Video Transcriptions

Optimize Client Testimonial

Working with Optimize all these years, they don’t tell me how to run my business. They help me run my business better.

Optimize, since 2008, has helped our company grow. In the last three years, we’ve grown 417% with their guidance. Marc and the team at Optimize have helped us at Gothic Landscape create an annual strategic planning process- a cycle. Marc has been facilitator of this cycle at our annual meetings, and he has created an amazingly collaborative process that draws out input from everybody around him. He looks outside the box. Sometimes we go into the meeting very focused on the wrong viewpoint; he brings out other viewpoints from having talked to many companies.

It turns out to be a very creative process when new ideas are brought up and new strategies are ultimately concocted. We leave the meeting and we’ve got goals, KPIs (key performance indicators) that we will measure ourselves against to know whether we’re achieving our strategic objectives or not.

Strategic planning means different things to different people. I find if you just combine the words “strategic planning” and “consultant” and “offsite”, it can tend to freak people out. So simply put, this is what strategic planning is: We work with management teams to help them agree on their strategic planning priorities, which includes what products and services they want to sell in what markets, what markets they do not want to enter, and what people, processes and technology they need to support growth. It’s as simple as that.

What I like about the way Marc’s team works is that they encourage us to think about things that we might not otherwise focus on.

We use Optimize because we want to be best-in-class. We know that best-in-class companies create strategic plans and follow them.

What’s nice about strategic planning, besides it being an opportunity to work on the business as opposed as to working in the business, it’s a great team building exercise for both our management team and our sales team. For the past seven years we’ve been working with Marc and the team at Optimize at both the management level and at the sales team level.

We’ve made incremental improvements in the way we approach our clients, the way we approach our employees, and it has led to bottom line improvements to profitability that I’m very proud of.

We have kind of this fun, team building process that just comes along naturally with what we do. You’d be surprised at how much clients laugh with each other. For instance, everybody really likes to make fun of Marc’s eccentric socks.

And you know, we take our work really seriously but we try not to take ourselves too seriously.

We’re a better company because of Optimize.

Kravitz, ACT and Gothic have been clients of Optimize for more than seven years

There are over 397,000 landscape companies in the U.S. Gothic Landscape is the tenth largest.

Kravitz has grown to be the largest provider of cash balance retirement plans in the U.S.

ACT’s revenue has grown 14x in the last eight years.

Optimize: A growth consultancy specializing in strategic planning.


Optimize- Why We’re Proud

We’re proud to play a small part in growing organizations that…

Supply critical parts for 40% of the world’s pacemakers

We help people live longer

Provided optics for the Navy Seals who captured Osama Bin Laden

We help make the world safer

Supply wheelchairs for children in need

We help provide mobility to kids

Manufacture vital parts for fighter jets and airplanes

We help make aviation more reliable

Educate children and expose them to new skills

We help students prepare for a successful future

Create technologies that provide greater access at lower costs

We help the world’s systems work faster

Make healthy options available to the public

We help people stay well

Provide solutions to students refinancing their debt

We help graduates realize their potential

Provide legal, accounting and insurance services

We make business less risky

Make retirement available to hardworking Americans

We help provide financial security

Work with the aging to provide them with more options

We give people hope

Are devoted to reducing their usage of water and precious resources

We help make the world more sustainable

Optimize is proud to help companies grow.


TPA Crossroads: Strategic Planning with Marc Emmer

Strategic planning for future growth.

Hi, I’m Deb Rubin. We’re committed to the TPA community, and we’re proud to provide valuable insights and tools to help you grow your business. We’ve partnered with TPA resources to bring something very special to the TPA community. It’s our first ever documentary series, called TPA at a Crossroads. The second episode deals with strategic planning for future growth. Enjoy.

Atlantic Pension Services started almost 23 years ago, and it’s very exciting because we’ve now grown to almost 450 clients and it’s just hard to believe that we’ve done that. We are primarily serving 401(k) plans, although we have the ability to serve defined benefit plans including cash balance and 403(b) plans.

We’re located in Kennett Square which is a suburb of Philadelphia known as the mushroom capital of the world. One of the biggest challenges for me with strategic planning was actually accepting that strategic planning would work. We had been through this once before, and I was skeptical about the process. But it became clear from the beginning that Marc knew what he was doing and that he understood our industry, so it appeared that strategic planning would work. So once I bought in, that helped.

The second biggest challenge was that there was a lot of data required for strategic planning. It meant a lot of work for Barb and I, and we had to find the time to do it. So, it meant spending time at night and on the weekends gathering all the data that it required.

Over the last three years, we had substantial growth. We had 30 plans brought in three years ago, then we went to 70, and then 90. During that same period, we upgraded our client management system and we also had some key employee turnover. All of that while we were trying to manage our deliverable to our clients. We also transitioned from a lifestyle to a more professional firm, and that was a big adjustment for all the employees. And what I mean by that is we went from a very relaxed, casual environment to expecting our employees to be on time, expecting our employees to dress more professionally, and also to provide better customer service to our clients.

Missy and I have always sat down and discussed where we wanted to go, and we tried to do that on an annual basis. Sometimes we’re not successful with that.

The hardest part working with Marc was just focusing and finding the time; being prepared for our meeting so we did not find that process daunting.

I did enjoy working with Marc. Marc told us from the very beginning how the process was going to go. He laid out the steps and told us what was expected of us. And as we went through the process, he was very good to let us know if we weren’t following through as we were supposed to. It was nice; we’ve never had time to have a business coach, and it was like Marc was our business coach.

He recommended that we develop goals, and we did this at our strategic planning meeting. We came up with four goals and as a team, we came up with action items for each of these goals. These action items were assigned to each of our management team members, and we met monthly to see how we were doing with the accomplishment of our action items. It’s really exciting to see that we now have accomplished every one of our action items.

We focused on profitability, staffing, and long-term planning. And what I mean by that is, for profitability, we actually looked at specific billables and discussed how to make sure we were capturing all the revenue that we could. With staffing we went down and we created a management team for our firm, and we hired some support staff. I had always done all the accounting for our company; we actually hired our first accounting assistant, which was tremendous. And in the long-range planning we discussed, where do we want to be in five years? What are our long-range plans, and how are we going to get there?

The outcomes so far:

  • We have had a summertime deliverable to our top advisors and key clients.
  • We did a client appreciation event.
  • We created a management team.
  • We hired an accounting assistant.
  • We did an evaluation of all employees using the Topgrading method.
  • We have monthly meetings now- management meetings- and we also created a dashboard to let people know exactly where we are financially.

We have a strategic plan, we have our goals outlined, we have a Vision Map, we have a rally cry, which is “grow or die.” And we also have our core values, and we took our core values and had them made into a mousepad for each one of our employees so they wouldn’t forget them.

I founded the firm in 2002 because we were trying to solve a particular problem, which was that entrepreneurs and mid-market companies wanted to have access to world-class strategic planning facilitators and strategic planning advisors, and yet they really didn’t want to pay the outrageous fees offered by the large consulting firms.

We really tried to craft a solution that’s designed specifically for them. We are specialists in strategic planning, but there are many times where clients ask for our help with subsets of strategy such as market analysis, or maybe ensuring the optimum utilization of their sales and marketing teams. But we try to stay pretty true to our specialty within the strategy practice.

There isn’t a particular vertical that we work in; very commonly, we’ve worked in financial services, healthcare and technology, just to name a few. But I would say, what’s more common is the types of companies that gravitate toward us is they’re dealing with a couple of potential issues. First is, they’re trying to figure out where they’re going to grow, and they want with more clarity to find what products and services they’re going to sell into what markets. Others are growing very quickly and they’re trying to figure out what types of resources they’re going to need to add in the next three to five years, whether that be people, processes or technology.

I think it’s about having a unifying vision. There are a lot of entrepreneurs that run around with this strategy in their head, but there’s really no replacement for having a written plan with clear goals and expectations, and having the management team rally around the strategic plan. I don’t know if you remember; there was a time a few years ago where McDonalds’ CEO died suddenly at the company’s franchise convention in Orlando, Florida. And by Monday morning the board had named their successor, but when interviewed by the press, he said it really doesn’t matter who the CEO is because we have so much clarity bout our vision and purpose. So with strategic planning, it’s that type of energy that we’re trying to create.

I think there are companies that have a strategy and no strategic plan, and there are others that have the strategic plan and no strategy. So I’m always asking questions like:

  • What might disrupt your marketplace in the next few years?
  • How might your business model need to evolve?
  • How will you leverage technology for competitive advantage?
  • And then also, what tactics will you use to ensure that you’re actually executing against your strategy?

This is kind of a standard script of things that should be in the strategic plan: mission statement, values, vision, market analysis, the actual business strategy itself, sales & marketing plan, human capital plan, and so on. But it think it has to be a balance between strategy and tactics.

The relationship is all about trust. And the great majority of the time, we’ve been referred into the client by some other trusted advisor. So we ask for everything; it’s a full Monty. We need to see the financial statements, org chart, we interview all the executive managers, to understand kind of the fabric of the company. So we hope that they share any information with us that’ll be useful in developing the strategy. First, we’re always looking for buy-in from the management team. Generally, the CEO has hired us for a reason and it’s my job to win over any other members of executive management that might be intimidated by the idea of strategic planning or don’t see the investment value in it.

We work very hard to make sure they have a positive experience, and also that they can see with clarity what the return on investment in the process will be. For some of our clients, the end game is some kind of liquidity event or transaction. Others are motivated by other things, but I would say the number one challenge that we see routinely with clients is they just don’t have very good information about their market. So that’s a place where we really challenge them, to ensure that when we develop the strategic plan that not only is it meaningful, but it will actually accomplish the objectives that we put forth in the first place.

There’re many successful companies who haven’t had a strategic plan and there have been many companies who have failed with a strategic plan, but I might say this: it’s kind of like a great football coach. He puts his team in a position to win, and I think it’s been proven that strategic planning has a high correlation to success in companies. And it improves the probability that you’re going to have successful outcomes, such as developing a new product or entering a new market, hiring the right people, or developing new technologies. I’ve used strategic planning as improving the probability that a company will succeed.

They were feeling commoditized. There are a lot of online TPAs that are discounting on the internet, so I think for Atlantic Pension Services, it was about finding a focal point; a place where they could deliver unique value into the future. And I think the other part was really helping the management team focus on high-value activities as opposed to low-value activities so that they could continue to drive their revenue growth well into the future, as is pretty typical for us.

We started with challenging the management team on developing information that would help them make better fact-based decisions, and then to ensure that we had clarity about their marketplace. And then it was just a matter of agreeing on their strategic priorities, and creating tools that they could use to hold their team accountable to specific performance outcomes.

I wanted to make sure that they were focused and niche-y. I wanted to make sure that they were delivering a message that demonstrated exactly how they would be delivering value to the marketplace, and I wanted to make sure that they were measuring their effectiveness so that they could ensure that they’re actually executing against their strategic plan.

We would like to repeat the strategic planning process. We’d like to have Marc come back and walk us through the whole process again, while we have our goals and we have some long-term objectives on our strategic plan.

We think it’s important that we repeat the process, because as we get busy in our everyday work lives, we are not good at following through and we think it’s important that we be held accountable to ourselves.

Transamerica partners with TPAs like you all over the nation to help you achieve increased sales, expanded distribution, improved productivity and increased revenue. If you’d like more information about working with Transamerica or have questions about our products or services, please email us or find your TPA services vice president online.

They’d be happy to provide you with an overview of Transamerica. We hope to hear from you soon.


Out of The Rough: With Fred Arnold and Marc Emmer

Welcome to Out of the Rough. In these tough economic times, I want to give you practical solutions to many of life’s challenges. And on today’s show I have Marc Emmer. Marc Emmer is a specialist, a consultant when it comes to strategic planning. And you wrote the book, Intended Consequences: Design the Future You Wish to Create. Welcome to the show.

Thanks, it’s a privilege to be here.

Absolutely. So what inspired you to write the book? I love the title, Intended Consequences, beause in life we need to intend to create a future that we want to have.

Right exactly. The title of the book really is a reflection of a personal philosophy that I have, Which is we’ve been through an entire decade of volatility. We’ve seen 9/11, Katrina, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve had financial turmoil around the world, with the liquidity crisis and several recessions, we’ve seen natural disasters in Haiti, Chile, Japan and elsewhere. And I think the lesson for business owners is that we need to be more purposeful in thinking about how the future might change and position our businesses so we can actually seize the opportunities ahead and take advantage of volatility.

Yeah, being prepared- being fully prepared- is what you’re talking about, isn’t it?

Exactly.It’s absolutely critical in this market. Now, it is a competitive environment, very competitive. How do entrepreneurs position themselves in this very challenging, competitive environment?

Right, well, in a hyper-competitive marketplace, one thing that I see emerging is more hyper-specialization. So for example, if you have a heart attack, would you go to a general practitioner or heart surgeon?

Without a doubt, a heart surgeon.

Ok, well, the average general practitioner in the U.S. earns about a $140,000 a year. A heart surgeon makes around $450,000. So, the marketplace values specialization more than generalization. So I think the lesson there for most businesses is it’s very important to find a niche where you can infiltrate and dominate, and be a big fish as opposed to a small fish.

Now you talk about specializing, but now a lot of consumers look at many goods and services as a commodity. How do you differentiate yourself so you’re not looked at- or your product is not looked at- as a commodity?

Right. Well in business- to consumers there’s actually a term for it. They call it treasure hunting because what a lot of consumers are doing is they’re trading down on some goods so that they can afford other luxury goods. You could be sitting on a Southwest flight, and the gentleman next to you is wearing a Rolex watch. So why does a guy with a $10,000 watch dig to save $20 on airfare? And we’re finding business behavior to be very similar.

One of the things we’ve really seen in the last four or five years is in almost every marketplace, the middle has eroded. If you look at department stores for example, Nordstrom always seems to do well, Walmart always seems to do well, but in the middle, the companies like Mervyn’s and Montgomery Ward have gone away. I always say Sears and Kmart merging- that’s like two guys who don’t know how to swim grabbing for each other in the deep end.

I think the lesson for small businesses is that you really either need to decide that you’re going to be the low-cost leader, which is a sandbox that most small businesses cannot play in for very long, or you have to have a highly differentiated offer. And even when you have the highly differentiated offer, the burden you carry there is that you have to continuously expand your bundle of services so that your customers don’t, in effect, get bored of you.

Ok, so the marketing message. Let’s talk about the market message. Because everyone’s being blitzed with so much marketing. There are different ways to contact someone. There’s Facebook, social media, there’s the internet, there’s traditional media- TV, video, how do you differentiate yourself in these? It’s really a market blitz environment.

I think marketing is fundamentally broken, and the reason I say that is that most technologists really don’t understand marketing. And most marketing folks really don’t understand technology. And so I think the result that we see is a lot of the marketing collateral, websites I see- they’re very mechanical: “this is what we do”, “this is who we are”. And the great marketers will tell you that the way you really connect with people is through some kind of emotional attachment. So the great marketing out there- the messages are very concise and they make an emotional appeal to the person they’re trying to connect to.

Gve me an example of an emotional appeal.

I know a lot of the marketing we did, we tested- and if you had a picture of a child or their family, or a lady, it seemed to draw more attention than maybe something like a picture of a house if you’re marketing real estate. Because it brings that emotional side in.

This is more sales than marketing, but I think it’ll give you the same feel. My wife and I went to this non-profit event two or three years ago. I decided that I wanted to buy a new tuxedo. So I went into the department store and I asked the salesman- “I love that white dinner jacket look. Do you think you could show me white dinner jackets?” So he throws one on my back and he says to me, “That is James Bond.” And I thought to myself- never in the history of mankind did a transaction close so fast. So what he had done, is he had made an emotional connection with me and you know, if he had shown me two or three black jackets, I probably would’ve gone through this very logical comparison; their quality, how they fit, and so on.

The promotional side of it, yeah. And what did your wife say when you got home?

Intended Consequences- Designing the Future You Wish to Create. We’re going to jump to a quick break, but when we come back, we’re going to talk to Marc about how the entrepreneur can compete with the big stores in this competitive market environment.