Adam Houlahan is an International Keynote Speaker specializing in LinkedIn strategies for entrepreneurs, and CEO of the highly successful LinkedIn agency, Prominence Global. He hosts arguably the world’s largest free online LinkedIn training event with thousands of people registering 5 times each year and is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts in harnessing the power of LinkedIn for business.
Adam is also the author of three Amazon best-selling books Social Media Secret Sauce, The LinkedIn Playbook, and Influencer. He co-authored a fourth international best-seller Better Business, Better Life, Better World. He believes real and meaningful change comes through the world’s entrepreneurs. His purpose is to positively impact 12 million people in need and has surpassed 6 million impacts on the way to that target.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Adam Houlahan: About ten years ago I was the General Manager of a medium-sized business with a strong emphasis on online sales. We were doing around $1 million a month in revenue at that time. I was researching other companies around the world similar to us, and what they were doing marketing-wise. When we analysed the ones who were bigger than us, we found the main differentiator was the quality of their social media presence and online marketing strategies.
This piqued my interest in social media from a business perspective and I began to research everything I could, Given the size of our business it was not difficult to reach out to social media influencers and have them agree to spend 30 minutes or an hour with me answering my questions. Over time my interest gravitated more and more to LinkedIn, it was a really difficult platform back then (actually it still is) but it made a lot of sense to me, so I focused all of my time and energy into trialing strategies and getting to understand it’s algorithm’s and what made it tick.
Roll forward a few years and I had made the decision it was time to return to running my own business instead of working for someone else (I had started and sold a number of businesses prior to this) I decided to start a LinkedIn consulting business and started helping a few business owners with their LinkedIn strategies. That was about seven years ago. Today we are a global agency with a team of 17 people across 5 countries and a global client base.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Adam Houlahan: I doubt many business owners in the startup phase would have not considered giving up at some point along the journey.
I certainly did but thankfully I pushed through those early years and don’t have those thoughts these days. In the beginning, it was just me and a virtual assistant I had in The Philippines. So on top of working with clients, I had all of the usual tasks associated with running a business, marketing, sales, bookkeeping, writing books to name a few. Anyone who has started a business would know that journey, however, the tough times came when we started to build our team and I was no longer in direct control of every facet of the business.
There were a couple of times where we really let a client down, to the point the only ethical thing to do was refund them all of the money they had invested in our services. For a growing business, this is always tough, and whilst it was the right thing to do it impacted our growth for a while. It also caused me to question our business model and whether being a one-man band and staying very small was not a better option.
Fortunately, I dusted myself off and decided we needed to slow down and get some systems and training in order. Once we had these in place we were able to ramp up and to this day we continually invest in ongoing training and systems development. Often what we felt we needed was not available as an off-the-shelf product or service, so we built our own.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Adam Houlahan: These days I have a business coach and a mentor, interestingly they both shared similar advice (this was the good advice). They cautioned me against taking advice from family and friends who are not involved in our business. Family and friends mean well but have no real concept of what business owners go through.
I recall having conversations around the time COVID-19 struck that turned out to be absolutely shocking advice based on fear and too much time spent listening to mainstream news channels. I instinctively knew we had a business model with a team already working from home from many locations, that we had an advantage over many traditional business models.
So instead of slowing down, retrenching team members, and conserving cash. (which was the advice I had on a daily basis) We went in the opposite direction, we ramped up our marketing and team onboarding. This lead to over a 100% growth in revenue in 2020 and we are still growing at a rapid pace deep into 2021.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Adam Houlahan: Resilience is a word I hear a lot these days, and it’s really the perfect word for our current times.
For me, it’s about mindset, planning, and daily habits. If we accept that things are not going to always go to plan, and let’s face it, they often don’t. Having a backup plan or two for our business and personal life reduces the impact when something doesn’t pan out the way we hoped or events beyond our control derail the best-laid plans.
This year, I’ve seen so many people give up on relationships and businesses after one too many setbacks. That feeling of overwhelm can be debilitating. So for me, resilience is being prepared and adaptable to change. I find keeping to a good health regime, eating well, exercising daily and daily breathing routines keep me in a better mindset to face the inevitable course corrections that will come.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Adam Houlahan: It’s our focus on two things.
- Our Impact mission.
We keep it very visible on our website on our Impact page. It’s stated very intentionally what our goals are for the next 12-months and the medium-term impact of achieving those goals. It also says what we aim for: to improve the lives of 12-million people by funding projects aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and staying accountable to this by sharing where we are up in that mission.
- Equally, we share links to the projects and how much difference we have made through each.
The second difference is our focus on maintaining a deep understanding of LinkedIn’s algorithms and aligning our client’s goals with strategies that have proven to work across many industries and countries. We maintain strict adherence to developing strategies that work “with” not against LinkedIn’s goals.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Adam Houlahan: I believe remaining genuine to yourself and not trying to create an online persona is an important trait. Too often in my early years in this industry, I came across people who were very different in real life from the online presence they created. I’m always happy to have conversations with people I meet at events or through online summits etc that say I was the same in real life as they see online.
A commitment to continuous improvement is another I like to think is one of my strong points. One of my favorite sayings is “the only constant is change”. I don’t believe as a business leader we can ever say have done our 10,000 hours and now deserve the title of expert in our field. That 10,000 hours might be the minimum, but it’s ongoing learning and improvement in the products or services we provide that keep us relevant in a fast-moving market.
The third would be resilience which we spoke about already. It’s also part of the culture we try to instill in our team, Being prepared for change and open to its inevitability.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Adam Houlahan: I subscribe to the view that a successful business is made up of three brands.
- The Personal brand of its leader
- The Business brand
- And a Product brand
People buy into you before they buy into your business or the service it provides, so yes I believe the personal brand of leaders is paramount these days. If you were to do an online search for “personal brand” you’ll find over 5 billion results. How we create that brand is really the topic for discussion and debate. Just as there are over 5 billion results in searches, there are many points of view on how to best build one.
In my case, it was through LinkedIn as a platform of choice. Having a voice and remaining quite niched in the topics I voiced an opinion on and built a reputation for having expertise in was the underlying driver of that voice. I believe it is equally important to be mindful of what can destroy or damage that brand. Our personal social media profiles can often tell a different story from the one we craft for press releases and on platforms such as LinkedIn.
It’s not something to be taken lightly or that exists in just one place. The omnipresence of everything we share online can be a two-edged sword. On many occasions in discussions with clients who are in recruitment, they have shared many incidences of high-level executives who have lost positions or passed over in the recruitment phase due to damaging content they had shared online. Equally, we have all heard of many instances of celebrity faux pas from a simple statement they’ve made on a subject that has damaged their reputation, or photos being uploaded of them in drunken states. It’s near impossible to maintain a completely private existence and have a personal brand these days.
On multiple occasions, I have taken late night or early morning calls from high-profile clients requesting assistance to minimize the fall out from damaging content surfacing. The reality is not only high profile individuals who are affected by damage to their brands, everyone from these people down to young people looking for their first job have been affected by their online presence, many of them without even realizing the opportunities they lost. Of course, the flip side of these dangers is the huge potential of having a professional personal brand and maintaining it for a long period of time.
How would you define “leadership”?
Adam Houlahan: A good friend of mine was a Commander in the Australian Navy, he often shared a saying they had. “If your job is the be a leader, then lead” Simple, but it pretty much sums it up.
For me, leadership is about inspiring our team to be fully invested in our vision and values. To do that, I know I must live and breathe them and set a benchmark. We put a lot of time and effort collaboratively into choosing what those values are and then put them front and center on our website home page for the world to see. It also acts as a reminder of what we agreed upon and how we want to be known in the marketplace.
I have several leaders I follow and take guidance from in the way I choose to lead. These people are a mixture of leaders in their industry, leaders of countries, and individual organizations. If I had to sum up their most significant attribute, it would be empathy. I’d hope it’s how I would be thought of as a leader as well.
What would you say is the main difference between starting a business at the time you started yours and starting the business in today’s age?
Adam Houlahan: It would depend to a degree on what type of business you were starting, however, I believe there are some fundamentals that would be considered mandatory in today’s age. I’m sure we are all aware of the incredible upheaval that COVID-19 forced upon many businesses, some have adapted and survived, some were lost forever and of course many not only survived but have grown exponentially over the last two years. The clues come from studying these businesses. An important factor will be to create a product or service that can be delivered remotely. Whilst lockdowns are getting less and less, people are very much attuned now to not having face-to-face interactions with service providers.
Skills in digital marketing are now mandatory or at least the ability to outsource these to professional service providers needs to be added to your standard operating expenses each month. If we were to take a look at the businesses that have thrived through the pandemic (and I have) the one thing that almost all of them did very well was to create trust. They all do this in different ways of course but the underlying outcome is always trust. Testimonials from existing clients, Google reviews, case studies are all standard requirements now. Of course, when starting a new business you have none of these, so my advice is simply to get some as quickly as you can. One strategy we use when we release a new service is to build these quickly. We do that by either giving a select group of people a large discount with the requirement to give is the above trust builders in return. In some cases, we’d give it way free.
Lead generation is the life-blood of all businesses, so developing skills in this area or again being able to outsource this is mandatory. Relying on word of mouth alone or someone just happening to find your website is not going to deliver consistent and long-term results. As I mentioned this is not going to be possible for all services, if your passion is to be a hairdresser then, of course, this would not be possible. However, all of the other factors above still apply.
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Adam Houlahan: I have two.
In my office I have a print on the wall, it is massive and takes up two-thirds of the wall. The quote under the image is: “No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings” it was written by Willam Blake.
On my personal website, I have another by Winston Churchill. “Sometimes it is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we must do what is required”
The one on my wall, I read every day without fail. It reminds me to always be investing time in innovating and implementing new ideas. This is now one of our core values and what keeps us at the cutting edge of what we do. The one on my website I have lived by since I started my first business over 30 years ago. I wrote it on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall in front of my desk to ensure I looked at it every day. It’s really a mindset shifter, and whenever things get a little tough such as the challenges we all faced since March 2020, it reminds me to push past what many would believe was the best they could do and go around a problem or over it and keep searching deeper for solutions that nobody else is prepared to do.
This has been a really important part of my business life from day one until now.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Adam Houlahan for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Adam Houlahan or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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