Carla Wood, Founder and Senior Strategist at ALL Strategy, is known to many across North America as a speaker and strategist. But how many of us have had the chance to sit down with her and ask her questions outside of our own businesses? Our Community Manager, Megan, sat down with her to find out more about her own professional journey, her passion for our company and clients, and her goals for the future.
Megan: Carla, it’s great to be here with you today! You’ve had a rich career so far: prior to founding ALL Strategy in 2012, you were Managing Director of a coaching/consulting firm; sold over $100 million in residential real estate; supported a boutique ad agency towards its final acquisition by an international marketing firm; launched several small business ventures, and owned your own Marketing Consulting Firm. During that time, you also earned a Psychology degree, MBA, and Masters of Science in Real Estate.
Carla: All true! [laughter]
Megan: So is Achiever one of your Top Five strengths in StrengthsFinder?!
Carla: Yes, I am definitely an Achiever! I like to make a list of things to do, and them check those off! [laughter]
Megan: So Carla,what attracted you most to working in business strategy and consultancy?
Carla: Well, I feel like I was born into it. I was born into an entrepreneurial family, and I thought it would be fun to do what I perceived my dad doing, which was just go out for dinners and lunches with people for a living. Turns out he was doing a lot more than that, and business strategy and consultancy has very little to do with that, but that was my perception at the time! Regardless, I thought it would be fun, and it is. I also thought I would want to run my own business at some point, so those were always defaults.
But the business strategy and consultancy as an actual profession came a little bit later, because my first company was a marketing consulting firm, which was born out of the fact that I didn’t like any of the jobs out there. And as I was talking to business owners and leaders who knew what they needed in their business, it turned out I had some valuable recommendations in how to solve those problems and was starting to be provided with the opportunity to pitch and respond to proposals. So I did that, and started the first consultancy company, and then from there I discovered that — while marketing has a lot of strategy in it, which I loved — there was also a whole world just to do strategy. And that’s basically what I was made for! It’s my #1 strength for StrengthsFinder, which I’m obsessed with. If anyone has questions about StrengthsFinder, I could talk about it for hours — maybe in an Office Hours session.
Megan: Sounds great! I know you’re pretty passionate about that, and I’ll be asking you about that later on too. So what do you find most rewarding about your work here at ALL Strategy?
Carla: Oh, that’s easy for me. What I find most rewarding is seeing the business owners and leaders actually achieve the goals that they’re pursuing, which are always some version of growth — more money, more time, succession plan, more profit — and that they get more of a life in the process. I see their businesses flourish and I see their lives flourish in tandem. That’s what I love about working with smaller businesses instead of big corporations, where it’s a little more distant.
Megan: I think with small businesses, too, there’s less of a divide potentially with someone’s personal life and professional life, so seeing a change in their business will impact their family and other parts of their lives.
Carla: Absolutely, and quite often the business challenges they’re seeing have a lot to do with what’s going on personally. If cash flow’s tight in our personal life we pull money out of the business, which puts the business in a hard place. So getting all of that rectified together can make a big difference.
Megan: And I imagine, having gone through it yourself as an entrepreneur, you understand first-hand the challenges and opportunities that your clients experience.
Carla: Indeed, being a multi-time entrepreneur, no question! I know how to fail, and fortunately how to succeed! You need to know both, to be valuable. But a lot of what I support our Members and clients in, is really more about core business fundamentals and how they can apply them uniquely to their own business. So it’s not so much about the learnings that I’ve had or the mistakes I’ve made; it’s more about the greater learnings of the business industry as a whole, and then helping them see the solution for their own business.
Because one thing I know for sure, from working with the thousands of businesses that I have, is that your problem isn’t always the same as my problem, and vice versa — and nor is the solution. And that’s why Alignment is one of our core values — it’s that customized piece, making sure we’re aligned with the needs of each one of our Members and each one of our clients, so that they can build the best business for themselves. This is a really unique value proposition that we bring to the table.
Megan: And so what type of client, or Member, does ALL Strategy best service?
Carla: I love that question, and the reason I love it is because that’s how our Members start their first two sessions in our Membership: defining their ideal client. Who we best work with, first of all, are people who are good at what they do in their business. At the end of the day, you can do everything right in your business but if your service isn’t valuable to people, then it doesn’t really go anywhere. If your product’s not any good, I can’t help you.
With our Business Membership, the clients that we work best with are smaller businesses, for the most part service-based businesses, probably under $5MM in revenue. There are lots of exceptions to that, we work with multi-billion dollar corporations, but that’s a smaller slice of the pie. In the service- and product-based businesses, we can work on the business as a whole ,and those clients are motivated to growth. That might be increasing sales, introducing a new revenue model, increasing profitability, growing the team, planning for succession, making more time.
And for our Real Estate Membership, I think what’s unique about ALL Strategy is that we teach our Members how to run their business like a business, and also how to be a better Realtor. And that combination, I haven’t seen anywhere else. I see a lot of my wonderful, highly qualified competitors who teach you how to be a great salesperson in Real Estate, or have a good Real Estate approach, but they don’t also pair it with authentically great business principles. And then the people who are great with business don’t understand the uniqueness of real estate. So I love working with our Real Estate Members, because we do bridge that unique gap.
Megan: And you’ve been in the business for a while … have you seen any shifts in the type of business challenges your clients tend to come across most frequently?
Carla: I would say that the challenges ebb and flow, they don’t necessarily shift altogether. They tend to relate more to the economy overall or within their industry. So when things are busy, and sales are good and they’re in a growth mode, it’s wonderful but the challenges they end up experiencing suddenly become an issue of quality execution and deliverables. Client care, service, bandwidth, all become a real issue. On the flip side, when you’ve built a great business, and you’ve got staffing and infrastructure and systems and overhead, and then things slow down, there’s a real panic on revenue generation. And that’s why, with our Membership, we’ve really built it so it’s like a solid bedrock for your business. When it’s busy, your systems will allow you to manage the growth and provide consistent service, but when it’s slow, you’ve got tools in your toolbox to drive up that marketing and you’re tracking your systems well so that you can make changes early on.
About two years ago, we were working with some clients and our tracking system flagged that within six months, their sales were going to drastically decrease. We knew and understood their pipeline. And because of what we knew, we were able to take some quick action in terms of strategy, to develop some new opportunities from a marketing standpoint. That resulted in only a two month lag in terms of cashflow revenue, and they never had to dip into their savings piece. And what we had also done years before was put in place a security system from a financial standpoint, so that they had multiple months of expenses covered. So it was multiple layers of planning that made sure that everything was fine. And in fact, they went on to have their best year ever after that, and their best year ever ever, after that!
Megan: Amazing! From strength to strength! You mentioned that you’d worked with these clients years before, and I know that the vast majority of clients have a long-term relationship with the company. I would imagine that you would see your clients go through their ebbs and flows; that you’d see them experience both sides of the coin.
Carla: Absolutely, with our customized clients we can be working together for years and years. For others, it would be a shorter engagement. But typically, we have longer-term relationships because the reality of business is that there are always new problems to solve, so if you have a trusted advisor with you then you can do that. And our Members can stay with us forever, and we will always be there to support them.
Megan: Now, shifting gears a bit, I know that Generosity is a huge value for you, and for ALL Strategy more broadly: you’re Chair of the Board of Dress for Success Vancouver; you sit on the Board of World Relief Canada; and you’re an active Mentor with Forum for Women Entrepreneurs.
Carla: That’s true.
Megan: And here at ALL Strategy, Generosity is one of the big fundamentals that our work week is geared around as well, in terms of how we give back our time.
Carla: Yes, Generosity is one of those key pieces in my life — in fact it’s one of our core family values — and so one of the perks of starting a company is that you get to decide what the corporation’s values are! So I decided, we care about Generosity! And in fact, as our Members will know, one of our core philosophies is that great leaders are generous in the giving of resources. So what that means is being generous in how we service our clients, being generous in the value we provide, being generous in the time we give to our team, being generous in not-for-profit giving and philanthropy. When you have much, I think much is expected of you, and there’s such a great opportunity for that when there are so many needs.
I love Dress for Success, I love that we get to support women locally as well as globally, as it’s an international organization with a local focus. It supports women back into the workforce, which meets some of our Generosity Alliance goals, and you can read about those on our ‘About’ section on our site. And that really walks through what we do, which is essentially give a percentage of our income away each year to charitable organizations that meet some of our standards. For example, World Relief meets some of our global standards. We give them money, and we also give them pro bono service time, and we promote them to others.
I also love mentorship because I believe that our intellectual property, what we have come to know, is a really great way to support people. Similarly, as you know, internally for ALL Strategy employees, we really focus hard on generosity in three different ways. We have a 5:5:5 rule, where 5% of your work week needs to be philanthropically donated, so what you’re paid to do in ALL Strategy needs to be given outside the company. 5% is also given in mentorship — you’re a great mentor to me, I’m grateful for that! — and 5% is given in creative thinking, outside our areas of speciality in the company. That makes us all better. When leaders work that way, I think they have a much greater impact.
Megan: And speaking of leadership, you’re really passionate about leading relationally and effective team building, aren’t you? — both within our company and with clients.
Carla: Yes! I absolutely love the relational leadership approach, and it probably has so much to do with my StrengthsFinder results. My numbers #1 through #5 are Strategic, Activator, Achiever, Communication and Woo, which is Winning Others Over. Three of those five fall under the ‘Influencing’ domain, so I have a high value on Influence and on Strategy. And I really believe that leadership is influence, so to influence effectively puts you in a position of leadership with much responsibility. Relational leadership is really a way of taking our Alignment value (customization), our Generosity value (being generous in the giving of resources) and the Results value that we have, and saying: ‘I want to know you who are and how you best learn, and see where you’re best gifted, so that I can lead you and care for you according to that.’ I think a great leader adjusts to the people they’re leading, as opposed to saying, ‘this is how I lead — come follow me.’
And effective team building is enormous; I can’t do all of this on my own. I need a great team that’s encouraged and motivated and excited. There are days, as you may know, that I may have to ask you to do things that aren’t so awesome! But hopefully I have enough chips in the bank that I can ask you to do that, because we’re also building a team atmosphere where everyone understands the bigger purpose and sees their value. The results that come from that, both for our clients and for ALL Strategy, is higher productivity, higher profitability, higher retention, and just a better place to work.
Megan: I love what you said about relational leadership and knowing your strengths, because the whole concept of ‘whole person leadership’ — knowing yourself to be a more effective leader — I think it’s so true… And now my final question for you: if you could give one piece of advice to all your clients, what would it be?
Carla: For our RESULTS Members, my advice would be: go through your Session Training [in the Membership]. I realize this sounds like a bit of a pitch but I really mean it! Because you already made the decision to invest in your business, and because I want you to succeed in growing your business regardless of the market conditions. We worked really hard to develop the Membership into those eight sessions so that your business can have solid footing. There’s no reason why, if you watch the 15-minute video and invest two hours into doing the work each week, you’d not be making an extra $100,000 to $250,000 12-18 months later. Some of our Members would far exceed that. And that’s because what we’ve done is that we’ve simplified all of the core business fundamentals and helped you know what you need to do right now for your business to seek.
And so my advice would be: be fearless in carving out the time for you and for the business. Because if you have more revenue without more expenses, you’ll have more time, you’ll have more resources, you’ll be able to be more generous, to be a better leader, to hire more people, to serve your clients better, to take breaks and enjoy time with your friends and family. And that seems worth two hours and 15 minutes to me. So that’s my advice.
Megan: I would agree. The idea of being really intentional with our time — it can get away from us so easily, but it can bring tremendous results.
This interview has been edited for brevity and consistency.
RESULTS Members can sign up for Office Hours and pick Carla’s brain! Or if you’re not yet one of our Members, make sure you sign up to our waitlist to know when we next re-open Membership to the public.