"If you can walk, you can work."

This is what Glenn Willis, founder of CDM Media's father instilled him at four years old. His family started a successful business, but he decided to go against the grain.

Over the last 10 years, he has grown it to over 100 employees and has hosted over 2,000 events.

I sat down with Willis to learn more about growing a multi-million dollar company.

He laid out five areas that he focused on while growing his business.

There is no shortcut to success. Stop looking for it

"I grew up in a working family. I learned from my Dad that work is mandatory and if you try to shortcut it, you're not going to have much luck, " says Willis.

Whenever someone tells me to work smarter, not harder, I want to go a little crazy. I don't think it's possible to work smarter without actually working hard first. Work through your failures.

The reason I became so good at interviewing people is that I took 250 coffee meetings every year. I started to learn different techniques to put people at ease.

I didn't become a better coffee drinker. I became a better networker and conversationalist.  Work harder. Then work smarter. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Put sales first.

"One of the first things I instilled into our culture was we are ALL salespeople. Sales is the lifeblood of our business. Of course, our people and community are essential too, but a 'sales first' mentality served us well in the early days and is now the catalyst that enables us to grow," said Willis.

I have a sales mentor and every time I mention the words "eventually" as in "I'll eventually make money if I do this one thing", he starts to yell at me. I don't blame him. Eventually is not a good sales methodology.

Once I learned how to position what I'm selling in the first meeting, sales became easier for me. It helped me become a better entrepreneur because now I know how to sell people on services and products.

Sell your vision and be on the ground with the team.

Willis said something really interesting in our interview. He said that the number one salesperson in the company are usually the founders and has nothing to do with who actually closes the deals. It's the founder's job to sell the vision.

If the founders can't sell their vision to employees, clients, partners and alike then even the best sales and marketing resources will fall flat. Selling your vision isn't as simple as putting it in a PowerPoint presentation, either.

So, sell your vision and don't forget to be in the trenches with your team, especially early on.

The show must always go on.

"One of our first ever events was a Financial services event that we hosted on the last weekend of September in 2008. Do you know what happened the day before our event? Lehman Brothers and a whole bunch of banks collapsed," said Willis. "All of our customers were affected. We considered canceling even though we knew most of our customers couldn't attend. The show went on and ever since that day, I've had that methodology: The show must always go on."

I've seen first-hand people stop writing because the first few articles didn't get many views.

When I decided to start writing, I wrote 150 articles in the first year. The only time anyone ever commented on my articles was when they fixed my bad grammar. The 100th post ended up being the center of a book I wrote. So, don't get discouraged. And if disaster strikes, just remember, you're responsible for making sure the show goes on.

Build a team and community that trusts you.

"Our products revolve around people, plain and simple. Our team, our customers and community - If no one shows up to an event, we don't have a business because our service is largely built on human connections and interactions," said Willis.

A big part of growing a community is also making sure that you and your team are keeping up with all the disruptive change hanging around you. It's your responsibility to inform your community about what's happening, not the other way around.

One of the reasons I admire Willis is his ability to keep moving this business forward even with so many moving pieces, and how fast the technology environment is changing.

So, if you're in the process of building a company, remember to work hard, sell harder, sell your vision to anyone that will listen, build a great team and foster a strong community of people that trust you, and most importantly, the show must always go on.

Published on: Jun 1, 2018