As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lana Hout and Adrianna Smith.
As America’s Top Female Business Brokers, Lana Hout and Adrianna Smith are disrupting the business brokerage industry! They are successful and dynamic business partners and top performers in evaluating businesses. They bring a fresh and modern approach to business development, transaction advisory, and mergers & acquisitions. Lana and Adrianna own First Choice Business Brokers in Los Angeles and have worked with 250+ small businesses in every field — such as the service industry, manufacturing, and e-commerce. With 20+ combined years of global business experience (including working at Deloitte, Duff & Phelps and NBCUniversal), Lana and Adrianna are passionate about helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams. That inspiration is what gave rise to their latest creation, The Biz Hotlist, a one-stop shop for all the latest business tips, tools, and advice!
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are very busy people. 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?
[LH] We have been best friends since college, meeting in a finance class at USC’s Marshall School of Business. We would partner on group projects, study together in the library, and help each other prepare for our grueling finance job interviews. We both started our careers in corporate transaction advisory for large professional services firms, such as Deloitte and Duff & Phelps.
[AS] After working in corporate for several years, we were both interested in starting our own business working with entrepreneurs. At the time, we felt like we were already running all of our own projects and maintaining all of the client relationships. So, we knew we could do it on our own. That led to the opportunity to open the Los Angeles office of First Choice Business Brokers, a leading business sales organization, six years ago.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
[AS] All business owners know that in the beginning of starting a business, the owner does everything from executing the strategic plan to taking out the trash! The funniest mistake we made was vastly underestimating what it takes to set-up internet in an office. Coming from a corporate background, all we knew was you have your hard line internet, your wi-fi internet, and if you had a problem, you called IT. Much to our chagrin, realizing you first need to get all the wiring installed in the space thousands of dollars; then you need to designate a server what is a server?; then there’s a firewall again what is that?. Trying to connect the computers to the internet, to the server, to the printer became what we called a War on Technology!!!
[LH] Honestly, we were losing the war in the beginning. We would be on the phone with the internet service provider and they would ask, “Let me speak to your IT person?” and we would reply “We are the IT people!!” Needless to say, we figured it all out one painful step at a time and realized that it is all part of being a business owner. The take away — when you’re starting a business on your own, every little detail of getting going is a large project that will likely require several days, many hours, and frustrating trial and error until it’s figured out.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
[AS] There are two books that really made me realize that my prior beliefs about myself and how financial success works needed to change, if I was going to be the successful person I had always imagined myself to be. The first book was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, which showed me how my perception of myself and my capabilities was holding me back in the workplace. The second book was Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. This book taught me about the difference in the mindset of the wealthy versus what most of the public accepts to be true. This book was the sounding alarm to me that I needed to let go of old mental constructs and shift my mindset in order to obtain the success that I always wanted.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
[LH] When we started our company, the motivation was us wanting to do something that actually mattered in people’s lives and allowed us to help them personally. Our purpose has always been to help business owners and entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. Buying or selling a business marks an important point in people’s lives where they are changing the course of their journey and entering the next chapter. In our business, we see living proof of the American Dream every day, and those are the stories that inspire us.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
[AS] My father, who is also a business broker for over 50 years, has always told me since I was a little girl, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” That principle has stuck with me, and I often say it to myself through all the various challenges in my life, including the many that come with running a business.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
[AS] First as a business owner, managing the enormous and unprecedented level of uncertainty posed by the Covid-19 Global Pandemic is not only very difficult but personally exhausting. The stakes are high, and it’s all riding on you. You feel as though you’re in triage-mode on the sidelines of a war, doing whatever you can to survive. Measuring, calculating, and strategizing everything from revenue loss, cost cutting, changes to the business model and systems, employee layoffs, vendor & creditor negotiations, government aid applications, and how to bounce back when this is all over. To address these challenges, we first had to get our minds right and synced as business partners. We decided almost immediately as the lock downs were rolled out that it was now or never. Our ship was heading into a storm, and we knew it was going to take an exorbitant amount of energy to not only keep it afloat, but to reinforce it at the same time.
[LH] Additionally, we have been practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic and have not seen our family or friends in-person for a long time. Like many people, it has been difficult not to spend time in-person with family and friends, especially for birthdays, holidays, and other life events. Our good friends are having babies during this quarantine, and we can’t see them and support them! To make up for it, we have been using technology and creative ways to spend time with all of our loved ones. From setting up one-on-one Face Time chats, to large multi-person video conferencing parties, to drive-by caravan birthdays, we are trying to focus on keeping connected during a time that can be rather isolating.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
[AS] During the pandemic, we have been working more than ever to analyze each aspect of the business to assess loss, plan cash flow, minimize costs, pivot offerings and marketing, and invest in upgrading infrastructure and systems that will make the business stronger post-pandemic than it was pre-pandemic. As the world is going through a renewal, so is our business.
[LH] Due to Covid-19, we had to adjust how we work with our clients and interact with our agents. Fortunately for us, we already were using technology to store, file, and transmit documents securely. Therefore, transitioning to working from home was not an issue. We implemented video conference meetings to take place of in-person office meetings. We also communicated to our clients how we were taking all necessary precautions, and that we could still service them remotely via phone, e-mail, and video conferencing. Despite the technology in place, challenge we’re still facing is keeping the morale of our team high in a time where people feel disconnected. To combat this, we have increased the amount of communication and mentorship with our team to help keep them motivated.
Further as a business brokerage, the other challenge in our business is our clients are having problems with access to capital during this time when their businesses are closed, but still have expenses. As a result, we have adjusted our focus to consulting with business owners to assess their options, such as funding, negotiating payment deferrals with landlords and vendors, and other ways to conserve cash and “cut the fat.”
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
[LH] I’ve told my family and friends that during this time of uncertainty to focus on things they can control. I have encouraged them to use this time to improve themselves both personally and professionally. Personally, they could work on health and fitness goals by taking walks or doing work outs at home. Professionally, they could take an online course on a skill or subject that they’ve always wanted to learn and add to their skillset. They can also participate in online networking meetings to connect with other professionals. I have found that by doing some of these things myself, I am able to create my own positive outcomes during this pandemic.
[AS] The best thing I’ve told myself and my friends and family who are feeling anxious is first, limit your exposure to the news. You cannot watch the news all day tallying up rising Covid cases and death tolls and expect to feel good. Second, do the things that make you happy and feel good first every day. Even if you’re working during this time, when you wake up, the first few things you do should be for you, and that will help you start the day positive and carry that feeling throughout the day.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
[AS] The Post-Covid economy will bring a rise to many new opportunities. New fortunes are made while there is blood in the streets. Savvy buyers will look to pick up distressed businesses and real estate for bargain prices that will re-bound as the economy improves. A lot of wealth will be created this way. Covid-19 has required business owners to re-examine and pivot their business models. They’re forced to deal with and improve issues like rigid sales channels, customer concentration, supplier concentration, and lack of technology. As a result, proactive business owners will make changes to their business models to better diversify, systematize, and strengthen their businesses by minimizing the risks and weaknesses inherent in their businesses.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
[LH] The pandemic will change the way that we interact and accept technology in our day-to-day lives. During this time, it has made everyone including business owners, clients, customers, vendors, suppliers, service providers, etc. adopt daily use of technology in more ways than ever before. In our business, we expect that clients will continue to be comfortable communicating with technology — video conferencing, electronic signature platforms, electronic data storage, etc. Not only does substituting technology for in-person meetings now seem “safer”, but it is also a more efficient way of doing business and communicating. The time we used to spend in the car going to meetings is now being repurposed for more productivity or personal time. People are coming off of the hamster wheel. The increased use of technology in business and personal communications means people can better balance professional and personal goals.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
[AS] We started rebuilding as soon as the pandemic hit. The first step in our process was to take a critical look at all sales channels, product offerings, operational systems, and cash flow management plans to identify the areas that needed improvement, adaptation, and risk mitigation for immediate recovery and sustained stabilization. Where we found a problem, we created an action plan to fix it. Simultaneously, we considered whether there were better ways to do things to accomplish the same goal. As a business sales organization, retooling our messaging and marketing strategies is paramount to be a key player in the Post-COVID economy. We’re still in the middle of this process, but we continue to diversify product offerings, systemize our procedures, cut costs, and market our services online and through social media.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
[LH] We would encourage others to examine their businesses and look for areas of weakness. Weaknesses could be having customer or supplier concentration, or only one sales channel. Figuring out how to generate sales in a different way has been a huge issue during this pandemic. Business owners should use this time to identify these weak areas in their businesses and start coming up with alternative solutions to minimize risk, while considering other ways to create sales opportunities. For example, if your one and only manufacturer can’t fulfill your order, what will you do? In this case, it would be wise for a business owner to establish relationships with other manufacturers. We actually have a video on our YouTube Channel, The Biz Hotlist, called “The Stress Test” that discusses this exact topic.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
[LH] My favorite quote is “Tough times never last, but tough people do” by Robert H. Schuller. Both life and business have their ups and downs. There are challenges and obstacles that we all face personally and in business. I love this quote because it reminds me that these tough times are temporary, and your ability to work through difficulties that come along the way will dictate your ability to strive and succeed.
[AS] A quote that always resonates with me is “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”Eleanor Roosevelt. So much of our lives, beliefs, and circumstances are dictated by fear. Only when you tackle fear head-on do you change your life to how you want it to be.
How can our readers further follow your work?
[LH] They can follow us on @TheBizHotlist on all social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter) and on our website TheBizHotlist.com.