Small Business Spotlight: Mario Raia

Mario Raia, President of Combined IQ, has been helping small businesses succeed for decades. Read on to learn what he has to say about identifying weak spots, creating a five year plan, and scaling your small business.
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As a business coach, Mario Raia knows how to talk about small business success. He helps his clients develop both long- and short-term strategies to grow their business, as well as identify constraints and obstacles preventing them from earning even more money. He focuses on providing value to his customers with every consultation and call.

Mario practices what he preaches; he runs Combined IQ with the same strategic mind he uses to coach his clients. If a new hire or policy isn’t working out, he changes it. He meticulously tracks communications with clients and account notes in order to improve his services. Plus, Mario makes sure that his team and the tools they use benefit his customers as well as his business.

Meet our small business owner:

  • Names: Mario Raia
  • Title: President
  • Company: Combined IQ
  • Industry: Business Coach

4 Things Mario has to say

Don’t have time to read about our interview? Check out a quick summary of Mario’s best business advice:

  1. Focus on the important things, and not just the urgent ones. When running a small business, you’re going to come across a lot of challenges. It’s important to do more than just put out fires; you need to identify which ones will affect your business the most in the long run. It’s the difference between worrying about a paper cut and ignoring piano about to fall you. The paper cut may hurt now, but the piano will cause far worse damage in the future.
  2. Slow down your thinking. Every time you make a decision, you take a risk.If you make a million decisions a day, you’re bound to make some bad ones. But, if you slow down your thinking and focus on a few key issues at a time, you’ll think more clearly and strategically. You’ll not only lower the number of decisions you make every day, but you’ll maintain a tighter focus around the important things. They key is to declutter your mind first, so that you have the time and ability to practice thinking at a different pace.
  3. Continuously bring value to your customers. If you’re not helping a customer, what is the point of your product or service? Ask yourself not only what you’ve done for customers in the past, but what value you can bring to them now. If you’re not bringing new value for a client for whatever reason— you should be concerned about keeping them. Sometimes it’s okay to step back and ask if you should continue working together. Being honest about the value you provide creates trust with customers and shows that you work with integrity.
  4. Identify your constraints. Instead of trying to solve all of your business problems, identify one area of your business preventing you from making more money. More often than not, this constraint is a formal or informal policy, procedure, or measurement that can be changed or eliminated. Once the constraint is eased or broken, you create an environment in which your business can make more money. Think cause and effect. Focusing on a core problem (a cause) can eliminate many bad effects at the same time.

The Kick Off

Mario has been doing accountancy and business consulting for over thirty years, but he had to start somewhere. After earning his masters in accountancy, Mario started working at one of the big international accounting firms, Ernst and Young. Over the years, Mario worked at a regional practice, then a local CPA office, and finally decided to start his own accounting firm. Through his practice, Mario developed a love for working with and helping small business owners succeed.

Eventually, Mario needed a change and decided to do management and development work for multinational corporations. His customers included Microsoft, Intel, HP, and Ingersoll Rand. Mario jokes that every time he went to work, he had to get on a plane. However, traveling so much and catering to big clients became tiring for Mario. He missed working with small businesses, and decided it was time to return to his passion: helping small businesses scale.

Mario started Combined IQ by himself as an independent small business coach and consultant. Over time, Mario also added in bookkeeping and accounting to his business, too. Small businesses are often challenged in keeping their books in useful condition, and Mario realized he couldn’t keep score or measure his progress with a client if their numbers were inaccurate. When Mario started taking on more accounting work, he got too busy and decided to hire some help. Read on to explore how Mario coached himself through his biggest challenges.

Hire the right people

“We don’t make any money putting information into the CRM. We make money doing client work, and this was something that made us more efficient and better at doing client work.”

Many bookkeepers are self-taught; when Mario went searching for his first employee, interviewees didn’t have the skills he was looking for. Mario either had to help them unlearn their old ways and relearn his, or start fresh. He realized it was easier to do the latter: take someone green, with only a few accounting classes under their belt, and train them to work consistently with a universal skillset. “I’m finding a lot more success with that type of person,” Mario explains, “because now I can shape them and train them properly. They learn it once instead of having to learn and re-learn it multiple times.”

Mario eventually found a good staff who met his criteria, learned his methods, and most importantly, kept an excellent record of their own interactions with clients.

As the direct manager of his team, Mario finds that his latest obstacle is maintaining communication with his staff. If one of his team members is working on a client, Mario needs to know what is happening. If his employee sent an email, he wants it logged. If they had a phone conversation, he needs to see a note. If something was promised to the client, he needs to have a task created. His team also needs to be able to keep track of him and his schedule. All in all, Mario needs his employees to be accountable, in sync, and efficient.

The solution to Mario’s needs? Less Annoying CRM. He found the CRM through a referral and thought it was “extremely simple to use, easy to get employees up and running on, and something that would allow them to be effective immediately.” He uses the CRM as a central repository for recording client data and interactions. He also uses it as a way to keep tabs on his employees and make sure that they are doing their job. “What I’m trying to do is build a scalable system so that as the company continues to grow, we can maintain good client service,” Mario explains.

Want your team to be in sync via the CRM? Need a way to check in on employees and keep track of their progress? Check out our tutorials for onboarding new hires, collaborating with your team, and encouraging your reps to use the CRM.

On a typical day, Mario will check his CRM agenda email in the morning, take a look at his tasks and events, and start working through his to do list. Mario makes notes in the CRM after meetings and calls using his phone’s dictation feature. He immediately makes tasks so he remembers what he’s promised a client, and who he needs to contact in order to make it happen. Each client has a record in LACRM where Mario and his team keep logged emails, events, notes on phone calls, and more. Mario customized his pipelines to match his sales process, added custom fields, and continues to adjust his CRM settings as his company develops. The team can assign one another tasks within the CRM to help stay on top of client projects, and Mario can make sure everyone is using the CRM every day.

Get the most out of the CRM and make data input a daily habit by following this tip!

Mario expects team members to take notes, make tasks, and generally use the CRM because it’s their job. If they can’t get in the habit of using the CRM, they’re not a good fit for Mario’s company: “We don’t make any money putting information into the CRM. We make money doing client work, and this was something that made us more efficient and better at doing client work.” Employees need to be diligent about data input and upkeep so Mario can maintain and grow his client relationships.

Bring value to your clients

“We have to work with integrity. If I’m not doing a good job for them, I don’t deserve their money.”

Mario uses the CRM not just to make his team more efficient, but to bring value to his customers, too. He explains, “If I’m not creating value for a client, I will fire myself before they fire me.” Mario believes the CRM is critical for keeping track of repeat clients. He meets with his business coaching clients at least twice a month, either by phone or in person and needs a record of past conversations and emails to clients accountable and follow up on tasks. This helps keep the relationship strong and helps clients gather the momentum needed to be extremely successful. He also uses his past notes in the CRM to see when the best time to call a client is. After conversations with clients, Mario makes detailed notes of the actionable steps they agreed upon during their meeting. Once he’s done recapping, he can copy and paste those notes into an email to his client, and log that email in the CRM.

Read these articles to see how Mario enters notes on the go and tracks the timing of his client calls with LACRM.

The CRM also shows Mario his progress with clients and helps him think towards the future of their relationship: “It’s a month to month thing. ‘I know what you did for me last month, but what are you doing for me today?’ So if I don’t continually add value to my clients, there’s no point for them to give me money.”

Mario also recommends the CRM to customers who want similar order and structure in their own businesses. His clients are often searching for ways to be more organized, as well as keep track of their progress with Mario’s coaching plans.

Slow down

“Every time we make a decision there’s a risk that we make a bad decision...What I get my clients to do is slow down, think more strategically, and execute daily.”

Mario works with small-medium businesses that are looking to break through to the next level. Business owners are often frustrated and stuck: they want to increase sales, improve their service, and grow their business, but they don’t know how. Mario explains how he helps these small business owners shut out the noise and get serious about improving their company’s outlook.

When small business owners first come to Mario, they often feel like their business is a mess, and they can’t identify the real problems preventing them from succeeding. As Mario explains, small business owners and managers “can’t see the forest because the trees are in the way.”

Mario continues, “Small business owners in particular, and managers in general, tend to do a great job with day-to-day tasks. But if they are too busy, if there are too many things in their face, they have difficulty separating the urgent from the important, and they tend to migrate towards the urgent. The problem with that is every time we make a decision, there’s a risk that we make a bad decision. So if we live in the moment, and we tend to make a lot of decisions, day to day, hour to hour, some of those decisions are going to be bad decisions. We can’t help it. We’re not perfect.” Mario’s solution to bad decision-making? Lessen the number of decisions you have to make every day by simplifying your thinking process.

“What I get my clients to do is slow down, think more strategically, and execute daily. When they slow down their thinking and think more strategically, it helps them to first of all slow down the number of decisions they have to make, and secondly maintain a tighter focus.” When thinking clearly and carefully, it becomes easier to tease out important issues and put out the hundreds of small fires business owners have to deal with every day at the same time.

Identify your constraints

“If we try to deal with the effect without dealing with the root cause, we can never be in a good position.”

In order to trim and slow down the thinking process even more, Mario also teaches his clients how to identify the main issues their business is facing. Many businesses can name dozens of problems without confronting why those problems exist in the first place: “If we try to deal with the effect without dealing with the root cause, we can never be in a good position.”

For example, many businesses think they have a cash flow problem, but Mario disagrees. “There’s no such thing as a cash flow problem. What’s going on is that there’s something deeper in the business that’s showing up as a cash flow problem. What are one or two things are creating an environment that results in not having enough cash? It can be anything from sales to marketing to operations to administration. Mario looks at all functions of the business and identifies the answer. If a small business has a lot of opportunities coming in but they’re not closing them, it’s a sales problem. If they’re closing deals but they don’t have enough opportunities, it’s a marketing problem. If sales and marketing are fine, it’s time to take a deeper look at operations, finance, or administration.

Mario refers to the major problems that keep a business from succeeding as “constraints.” Constraints prevent growth, but as Mario explains, “If we break that constraint or ease it, we make an environment where we can make more money.” According to Mario, most constraints are artificial policies or procedures that can easily be changed, not physical or immovable problems (which is how it often feels to frustrated business owners).

Constraints can come from any function within a business. Mario views a company’s functions as spanning three silos of expertise: sales and marketing, operations, and finances. Mario explains that with his clients, “Once we get those three things in sync with each other, that really helps to smooth out the business and help them build a scalable model so that they can grow their business.”

Once Mario has helped the small business owner identify their biggest constraint, together they come up with 3-4 things that they’d like to change about the business, and a 90-day plan to execute those changes. Mario helps the business owner put project plans together and monitors their progress on a weekly basis. When a small business owner has eliminated the root cause of the 20+ problems they identified earlier in their process with Mario, they realize that the bulk of their issues fall away, too: “Any degradation in any of the business functions has a cross-functional effect,” and the reverse is true as well. Fixing what may seem like an isolated issue can erase problems across your business. Mario elaborates, “If we solve a problem, the core problem, we create an environment in which the bad effects from that problem can no longer exist.”

With their major constraints out of the way, Mario’s clients can start thinking three to five years out, instead of mere months. With the ability to think ahead comes slower, strategic thinking and the time to separate out the important from the urgent.

The future: Mario’s three-year plan

Mario has learned enough business savvy to share with his clients (and us) to fill a few books. He makes sure to train his employees well and provide top notch service to his customers in everything he does. Even his internal tools, like his CRM, pay value forward to the customer as a way of keeping Mario and his team on top of client work.

One day, Mario hopes to see a million dollars in revenue from Combined IQ. At the moment, he will continue helping small businesses and grow his relationship with current clients. To help keep up with customer demand, Mario plans on expanding his practice to about 6-8 employees and potentially cross training his bookkeepers as business consultants. That way, businesses can receive advice from well-rounded, informed coaches, and Combined IQ can reach out to more small business owners in need.

No matter what step Mario takes next with Combined IQ, be certain that there is plenty of strategy and care behind it.

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