeah. So, we’ll dive into that a little bit more because small business part of my passion for this is that with the Payroll Protection Program that just came out and we see some of the names of companies that got it and the loans, and you go that’s not a small business. Some of these companies rightfully so has kept their employees in, kept them off of unemployment. We can talk about the merits of the program at another time, but small business is not 500 employees. We’re talking about less than 10 employees and then many times we’re talking about the solopreneur who’s looking to bring on their first hire. Who’s doing those zero to four employees. What challenges have they faced? Why were you drawn to that small micro-business arena?
Carissa: Yeah and I love that you’re focused on that because I always say small businesses actually big. We live in this sort of myth that big businesses where things are happening, or tech startups are the story of entrepreneurship. Everyone is sort of obsessed with this story that I’m going to raise millions and sell for billions and be a unicorn. But when you really look at the economic data, it is the micro/small businesses, less than 10 employees, the individual solopreneur that is really actually driving communities and economies and we don’t talk about that enough. So, thank you for being someone who is continuing to fight that battle because it’s so important. And it’s for all those reasons that those are the people that I advocate for and that I’m so committed to supporting because again part of it’s culture.
I think we do live in a culture where we think everything big is better. So, there is a sense of pride in building something big So, I think a part of being a small business owner is actually, re-instilling a sense of pride and like realizing that we are collectively part of one of the most important engines in the global economy hand down. Like it’s not up for debate. That’s just true and each contribution is so important. And then the other thing that I think, you know, has made me so committed to these people in this space for so long is when you meet the average micro business owner, small business owner they’re not in it for materialistic reasons. They’re not in it for greed. They want to make a good living as they should. There’s no shame in wanting to make a good living and make money and do well but they’re doing it often because of their craft. They want to do their work in the world.
They’re doing it because they have something they’re really passionate about. And so, I just think from a values point of view I believe business is an incredibly powerful tool for justice. I believe business is an incredible structure to do almost anything within. But when I think about the humans that I really respect and admire, oftentimes they’re small business owners. So, if I can play any small role in seeing more small businesses not only live the life of their dreams, make money doing what they love, but also create a more fair system in the economy where there is a distribution of money and there’s more exchange happening at more levels and there are not monopolies and it’s not just for big business and we’re not creating false economy with crazy valuations of startups. Small business is real and that’s what I love so much about it. It’s practical. It’s real and it’s based in something other than just sort of pure I don’t want to say greed because that might not be fair to everyone who’s not a small business owner, but it’s based on something more pure 99% of the time and those are the reasons that I believe in it so much.
Robert: It’s tangibility. It’s not based upon a false value that’s been added. You talked about justice and right now with diversity and the diversity discussions need to be had. They also need to be had on women-owned businesses that the corporate pyramid is stacked against them, glass ceilings, those types of things. So that opportunity for that smaller micro business to help out minority, diversity, women-owned businesses to really create something tangible. I deliver something. I know that when my micro-business owner comes over, I can look at my lawn and it was mowed, or it was taken care of. I would go to the bakery. I can actually tangibly get the item that I got back for that. Talk about diversity, talk about how justice can actually come to that micro business, and how micro-businesses can lead the way.
Carissa: Yeah, I think so to me, there’s a couple of levels of it. I mean, you’ve articulated sort of the levels of it really well. My experience as a woman-owned business is certainly thankfully I always say I’m very privileged. I’m white, I’m from Canada and I’ve come from a good middle-class family. I’m not an Ivy league so I don’t come from the upper echelon of society. I had to work really hard to get where I was, but I’m aware of my privilege but being a woman was complicated and I’ve got all sorts of stories that I could tell about how I was treated that I think would probably be different than a male counterpart in the same scenario. So, I can’t put myself in the position of someone who is maybe a woman and also of color a person who is a visible minority, but I can at least imagine from my own experiences and then imagine it was even harder for them.
So, I think that there’s a couple of layers. One is for any of us who have any type of privilege whether small business, big business, whatever, we have to think about how our businesses contribute to justice and I think that that’s really important. Our program for small business owners is $300 a month and you have to put a credit card on file. So immediately that discounts a huge amount of the population. A lot of people don’t have $300 a month and lots of people don’t have a credit card and so we thought long and hard about our commitment to access and diversity and inclusion and said, okay, if we really want to put our money where our mouth is literally, how do we do that with our business model? How do we actually make sure? And so, we created a table you can model, and with no questions, asked any small business, anywhere in the world can go to our website, enter the amount that they can pay, and if that amount is $5, that’s what they pay.
We don’t ask any questions, we don’t challenge it and it came from our realization that if we want to stand for these values, we have to live them in every single way. Yes, that affects our profit margin and yes that affects these metrics of success. But, you know, one of my metrics of success is that we actually use our business to do something good in the world and so that checks that box. And so, when we think about success as more than just money I think it changes how we operate. So that’s one side of it. The other side is that I think entrepreneurship creates an opportunity for business owners who are oftentimes disadvantaged to create their own way.
I think that more and more there are allies and there are opportunities and I think we are at 1% of figuring this out. There’s 99% to go, but I think the privilege and the opportunity of being a business owner are that you can chart your own path. You can choose who you do business with. You can find people who are aligned with you and you don’t need to do business with everyone to make a good income. You can do business with a small group of people. You can generate income for you and your family, and you can create a life that you believe in and that you want. And so, what I keep saying to everyone I talk to is if you were on the side of the world where you’ve got more privilege use your money. Put your money where your mouth is, buy from businesses run by people who are minorities.
Think about your pricing model actually make changes and if you’re a business owner who has been under-resourced and underserved traditionally be bold and stay in what you need, trying to find the allies in the world because they are there. People like me are there. I think we have so much work to do. I mean, thankfully the Black Lives Matter the protests that we’ve been in are continuing to remind us in a way that we need to be reminded of, of how much work we have to do. But I do feel hopeful that at least we’re having the right conversations. We’re nowhere near solving the problem but I think we’re moving in the right direction. I hope, I hope. That’s up to all of us in every action we all take.
Robert: Time will tell and time on task over time builds up and has a cumulative effect. So, we need to continue to have the discussion, continue to have the focus. I’ve got a coaching background as well and I like to kid that I’ve got a size 15 foot and I can use it if I need to, but you’ve taken a little bit different approach. Your program is called The Slap. Talk about The Slap, what that stands for, what it means. It really caught my attention and then how you’ve expanded it during the COVID response.
Carissa: Yeah. Thank you for asking that. So, I’ll tell you a funny story. It was originally called AGAP, A Growth Action Plan, and it was just so boring and then one day we were in a meeting, this was years ago, and I was like, Oh, our name is just terrible. Like what a boring, terrible name. It’s just so blah and jokingly, we were joking around and of course the company name is Silver Lining and we were writing things and I was like, oh my gosh, it’s like a slap, like come on small businesses get it together. We got to figure this out and Silver Lining Action Plan was born. So, that’s how the name came to be. So, my background is actually in psychology and one of the basic premises of psychology and behavior change psychology, in particular, is that if you want to change the outcomes, if you want to change the results of somebody, you’ve got to wrap this external structure and support around them.
So if you look at programs like Weight Watchers or the 12 Step Program or Fitbit they’re all using the same basic pillars of behavior change science to help you set goals and then track your behavior and modify your behaviors, small little doses at a time until you ultimately get to the goal you want. And when I looked at a lot of the small business programming that was out there so much of the small business programming is good, but it’s sort of piecemeal and it’s incomplete. You’ve got a small business owner who’s paying some money to go to a networking event and other money to have a coach and other money over here for a trade show and then this over here to hire a consultant, to build a plan. When you look at sort of all the time and money being spent, small businesses actually spent a huge amount of money.
I mean, there’s money being spent in the effort to grow, but what behavior change science would say is that it’s not going to be effective in actually creating shifts in behavior and then, therefore, results because it’s not connected, it’s not organized. So, the pillars of behavior change science are that if you want to change your behavior in order to get different results, you have to gain commitment, set modest goals, rigorously track behavior, build self-efficacy, get outside coaching and support, have a community, and ultimately instill new habits. So, what we did is we said, okay, if we know that sort of the traditional models of coaching or supporting small business is not working, how can we apply psychology to small business? And so that’s what we did. We’ve created a piece of software.
So, it’s totally custom-built, built literally for business owners. It’s built with business owners in mind, small business owners were our focus group the whole time we built it. It takes the business owner through about a three-hour process to build a one-year growth plan. So, it’s not like 12 years to build your plan. It’s three hours, you set financial goals, you set an impact goal. You build essentially your business development plan and then as we teach our businesses building the plan, you’re not done when the plans is billed. That’s like, you just started. That’s like the first step. Then for the next 12 months…
Robert: I’ve got it. Now, I’ve got a smart bookcase.
Carissa: Exactly, exactly because it goes on the shelf. You get really busy again, and then you never look at it. So, what we believe in is what happens after the plan, which is why it’s a silver lining, the action plan. It’s about the action. So, for the next 12 months, we wrap an incredible amount of kind of strategy and accountability and training and networking around the business owner with the sole mission of helping them continue to adjust their behavior to hit their goals. So, before COVID, we were already sort of technology-enabled. We can work with any small business anywhere in the world. It all happens online, but obviously when COVID hit and everyone sort of went into lockdown, two things were true.
One is all that in-person small business stuff that was happening, wasn’t going to work and two, I mean, people really needed to rethink strategy. In many cases, small businesses need new pricing structures, new delivery methods, new ways of doing what they do. I mean, this is a moment, a real shift and it’s significant and the businesses who don’t, I think, take this moment seriously, will struggle to survive it. I’m very hopeful. I think we can get through this, but it’s going to have to be very on purpose. This isn’t going to just go away. So, I mean, that’s what we’ve been here to do is to try to help small businesses wherever they are and in the context of social distancing, get support. Help people re-strategize and build a plan that really takes into account the moment we’re in and where the world is going.
Then I think most importantly, really be there for them, for the long-term. Again, I think people are looking for these quick fixes right now. We’re not at the end of a sprint, we’re at the beginning of a marathon and we’re going to need to have some steadfastness and some tenacity to get through this and no one can do that alone. We need to do that together. So, that’s, I think what I’m most proud of is that for the businesses that we do work with, we’ve really sort of been in it with them on a sort of week to week basis and I think that gives me hope. I think we can all get through this together.
Robert: It changes their actions when you have that longer-term plan and that on longer-term actions that are going on. So much is geared towards the 75-page business plan. So much advice towards small businesses. So much advice towards small businesses is towards trying to get some sort of funding with the bank. Operating your business, to try to get money from the bank is completely different than a day in day out, week in, week out type of activities that you’re going through. We’ve seen a number of small and micro-sized businesses. I like to use the example. I went to a Home Show. For a couple of years, I’ve gone to the Home Show in St. Pete. I’ve made sure that I filled out my information. I put my card in because I was looking for information. In my real estate background, I was looking for vendors.
Robert: Out of the 30 plus that I would do each time only three of them actively followed up with us.
Carissa: Can you believe that? That’s crazy!
Robert: So, not having a system in place to do that follow-up. Yeah and then when they can’t actually be belly to belly, nose to nose with their clients crickets again, and they don’t have, then the system put in place to be able to reach out, to be able to talk to them. So, that’s one of the many areas that decisions are made based upon a pie in the sky type of view and not where the rubber meets the road. That’s what the details are. That’s what they really need support on, and you don’t see immediate results for it. I’m sure many of these actions that you’re having them take, like stepping on the scale. It’s only after a month that you look back and you say, hey, what my actions were doing actually made a difference.
Carissa: Oh, Robert, I feel like I want to take everything you just said and just like copy and paste it and paste it everywhere in every small business because it’s exactly true. And you know, we say, I’ll just say three things, which is essentially going to repeat what you just said. But I’ll just say it again because it’s so important. Number one is change takes time. I think most people are hoping for this one big deal that’s going to change everything. This big moment that all of a sudden everything’s going to be great. And what we know for sure, I always have this little joke. There’s no silver bullet, but there is a silver lining.
Change happens over time. You make a bunch of small decisions every single day and eventually, those add up to the business you want. But if you’re sitting and hoping and wishing and praying that some magical swoop is going to come in, you’re never going to get it and so, you know, we have so much data that proves the business owners who sort of get focused, get determined and really get to work, do the hard work day after day after day, they outpace and ultimately win and succeed and grow their businesses at a much more sustainable and rapid pace ultimately than the people who are sort of super charismatic and running around with their heads cut off and going everywhere.
Robert: Do the smart work because many times the hard work has an impact on family, has an impact on relationships. Doing the smart work, being very focused I find it very interesting that individuals can take time out of a movie. Yes, they might have a pause or a break, but what happens when you go to watch a movie? You get your snacks, you get everything that you need, you turn your cell phone off and you focus. If you took that same approach once a day or once a week to your business and worked smart time over time over time you’d start to see the benefits of that because it would be cumulative. You wouldn’t see immediate results, but you’ll see it over time. So, working smart and hard.
Carissa: That’s right. I agree with that 100% and you know, it’s so interesting. You mentioned this idea about going and finding debt. I always say to businesses there are three ways to inject that cash into a business. You could go sell equity, fine. You could go get a loan from a bank fine or you could just sell something, you could just generate revenue. And quite frankly it’s as much work to try to convince investors to invest in you or to try and convince a bank to lend to you as it is to actually just go sell what you do. You don’t have to pay interest on revenue. You don’t have to give up equity in your company and so I’m so passionate about small businesses sort of taking a step back and instead of hoping that a loan will save them or instead of hoping that some magic moments going to save them, just really taking responsibility and saying, okay, I believe in what I do enough that I’m going to go sell it. I’m going to hustle. I’m going to do the hard work day over day and that will build a great business. Maybe it doesn’t happen the way you want it and as fast as you wanted and maybe… But it’s going to build you a solid business and to me, that is a more noble fight than building something that sort of looks great. But you know, it is sort of barely surviving underneath.
Robert: So, I also saw that you are looking just for fun to get your pilot’s license. I know that’s probably been put on hold a little bit. What are the challenges, what is the freedom that, that provides you? Why becoming a pilot?
Carissa: I have to say that I am dramatically behind my goal on that. So just like I teach other people to set goals and hit them. My behavior, my actions are not equaling results right now. So, I own that. But I think the thing that I mean I think if you’re an entrepreneur when you start a business… I’ve moved to new cities, new countries, I like new experiences, but ultimately when I reflect on that, my motivation is really around challenging myself. Seeing what else I’m capable of seeing what else I can push myself to do. And so, the idea of getting a pilot’s license sort of fits into that category, like, okay, well, could I. How hard would that be? It’s kind of audacious but that kind of makes it interesting.
So, I’ve been up in small planes a number of times I’ve only actually flown once. I still have a very, very long way to go to be fully trained, but it fits into that category of how do I push myself to try new things? How do I force myself to keep myself a bit out of my comfort zone? And also, how to just live life to the fullest. I don’t want to live a half-life. I want to live a full life. I want to try as many things as possible. So that desire fits into that part of my vision for my life.
Robert: I hear that more. I hear that not being a content although there is a contentment that comes from accomplishing or from leaving that wake leaving something behind as you’re, as you’re at full sail and really doing that. Talk about Thank You Small Business and that initiative that you were part of and spearheading.
Carissa: Yeah. Thank You, it’s one of my favorite things. I love it. Thank You Small Business is quite literally what it sounds like. It’s an initiative, it’s a global movement that we started to say thank you to small business owners. Going back to actually where we started the conversation. I think being a small business owner can be a very thankless job. I always say that I look at the businesses that we work with. Your staff want more from you, your family wishes you were home more. Your community’s always asking you to sponsor something or do something or offer something and the economy is asking for more and more. Pay higher taxes, pay higher rent and so you live this world where you’re working so hard often and ultimately feeling maybe not very appreciated.
So, Thank You is almost like the Make-A-Wish Foundation for small business owners. We try to find incredible small business owners all over the world who are contributing in an outsized way. Who are creating amazing opportunities for their family or their staff or their communities or the economy and who sort of represent the values that I spoke about earlier. They’re doing it because they’re passionate, not necessarily just to go make a bunch of money and retire a certain way but to use their business to make the world better. And then we try to do something really special for them. So, we’ve done things like sending 10 business owners on a free vacation. We’ve done things like doing a Thank You Tour where we just threw these really cool parties and only small business owners could attend and there was no marketing, there was no selling, it was just a celebration of them.
We’ve done Thank You Awards where we’ve awarded businesses. We did a Thank You Card Campaign where we had a group of people handwrite 25,000, thank you notes, and sent them out to real small businesses, just literally thanking them. And so, the whole movement is to ask corporate partners to help us with the budget. And as we say to them stop marketing and selling to small businesses and just thank them with us. Help us thank them and then we take 100% of those corporate dollars and we invest it back into these thank you initiatives. And every vendor we hire every, every dollar that we spend, we spend back to small businesses. So, the whole movement is about moments of celebration, joy, experience creating and seeing this group of people who contribute so dramatically to our world but are so often sort of unrecognized, but deserve to be.
Robert: I may be venturing out here a little bit. You said that you’re originally from Canada, favorite hockey team. Do you have a favorite hockey?
Carissa: You’re not venturing, now you’ve got me on a hot topic. So, I’m from Edmonton, Alberta. And I grew up in the eighties which was the era of Wayne Gretzky for anyone who knows anything about hockey. So, I am a diehard Edmonton Oilers fan and if anyone’s listening knows anything about hockey, you’ll also know that that has been a very tragic affiliation since the early nineties. We are terrible. We have been so bad for so many years. So, I was born into this sort of era of just the best hockey of all time and we’ve, under-delivered since my earlier years. So, I remain a very dedicated fan, but it’s been a tough couple of decades. Are you a hockey fan?
Robert: I had 40 years of waiting in Washington DC and ownership matters. It really does with Ted Leonsis coming in with the Washington Capitals, went all the way down to rock bottom to be able to get the stars and get the draft picks that came in. And then following that journey, having all of the heartbreaks that we did. So, Ted Leonsis wrote a book, “The Business of Happiness, I believe it is and he talks about the double bottom line. That he measures the businesses that he’s involved with the profit that they make, but also the memories and the contribution that they make back to the community. So, an Edmonton Oilers, a Washington Capitals really provide something for the community that you can’t put a dollar price.
But it’s those memories it’s that feeling that you were part of something that you remember the journey and so yes, it is something that even when I’m down here in Florida and I love, they finally beat Tampa Bay. And so, I was happy with that with being here. So, I didn’t know if that was a venture out, but you could tell small business owners have that same level of passion that sports fans have. They are fanatics about what it is that they do. Their hobby that they want to turn into a business. Their customer service. Their feeling that they were wronged in some corporate and environment, and they want to make it right. So, I do like to mix in my sports metaphors and racing metaphors. Carissa, we wrap up here. For the rest of the year for the rest of the 2020 or for the next 12 months to be a success for you, blank has to happen.
Carissa: That’s a hard question. I would say that my most honest answer to that is that I have to take care of myself and my team and the customers that we serve. Meaning. I think this is a marathon, not a sprint like I said earlier, and I think part of getting through this will be thing rested and well and healthy so that we can stay motivated enough when it gets really hard. So, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the fact that I’ve been working very hard for the last four months and it’s not sustainable. I really know that to get through the next phase of what’s to come just wellness and self-care as well is a very overused word, but keep doing the things I need to do to have a mindset that will allow me to manage whatever unknown is going to come because anyone who says that they can predict what’s coming is lying in my opinion. Who knows what’s coming our way still. So, the only thing we can do in my opinion is to be in the best possible position to handle all those unknowns and I think that really does come down to our mindset to sort of our health and our mindset and being in a position to tackle it head-on.
Robert: We can only give from the overflow and if we’re not taking care of ourselves, if we’re not looking at ourselves, that’s going to reflect out to our customers. We’re not going to have the energy to come up with the promotion that will cause us attract businesses. We’re going to fall into the status quo versus paving our own way, being a little bit of a trailblazer on some of the items that small and micro business owners really need to do.
Carissa, I know we could probably spend the whole morning, but I know you got your schedule. I got mine and it’s a refreshing to see the energy that you have brought for years to that micro-business, small business arena. I thank you for taking the time. I’m going to have all the links to your information here with the blog posts on YouTube down below. For those of you that are liking the episodes, please hit the subscribe button, hit the bell. That’ll let you know when we’ve got new episodes that are coming out and until next time, make it a great day.
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