A lot of entrepreneurs can start a business but a lot of them fail to scale it. Everything will go down the drain if you don’t know how to grow it. In this episode Allison Maslan shows us the ropes of scaling a business. Allison has had her fair share of business failures but she stood her ground and studied what worked and what didn’t. She is now the CEO of Pinnacle Global Network. And, she is also the bestselling author of Scale or Fail. Join Don Williams as he talks to Allison Maslan about her entrepreneurial journey. Discover how she went from writing postcards to running an ad agency. Find out the secrets of the Scale it Method so that you can build your business even higher.
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SCALING YOUR BUSINESS WITH ALLISON MASLAN
CEO AND FOUNDER OF PINNACLE GLOBAL NETWORK, IS WALL STREET JOURNAL BEST SELLING AUTHOR OF SCALE OR FAIL WHICH IS ENDORSED BY DAYMOND JOHN AND BARBARA CORCORAN FROM SHARK TANK
I am so happy, thrilled, and excited to introduce my good friend and someone who has been instrumental in my entrepreneurial journey. Please meet Allison Maslan. Alli, how are you?
I’m excited about this. I was looking forward to it. It’s been awesome
Me too. It’s always hard to talk to a lady about time, but we met more than five years ago. We walked the same paths for a while and then our paths crisscrossed from time to time. Rather than me introducing you, Alli, tell us what are you working on? What’s your primary company? What do you spend your time, energy, and passion on?
Thanks, Don. I have been running my tenth company for many years. It’s called Pinnacle Global Network. We mentor business owners around the world to grow and scale their companies, primarily 7 and 8-figure business owners. We take a holistic perspective where we look at all aspects of their business from the revenue stream marketing, sales team, leadership, and so forth. I am truly passionate about it, especially now.
As you know, because you’re much entrenched in this as well, business owners are the changemakers in the world. They are the inventors and they’re the ones that are solving some of the biggest challenges we have in the world. My dent in the universe is to help them soar. I’ve been a business owner for more than 40 years, so this has been my life’s path and I feel blessed.
That means Alli started out at about age seven and has been an entrepreneur for more than 40 years.Business owners are the change-makers of the world. They are the ones that are solving some of the biggest challenges in the world today. Click To Tweet
It was that lemonade stand. That was business number one.
That is my next question. I know a little bit about your childhood. You live in San Diego. Your business is based there. You have clients all over the US and maybe even the world now. Where did you start out? You didn’t start out in San Diego.
I did not. I started out in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In fact, we used to come to Texas a lot. That was our big city, so I’m very familiar with your part of the world. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My father and grandfather had a women’s clothing store in Kansas City. He and my dad ended up expanding it to Tulsa and then across the Midwest.
In my childhood, I grew up following him from store to store. He was so passionate about his work that it was infused into me. I think about the little things I do. I’m like, “I’m definitely my daddy’s girl.” I went to school at Arizona State and studied journalism. I always loved San Diego. I fell in love with this place. I’ve been here since 1989 and it’s definitely my home.
You come from entrepreneurial roots, not only from your father but also from your grandfather. As a young girl in Tulsa, Oklahoma, talk about a work ethic that your father and mother may have instilled in you as a young girl.
That was everything for me. My dad and I have an interesting language together because we both love the business world. He would call me up and instead of, “How are you doing,” it would be, “How many sales did you close today?” That’s what I grew up with. It’s that type of mentality. It was always business for him, but he was relationship-oriented. Everywhere we went, he knew people, and he respected everyone from the janitor and the taxi driver to the heads of state.
I learned so much from him about following your passion, being dedicated, and being committed. There was no separation for him between personal life and business life. I work a little harder on that than he did, but I never heard him complain once. He found it a blessing to be a business owner and he never told me, “Allison, this is what you need to do.” He always encouraged me. When I was younger, he said to me, “If you want something, go create it yourself.” I will never ever forget that.
He also said, “If you don’t know how to do it, say yes and then figure it out.” He had that muscle. I flew by the seat in my pants a lot. In the early days, we did finally figure it out. My mom was and is still my biggest fan. You will see her on social media. It’s hilarious. If I’m posting about events, she’ll comment, “Sign up for Alli’s event because it will change your life,” or, “She’s so smart.” She’s still that way for me today.
Where would we be without our mothers? Back when I was a kid, my first job was mowing the yard, except there was no pay. It was my responsibility to mow the yard. I wouldn’t say that was my first job, but my first paying job was driving a tractor in a wheat field for wheat harvest. I was eleven. I made a lot more money than my friends made, but I also worked like a heathen. What was your first paying job as a young Alli?
I worked for my dad and every type of role you could imagine. I was in the back. They had a warehouse with the women’s clothing chains. When the clothes came in boxes, we would open up the boxes and hang them up. I worked in the stores. I was a buyer for him. I traveled to New York. He gave me that. I was blessed to have that experience. Here’s the thing, and I’ll be totally honest with you, Don. I was a waitress. I did all of that. I worked in a pizza restaurant when I was fourteen. That was underage. They were paying us under the table. I don’t know if they did get away with that now.
I could not hold a job. I don’t know if I was a total brat or if I wasn’t good at it. I became unemployable. I was a bit depressed for a time there because none of it made me happy. I would stare at the clock. I would do my thing, but it was like, “Get me out of here.” It was terrible. It came down to when I was nineteen and started my own business. I didn’t intend to, but that came more naturally to me. It’s to be the creator to be the one that came up with the ideas to do things that I was passionate about. I followed that throughout my life and thank goodness because I would have been in big trouble.
That’s a common trait in entrepreneurs. They’re good visionaries and good business owners, but they’re bad employees. In my own path, I know I may have a little aversion to authority, people telling me what to do. I may have a little problem with that. That’s pretty common. What was that first business at age nineteen?
It evolved into a full-fledged business. In the beginning, it was writing poems for birthdays, anniversaries, and different occasions when I was in school. I did calligraphy and I sold them for about $25. I would interview the person, find out all kinds of cool stuff about them and customize these poems. I was over the moon. I was like, “People are paying for this. This is so cool.” I told my dad, “I found my calling. I’m going to be a poet.”
The funny thing is, Rita Dove was my professor at Arizona State and she was the poet laureate at the time. She inspired me, so I was, “This is it. I’ve found a way to monetize it.” He’s like, “Alli, that’s so awesome, but didn’t you know that most poets don’t become known until they’re dead?” It was my dad telling me this. Such a buzzkill, dad.
I’ll give you a little encouragement. That’s great.
He’s pretty straightforward. I ended up doing poems throughout college. I moved to Atlanta and I was still trying to do poems and I found out that it was falling flat. I was not getting the demand that I was hoping for, but I did meet this woman at a party and she said, “I work for this company and we need some thank you cards. Do you do those?” I heard my dad’s voice in my head going, “Just say yes.” I was like, “Yeah. I do this all the time.” It ended up being MCI. Do you remember MCI? They were the dial one. They were huge at the time.
They were number two behind AT&T. They were huge.
They were national. I go in there and I get this order for 10,000 cards for $10,000. I had been charging $25. I walked out of there so excited and then I went, “I don’t even know how to do this.” I went to some quick print place down the street. I’ll never forget this because of this guy. I was 21 at the time and you didn’t see young entrepreneurs back then like you do now. I love that we’re seeing so many young entrepreneurs, but you didn’t see that often back then.
He’s looking at me and he goes, “How did you get this order?” Thank goodness and he helped me through the whole thing. What I did was I called all of the other regional locations across the country and I got orders all over the country. It then started with brochures, radio, and television. I had a full-service ad agency by the time I was 25.
You made a point there that I want to be sure we emphasize, “I got on the phone and I called the other rational offices and I got them too.” She’s giggling a little bit because I did a talk for Alli at her group a few years ago. The title was Pick Up the Darn Phone. So many entrepreneurs have an unhealthy fear about what might happen if they cold call someone and get hung up on, but it’s a pretty foolproof and easy way to get business. Call and ask for it.
It’s wild because people are drowning in email. They’re getting maybe 2 or 3 calls a day. F that. They do not. Maybe not even that. There’s a lot less competition. I’m a big believer in the phone for sure.
Handmade custom bespoke greeting cards to the full-service ad agency. What next?
The ad agency grew quickly. I didn’t know how to do all of those things, but I did ask for help early on. I had no ego issues at all. I was like, “Please help me.” I would hang out and they would do press checks. At 3:00 AM, I would learn about printing. I would hang out at the radio station and be like, “Please tell me everything I need to know about radio and the business.” It’s the thing with television. I began to evolve and we took on clients like Ben and Jerry’s and Charlotte Russe.
We helped them grow from 15 to 50 stores and they went on to have hundreds of stores before they sold. Also, Supercuts and Merrill Lynch. A funny story about Merrill Lynch. This was when I was still in the greeting card phase. I was 21 years old at a mall trying to get clients. I was so nervous and shy. If you saw me, I was talking to myself outside of their place. I looked like I had had issues. I talked myself into going in and I had my Polaroid camera.
I walked in and said, “I’m doing greeting cards for Christmas. I would be happy to take pictures of the agents and we will do some caricatures like cartoon drawings so you can send them to your clients for Christmas.” I had this artist that I was working with. There was one gentleman there that became a fan. He invited me to present at their sales meeting. I’ve never done any speaking. I had no training and I wish I had a video of that. I got several orders and then it was thank you cards. They were like, “Allison’s back. Let’s do more cards.” They became a great client of mine and the business grew quickly.
I was great at helping the clients. I was super creative, but the thing is, I did not know how to scale a business. I didn’t know how to delegate. I was a control freak. I thought I had to do everything. I was so afraid of losing a client. A lot of business owners go through what I’m sharing now. I didn’t know at the time. My daughter was under two years old then. I was a mess. I was successful and an absolute mess internally at the same time.
You know how the story goes, but I ended up totally crashing and burning. I was unhappy. I didn’t have a life. This thing took off. It had a life of its own. I ended up having a terrible car accident because I was exhausted and not fully present. I was trying to be a mom, trying to run this company that was taking over my life. From that experience, it was a massive wake-up call for me because at that point, I was about 30 years old and I was looking at my life going, “If I don’t change now, nothing’s going to change.”
I took a year off and I examined what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. I had to nurse myself back to health. I began to study the companies that I had worked with to understand how they scaled, built their systems and processes, built their vision, created consistent cash flow, and built a team-managed company.
That’s where everything started to change. I love business, but not the way that I was operating. From there, I built nine more companies. One of which I’m running now, but in a different way than I did in the early days. I’m grateful for that time. I’m grateful that I survived that car accident. I learned so much through the experience. It’s made me who I am today and I teach that formula, as you know and continue to do for thousands of entrepreneurs.
It’s common that we learn some of our best lessons in the hardest fashion. It takes the hardest to make that happen. Tell me about a time in your business career when things were going well, but then you found a new gear. All of a sudden, it’s like a warp-speed moment and things were good, but then all of a sudden, things were great and what do you attribute that to?
Honestly, even in the years with COVID. I wrote my first book back in 2009 called Blast Off! and that was helping businesses and helping people start businesses. That’s what I was doing originally. As I got further into the coaching world, I found that my gifts were working with more established business owners. Because I had so much business experience, I could get down into the nitty-gritty with them. I finally put that system, which I call the SCALEit Method, into my book Scale or Fail, which came out in 2018. You were there. That was pivotal.
We’ve been running Pinnacle Global Network for more than eleven years, but when that book came out, what I talked about in my book, the story I shared, so many business owners live like that. Their businesses were running them instead of them running their business. They feel suffocated and don’t know how to make the shift and want to so badly. They think, “If I just work harder.” By having this book, so many people have read it and went, “You’re speaking to me. I didn’t know how to get over that wall.”
Since the book came out, the business has gone to a whole other level. We’ve continued to evolve the SCALEit Method and through COVID, it helped so many business owners not only survive everything that’s going on, but many of them have record months, a record year. If they hadn’t had that to keep their eye on the ball and were sucked into a lot of negativity that floats around, their doors would have been shut for many of them. I feel grateful to be able to share this work. We were already on a trajectory that was going well, but this is adding a lot of tools to the fire.
I have a client that’s in the restaurant business, which restaurants, hotels, hospitality, a lot of that have been devastated. I saw him one December and I was like, “How’s it going?” He’s like, “Sales are up 15% over last year.” I was like, “It’s a pandemic if you didn’t notice. You’re supposed to say, ‘It’s horrible and we’re going out of business.’” He’s like, “I didn’t want to do that, so we didn’t. I was like, “Probably the place to start is to decide, “I’m not going to participate in that going out of business stuff. We’ll figure it out.”
There are a lot of ways to make money and to get creative. What I’m seeing, and I’m sure you are too, with the pivots that were forced to happen if you decided that you still want to be here like your friend, it forces people to look at their business and opportunities in a new way. Those people that leaned in and realized, “I can capitalize on these new demands right now.” While others are pulling back, they’re leaning in and that’s where great wealth will be made even through challenging times.
Wealth will be made, even during challenging times. Sometimes, more so during those challenging times. Thank you for sharing that. Let’s go to the other end of the extreme. Was there some time in your business career that, at the time, was a brutally hard moment but then, in retrospect, it might have been the best thing to happen to you but, at the time, sure hurt?
There have been many of those times. For more than 40 years, there have been crazy things that have happened. I lead big events and we have one coming up here. Anyone who has led events at any level knows that. Do you know what always hits the fan one way or another? I was on stage during the opening of the event, hundreds of people were in the audience, and the whole stage started falling down.
I was not there for that.
You missed it. It was one of my grander moments because I had been practicing my juggling act. I’m up there delivering and in the corner of my eyes, I see something starting to fall. It was the whole backdrop and I saw everyone going like this. It’s like they’re just watching this thing unfold. I looked straight ahead because our AB team was across the way and it was Barry and Blue. I see his mouth going. I don’t know what happened, but I stood up for my leadership. I said, “Everybody, eyes right here. When stuff is falling down around you, you’ve got to keep your eye on the prize.”
I don’t know where that came from, but it worked in my favor. We came out of that, but there have been so many. My husband and I worked together in the business. He had his own business for more than 30 years. A few years back, he went through those periods in his life where he’s like, “Is there all there is?” He’s been doing it for so long and he doesn’t have the passion for it anymore. He ran a wholesale office furniture company and he worked with big companies. He did very well.
He saw me so lit up about what I was doing and he wasn’t feeling that. He’s been doing it for so long. There was a period there where I was seeing him go through that and it was tough, but he definitely did some work on himself and came to the other side. For both of us, the realization was why don’t we join forces?
Because he’s brilliant in business and our company has grown pretty big, so it was for me to have someone right by my side that I fully trusted. We looked at things the same way. We merged a few years ago. If any of you who are reading work with your significant other in your business, there were about six months that we had to work through some of the new challenges around that.
Now, we’re sailing through and we have a ton of fun, but it was hard for me in the beginning because even though I was thrilled to have him, it was hard because he’d been running his own show. He wasn’t used to his wife going, “When is this going to be done?” One day he’s like, “What doesn’t work for me?” He’s like, “Stay in your own lane, Maslan.” We needed to work out some things to how we both come together on this. We did and stayed committed. It’s been fantastic.
Mike is a super guy. He’s smart and a hard worker. He’s a good Ying to your Yang, a good complementary partner. Wrapping up, knowing what you know now with ten businesses and helping thousands of entrepreneurs. Also, seeing tens of thousands of business scenarios, with all that extensive knowledge and experience, if you could go back and give only one piece of advice to a nineteen-year-old, what would that look like?
I love mentoring young entrepreneurs, too, so thank you for reminding me of that. It’s changed so much over the years, but I thought that I needed to pick the one thing that I would do for the rest of my life and struggled with that. I didn’t have any self-esteem. I felt all this pressure to figure out what that thing was and I was so afraid. I do believe in the schools. There’s a lot of pressure on them. What are you going to be? Who are you going to be? I don’t even know who that guy was. I would tell myself, “You can be many things in your life. Pick one and then that one will evolve into the next and into the next.”
Life is tricky. It’s hard to see it all the way over 10, 20, 30, 40 years.
I don’t know if that would have helped me at the time. I probably would have still felt the same level of anxiety. I’m grateful that it worked out the way it did because that was the wake-up call I needed. If I hadn’t gone through those hard knocks in those early days, I don’t know if I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am now.
Some of it is experience. I’ve thought about my answer to that question. In all truthfulness, I don’t know that my twenty-year-old self would listen to anything my current day self had to say because I knew everything.
No way, Don. I would know that about you.
I knew everything and it took me about 30 years to figure out that I didn’t know anything. I’m trying to learn something new every day. I’ll time out before I have all the knowledge, but I’m going to continue to learn everything before I time out. Our last question is the toughest question. Most entrepreneurs struggle with this. The Proven Entrepreneur Clan, our tribe, if you could ask one thing of us to support you, what could we do for you?
Honestly, the biggest thing for me, and nothing makes me happier than entrepreneurs getting out there and doing their hustle, doing their thing. At this point, I’m here to pay it forward. I hope that this interview helps people see that you hang on through the good and the bad times. There’s always that silver and the next open door. Get clear on where you want to go, keep walking towards it every day, and don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
Babe Ruth said, “It’s pretty hard to beat somebody who keeps getting up. Keep going.” Allison, I’m so grateful and good to see you. Thank you so much for coming to the show. We’ll do it again and we’ll talk deeper on a different subject.
This was awesome. Thank you so much.
Thank you, Allison.
ABOUT ALLISON MASLAN
CEO and founder of Pinnacle Global Network and WSJ Best Selling Author of SCALE OR FAIL endorsed by Daymond John and Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank. She has built 10 companies since age 19.
Featured in Success, Inc., Fortune, Fast Company and Forbes Magazines, a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine and a featured expert on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox across the US.
Shared the stage with Les Brown, Richard Branson, Kendra Scott and JJ Virgin and emceed the largest marketing event in North America.
Host and producer of The Scale or Fail Show podcast, and the Women Who Own it Podcast in partnership with WBENC, the largest certifier of women owned businesses in North America.
Founded The Pinnacle Global Network® in 2010 to pay it forward and help established business owners scale their companies and reach their dreams. Her team of established mentors are all CEO’s who have built and scaled their own highly successful companies.