To have a lean business is to have a clear vision of what you want to do and who you want to serve. Most small businesses struggle to find what is most important for their company. This is why Crista Grasso, the creator of the Lean Out Method, is here to help you with that. Crista is known as the Business Optimizer. She helps businesses identify the most important things to focus on for maximum value and profits. Join your host, Lisa Pezik, and her guest, Crista Grasso, as they talk about how to lean out your business. Also, learn about her triumph with breast cancer, why clarity is key to success, deciding between what's good and better, and the three pillars to lean out, remove waste, and increase quality and value.
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How To Lean Out Your Business To Drive Maximum Value With Crista Grasso
I’m excited to have a fellow Dame with me. If you don't know, I'm growing the Southern Ontario chapter of The Dames, 6 and 7-figure women who are kicking butt, generous, joyful and smart about the way that we're doing business. I'm excited to have her here because that's what we're talking about, smart business, how to work smarter and not necessarily harder. Also, to make sure that your systems, your strategies and your business is a lean money-making and impact-making machine that you want to get up for every day, and that you're building it the way you envisioned it. How many of us have had this grand vision for our business, got in there and then went, “Is this what this is supposed to look like? Is this what this is supposed to feel like?” I'm excited to have Crista Grasso with us. Crista, welcome.
Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here and to be chatting with a fellow Dame.
Crista, I feel like I've known you my whole life and validating about business, life and business decisions. That's why it's so important to collaborate with people and to get on with people because you learn so much. I'm excited that you're here. Let me tell you about her. She is a lean business consultant, creator of the Lean Out Method, and host of The Lean Out Your Business Podcast. She's been helping businesses achieve accelerated results and increased profitability for decades through a combination of strategic planning and lean business practices.
Known as The Business Optimizer, Crista has the ability to quickly cut through the noise and focus on optimizing the core things that will make the biggest impact to grow and scale a business. You specialize in helping businesses identify the most important things they should focus on that will drive maximum value for their customers and maximum profit for their business. Where did this Lean Out Method come from? How did you have this a-ha that you're like, “No one's doing it this way? I need to do it this way?” Where did that come from?
I'll give you a little bit of my history. When I was younger, I wanted to be in the area of something artistic. I wanted to either be a photographer, a jewelry designer or something. I was doing that in college for a while and then I got the thought, “If I'm going to be working for myself and being an entrepreneur, I should understand business so that I can build a successful business.” I went and I got a degree in business. I graduated with this degree in business. My plan had always still been to do my own creative thing. I do have a jewelry business. I'm trying to find a job. I didn't know what I was looking for. I got the degree to help me with my jewelry business.
At the time, I was managing a Starbucks. One of my regular morning customers from Starbucks pulls me aside one morning and says, “Why are you here? What is it that you want to be doing?” I'm explaining it to him and I'm like, “I graduated and I'm not sure what to be looking for.” Long story short, he says, “I've got this amazing opportunity. I'd love to have you join. The only way to get you to start is if you come in as a consultant. I could use you tomorrow.” I honestly didn't even know what consulting was. I was like, “Job? Yes, I'll take it.” I started the next day and it was amazing.
The company that I started with did lean. They were big into lean manufacturing. I feel like my journey started a little bit accidentally. Over the years, I fell completely in love with lean. I loved everything about it. I continued to do that. I continued to consult for a long time. In parallel, I launched my jewelry business. I ended up through a series of newbie types of experiences, almost putting myself out of business. I scaled way too quickly. I went into way too much debt. I was overworked. I was super overwhelmed. I was almost on the verge of burnout.
To have a truly lean business is to align with your zone of genius.
It struck me one day, I was like, “Why am I having all these struggles in my business, yet all these businesses that I'm consulting with are having amazing results?” I realized I'm not applying the same lean practices in my own business that I'm helping them apply. I made a mistake that a lot of people do. You look at this big business and you think, “I only have this small, little business. I'm an entrepreneur. My business isn't like theirs, therefore, it doesn't apply to me.” Meanwhile, did I implement it exactly the way that they did? No. It wouldn't have made sense.
If you look at the principles of eliminating waste and everything that's not adding value and improve the value and the quality, who doesn't want that and who doesn't need that in their business? I looked at my business through completely fresh eyes and said, “If I were starting this today, what would I do? What can I lean out? What can I get rid of that’s not adding value and not adding profit? What can I do to increase the value and the quality at the same time?” After using that in my own business and seeing so many other businesses around me go out of business, and then people asking me, “What are you doing? I started to use it with them. Now I work with coaches and consultants. Early on, I worked mostly with businesses in the fashion space. It evolved and grew from there. It came out of necessity to keep my own business alive. It became something impactful for all of the businesses that I helped.
I love that you talked about eliminating waste and increasing quality and value. It's funny that you said it was right there in front of you and you were teaching it, but you weren't doing it. Sometimes it's hard when we don't see it. We don't see it when we're in it and we think, “I'm doing this the right way. This is the way it's got to be done,” when in fact, there are other ways. You answered my next question which was, how do you know if your business isn't lean? You were saying you were overworked and you scaled too quickly. What are the other ways that you know like, “I thought my business is lean but it's not?” What are those things?
A lean business is one where you're doing the things that matter most and you're not spending your time on anything else. If you think about your own business, the work that you're doing or the things that you're doing, does it fuel you or does it drain you? If you're spending your time doing things that drain you, there's an opportunity to lean out. When you look at your offers, is it super crystal clear to your clients what you do and what you help them with? Do you have a clearly defined offer suite? Do you have 400 different things that you offer and you're constantly changing things that it's hard to maintain and it's also super confusing for your customers? They’re like, “I thought she did this, but now she does this. Which package makes sense?” That's usually an indicator that there's some opportunity to lean out.
Are you on every single channel known to man? You're trying Clubhouse in the morning and then you're going to Pinterest, and then you're doing Reels. You're doing this, that and the other thing. You're all over the place, but you don't have a giant team and you're not getting the results from each one of them. That's an opportunity that you can lean out. When you look at your business and having that truly lean business, you're super clear on who you serve, you have a clear offer or offer suite, there's usually some form of ascension associated with it. You know your customer journey and you meet people where you need to on your customer journey.
You are doing the things that align with your zone of genius or your unique strengths. You've got an amazing rockstar team around you who's playing in their zone of geniuses. Together, you've got that real ecosystem for success. You're not overworked. You're not overwhelmed. You're not working 24/7. You're not what I call trading today for tomorrow. It’s like, “I'm going to work hard right now because once I get here, everything's going to be great.” It's not the way that it works. We all learn the hard way. You want to provide an amazing experience for your clients. You want to provide amazing transformation and results for them. You want to love doing it. If you're not fully 100% there, there are always opportunities to lean on your business.
It sounds like the first thing is you got to be clear on who you serve and on your offer suite. That is an ecosystem for success. It's so true. We get that all the time where people come to us and they're like, “I have this book, this membership, this course, this opt-in and this thing. I did that thing twenty years ago, but I still want to keep it because it might serve this one group of people.” You're exhausted and you're burnt out. Where's the strategy? Nothing is working. A lot of times, people come to us because they want to build something new. They're excited and yet they already have 100 different things but they're not clear on how it all works together or if they even need it or like it. That's one thing. That's why people hire us too.
Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should. Just because you can create the most wonderful Canva graphics, staying in your zone of genius, should you be doing that? Just because you can code your website or write your own copy, should you be doing that? Do you enjoy that? Pause and delegate. I love all these things that you're talking about. The most impactful thing that you said was not trading today for tomorrow. Did you have that? Was that a realization that you had? Where did that line come from?
This is something I've started randomly saying. I don't know where it came from. It just started coming. It's up on a sticky note on my whiteboard and I was like, “I barely remember saying that.” I'll share a little bit of my journey. On New Year's Eve of 2019, I found out that I have breast cancer. I'm fine. Everything's great. I went through my treatments. I'm all healthy. You always hear these people who have these near-death experiences or things and they have this big life epiphany. I don't feel like I had a big life epiphany. I feel like I'm doing what I always wanted to do. Maybe my epiphany is I'm on the right track.
I did think about it and I was deeply reflecting. I'm like, “I'm healthy. I'm good. I've got a lot of time that I feel is bonus time that I could have not had if I hadn't caught it early. Am I doing everything I possibly can? Am I loving everything that I can in my business and working with the people that I want to be working with?” I work with these large Fortune 10 clients and Fortune 50 clients. I also work with entrepreneurs and small business owners. When I think about what fuels me, the entrepreneurs and small business owners fuel me more than anything else. For the longest time, I've been doing both in parallel.
I always thought, at one point, I'll get to the point where I give up the corporate clients. Let's face it. corporate clients pay incredibly well. I'll get to the point that I'll give that up. I'm at the point now where I'm turning down the people I want to work with because I have these corporate clients. I made the determination and this is where it came from where I'm saying, “Instead of trading today for tomorrow, eventually, I will. It's time to make that change and it's time to make that flip.” It's not that I don't love my corporate clients. I do and I love being able to influence, change and transform at that scale, but I get so much more satisfaction in fulfillment from helping a small business owner or an entrepreneur in being much closer to the impact. I made the change and that was where the statement came from. I’m not sure where. That's it.
Drop the waste and everything that's not adding value to improve the quality of your business.
You need to trademark that. That is your thing. That is huge. Your head can help you make great decisions, but your heart can also help you make great decisions. Even though it might not look right on paper like, “What do you mean? Your corporate client is paying you X, Y and Z.” You're like, “That doesn't fuel me. That doesn't light me up.” I love that you started to ask, “What fuels me?” We know anything that we put our time, attention and love strategically into will grow. If it fuels you to work with other coaches and consultants versus corporate, that will grow because it fuels you and you'll put your time and energy into that. It's what we were talking about before we hit record. How do you hang in that in-between period where you're like, “This is amazing. Did I make the right decision? Yes, my soul is on fire, but my bank account is a little bit lower than I planned.” What's your plan to get through this turbulent roller coaster of entrepreneurship that we're on if you're an entrepreneur reading?
If I hated my corporate clients, it would be an easy decision. I’d be like, “I'm done. Peace out. I'm going to go do what I love.” I genuinely like working with them. I just like working with entrepreneurs more. I want to do things that fuel me more than things that don't fuel me as much. It's not like I'm choosing between good and evil. I'm choosing from good and better. That can be hard for entrepreneurs sometimes to make a decision like this where you're giving up a substantial and reliable revenue source to go out into something that's much less predictable and you don't have that same consistency with yet.
For me, if not now, then when? I do feel like I've got this bonus time in a way. I feel like I'm lucky and a lot of other people aren't lucky in the way that I am. I want to make the most of it. I did more of an effort. I'm going for it and I'm going to do it and I'm going to figure it out. I am a strategic planner, it's what I do. Of course, I've got plans. This is one of those times where sometimes you can't always go with the logical thing on paper. Sometimes you do need to trust your intuition and you know when the time is right for something.
If we chat again in six months or a year, I guarantee you what I'm doing in working with coaches, consultants and such is going to far surpass what I did in the corporate space. I don't have an exact A to Z plan of how I'm going to get there. I know directionally where I want to go. I know what I want to do and what I don't want to do. I will experiment and try different things, and make sure the things I'm doing are directionally correct and pivot as I need to. I have full confidence that it's the right decision and it's the right move. If you looked at it purely on paper, you’d say, “You're giving up something that you like that pays you this to go into something that you like more? What?”
How do you choose between good and better? It's what fuels you. If not now, when? I love that train of thinking. As you have success and you get good, lots of opportunities come your way. There are a lot of things. It's not like in the beginning. I don't know if your journey was like mine where you'll take anyone and help everyone because you want to make money and you want to be profitable. You want to prove this business works. You want to get it on your feet. You'll say yes to a lot more things in the beginning because you're like, “I want to learn, grow, do and be.” When you hit a level of success, multiple six figures or maybe it's not a monetary thing, it's a number of client thing or whatever it is, when you have a proven track record and you're good, you have a lot of opportunities that come your way. How do you find that right yes?
I love that you said that it's not between good and bad. It’s between good and better. That's such a mind thing for people to go, "What fuels me?” You said that you're clear about your do’s and you're clear about your don'ts. I want to challenge you to think about that. Are you clear about your do's and don'ts? That helps make the decision-making process much easier when you're clear about what fuels you, your do's and your don'ts, and how to keep that ecosystem working for you. It's almost like you had mortality motivation with getting cancer. It’s like, “I beat this. Now what?”
I was infallible. Nothing was ever going to happen to me. We all think that. My mom had breast cancer so I always knew that it was a concern. I was diagnosed twenty years younger than she was when she was diagnosed. To me, it was this distant concern. It wasn't anything that I ever thought I'd be dealing with in my life. I feel lucky. I know that sounds strange to say that I feel lucky that I got cancer. It's not that but I feel like a bad situation turned out as good as it possibly could have.
It changes your decision-making. It changes the way you see the world. You're no longer trading today for tomorrow. That's such a good mindset flip. You have a jewelry business. As entrepreneurs, we get stuck in this, “I'm X and that's all I do. I run the Lean Out Method. I'm incredibly successful. I have these high-paying corporate clients but I don't want to work with them. I work with coaches and consultants.” Where does the jewelry business fit in? What does that serve in your life? Tell me about that.
I have this weird balance of the right brain and left brain. Growing up, I always thought I was way too creative for the corporate space. Everybody was such linear thinkers and boring. I'm eccentric. It didn't seem it fit. If you look at the creatives and artists when I used to do a lot of craft fairs and stuff, I'm way too business-minded, organized and strategic for a lot of that crowd. I used to feel like I never fit in anywhere. At some point, I realized that's my superpower. My superpower is that I can blend the systems and the structure in the organization with freedom, fluidity and creativity. That's what I can uniquely do in a way that a lot of other people can't. To me, I need both of those facets in my life. If I skewed too much towards one, I start to go a little stir crazy. I've got to have both.
Even as I work with people with strategic planning, it sounds organized and everything. To me, it's a highly creative process. If we're in person, there will be a stack of sticky notes with me and I'll be drawing over whiteboards. To me, it's a creative process, which I love. I've got my digital whiteboard tools that I use. Jewelry fuels my soul. I love to create. There's something about taking something in my mind that didn't exist before and turning it into something that is a real tangible product, and something that other people wear and feel great in. There's something fulfilling about that for me. I will probably always have a balance of both things. It may manifest in different ways in the future. I can't imagine not doing one without the other because that's me in a nutshell.
You bring up a good point about the balance between the strategy side, the system side, the freedom, the flow and the creative side. Sometimes we even pigeonhole ourselves, “I'm a type-A. I don't worry about money and systems. I care about service.” You need both. I've seen a lot of beautiful, heart-centered, service-based people who are broke because they don't understand the systems, strategies and sales that come along with the business. You also see the system strategy salespeople who you're like, “Do you even have a heart behind that facade? Do you care? Are you creative? What happens if you lose your clipboard? Will you survive?”
I love that you have that blending of both. For you, readers, whether that's another side of your business or it's a hobby. For me, it's been the piano. I've been learning how to play. When I'm working through something, I’ll go and be like, “I need twenty minutes to play on the piano.” The answer will come to me like meditation or other things that we do. It's almost like an active form of meditation whether it's making jewelry or playing the piano. I love that you have both right and left brain, creative side, freedom side. They're not like, “I’m creative when I do the jewelry and then I'm in system and strategy where I do strategic planning.” You bring both of them together in the thing that you're doing because that's you.
The cool thing is when you see yourself outside of the business. It's you coming in and doing these business tasks and you're bringing all of you. If we thought more of our business like that, look at the places we could go and the things we can create when we step outside the box and give ourselves that freedom to be on both sides of that. What would be the first thing you would say to someone if they're like, "I'm not clear. I'm doing too much. I'm not doing the right things. I don't know what I should focus on right now, the maximum value or maximum profits." What if they're like, "I don't know what that is. I'm just spinning my wheels.” What do we tell them to do first? What's the first thing they need to do?
The method I created has four stages. Stage one is context. Stage two is clarity. You have to set the context in order to get the clarity. Here's what's included in context. It starts with your vision, then it includes your goals. You want that long-term vision and then you want your near-term goals, and then it’s your business model. This is the one place that I see so many business owners go wrong. I hope a lot of business owners have a session that I call reimagine, which is helping them reimagine their business model. If you look at their long-term vision and even their longer-term goals that support that, and then you look at their business model, they’re totally not in alignment. They ended up creating a business model because they thought it was what they should do or what people in their industry did. It was what I did in my jewelry business early on. I did what I thought I should do and almost put myself out of business.
If you truly take the time to think about your long-term vision, and I think that is the first step and the most critical step, is you want to get that clarity of vision. That is going to help you know that absolutely everything that you're doing is directionally correct long-term. Short-term is whether or not it's important right now. First, have that long-term vision, and there are three different facets of that. Once you have that long-term vision, what's your 90-day goal? What's your main focus for the next 90 days? When you look at all the different things that you're doing, it's on your plate and part of your day-to-day, if it doesn't align with the long-term vision, it should be cut. If it doesn't align with the near-term goals but it's still important, it should be put on hold.
You don't have to choose between good and evil. You can also choose between good and better.
That way, only the things that you're doing in your day-to-day are aligned to your vision and goals. When I talk to people and they're like, “I've worked so hard. I'm doing so much. I don't understand. I'm trying all the things and I'm not growing fast enough. I just can't seem to get past this mark.” Without fail, if you look at what they and their team invest their time in, it is not actually the things that aligned back to that vision and goals or their business model does not support it.
You can do all the things. You just can't do all the things now at once.
You want that clarity. First, you need to know your context. Where are you going? Why are you going there? Why is it important? Those three facets I mentioned, there's your business itself. What is that future vision that you have for your business? As small business owners and entrepreneurs, we're very tied to our business. If we try to separate them, that's when we end up out of balance and we end up overworking and overwhelmed. You need to know what your own lifestyle goals are and what you want your role in the business to be. You need to look at the business and yourself. You also need to look at your customer.
This is the piece that a lot of people miss. When you think of the future, maybe it's 5 or 10 years, but how is your customer of tomorrow different than your customer of today? What do you need to do to get there? Is your current customer growing and evolving with you? Therefore, your business and your business model need to grow and evolve to keep serving them. For example, do you always work with startups? If so, customer acquisition is going to be critical for you because you're constantly needing to bring in new customers instead of existing customers. This is the stuff when you think about that vision. It's important to include your customer. You don't have a business without them. You've got your customer, your business and yourself. That then helps you have a business model that aligns with that.
Those three parts are so huge because as you said, a lot of times, we either miss ourselves in this whole process or you miss your customer in that whole process.
The irony is, I see some people miss the business in the process. They're so focused on themselves and their role that they aren't thinking about, “What do I want my business to be known for in the future? What does my business do and how does it help people?” They're just very focused on them. They're like, “I want to do this. I want to make this much money.” They forget that the purpose of the business is to help your clients with some sort of transformation or result. They miss that piece of it.
That external or internal stuff doesn't sustain the feeling. External like trading today for tomorrow. It’s like, “I'll be happy when I get that TED Talk.” You go and do the TED Talk and then what? “I'll be happy when my bank account has $1 million in it.” Okay, and then what? “I'll be happy when people take me seriously and don't think I’m a joke.” People are taking you seriously, now what? When you don't have your business and that transformation, it's not going to feel right. It's never going to feel enough.
We hit those milestones in our business. Early on, we put so much weight on them. We think we're going to hit this milestone and it's going to be like rainbows and unicorns, “Things are going to be so much less stressful when I hit six figures.” You then hit six figures and you're like, “That wasn't it. It must be multiple six figures.” You hit multiple six figures and you're like, “That wasn't it. It must be seven figures.” It just keeps going like this constant moving target because it isn't tied to the milestone. It's all about how you structure and run your business, where you invest your time, what you actually do, the team that you surround yourself with, and the systems that you put in place. That's what’s ultimately going to give you what you're looking for. The freedom, flexibility and those sorts of things. It's not the money itself. If you're not there yet, it's super hard to accept. That's true, but once you are, you're like, “That totally didn't do what I thought it was going to do.”
The most critical step to creating a business is to think about your long-term vision.
I can remember the first time we ever raised our prices. We were like, “Nobody's going to buy it,” and then people did. We thought, “At least we're well-compensated,” by taking on the wrong clients. “At least if we're paid well, it'll help ease the pain.” We got paid well and we were like, “The pain is still there.” We have money in the bank but the pain is still there. It's not always about the money. It's about your lifestyle and transformation. It's about the business, you and your customer, those three key pieces all together.
I'm a firm believer that's why you need help, consultants and coaches. Sometimes you're so much in it that you're unable to have that 30,000-foot view. It could be someone that literally comes in and just start pulling things apart, brainstorming things or shifting things around so that you see it from a different perspective. That's why I think it's so important to have a team, a coach, someone like yourself, a strategist or a consultant. Someone helping them pull it apart, rejig it or get rid of it and start something new or fresh. How can they get in contact with you if they want to know more if they want to reach out to you? What do you have for them?
Thank you so much for sharing your mindset. I know you gave some quality business-building strategic context stuff, but what jumped out at me was the way that you thought through all of these challenges, your business, and the way that you're doing things. When we can help people think about something different and make different decisions, things will start to fall into place. I want to honor you for the decisions and the choices you've made, and your generosity in sharing all this goodness in our time together. Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you. It has been a pleasure being here and thanks so much for having me on.
Readers, thank you for being here. I know there are a lot of shows that you can follow and I never want to take lightly your time. Hopefully, this was of value to you. Let me know. Post and share this. Tell us what was the most impactful thing that came out for you and what are you going to do differently after reading this? Lisa@LisaPezik.com, send me an email, let me know. I'll make sure that I go back to Crista and tell her what was the most impactful piece. We will see you next time.
- Lean Out Method
- The Lean Out Your Business Podcast
- LeanOutPodcast.com - iTunes
About Crista Grasso
Crista Grasso is the go-to strategic planning expert for leading global businesses and entrepreneurs when they want to scale
Crista Grasso is an international lean business consultant to Fortune 50 multi-billion dollar businesses, coach to 6 and 7 figure entrepreneurs, and founder of the global jewelry brand Criscara. She is the creator of both the Lean Out Method and the 90 Day Lean Out Planner.
Crista has been helping businesses achieve accelerated results and increased profitability for more than two decades.
Known as the "Business Optimizer", Crista has the ability to quickly cut through the noise and focus on optimizing the core things that will make the biggest impact to grow and scale a business.
She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and holds several lean, agile, change management, and program management certifications including:
-Scaled Agile Program Consultant (SPC)
-Kanban Management Professional (KMP)
-Lean Six Sigma Green Belt
-Program Management Professional (PgMP)
-Agile Business Transformation Coach
-AIM Change Management (AIM-AP)
Crista is often described as high energy, super passionate, and very practical (you won’t get a lot of fluff or hype).
When she's not dishing out the merits of lean strategic planning, you can find her drinking espresso, rocking out with Bret Michaels, enjoying a spa day, or snuggled up with her 2 pups and a great book. She is an avid traveler - always embarking on new adventures.