Michael DeLon’s Blueprint for Building a Winning Business Team

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Are you struggling to build a successful business with a strong team? Do you find yourself constantly hitting a roadblock and unsure of what your next steps should be? If so, you're in luck because we have Michael DeLon of Paperback Expert. He is here to share his secrets on building an incredible business with a strong team.

Michael DeLon of Paperback Expert is a business expert who has established a remarkable brand with a strong and talented team. In this episode, he divulges his tried-and-true approaches to building a team that will help elevate your business to new heights. His methods encompass fostering an authentic, human-centered approach to team building and creating a work environment that inspires your team to deliver their best work.

Michael DeLon's invaluable insights and experience will provide anyone seeking to establish a strong and successful business team with the knowledge and tools they need to achieve their goals. Don't miss out on this opportunity to learn from a top business leader - watch now and start building your ideal team!

Michael DeLon Headshot

Michael DeLon of Paperback Expert

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Atiba de Souza: Hey, everybody! Welcome to another episode of the Build Your Team show. I am your host, Atiba. And yes, guess what we're going to be talking about today, building the ideal team for your business. And I've got my buddy, Michael DeLon, here with me today. And listen, he and I have spent some time together recently, and so I can tell you that number one, this is a true, genuine human being.

That's number one. Number two, he has built an incredible business, an incredible brand with an incredible team. So he's got some really great stuff to share with us today.

And as always, Build Your Team is brought to you by Client Attraction Pros. Hey, it's time that you become the thought leader of your industry, and we're gonna help you do that and make it fast, easy, and fun.

Atiba de Souza: Michael brother, welcome.

Michael DeLon: Atiba, thank you. It is so good to be here. So honored to be on your podcast. Looking forward to it. Just a really fun conversation, man.

Atiba de Souza: Hey, thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. And I want to start the conversation here. Cuz you and I have been in business for a long time. We've seen a lot, right?

Michael DeLon: Oh, yeah.

Atiba de Souza: But I want to take you back just for a moment. And I wanna take you back to that moment in time where you realized you needed to hire someone else.

You needed help in your business. Can we go back to that moment? Tell me what were some of the things that you were going through, feeling, thinking, and how did you deal with that?

Michael DeLon: Yeah, man. I remember that very well, because when I started my company, I was solopreneur, which means I had the idea, I jumped out in faith, I started getting business and as you know, we're a book publisher, right? So I would be getting the idea, working with the client to build the outline, recording them, helping them do the writing.

I mean, I was doing everything and that was great when I had like one client. But what happened is other people heard about it and they're like, "Hey, can I write a book? Can I write a book?" And so I started quickly getting overwhelmed, number one. Number two, I found, Atiba, writing the books with my clients is not — that didn't jazz me. 

That is not my strong too — and so I got to the point where we had just a few clients coming in. I was like, "Okay, I'm marketing, I'm selling, I'm writing, I'm organizing, I'm admining, I'm doing the books. I'm making sure they get — and I thought, "Okay, I think it's time." Here's the challenge I had, dude, is I was scared outta my wits because I figured if I had to hire somebody, I had to make sure there was enough revenue coming in.

And how was I going to pay them? And so, it was totally a leap of faith to figure out, number one, what position did I need somebody to fill? Because I was doing everything.

Atiba de Souza: Yes.

Michael DeLon: In finding that and then figuring out who that person was. And I remember, dude, I was standing at a table in my church on a Sunday morning behind this one table, just kind of looking.

And a guy came up to me and he says, "Man, what's going on?" So I was telling him about business and I said, "I need to hire somebody. I need somebody like this, a writer who does this." He looks at me. He says, "Michael, that's my mom."

Atiba de Souza: Oh, wow!

Michael DeLon: I said, what? And he's like, "Yeah, mom, come here." I know that I'd never honestly met his mom.

I mean, church was pretty big. She came over. Then we ended up going out and she became like my first writer. It was amazing. But it didn't happen until I defined, what did I need to take off of my plate? But oh my, I remember it to this day.

Atiba de Souza: Y'all, that's awesome. So I wanna follow up on something that you said just now, because you said that you were in a place where you were faced with, "I need to hire, but do I have the revenue to actually pay this person?" And you were also dealing with, "What are they going to do? What am I taking off of my plate that they're going to do?" And so you're dealing with these two realities, which is what your friend probably saw on your face that day in church. That angst and that frustration and here comes a solution in his mom. But in that moment when you made that choice to hire his mom, had you figured out the revenue? Were you a hundred percent sure at that time, "I'm going to have the revenue. There's not gonna be any problem. I can pay her for the rest of her life?"

Or was it, as you said, more of a leap of faith of realizing, "This is where I need to go and I can't grow until I make this step?"

Michael DeLon: Most definitely a hundred percent the second one, dude. We're entrepreneurs. We never know for sure. But I had enough faith and confidence. I knew the flow was starting to come, but there was a bottleneck in my attraction process, and that was the fact that I was over here riding and helping clients do things —

Atiba de Souza: Doing the work.

Michael DeLon: — that I couldn't be over here marketing and selling, and I just knew in intuitively, if I had more time in front of people, I could get more clients to keep her busy. It was totally a step of faith, but it was putting myself into the area that I'm best at and trusting God and in my abilities to say, "No, this will work."

No guarantees and you know, I'm pretty honest with most of our employees when we hire them, it's like, "Here's where we are, I think everything's gonna be just fine." But we are an open-book with our team members.

We take a calculated risks and we walk by faith. But we work really hard and it's worked out every time, but that feeling, Atiba, has been there as we've hired different people throughout the process. I mean, we've got almost 30 people on our team now, and some of them come on really fast, but others — those key positions, it's like, let's make sure that we can make a commitment here because I'm supporting them and their family and they're relying on us. So let's not go into this willy-nilly.

Atiba de Souza: Yes. You said something there — I was gonna go a totally different way or actually stay on that course. But you said a term there that really resonates with me and one that I want to delve into more. And the reason I wanna delve into this more is because the only other people that I have heard verbally use this term are all running businesses that are worth of 50 million dollars a year. And you just used this term. And so I want to dive in with you because I think for those of us who aren't in that place —

Michael DeLon: Me.

Atiba de Souza: Right? We might look at some of those people in that space who do use this term and say, "Well, yeah, maybe you could do it at that level, but I can't do it at mine, or it's gonna cause too many problems at mine."

And I'm saying that because I was in the room when one of those people said that and people stood up and left, or people stood up and said, "That's not possible in our size of business." And that term was open-book.

Michael DeLon: Yeah.

Atiba de Souza: Open-book. And they were specifically talking about being an open-book with the finances to your team.

So I want you to dive in. Tell me about open-book. What did that look like for you? How did you even get there?

Michael DeLon: Yeah. That's a great question. How we got here? And my wife and I are — so we were missionaries for 10 years to the family. So we had to raise our own support. We learned really early on, Atiba, you don't get to know people until you get into their house or they're in your house and you are transparent with your life.

We are in a marriage ministry, right? We were missionaries. Everybody looked at our marriage like we had it all together and we had to really pop that bubble. Let us tell you our stories and put our skeletons out there cuz we are messed up people. God's just calling us to do this, right? Come join us.

Atiba de Souza: Right.

Michael DeLon: As soon as we did that, you and your wife was say, "Well, Michael", let us tell you our problems too. I think that taught us just to be totally transparent, cuz this is a no judgment zone. Nobody cares. So I think that's where it began. And then in business, I think a lot of times I've been in big organizations where it's not an open-book and where you can't have privy and decisions are made and you're like, "I don't understand it."

"Well, you know, you can't understand that because you're not as VP." But that doesn't make sense. I want people to understand at all levels, why do we make decisions to go after certain verticals? Why do we price our product at a certain level when they may be getting paid X, I'm charging Y.

What's the difference? Then, they've gotta understand that as a business owner, I carry a lot of weight on my shoulders, right? Emotional weight for decisions. I should be compensated for that. I take a lot of risk that they don't take, and what I have found is the more open I am, the more I share the vision, the direction of our company and how their contribution helps us succeed in serving our customer, it motivates them to be on board. They don't care if the company makes a million or 8 million or 20. They don't. They really don't care.

Atiba de Souza: They don't.

Michael DeLon: They just wanna be part of something that's bigger than them and to follow somebody who has a vision, who says, "Here's what we're about." And I find the more transparent you are, the more emotionally bonded your team is and the more they trust you.

Atiba de Souza: So number one, I'm gonna agree with you wholeheartedly, right? And I also know that there are people who are listening to us right now who are rolling their eyes, or they're people who are listening to us right now and saying, "I hear you, but I don't know how to get there. I hear you, but I've got too many barriers of trust here to actually get there." And from watching people, self included.

Michael DeLon: Oh, yeah.

Atiba de Souza: So I'm not like pointing a finger here. No stones here. Part of the challenge is so many of us, number one, didn't have that experience that you had in the marriage ministry. And number two, especially when you're talking about finances, we grew up in households where our parents never talked about money.

Michael DeLon: Taboo baby.

Atiba de Souza: Nobody talks about money. So why in the world am I gonna talk to these people about money that work for me. 

Michael DeLon: That's right. 

Atiba de Souza: And aren't they going to respond back with, "Why are we charging this and I only make this? I should be making more."

How do you help someone? Or what's your advice to someone who's looking at this and saying, "You know what? I do want to get there, but I just don't know that I can."

Michael DeLon: So a couple things. We implemented a state of the company address. We do a state of the company once a year, and it's just a Loom video that I do and just kind of walk around, "Hey, here's where we were last year. Here's where we were and here's where we're going." As far as I should be making more than that. Well, you need to understand that — and you can run it in numbers or percentages, that if we bring in, you know, $10,000 on the top line, the bottom line might only be $1,200. Because of all of these costs that they never see.

And so it's good to say, "Hey, you know what? We have to pay taxes on that. We have to pay franchise taxes just for our name. We have to pay all these other employees." Right? And so helping them understand the full picture starts putting in light bulbs on when you do that and share it at a level that you feel comfortable with, right? It starts building some transparency, and I find the more generous we are as a company by initiating bonuses and raises for our team at times when they probably aren't expecting it.

So we have given — by God's grace — bonuses and raises for the last two or three years, but we don't always wait till the end of the year to do it. And we did something radical. We initiated. So our writers — if I start a book, like in October or November — our writers start getting paid over a six month period of time.

So this year, we initiated in January 1st, everybody got a pay raise. We told those writers who started in November, we're gonna make it retroactive.

Atiba de Souza: Oh, wow.

Michael DeLon: We didn't think that was fair to not pay you more for the books you're already involved in, so we're gonna go and make it retroactive. Do you think that built any trust?

Atiba de Souza: Tons of trust.

Michael DeLon: Do you think they love me? Do you think it cost me a couple hundred dollars, couple thousand dollars, whatever? I don't care because I'm trying to value my team and be generous, so I want them to know as our company grows, they're going to grow as well.

Atiba de Souza: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So we've got the state of the company address, which is super important to do. We've got the transparency, which shows them, "Okay, this is where everything is and this is how it all falls out", so they can see the bigger picture, right? And I would imagine — you tell me — but for some people who've never even had any financial literacy, for some of them, that's even eye-opening.

Michael DeLon: Oh, totally. Yeah. They think it comes in and at the top and goes right straight to the bottom. Hello? They don't see all the costs in there.

Atiba de Souza: So that's awesome. And so now do me a favor. Tell me some stories. Some real stories, real people of real situations and how those relationships have grown and or changed because of this process.

Michael DeLon: A couple things, we've had Carrie, was one of our early writers and as we were working with her, she's like, "You know, I'd really like to do some other things because I've got other talents." So we had a conversation and she came in more — I'd hate the term executive assistant cuz she was so much more than that.

She was like my chief of operations, right? So she grew and everything was going great until she said, "Hey, Michael, I've got this other opportunity that I wasn't really looking for, but it really is a great fit." And I said, "Carrie, that's awesome. How do we help you get there?" The same thing happen with one of my managing editors.

Been with me for — I don't know, two or three, four years. Phenomenal. She's like, "Ah, Michael", and I knew that something was up up cuz she's like, "Hey, can you and Caleb have a short conversation with me today?" I'm like, "Oh, that is never a good call." But we want to help them and grow them. And because of the transparency we've built in the company, the culture, they know that I am for them a hundred percent. And if they come to me and say, "I have another opportunity outside of Paperback Expert, I am going to cheer them on after I go weep. But I'm gonna go cheer them on and say, "How can I help you? And one of the things we do Atiba, for our team members is we purposefully say thanks through Loom videos and different things, and we send them a gift, a food item once a quarter. Just to say thank you for being on our team and it can be jelly beans or peppermint bark or peanuts and it has a fun little note to it. But it's just a way to say thank you for being here. And buddy, I get so much response from those team members going, "Hey, thanks! That was so fun. Thank you for remembering me. Love being with you guys." Nobody else valued them like that.

Atiba de Souza: Right.

Michael DeLon: I win their heart through a variety of things that we do, and they know that they want to be here because of the culture. And what I have found Atiba, is people will work for the culture and then attaboy a lot more than they will from money.

Atiba de Souza: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes, the money helps you meet your basic needs in life when we wanna talk Maslow but the attaboy and the culture helps you with such higher needs and such higher levels of fulfillment and purpose than just, "Oh, I could pay my gas on electric bill now, or I could pay my car loan, or I can take that vacation."

Michael DeLon: We built a process and I know we're gonna get into systems — but we've actually built a process cuz I found out, one of my clients called me and said, "Hey, Michael! Just wanted you to know that things are going well with our book. But, Atiba said he is gonna be off for a couple weeks cuz his father just passed away." I went, "I didn't know that." So I go to my team. I'm like, "Hey, what happened?" And so we've built a process that now when a death in the family occurs with a process to mail a card, give some kind of a gift to the foundation or whatever, and I send a personal Loom video to you expressing my condolences.

We've built that over time because we want to say we care for you. Again, who does that?

Atiba de Souza: Absolutely. So one of the interesting things — and this is a time of the conversation as well. My wife and I were just talking about this today. And I think we share this, you and I. We challenge our staff to become world class.

And we recognize in order for them to be world-class, we have to create a world-class environment for them to work in, for them to be able to grow to that. But here's one of the challenges that we have and that we're always looking for ways to solve which we can always talk about processing systems, my friend, because listen, I'm always willing to talk about processing systems. Hello, let's go, right? Because we're the same way. We put things in place because the thing that we realize is most people come into a new environment broken from the last one.

Michael DeLon: Absolutely. Wow. 

Atiba de Souza: They were mistreated. They were underpaid. They were undervalued. There were something that causes them to misinterpret the reality of what we've created here, or to doubt the reality. And we've tracked it. It takes about four to six months before someone finally gets to the place where they're like, "Oh, I actually trust you." And it's like, how do we shrink that time?

Michael DeLon: Yep. That's right.

Atiba de Souza: That's what we're talking through.

Michael DeLon: It is.

Atiba de Souza: So I'd love to hear more on process from you from day one of installing culture. What are some of the things that you put in place? The bereavement thing is great.

Michael DeLon: And that's great. So a new person comes into our team. Let's call it a new writer or editor, or proofreader. Okay? Somebody I am not hiring. I have a team that hires those people, right?

Again, an email saying, "Hey, welcome to the new team member, Atiba. Great! Immediately I figure out what position you're in, and I send you a Loom video personally.

Hey, Atiba, thank you so much. I just wanna welcome you and here's where we are. I'm glad you're part of our culture. One of these days we'll actually be on a Zoom together, but I just want you to know that I'm really grateful for you to be here and that you're giving your gifts, talents, and abilities to help us serve our clients. Thank you so much. 

But even before that, as part of our onboarding process, I have recorded a video. This part of our process that's probably seven minutes long that tells my story. What is this company we have? Where did it start? I tell my entire story and it helps them understand who we are. I explain kind of the division of labor and why they're not interacting with me, but they're gonna interact with my son Caleb, and his team. Why that is? And that my role in the business is to be the front person to be gaining the business and all that, and then handing them over to Caleb and that team so that you, in your role, can serve them with excellence.

Atiba de Souza: Yes.

Michael DeLon: But I give them that big picture so they come in, in a short period of time, understanding our culture, our value system.

And it helps because, if for some reason they missed it, in all the interviewing we do, they're gonna get it really clearly. And some people —

Atiba de Souza: Really clearly.

Michael DeLon: Most people love our culture, right? Because we're just people of integrity and that's who we are. Some people might come in and go, "Yeah, I'm not so sure about that."

And that's okay. We would be totally okay cuz we don't want anybody to be a misfit, right? But we do a really good job, I think of using video in that onboarding process as they are acclimating to their world and saying, "Here's how our process works." This is why we do a speak to right process in creating books.

Atiba de Souza: Yes.

Michael DeLon: The background, so they go, "Oh, okay. Well, that makes sense." And here are the people that you're reporting to. And here are the people that are surrounding you that you may never interact with. Because if your job's to write, that's what you do, well, there's an editor and a proofreader and a designer in it, right?

All these other people are supporting what we do to support our clients. So it's part of the onboarding process. Again, it's a system.

Atiba de Souza: Yes. And that is so key, right? It's so key to setting the stage correctly.

Michael DeLon: Absolutely.

Atiba de Souza: Right? I'm gonna be cliche, but it's about that first impression, right? 

Michael DeLon: So I call it living in the gap. So many times that's where people live. There are two parallel lines. The bottom line is reality. What happens to us.

The top line is our expectations of what should happen in any circumstance, right? The gap between those two lines is where frustration happens, or anger or miscommunication, because I may come into to this expecting one thing, but the reality is no, that's not how we function. That's not how we do that. If I don't communicate reality and you come in with different expectations, we're going to live in the gap and it's going to make it really hard. Our job as leaders, as business owners is to over-communicate to help bring the reality and the expectation more in line through communication.

Atiba de Souza: To communication. Yes, for us. So you do the state of the company. I do that quarterly. So we do a quarterly all-hands meeting.

Michael DeLon: Okay.

Atiba de Souza: In a pseudo virtual reality space cuz we're all over the world at this point. In that time and in that process of doing that, it's also dinner. And so I buy everyone in the company dinner.

Michael DeLon: Awesome.

Atiba de Souza: And the key is you're not cooking. No one cooks. I'm giving you money to order a meal in for you and your family. And so we get them and their family in a virtual reality space for a couple hours once a quarter.

Michael DeLon: Wow. I love that.

Atiba de Souza: Yeah.

Michael DeLon: I never thought about that. That'd be really cool because that just adds such a dynamic.

Atiba de Souza: Yes, yes. My thing is like 10 minutes long and we're together for two hours. And so they start off with going around and introducing everyone cuz there's a theme of what you were eating. So maybe we're all eating Italian. So there's a theme. Introduce your meal. Introduce your family.

Michael DeLon: I like that.

Atiba de Souza: So Michael, as we talk about culture, one of the questions that I've gotta ask you is, is your team in-person, hybrid or all remote? And especially if you're all remote, what challenges have you had? You're talking about your systems and so on and so forth, but are there any specific or challenges that remote brings to installing and instilling culture?

Michael DeLon: Yeah, absolutely. We're a hundred percent remote, so our team is all over the United States, a few in Canada, a couple in Hungary. I mean, they're all over the place. And it does pose its own challenges. It really does, because I spent 10 years in corporate America where I could walk by your cubicle and hang out and talk with you and — can't do that. Can't just grab a cup of coffee.

And so what we've done is implemented systems where we take virtual and make it personal through Zoom. And so we have weekly Zoom meetings, team meetings. So my son and I — my son's my chief operating officer — he and I meet at least twice every week for 90 minutes, talking about the business and things. As soon as that's over, he's got a Zoom meeting with his executive assistant for 90 minutes.

And then after that he's got a meeting with our managing editor, who's over all of our writers for 90 minutes. Then she goes to our managing editor and meets with our writers on a regular basis about the projects they're working on. So it's in person via Zoom on a regular basis because you can't do it through email.

Atiba de Souza: No. No. No, email nor Slack. I mean, it's not that either one of 'em are bad, but you need this.

Michael DeLon: Yeah. Back and forth, back and forth because here's where we're going, well, why are you doing it that way? Is there a better way to do it? And it's so fast, so easy. When Caleb builds systems, he brings his administrative assistant on to a Zoom call.

Caleb says, "Here's the system we're gonna build. Here's why we're gonna build it. Here's what it's called. Now let's build it together." And they might invest 90 minutes building one system. But what Caleb has found is that's the best 90 minutes he'll invest cuz he does it once.

Atiba de Souza: And then just duplicating, duplicating.

Michael DeLon: And then she goes out and just tweaks it and makes it and boom and it's done.

But it's taking technology, face-to-face technology, integrating that into the rhythm of your week.

Atiba de Souza: Yes. So you've talked about Caleb, you've talked about the team, you've talked about writers, you've talked about managing editors. Tell everybody who actually arguing what do y'all do and how do they find you?

Michael DeLon: Yeah. Hey, that's awesome. So, Michael DeLon, who I am? I'm a follower of Christ, been married 33 years. I've got four kids, two biological two through adoption. We did foster care for eight years. I was in vocational missionary to the families for 10 years. And then God led us to do this.

And so what we do is we work with experts and thought leaders, business owners, to help them create a book without writing a word, to position them as the expert in the eyes of their audience. And then we teach them and give them marketing strategies and systems to help them use their book in their marketing to gain clients, get referrals, grow revenue.

That's what we do. You can find everything about me and our company at paperbackexpert.com. That's paperback expert.

Atiba de Souza: Yes. I was gonna repeat it, but you did, paperbackexpert.com. Michael, this has been a fantastic conversation. 

Michael DeLon: Thank you very much! 

Atiba de Souza: Not that I'm surprised. 

Michael DeLon: Hey, I appreciate that brother. Yeah, anytime I can be with you, it's good.

Atiba de Souza: The pleasure is all mine. It wasn't even good, it was great. It was great. It's great. We're gonna do it again real soon. And for everybody listening and everybody out there, we end this right here and right now and we reflect back on what you just heard, right?

We're talking about building culture with people. We're talking about building culture because that is the key to the success of your team and your business, right? You've heard it from me before, hire for fit first. Hire people who fit and will fit your culture first. You heard Michael say that. They indoctrinate people up front so that they can figure out you don't like it here. Great. Cool. You don't have to be here. You don't fit. Hire for fit first.

Michael DeLon: Yeah, absolutely.

Atiba de Souza: So again, as always, thank you all for being here. We'll see you next time. Bye-bye.

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